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Chapter 9 - A Sleepless Dream

I awoke to find myself lying on a workbench.

'Hey. You're finally awake,' I heard someone say. I turned my head to see Henry enter the room.

I tried to sit up, but my movements were sluggish.

'That's weird,' I said, 'I'm having difficulty moving.'

'Well, you did just come out of major surgery,' Henry said. 'The back of your head was injured pretty bad.'

I reached back and touched the spot above the nape of my neck. I felt sutures there.

That was where the core of me was. The part that made me Edgar.

'What about Clementine?' I asked. 'Is she okay?'

'Just a few scratches,' Henry told me. 'She's fine.'

'Good,' I breathed a sigh of relief. 'So the bracers made it in time.'

Henry nodded with a soft smirk.

'I want to see her,' I told him. 'Is it safe for me to move?'

I didn't wait for a response, however. By the time the words had left my mouth, I had already gotten down off the workbench and begun walking toward the door.

'I told her,' Henry said, quietly. 'About you.'

The words stopped me in my tracks.

'She came here to see you after she couldn't find you at the hospital,' he said. 'She was really letting the receptionist have it.'

'And?' I asked.

'I took her to see you while you were being repaired,' he said, averting his gaze. 'She said she understood and then left. Told me she knew there was something off about you.'

I started laughing.

'What?' said Henry, taken aback by my reaction.

'You're a terrible liar, Henry,' I said. 'We both know she'd never say something like that.'

Henry looked to the floor and let out a little sigh.

'I'm sure she was shocked, though,' I continued, 'I imagine it would be a lot to take in.'

I sat back down on the workbench.

'You're pretty calm about all this,' Henry said. 'One of the benefits of being a machine, I guess.'

As he said this, I saw a hint of pain and sadness in his eyes.

'Why didn't you take me back to the dorm after I was fixed?' I asked. 'Why did you try to stop me from seeing Clementine? And why are you acting so strangely right now? I can't understand.'

I ran my fingers through my indigo hair, then down to my neck, covered in lifelike, yet synthetic skin. My hand came to rest on the sutures.

'After all, I'm just an artificial intelligence.'

Henry fell silent.

'I realized something while I was walking with Clementine,' I told him. 'Information about her was installed into my mind. The kind of food she doesn't like, stories from her childhood, even images of her smiling face.'

'It was just random information to get me to focus on her,' I continued. 'Or at least, that's all it was supposed to be. I guess something unexpected happened.'

Henry continued to stand there silently, listening to me.

'Those times where my head felt muddled and I had strange visions,' I went on, 'those were my own hopes getting mixed in, weren't they? My own desires. Wanting to talk to her...wanting to be with her.'

Henry didn't say anything, but I could still see the sadness in his eyes.

'Does any of that change what's going to happen now?' I asked.

'You're pretty chatty after your surgery, huh?' Henry said, quickly putting on a tired smile.

'The experiment you were part of is over now,' he said as he walked toward me. 'This stage of it, anyway. The results show some danger.'

He stopped right in front of me and looked me in the eyes.

'They've decided up top that an A.I. that develops self-consciousness is too difficult to manage,' he said. 'Your thought data is going to be removed and analyzed, then you'll be given a new personality and appearance. After that, the experiment will continue.'

'What about you, Henry?' I asked. 'Is that what you want?'

'It is,' he said, averting his gaze again. 'You're nothing but trouble. I signed up for this experiment to advance my career. Why else would I babysit some artificial intelligence? Now that the experiment's over, my job here's done.'

'So I'm too difficult to manage?' I asked. 'Is that what you think, Henry?'

'Yeah,' he said, 'you almost got your face punched in trying to fight some drunk, you made me chase after you on some hunt for mushrooms we weren't even sure existed, then you dragged me out to go catch some rare fish and ended up giving it away. I've had it up to here with you.'

His voice wavered and his face scrunched up, as though he was trying to hold something back.

'I understand,' I said, 'I'll do what you tell me to, Henry.'

'Wh--' he started.

'I'm not going along with what the foundation wants,' I told him, 'I'm just taking my friend's advice.'

'What about Clementine?' he asked.

'I shouldn't see her,' I said. 'It's for the best.'

'Why? All of a sudden...' he stammered.

'Where's that calm, scientific demeanor you had a moment ago?' I gave him a small smile. 'You should hurry up before I change my mind.'

Henry closed his eyes and his face scrunched up again.

'No matter what happens to me, I'll still think of you as my friend. That's all,' I said as I lay back down on the workbench.

'Edgar...' Henry's voice wavered.

'It feels like it's been a while since I've heard you say my name,' I said.

He turned away and began preparing the equipment.

I could hear the machinery begin to hum around me. I felt my body getting lighter, threatening to float away. My ekes were open, but I couldn't see anything.

It felt like I was the only one there.

Suddenly, I felt a pen and paper put in my hands. Henry must have brought them to me to write a letter. I had no idea where to start, though. There was so much I wanted to say, but I didn't know where to begin. My hand holding the pen started shaking. The only lines that made it on to the paper were worthless scribbles.

I needed to thank her. I needed to tell her I was sorry.

And also...

It was evening, and I was at the restaurant, working like always. I had nowhere else to go, and work kept my mind occupied.

It was only a few hours ago that I was in that building. When I saw Edgar's eyes open, I ignored Henry calling after me and ran out of the room.

If we were never going to be able to see each other again, I thought it would be best if he didn't see me there.

I couldn't pretend it had never happened, but I needed to forget. I decided that was the only way I could keep myself going.

'Um, excuse me, miss.' A voice from behind me shook me out of my thoughts.

'O-Oh, sorry,' I said, 'I'll be right with you.'

I quickly wiped the tears from my eyes and turned around. A middle-aged man was standing at the entrance to the restaurant.

第9巻  「眠らない夢、それは」
 ぼくは作業台に寝かされていた。            
「よう。お目覚めか」                  
 顔を少し傾けると、ヘンリーが部屋に入ってくるのが見えた。
上体を起こすのに、余計な時間がかかる。         
「おかしいな、上手く体を動かせない」          
「後頭部を傷つけられたからな。“大手術”だったんだぞ」 
 うなじの少し上を触ると、縫った跡が分かった。     
 ぼくにとっての心臓部。エドガーという存在の中枢だ。  
「クレムは? なんともない?」             
「かすり傷で済んだ。元気にしてるよ」          
「良かった。じゃあ遊撃士が来てくれたんだ」       
 ヘンリーは微笑みながら頷いた。            
「彼女に会いたい。もう動いていいんだよね?」      
 返事を待たずに作業台から降りる。           
「……伝えたよ。おまえのこと」             
 その言葉に、出口へ向かう足は止まった。        
「おまえに会いにここへ来たんだ。            
 病院にはいなかった、って受付嬢に食ってかかってまでな」
「それで?」                      
「処置中の姿を見せたら、納得して帰ったよ。       
 やっぱりあの人は普通じゃないと思ってたって」     
「……はは」                      
「なんだよ」                      
「ヘンリーは嘘が下手だね。               
 あの子がそんなことを言わないのは、分かってるでしょ」 
「……」                        
「さすがにショックは受けただろうね。人の心は繊細だもの」
 ぼくは再び作業台に腰かけた。             
「随分と冷静だな。機械の感覚は鈍ってないようだ」    
 ヘンリーはそう言いながら、傷ついたような顔をする。  
「なぜ処置が終わったのに宿舎に帰されなかったのか。   
 どうしてクレムに会わせようとしないのか。       
 今の君が、ぼくの知ってる君と雰囲気が違うのはなぜか。 
 それらから結論を導けるくらいには、まだ人工知能だよ」 
「……そうか。話が早くて助かるよ」           
 人工物とは思えない健康的な色の肌と藍色の髪を撫でる。 
「クレムと渓谷を歩いている時に気がついた。       
 ぼくの頭には彼女の情報が入れられていたんだって。   
 食べ物の好き嫌いや、子どもの頃からの癖」       
 隣を歩くクレムの笑顔を思い出す。           
「彼女を対象としてインプットするための、些細な情報だよ。
 ただそれだけのはずだった。でも、ぼくは特例らしいね」 
 ヘンリーはじっと話を聞いている。           
「時々、頭が重くなって見えたおかしな風景。       
 あれは、ぼく自身の願望が入り混じったものだったんだよ。
 彼女と過ごしたい、話したいと感じたことの結晶だった」 
「……」                        
「これでも、この先に待つ結論は変わらないの?」     
「手術をしたら、やけに饒舌になったんじゃないか?」   
 ヘンリーはこちらへ近寄ってきた。           
「実験の成果は出たよ。むしろ危機感を感じるほどな」   
 正面に立ち止まり、ぼくを見据える。          
「自意識が発達した人工知能は管理に支障をきたす。    
 上からそう判断が下った。おまえの思考データを抜き取り、
 分析後は新たな外見と人格で、実験を継続することになる」
「ヘンリーはどうなの? 同じ考え?」          
「……ああ。面倒を起こされては困るからな。       
 俺は研究員として名を揚げたくて、実験に参加したんだ。 
 だから、人工知能のお守りなんて面倒な役割も引き受けた。
 成果が出た以上、その役割も終わらせる」        
「ぼくは、管理に支障をきたすような人工知能?      
 ヘンリーも、そう思っているの?」           
「そうだよ、その通りだ。                
 酔っ払いに喧嘩を売って顔を粉々にされそうになったり、 
 あるかも分からないキノコを探しに行ったり、      
 珍しい魚を釣りに行っても結局は獲物を譲っちまったり、 
 もううんざりなんだよ」                
 言い切ろうとする彼の声は震えていて、頬は紅潮していた。
「そう。分かった。ヘンリーの指示に従うよ」       
「えッ……」                      
「財団の意向に従うんじゃない。君の希望を呑むってこと」 
「でも、クレムは」                   
「彼女には……会わないままでいい。その方が良いんだ」  
「なんで、急に」                    
「さっきまでの冷徹科学者っぷりはどうしたの?      
 ぼくの気が変わらないうちに、早く準備をした方がいいよ」
「……」                        
「どんな形であれ、君のことは大切な友だと思ってる。   
 それだけだ」                     
「エドガー……」                    
「久しぶりに名前で呼んでくれたね」           
「……」                        
 それから、ヘンリーは装置の準備をしに行った。     
                            
 すぐ近くで装置の機械音が聞こえる。なんだか身体が軽くな
った気がして、意識は朦朧としている。でも目は開けられた。
周りには誰もいないらしい。               
 ペンと紙を掴んでいる感覚がある。せめて手紙を書こうと、
ヘンリーが用意してくれた。だけど文章が決まらなくて、まだ
何も書けずにいる。言いたいことがあるのに、まとまらない。
 ペンを持つ手が震える。紙に染みこむのは頼りない線ばかり。
ありがとうも、ごめんねも、伝えなきゃいけない。     
 それと――                      
 夕方の食堂。私は、いつも通りに仕事に来た。他に行きたい
場所もないし、働いてる方が気が紛れるだろう。      
 数時間前にいたあの場所で。エドガーさんが目を覚ました時。
私はヘンリーさんの呼び声も無視して建物から飛び出した。 
 もう会えないと思ってしまったから。目を合わせない方が良
いと感じてしまったから。                
 これまでを無かったことにはできない。だから、忘れよう。
そうでしか私には、自分を守れないから。         
「あの、すみません」                  
「は、はい」                      
 目元をこすって振り返る。1人の中年の男性がやってきた。
                            

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