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"Lost" (Ghost in the Shell)This is my second fanfic, set between the first and second films.
Mari felt the hand on her shoulder before she ever saw the car. She stumbled a little as the hand jerked her back to the curb, and she felt a rush of air and exhaust fumes as the car raced by in a blur of yellow. When she could breathe again she looked down at the hand.
It was a man’s hand, rough and thick with big knuckles. The nails were cut to the quick. It was larger than almost any man’s hand had a right to be. Probably a cyborg then. The fingers dug into her flesh, not hard enough to hurt. He could hurt her, easily. The muscles of the hand were tense, as if he were straining to not hurt her.
Then the hand was gone. Her shoulder tingled where it had rested.
Mari turned around to look at her savior. He was a big guy, probably six and a half feet, solidly built. Platinum hair hung in a ponytail down his back. He had old-fashioned eye implants, the kind that looked like sunglass lenses set into the sockets. She wondered briefly if he was Complete. Completes were still relatively rare.
Mari realized she was staring. She spoke quickly, hoping he hadn’t noticed. “Thank you.”
He said nothing. After a moment she added. “I should pay closer attention, I guess.”
The man shrugged. His face remained expressionless.
She cast about for something else to say, something that might get a reaction from that stony face. There was a sheaf of paper in his jacket pocket. At the top of one of the papers she could see the word LOST. “Oh, did you lose your dog?”
“What does it look like? Maybe I’ve seen it.”
“He’s a basset hound.” His voice was as deep as she’d expected.
“But what does he look like?”
He cocked his head. It was an unexpected gesture from a man like this. “He looks like- a basset hound.”
Mari sighed. “What’s his name?”
Odd name for a dog. “Can I see a flyer?”
He handed her one of the papers.
There was a picture of a low-slung dog with long, floppy ears. LOST, REWARD, a phone number. Nothing else. No name.
It was crazy, what she was about to do. “I’ll help you look.”
He looked at her for a long time. At least she thought he did. The eye implants made it hard to tell. Finally he shrugged. “Okay.”
He turned and began to walk away. Mari scrambled to follow. It was going to be a long night, trying to keep up with him. “My name is Mari, by the way.”
A name, or a cough? Mari decided it was his name.
He didn’t say anything as they walked. Mari filled the silence. She told him about her own pet, a turtle named Gonzo, and how she’d been coming home from dinner with friends when the car almost hit her. She told him she’d come to the city for school and was studying architecture. She told him about her parents and her two brothers, still living in a little town on the other side of the country.
All the while a part of her brain whined that she was stupid. This was how perverts lured little girls into their clutches. But that didn’t make sense. Mari was grown up. And he hadn’t even asked her to help look for the dog, she’d offered.
At an electric pole he stopped and took a flyer from his pocket. He took a thumb tack from the other pocket and began to tack the flyer to the pole.
“Wait.” Mari stood on tiptoe and grabbed his wrist. She tugged until he lowered his arm. “That’s too high. You can see it way up there, but most people can’t. Put it here.” She pointed. Batou regarded her for a moment, then tacked the flyer in the spot she’d pointed to.
Mari’s hand trembled a little. His skin had been cool, dry. When she’d touched his wrist there had been no pulse under her fingers. He really was Complete. A brain in an entirely artificial body. Instead of a heart in his chest there was a machine that pumped something that wasn’t blood through carefully crafted veins.
“How old are you?” She asked as they continued down the street. He looked about forty, but it was impossible to tell with Complete cyborgs. He could be a hundred, or eighteen.
After a while he replied, “Older than you.”
Mari rolled her eyes. “Narrow it down! I’m nineteen, everyone’s older than me!”
“What do you do? For a job, I mean.”
She didn’t expect him to tell her, but he did. “I’m a cop. Sort of.”
That made sense. “Is that why the old-fashioned eye implants, then? Because they intimidate people? They can make them look just like real eyes, after all. I hear they can.”
Batou stopped so suddenly that Mari stepped on his heel. He swung around and gave her a long look. Mari stared back, trying to decipher an emotion in the blank lenses.
“Something like that.” Batou said.
They hung a few more flyers. It was getting chilly, and Mari began to shiver. She asked if they could stop and get some coffee. Batou nodded.
He paid for her coffee. The cafe was across the street from a park. Before he could protest she grabbed his hand and pulled him across the street. He tensed but didn’t jerk away.
They sat on a bench facing the joggers’ path, under a light. Mari peered into the shadows.
“Gabriel,” She called softly. “Gaaay-bree-elll.”
Batou stared straight ahead, arms crossed. He wasn’t cold, she knew that much. Completes had temperature sensors that could be turned off with a thought. They didn’t need to eat or drink. Their bodies were almost indestructible. They could only be killed if their brains were destroyed. It was total freedom.
Well, Mari thought, sipping her coffee. Maybe not.
She watched him from the corner of her eye. He didn’t think she saw him. His face had changed, melting a bit into- something. It was familiar, even without eyes. She’d seen it before on her friends, classmates, her brothers. A fading, faraway look.
“What’s her name?” She asked.
His eyebrow twitched slightly. “What?”
“Her name. The name of the woman you’re thinking about right now.”
His eyebrow twitched again. Was he mad? What if she’d read him wrong? What if he was only thinking of his lost dog? Oh God- what if he was thinking of a man? Mari looked away, embarrassed. “Sorry! I just-”
She drew in a sharp breath. His voice sounded hollow.
“Motoko.” She repeated softly. “That’s pretty. Is she pretty?”
His fist clenched convulsively. He said nothing.
Mari clutched her coffee. The cup was burning her hands, but he didn’t put it down. “She hurt you.”
He was quiet for a long time. When he finally spoke his voice was thick with grief. “She didn’t mean to. She didn’t need me.”
“I never would have left her.”
Impulsively Mari caught his hand. Her hand looked absurdly small next to his. “I know you wouldn’t.”
After a moment he stood up. Mari followed. Without another word they went on their way.
Mari wondered what would happen if she went and found this woman, this Motoko, and told her, “He loves you, you know.” What would she say in reply?
A few flyers later Mari was out of coffee and tired, and something was bothering her. She lagged further and further behind. Batou didn’t seem to notice. Finally she stopped in the middle of the sidewalk, head down. Batou was half a block ahead of her when he saw that she was gone. He came back to stand in front of her, regarding her without expression.
Mari stared at her shoes. She asked the one question she really wanted an answer to. “What’s it like? I mean, when you wake up for the first time with new eyes? With implants?”
Silence. She kept talking. “The reason I ask is- I wasn’t just not paying attention back there. I have a disease- it’s a rare disease, but I’m going blind. It started last year. It moves- fast- already my peripheral vision is totally gone. That’s why I didn’t see the car. They said they could give me new eyes- they can make them look like real eyes, any color I want. But- I hate the thought of being blind. But I wasn’t sure- I thought, maybe, if I did something like that I wouldn’t be human anymore. It’s stupid, I know- there are all kinds of cyborgs, but not in my family. My family doesn’t do that. But-” She smiled nervously at him. “I’m really glad I ran into you tonight. Because you’re a cyborg- you’re even Complete. And you’re still human.”
“I don’t remember.” Batou said quietly. Mari blinked. “It was a long time ago. When I transferred.”
“Oh! Oh.” Mari bit her lip. Tears rose in her eyes- her frail human eyes. Stupid girl. What did she expect him to say?
He walked away. She followed, not knowing what else to do.
They worked for another hour. Mari swallowed her tears and told him all about the disease. It was hereditary, her grandmother had also gone blind but she was much older when she got it. It skipped generations. It hadn’t affected her brothers. She hadn’t told her parents yet. They would feel guilty.
When Mari looked at her watch it was past midnight. She jogged forward and tugged at his sleeve. “Batou? Batou, I have to go. It’s late. I have class in the morning.”
He gazed at her. Was he sorry she was leaving? Did he care at all?
“I’m sorry I couldn’t help you find Gabriel.” Mari added. She held out her hand. He hesitated, then took it. She felt the repressed power in his grip. “Well- good night, I guess.”
He nodded. “Thanks for helping. With the flyers.”
“Yeah, you’re welcome. Um- good night.” Mari tucked her hands in her coat pockets. She turned away.
She’d only gone a few steps when he called her. “Mari!”
Her name sounded strange in his mouth. She looked back.
“How do you know I’m still human?”
Mari smiled, even though it wasn’t really funny. “Because- I wasn’t sure at first. But now I see. No one can be as hurt and as angry as you are- and not be human.”
He considered that a moment. Then he said, “It’s strange at first. Everything is too sharp, too focused. But you get used to it. Pretty soon you don’t even remember what it was like before.”
Mari listened. When he fell silent she met his eyes, or tried to, and smiled. “Batou. Thanks. I really am glad I ran into you tonight.”
She waved and turned to go. As she walked down the street she glanced back over her shoulder. He was still there, gazing after her. Mari waved again. Then she started for home.