Minister of Home Affairs: I believe you understand the situation. As you are well aware, hostility towards the police is on the rise due to suspicion that they're improperly using audio-visual surveillance devices. Now the Superintendent-General of the Metropolitan Police has received a death threat aired live by the media. This is damaging the authority and prestige of every law enforcement agency.

Aramaki: Yes, your assessment seems accurate.

Minister: Police headquarters is delving into the matter with the utmost determination to resolve this situation quickly and discreetly. And they're going to investigate it hand-in-hand with Section 9. Use self-restraint and don't rush into anything recklessly.

Aramaki: ......

Minister: all things.

Aramaki: Yes, I understand.

C: The Inviting Bird Will Chant; DECOY

Batou: The Chief sure is taking a long time.

Motoko: Sure is. Finally, here he comes.

Batou: That face! I think somebody rained on the old man's parade.

Motoko: Did something he say get to you, Chief?

Aramaki: The Minister of Home Affairs? Hmph. Good or bad, he's nothing more than a public servant. No, I'm afraid it's a problem with Police HQ. They casually carry out a steamroller operation, while a threat to kill the Superintendent-General is broadcast to the world.

Motoko: We it unfold on TV?

Aramaki: I'll work this team like dogs. You'll earn your pay for this.

Batou: Woof! Woof!

Aramaki: With regard to the announcement at the news conference last night by the Laughing Man, a terrorist who has resurfaced after six years, I consider it to be a farce that was elaborately pulled off by the metropolitan police.

Batou: Hold on! I'll admit that this threat pushed the whole Interceptor misuse matter clear out of the limelight, but isn't your reasoning a bit far-fetched? I mean, come on!

Motoko: Yeah, Chief. It's not like you to make accusations rashly. Are you basing this on something?

Aramaki: Hm. Togusa.

Togusa: Sir.

Aramaki: Nanao Ei; he's a material witness in the Laughing Man case. The metro police's special investigations unit have had this man under surveillance for the past three months.

Batou: Are you kidding? He looks like any run-of-the-mill office jockey to me.

Togusa: Yeah, I know. It isn't the way... that I had imagined him. I figured the Laughing Man would be a lot younger than him.

Aramaki: According to the SIU's records, our man's 36 years old. He's the son of a police officer, and he's experienced a perfectly normal childhood. After entering college, he joined the "Green Tower", a faction of the Human Liberation Front. They championed a direct action policy along with the "New World Brigade", a powerful ultra left-wing group at the time. His extremist views led him to become involved in armed conflicts. That gained him an arrest record. But after he was released from jail, he hid his entire history as an activist and nonchalantly joined Serano Genomics as an agent programmer. A year later, though, a tip to the company exposed his secret past and he was let go.

Batou: Pretty straightforward resume, Chief.

Aramaki: Yes. Special investigations HQ has suddenly started turning up more circumstantial evidence that leads them to think that Nanao is their man.

Togusa: The SIU centered its investigation and they're focused on the grudge against Serano angle this time. They're tailing him right now and once they link Nanao to the threat, they're just gonna moving in and arrest him.

Batou: Those idiots! There ain't no way in hell that the doofus could be the Laughing Man! The guy's so battered and deep-fried in guilt, he defines innocent!

Aramaki: I agree with you. Why then would special investigations swallow bait when anyone else can easily tell it's a decoy if they look at the big picture. Besides this whole Intercepter nonsense, there's something we can't ignore. Police conspiracy is a part of the equation, don't forget. Is it still a theory that's worth considering?

Togusa: Well, since he... Yamaguchi was killed in the crossfire, I'd say...probably.

Aramaki: I don't have any hard evidence. But if we can catch Nanao Ei who's been playing the role of the Laughing Man and this elusive something that's managed to fool the SIU, the answer should surface on its own. We have two days to find that something.

Batou: Oh yeah. We uncorked a big can of worms.

Aramaki: Yep. You and Togusa, find Nanao and start 24-hour surveillance.

Batou: Yes, sir! Don't screw up.

Togusa: Don't you get bored and wander off.

Aramaki: The rest of you, follow the Major's instructions and find out who's duping the SIU.

All: Yes, sir.

Aramaki: So what is it, Major?

Motoko: Nothing.

Laborer: Detectives again? Geez, I wish you people would give it a rest. I admit we went to the same school, and were involved in some activist militant stuff together 'cause who wasn't liberal? However, he was a scary guy. I never came close to his level. We're talking dyed-in-the-wool fanatic. An unbelievably tenacious bastard. When he began something, he'd follow through with it, no matter what obstacle was in his way or how much time it would take to carry out his plan. I think it's a real bad idea to underestimate him. But I will say this, back in college, nobody was as worldly as that guy. Yeah, and that's a fact.

Employee of Serano: If you were to ask me if Nanao had a grudge against the company, then I'd have to say yes. For starters, the basic systems for the micromachine design line here at Serano were almost entirely built and developed by that one guy alone. Then Serano used his past as an excuse to fire him, which left them free to claim the rights to his work. He would be crazy not to be angry.

Borma: You mean he didn't fight to get those rights back in court?

Employee of Serano: Forget it. We've got powerful staff of corporate lawyers here. Just between you and me, detective, I sympathize with the poor guy. I have the urge to cheer him on, and that's a fact.

Old Man: Yeah!

Manager: You people are persistent, I'll give you that. It's a stroll down memory lane though, so I don't mind telling you 'bout him. The Financial Yakuza back in those days were already controlled by eggheads. I recall that Nanao kid was a pretty sharp customer. But he was always spouting antiestablishment bullshit. Rebellious youth. I figure the last detective who was here couldn't understand why a bright boy like Nanao would have anything to do with the yakuza. But the whole social provocation equals left-wing idea is so last century. There ain't no left or right when it comes to making money, and that's a fact.

Paz: For the record, could you confirm that we're talking about Nanao Ei and he's the man who's in this photograph?

Manager: Yeah. That's him. His hairline's receded a lot, though.

Ishikawa: Ishikawa here. I'm amazed the SIU did such a thorough job using 6-year-old records. Even restricting it to level D class, I pulled up 1023 of them. I'm checking them in order, starting from level E class, but it looks like it'll take a long time just to clear the decks.

Yakuza: Here you are, sir.

Aramaki: No thank you. It's all right. I have to leave.

Yakuza: Huh.

Aramaki: 34 hours to go before the crime occurs. There has to be a clue. I don't care what it takes. Find it.

Ishikawa: Roger.

Batou: Chief, why can't we just give up on this dull-ass investigation, grab Nanao and make him talk? Section 9 specializes in cyber warfare and doing it quick. SIU has the manpower, so let them handle the routine snooping.

Aramaki: Nah, don't be so hasty. If our timing is off when Nanao's arrested, our butts could end up in hot water. Is there any change in his behavior?

Batou: He's just been sending out short E-mails from his apartment at regular intervals all day. We checked the contents, but most of it is spam. There's no sign of virus data in any of his outgoing mail. Hey, we can hang out here as long as you want us to. Good work, fellas. Uh... Well, if anything happens, we'll bust our way in.

Aramaki: Sorry for the inconvenience.

Yakuza: Not at all, sir. Any time.

Aramaki: Good bye. Ishikawa, where's the Major?

Ishikawa: Now that you mention it, I haven't heard from her since she left saying she was going to check on something with her own external memory device.

Aramaki: What the hell's she doing?

Kurutan: But Motoko, don't they keep those records at your work?

Motoko: Mm-hmm. I was out of the country at the time of the incident. So I wanted to hear the rumors that were going around.

Kurutan: Hmm, rumors huh?

Motoko: I can't get a feel for it from the police files. They're too dry. Thanks a lot.

Kurutan: But it's been ages since you've been by here.

Motoko: I promise I'll make it up to you.

Kurutan: Mmm...

Ran: Hey Kurutan, where's Motoko? I heard she's here.

Anchorwoman: Good morning. It's 7:20 on February 3rd. Time for "Drive-time Weather". Well, the weather today not so perfect, but we expect it to be relatively fair. That should be good news for you commuters. As part of the ongoing CO2 clean-up, there's a micromachine dispersal tentatively scheduled for this afternoon. For those of you who suffer from throat problems, make sure to wear a mask. And does everyone remember what today is? If you've forgotten, I'll refresh your memory. This marks the 100th day before the opening of the World's Exposition. So with that in mind, we've come up with the following questionnaire. The topic is the exposi...

Laughing Man: IT'S NOT FAIR!

Woman: Aaugh!!

Laughing Man: Look straight into that camera! I demand you tell the world the truth!

Serano: Listen, stop. You won't shoot me.

Laughing Man: Are you sure?

Serano: Augh!!

Laughing Man: If your word means anything, then talk, damn it!

Serano: I can't. Not right now. Why don't you tell 'em? Go ahead.

Laughing Man: It wouldn't mean anything! Mr. Serano, if you don't tell them the truth, so help me, I'll...

Serano: I... can't do that.

Laughing Man: Why not!

Motoko: February 3rd, 2024. Serano's kidnapping occurred two days earlier, but no announcements were made in order to keep the press at bay. This case was difficult as hell, and the investigators didn't find a single clue, then, ironically, it suddenly broke with that leak to the media. This was where it all began, theatrical crime widely known as "The Laughing Man Incident." According to the detectives who worked on the case back then, Mr. Serano received warnings prior to the event by word of mouth from people that were close to him, but because their cyberbrains had been hacked, he didn't take the situation seriously. Immediately after Serano himself was cyberhacked and kidnapped from his home. An enormous ransom was demanded for 10 billion yen and 100 kilos of gold bullion. Following that however, all contact was lost. Up until they appeared on that TV broadcast, there'd been no inkling of news about Mr. Serano whatsoever. And while the Laughing Man was threatening Serano on live TV, he took the opportunity to plaster his logo over the camera's AI, and the eyes of onlookers including those of the TV station staff, all done in real time. The Laughing Man fled from police when they rushed to the scene, yet despite the fact that so many people saw the suspect, the only ones who were able to see his real face were two homeless men who had no cyber implants. The reports are famous of those who testified that they saw Laughing Man's face, based on these eyewitness accounts, detectives came up with a composite sketch of the logo every time. This bizarre and disturbing incident, along with that twisted pop icon gained popularity among a lot of young people and subculture commentators.

Motoko: The M.O. resembles the threat against the Superintendent-General. If the guy really did this all by himself, he's definitely a super-class-A hacker. But this timeworn kidnapping case is beneath his abilities... After his shocking and dramatic debut, he avoided the public eye and went on to blackmail the Serano Corporation. He did this by planting the "Virus Program Unto Death" into their micromachine production line. When sales of their main product, medical micromachines, drastically slowed, and the price of Serano stock took a nose dive, the blackmail quickly stopped, as if that was the goal all along. He then blackmailed 6 other micromachine manufactures, hitting one after another using his unique method. This continued for about 3 months, so it makes me wonder if blackmail really was the underlying motive. What was his true objective? What's his criminal profile? Did he act alone or part of a group? What's his race, sex, age? Was there something hidden in his criminal philosophy? He left a hell of a lot of unanswered riddles. And just when the government decides to allocate public funds to the victim companies, he suddenly vanishes into the shadows of the Net.

Panelist 1: Then why would he start off by doing something so risky as appearing in public and forcing Mr. Serano to confess something? I just can't understand that. I'll tell you what I think, it's as if blackmail's message was secretly switched from 1st person to 3rd person halfway through.

Panelist 2: His way of saying this is all wishful thinking. It's not that simple of a situation. Personally, I believe the culprit is a life form that was spontaneously generated in some dark recess of internet society. In other words, it's my feeling this was composed event brought about by completely unrelated conspirators. I'll even go so far as to question that the so-called Laughing Man never existed in the first place.

Aramaki: Mmm...

Motoko: Chief, I'm getting off the Nanao case as of this minute. Would you assign Saito and Pazu to me too?

Aramaki: What have you got in mind?

Motoko: Protecting the Superintendent-General. I think your hunch was on the money. But I can't shake the feeling that there's one piece which doesn't fit. My Ghost is telling me to tail the Daido now, to discover what that is, I hear it whispering.

Aramaki: Um... All right. You know what needs to be done. Every Section 9 member has a unique ability. And you work best on your own. But individual success is a reflection of strong teamwork.

Motoko: Bye, Chief. Put the word out to Saito and Paz, okay?

Aramaki: Did you copy that? I'm sending Saito and Paz to back up the Major.

Ishikawa: Be my guest. We're done with our inquiries, so Borma and I can handle by ourselves from here on. Borma, mobilize the AI ladies. Also, get authorization to use the Sci-Tech Bureau's Hekatoncheires. We check 'em all out one by one.

Borma: Yes, sir!

Aramaki: It's me. What's Nanao's status?

Togusa: No sign of any activity yet. He's still sending out e-mails sporadically.

Nanao: Yes? Thank you for all your help. Hm? Oh, that? Yes, that's right. As you say, the reaction was even better than expected. That was the only one of the plans I had worked out in advance. Well, then, I hope you'll look forward to it. Right. Good bye. No, it wasn't me. I didn't issue that warning, but no matter. will all be over soon.

Saito: Major, the Superintendent-General has entered the building.

Waiter: Can I get you something?

Motoko: I'm fine, but thank you.

SP voice: Routine check. Our man is in the building. Take your positions and stand by.

Motoko: Batou, what's Nanao doing?

Batou: Nothing new. We verified the short e-mails coming and going, but we haven't netted anything that looks like a virus.

Motoko: I see.

Togusa: Major, I tapped SIU's radio frequency. They sound mighty impatient.

Agent 1: Why aren't we moving in! He's right under our damn noses!

Fukami: It's a shame really that we couldn't pinpoint Nanao's location when the threat to the Superintendent was made.

Agent 2: And we have you jerks in HQ to thank for that too! This Interceptor mess screwed up our field work!

Motoko: Chief, how are things on your end?

Ishikawa: Got it. Like it says in the SIU's report, Nanao's activities at the time of each crime overwhelmingly substantiate the possibility that he's the Laughing Man, all right. But during my investigation of those 43 related files I came across a lot of weird stuff in the testimonies of those who knew the man back then. I noticed a definite trend of admiration for Nanao. And I suspect this trend may be the result of a forced recognition language program. Another thing, there's the descriptions of Nanao in the testimonies. It's subtle, but they don't appear to be of the same person. I've determined that this identity is composed of several different personalities. And despite the fact that the content of the testimony is in a form of direct quotes from each witness, every person confirmed that Nanao was the man in the picture showed to them. These records have been clearly manufactured. Or rather, skillfully overwritten. The Cybercops would never have seen through these. Hell, not even Special Investigations were able to tell these were altered documents. This falsifying was a quality forge job.

Aramaki: Superb work. Batou, do it quick. Apprehend Nanao.

Batou: Roger!

Aramaki: These's a lot more to this case than I ever imagined.

Motoko: Saito! Paz! Are you picking up any interference in my signal from the jamming barrier that the police are using?

Saito: No, you're loud and clear.

Paz: Same here.

Motoko: Really...

SP voice: Routine check. All personnel move from security level B to C.

Agent 3: Hey! Who are you people with...

Batou: Move! Public Security!

Agent 3: Stop it! Don't go in!

Batou: Eeegh!

Togusa: Nanao Ei!

Batou: You're under arrest for threatening to kill the Superintendent-General!

Agent 3: What the hell does Public Security want with...!?

Batou: Shh! ...Agh?

Togusa: Uh...

Agent: Huh?

Agent: What's going on?

Nanao: Ahahaha! I was never there in the first place! This is rich. Oh yeah, I'm sure I'll be written down in the history books now as the Laughing Man. Mmmmwah!

Motoko: That noise...

Batou: That's...they're Interceptors!!

Motoko: That static in the routine checks was a modular delayed-action virus!

Batou: He's been peering through the SIU's eyes all along.

Motoko: Batou! Nanao is sending out a modular virus via that room.

Batou: Hm? I'll trace the source from here!

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