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Chapter 8 - Don't Let Go

'I don't understand,' I stammered.

'What are you talking about?'

My head spun as I struggled to comprehend the reality of the situation.

Henry turned to look at me and began explaining. 'Artificial intelligence. A machine that works like a human brain. He's far more advanced than a simple automated contraption.'

I stood there silently, in a daze.

'The Epstein Foundation has made a lot of advancements in this area recently,' he continued. 'Right now, we're focusing on situation assessment and language skills.'

I couldn't find any words to respond to him.

'The body has a device that functions like a stomach, so he can even eat, too. He didn't get any nourishment from it exactly,' Henry said, shrugging, 'but it was important for him to at least act like a human.'

'...You're wrong.' I squeezed the words out of my throat.

'Huh?'

'He's not a machine,' I said.

Henry's expression didn't change.

'How could someone so kind be a machine?' I continued. 'He liked talking with us, and sharing meals, and he...he said he wanted to be there for me...and I could tell he really meant it. He's so much like a real person!'

'Precisely,' Henry said, calmly, 'he is LIKE a real person.'

'What?! No, that's not what I mean,' I protested.

'One of our goals in building him was to create amachine that would be as close to human as possible,' Henry explained, 'The experiment was to discover whether or not an artificial intelligence could experience emotion.'

I could feel my pulse quicken and my breath catch in my throat.

'What does that mean, then?' I gasped. 'Edgar's thoughts, his feelings...are you telling me everything about him was just installed into his mind?'

'That's right,' Henry said, with the same cold tone. 'It was for the sake of our research and for further development of this technology. You were randomly chosen to serve as a subject. It was all nothing more than an experiment.'

'No...' I started to feel dizzy.

'Does Edgar know?' I asked, steadying myself against a wall.

'He knows what he is,' Henry explained as he gazed at Edgar, but he wasn't told he was part of this experiment.'

'Nor was he aware,' Henry turned to me, 'of the reason he liked you so much.'

'How could you?' I asked, my anger starting to build. 'How could you know all that and just sit by and watch him?'

Henry remained silent and turned his gaze back to Edgar.

'You're his best friend, aren't you?' I continued. You two did everything together. How could you betray him like this?!'

'You still don't get it.' Henry's words were sharp and cold.

'Between humans and machines, friendship--let alone love--is impossible. The experiment needed an observer. Our friendship was nothing more than a scenario to facilitate that. All I did was play the role I was given.'

Henry sighed. He suddenly looked exhausted.

'Do you understand now?' he asked. 'Edgar is an intricately-constructed machine made to mimic a human.'

There were so many things I wanted to say, but I couldn't manage to force any words out.

That gentle face of his, his kind voice, the feeling of his hand gripping mine as we ran. Didn't all those things come from Edgar himself? Were they really all engineered in a lab?

I had to accept reality, but the more I thought about it, the more my mind resisted the thought.

I regained my composure and faced Henry. He looked at me with cold eyes, but behind that clinical, icy stare, I felt like I could sense something else. Sadness, maybe.

'Are you really okay with that?' I finally spoke. 'Can you just pretend all the days you spent with Edgar never really happened?'

'None of them were real to begin with,' he replied.

'Can you forget everything he said to you?' I asked.

'The look on his face as you two talked with each other? Every meal you shared with him?'

Henry didn't respond. He silently turned back toward Edgar. As he gazed through the glass at his friend's profile, the sadness in his eyes returned. After a few moments, he spoke.

'Edgar was always honest and loyal,' he said, quietly. 'He cared about us, and he brought people together. Once I realized that, there was no doubt in my mind he had become human.'

Henry slowly closed his eyes and gently touched his fingertips against the cold glass.

'If there was one thing we didn't expect to happen...'

On the other side of the glass, one of the mechanical arms stopped moving.

'...it was for his personality to develop to such a degree. At some point, he began to feel like a human, himself.'

The other mechanical arm stopped and the room fell silent.

I was running through a thick fog.

Someone was holding my hand, pulling me forward. Was I in the forest? Yes, that must have been the case.

Where was Clementine? Had the bracers come for us? Did she make it back to town safely?

I had to hurry. No, not that way. Wait.

Who are you? Where are we going? What are you going to do with me?

Then I woke up.

第8巻  「その手を離さぬように」
「言っている意味が、よく分かりません」         
 戸惑う私を見下ろして、ヘンリーさんは口を開いた。   
「人工知能。俺たち人間の脳の働きを機械に行わせる。   
 機械人形のような傀儡よりもずっと先進的なシステムだ」 
「……」                        
「エプスタイン財団はその方面の開発を進めていてな。   
 特に状況判断や言語理解の向上に力を入れている」    
「……」                        
「胴体内には胃袋の役目を担う装置があって、飲食も可能。 
 まぁ、毎日中身をメンテナンスする必要はあったが、   
 形だけでも人間の食事はできていたわけだ」       
「……ありません」                   
「ん?」                        
「彼は、機械じゃありません」              
 ヘンリーさんは表情を変えない。            
「だって、あんなに良い人が機械だなんておかしいですよ。 
 楽しそうにお喋りして、おいしそうにご飯を食べて。   
 それに私に……私に『君の力になりたい』と、      
 あの声で真っ直ぐに伝えてくれたんです。        
 こんなにも人間らしいのに」              
「その通り。あいつは人間“らしい”んだよ」       
「――! ち、違います。そういう意味じゃ」       
「造りは機械でも、感覚や感性は限りなく人に近づける。  
 あいつがそう作り上げられた目的は1つ。        
 “人工知能に感情を持たせることは可能なのか”     
 それを実験するためだ」                
 徐々に自分の呼吸が浅くなっていく。          
「……じゃあ、これまでのことは? エドガーさんの想いは、
 抱く気持ちは、仕組まれたことだって言うんですか」   
「そうだ。財団の研究のため、今後の開発のため、     
 あんたが対象に選ばれた。すべて実験の一環ってことだ」 
「そんなの……」                    
 私は力なく座りこんだ。                
「エドガーさんは知ってるんですか?」          
「自分が人工知能である認識はある。           
 でもどんな目的を持たされているかは知らせてない。   
 あんたに好意を寄せるようになった理由もな」      
「それを分かってて、                  
 ただ傍観していられるあなたの気が知れません」     
「……」                        
「だって、大切な友だちですよね。            
 あんなに仲良くしてたじゃないですか。         
 エドガーさんを裏切るようなことを、どうして」     
「勘違いするな」                    
 その一言はあまりにも鋭く、深い憤りに満ちていた。   
「機械と人間。恋愛感情どころか友情だって成立しやしない。
 “エドガーとヘンリーは親友である”          
 作り上げられた設定だよ。実験には観察者が要るからな。 
 上の指示に従い、俺は仮面を被って装っていただけだ」  
 言い切ると、ヘンリーさんはため息を吐いた。      
「これでよく分かったろ。                
 あいつは精巧に作られた見せかけの人間だってことが」  
「……」                        
 あの穏やかな顔も、優しく語りかける声も、恐怖から逃れる
ために固く握られた手の感触も、すべて彼のものではないの?
作り物だというの?                   
 納得しなきゃいけない。でもそう感じれば感じるほど、反発
する自分がいる。                    
 立ち上がった私を見るヘンリーさんの瞳は、迷いを残してい
るように思えた。                    
「あなたは、それで良いんですか?            
 エドガーさんとの日々を、無かったことにできますか?」 
「できるも何も、初めから何も無い。           
 1から0にするんじゃなく、元々0止まりなんだよ」   
「彼に言われたこと、すべて忘れられるんですか」     
「……」                        
 ヘンリーさんは私から視線を外し、彼の方へ顔を向けた。 
 その横顔は、何かを思い出しているように見えた。    
「エドガーさんは、信実な言葉をくれました。       
 それはあの人が私たちのことを考え、紡いでくれたもの。 
 その瞬間の彼はきっと……人、そのものだったはずです」 
 ヘンリーさんは、そっと目を閉じた。          
「……1つ、研究者たちの誤算があるとすれば」      
 ガラスの向こうで、片方の金属のアームが動きを止めた。 
「予想を超えたところまでエドガーの人格が形成され、   
 自ら人間らしい気持ちを抱くようになってしまったことだ」
 もう片方のアームも停止し、辺りは静寂に包まれた。   
              ◇              
                            
 靄がかかったような意識の中、ぼくは走っていた。    
 誰かに手を引かれている……ここは、森? ああ、そうだ。
 クレムは? 遊撃士は来てくれたのか? 町へ戻れたのか?
早く行かないと。そっちじゃない。止まってくれ。     
 君は誰だ。どこへ行くんだ。ぼくを、どうするつもりだ。 
 そこで、目が覚めた。                 
 

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