>[x]Play the cassette recorder.
Hourai put the Puppeteer's Journal back in its place, along with the Librarian's Journal, and opened the other drawer. Inside she found the strange black box with buttons and reels: the mysterious cassette recorder. It's dark color contrasted with the pure whiteness of the facilities Hourai was in, but the high-tech vibe it oozed wasn't completely out of place in that modernized place. Hourai fiddled with the different buttons, and after accidentally opening and closing the tape case, she finally found the play button. When she pressed it, the reels started to turn on its own, and the sound of air static resonated through the recorder's speaker.
<<In the first few seconds there was only silence, with just the ambient air blowing softly on the recorder's rudimentary microphone. After a while, a silvery, soft-spoken voice was heard clearly - a voice Hourai instantly recognized as her Master's:
"Is this thing recording already? I can't tell- Ah, the red light's on. So that means... Yes, um, where do I start...? Oh, right. Ahem!"
After that slightly embarrassing slip-up, Alice could be heard clearing her throat, no doubt buying herself some time to put her thoughts in order before speaking again, this time more confidently:
"Ever since mankind developed curiosity and desire to learn, they wondered about the meaning of 'life'. Millenia passed, and while their understanding of nature and physics has given rise to new civilizations and inventions, man still is in the dark about the so-called 'ontological mystery'. What is life? Why are we here? What is our purpose in the grand and unfathomable scheme of-? No, no no no no, scratch that, scratch that. I'm not making a philosophical essay!"
Alice faltered at that point, unable to go on on her exposition. Or rather, she realized how stupidly bombastic she sounded, as her embarrassed exclamation showed. The puppeteer took a deep, audible breath, and started over again:
"The creation of life has always been a highly discussed topic amongst magicians since the very beginning. Many different fields of magic have come up with very different answers for the question of 'what is life', based on very different conceptions of 'life'. From their studies, practitioners of those arts have been able to create all sorts of 'animated beings', such as homunculi, golems, reanimated corpses, soul jars, and elemental spirits, to name a few.
"But can they truly be considered the same as a 'living being', equal to ourselves, their creators? Indeed, the vast majority of us consider our creations to be inferior to us, or to any normal human being. While I admit our perception is biased in this regard, and that it's practically impossible to discuss it from a truly objective point of view, it's undeniable that so far nobody has been able to create a being with true free will, capable of thinking and standing for itself, of thriving without the aid of its creator, and learning and experiencing things just like any human being.
"This comes from a lack of understanding on the aforementioned concept of 'life' itself. After all, how can we ever hope to create life when we still don't know what is life in the first place? To some, this goal might be considered way too far beyond our scope, that we are treading on the path of gods. But isn't this why we still persevere in our experiments? To understand everything? I don't purport to be a deity like Mother. I'm only spurned by pure curiosity, the desire to unravel the mysteries behind one of the fundamentals of the universe..."
The puppeteer's voice trailed off, and she let out a weary sigh. She had realized she wasn't being honest, that there was another reason for her research. And although she was apparently alone, with noone else listening, she still couldn't bring herself to spit it out to the recorder. Maybe she realized that the tape would eventually be found by another person, and she felt embarrassed over the fact. But then, Alice clicked her tongue and spoke again. For what point would the recording have if she was withholding the truth?
"No, there's more to it. I guess it's..." Alice's voice became low and brittle, radically different from before. "I am a magician. A youkai. That means I can't conceive children. But I was a human before. I still feel lonely at times. And I want someone to keep me company, to- to pass on my discoveries, my experiences, my teachings... My legacy. Yeah, a legacy. And with that legacy of mine, that someone will live on, and grow into a lively, curious person, and learn and see and experience more on his own. I want to look at him, and say to myself 'See, Alice? You brought this person onto this world. Isn't that beautiful?' No amount of research, books or homunculi could ever bring that satisfaction to me.
"In short, what I really want... is a child. As absurd as it sou-">>
The cassette clicked, having reached its end. Thus the recording finished abruptly, cutting Alice's monologue short. Hourai was left with a sad feeling of guilt clutching inside her chest after hearing those last words from her Master. She was so alone and empty inside, she conjured the whole madness of Project D.O.L.L. just to create someone that could be the closest thing to an offspring. Hourai felt that, as her doll, it was her duty to relieve her Master from her loneliness, and despite being with her all the time, she failed to notice how her Master really felt.
Hourai couldn't hope to take the place of the child Alice wanted, but at the very least, she could have tried to fill that spot in her weary heart. The doll didn't really understand why she was feeling so bad for her Master. All she knew is that she could have done something to help her through her bad moments, that she could have prevented everything she had discovered on all those diary pages and dossiers if she only noticed... She was a failure of a doll.
No. No, that's not it. It's precisely because you care so much that Master...
I'm sorry, this hit me hard. I just- I just need some time to mull over this.
By the way, cassettes have a side B too. There's probably more to be heard there.
Following her intuition, Hourai opened the cassette recorder and flipped the tape over, so that the other side would be reproduced. Then, she hit play again, and sat down to listen to the second recording:
<<Unlike the first side, Alice spoke immediately after the start, with a firmer grasp on how the recorder worked. A slight hint of embarrassment tarnished her otherwise impersonal voice:
"So, uh, I got carried away and forgot about the time limit, and most of what I said was not recorded. But since the topic was derailed, I guess that's okay," The puppeteer cleared her throat. "Anyway!
"Before I start with the technological aspects of Project D.O.L.L., it's imperative to define and clarify some concepts that are key to understanding the theory behind this thesis. Most of them have been largely discussed by different philosophers and magicians, and I have based my own definitions on some of their conclusions, especially those which fit best with the results of my experiments, while adding my own observations and discoveries on the matter.
"When trying to infuse a mechanical body with sentient conscience, first we must ascertain what exactly constitutes a 'conscience'. Conscience is that which distinguishes us from mere savage beasts, who act only on instinct. Some experts define conscience as an inside judgement that assists a person in distinguishing the 'right' from 'wrong'. The focus of the aforementioned discussions is whether this judgement is inherent in the mind of the person since the day he's born, or if it's only imparted through interaction with other sentient beings like himself.
"I postulate both sides are in the right. There are parts of the conscience that the person possesses from the beginning, and others that develop over his life as he grows, which I will proceed to explain in detail."
A rustling of papers was heard in the speakers, before Alice spoke again:
"First of all, the one most people refer to when they speak of 'memory', is the knowledge that is acquired through study and observation of external information, which is then stored in certain parts the brain. Therefore, I will name them 'brain memories' henceforth. The feat of replicating the functionality of the human brain in a mechanical body is not without difficulty, which will be expanded upon in later recordings, but it's still doable with our current knowledge in the computing and the neurological fields.
"Secondly, there's a special type of conscience that is more instinctual in nature. Actions as menial as breathing, blinking, or eating, and more complex like removing a part of our body when it experiences painful stimulation, are not governed by the same parts of the human brain as before. Furthermore, masters in martial arts have trained certain stances, moves and bodywork to such a degree, they no longer need to make a conscious effort to execute them - effectively making them 'second nature'. This kind of (un)consciousness will be referred to as 'body memories', because they govern the basic body functions. They are arguably the easiest kind of memory to replicate in an automaton, since they're critical to its correct performance.
"And then, there's the third kind: 'heart or soul memories'. When people stand, walk, fall, cry, grow, raise and trust, they are said to 'have lived with their hearts'. It's a kind of memory that becomes engraved in a person's soul whenever he goes through emotionally charged experiences or otherwise important moments in his life. According to certain religions, this kind of emotional baggage is carried over every reincarnation of the soul, and it receives names such as 'karma' in Buddhism and Hinduism. Or in another example, when a person dies, a shinigami will ferry his soul through the Sanzu River, at the cost of a special kind of coin. This monetary unit is very likely to be the person's heart memories, as the perilousness of the trip to Higan depends on the soul's sinfulness."
Alice took a deep breath, steeling herself for what she was about to say:
"The biggest crux of Project D.O.L.L. is to prove that automatons can be infused with heart memories as well. Or in other words, a mechanical body can have a soul of its own, without becoming a tsukumogami. This affirmation is sure to be labeled as outrageous, because it challenges our previous foundations of what measure is a human. Can a doll that thinks and feels for itself be compared to us living, sentient beings as equals? I say it can. There is no rule that says that machines can't have souls.
"In the following recordings and dossiers, I intend to prove that machines can stand, walk, fall, cry, grow, raise and trust like any other person. That is the major goal of Project D.O.L.L.>>
A click signaled the end of the second recording. It was strange for Hourai to hear her Master speak with such emotion, especially at the last part. Normally, she would often act and talk coldly and uninterested. The doll could not recall the last time Master was so enraptured by anything. There was no doubt that Project D.O.L.L. meant everything for her, but was it really worth all the sacrifices and bloodshed she made? If only she could speak to her and ask her directly, thought Hourai. But Master was gone. The only proof left were the facilities Hourai was in, and whatever documents there were in them. And apparently someone was taking measures to erase that evidence.
Suddenly, as if to reinforce that last thought, a loud sound came from the hallway. First, a scratchy, metallic crack, immediately followed by a grating, high-pitched whistle of pressured air. Hourai whipped her head to look at the source, only to find her vision obscured by a white mist covering the air. If she had to guess, it was a gas or vapor pipe that had just broken, probably connected to the boiler room. But why would it break now, of all times? Did Hourai's presence alter something? In any case, the doll couldn't shake the strange, ominous feeling that took over her chest...
>Leave the room and investigate the hallway.
And I applaud your efforts. It's very pleasing to see my readerbase so involved in finding a hidden message, to the point they come up with fool-proof methods to do so. But at the same time, it also feels like all the effort I put into putting that hidden message a bit was kinda in vain, if it was so easily cracked. Though I guess if you didn't find it, the whole thing would have been rendered moot.