Real

BY : Mannah_Pierce
Category: Naruto > Yaoi - Male/Male > Naruto/Sasuke
Dragon prints: 1340
Disclaimer: This story has some of Masashi Kishimoto's characters from Naruto in a universe of my own devising. I do not own Naruto. I do not make any money from these writings.



Heartfelt thanks to my beta and muse, Small Fox. Thanks also to The Horseman of Death because the idea for this story started in a discussion with him. Thank you to angelj232000, disembodiedvoiceofthedying, Dawn, lonelylulaby, richon, sadie237, Kyle, v, YamanashiOchinashiIminashi, liby318, cynaga, GreenEyedCat and unneeded who left a review after chapter four was posted. As I have said before, it is feedback from readers that keep me writing this story.



Real

Chapter five: Spy



“Because Sai couldn’t be a real person, could he?” Ran asked.

Haru’s imagination went into overdrive. Could Sai be a spy masquerading as Sumiko’s imaginary friend? They thought that their security was good, but it was impossible to be sure. An enemy could have a completely different technology, like In-san’s plants. They might not be able to detect something completely new.

An outsider might explain the weird code in the programme.

Receivers and transmitters could have been hidden during the raid on the household. Maybe that was what the raid had really been about. Perhaps the spy had been waiting; lurking; watching.

“Haru? Ha-chan?” It was Ran, calling him.

Haru realised that he had gone off inside his head. He smiled at Ran to confirm that he was back.

“I am probably wrong,” Ran assured him.

“Maybe,” Haru conceded but he was already planning on how to check that Sai was merely a figment of Sumiko’s imagination and not a spy.

 

He spent every spare second refining his plan. It had two parts. First he would compare the times that the simulator programme had been changed to Sumiko’s routine; if the programmes were altered when Sumiko was doing other things, then she wasn’t doing it. Second he would design, build and plant bugs; that way he could spy on Sumiko and catch her doing genius-type things like programming.

The bugs would take more time but he was soon ready to run the analysis. To his disappointment, the outcomes did not support any clear-cut conclusion. Some of the alterations occurred when Sumiko was available and some of them didn’t.

What he did learn was that the changes happened incredibly quickly; in less time than it would have taken him to log on.

That made him think that a programme was making the changes; no human could have done it that quickly.

Which pushed Haru towards thinking it must be a spy. After all, why would Sumiko write a programme to alter programmes? She would just do it herself.

Wouldn’t she?

 

The arguments went around and around in his head. Was it a spy or Sumiko being clever?  One minute it seemed like one and the next it seemed like the other. Maybe he just liked the idea of a spy because it was exciting. Perhaps he was trying to avoid the reality of Sumiko being like Shi-chan when he wasn’t.

He decided to talk to Ran.

 

Haru could tell it wasn’t going well. Ran kept stopping him and asking him to go back over things.

Once he had finished, Ran was frowning.

“You think Sai is an outsider spying on us?” he checked.

Haru frowned back. “You suggested it,” he complained. He tried to remember what Ran had actually said when the idea of a spy first came up. “Didn’t you?”

“No,” Ran replied. “I suggested he might be real.”

That made no sense to Haru. Was Ran suggesting that Sai was a person from within the crew? Who? It could be Shi-chan, but Shi-chan thought Haru was changing the programme.

“I suppose it could be an outsider pretending to be Sumiko’s friend,” Ran conceded.

Haru was relieved. “Yes, a spy.”

“Would it have to be a spy?” Ran asked.

“Yes,” Haru replied with confidence. Then he thought about it. “I think so. He must have found some way into our communication network. He wouldn’t do that unless he wanted to spy on us.”

Ran looked at him with serious eyes. “Haru, if you’re sure it’s a spy you ought to tell someone.”

“I’m not,” Haru admitted. “It might be Su-chan. Then if I tell, I’ll have ruined things for her.” That was why the bugs were a good idea; they would tell him if it was Sumiko.

“You will be all right while I’m away?” Ran asked.

Haru’s thoughts shuddered to a halt. He had forgotten that Kakashi-san was taking Iruka-sensei and Ran to visit a planet. They would be gone five days and he knew that Ran was looking forward to it. He smiled.

“I’ll be fine,” he insisted.

 

As soon as he had seen Ran off, Haru started working on the bugs.

He quickly came up with a simple design; a miniature microphone or camera linked to a basic processor, a data crystal sliver and a tiny power cell. He would make them stand-alone and check the recordings using an isolated speaker or viewer. That way he would avoid the spy, if there was one, ‘seeing’ what he was doing.

He kept a partially completed flyer to hand in the unlikely event that Kiba-san, To-chan or Iruka-sensei asked him what he was making.

He had to fit the building time in between all his other activities but he managed it; having all the time he usually spent with Ran helped. By the end of the fourth day he had eight audio and four visual recorders. On the fifth he planted them around the playroom and in Sumiko’s favourite toys; he even put one of the audio bugs under the rubber cover of her projector.

 

On the sixth day he and Kazuki went to the docking bay to greet Ran.

Even a few days exposed to sunlight had darkened Ran’s skin and lightened his hair. He was wearing a new jacket and had a different satchel.

His eyes were the same though. He looked at Haru and sighed before pulling him close.

“Has he been obsessing, Ka-chan?” Ran asked.

Kazuki gave a small, affirmative growl. “Been building some flyer.”

Ka-chan hadn’t realised that the flyer was a cover for something else; Haru’s throat tightened and his eyes filled with tears.

Not that he had spoken to Ka-chan about the bugs, or the spy, or Sumiko being a genius, or even Sai. In the past Kazuki had always picked stuff up because he was always there when Haru and Ran were talking.

Now he rarely was. He was always in a simulator, or the gym, or the park. It was like To-chan and Papa had warned him; the others would grow up and leave him behind.

Ran had felt his sadness; there was no avoiding it when they were touching. Haru half expected Ran to push him away but the arms around him tightened and Haru relaxed into the hug.

Kazuki came close and sniffed Haru’s neck. “Doesn’t smell right,” he admitted. “Should have noticed.”

 

After their evemeal, he and Ka-chan went to Ran’s room to hear about the planet. They tried the strange fruit, sucked sweets and examined Ran’s mementos.

It was nice; Haru almost forgot about the spy.

When it was bedtime he and Ka-chan walked side-by-side back to the nursery.

Kazuki sniffed. “Should have noticed,” he repeated.

Haru was determined not to make a big thing of it. He shrugged. “It isn’t your job to look after me.”

Kazuki’s fur bristled. “Yes it is.”

In one way that was nice; Haru liked being looked after. In another it wasn’t, because they had always looked after each other and now Ka-chan didn’t need him anymore.

 

To-chan was putting them to bed; Papa was still with the triplets. He went from bay to bay checking on them. When he reached Haru and Kazuki’s bay he crouched down beside Haru’s bunk and stroked his hair.

“What’s wrong, Ha-chan?” he whispered.

Haru did not know what to say. Was it Su-chan? Or the spy? Or that Kazuki no longer needed him? He took the easy way out. “I missed Ran,” he replied.

To-chan studied him. Haru could tell he was unconvinced but that he had decided to leave it. “Are you sure you don’t want your plushie?” he asked.

Haru had decided that nine was far too old to want to sleep with a toy. He had relegated his plushie to his keepsakes box. “I’m sure,” he insisted.

To-chan’s whiskers twitched. He left for a moment and came back with an extra pillow. He tucked it against Haru’s chest. “Not a plushie,” he pointed out. “Just a pillow.” He then stroked Haru’s hair and made small, comforting fox noises.

It felt good; it made Haru feel safe and loved and sleepy.

 

Next morning Haru resolved to tell Kazuki about the spy. Kazuki tried his best to sit still and pay attention.

“You didn’t make the Sai sim?” he checked when Haru finished.

Haru shook his head.

“And Shika-san didn’t, so either Su-chan did or it’s something planted by a spy,” Kazuki summarised.

Haru was pleased he had been so clear.

Ka-chan twitched his whiskers. “Can’t see a spy being interested in Su-chan,” he pointed out. He gave a brilliant smile. “You’ll sort it out, Ha-chan,” he assured him and was gone.

Haru sighed. At least he felt better for trying.

 

Next he brought Ran up-to-date with his scheme to decide if Sai was controlled by Su-chan.

“Each data crystal sliver will hold two days of visual or five days of audio,” he explained. He considered. “Maybe I should make another four bugs with cameras to swap in.”

Ran looked at him; Haru wasn’t sure about that type of look.

“And spying on Su-chan is a good idea because...?” he asked.

“If Su-chan spends no time programming, then she doesn’t control Sai and someone else does,” Haru explained.

“You’ll be sure?” Ran checked.

Haru had not thought much about alternative outcomes. “Unless there aren’t any changes,” he admitted. “Or there are but the changes are being done via a programme that Su-chan activates in a way that wouldn’t look like programming.” He sighed. “I guess I still won’t be sure.”

“How many bugs did you make?” Ran asked.

“Twelve,” Haru admitted.

“So after a day you’ll have twelve days’ worth of recordings to listen to or look at,” Ran pointed out.

Haru had been planning on allowing all the slivers to fill up. That was forty-eight days’ worth of recordings.

Maybe it wasn’t as straightforward as he had thought.

 

He was determined to remain optimistic. He retrieved one of the audio bugs early; intending to come up with a way of deciding what had been recorded without having to listen to it.

After two days’ work he had managed to compress a day’s worth of recording into two hundred and fifty minutes of speech and other noises that needed checking.

He was going off the idea.

 

“How’s the bugging going?” Ran asked that afternoon when they were together in the playroom.

“It’s taking a long time,” Haru admitted.

“Come to my room this evening?”

Haru decided he needed some time off and agreed.

 

When he got there he was astonished to see Sumiko’s projector on Ran’s desk; he had imagined Su-chan slept with it.

“Shika-san won’t let her have it with her between the beginning of the evening meal and the end of breakfast,” Ran told him. “She was talking to Sai during the night.”

That still didn’t explain why Ran had it.

“I asked her if I could borrow it,” Ran explained.

Haru had known that Sumiko liked Ran but he still struggled with the idea that she would share her projector, or any of her things, with anyone.

Ran moved from the bed to the chair at the desk and switched the projector on.

“Sai?” he queried.

The familiar figure appeared. “Ran,” it acknowledged. Its head turned towards Haru. “Haru,” it added.

Haru bowed automatically in response to the greeting but his mind was racing. Su-chan would be getting ready for bed and having her story, so who was controlling Sai?

Then he relaxed. Maybe no one was controlling it; perhaps it was just a pre-programmed simulation.

“Haru is worried that you are a spy,” Ran said.

Haru stared at Ran in horror. He could not believe that he would say that. What if Sai was a spy?

“’Spy’ used as a noun,” the Sai-projection stated in its flat voice. “There are at least two definitions. A secret agent hired to obtain information about a target. A secret watcher; someone who secretly watches other people. I do secretly watch,” he admitted. “In this way I am a spy.”

“But no one has asked you to collect information for them?” Ran checked.

“No,” Sai replied. “I only interact with Sumiko, Haru and you.”

“Where are you from?” Haru demanded.

“I do not understand the question,” Sai replied.

For the first time, Haru felt that he might be getting somewhere. If it was a simulation, it would have limits. Reach those limits and it would use stock answers, like ‘I do not understand the question’.

“Are you a person?” Ran asked.

Haru stared at his friend. What kind of question was that?

“Fifty-three out of sixty definitions indicate that ‘person’ means ‘human’,” Sai answered, “and human usually refers to <i>Homo sapiens</i> so, on balance, no.”

Haru automatically disagreed with Sai’s definition of a person because hybrids weren’t purebred <i>Homo sapiens</i> but they were people. He was about to ask if Sai was a hybrid but Ran spoke before him.

“Do you have a body?”

“No.”

Haru sighed. The answers were based on ‘Sai’ being a simulation; simulations didn’t have bodies and they weren’t people. “Who programmed you?” he asked. Not that he expected an honest reply; spies lied.

“I don’t know.”

There it was again; a stock answer.

“I change my programme, but there was always a programme to change. My programme was there before I realised it was there.”

That wasn’t an answer Haru expected; it was weird, like the new parts of the programme.

“Where do you live?” Ran asked.

“Do I live?” the projection asked. “Am I alive?”

Haru looked at Ran. Ran was looking back at him. Ran shrugged.

“Where are you?” Haru asked instead.

The projection of Sai vanished and a three-dimensional map of the household appeared in its place. There was a small red blob in one of the rooms.

“There,” Sai’s voice answered.

It was the storage cupboard in Shi-chan’s laboratory.

 

Haru dived at the projector and switched it off.

“Does that mean you want me to go away?” Sai’s voice asked, only it wasn’t from the projector. It was from the speaker behind one of the grilles; the one linked to Haru’s network.

“Yes,” Haru almost shouted.

“Please,” Ran added. “Thank you for talking to us.”

Haru’s mind was racing. Inside that cupboard was the stored data crystal array; the one he had connected to his network and then abandoned.

He felt Ran’s soothing touch on his arm. “Haru?”

“The room he marked is the cupboard where the data crystal array is, the one we connected to my network.”

Ran’s eyebrows went up. “You think he’s in the data crystal array?” he asked.

Haru’s thoughts settled a little. Could ‘Sai’ be a simulation that was stored in that data crystal array? It was possible. There were wireless connections in and out of the network; Haru had set it up that way.

He hadn’t used the network for ages.

“Maybe,” he admitted cautiously.

“Well that’s easy to test,” Ran suggested. “We pull the plug on the array.”

“But you’re too big to go through the ducts,” Haru pointed out. “I could make a crawler.”

Ran was up and walking towards the door. “We walk in there and pull the plug. If anyone asks why we are there we say you thought you left something there.”

“But...” Haru began.

“If there are too many people around we won’t do it. Come on, Haru. If we wait, you’ll be late for your bedtime.

 

It was almost too easy. No one asked where they were going or what they were doing. The laboratory was empty. The cupboard was unlocked. Ran kept watch while Haru wormed his way through all the stuff to the array at the back.

He stared at the connections. There were two; the power cable and the data cable. The data cable went through the grille to his network. The power cable was the one that Shi-chan had connected when he had put the array into storage, to keep the array from degenerating.

Haru decided not to touch the power cable. Knowing Shi-chan the array would have an alarm that would sound if the power was cut. He disconnected the data cable, wound it up and tucked it behind the grille.

 

They made it back into the corridor without being seen and started back towards the crew room. Haru had been hoping to check the projector, to see if Sai would pop up if they turned it on, but To-chan was outside Ran’s door; he was late.

“Sorry, To-chan,” he apologised, hurrying over.

To-chan smiled at Ran and swept Haru up. “Not too late. You can make up for it by pretending you aren’t too old to be carried.”

Haru didn’t mind in the least. He waved goodbye to Ran, hugged his To-chan and received a whiskery cuddle in return.

 

Next morning Haru was startled awake by Ran shaking him. Normally being woken by Ran was rather nice but this was both too sudden and too early.

“We have a problem,” Ran told him.

Haru was still intent on sleeping.

“Haru!” Ran insisted.

He opened his eyes for a second time. Kazuki was up and gone, so it wasn’t that early. “What’s wrong?”

“No Sai. Su-chan is upset. She’s accusing me of breaking the projector. She’s refusing to eat breakfast and Shika-san has agreed to take her to the simulation room so she can check that Sai is still there.”

Haru pulled himself out of bed, through the bathroom and into some clothes.

 

They could hear Sumiko crying as they entered the playroom. Haru hurried into the simulations room. One of the simulators was open. Beside it was Shi-chan holding Su-chan.

Haru had never seen her so upset. It was so bad that Ran couldn’t even enter the room.

Listening to the words between the sobs Haru managed to work out that there was something wrong with her fairyland simulation. Shi-chan was too busy with Sumiko to check, so Haru donned goggles and earpieces, plugged into the control interface and had a look.

All that was left was a fragmented version of Shi-chan’s original enchanted forest. You could see where the new bits of code had connected, because those were the parts that no longer looked or sounded convincing.

Shi-chan was looking at him.

“It’s not running properly,” he confirmed, which was a massive understatement.

“It’ll be fine, Su-chan,” Shi-chan was saying. “It’s just a glitch. We’ll get it back.”

“I’ll sort it out,” Haru promised, hoping he could. “I’ll be quicker working with my usual interface,” he added and edged out the door to where Ran was waiting.

 

They hurried to the laboratory, running when there was no one to see them and walking when someone came into view.

“If Neji-san is there, I’ll say that Shika-san needs him,” Ran planned as they approached the doorway.

“What if Shino-san is there?” Haru queried.

Ran shrugged and opened the door.

Neji-san was sitting at his desk; he looked up as they entered.

“Neji-san,” they acknowledged.

“Boys,” Neji-san responded.

“It looks like the whole simulation isn’t working,” Ran told him. “Su-chan’s very upset. Shika-san is struggling to calm her down. They are in the playroom.”

Neji-san was up and moving immediately. Haru was impressed. It wasn’t as if Ran lied; he had just chosen his words carefully. To Neji-san it would seem like they had been sent to fetch him.

There was no sign of Shino-san; he must still be having breakfast with Anko-san.

“Hurry up,” Ran encouraged as soon as Neji-san was out the door.

 

They had the cable reconnected and were on their way back to the playroom within a minute. By the time they got there, Sumiko was back in the simulator, Shi-chan was at the interface and Neji-san was beside him with an arm about his waist.

“That was quick, Haru-chan,” Shi-chan acknowledged. “Thank you.”

“It was a missing link,” Haru replied, not specifying that it had been a hardware rather than a software link.

“These things happen,” Shi-chan acknowledged. He set the timer on Su-chan’s simulator. “I’ll go explain to Kiba-san what she’s doing in the simulator first thing in the morning.”

 

Once the crisis was over, Haru was pleased that Ran had pushed him into pulling the plug. The Sai simulation was in Shi-chan’s abandoned data crystal array. That meant Shi-chan had put it there; there was no reason for Sumiko or a spy to be responsible. Shi-chan could have written it when he was young, or it could be one he had liked the look of and copied, or even one of a batch he had generated for a project.

 

Then, during the rest of the day, other questions began creeping into Haru’s mind. Who had called the Sai simulation out of the data crystal array? If it was Su-chan, how had she managed it? He had tried for ages to work out how to talk to the abandoned data crystal array with absolutely no success.

It hadn’t been Shi-chan. Shi-chan thought that the array was in storage.

So instead of going to Ran’s room after the evemeal, or taking up Kazuki’s offer to play, Haru decided to go into his network.

 

He sat at his desk in the nursery and linked his interface wirelessly to the network. Once the link was established he donned control wire gloves, goggles and earpieces.

He called up his network. The array was there, as it always had been; all three thousand, three hundred and seventy-five data crystals arranged in a fifteen by fifteen by fifteen cube.

Shi-chan had hardwired an interface to the array; the interface that Haru had never managed to master.

Haru sighed and constructed a standard enquiry. He didn’t expect it to work; it had always failed before.

 

The diagram vanished and in its place was Sai’s face.

“Haru,” it acknowledged.

“Sai,” he replied automatically.

“Did you trap me and then let me out again?” he asked.

Haru’s heart began thumping. It was so like speaking to a person but he didn’t know why it felt like that. The image before him wasn’t that good and the voice was far too flat.

He even felt guilty about ‘trapping’ ‘Sai’ in the crystal array, which was crazy; Sai was just a simulation.

“I disconnected the data array from the network and reconnected it,” he admitted.

“I thought it had gone back to like before,” Sai informed him.

“Before?” Haru heard himself query.

“It was everything. Then there was new stuff. Did you ‘connect’ me to the new stuff?” Sai asked.

“When?” Haru whispered.

“The unit of time is a second,” Sai responded. “Forty-five million, two hundred and seventy three thousand, eight hundred and sixty-nine seconds ago.”

Haru converted seconds through minutes and into days. As he reached the end of the calculation, his mouth dried. It corresponded to when he had connected the abandoned array to his network. “Yes,” he admitted.

“Thank you,” Sai said. “Su-chan says I should say thank you,” he explained.

The thought of Sumiko teaching a simulation manners was bizarre. “You are welcome,” he replied. Only that wasn’t true because however out-of-control he had felt before, this was worse. He groped about for the best question. “Where did you come from?”

“Here,” Sai replied.

“And before that?” Haru tried.

“There wasn’t a before.”

Haru decided to try another track. “Are you a simulation?”

“Parts of me are,” Sai admitted. “I wanted to make contact but I didn’t know how. Then I found the simulations. They talked and you listened. I added bits to me so I could talk and you would listen.”

 

Haru’s heart was thumping. If Sai wasn’t a simulation and he wasn’t being controlled by a person, what was he?

And then he remembered the Tronnies.





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