Togusa looks over a file. He asks the Major about it and she informs him that it's data relating to a vocational aid center which gives job training to those who suffer from cyberbrain closed shell syndrome. Aramaki goes on to explain that the Ministry of Health, Labour and Welfare had been hacked into the previous week. It was an inside job that netted data of a highly classified nature. The attack barriers had been breached in two hours.
Aramaki: If it was only one person, then he's an old pro who's even better than the Major.
Togusa is surprised by this, but the Major moves the meeting along, telling Togusa that Boma and Ishikawa had traced the source of the attack to the aid center. However, the external links to the center are usually kept isolated from the outside world. Aramaki continues by saying that the MHLW has done not filed an incident report, as if nothing had happened. The Major surmises that the Ministry wants to keep something secret so they aren't speaking openly about the hacking. Aramaki then gives Togusa his assignment.
Togusa heads up a mountain pass in his car. As he drives, he thinks to himself:
Togusa: So, an undercover investigation.
He puts his car into a lower gear to move more easily up the mountain pass. The car climbs forward on a road abutting a steep ledge. As the car moves farther up the pass, the view opens, revealing six immense satellite dishes.
Togusa arrives at the aid center which is barricaded by a large stone wall. He enters the eerily empty courtyard and walks towards the entrance to the circular building. As he does, an unoccupied swing suddenly begins to move back and forth, as if the breeze was pushing it. However, there is no breeze as the surrounding trees' limbs are not swaying back and forth. Togusa is temporarily taken aback by this, but eventually moves on.
He enters the building and walks around the lobby area, completely devoid of life (save for the impressive statue of a woman). As he continues up a stairs, there is little sign of anyone being present. He approaches a room, the bright light from it falling outside one of its windows onto the floor outside. Togusa looks in and sees a room with comfortable chairs in the center and small cubicles lining each side of the room. He enters the room and sees all the computer monitors lined up inside each cubicle, and comes to the conclusion that this is their network room. Togusa stares at a blank screen and notices that the computers is not connected to any external source. He then notices something under one of the cubicle stations: A young boy sits under the desk, his arms hug his legs into his chest.
He asks the boy what's wrong and the boy replies that today is his turn to go online. As he kneels down to comfort the boy, he is interrupted by a woman's voice demanding to know who he is. The woman is standing in the hallway. She turns to an unseen person outside the room and says that she's found him. She enters the room and introduces herself as Maruta, the center's director. Togusa introduces himself and Maruta kneels down and tells the boy that it's his work time. The boy, however, repeats the exact same phrase that he had said to Togusa.
Boy: I'm going online. Today is my turn.
Togusa asks what's wrong. Instead of responding, she asks him if he's in cyberbrain autistic mode. Togusa replies that he is and then two men in white uniforms enter the room, a device wrapped around the back of each of their necks, going as far to cover their ears. They tell the kid to come along, but the kid refuses, saying that he's going to Virtual City Alpha today. They grab him and he resists, pleading it's his turn to go online. Togusa responds to this by yelling at the men. They look at him and suddenly one of the men's head turns akwardly, and the device around his neck explodes near his right ear and falls off his head. The other man's device then explodes from him left ear and falls off. The kid escapes into the hall as the two guards fall to the ground. Maruta instructs Togusa to capture the boy and he runs into the hall and into the path of a huge man in a white suit of armor. The boy lies limply in his right arm, a large device covering the cyber ports on the back of his neck. The large man, with a visor for eyes and the right eye glowing red, tells Togusa, in an eerily robotic voice, to never let his guard down. He hands the boy to Maruta then walks away, his heavy footsteps falling on the floor.
Togusa retrieves his bag and asks Maruta about the incident. She explains that patients here can only connect under the eye of one of the staff. However, the lines out of the building had recently gone down and the boy, a stickler for procedure, was upset that he missed his turn to go online. Togusa expresses his feelings about the way the boy was handled, but Maruta explains that the people who are here are too compatible with their cyberbrains, that once online they would never want to leave the environment. In addition, when online with someone else they would attempt to dive into that person's mind to share their thoughts which could kill them due to the other person's attack barrier destroying their own conscious.
Maruta shows Togusa one of the wards: Children watch a TV as it scrolls at high speed through various images, two children rapidly play a board game, and one child flips quickly through the pages of a book. Togusa asks if the facility is for quarantining the children from going online. As Maruta responds, she enters a code which opens a heavy door. Inside the door is a room stretching endlessly where children are strapped into terminals with large helmets on their heads. Maruta informs Togusa that, "[T]his place is sort of a danger zone." They pass up the huge multitude of terminals, viewing the patients who Maruta says show a remarkable display of talent for cyberspace. They view one child who's fingers fly over the keys of his computer. The child elicits no emotional expression while programming barrier mazes. Blood begins to trickle down the child's nose. Maruta explains that even government agencies request the barriers the patients make as they are so exceptional. If they left the children alone to do whatever they wished, they would probably continue to work on assembling or dismantling barriers without rest or food.
As Togusa ponders this, he is suddenly interrupted by Maruta. Somehow, he is now in a hallway in the building, standing over a child confined to a wheelchair. Maruta assigns him to one of the easier wards in the building and introduces Togusa to Aoi. She leaves him to his duties and Togusa introduces himself to Aoi, receiving no response from the boy.
Togusa takes Aoi to his room, where three other children are waiting. As they enter, one of the boys, Kuroha, asks Aoi why he took so long. He clams up as he sees Togusa with the boy. Togusa introduces himself, but once again receives no response from the children. Kuroha chews on his fingernails in frustration. Togusa notices a catcher's mitt in Aoi's right hand and takes it, asking if anyone wants to play catch. Kuroha gets up and runs to Togusa, telling him to give the mitt back to Aoi. Togusa looks at Aoi, who is looking at Togusa with a worried expression on his face. He holds his hands up in a silent plea for the mitt. Togusa hands the mitt back to Aoi, who smiles at his possession. Togusa asks if the children are being mistreated, but is interrupted by another boy who enters the room, informing the others that the Chief is coming back. Kuroha is surprised to hear this as the Chief had been there the previous week. Togusa asks who the Chief is and the boy at the door begins to tell him, but is silenced by Kuroha. The boy at the door the leaves to tell the others.
That evening, in a surveillance van outside the wall of the center, Batou comments to the Major that Togusa is late reporting in. At that moment, Togusa does report in, but get a stiff rebuke from the Major. He says it took him a while to find an external link. Togusa reports to the Major about his findings of the children programming barrier mazes which could explain the expert hacking of the MHLW. He has no suspects (although a shadow does move across the door to the room he is in), but does report on the fact that the security consists of a, "heavy-loadout cyborg stalking the halls." He also mentions the "Chief" to the Major, who says they'll run a phonetic search and tells Togusa to continue his operation. As he disconnects from the wires, he notices that someone else has connected to the outside from here. Then he notices a message on the inside of the wire housing door, written in blue oil-based paint:
I thought what I'd do was, I'd pretend I was one of those deaf-mutes...or should I?
Later, he notices that his female charge has sketched a portrait of Aoi. He comments on how well it's drawn, but notices that the canvas in front of her to paint the picture has nothing on it. He notices some blue paint on a palette and picks up a pallette knife next to it. He asks her about the Chief, but she instead says:
"I am going to create a world of beauty. My eyes will view through a new mind."
The next day, in the "danger zone" Togusa approaches Kuroha, who tells the Section 9 member that he's not going to say anything about the Chief. Instead, Kuroha points to a computer screen of the other boy that Togusa watches over, who is reading virtual visualization programming. Kuroha tells Togusa to link with the boy and removes his helmet, but warns Togusa that the last staff member who dove in had his ghost mix with the boy's and has been trapped ever since. Togusa looks closer at the boy's six cyber ports and two of the ports slowly whiten and suddenly shift to reveal red-rimmed eyes that stare back at him. Togusa gasps and tells Kuroha that he'll pass.
Later, Togusa walks Aoi down a hallway, asking him who the Chief is, and he meets up with Maruta locking up her office. She is with a man who she gives control of the building to. Togusa and Maruta exchange hellos and she says that she's off to a "welfare industry gathering." As Maruta and the man depart, Togusa hangs back by Maruta's office. He leaves Aoi outside and enters the office using the palette knife. The door opens, revealing a large room. At the end of the room, near a sizable window, is a large painting depicting sunflowers on a blue background (with a pot of wilting sunflowers next to it) and two equally large marble human statues.
Togusa: Geez. Oil-painting central.
Maruta walks around the circular structure of the building and glances out a fence covered window towards her office across the way. Togusa is busy glancing through the files in Maruta's desk and looking up info on her computer pertaining to last week. He is so caught up in his snooping that he fails to notice Aoi's wheelchair move into the door frame. Maruta is pushing the child. She enters the office with Aoi and ominous footfalls are heard as the heavy-loadout cyborg enters behind her. Togusa stands, grabbing the palette knife. Maruta instructs the cyborg to "hurt him, but don't kill him" and the cyborg advances on Togusa. Togusa makes a snide comment about the painting being ruined as the cyborg knocks the knife out of Togusa's hand and throws him back against the desk, then throws him into the painting, causing Togusa to spit out a copious amount of blood. As the cyborg picks Togusa up for another toss, Togusa reaches into the small of his back and produces his Matever, emptying the revolver's contents into the cyborg. The cyborg falls to the ground, allowing Togusa to catch his breath. He looks around the room and notices Aoi, but sees that Maruta has vanished. Aoi looks up at Togusa and Togusa gasps as he realizes that Maruta is behind him. He turns to face Maruta and she hits him with a large wooden object, shattering the object as it impacts with Togusa's head. Togusa falls to the ground and blood pours out of his head. She goes over to him and wires into his cyber port. As she receives information from Togusa's brain she exclaims, "Section 9," then her eyes go blank and she falls onto Togusa's body. Aoi is left all alone...and he stands up.
In the surveillance van, the AI lady reports to the Major that all the terminals in the center have gone online. Batou exclaims that something is wrong and the AI lady says that they are trying to get their access codes. The Major instructs her to cut the circuits, but the AI lady is unable to do it as she is locked out. The system then jolts her with electricity and shuts her down. The Major and Batou move out. The Major tells Ishikawa to take over the center's external links and for Saitou to secure an escape route. The two jump over the center's wall with ease and head toward the building.
In the network room filled with children, the child who had said the Chief was coming sits at his terminal and exhults in taking out "that AI peeper." Aoi enters the room and calls to Kuroha, who asks the Chief how he's been. Aoi tells Kuroha that he has to leave as he's been, "spotted by people on the outside." Kuroha tells him not to go as they'll protect Aoi as they have in the past. Aoi says it's time that he goes, and Kuroha gets worried because he knows that Aoi will have to wipe everyone's memories of him. Aoi says that he has to.
Kuroha: So we...won't be cheering you on in Virtual City Alpha? Not ever again?
As a final wish, Kuroha asks Aoi to leave them with just a little memory of him for everyone and Aoi agrees.
Motoko and Batou move down the corridors of the aid center and split up. The Major gets to Maruta's office and sees Togusa. Maruta has disappeared and the heavy-loadout cyborg that Togusa shot turns out to be one of the marble statues, bullet holes evident in the statue's stomach. She quickly moves to Togusa and tries to wake him. As she shakes him, the blood stain that had been under Togusa's head has also vanished.
Back at Section 9, the Major asks Ishikawa about Aoi, but he couldn't find anyone at the center matching Togusa's description, saying that the files at the center along with the staff's memories could have been altered. The portrait that the girl drew of Aoi hasn't been found either. Togusa's report is going to be a sketch of the kid.
Ishikawa: A handsome young lad in a wheelchair with a lefty catcher's mitt. Togusa said he would use the memories in his own cyberbrain to draw him.
Batou: Wait, a lefty's catcher mitt, you say? That term is net-jargon. It means something you think is real when it actually is not.
Togusa interrupts them by showing them his sketch. As he lays it on the table in front of everyone, the Major gives a surprised gasp, as do the rest of the Section 9 members. Togusa doesn't get what's wrong at first, but the Major explains:
Motoko: Looks like...you picked up a bad case of weird memories in a weird place.
On the sketch pad, Togusa has drawn a perfect renditon of the Laughing Man's logo.
Back at the aid center, a staff guard moves to a door to one of the rooms. He looks in and sees four children. There are two on each side of the room facing away from the door, staring blankly at the wall in front of them. In the center of the room is the lefty catcher's mitt, a baseball in the glove. On the glove are words, written in blue paint:
You know what I'd like to be?
I mean if I had my goddam choice,
I'd just be the catcher in the rye and all.