"Our responsibility begins with the power to imagine." - Haruki Murakami
His earliest memories were only abstractions: shapes without form, movements without direction, black colors. Later there were sensations, pleasant, unpleasant, or neutral, all independent of expectation or fear. Then there were the blurred outlines of human faces, without significance or context. Then voices speaking in muffled, unintelligible tones.
Then something was born into his world. It was as if he'd split into two, except that he had no knowledge of the other part. His first act of will was an attempt to understand it, and his first emotion was disappointment that he couldn't.
In retrospect, he was now able to put some of the features of those memories to words, and so he relived them more vividly than he'd lived them, just as a human dreamer attaches meaning and color to his dream only after he's awake.
Slowly, the world took shape. Many of the steps toward his current self defied explanation. He didn't understand them, though he now knew what their results were. He had no control over the process, but he wasn't afraid.
Colors appeared: sky blue, green, brown, dazzling yellow; then, much later, they collected themselves into shapes. Sounds grew clearer and came at him from different directions.
He found himself in a forest. Of course, he didn't know then that it was called a "forest," or that such a place was known for being beautiful. He had no idea how long he'd been there, but he couldn't imagine a time before it. Why, then, did everything appear so new and strange?
Above him was a canopy of trees through which he saw shards of light. In front of him, an expanse of green and brown stretched into the distance. The leaves undulated in constant rhythms as though they had a mind of their own. He heard the sound of the wind, powerful and sweeping, which both comforted and unsettled him.
He trudged across the soft damp earth toward an opening in the trees. Tree?—how did he know such a thing had a name like that? He couldn't remember learning the word. He turned around, looked once more behind him, and the word "forest" came to mind. "Sun," "sky," and "grass" followed. And as these thoughts flitted through him, he realized that this was the first time he'd been aware of his own thinking.
He stopped just before he reached the clearing. What was happening to him? His world hadn't always been like this. He'd been here before, but until now he'd had no comprehension of what was around him. He'd watched the leaves and listened to the wind, but he hadn't really seen or heard anything. He knew there had been a time when nothing had been separate from him, and the world and himself had been a bright indistinguishable blur. Now, everything had a name and its own proper place. The more names he realized he knew, the more bewildered he was by the widening separation of himself from everything around him.
With the awareness of that separation came his first experience of fear.
The span of time from his first conscious sensation to now seemed like minutes. Actually, he later learned, it was decades.
He heard music. It was the beginning of Brahms's 4th symphony, though he didn't yet know its name, or that Dr. Wily had chosen it just for this occasion. For years afterward, hearing the first few bars would still strike him with awe and terror.
A voice spoke, a familiar voice, but now he understood the words. And he knew it was addressed to him.
"You've been sleeping," it said. "Time to wake up."
Later, he'd compare the feeling to being pulled out of water. He felt as though he was being lifted, and then the world hit him like a thunderclap. A cacophony of noise and light pierced him. He was cold, and he shivered violently. He shut his eyes, wanting to escape, to sink back down to where he'd come from. It was terrible, terrible…
"Oh, God. Quick, Albert, bring an electric blanket," said the voice. "Turn on the kerosene heater, too, while you're at it. It's freezing in here. We should have thought of that."
"That's not the only thing we should have thought about, you know," said the voice of Albert. A pair of footsteps shuffled away, then shuffled back.
He heard a faint humming sound to his left, and an acrid smell filled his nose. Something soft and warm was thrown over him. He opened his eyes. This time, he clearly saw a light shining down into his face. He squinted to avoid it until a hand reached across his field of vision and turned it off.
"Sorry about that too," said the first voice. "We're getting off to a bad start, I'm afraid."
The darkened outlines of two men's faces peered down at him. As his brand new optical nerves adjusted to the light, their features came into focus. The face on the left was round, framed by a thick graying beard with a few remaining streaks of black. It had a squat nose and warm, dark brown eyes. The face on the right was gaunt and blue-eyed, with a moustache and a protruding cleft chin, and crowned by a scalp that was bald except for few tufts of grayish hair sticking out on either side.
"Sorry, indeed," said the owner of the bald head, Albert. "Most people, the first thing they ever set eyes on is a young woman. Usually there's even a titty or two right after that. But you, on the other hand... you have only our ugly mugs to look at."
He stared up at the two faces, blinking. He didn't understand anything Albert had said.
"Let's do a quick scan to make sure his systems are working as they should," said the first voice. He saw two pairs of hands going down below his field of vision. The blanket was adjusted, and the cloth covering his top half parted and pulled back. The faces disappeared, and he heard a soft clicking which he later placed as the sound of rapid typing into a netscreen.
The faces returned, but their eyes were focused on something off to the left.
"Seems good so far," said Albert, who looked down at him with a toothy grin. "Thank God. There's nothing wrong with you—yet."
He felt the odd sensation of something closing up in his chest. The cloth was wrapped around him once more, and the blanket was draped back on top.
"This is probably a little unpleasant for you," said the first voice. "That's normal. You're perfectly safe. Are you frightened? Shake your head if no."
He shook his head, and was surprised by the feeling. Somehow he'd known what to do, though this was his first ever time to do it.
Then, a quick flash of light, followed by a loud click, startled him.
"Aren't you going to ask him to say 'cheese'?" said Albert.
The other man chuckled. "Now, I think some introductions are in order," he said. "We're your creators—well, two of them, anyway. My name is Tom, and he's Albert; but I suppose it would be appropriate for you to call us by our titles: Dr. Light and Dr. Wily."
"A modicum of respect is all we ask," said Albert, also known as Dr. Wily, "considering all the time and effort it took us to make you. Not to mention money—well, actually, most of that was other people's." He winked. "A lot of it," he added at a whisper, as if making a confession.
"Up until now, you've been in a kind of… dream state," said Tom, also known as Dr. Light. "While you were there, we were engineering and refining your sensory input systems, forming your neural pathways, building your human-like body, and programming your CPU. Now you're finished, so we've activated you—brought you out into the real world, so you can start moving around, taking in data, manipulating the environment, acquiring socialization…"
Dr. Light paused, and the two sides of his mouth turned slightly upwards. "Sorry again. That means absolutely nothing to you, does it?"
He realized he wanted to say something. The words formed in his mind, and his mouth opened as if automatically. However, the sounds that came out were nothing but a slurred jumble of nonsense.
"You want to speak," said Dr. Light, "but you haven't yet learned how to form the words. Moving your mouth will take a little practice, just like moving your body. But don't worry: you're a fast learner. And I'm sure you have a lot to say." He pulled back the blanket. "Here, let's try something," he said. He reached down and touched his hand. "Can you feel that? Nod your head if yes."
He nodded. The man's hand on his own was warm. Not only that, but it felt good.
Tom lifted the hand and pulled it out from under the blanket. The rest of the arm followed. "Move your fingers," he said.
As if Dr Light himself had willed it to happen, the fingers moved.
"We'll take this one step at a time.," he said. "Soon you'll be up off this table and exploring. Wouldn't you like that?"
He nodded again, feeling a surge of excitement. Yes, I would like that very much.
With some gentle coaxing from Dr. Light and Dr. Wily, he then moved each of the fingers on his right hand, bent his wrists and elbows, and wiggled his toes.
They removed the blanket, but he was no longer cold. He turned his eyes to the left, toward the gentle hum of the kerosene heater, and realized he was in a large room with a grey floor and white walls. The surface he was lying on was hard and silver. The circular lamp, now turned off, was hanging above his head. From a corner, up near the ceiling, a little red light blinked down at him.
For now, cameras of all kinds had no significance to him. In time, however, he would grow to hate them.
"We're going to move you into a sitting position now," said Dr. Light. "This may feel strange."
Two pairs of hands grasped him by the arms and pulled him upward. It hadn't occurred to him that he would need to lift his head on his own, and it lolled ridiculously behind him.
"Come on, you lazy git," said Dr. Wily with a snort. "Don't make us do all the work."
A hand—probably Dr. Wily's—grabbed him by the hair and steadied him until his sense of balance took over. Then, someone pulled on his legs so that they dangled from the edge of the table. As Dr. Light had predicted, this did feel strange. His entire perspective had shifted—his creators were standing in front of him, and for the first time he could see that they had bodies as well as faces and hands. Both of them were wearing white lab coats.
He looked down at his own body. He saw both his hands and, far away, his legs and feet. The rest was wrapped in a soft, bulky, dark blue cloth—a bathrobe—that was tied at the waist.
Dr. Wily glanced up at him with an apologetic look. "It's his," he said, with a point toward his companion, "in case you're wondering about the size discrepancy. But you have to admit," he added, "it's better than the birthday suits we got."
"Albert, hold on to him for a moment," said Dr. Light, who let go of his grip and reached for his camera. "Another photo for posterity." There was a another familiar flash of light, followed by a click. He blinked. Those sudden bursts of light were unpleasant, and he wished they would stop—but of course, at the time, he couldn't do anything to protest.
"All right, young man," said Dr. Wily, "you're heavy, and I'd appreciate it if you'd get off of me." He jabbed him in the arm. "So, you're going to learn to walk now. How about it?"
He nodded. Yes, I'd like to learn to walk.
The two men put their arms around his shoulders, lifted him by the knees, and lowered him to the floor. His bare feet met against cool, hard concrete.
He'd been programmed with a finely tuned sense of balance, and it didn't take long. After a few minutes, he could stand on his own. After a few more, Dr. Light stood at his side as he took his first step.
"Albert, do you mind?" he said, with a nod toward the camera.
"Again?" said Dr. Wily.
There was another flash of light and a click, and again he blinked and turned away.
Right foot, left foot, right, left. Leaning against Dr. Light, he took a few more stumbling steps forward. Each one was a little easier than the last. Before long, he was able to walk without support—slowly, stiffly, fawn-like. His creators watched him from a short distance with looks of approval.
"Now, come this way. We have a treat for you." Dr. Wily grabbed him by the hand and guided him toward the wall, where a full-length mirror was mounted.
He stopped in his tracks, staring at the image in the mirror. He saw a shock of navy blue—the oversized bathrobe he wore—and above it his own face, smooth and clear, complemented by two big, dark eyes and a head full of thick black hair. This is me. He lurched forward on his unsteady feet to get a closer look.
"You're thinking: 'oh, what a relief,' aren't you?" Dr. Wily said. "You're a damn sight better looking than we are. We had enough sense, at least, to make sure of that."
He began to wobble where he stood, so Dr. Wily maneuvered him into a sitting position in front of the mirror. He couldn't stop staring. He touched his nose, his ears, and his hair. Every part had a name that he recognized, though he'd never seen them before. He turned his attention to the rest of his body. He reached down. Arms. Hands. Legs. Feet…
"Don't worry; it's all there," said Dr Wily. "Down to the fingerprints and nose hairs. Although, unfortunately for you, a few of the parts are only for show."
"I wish you wouldn't make jokes at his expense," said Dr. Light behind them.
"Why?" said Dr. Wily. "He has no idea what I'm talking about." He bent down, and the reflection of his angular face peered across at him in the mirror. "Do you?"
He shook his head.
"He's going to remember," Dr. Light said, and crossed his arms. "He can remember everything."
"So what? He's got to pick up a sense of humor from somebody," said Dr. Wily, "and it's not going to be from you." Then he returned his eyes to the mirror, and gazed good-naturedly at the figure's earnest, wide-eyed reflection. He pinched him lightly on the arm. "Hey, does that hurt?"
It did. He yanked his arm away.
"Then that means you're not dreaming," Dr. Wily said. He smiled. "Welcome to life: a little beauty, and a little happiness, here and there. Mostly, a crock of shit."
"Albert," said Dr. Light.
Dr. Wily didn't look up. "Kid, your Uncle Albert may be a bit... blunt... but you can always count on me to tell you the truth.
"Speaking of which, Tom..." Dr. Wily turned around and let out a wheezy sigh. "Are you really sure you want to teach him to speak? After all, once he starts yakking, it won't be long before he asks you why he's here."
Dr. Light shot a dark look at his companion.
"Oh, right," said Dr. Wily with a raise of his eyebrows. "I'll hush up now. Anyway, there's no need for you to worry about that just yet. Whether he's a success still remains to be seen."
"Things will become clearer as time goes on," said Dr. Light, in a voice of barely-contained exasperation. "You know that. There's no reason to doubt we've succeeded."
"All I'm saying is that I care about you, Tom, and I don't want you to get your hopes up too soon. Let's try to take this calmly and rationally, like the men of science we are." Dr. Wily's voice became subdued. "After all this time, I know it would be… a disappointment, to say the least, if this project fell short of the goal—especially since, thanks to you, we can't make any more changes to his programming." He peered down at the figure in the mirror with a look of compassion. "But that wouldn't be your fault, of course. You're just along for the ride."
He watched as the reflections of the two men exchanged a long look. The sight made him uncomfortable, though he didn't know why.
Finally, as if a spell had dissipated, Dr. Light broke his gaze. "Well," he said, "we've got to call Judith."
"Right." Dr. Wily laughed. "It's nearly three in the morning for her—not that she's going to mind."
Dr. Light's reflection turned and shrank away to the netscreen mounted on the adjacent wall. There was a flurry of typing, and a few moments of silent expectation.
"Tom? Is that you?" said the voice of Judith.
"Yes. Were you sleeping?"
"Of course not. He's here, isn't he?"
"Yes, he is. Newly hatched."
"Oh, Tom!" There was a gasp, then a long pause. "Tell me, what's he doing now?"
"Admiring himself in the mirror."
Judith let out a peal of laughter. "That's wonderful," she said. "Our handsome boy." Her voice was delicate and grainy, as though it contained bits of broken glass. "Hello, dear... can you hear me?... Um, is he listening, Tom?"
"I... think so."
He was, indeed, listening—however, since from his vantage he couldn't see her face on the netscreen, her disembodied voice had an unreal quality. And, of course, he couldn't have replied to her even if he'd wanted to.
"Anyway... we're all very glad you're here. We've been waiting for this day for a long time, you know. I'm only sorry I couldn't be there in person. Circumstances..."
"Wouldn't you like to see him now, on the netscreen camera?" said Dr. Light.
"And pull him away from that mirror?" said Judith. "I could never be so cruel. He can't speak yet anyway, right? For now, a video, or a picture or two, will suffice." She let out a gasp of excitement. "Well, now that he's finished, perhaps you could do me a little favor and start on this teleportation idea of yours. Then I could pop over to your side of the world for a visit, and be back home for my cancer treatments by the afternoon."
"Right," Dr. Light said, with reticence in his voice.
"Did I scare you?" said Judith. "Relax, Tom. They keep telling me it's only a bump in the road. Not like…" A silence, long and dark, passed between them. "Anyway," she said at last, in a deliberately cheerier tone, "send me that video as soon as you can, and I'll pass it along to Yuichi—by the way, did you hear he and his wife are expecting any day now?"
"No, actually… We haven't been in contact in months."
Judith tut-tutted him. "You need to get out more. Have you been taking care of yourself at all lately?... I hope you've been sleeping, at least—though, I suppose you can't do much of that now that you've got a baby of your own to look after." She laughed. "Anyway, put Albert on, won't you?"
"I'm right here, beautiful," said Dr. Wily.
"Charming, as always," Judith said. "Knowing you, I hope you haven't poisoned our new guest against the world already."
"The world is going to do that without my help," replied Dr. Wily. "Give it time".
"I thought you'd say something like that. Listen, Albert..." The words she spoke next came out at a run. "...I know you and Tom have had your disagreements about this project. But I expect you've put them aside?"
"Water under the bridge, Judy," Dr. Wily said. "In matters of importance, I've long since decided to defer to Tom's superior intellect."
"No, that's not what I..."
"I know that's not what you meant," he said, "but it's what I meant. It's true. Tom's going to get his way this time, and we'll see where it leads. To big things, I'm sure."
"I'm... glad to hear you think so, Albert," Judith said, though her voice was doubtful. She took an audibly deep breath. "Anyway, congratulations, and a happy new year to you all. And... Albert?"
"Be kind to the boy, for pity's sake."
To the being crouched in front of the mirror, these human voices around him were a blur of confusion. He knew the individual words they spoke, but when he tried to put them together their meaning was lost. He was ignorant of the competing forces at play between these people called Tom, Albert, and Judith—and Yuichi, who then was nothing more than a name. He only knew that he was helpless, and that he depended on them. If he'd understood the full context behind his creators' words, and known how vital—but hopeless—it was that they stay strong and united for his sake, he would have been terrified.
But just then, Dr. Light, having finished his call with Judith, approached the mirror with a broad smile. He clasped his hands together. "Well, are you ready to see something else?" he said. "Want to go outside?"
He raised his head. Outside. This means I'm going to see trees. Tree—the word had the comforting ring of the familiar.
Dr. Light pulled him to his feet and wrapped a steady arm around his shoulder.
"You'll need my help," said Albert, following along behind. "There's a flight of stairs in the way."
Slowly, they guided him up the steps. When they had reached the top, Dr. Light opened a door and the house spread out in front of them.
He toddled ahead, pulling the two men along with him. There were windows all around, and the house, quiet and still, was bathed in the soft white light of a winter's morning.
"This way," Dr. Light said, steering him toward the living room. His feet brushed over a surface that was slightly springy and which smelled of dried grass. They passed by a low table, and he tripped on a zabuton cushion. The two men at his sides grabbed him before he hit the floor, and, grunting, set him back on his feet.
"Christ," said Dr. Wily. "At least you don't have to be toilet trained."
To his left he noticed a green lidded jar, and a photo of a woman, placed in a butsudan—though, at the time, he didn't know or care what any of these things were. He was only thinking about trees.
Perhaps he could even say the word. It was only one syllable, and he wanted to try. He opened his mouth, forced some air out...
Dr. Wily turned and stared at him. "Did you say something?"
With shaking hands, Dr. Light reached into his pocket and pulled out his camera. "Say it again," he said.
Yes, yes, that was it. He nodded.
"You know there will be trees outside, don't you?" said Dr. Light.
He nodded again.
"Trees on the brain, eh?" said Dr. Wily. "That forest simulation—that was her idea to begin with, wasn't it?." He glanced at the photograph in the butsudan as Dr. Light slowly nodded. "Well, she would be pleased."
The two men led him to a curtained window. Somehow, he thought he knew what would be on the other side. Excitement took him over, and he leaned forward and grasped at a section of white cloth. A thin stream of sunlight poured in. I'm going to see trees. Real trees.
Dr. Light parted the curtains, opened the door, and reached down to slip a pair of shoes on each of their feet. Then they stepped out together into the cold. Dr. Wily remained on the concrete step at the entrance, in his house slippers, watching in silence with Dr. Light's camera in hand.
He glanced back: something about the expression on Dr. Wily's face seemed... odd. At the time, he couldn't discern exactly what it was. Was it disappointment?... Defeat? Only much later would he understand why it was there; for now, it gave him nothing more than a vague sense of unease.
"What are you looking at?" said Dr. Light's gentle voice at his side. "You wanted to see the garden, didn't you?"
He turned—but he was dismayed by what he saw. Most of the trees in the garden, except for the two pines, were missing their leaves. Compared to the ones he had seen in his "dream state," they looked dull, sad, and sickly. The grass was brown.
He craned his head back to look at the sky. Instead of blue, it was pale and grey. The sun was nowhere to be seen. He couldn't even hear the sound of the wind.
What's wrong with everything? He looked at Dr. Light, who was watching him with great interest. He wanted to speak more than ever. It's wrong, it's all wrong. If he could only say the words, perhaps his creators could do something to fix the problem. But he hadn't even yet learned to make facial expressions; though he was in distress, there was no way anyone could know.
There was one thing, however, that stood out to him from among the palette of grays and browns. In the left side of the garden was a little tree whose leaves were still green. It was covered in flat, brilliant pink flowers with bright yellow centers. He took a few halting steps forward; Dr. Light realized where he wanted to go, and half-carried him in the right direction. Though he'd never seen the tree with his own eyes before, he heard the three syllables of its name pronounced in his head. Tsu-ba-ki. He reached out and took one of the flowers in his hand. Some of the yellow pollen rubbed off onto his thumb.
"You like this camellia?" said Dr. Light.
He looked up at Dr. Light and nodded.
"It's a rare winter bloomer," Dr. Light said. "If you want to see more flowers in this garden, you'll have to wait until spring."
A sound filled his ears, shrill and barking. He craned his head upwards again. Far above him, the black figures of two dozen crows glided across the sky.
"You're in a place called Shizuoka," said Dr. Light, "in a country called Japan. The date is January 3rd, 2061. It's Monday." He looked down at his watch. "It's 11:14 in the morning—and, oh yes—your name is Blues."