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Chapter 7 - No Blood to Shed

All I could do was call his name as I watched him fall to his knees. He glanced at me, his eyes telling me to run away, before he slumped to the ground.

I ran to his side, but before I could check on him, I noticed the two remaining monsters slinking toward us. The branch he had dropped was much too heavy for me to use. I started screaming as loud as I could, begging for anyone to come save us.

After a moment, I heard heavy footsteps running toward us and a voice call out.

'Over here!'

A group of bracers ran up, easily taking care of the monsters that had terrorized us.

'Sorry it took us so long. Are you injured?' asked a female bracer.

I shook my head at her, but then turned to look at Edgar lying on the ground.

The other bracers crowded around to check on him.

'This guy...'

'What is this...?'

'Do we take him to a hospital, or...?'

I could only hear bits of their whispered conversation.

'We'll take the man back first,' one of the bracers told me, as they started to move Edgar.

'Um. Is he going to be okay?' I asked.

'We can't say,' the bracer said, looking away.

They carried Edgar away before I could even get a glimpse of him.

The rest of the bracers stayed behind to escort me out of the canyon.

'We're sorry you had to go through that. We'll get those orbment lights fixed as soon as possible,' the female bracer said. She told me her name was Bella.

When we finally got back the restaurant, Bella looked at me with a solemn expression on her face.

'I'd like to apologize again for not getting there sooner.' She lowered her gaze. 'But that young man protected you, didn't he?'

'Edgard's a strong person ' I said, forcing a sad smile.

After what felt like a long silence, one of the other bracers spoke up.

'His name was Edgar?' he said. 'I thought he looked familiar. He was that guy with the bag full of mushrooms.'

The bracer introduced himself to me as Boris.

'He was trying to bring a ton of mushrooms back with him, but he picked them from a restricted area, so we had to confiscate them all.'

'Yeah,' Bella said. 'He was really reluctant to give up that firefly mushroom. He said someone important to him wanted it.'

'That reminds me,' said Boris, 'I first saw him when we broke up that fight here at this restaurant, huh? He told us he was trying to protect someone.'

'I wonder if he was talking about the same person,' Bella mused. She turned to look at me.

'Huh?! A-Are you okay?'

Tears were streaming down my face.

'Oh,' she said, realizing what was going on. She hugged me. 'We'll do whatever we can to make sure he recovers.'

Even so, I couldn't stop my tears from flowing.

The next morning, I took the day off and headed to the hospital. I gave them Edgar's name at the front desk and asked for his room number.

To my surprise, they told me they couldn't find him. I asked them to check again and they eventually found a nurse who was there the day before. She told me Edgar was brought in, but was quickly moved to another location.

So, I headed straight there.

In no time, I was standing before the Epstein Foundation's Intellectual Development Research Center.

This didn't seem like the kind of place anyone would take an injured person to be treated, so why was Edgar brought here?

I steeled my courage and walked into the building.

Inside were a number of people wearing white lab coats and exchanging information on clipboards.

I was completely out of my element, but kept going anyway. I spotted a reception desk and approached the woman sitting there.

'I was told a man named Edgar was brought here,' I said.

The receptionist looked at me as though I'd grown a second head.

'They told me at the hospital that an injured man named Edgar was brought here last night,' I repeated, a little more firmly. 'Which room is he in?'

'I haven't heard of anyone like that being brought here.' She furrowed her brow at me.

'If you can't tell me where he is, can you at least let me know if he's here or not?' I told her. 'I'll wait here as long as I need to.'

'I'm sorry, miss, but I'm going to have to ask you to leave,' she said, glaring at me.

'Like I said, I'm going to wait right here until you tell me where he is,' I repeated, raising my voice a little.

My outburst caused some of the others in the lobby to stop and turn their heads. Suddenly, I heard a voice from behind me.

'You're right. He is here.'

'Of course I'm right, I--' I turned and let out a short gasp.

The voice belonged to Henry. He was wearing a wrinkled lab coat, and his long, scraggly hair was tied back in a ponytail.

'I'm so glad to see you,' I breathed a sigh of relief.

'I'll take care of things from here,' Henry said to the still-irritated receptionist.

He led me farther back into the building.

'Have you seen Edgar?' I asked, unable to hold back my anxiousness.

'Yeah,' he replied, 'but seeing him's about all you can do at the moment.'

We stopped in front of a large, sturdy door.

Henry swiped a keycard on a reader and the door slowly opened. Inside was a long, dark hallway. At the end of the hallway was a small room surrounded by thick glass walls.

As we approached, I saw him; lying on a white slab inside the glass room.

'Edgar!' I called out.

Two mechanical arms suspended from the ceiling circled his body, shooting out small bursts of sparks here and there.

'What's going on, Henry?' I asked as I watched in horror.

'They're fixing him,' he responded, as though it was the most natural thing in the world. 'His brain was especially damaged.'

'So...you replaced his body with machinery?' I asked, struggling to understand the situation.

Henry didn't respond. He stood there and calmly watched the arms circle around Edgar.

'This is just too much,' I said. 'All these machines...'

I put my hand on the glass between Edgar and me.

'He got hurt protecting me,' I said 'so if you can use my body to help him somehow, or...'

I didn't know what I should do.

'Just please,' I started to choke up, 'please bring him back to normal. I promised him I'd cook something for him, so please...'

'You won't have to worry about that.'

The voice was so cold and clinical, it took me a moment to realize it was Henry speaking. He hadn't taken his eyes off Edgar the whole time.

'Why do you think he wasn't afraid of fighting that big drunk?' he asked me. 'How could he keep running that whole time without getting tired? Why didn't he bleed a single drop of blood after those monsters clawed him? Didn't you think it was strange?'

I looked at Edgar as he lay on the slab. His tranquil expression was illuminated by the sterile white light shining down from above.

'We didn't replace his body with machinery,' Henry said, quietly. 'He was like this from the start. He sheds no tears, no blood runs through his body, and no heart beats in his chest. But he's not a normal machine. He's an artificial intelligence wearing human skin.'

第7巻  「血は流せずとも」  私は、名前を叫ぶことしかできなかった。直線上に彼はうつ
伏せに倒れていて、そのまま動かない。体が傾いた瞬間の、何
か言いたげな眼差しが頭をよぎる。            
 すぐに傍に駆け寄ることも、地面に放り出された大枝を手に
戦うこともできなかった。標的を変えた魔獣たちはこちらへと
にじり寄ってくる。                   
 それでも叫び続ける自分の声に混じって、遠くから響く他の
音を耳にした。徐々に近づく足音と「ここだ!」という掛け声。
 鋭い爪でエドガーさんを傷つけたトビネコは、遊撃士たちに
よってあまりにも呆気なく倒されていった。        
「到着が遅れてごめんなさい。怪我はありませんか?」   
 女性遊撃士に声をかけられ、首を横に振る。       
 彼女たちはエドガーさんへ視線を移した。彼を囲うように集
まり、状態を見ている。                 
「この青年は……どういうことだ……ともかく病院へ」   
 離れた場所にいる私には、会話の節々だけが聞こえてきた。
「男性を先に運ばせてもらいます」            
 それだけ言うと、エドガーさんを連れて行こうとする。  
「あ、あの。エドガーさんは助かりますか」        
「我々ではなんとも言えません」             
 触れることもできないまま、彼は行ってしまった。    
 残った人たちに伴われ、私も渓谷を後にした。      
「ご迷惑をおかけしました。導力灯はすぐに直してもらいます」
 食堂の前まで送ってもらったところで、女性の遊撃士・ベラ
さんが頭を下げた。                   
「あの青年のおかげで、あなたを助けることができました」 
「エドガーさんは、強い人ですから」           
 しばしの重い沈黙の中、1人の遊撃士が声を上げた。   
「……エドガーという青年。               
 見覚えがあると思ったら、キノコ狩りの一件の時だ」   
 その人はボリスと名乗った。              
「彼が、大量のキノコを持ち帰ろうとしていたんだよ。   
 一般人は立ち入り禁止のところで採っていたようだから、 
 全部回収したんだが」                 
「ああ。ホタル茸は渡すのに渋ってたよな。        
 たしか、大切な人が欲しがってるからって」       
「そういえば、ここで起きた喧嘩の事情聴取でも会ったんだ。
 その時は、ある人を助けたかったって言ってたな」    
「ははッ。なんだか縁があるな――って、どうしたんだ?」 
 私は1人、頬を濡らしていた。             
「……そう、そうだね。彼には元気になってもらわないとね」
 ベラさんに背中をさすられ、とめどなく溢れる涙を止めるこ
とはできなかった。                   
                            
 翌朝。仕事は休んで、病院へ向かった。受付でエドガーさん
の名前を伝えて、病室を探してもらう。          
 しかし見つからなかった。確認してもらうと、ここへは運び
こまれたが、すぐに別の場所へ移動されたという。     
 私は次にそこを訪れた。                
                            
「エプスタイン財団……知脳開発研究所」         
 怪我人を受け入れる施設とは無縁の場所に思えた。    
「どうしてこんなところに」               
 意を決して、建物内に足を踏み入れる。作業着の人、白衣を
羽織っている人が目につく。               
 疑念を抱え、真っ直ぐ受付に進んだ。          
「こちらにエドガーという青年が運ばれてると思うのですが」
 受付嬢は、意味が理解できないと言いたげな顔をした。  
「昨晩、怪我をした青年をここに運んだと病院で聞きました。
 どの病室にいるのでしょう?」             
「そんな人が来た連絡は受けていませんが」        
 眉間に皺を寄せ、さも不愉快そうにしている。      
「場所は言えないなら、いるかいないかだけ教えてください。
 ここで待ちますから」                 
「それは困ります。お引き取りください」         
「いいえ、待ちます」                  
 女性同士の押し問答に、見物人が集まり始めた頃。    
「その子の言ってることは間違ってない」         
「もちろんです……あッ」                
 声の主はヘンリーさんだった。皺のついた白衣を着ている。
「良かった。ヘンリーさんに会えて」           
「……この子は俺が引き受けるから、仕事に戻って」    
 受付嬢をなだめると、さっそく私を案内してくれた。   
「エドガーさんと会いましたか?」            
「ああ。会ったというより“見た”だけど」        
 頑丈そうな扉の前で立ち止まり、中に入る。暗い廊下を奥へ
進むと、ガラスの壁で隔てられた部屋があった。      
「エ、エドガーさん!」                 
 その部屋で彼は台に横たわっていた。          
                            
 金属の2つのアームが、身体の周囲で何かを行っている。 
「ヘンリーさん、これは」                
「傷ついたところを直してる。特に脳の損傷がひどくてな」 
「そ、それって……機械の体になるってことですか?    
 生身の体には戻れないんですか?」           
「……」                        
「こんな光景……あんまりです。機械仕掛けなんて。    
 彼は私を守って怪我をしたんですよ?          
 必要なら、治療に私の体を使ってください。       
 それでなんとか元に戻してくださいッ。         
 約束したばかりなんです。今度好きな料理を作るって。  
 だから――」                     
「今、あんたが心配してることは何一つ問題じゃない」   
 初めて聞く、冷たい声だった。             
 ヘンリーさんは、横たわるエドガーさんから目を離さない。
「なぜ少しも怖がらずに酔った大男に喧嘩を売れるのか。  
 なぜ長い時間を走っても息が切れないのか。       
 なぜ魔獣の爪で裂かれても一滴の血さえ出ないのか。   
 ……考えたか?」                   
 私は、穏やかな表情のエドガーさんを見やった。     
「機械人形よりも遥かに高尚な存在。           
 文字通り血も涙も無い、                
 ヤツは、人間の皮を被った人工知能なんだよ」      
                            
 

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