Togusa: Major, what's this?

Motoko: It's an internal data from a vocational aid center.

Togusa: Vocational aid center?

Motoko: They give job-training to some of their patients that have severe Cyberbrain Closed Shell Syndrome. It'll help them reenter society. You have heard of this, haven't you?

Aramaki: The database of the Ministry of Health and Welfare was hacked into last week. It was an inside job and a large one. The leaked information included material that was classified even higher than A-level. Notice the amount of time it took to crack the barrier. They breached triple layer of varied attack barriers in just two hours. If it was only one person, then he's an old pro who's even better than the Major.

Togusa: Huh? Better?

Motoko: Borma and Ishikawa did a thorough route trace, and that building is definitely the point of origin. However, the strange thing is the circuits at the center are normally kept isolated, that would make it virtually impossible to establish external contact from the inside, and vice versa.

Aramaki: What's even odder is the Ministry of Health and Welfare's reaction. They've had data peeped that was highly classified, but they haven't filed a single damage report. Even if they were embarrassed by the hacking, their response is very unnatural.

Motoko: They must have some stuff in there they don't want us to find out. But they can track us down if we go about this the wrong way.

Aramaki: That's your part...

Togusa: So, an undercover investigation.

C: Inside the Forest of the Sub-Imagoes; PORTRAITZ

Togusa: Their network room... Just like in the report, it's not wired for power. Hm? Something wrong, pal? What?

Omba: I'm Today is my turn.

Togusa: Hey, there.

Maruta: Who are you?

Togusa: Me? Uh...

Maruta: I found him. You must be the new trainee. I'm Maruta, the center's director.

Togusa: My name's Togusa.

Maruta: You know that it's supposed to be everyone's work time.

Omba: I'm Today is my turn.

Togusa: What's wrong?

Maruta: You, you're in cyberbrain autistic mode?

Togusa: Uh-huh?

Staff 1: Move it!

Maruta: Be careful.

Staff: Right.

Omba: I go online, today.

Staff 1: Yeah, sure you do.

Staff 2: But it's your work hour right now.

Omba: I'm going to Virtual City Alpha... Huh, aaaugh! It''s my day to go online. Today is my turn...

Togusa: Hey!

Staff 1: Hm?.... Ah, aaaaw!

Staff 2: Ghwah!

Maruta: Catch that boy! Hurry up!

Togusa: !...

Cyborg: Never let your guard down.

Maruta: Well, thank you. You're a big help.

Cyborg: Don't worry. He's only sleeping.

Maruta: Good.

Togusa: What was that about? Well?

Maruta: We have a rule here, you can only connect to an external net under the supervision of our staff. Also, we lost our connection in this room just yesterday, the child was probably upset. Won't you sit?

Togusa: Ah... Yes, ma'am.

Maruta: The boy obsesses about regulations, especially things like taking turns and scheduling.

Togusa: The way you handled him seemed excessive, though.

Maruta: People hear "Cyberbrain Closed Shell Syndrome," and picture someone ill-adjusted to cyberbrain technology. But they're actually too compatible, that's the problem.

Togusa: Compatible? Really?

Maruta: Yes. After they've connected to the net for a while, they want to stay so badly that they try exhaustively not to leave. And if they're on with a specific person, they'll attempt to commit brain-diving in order to share their consciousness, they'll even risk being injured or killed by that person's attack barrier. There are also the solitary ones, loners who seal themselves off behind a barrier, they refuse to connect with anybody making it impossible for them to return. These children exhibit severe symptoms of those conditions. They spend their afternoons here in this ward.

Togusa: To avoid such mishaps, you've got to quarantine them from the network. There's really no choice, it's for their own protection. That's what this facility's for, isn't it? But, are all of them, like the boy, I mean, can they wipe out a dummy barrier the same way?

Maruta: On that... I believe you'll understand after you see this. This place is sort of a danger zone. Some cases of Cyberbrain Closed Shell Syndrome involve complications that lead to intellectual damage, but there are quite a few patients who display a surprising knack for cyberspace. We make use of the peculiarities of their condition in their job training by having those children program barrier mazes. Occasionally these activities result in a barrier maze so remarkable that government agencies adopt it. Each and every one is constructed in a truly unique fashion. If we were to leave them alone, I'm rather sure they would work, never stopping, never bored, assembling or dismantling barriers.

Togusa: ........................!

Maruta: Well, I suppose you've seen about all there is to see.

Togusa: Uh...yeah...

Maruta: I'll put you in charge of a relatively manageable single group room for now, Togusa. This is Aoi. He's one of your charges.

Togusa: Yes.

Maruta: I believe that the other children are back in their room, so take him to join them.

Togusa: Yes, ma'am. Aoi, right? Nice to meet you.

Kuroha: Cripes, Aoi. What took you...

Togusa: Hi. I'm Togusa, taking over today. How are you doing, there?

Kuroha: ...... Uh...

Togusa: Hey, you wanna play a game of catch? It's still pretty bright out.

Kuroha: Hey, give it back! He's getting freaked out!

Togusa: Oh...

Kuroha: He goes into panic mode when he doesn't have his mitt. Besides, nobody wants to go outside, not anymore.

Togusa: You guys aren't being mistreated here, are you?

Omba: Hey, the Chief swears he's gonna come again!

Togusa: Huh?

Kuroha: You really mean it!?

Omba: Hm, I just now heard about it.

Kuroha: I'm surprised, he was here just last week.

Togusa: Last week? So, who's this Chief guy?

Omba: Huh! Pretty slick, you mister!

Kuroha: Shh!

Togusa: What's wrong?

Kuroha: We're not the types that trust grownups, especially those we don't know yet.

Omba: Oh, right...

Kuroha: So don't think that we'll just blab everything to you.

Togusa: That's pretty strict.

Kuroha: We have to be.

Omba: I'm gonna go tell the others, then. OK?

Kuroha: Yeah, sure.

Batou: Uhhh, he sure is late.

Motoko: What? Are you worried?

Batou: H-hm, like hell! The guy's a loser. I thought he might've blown his cover or something.

Togusa: Who are you calling a loser?

Motoko: You're late! Why is that?

Togusa: Uh, well, it was tricky to establish a channel that couldn't be traced. I mean, this is the only place with a line to the outside.

Motoko: Well?

Togusa: The center is using their Cyberbrain Closed Shell Syndrome patients to program and tear down barrier mazes. If somebody here is exploiting their abilities, it might explain why that hacking of the Ministry of Health and Welfare was so skillful.

Motoko: I see. Any suspects so far?

Togusa: No, not yet. But this is one weird operation. They've even got a heavy-loadout Cyborg stalking the halls.

Motoko: Copy that. Carry on your investigation for now.

Togusa: Roger. Oh, ah, Major? There's one other thing that's bugging me.

Motoko: What?

Togusa: Who do you suppose "the Chief" is?

Motoko: Chief? You in Boss?

Togusa: The kids at the center mentioned it. One said something about him being here last week.

Motoko: Understood. For the time being, we'll do a phonetic breakdown and run a search. You dig up all the information you can on him before your next report.

Togusa: Roger. Uh... So, somebody besides me has been using this, huh? "I thought what I'd do was. I'd pretend I was one of those deaf-mutes... or should I?"... What's the hell? Oil paint?

Togusa: Wow, that's amazing.

Girl: ......

Togusa: Almost like a photo. But you don't actually do any paintings? You know anything about this "Chief" guy?

Girl: I am going to create a world of beauty. My eyes will view through a new mind.

Togusa: Morning.

Kuroha: Now what? Look, I'm not gonna tell you about the Chief.

Togusa: I know that.

Kuroha: Hey, you wanna see something wild? Hm, totally kickass, isn't it?

Togusa: You can read virtual visualization programming?

Kuroha: Of course. Can't you?

Togusa: Uh, uh...

Kuroha: Well then, patch into this guy's brain. You'll see some stuff, that's really way cool. You gotta be careful though. A staffer here once dove in, but the dude's ghost got mixed up with his, so he's been trapped in there ever since. You game?

Togusa: .....!! I, I better pass...

Kuroha: You're a drag. Hm, thought you'd have more guts.

Togusa: Hey, who do you think this "Chief" is?

Aoi: ......

Maruta: For now, you're in charge.

Staff: Right.

Maruta: It's you. Hello.

Togusa: Good afternoon. Going out, ma'am?

Maruta: Yes, there's a welfare industry gathering.

Togusa: Oh, really. Have fun. ...Wait here. Sorry about this, but I'll be done in a minute, OK?

Togusa: Geez. Oil-painting central.

Togusa: Huh... No suspicious records to speak of. And zero visitors last week, huh? Damn it, not being able to access external memory is a friggin' pain...

Maruta: Dear, oh, dear.

Togusa: Ah...!

Maruta: You've abandoned your charge to do a bit of spying? Search all you want, you won't find any clues about the Chief in there.

Togusa: I guess you're in no mood for excuses, right?

Maruta: You can hurt him, but don't kill him.

Cyborg: Yes, ma'am.

Togusa: Now, wait a minute. If we fight in here, your paintings could be...

Cyborg: Is that what you're gonna fight with?

Togusa: Uh? Augh!! Paintings shouldn't be treated roughly. Unlike electronic data, it can't be duplicated, dumb ass...!!

Togusa: Didn't think I was armed, did ya? .....Huh?

Maruta: Section 9...?

Operator: Major, unusual activity. Every terminal in the center just went online.

Batou: Something's happened.

Operator: It's our access codes, they're trying to decrypt them.

Batou: So, was his cover blown?

Motoko: I don't know. Cut all circuits, hurry!

Operator: !...

Motoko: What's the holdup?

Operator: I'm...I'm locked out!

Motoko: Batou, now! We're pulling Togusa out!

Batou: OK!

Motoko: Ishikawa, commandeer their circuits! Saito, secure an evac route!

Omba: Got her! Man, did I fry that AI peeper!

Aoi: Kuroha.

Kuroha: Hey, what's up? Where have you been, Chief?

Aoi: Things have gotten bad. I was spotted by people on the outside. A lot of grownups will be coming, so I'm...disappearing before then.

Kuroha: Ooh? Why? Till now, everything's been going super. We'll protect you, Chief, the same as always.

Aoi: No. I appreciate everyone's help, but it's time I left this place.

Kuroha: Hold on! Does that mean you're gonna wipe all our memories and run away?

Omba: Got 'em!

Aoi: I'm afraid so.

Kuroha: So we...won't be cheering you on in Virtual City Alpha? Not ever again? But, hey, no matter what, you're someone we don't wanna forget. Just leave something to remind us of you.

Aoi: Mhm. I promise I will.

Motoko: Uh! Togusa! Hey, Togusa! What the hell happened here? Come on, talk to me! Damn it, Togusa, wake up! Togusa!........

Motoko: So, was there any evidence to prove that this "Aoi" kid Togusa mentioned was ever real?

Ishikawa: I couldn't find a single trace. It's possible someone deliberately altered the center's computer files and the staff's memories, but I can't go much further only using Togusa's testimony.

Motoko: What about that portrait of him the one that girl drew?

Ishikawa: We couldn't find that, either.

Batou: Hm, that's why his report was gonna be a sketch, huh?

Ishikawa: A handsome young lad in a wheelchair with a lefty catcher's mitt. Togusa said he would use the memories in his own cyberbrain to draw him.

Batou: Wait, a lefty's catcher mitt, you say? That term is net-jargon. It means something you think is real when it actually is not.

Togusa: You sure about that? Sorry I took so long, Major.

Batou: Give! I wanna see if what you got there is good enough to save your sorry-ass .

Togusa: Now don't be shocked. This shows I have talent.

Motoko: ...!

Batou: Uhh... What the hell's this?

Togusa: Huh?

Motoko: Looks like... you picked up a bad case of weird memories in a weird place.

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