It was hard not to think when Hajime was surrounded by the overwhelming silence. Sitting by himself, looking up at the looming Main Course building. Hinata wasn't sure why he would occasionally decide to put himself through this. He'd come out by the foundation, sitting himself a purposeful distance from the higher class. With heights unattainable shadowing over him, it was all to painfully symbolic. Not that it was any more comfortable in the Reserve cafeteria but at least there he could talk to Natsumi. She was rude, not unlike the other reserve students, but Hajime knew she could be an okay person at her best. Dealing with her would certainly feel better then melting in his endless swarming thoughts, sat on hard damp pavement, eating a half-baked sandwich.
Shortly after this thought, Hajime became aware of a presence looming behind him. Hajime turned to face them, mildly wary. He found himself looking towards a petite figure, dressed in a green jacket and a boxy skirt. He wondered how long the person had been there, their footsteps must have been near silent.
He waited for some introduction, and was met with silence.
He waited a few more seconds.
Growing mildly agitated with aimlessly staring at this person, staring at every surface but Hajime, he eventually realized they weren't going to initiate this conversation.
He coughed for their attention. "Hello. Can I help you?"
"Ah... Um, I'm sorry, I'm not very good at this." The figure spoke softly. "You're Hajime Hinata right? Sorry, I would've asked Soda to do it himself, but I wanted to know...." They paused their stammering to finally look at him. "What kind of person you were."
Hajime's hand scratched the back of his head, aching for something to do. "Yeah, I'm Hajime. You know Soda?"
"Oh sorry! so sorry, my name is Chihiro. Fujisaki? Chihiro Fujisaki." Hajime's mind ticked slowly trying to figure out why this person was talking to him. He had a inching they were from the Main course. He suddenly remembered.
"You're the one Soda was working with?" He felt a strange urge to bow.
"Yes, That's me! Thank goodness you remembered... I'm here to give you Chiaki. I had to do it for myself. Just to see." They repeated, their voice growing as firm as it could probably ever get. To be honest, Hajime had all but forgotten about that half-hearted commitment he made about a day ago. This person's attachment to Chiaki only made him feel more out of place accepting her. What was he supposed to say though? Sorry, never mind I don't actually care about your life's work?
Instead he pressed his face into a smile. "Ah yeah, that. I wasn't planning on doing anything weird, I promise. Soda just kind of offered out of the blue."
"He would... he seems like the type to offer someone else's work as a gift." They said this lightheartedly though, seeming to have eased up a bit. Hajime hoped it meant they approved of him even if he didn't really know why he wanted that approval.
"Um... listen.. I don't mind, you having her. If Soda trusts you, I think it'll be fine. But I do ask you be very careful with her... she's not easy to break, but it is possible..." they began. "I guess I could always remake her... but.. she was a close friend. It might be okay, since I still have the real thing. And I want this one to learn... even if it's just a little." Chihiro mumbled basically to themselves. It was gibberish to Hajime. "Here." They finally said to him, holding out a small pink chip in their palm.
"You only need to insert it once. Once it's completely download it'll stay on your device until you choose to uninstall it ..or....possibly... it uninstalls itself." Hajime reached out and let Chihiro press the chip in his hand. It felt weird, knowing he was basically holding a automated person in his palm. He definitely didn't deserve this. Why did he ask for this, why would he ever even want it. Oh god, what if he broke it? what would-
"Don't be worried. As long as you have the chip, Nanami can always be reinstalled. So please just be sure to keep it safe." Chihiro spoke up after sensing his concern.
Hajime needed to ask. "Why are you giving this to me?"
Chihiro's eyes widened for a moment. "Sorry? Wait, Have I got it all wrong?" They started to fold in on themselves, shifting their weight from foot to foot.
"No, No! I mean, I asked for this, I guess. But is that really all? Are you really okay with giving something so important to a stranger?" He folded his hands over the chip. "A reserve no less?"
"Well, I made Chiaki to be more than just a computer. I don't want her doing calculations all day... unless she wants to." Chihiro's soft voice suddenly turned firm again. "I want her to get along with others, make friends. Like I did here at Hope's Peak. I want to create something that can grow, and change, and well... decide." Hajime didn't understand why that mattered, she was just a computer. Not that he expected a satisfying response, he hardly knew what response he expected at all. Chihiro had returned to practically talking to themselves again, leaving Hajime in the dark.
"Thanks, Chihiro. I'll.. certainly try." Hajime spoke evenly, and they smiled softly in response.
With that conversation still in mind, Hajime headed back to his dorm. Walking through the cool evening air, he was completely ready to forget all about this whole thing again, but he couldn't stop thinking about Chihiro's strange request. It sounded like it meant something more important than it seemed. When he finally arrived at this room he found himself reflexively pulling the Ai chip out of his pocket. It felt crappy of him to not at least download it, after all the hoops Soda and Chihiro might have jumped throw just to get it to him. So he caved, which he seemed to be doing a lot recently.
He fiddled with his phone trying to figure out where he would even put the chip. He eventually decided it looked pretty SD card-y, so he slipped it in there. As he did a small box immediately notified him that something was downloading. A bit off put by the lack of a warning, Hajime put his phone down and waited for something to happen.
After minutes of this, he started to wonder whether it was broken. Hajime had been routinely tapping the screen when it went dim but nothing else seemed to happen. It just kept installing and installing.
"It is a pretty advanced program I suppose. I guess I'll.. just leave it." With that Hajime turned to his book bag and shifted through it, looking for assignments to do. Something he had a surplus of. He tossed several papers onto his desk still eyeing the phone. It was dim. Hajime groaned, and tapped it lightly one more time.
"Come on, I get it's a big app or whatever but can it go any slower?"
Finally the loading screen stopped, and switched to a box informing Hajime the application had been successfully installed. Hajime pressed "OK" and... nothing happened. He swiped around his home screen, and saw nothing different. Holy shit, was this a virus. Was this a long con. Hajime quickly turned to his door half expecting Soda to jump out and yell that he had been pranked. He worriedly swiped to his app screen and continued to desperately look for literally any change at all. He was so spastic he almost missed the flash of a pink icon he knew he didn't have before.
Hajime stopped and looked closer. The app had a surprisingly simple pink icon with what looked like a game console on it. It was labeled "Alter Ego Chiaki". After a short pause he pressed it, and heard a little jingle as it loaded in.
A girl's face popped on screen surrounded by a green background. She had pink eyes, fair skin and a delicately colored brownish hair. She looked...so real.
She yawned. "Hello. My name is Chiaki Nanami, I'm here to assist you, I think."
Hajime was awe-struck, it was like he video calling someone, she felt so... alive? Hajime looked closer for any sign of digital editing, a weird programed twitch- anything.
"You don't have to look so hard, I promise I'm here." Hajime reeled back at being directly addressed.
"You're not Chihiro, could you be Hajime? Father told me about you...Well, they told me your name."
"Ok, Hajime, what are we gonna do?"
Hajime felt his face warm. "What?"
"Did you need something?"
"I.. just wanted to see you?"
"That sounds romantic, I think. Sorry, I don't really know what to say to that."
"I didn't mean it like that. I mean I just downloaded...you.. your program and I-"
"Oh, are you surprised?" She suddenly lit up. "Do you need a tutorial? I've always wanted to give a tutorial."
"Sure, I guess. I don't see why not." Hajime was more than overwhelmed right now, holding his phone like it was seconds from exploding. Talking to a digital girl. It was a lot.
"Ok, when you open my app you usually won't see me. You'll see my little avatar." The screen suddenly changed to the image of a little digital Chiaki walking around a digital bedroom. "She's kind of me, if you think about it. So be nice." Little Chiaki moved around in controlled motions. Was Chiaki piloting her? like a game within a game? "You can do some cool little things here. Like we can play games, give gifts. I can even level up I think?"
Hajime was confused, why would a fully-functional Ai who was practically a person need to level up? This felt more like some pet care game.
"You can interact with my avatar in this app. You can also call me and text me here. Right now we're kind of a digital call, I guess. But I can do things too. I have a virus protector, I can also read some of your texts and even send texts for you. If you don't want that you can adjust my permissions in the settings menu." Chiaki paused. "Do you know what a settings menu is?"
"Yes, I do."
"Hm. Then do you know how to play games?"
"I mean, I don't very often."
"That's fine, probably. Let's play a game, Hajime."
Hajime nervously chuckled. "As much as I would like to, I have some work to take care."
"Oh? So you're a student, too. Just like father. Does that mean you also can't game with me." though her face was still calm and relaxed Hajime could see the slightest pull of a frown.
"I mean I can... just not at this very moment, you see..." Hajime hurried to assure her.
"That alright. Tell me when you can, I'll be waiting." Chiaki smiled, and it made Hajime feel... something. This feeling was broken by the sudden irruption of a loud rapping sound. Hajime turned as he realized it was the sound of knocking. He reflexively chucked his phone onto his bed only mere seconds before his door swung open.
"Hajime! Where on earth were you this lunch hour, I had to sit near some nameless bozo because of you." Natsumi was howling at him from his doorframe. Hajime felt a second of relief that was just her, until he realized, ugh it was her.
"Doesn't anyone in this school know about privacy."
"What are you on, you overdramatic bitch. I totally knocked." she rolled her eyes. "What did I interrupt something important?" She mused, making an incredibly annoying face.
Hajime grimaced and glanced at his phone. "No. Nothing what do you want."