With a half choked sob being held back on nothing more than willpower, Shotaro released the Extreme Driver. Phillip nodded, feeling the earth pulling him back, fading back into data.
Wakana was safe, the Gaia Memories were gone, and Shotaru would protect the city. He had no regrets.
He closed his eyes, savouring the feeling for one last time, when something slammed into his chest, a vice pulling him back to reality. He gasped, collapsing to the ground of the Planet’s bookshelf, the hazy pull of everything vanishing for the ice cold dose of reality. Around him the shelves began to shake, and the books ripped apart, leaving him alone in the white. Everything hurt, and his ears were full of wind, reminiscent of a cyclone. Phillip tried to focus, tried to figure out just what was happening, when he realised the sound he was hearing wasn’t wind.
It was Shotaro. He was screaming. And not of loss...his partner was pain...no...He was being tortured...
“Shotaro?” Phillip shouted. “Shotaro!”
His partner didn’t, or couldn’t, hear him.
Phillip lunged to his feet, stumbling slightly but running into the white. “Shotaro! Shotaro!”
He couldn’t find him, and now even the white was disappearing, fading into little green strips of data. Phillip jerked back as the ground beneath him slipped away; collapsing to the ground in the little space he had, still desperately looking round.
What was going on? Why hadn’t he vanished? Why was the bookshelf fading? And why was Shotaro screaming?
Phillip stiffened, and slowly turned his head. On another patch of white, almost close enough to touch, stood Shroud. Even hidden by her mask, Phillip could see the pain and sorrow that bled through.
“I’m so sorry Raito” she began. “I never meant for this. It was never meant to be him...”
Dread began to fill Phillips stomach. “Mother...what did you do to Shotaro? I thought you’d accepted him!”
His mother was crying, he was certain, even if she didn’t show it.
“I did” she insisted. “I’m so happy that you found him Raito. I just...I just wish I had realised it before it was too late.”
“I knew what your father would do. I knew the chances of you being taken for Wakana’s program, even if Terui Ryu was your partner, that would almost certainly happen. And you would begin to disappear. I...I couldn’t lose you again Raito.”
Shotaro’s screaming was beginning to fade, but Phillip’s own frame began to buckle, pain rippling through every inch. But he kept his eyes on his mother, desperate to hear the end of her story.
“CycloneAccelExtreme would have been fuelled by hate” She continued. “I saw what hate had done to Terui Ryu. That he would happily die if it meant achieving his goals. And that you would disappear if you were to be taken. So I thought...if that happened...why shouldn’t you live if he didn’t mind dying?”
The final pieces were beginning to form in Phillips mind, the last keywords making his mothers wish painfully clear, but he shook his head, refusing to acknowledge them.
“I programmed Extreme with a failsafe” Shroud said. “Should your body become damaged; Extreme would combine two into one. The better mind...and the better body.”
“No...” Phillip choked.
“Shotaro’s mind will become data in the planets memories, and you will live Raito” Shroud sobbed. “I’m so so sorry...”
Phillip forced himself up, desperate to reach this memory of his mother, to make her stop this, to take it back. She might just be a figment, but she had to do something!
But she was already gone, along with the light, and Phillip found himself falling...
When Phillip woke up, his vision was obscured. Something was blocking his eyes. He groaned, pushing himself up. Normally after a transformation he would fall forwards. Backwards was unique.
Whatever was in his way quickly shifted, falling into his lap, and his eyes focused in.
A white hat. With a torn brim.
And suddenly, everything came back in one horrifying shot. He stumbled to his feet, staring in horror as he brought his hands up for inspection.
His hands were not this calloused, used to nothing hardier than marker pens. These were the hands of a man who had lived a life helping others. His clothes were soft and relaxing, not stiff and restricting, made for appearance more than comfort. The body of Phillip was frail and weak unless fuelled by Fang...
Hidari Shotaro’s body was strong and capable...
He slid the not!his hands along his jaw line, up past the nose and into the light brown hair, and broke, falling to his knees and slamming fists into the ground.
It was not his face; it was one he knew better than his own.
The body of Hidari Shotaro collapsed into the dirt, and sobbed.