"Motoko!" Batou grunted her name, and she knew from his tone what had happened. It had been folly to think that they could have made it out of the country, especially by plane, but they had both agreed that it was for the best. The sooner that the government stopped concentrating on sending Umibozu to kill the last two remaining members of Section 9, the sooner it could get back to its job of indicting Yakushima.
But at this moment, Umibozu had the two cyborgs in their sights, and there was no way to escape.
She turned her head, her cyberized mind working faster than ever. She regretted that there hadn't been a way to go back and retrieve her broken body which was still stored at the hospital, waiting for the Chief to order its disposal. She could perhaps have called Kurutan and asked the other girl to switch her back; she was fully qualified, and Batou could serve as a witness, but that would risk drawing too much negative attention to the human girl, and Motoko couldn't allow that.
Still, as this body was about to be destroyed, she could spend one nanosecond wishing foolishly that it was not the new, advanced one. Only a nanosecond, though, and no longer, because that would be a waste of time, and at the moment, time was too much of a luxury.
Her next thought was one that was even more foolish: a quick thought to use her remote doll. However, using it would have still left Batou in danger, which is why she had vetoed it initially.
Unsure of how much time she had remaining, she tried to speak, to reassure Batou somehow. He knew the plan, knew the trick she had up her sleeve, but the expression on his face was far too concerned for her taste. He really was such a worry-wart, and she had been touched, though not entirely surprised, that he had gone back for her watch.
It was something that none of the full humans, like Togusa and the Chief, or even many of the part cyborgs, like Saito, could really understand. When your entire physical shell had been taken away, whether piecemeal like Batou's, or all at once early on, as hers had been, the only way to deal with it initially was to pretend that you were still a human. Almost every full cyborg she knew still clung to one remnant of their past. Some desperately, most less so; she liked to think that she fell into the latter category. Batou was pretty obsessed with his weight-lifting exercises, but she still thought that he fell into the second category as well.
She wasn't sure what she wanted to say to him, what her final words were going to be, but probably his name, or perhaps "It'll be okay," or "I'm ready." She wanted to find something to remind him that everything was going to be alright, but she couldn't quite get the words out. Maybe because she herself wasn't sure.
She wished there was enough time to tell him to be careful. And to look after Togusa. He had been driving the chief to the Prime Minister when the attack happened, so he should have been alright, but she still worried about him. With the exception of a little brain cyberization required when he joined Section 9, Togusa was completely human, and he had a family to go home to. He needed looking out for, and though she hesitated to call her feelings towards the young man maternal, they were strong. She knew Batou felt the same. Take care of him.
Stay alive, said the Chief.
She heard it coming milliseconds before the bullet hit her; not even enough time to blink, but she had the tiniest of windows in which to fully prepare.
And then there was darkness. She was floating, to use a complete cliché, in an empty dark space. She imagined this was probably what the nets looked like when you couldn't connect to them properly.
She wasn't sure how much time passed. Everything was relative on the nets, and probably more so when you were dead, or at least simulating it.
Eventually, she tried to connect. It didn't work, as she suspected it wouldn't, but she had to try. Next she tried to envision a world around her, and that worked much better. It was hazy, without her usual finesse, but it was a fair simulation of the library into which she had followed the Laughing Man moderator.
Now that she had seen him, met him, merged with him, she knew that he had been that boy all along, and that even his disappearance had been a show for her benefit. She wondered if this was how he felt – alone and outdated, like an abandoned library – now that he had shared himself with her. She could never feel alone now, as she always had some part of him with her, like a watch strapped around a nonexistent wrist.
The watch was back at Kurutan's, with her puppet, and a note about preserving her damaged shell. Safe, if such a word was applicable right now.
She looked around the library simulation, full of outdated methods of retrieving outdated information. Was this what it felt like to be decommissioned? To be worthless? If they never figured out where she was, would she fade away here like one of the dusty books?
Is this what she had done to the Tachikomas?
Her perceptions of them had been radically changed in the last 24 hours, and she couldn't help but think that she had done the wrong thing by them. For the first time in her life, she regretted her actions when it came to an AI. Because by the time she shipped them back to the lab, the Tachikomas were much more Intelligence than Artificial. They had developed individuality, and though at the time she had regarded that as a dangerous thing, now she wondered. What made them different than her now? Or Aoi? Or even Batou. How was individuality, paired with intelligence, different from a ghost?
If her ghost began to disintegrate here among these books, pulled in different directions by the ebb and flow of the nets, would that make her less human than them? They had gone to their dismantling, or death maybe, with cheer and excitement at a new adventure, and they had gone out as whole beings. If she was reduced to half a ghost, did that make her more or less human than those robots? She suspected the latter, and it made her even more regretful for what she had done.
She would have apologized, had she not just witnessed the last three Tachikomas destroy themselves to save Batou. And really, wasn't that the final determiner? They were individuals, willing to give up their individual existences to save a friend's life. Even Motoko hadn't done that. She'd backed up her system to this place, rather than risk losing herself, her ghost. Was it possible that the artificial intelligences had died more human than she was?
It was, she thought, entirely possible.
Oddly saddened and comforted at the same time, Motoko began to walk through the stacks, beginning her own journey. One day, like the Tachikomas, she would return.