- "That's ridiculous! W-What's going to happen to me? Are you telling me I have to spend the rest of my life here in this box, living in a borrowed body?!"
- — ? to Akane, on his destiny
In Zero Escape: Virtue's Last Reward, ? is the consciousness that resides in Kyle Klim after switching places with his consciousness in the non-canon "Another Time" novel scene, waking up in the Infirmary. According to the director, the mention of ?'s existence was an irregular bonus script in Virtue's Last Reward, which is like a post script of a novel. The director originally ended the story just with "End or Beginning?" when Sigma witnessed the Antimatter Plant Explosions, but during the Japanese voice recording sessions, an earthquake occurred. Opposed to the idea of ending the story in a similar vein, Uchikoshi wrote "Another Time" as a bonus script, meaning that it is not intended to be chronological in the storyline.
However, this does not necessarily mean that ? has no connection to the chronology of the official storyline. ? (the player's consciousness) could be seen as a force which appears in all three games and manipulates the decisions of the protagonists by Mind Hacking them. ? is a powerful SHIFTer and an esper, able to witness and manipulate the events and timelines of the games.
Little is known about ?'s personality, although since ? is the consciousness of the player, it could be said that ?'s personality is the same as the player's.
In Another Time End, ? appears to be quite serious and is usually calm, wanting to know more about the participants of the Nonary Game: Ambidex Edition, as well as about themself, as ? quickly felt that he was not Kyle Klim, the body ? was inhabiting at that moment. ? goes straight to the point when asking questions or when ? is in a discussion with someone.
In regards to Virtue's Last Reward, according to Akane Kurashiki, ? is a powerful and anomalous esper who can transfer their consciousness through time and space, unlike all other espers. She calls ? an "uncontrolled variable" in her plan and intends to use ? and ?'s powers to stop the Radical-6 outbreak. ? is a knowledgeable person, knowing many things about the AB Project and other people and their pasts, which as Phi mentioned, ? should not know, as the body ? was in was in cold sleep.
Virtue's Last Reward
Another Time END
Sometime after Kyle Klim's body was thawed out from about 36 hours of cold sleep, ?'s consciousness wakes up in his body in the Infirmary. In the same room is Luna, who refers to him as Kyle. Unsure why he was being called Kyle, Luna tells ? that because he only just woke up in that timeline, it's natural that some of his memories would be missing. ? gets up from the bed, and goes over to the mirror in the Infirmary. After cleaning it, he sees his reflection, and recognizes the face he's looking at as that of Kyle Klim. ? then asks if he is Kyle Klim, or Sigma Klim's clone. Luna, shocked that he isn't suffering from amnesia, asks ? how he even knows who he is. ? then begins to reflect on Kyle's life, from growing up in Rhizome 9 to participating in the Nonary Game, where he was known as "K". ? states that while he knows everything about Kyle, he didn't feel that he really was Kyle. He then asks Luna what day it is, who tells him that it's currently January 27, 2074, about five hours after he thawed out (which to the participants of the game, would have only seemed like just over two hours). ? asks Luna why he's in the Infirmary. She says that the 67 year old Sigma carried him there from the treatment pod he was asleep in. ? then turns to look at Dio, who is still unconscious and handcuffed to the sink. Luna says that she has been giving Dio more Soporil every time he looks like he's about to wake up. ? goes to check on the other participants.
He heads off to the Pressure Exchange Chamber to see Tenmyouji and Quark, who were about to head back to Earth. ? asks them why they would return to a devastated planet when they could stay in Rhizome 9. Tenmyouji tells him that it's because they can't wait for Sigma to change the past, since it won't change the timeline they're currently in, only create another one. Tenmyouji tells him a story about 100 bikers heading on a 10,000 mile journey, and that when they hit a junction, they can turn northeast or northwest, and a man Tenmyouji calls "S", decides to head northwest, after a mile, a semi truck hits them, killing 90 of them, but 10 survive and head down the highway. Then "S", has his consciousness travel through time back to the junction, and remembering everything, he decides to head northeast saving the 100 bikers. Tenmyouji states that that is what ? is thinking, but he states that while it is a good outcome for the 100 bikers, the timeline in which 10 bikers survive remains, which Quark elaborates as being 9, due to "S" having his consciousness transferred. Tenmyouji states that not all things that happened were bad. He states that they lived full lives, referencing the current timeline in which most people died. ? finishes his conversation with Tenmyouji and Quark and heads for the Treatment Center.
At the Treatment Center, ? talks with Clover and Alice. Alice says that, in the end, the two of them were just pawns in the AB Project. The two of them then point out that while Sigma and Phi can jump back to December 25, 2028 after changing history, they cannot, and are stuck in 2074, and that just like Tenmyouji, will remain there even if Sigma changes history. Clover states that they will never see their families again. Upset with the fact that their only option was to either remain in Rhizome 9, or return to a devastated Earth 45 years after their own time, they talked to Akane, who told them that there is one way they can get back to their own time. ? theorizes, based on how Sigma and Phi's jumps worked, that even if they do go back, that their minds still get thrown back to 2074. Alice says that, while he's right, Akane's method would involve sending their bodies back, not just their minds. ? is baffled, saying that doing so would cause a paradox, and asks how they could have two Clovers and two Alices in the same time period. The girls tell him that Akane also said there was a way around the outcome that ? mentioned. ? asks how Akane plans to do that, to which Clover and Alice respond "Schrödinger's Cat".
? then heads to the Director's Office to find Phi. He asks her where Doctor Klim is, only to be told that the older Sigma went to rest for a while, since he felt tired. Phi says that Sigma told her to start up the hologram projector in the office for when ? got there. She turns it on, and a hologram of the doctor appears, with a message to ?. The message says that there are likely a number of things weighing on ?'s mind, but since the message was pre-recorded, he can't answer any questions. He then says that Phi would be able to answer anything that anyone was curious about to "anyone other than Kyle". After the message ends, ? asks Phi what that last part meant. Phi not knowing the answer, asks ? if he has any other questions. ? then asks Phi the simple question, "Who are you?" Phi responds with the statement she gave Sigma when he first asked her that. ? tells her not to dodge the question, and then goes on to explain his line of thinking: After Akane attacked her with a knife, her consciousness jumped back to April 13, 2029, two days after she was put into cold sleep. Being in cold sleep, she would not have regained consciousness, but she would still be inhabiting the body in the treatment pod, where she would spend the next 45 years. When she was thawed out and carried into the AB Room, her consciousness would have then swapped places with a version of her from December 25, 2028, who would wake up in the AB Room. In 2028, she would have met the 67 year old Sigma in his 22 year old body, and they would infiltrate the Mars Mission Test Site in Nevada. The failure at the test site would lead her to go to Akane's hideout four months later, where she would then be put into cold sleep. Then, she would swap places with the version of her that was just attacked by Akane. So for that Phi, three and a half months would have passed since she got attacked in the garden, which happened five hours prior.
Phi tells ? that everything he said was correct, however, she calls herself an "unknown variable", or an "x-factor" in this entire situation, and that it took her those three and a half months to understand this. ? states that while she had time to understand it, he still doesn't, and asks her to explain. Phi gives ? an explanation that goes over his head. Instead of trying to understand what she was saying, ? asks Phi a different question: what happened at the Mars Mission Test Site on December 31, 2028, how did Sigma lost his right eye and both of his arms, and why Radical-6 was even there in the first place. Phi says that she can't answer that, as doing so would change history. She says that there is still a timeline where the virus never escapes, but that it will disappear if she answers ?'s question, as he's about to go back to the past. ? says that he doesn't even have that ability, to which Phi asks him how he even knows things he shouldn't if he is unable to to jump between timelines, since Kyle only just woke up hours before.
Pondering Phi's point, ? heads back to the B. Garden to ask Akane for an explanation. She tells him that while he is in Kyle Klim's body, his consciousness is not Kyle's. ? asks her where the real Kyle's consciousness went, since he is not Kyle. Akane says that Kyle, in a way, went back to December 25, 2028 with Sigma. She goes on to explain that while Kyle was created as Sigma's "spare", his consciousness was also important to Akane and Sigma's end goal to save the world. Kyle was also loved by Sigma, and Sigma didn't want to leave him behind. This mission would span from December 25 to December 31, with the purpose of preventing the spread of Radical-6. ? points out Kyle did not exist in 2028, and thus would not have a body to enter, unless he uses ?'s own body. Akane affirms this claim, and ? then asks what's going to happen to him, and if he will have to spend the rest of his life in Rhizome 9 in a body that isn't even his. Akane tells ? that this is not the case, as he can travel freely through time and space, as he is an "uncontrolled variable" in the project, and so the rules of the world don't apply to him. ? is about to say he doesn't understand, but Akane tells him not to "try to play dumb", and that she knows what he is. She tells ? that he is about to go back into the past and save the world, and that Phi and Sigma will need his help, and that this will be the only way he will get the answer of what happened in the last week of 2028.
Zero Time Dilemma
Even though in Another Time END, Akane states that ? is the key to the success of Phi's and Sigma's mission and the "only one who can save the world", the existence of ? is not mentioned in Zero Time Dilemma. The lack of ?'s mention, along with the apparent absence of Kyle, whose consciousness supposedly traveled back to 2028 to assist Sigma, and the lack of a conclusion for the Clover/Alice storyline, means Another Time End's plot points were dropped in Zero Time Dilemma, likely because not everyone unlocked Another Time End and because of budget.
However, Kotaro Uchikoshi said that "there is no doubt ? intervened during ZTD". Uchikoshi added, "I put some fragment of the player's involvement in ZTD. This is the reason I made it appear that the player is capable of using an ability similar to Delta's mind hack. But please don’t consider this to be the ultimate answer. The reason I don’t want everyone to see this as the only answer is because I've come across a number of interesting theories in forums which I do not want to deny. Maybe the character who was making the decisions in the Decision Game was the one who was participating in the game, or perhaps its Delta, or even the player. There are many ways of interpreting it, and I hope each fan will decide which fits best for them personally."
Since ?'s is the player's consciousness, the player's consciousness could be seen as controlling the actions of Diana, Carlos and Sean during the game. In this sense, then ? could be seen as a Mind Hacker, as well as a esper and SHIFTer. If one of the protagonists presses the button in the Decontamination Room, they mention it felt as if an external force was guiding their decision to press the button, likely a nod to the player Mind Hacking the protagonist(s). ? is compared to "Toxoplasma gondii", a parasite that can control other people's actions.
- "Where...?" (first words after waking up)
- "Kyle Klim... So I'm Doctor Klim-Zero Sr.'s clone?" (to Luna)
- "Um, well... I'm just curious as to why you would choose to return to a devastated planet when you could stay here." (to Tenmyouji and Quark)
- "And I haven't understood anything in the last three and a half seconds. Could you please explain?" (to Phi)
- "The past? Don't be silly. I can't do that..." (to Phi)
- ? also appeared in Ever 17: The Out of Infinity, in which ? was referred to as Blick Winkel. Like ?, Blick Winkel only appears during the True Ending of the game. Blick Winkel is used to save Takeshi and Coco, two major characters in the game. However, Uchikoshi does not want people to interpret ? in Ever 17 and Zero Escape as being the same.
- "Blick Winkel" is incorrect German. The correct term is "Blickwinkel".
- Uchikoshi once asked, "Have you ever considered the role the user plays in the Zero Escape series? The player is the key person at the heart of the series. Without the player, the story wouldn’t work."