第12話 ユイの心 ／ Yui’s Heart
[—November 1, 2024 Floor1: Town of Beginnings / Church—]
Kirito: There’re so… many of them, huh?
Asuna: Yeah, there are.
Sasha: I know, right? It’s like this pretty much every day. By the way, is Yui feeling any better?
Kirito: Well, she’s got a good night’s sleep, so I think she’s okay. I don’t know. You tell me.
Sasha: Has this ever happened to her before?
Asuna: We have no idea. You see, we found her on Floor 22 wandering in the forest. The poor thing, she’s lost her memory.
Asuna: That’s the reason we came here. We thought maybe someone in the Town of Beginnings might know who she is.
Kirito: You live here. Have you ever seen her before?
Sasha: Sorry, I haven’t. I mean, there are a lot of kids in town, but I’ve never seen her. When the game started, a lot of the children suffered severe psychological trauma. I couldn’t stand by and do nothing, so I moved to this church and made it a safe place for them to live. I walked through the town every day looking for kids like these, kids who might need my help. But in all this time, I’ve never seen her before.
Asuna: Back to square one.
Yulier: Sorry to bother you. I’m Yulier.
Asuna: And you’re with the Army, right? I hope you’re not here to start trouble because of yesterday.
Yulier: God no. In fact, I’m here to thank you. You did right by putting those men in their place. Actually, I came here to ask the two of you for your help.
Yulier: When the guild was formed, we… , well, actually it was the leader Thinker, he never wanted it to turn into the kind of dictatorial organization it’s become. At first, the mission of the guild was to share information and food equally among as many players as possible.
Kirito: But then, the guild grew too large, didn’t it?
Yulier: Right. And after much infighting, one man became very powerful. His name’s Kibaou. Kibaou and his group became stronger and stronger, monopolizing all the best monster spawn points. They’re out of control now, extorting other players under the pretext of collecting taxes. It was obvious Kibaou didn’t care about clearing the game, and that made a lot of people mad. He had to do something to get back in their good graces, so he sent the highest-level players he had to the front lines.
Yulier: Kibaou was denounced after spearheading that massacre. That’s when we started to seriously consider kicking him out of the guild for good. And now that he’s scared and getting desperate. He decided to eliminate Thinker. He set a trap, and stranded Thinker deep inside a dungeon.
Kirito: Can’t he teleport out?
Asuna: Does he have any weapons?
Yulier: He didn’t take anything with him. Kibaou told him we wanted to talk unarmed. Thinker believed him. That was three days ago.
Asuna: He’s been gone there alone? Can’t he find his way out?
Yulier: The dungeon is the highest level we’ve seen so far. He can’t get out of there on his own. As his second-in-command, this is my responsibility. But the problem is my level isn’t high enough to reach him. And Kibaou is using his influence to keep the rest of the Army from helping me. When I heard that two of the most powerful players anyone’s seen were in town, I thought this is my chance! I tracked you down because I need your help. Kirito, Asuna, I beg you for Thinker’s sake. Please help me rescue him from the dungeon.
Asuna: If you think we can help get Thinker out of there, we’d be glad to help you. However… well, the thing is, we’d like to make sure you’re telling the truth.
Yulier: I’m Sorry. I know we just met and I’m asking a lot from you. But when I think about him trapped alone in there, I feel like I’m going insane.
Yui: It’s okay, Mommy. Everything she’s been telling you is the truth.
Asuna: Y-Yui. You mean, you can tell?
Yui: Mm-hm. I don’t know how I know she is, but… she is!
Kirito: If anything, I’d rather trust and regret it than not trust and regret it. Let’s go. It’ll work out. Right?
Asuna: Mm-hm. Whatever you say, mister easygoing. Okay, we’ll help. I just hope we’re strong enough to do it.
Yulier: Thank you so much.
Asuna: I know what it feels like to wanna save someone, especially someone you care for.
Kirito: Stay here and wait for us, okay?
Yui: No, I’m coming too!
Sasha: Oh, come on, Yui. Don’t you wanna stay here with me?
Kirito: Great. Now we get to see her rebellious side.
Asuna: Hey, this is serious. It’s too dangerous for you to come along with us this time.
Yui: I’m going too!
[—Floor1: Black Iron Castle—]
Asuna: I never knew this dungeon was under the Town of Beginnings.
Kirito: I know. There wasn’t anything like this during the beta test.
Yulier: I think the dungeon opens up her veil more, as the floors above are cleared. I bet Kibaou was planning on keeping this place all to himself.
Kirito: Exclusive access to spawns can be profitable.
Yulier: The thing is, the monsters here are usually around level sixty. He wouldn’t be able to do much hunting.
Yulier: This is the entrance.
Yui: Oh… Don’t worry. I’m not afraid.
Asuna: No, it’s okay. Believe it or not, she’s a heck of a lot of tougher than she looks.
Kirito: Mm-hm. She’ll make a fine swordswoman someday.
Yulier: We should get going.
Kirito: Ha! C’mon, you frogs!
Yulier: I feel like I should apologize. He’s doing all the fighting.
Asuna: Oh no, he’s happy out there. Really he loves getting his battle on. We’re pretty far down. Are we almost there?
Yulier: Thinker hasn’t moved from this position for a while now. It could be a safe zone, but I’m not sure. If we can reach it, maybe we can use a teleport crystal.
Kirito: Phew! Man, I fought my butt off.
Yulier: I should’ve helped you.
Kirito: No, not at all. I had a blast. Besides, they dropped some items.
Asuna: Really? You got anything good?
Asuna: Wh-What is that?
Kirito: It’s scavenged toad meat.
Asuna: You mean those frogs?
Kirito: Hey, the weirder the meat, the better the taste. Maybe you can cook it up later.
Asuna: Not on your life!
Kirito: What the hell?! Oh, come on! What d’you do that for?
Kirito: Damn it! Oh fuck! What am I gonna do with these?
Asuna: No! No! No, no, no, no!
Kirito: Asuna, it’s good to eat!
Asuna: Get rid of it!
Kirito: But it’s delicious!
Kirito: You just have to cook it once!
Asuna: Shut up!
Yui: You smiled.
Asuna and Kirito: Huh?
Yui: I’ve never ever seen you smile before!
Asuna: Come on. Let’s go.
Asuna: Look, it’s a safe zone.
Kirito: There’s a player inside.
Yulier: It’s Thinker!
Kirito: Wait. Don’t!
Thinker: No, stay away! The corridor’s rigged!
Asuna: Stop! Wait, Yulier! Come back!
Asuna: Yulier, take her to the safe zone and wait for us there, okay?
Yulier: Come on.
Kirito: Asuna, use a teleport crystal and get Yui and the others out of here now. I can’t see its data with my ID skill. It could be as strong as something from Floor ninety. I can buy you time. Just get everyone out of here!
Asuna: No way I’m leaving you here.
Kirito: I’ll catch up! Move it!
Asuna: Take care of Yui! Run while you still have a chance!
Yulier: No, we can’t leave!
Asuna and Kirito: Ugh!!!
Yulier: Yui, no!
Thinker: It’s dangerous. Come back!
Kirito: What are you doing? Get away from it!
Yui: Daddy, Mommy, it’s okay.
Asuna: Yui! An immortal object?
Yui: Daddy, Mommy. Don’t worry. I remember everything.
Asuna: Yui, say something. You remember who you are?
Yui: Yes. Kirito. Asuna. Everything in the world of Sword Art Online is controlled by a single massive system. The system is called Cardinal. It was designed to operate entirely on its own without any human intervention. Its function is to regulate the balance of SAO according to its own discretion. From monsters and NPC AI to drop-rates for items and money. Everything here’s controlled by the processes the Cardinal program executes. That includes the psychological care of players. Mental Health Counseling Program, prototype one — code name: Yui. That is who I am.
Asuna: You’re a program? An AI?
Yui: I was designed to put players at ease with me. That’s why I was given the ability to emulate complex emotions. Nothing about me is real. Nothing… Not even my tears. I’m so sorry, Asuna…
Asuna: Oh, Yui… But then, what about your amnesia? Can that even happen to an AI?
Yui: Two years ago, on the day of the official launch, and for reasons I never understood, the Cardinal program banned me from interacting with any of the players. I wasn’t allowed to assist them. I couldn’t do anything except continue monitoring their mental states. Their situation, in a word, was horrible. No, don’t! Terror, despair, rage. People were overcome by negative feelings. Some of them couldn’t take it. They went insane. Under normal circumstances, my function would’ve been to go to such players immediately. But I wasn’t permitted any contact with them. Little by Little, errors began piling up inside of me, and I fell apart. Then one day, I saw two players. Their mental parameters were vastly different from anything I’d seen among the others. There was joy… and peace. And there was something more. I wandered through the playing field, hoping to get as close to both of you as I could without being detected.
Asuna: So, that’s why you were in the forest.
Yui: Yes, that’s why. I’ve wanted to meet the two of you for the longest time. That’s strange, isn’t it? It should be impossible for me to think things like that. I’m not human. I’m a program after all.
Asuna: Yui, maybe what you’re feeling are real human emotions.
Yui: I don’t know. I’m confused. Nothing makes sense. I don’t know what’s happened to me.
Kirito: You aren’t just some program anymore. The system can’t control you. Listen, if you want something, all you have to do is say it. Go ahead, tell us what you want.
Yui: What I want… I want… I wanna stay with you forever… Daddy… Mommy…
Asuna: You will. We’ll be together forever, Yui.
Kirito: Yeah. Remember you’re our child.
Yui: It’s too late.
Kirito: For what?
Yui: Look. This is actually a console the GM can use to gain emergency access to the system. I used it to delete the monster in the corridor. And now, because I disobeyed the Cardinal’s directive, the system is running a check on my program. It thinks I’m a foreign object now. I’ll probably be deleted at once.
Asuna: Oh, no.
Kirito: There’s gotta be a way around it.
Yui: Daddy, Mommy, thank you. This is goodbye.
Asuna: No! I don’t want that! Stay with us! Please stay… We just started living like a real family.
Kirito: Yui, don’t go!
Yui: Whenever the two of you’re around, you have a way of making people smile. From now on, and for me, please continue my work — keep helping people. Share your happiness with all of them.
Asuna: I can’t! I won’t! You have to stay with us. I can’t be happy without you!
Yui: Smile, Mommy.
Kirito: Cardinal! No, Kayaba! You’re gonna find out things don’t always go the way you want them to!
Asuna: Kirito… what are you…?
Kirito: If I’m fast enough, I might be able to use the GM’s account to access the system.
Asuna: Kirito! Are you okay? What’s this?
Kirito: This system was about to reject Yui’s admin credentials. The only thing I could do was take her program and turn it into a game object.
Asuna: So, this is…
Kirito: You’re holding Yui’s heart.
Asuna: Hey, Kirito.
Asuna: If the game does get cleared and this world ends, what’s going to happen to Yui?
Kirito: Don’t worry. I fixed it, so her data will be saved to the local memory on my NervGear. When we get back, recreating her the way she was isn’t gonna be easy. But if there’s a way, we’ll find it.
Asuna: Okay. As long as we can be a family again, we’ll see her when we get back. Our first child.
Kirito: Yeah. We’ll see her again.
Kirito: Hey, Asuna. You okay?
Yui: Good luck, Mommy…