Rumors (Serial Experiments Lain: Layer 08)

(Layer 07)

The episode opens in the series’ characteristic manner. Street lights, crosswalks, people, downtown life, movement through liminal spaces, way-places between work and home, life lived there though registered as non-life, as mere passing-time. A girl’s voice: ‘Do you want to be hurt, too? Do you want your heart to feel like it’s being scraped with a rasp? If you do, don’t look away, whatever you do.’

Next scene, a desolate desert wasteland. A young boy stands within this expanse of dust and mesas holding a large sword just as long as he is tall. Monsters generate and he destroys them in what is revealed to be a hack and slash virtual reality game on the Wired. He speaks about the existence of the god of the Wired and relates that no one knows if there is one or not, but that either way it doesn’t change the Wired’s functionality for users and makes little difference in the end analysis. Another monster appears and he asks Lain to give him a second while he fights the worm-demon enemy. The worm is apparently another player character in what we now find out is a multi-player game as Lain asks the boy what fun there is in beating other players in such a repetitive manner. The boy: ‘Nobody knows what’s fun and why.’ The boy appears to be the same kid who advised Lain on Psyche processors in Cyberia club in a previous episode.

Lain leaves and reflects on the door plate at the apartment complex last episode: ‘Tachibana General Laboratories.’ She goes elsewhere in the Wired and begins speaking with a knowledgeable individual about Tachibana. Lain seems to still be the same abrasive Lain from the end of Episode 7 in that she is flippant and sassy in how she delivers her remarks to both the boy and this new voice. The man’s voice explains that Tachibana is a huge corporation and probably wouldn’t do anything illegal, though he explains that he has heard some rumors. Lain asks for more information on this lead, but the voice changes topic and asks Lain, ‘Do you know how we’re able to exchange information in the Wired like this?’

Lain knows her stuff and chides the voice for testing her on such basic information. she explains that they can communicate effectively through IP addresses. The voice apologizes for underestimating Lain and explains that the current IPv6, instituted in 1995 to move IPv4 from 32-bits of information to the much more complex, and then necessary, 128-bits, was once a sufficient internet protocol to handle all devices connecting to the Wired. But now, even IPv6’s throughput has reached its limit and a move toward IPv7 is inevitable, meaning the bit information will need to be doubled to 256-bits (a doubling of bits is constant as IPv4=32, IPv5=64, IPv6=128, and so on. Note that in our real world, the one from which you, user, are reading these lines on this blog, IPv6 is still enough [in 2018] to handle all device IP’s and that IPv7 has not yet been instituted as the jump from IPv4 to IPv6 was enough to ensure plenty of IPs over the past twenty years). The man’s voice explains that large companies like Tachibana are the ones who are instituting the new IPv7, so far surreptitiously. They are battling over control of the new IPv7 infrastructure as control of this technology platform ensures control of the Wired’s economy. It seems that Tachibana is the main tech giant set to come out on top, and they’ve achieved this position through sabotage of other groups and companies.

Lain returns home from wherever she’s been to find her older sister Mika’s clone sitting in Lain’s room by her Navi. Mika isn’t disrupting anything, she just sits there mumbling, looking down at the ground, nearly catatonic. Lain leaves the room and goes into the kitchen to get a drink. Her parents are sitting at the dining room table, unusually stiff, not making a sound. She tries to gain their attention, bu they do not move a muscle or answer her. Lain relates how someone told her they were not her real parents, though she does so in a tentative manner, as the awkward and shy normal Lain we’ve grown accustomed to. They still don’t answer, but after Lain has finished drinking her green tea and washing out the glass, she turns to find them both staring at her intently with aggressive glares upon their faces. They still say nothing, Lain retreats.

Next, Lain is at school. Alice touches her shoulder as she enters the school gates. She turns to find them with angry looks on their faces. Alice asks if Lain really did it, to which Lain is confused and responds by asking what she is talking about. As Alice presses her and Reika exclaims that she of course had to have done it, tears well up in Lain’s eyes, Alice realizes that Lain has no clue what is going on, and decides to drop the whole thing. Alice: ‘I trust you, okay?’ She smiles at Lain, who begins to feel a little better about the situation but is still confused about what her Wired alter ego has done. Then a car drives by the school with a man inside that Alice recognizes before running off and into the school gates.

Lain goes to class and becomes consumed with her cell-Navi. She transports into the Wired mentally and passes rows of seated people, each with his or her own avatar of clothing without a body underneath or a head atop. Just clothing sitting on its own, and mouths appearing where they should be attached to absent heads. Each person spouts off different rumors they have heard on the Wired. Some speak of revealed sexual perversions in otherwise average people, others of the problems with protocol 6, others of some calamity that could come to the Wired as a result of the shift to protocol 7. Another woman speaks of a stalker who appears in her room as a small child, another of a hit and run confession from some pop star. Finally, a group relates rumors about The Knights and explains that they believe that the organization doesn’t actually exist and is merely an American hoax. Lain tells the voices to shut up and tells them that no one cares about any of this. The voices stop, but a new voice, the voice of a man, manifests itself above the others in importance.

The voice asks Lain why she doesn’t find their chatter interesting. Eventually, after some veiled references, Lain realizes who the voice is: ‘So God makes his grand appearance, huh?’ The voice asks how she defines “God”. If it is as creator of the world, then this figure is not god. It it is all an omnipotent ruler of the world, he is not god either. But if defined as plane-specific (in this case, the Wired) omnipresence, then he is god of the wired. Though he has admittedly a slight influence on the workings of that world. Lain presses the voice for more specific information on who he actually is, in the real world. He responds thus: ‘I am you. You must have realized that another you has always existed here in the Wired. You are merely a hologram of that other you. You are just a body.’

Lain refuses to believe this unsettling information and tells the voice that he is crazy to talk this way. He asks if she really believes that the her in the real world is the same as the Lain in the Wired. Lain merely responds that she is the only Lain, then the world around her fades and she begins to come to, once again, in the real world, in her classroom. If the God of the Wired really is an extension of Lain or another form of Lain, then the question of primacy becomes central. The god of the Wired has previously claimed that the Wired is the reality behind the real world of physical objects outside, that the data of the Wired is what generates the hologram existence of reality like a writer who creates a world in his fiction. As such, the Lain of the real world may in fact  be merely a hologram, a lesser level of reality ontologically speaking than the more sinister Lain of the Wired who is either coincident with, or another variation on, the God of the Wired.

In the classroom, Lain notices that all of her classmates are starting intently at her. No one is speaking, and when she looks up, she sees that even her teacher is staring at her. Lain closes out her cell-Navi apps and runs out of the classroom. But even there she finds no reprieve as all of the other students and teachers throughout the school seem to have stopped what they are doing to stare at Lain, to glare, and sneer, but never to speak to her. Even outside of the school, children in the playground or on the streets stare up at her through the windows of the school’s upper level and into the hallway where she walks. She receives an e-mail from an unknown sender: ‘Lain is a peeping tom.’ Then a message from Alice: ‘Don’t worry about the rumors! Don’t worry about it.’ A happy, chibi face of Alice is appended to the text. Lain leaves the school building and hides out by the sports equipment storage shed. The image of the Wired manifests itself for us, the viewers, as the Lain of the Wired turns. A portal opens behind Lain in the real world and the shed explodes. Lain is shown walking through the fire, unburned, unscathed, unaffected. A screen appears: ‘Searching…’

The scene shifts back to an earlier episode as Lain uses her power to search through yesterday’s events to find the instance in which the egregious event occurred. At an apartment complex, a girl’s room is shown. Alice sits within and her face is being touched by an older man, the man who she ran from at school on the following day when his car passed by. The scene is erotic, though only through description and not through visual elaboration. The man is a teacher and Alice is either enacting her fantasy for sexual pleasure with this man either in her mind or in some place on the Wired. As she touches herself and comes to climax, she opens her eyes and sees the Lain of the Wired on the bed adjacent to her. It is revealed that Lain of the Wired revealed Alice’s secret crush and the activities she performed in the room to the rest of the Wired, probably through video evidence, which destroyed Alice’s trust for a time. Ultimately, the event only made things awkward, though not unbearable, for Alice at school as everyone was sympathetic to her and chastised Lain for betraying Alice.

Back at home, the real Lain sits in bed tormented by this new revelation and by visions of telephone wires, of streetlights, of internet wiring, of crossing signs, and of the Wired. Then she enters that black space, the space of the Wired that is now so familiar to viewers. The real world Lain and the Lain of the Wired begin arguing. The real world Lain tries to choke the Lain of the Wired to death, but finds her data counterpart only laughs it off and exclaims, ‘I’m committing suicide!’ In the room, there are bodies seated all around. Each with the head of Lain, bobbling around, mumbling much as Lain’s older sister Mika.

Lain asks what the beings are only to be told that they are all her. The Lain of the Wired explains that Lain has always existed within the Wired, that she is omnipresent within it. Because she is everywhere, she is duty-bound to report all of the information she finds to the rest of the Wired. As such, the Lain of the Wired reveals that she was the one who hacked the Bureau of Information and also the one who told the rest of the Wired about Alice’s incident. If true, it appears that Lain is some form of artificial intelligence naturally generated by the Wired or coded into its creation by its programmers to keep the Wired open, to keep all events within it publicly available. whether it developed into its current complex form as the Wired developed and gained complexity, or if it arrived fully developed at birth, is a matter for further elaboration later. At any rate, the real world Lain seems to be a mere hologram, a second-order creation of the AI who exists in the real world as a way to extend the power of the Lain of the Wired into that plane of existence. She may be the force prompting the break between the real world and the Wired, a program or a drill or a hammer shattering the boundaries between levels of existence.

If so, she does so at the will of a large corporation or organization (not the Tachibana corporation who are competing with her parent company or organization, probably The Knights, to keep the boundaries between the world constant to solidify their own power base and control). If she is a creation of The Knights, then their attempt to destroy the real world Lain with the parasite bomb on her coolant system represents an attempt to silence an aberrant form of their Lain of the Wired who is moving beyond her programmed boundaries, Or, even more potentially problematic, an attempt to silence an aberrant form of the Lain of the Wired who has the power to stop the breaking of the boundaries between the worlds. Or even an attempt to stop this real world Lain before she becomes more powerful than they themselves.

Lain begins to act out in frustration against the dummy bobbleheaded Lains in the room as proxy for her feelings of violence toward the Lain of the Wired, which she cannot act out on directly as it would mean suicide in the process. Then she realizes something. She is not as helpless as she once thought and has power to manipulate the hologram of the real world through her will, through her very existence, through the light in her eyes, which is the power absent in her Wired counterpart. ‘If I’m really what you say I am, their memories of being seen by Lain…. I could delete that information.’ The Lain of the Wired confirms that this power is possible and prompts the real world Lain to try to delete their memories of the past day’s events. This should cause the real world Lain to pause momentarily, as it seems that by doing this she may be playing directly into the hand of the Lain of the Wired. However, the real world Lain does not think this through and instead goes forward with her attempt. A new screen: ‘Deleting…’

The next morning at school, Lain’s friends arrive and greet her warmly. When the real world Lain tries to join them, a different Lain emerges from her body and goes to her friends instead. They talk with this social Lain copy about going out together to Cyberia that night. The setting has turned into a white backdrop and a third Lain, the Lain of the Wired, appears and explains to the one-time real world Lain that ‘Lain is Lain, and I’m me.’ She smiles and disappears, then the real world Lain loses all color, becomes just the outline of Lain, and also disappears. But unlike her sister Mika who disappeared and was replaced by a clone, this Lain is resilient and reappears back at home, logs into her Navi and asks the machine: ‘I’m me, right? There’s no other me but me, right?’ Navi doesn’t respond.

Lain is split into three different aspects at this point. All three can seemingly manifest in the same spaces at once but is impossible to view as such by outside viewers. There is the real world Lain who still resides in the real world, but ventures within the Wired so often that she straddles a thin line of ontological presence and may in fact be the key to breaking down the barrier between the worlds. The Lain of the Wired seems like the original Lain manifestation who is the trickster, the shadow of Lain who commits evil deeds based on her coding and causes problems for the real world Lain. Now, there is a third Lain who represents the aspect of Lain as a social child of the real world. This Lain is, thus far, only a product of the real world, but her split from the real world Lain puts that Lain in real psychological trouble of succumbing to her feelings of inadequacy and shyness and depression and interiority, as without it, she is trapped as an emotionally troubled child. This final split could be what drives the real world Lain over the edge.

 

Cody Ward

[Layer 09: Protocol]

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