CW: violence, guns, swords, religion, blood, death, body horror

long prisms measure the length of the horizon as if each step could successfully scale another increment of the earth, the concrete my soles flattened against, limbs barely felt their flight in the cold air as I think on the rooftops from the buildings ahead, what it might be like to reach the perimeter’s edge that severed into the streams of wind, the blue atmosphere unbounded by lines. perhaps underneath the concrete floor, halls lit with pools of fluorescence, there teemed entries and exits that might stop a moment for brief conversation, or what of the residents riveting the bandwidth that hosted the unseen virtual spaces that only appeared as ebony lands between which the milky river of the lighting meandered. frequencies of the unseen that receded into the featureless high rises, their steel pane that even rendered the sunlight into white beams, structures that imitated these buildings in their unwavered colour.

despite the supposed mercies of platinum torus helio, they were certainly not above watching the toils of those they’ve dispatched. my interface disabled, I had to remember where my residence was as i try to align remembered intersections and street layouts hoping for it to occur out of one of the streetlights , the certain placement of towers but the heat and my own recollections warp my memory weaving figures that never match the geometry of the streets I end up wandering into. In these plain districts, scarcely any crowd to walk with nor even pass the time as these blank streets only urges their passage to maintain their desolation

even if I could find my residence building, it would be difficult with a deactivated internal os. i could imagine the unit already emptied for vacancy. platinum torus helio seemed to have people everywhere if they could deactivate one internal os, causing me to dart my head around each corner before slumping down unable to even rein in a coherent thought pattern.

sunlight glares off a residential tower as if the daylight could blast the city of its unseen drones and spill these buildings empty with some warm chaos that once thrummed within us all. an ambassador sedan pulls up, it’s high pitch whine simmers to rest, becoming as inert as the world around me. bezelled glass throws the corrosive sun where the side window rolls down to the producer, hanging their hand outside.

‘hey, don’t you know it’s dangerous out these days?’

‘if you wanted me to take up superstition you should’ve told me beforehand’

‘hmm…’ the producer cocks their head before piquing their eye toward my slumped profile. ‘I see, you’re offlined.’

‘yeah…by platinum torus helio…’

‘platinum torus helio?’ they ask before a smile creeps upon their face. ‘I get it…well, why don’t we bring this story to an end…’

‘what do you mean?’

‘come with me’

I enter the sedan whose interior brims with electric signals that dance upon my skin as if urging me to join the unseen networks that I once was able to pour myself into. the window closed but the tint shuts out the world into the car’s interior mutedengines, looming behind where producer sat in the interior, the two suits with the red bulky headsets that whir at their mouths movements to communicate information . They sat in the passenger seats with the producer sitting beside me.

‘it appears they are using heritage sites as headquarters. they do not seem to be subtle’

‘regardless, the restrictions of virtual activity will limit our movements. we’ll need to act fast.’

‘gentlemen, there’s no need to panic for now. their move only signals that we should make ours.’

‘against a hermetic order? what moves can we even make’

‘hmph, virtuality extends to more than just the wired. you know that feeling don’t you?’ producer eyes me but my mind is blank, his words only produce a vague sensation which I cannot divine within the electrical air, my hands empty upon the seat cushions. but producer smiles, as if to say that even my lack of an answer still holds meaning. ‘don’t worry, we’ll get you up and running again.

the sedan’s motors reverberate off what I presume to be a tunnel we’ve entered, sound thrashes against the architecture and I’m told to close my eyes, the flow of my veins become perceptible tracing my contours, and I think of how in a single moment, blood could jet red arches across the darkness as my hands float immersed in the potentiality of its vigour. neurons fire up as images flash in synapses whipping into the darkness, the lights of the tunnel flash in a steady pattern, one, an image of an interface, two, saturna, three, that person who she wanted to be… a radiance pools around as motes of dust too begin to glow augmenting into the molecules of a new realm and I feel my body relieve of its heft. but producer’s voice only says to keep my eyes closed.

I make adjustments inside my own os while producer leads me out of the car. I still can’t tell where I am as none of my previous applications are available but my limbs are imbued with flight from static. producer tells me to open my eyes to a factory floor once occupied by century old machines, its open floors now repurposed into intersections and corridors between glass cubes where users presumably ran their operations sifting through data, moving their hands, swatting aside irrelevant reports, or circling their hands to bring in parallel information to localize yet their physical bodies remain within the glowing cubicles whose light pooled on the concrete that rendered them as mere droplets that could never fully subsume the hard grey floor,

‘yes, we were commissioned as a task force against platinum torus helio now to be referred to as the helio group.’

we walk around the complex only for me to find familiar plants behind the cubicles next to the super silhouette car faux ordered.

‘oh, we took the liberty of reacquiring most of your things. they were being auctioned off while you were gone.’


‘don’t mention it. after all, we are in this together, or should I say…connected…’

‘right…’ I ask knowing the invisible hands that producer operates by and thought better than to inquire about them. ‘how are these guys still in the cubicles.’

‘call it a bit crude but these are closed space apparatuses. while one can just set those up on the user’s avatar, this is just extra insurance, for instance, why do you think many megacorps still employ kill-teams’

‘so that’s the reason;' I say my breath fogs on the glass as if any more movement, air or otherwise and the person inside the cubicle would disappear.

‘well enough of that. please take the elevator up. there is someone who wants to see you. ‘

the expansive interior of the underground factory shrinks into the bright prism elevator unit which sends me up to ground level where buildings surround with the uneven domains of the sky encroaching on the rooftops above.

the drone of virtual activity swishes in the distance but its calm waves stretch by an engine’s approach. a roadster turns the corner to pull up, finned headlights soar with the long verged hood that levels to a slightly swollen rear deck with a sliver of red from the tail-light, in the interior sits a familiar maid in braided hair and glasses. i Immediately kept my hands up in a half shrug despite not being armed, almost a formality that would at least foster a social relationship.

‘if this is your way of empathy, I’d say it’s a bit too roundabout.’ I mention in reference to our earlier exchanges.

‘correct, I may not know that much about you, so it’s better I leave that to more qualified individuals’ chihaya said.

at that statement, something closes on my neck, an uneven circle of teeth sinking into my flesh with a warmth that begins to seep with spit that was somehow familiar. turning back, the immediate motion threw off that previous sensation to a girl in a baseball cap whose brim shades dull eyes winged in white, sunrises in two different parts of a dark planet. saturna gives a chuckle perhaps intentionally breaking her innocent posture that didn’t just bite down on my neck a couple seconds ago, her lips glazed with a mischief both familiar and distant as if watching it from a screen where all the glamour and colour constantly fell onto the past from the crumbling lights of the present.

‘didn’t expect that huh?’ she asks.

‘who knew that even at your age, you never stopped teething’

as a child, she would be prone to biting people if they didn’t pay attention to her.

‘don’t you know? a person’s mouth tells quite a lot too.’

‘so open a buffet or something.’

‘hmph’ she shakes her head before getting into the roadster and I end up taking the passenger side despite her lack of explanation as she dismisses chihaya while we drive off, glimmers of an imminent sunset are dispensed onto the plazas ,catching corners of planter’s boxes and steps, breeding suns across the limits of the urban geometry where lines met another, or a person might meet another. even the featureless buildings that stretched and shrank together in the windshield would lapse in the sunlight of intersections, as if these surfaces began to break into a total light that was bare of any pane of the world.

eventually we come to a stop and disembark, saturna’s kicked her foot forward but as her sole met the pavement, each step became small leaps that sailed her across each throb of her shoes against the concrete not unlike a caress, fingertips sunk into flesh before gliding across it as if she completed the waltzes of the atmosphere that enlaced the buildings around us dripping with thin amber, we walk the empty streets brilliant in each vertex that savoured an exact moment of this day, even as some residents within the buildings exit, stunned for a moment at our presence before giving a slight nod, particularly at saturna whose cap and biker jacket basked in some exuberance, yet the round brim, ponytail meandering around her shoulder and sharp lapels deviate from the uniform streetscape.

by sunset, the lights have deserted saturna’s eyes as the city radiates, cleaving the buildings from the twilight and the empty street waits in its desolation. saturna slows herself now, placing her hand on the smooth surface of the building beside her.

‘you know, have you seen the city when it rains?’

‘not really’

‘of course not, I guess…’ she shrugs. ‘one time, actually, there was a moment everything seemed too solid for me in the real world. only in the wired did I think of myself as being more than what I was, I could be whoever I wanted in the virtual spaces but as soon as I was back here, it was like I was trapped, these surfaces, these avenues, the rare car that passes. but then when I was walking, it started to really pour and…wow, those waves, the way the rainwater just flowed down and through it I saw the entire city twisting on the water. it was unlike anything I had seen before. no more reflections or coordinate points to be aligned.’

I hadn’t been there yet. I watch a distant highrise, its glow warding off starlight as a moon shows itself out of the retreating day, thinking in its frequencies that maintain its light, its internal signals that maintainthe frictionless exchanges, could its wavelengths have stretched with an ascent steadier to the point where it began to linger.

ui elements from graphs to logos materialize out in virtual space where suddenly, users populate the scene before us with a faint breeze left to passersby and we’ve entered a shop server, the faceless buildings now with long windows and cheerful aisles, a parasol awning pouffed over the entryway where one user in a blouse waited, spawning in an mp3 player, the faint thump of a lo-fi beat that could be heard by anyone near her space. saturna too notices this change and she stands there, her angled lapels, pocketed hands jut out her elbows with a mischievous smirk that stops us from the commotion rushing around us.

‘welcome to the world’ she winked.

being back in the wired took a moment to get used to but my limbs already felt light, electric signals carried my arm into a graceful flick when I move it.

‘I suppose I shall intervene.’ a voice said behind and a throw of my hand to the thigh holster that spawned there aimed the vp70 toward the mage still in her archaic dress and staff, her hand over her witch’s hat both to adjust its brim and to conceal her face, her fingers that resemble the threads of fire she could employ at any time.

‘hello sister samhain’ saturna bowed.

‘I admire your tenacity, wired detective but I fear your trajectory is misguided’

her verbiage while initially an annoying chuuni habit, the sheer exuberance of it that replaced the earlier drone was enough for me to raise the handgun and withdraw it into the holster.

‘what happened? decided to move into the city?’

‘your jest is rather outdated, I’m afraid, you ought to know the hinterlands are too small and that no one can elude the urban’

‘if you wanted timely, you ought to show up in those corpjackets to a megacorp . then they’ll really make you be there on time.’

‘once again, you display the restrictions of the wired’s transactions’


‘come’ her hand that was on her hat swung toward the parasoled door and the two of us follow.

the streetscape fades into a vast blue although its solidity makes it seem more that we are staring at a void too solid to be sky as we are still able to walk on an invisible surface of a shape we cannot quite fathom, but this unceasing space yields with robes of light dancing above in loops and caresses less like the instantaneous hope of the shooting star than the ease that starlight brought to those wandering in the night. It then occurs to me that this is one of saturna’s art piece servers made as an antithesis to the participatory spaces that arts and performance divisions turned to trying to aggregate content off of usersbut this one was part of her small street walk on world exhibits where she encouraged users to feel lost within the space which elicited that first feeling of the wired, not cathode moons glowing against virginal pastures but the first lights that flickered in the once black screens. after-images trail samhain, electric signals maintaining the silhouettes of her past before they settle into the shape of her present self in which I sensed a moment that she hadn’t spoken in heightened words and perhaps been confronted with the immense quiet that befell a person when they are born that did not heed to their cries even if they are cradled and assured. samhain moves her hand slow as if to slowly conduct her point within the playful comets around us.

‘I’ve said the wired is capable of much more.

‘you’re spare with words today. I suppose that means you’re serious.’

she looks away and I notice steps retreating as saturna stops a couple paces away perhaps by instruction through an encrypted communication from samhain. signals grow taut no longer tingling on the skin as the auroras above dissipate into the ether.

‘I’ll give you a demonstration.’ she spins the staff but before I can discern its rotation, signals melt her form as if the mirage from an intense heat that contorts the mage in front of me who so easily melts away, the only things remaining clear are my hands in front carved out of the blue waves before I find out I’m almost as still as a statue, capable only of slow twitches. samhain appears, the instance flashes like a last image before death until I’m cleaved from my prison, thousands of signals wink into her creased witch’s hat whose brim only gives faint shadow, her bangs like tendrils from a hidden void before her attack alights on me to go on the defensive, retreat with her trajectory to dodge the staff thrusted toward me, my steps flurry to evasion it’s clear that she’s using the bandwidth of the closed space to manipulate my perception and I must set a psychic barrier to repel the disorientation.

as she draws the staff back to slash at my torso I block it using the vp70’s thigh holster brought up by my raised knee which renders me off balance until I intake breath while slamming my hands down in the air akin to a neija practitioner channeling their qi which clears the once incongruous blurs into vertices, the dress sways with samhain’s movements falling back to its magnanimous shape, several frills like a world of archways yet as graceful as a bough in the wind, or rather, the breeze of samhain’s evasion, her silhouette clear and I set the thigh holster to open, popping the handgun into my open hand, the weapon righting itself into the three dotted iron sights, a black gate leading to a blackened strip heading towards a tower topped with a white dot, an end point of this geometric structure. the fin of the front sight like a shark before its attack falls to nothing, empty blue save for a little rumble to sound, my vision embraced in white. a bright sphere of light sears the blue and I can discern the intention of the coming attack, penetrating my psychic barrier before a bright sphere of light melts the blue and I wrench myself into a backflip, my sole arm staggers under the sudden weight of my body upside down but I channel the electric signals that protected it from being manipulated by samhain into holding myself still, no longer wavering as I slowly complete the maneuver to stand, this being an elementary skill on the wired to optimize one’s movement within it, much like being able to perform a skateboard trick every time. but samhain is able to transcend this, no longer using the wired as an augmentation but something entirely other from the smoothed steps of users flickering in conversation with bright faced avatars but changing the very way they transit through virtual space.

but given her ability to manipulate closed space to the point of freezing another person in place and potentially stripping me of all weaponry, it became clear that she was just playing with me, leaving such a showy telegraph and concentration of her magic into a single thunderstrike rather than surround me. no, it was more that thunderbolt was a comical reaction to a lesson I got wrong.

‘still clinging to the throes of desperation?’ samhain tsks as I notice her reappearing behind me. ‘ a battle is two things, a physical and a psychological act. the wired makes each of them real. ’

‘d-duh! I know that!’ I yell but I still don’t know how she’s able to close the distance with a mere step. while I was able to escape, I have to maintain my attention as any fluctuation could allow her psychosphere to overpower me at anytime.

signals around her twist and waver, her figure starts to blur again before she vanishes. I instantly search before I realize this lapse in attention brought my limbs to a standstill. samhain’s staff already placed near my neck, the smooth shaft with the same aura as a blade.

‘you know that? no, this was never about knowing. this is about something faster than thinking. you might comprehend something but you will never truly know it unless you’ve experienced it not merely first hand, but in primordial knowledge. some call it survival instinct, but I think that’s too crude’

the world around me blurs as if it could ignite with samhain’s fires any minute, wires begin to trace onto my position and as I discern the shape of this attack, I’m already beginning to extricate myself from the hold of her signals as my contours firm, and I’m picked off from it as if freed from the branches of a tree, the insolent fruit that escapes as I take back psychic territory within the closed space, bandwidth within my hands to act without interruption.

‘that’s it, cleave the shape of your world, user’

single pixels burn up into a bright void as if a sunrise or an approach of heaven, its light casts a shadowy beam from samhain, the one who divides the realm behind her as if a threshold, the limits of that new world. her own shadow on the ground shoots into a track that heats up like coals toward my position but stops short as I see the warping blue rise from the approaching shadow and her intention flashes in my mind. it slows from its lock-on, my own intention to attack whips toward its target, attaching the stock, a throttled stretch of black compressed into the speed of its killing intent in burst fire 9mm rounds from the vp70, not even the muzzle flash deters me as smoke from ignited gunpowder immediately sprinkle in the blue as samhain winces at her ceded ground resorts to her staff batting away the approaching bullets which must have slowed when they entered her psycho-space. the shadow that would incinerate retracts as she begins to focus on defense.

multiple arcs converge toward my position to engulf my world in flames, an attack both devastating and wonderful,. I recede into my own contours to prevent being immobilized, despite her own bandwidth surrounding me the blue clears a moment and unlike the light that’s about to smite me, a tiny orb deviates from this and twirls the route of a familiar silhouette until my vision is consumed in white, a momentary flash but that causes me to flinch, saturna at my side, a star’s light intersecting with another behind her as if two wishes meld into a wonderful meeting, yet it only lights a distant expression where flashes only ricochet momentary flickers across her eyes that have long ceased to affect her. but even as I’m thrown back, I manage a little smirk that this momentary lapse was all intended somehow, trying to get that barren expression into some rictus of assurance, some nod that we were on our way no matter if we were close or as distant as two strangers walking on a city street, or two users who encounter each other out of all possible connections granted daily out of virtual space.

immersed back into the closed space, solid azure reenvelops everything until it is bare of light or saturna. samhain checks her nails which accentuate the lithe grace of her hand now supine after conjuring various spells.

‘your thoughts race, do they not?

‘i wasn’t looking for therapy, samhain’ i call back as i focus, coiling myself, i draw my arm back into a center axis relock stance with the handgun filling my grip, my other hand taking hold of my knuckle, pivoting the vp70 at an angle, the embossed blade glimmering along the slide’s frame, its tip shining forth to meet the intersection between 9mm rounds and target, ascertaining a planar of the battlefield, corners and perimeters.

samhain rushes toward me, until their image disappears , a shadow obscures my side and I shift back to avoid her attempt to knock me off balance with just a pivot of my feet that returns into the previous stance, pistol tilted, elbow jutted back, cheek pressed against the stock’s dipped forearm while my free hand pitches the firing angle hoping to clip vital points but firing disperses her to which I respond with a leap into the air to give myself a greater degree of motion, my head sidelong to anticipate where she may approach from next all the while letting signals buoy me from succumbing to gravity. an ability I anticipate samhain to know as she is already above, slicing through as I feel the presence of a blade cleaving through whatever distance, whatever electric signals were once between us. I half think of spawning in some object to intercept but given the fresh reinstallation, I do not have any files and it might compromise my current position as most electric signals are protecting my freedom of movement and slowing my fall. denying the thought, I catch the incoming staff within the eye-shaped gap between the pistol’s grip and stock, effectively trapping her weapon as the surprise allows me the strength to turn the pistol, wrenching the staff away to fire a fusillade of 9mm rounds, the spears of light graze her yet she spins through her descent like a rolling airplane as she’s using some electric signals to influence her course before warping a distance back.

we both land with as little incident as a feather landing on the ground. her skills match her extravagant manner, manipulating every parameter of how her body moves not to mention manipulating her own movement itself. even without her staff, she warps next to me, negating the range advantage I would have with using a firearm as I would pivot, rotating myself out of her strikes, a flat hand jab toward my throat blocked by my forearm, the vp70 a dominant vertex of the lance formed by enjoined hands, not compromising its structure whose tip continually parries her movements, coordinate points catching the lines and arcs of her strikes. she then retreats suddenly as if knowing even by hand to hand, we’re just about even, instead opting to fight as she had initially: fire with fire.

‘your agricultural manners continue, good. at least you won’t go quietly’

planting my foot back, I place my hands forward, curled as if to grapple. to this, samhain responds as her robe wavers in an unseen breeze before she disappears entirely, closing the distance in single steps that launch her forth. rather, more that her steps only regulate a movement too fast for one to see like the speed of light reaching a person from its star. Just how does she attain such speed? isn’t the fastest path between two points a straight line? If the shape can be broken down into points by getting rid of the path, it would move from something outside of geometries itself, the thought imagining its shape from these seemingly disparate coordinates. were there not car rides that would elapse faster if focused on reaching the destination and everything would melt in congruity to that prized plaza? the first time I entered the wired when I was young, the perceived limits of the earth from horizons that slit my vision into the unseen and the reach of my limbs tethered to my body all trembled from the volume of static pouring into blue where the flat surfaces of indoor spaces around me gave to an expanse, electric signals now urged me for the second time through these polychromatic polygons that could soar past waning silences, this was a realm where I could move anywhere I wished, just the flash of an idea could materialize out of the thrumming air, even the self I could be suffused with abstractions trying to grasp at its contour. she draws near, where her footsteps make contact appear in my mind and I think of where to position myself, closing this with a single shot connecting her next step and mine, a cataclysmic polygon complete.

taking a step, the ground disappears a moment and my next catches the fall from already with legs spread to a firing position as I already twist my hands in position to spawn the g3ka4 battle rifle, the plastic foregrip slides across my fingers, an olive beam shining from the mechanisms assembling in front of me towards the orange petals of the muzzle flash, oared stock crashes against my shoulder leaning into absorb the recoil from the volleys of 7.62 rounds. rays from imminent stars illuminate trails of smoke, sound returns in acute reification , the surface of noise that envelops the closed space sinks into the wavelengths. despite this calm I nearly topple over, the movement somehow getting me lightheaded, my attempts to focus again further sap the ability to keep myself upright, already fearing she would immobilize this as my mental activity is drawn away from maintaining a psycho silhouette.

but samhain is gone, rather, she has passed me and in doing so, her intention to attack relents as I am now a considerable distance away from her. was this the wish upon the shooting stars in neural activity granted into the electric signals now able to move an entire body at any point in this virtual plane without the work of steps and looped animation?

‘hmph, not the way I expected the step transfer to materialize but that is it nonetheless. you’ll have to think past making the battlefield so geometric’

‘a battlefield has its mind and spatial properties…oh that’s right, I guess that kind of thing doesn’t concern you does it?’ I ask her, the jest knowing that the battle has concluded.

samhain sighs twirling her staff.

‘everything, even our bodies are made of electric signals. our internal os’ and our minds can manipulate virtual space. the only reason that we cannot do so as often is due to the restrictions in place for public servers not to mention the psychic strain it could have on someone. but the transfer process can also be applied in short distances within the same space. you really are an oaf if you didn’t know that’

the prospect made sense but to think my movement could be one of flight from a mere idea and a step forth falling into the next from a greater distance is already enough to dissolve into the vibrating signals that could now await my next steps within the blue realm. although more of my silence just comes from the fact that she just insulted me in plain speech which seems much more egregious without her stylized speech.

before I can do anything, the closed space diminishes in solidity relenting to the robes of light interweaving around us as an aurora all while saturna returns next to me.

‘are you done doing things I can’t see?’ she asks, her inquisitive expression wide enough to perhaps see the lewd tinge she added to her question.

‘we were doing nothing of what you can imagine’ samhain turns away, closing her eyes to abort the image.

‘of course, for a mage on the wired, you certainly still have yet to read someone’s mind’ saturna gives me a knowing glance. a gesture that somehow bothers samhain who stifles her annoyance by placing her staff on her shoulder.

‘well, I must resign from today’s affairs, moderating for tai shu is not an endeavour so simple’ she says before she logs off, vanishing as she would in battle but to another server space, yet her log-off sequence dispersed grains of a glimmery powder as if from a departing ritual.

‘so who was that, I would ask’

‘why, samhain works as an admin for the new central branch for tai shu I would say’

‘well, at least I would know you to have a handle on everything, even when I’m in danger’

‘of course,’ she said, a satisfied smile at an expected result but it falters, ‘your life wasn’t really in danger though.’

‘I guess I should be relieved that these megacorps are overseen by chuuni’s and wild killers’

‘it takes a special kind of fucked up to be up there you know? the rivers and lakes of heaven reflect the majesty of the afternoon, yet they diverge as they bloom’ she paces metronomically to recall that old passage . the orbs of light once solid trail begin to melt into faint pulsations, a ghostly halo corrugating in the azure beyond as if submerged in water and we stand upon a disc solid among the fluctuating waves eddying around us, images and connections, her stroll continues its leisurely steps, two half beats of sole and heel

before she stops to extend her hand. I look at it a moment before placing my own, fingers embrace her palm with a warmth she knows makes me a little uncomfortable. this is a way to link internal os’ but she mostly used it for one of her art pieces where the viewer joined hands with a person who was the artwork and began to explore landscapes of different textures based in the personality of the person, a living work of art, the human no longer constrained to sociological and cultural aspect but the psychosphere to which their thoughts and art might appear yet before finding form. however, she’d also establish this linked connection in secret as kids as if discovering interiors ourselves only we knew apart from the ruckus from other kids and the commandments of adults, trying to spawn things in virtual space as the static would bathe our unmoved limbs and we did nothing but stare. ‘come on, producer wants to see us’

a bright doorway forms at the connection and walking with her, my vision consumed in white, as if entering an afterlife and trying to grasp for surface, yet as I turn my hand, I hope not to feel earth, or surface, and I was relieved that saturna’s wrist was still there in the void. she always stood there amidst empty cities and even as the server spaces grew deserted and our thoughts couldn’t produce anything more in virtual space we would still be there among all the possibilities that could’ve been granted out of electric currents.

upon our transfer, we enter a large hall in the real world, its surfaces blasted smooth, white circular tables populate the space but no chairs surround them to anticipate the arrivals from a wayward crowd. rather, these apparatuses are host satellites that users would gather to transfer into the wired which were converted from restaurants. a remnant of real public space as this is merely a node port where users can transfer between here and the wired which assured some anonymity in the same way as being in throng of office workers in a plaza appearing suddenly in it and darting off to unseen avenues.

being there with saturna, I half wondered if we’d wait in line for a table or if she might enjoy this kind of thing, our enjoined hands may have conveyed this thought but it does little to stir her. from the half-darkness, producer emerges and the space ripples with electric signals dancing upon our hands, illuminated by the interface from the internal os’. this gathering was familiar as many times producer would assign us casefiles when they were still my case handler and insist we stay a while in dark unconnected spaces such as these where no one would seemingly know our presence, that like the walls around us, enclosed our conspiratorial conversation from the world with a solemn presentation within the silence and empty panes.

‘right on time’ producer nods.

‘when’d we become a comedy act?’

‘well, everything has its time to appear, a well timed laugh, a kernel of truth…’

‘now it seems like we’re in a movie’ saturna shrugs to me, thinking on that medium where time moved in specific accordance to a separate world rather than it settle around a person. that it was a palpable movement exterior to one’s self constantly moving forward in perpetual montage.

‘yes, the picture-esque couple, their love is what wreaks havoc on the sterile world’ I wasn’t sure about this image that producer shipped us into but then, we always joked before that producer was the parent in the relationship so I suppose this was just nostalgia, albeit a horribly outdated one. Producer then claps their hand to signal a change in topic in a theatric way. ‘so, who’s ready to work?’

‘what’s on admission?’

‘we’re going to raid castle forest and pick up a broker we’ve fingered as a platinum torus helio member. they’re waiting castle forest to drop a stock from crineberg following their recent acquisition of a building in suzuru. tai shu and crineberg have both agreed to manipulate the building’s bandwidth to make the raid as stylish and in our favour. call it a personal playground.’’

‘what does that have to with stocks?’

‘don’t you know? to play is much more potent than to work. working has a connotation of resignation but to play is much more total in its ability and has greater potential to transgress, or should I say transcend’ producer winks.

‘drop the system? it can’t be so simple.’

‘oh such wishes are quite potent in a person’s imaginations and it can be done through the wired were it not for virtuo-moderation systems. but you still ought to make it look realistic. maybe someone will really think their company’s in trouble.’

‘right,’ though despite this affirmation, a faint ripple can be discerned from the signal blocking properties of this server hosting terminal and despite it seeming like on the wired, there may be thousands of users wanting to load in, I could only think of that faceless figure who stood on the pastures akin to optometry tests where looking closely, I might begin to distinguish them. . ‘what about the luminous king?’

‘the luminous king? you mean revolt-era’s deity?’ they ask but the incredulity of bringing up such an entity in this context aborted my attempt to ask further

‘oh uh, nothing’

‘I know it’s an odd phenomenon, if anything, maybe they’ll think the luminous king is making an anti-corporate statement haha’ they laugh. typical producer. always can sweep any tension with a laugh that made even the most egregious error seem simply trivial.

producer routes a connection from an elevator at the back of the room that saturna and I take. saturna opens her palm, a slender sheath carrying a wo dao slices into the milky air of the elevator where she takes the weapon in her hand and withdraws it to her back. a black type 54 pistol spawns in the other, the slide’s length curves back like a blade thrusting back on its tracks to eject its 7.62x19mm round. the muzzle ringed the larger barrel and the thin guide rod where the smooth profile of the slide chisels before meandering to the trigger guard and the wide slab of the grip canted toward saturna’s hand that grasps it, fingers on the black star insignia her dimensions even flash a moment as she changes her shoes into thin slippers which had since become a classic yet formal style in the eastern office culture.

‘you wanted to ask producer about something’ she mentions the earlier exchange. she knows me long enough to know my aborted attempts at anything usually result from unsolved impetus.

‘sort of…i- I wanted to ask about the luminous king because I’ve been seeing them the past while. maybe after the shutdown earlier, maybe they’re gone but still…’

‘hm. sounds less like a king and more like a deity. not the kind a person worships but more of a potent yet invisible being.’

‘I don’t know if we should be courting superstition’

‘you’re right. let’s call it speculation instead.’ she smirks but it dissipates. ‘still, I think they’re hiding something’

while this could hint at suspicion, we leave the thought as she makes no indication to continue it further. it always seems that any person has their faces they would not show to others, including producer, their inviting laugh putting everyone at a particular distance.

the elevator doors part, framing the atrium of castle forest before the cubic dimensions of the unit expanded into the hexagonal decked upper levels, a waterfall babbles by a fountain surrounded by large rocks where a few clerks sit down with freshly toasted baos and lattes but say little to each other, sometimes giving cursory glances which indicate a private communication. rather, all the office workers that flicker around us barely make any conversation that would err from the sounds of elevator units or water rippling from the fountain. we seem to have entered a sublime ambience akin to a mass that divines the business that flickers in electric signals by nature and invisible machines.

our interfaces notify us of a meeting with the broker whose username is labelled as geminis. our play is about to begin as we make our walk to their office as we would their real one, a sign of respect among the wired business culture. it seems that geminis wants the privacy their office afforded.

geminis is an unassuming broker with a tightly pressed suit and blue rimmed glasses with skin tight around their face indicating a man of sports outside of the office, virtual batting cages, albeit that appearance is probably intentional as much of the dress-code was flexible depending on the aesthetic of the impression but also the market or user they were trying to attract. he opens a stiff hand toward their office whose glass and metal walls were comforted by wooden shelves and a carpet, a variety of brain puzzles sit on their desk, half solved and tipped over as if they won’t be level until every piece is congruent with the flat surface.

‘welcome wulei and …ziyi’

‘yes, thank you.’ saturna takes the lead immediately walking the space to examine the shelves. ‘you have a keen eye for the natural it seems. abutting the corners makes for quite the flow here’

‘I must appreciate your observation. I have had this set up by tai shu’s very best in spiritual matters. business is not just about movement of capital. it is the movement’

‘our philosophies have much in common it seems’

during this conversation, I scan through the documentation that producer sent for our cover and here I begin to ask.

‘i think our roles as a small and large business should have a similar train. this is what makes one successful.’ I say, attempting to mimic the rhythm of the conversation in its assertions and faux-grace that always dance around the subject.

‘this is why I think our businesses will make a great collaboration. I’m glad to see individuals applying themselves in this day and age. business will always be business right?’ geminis breaks out, a clap of their hands dispelling the initial air as he spreads his arms out to embrace whatever electric signals are at hand before raising his hand near his desk, a cityscape emerging in the center. ‘in this city, there’s much virtual activity but there’s a saturation in market. where you want to invest is in the private mining and steel trades. they’re just like us, trying to make a living within these times.’

‘physical labour in this time huh? sounds like a rarity’

‘right? I love those guys’ he laughs assuming some allyship with the pursuing and the tired, chipping their tools upon mounds of rock. as the conversation went on, saturna (or ziyi) handle many of the accounts asking about castle forest’s investment plans, returns and other related fields as I await whatever signal was to commence our raid.

‘so I believe with the shares in our hands, your company will be in-good company’

‘oh, I think that’s just lovely isn’t it’ saturna turns to me in an affected way, her hand on mine, a signal notifies me that it’s zero hour and a smirk breaks from my once still form.


facing the rear of geminis’ office, I’m now behind him, his moment of shock allows me to set up a closed space, overwhelming his psycho-barrier to pin him onto his desk, vp70 handgun down onto his temple. if I can maintain this hold, then a walk to the nearest elevator should take us to the exfil already prepared for us.

the server space is already on alert status as we exit into the corridor, a squad of tai shu military in combat boots and body armour march into firing position where their rounds are already projected to rip apart everything within 800 m. saturna draws her type-54 and fires, muzzle flash barely stirring her rigid expression as the 7.62x19mm rounds punch through body armour, their position compromised as they scatter to spawn riot shields as they return fire, each volley of automatic gunfire curves away from saturna who employs a strong psycho barrier enhanced by tai shu’s and crineberg’s manipulated bandwidth.

with her cover fire, i move into a common office and fire into the air as clerks all scatter, some disappearing by logging off with an image of frozen shock, the sounds of gunfire already enough to jar them from the once calm office work which clears like forgetting as I surge forward with geminis in front of me and two security officers, one I dispatch with the handgun before I realize I’m exposed at the side, forgetting to turn my human shield toward them. I throw geminis to the side, breaking the other way sliding beneath a row of cubicles where I shoot out the light fixture above the security officer, shards occupy them long enough for me to circumvent, folding the line of fire by moving around the cubicle that places them right before the surface beside shoots to a clear range where the security officer already fell by the vp70’s burst fire volley.

geminis with some degree of movement restored from my lapsed concentration attempts to log off only to have his access blocked. taking him to the center of the building, I approach the deck where three figures soar up in the air, brushing the gardens that lined the railings. saturna flies through the air along with two others, one in qipao with a large saber and the other in a long coat spinning a chained sickle. they must be tai shu’s apex in combat judging by their manipulation of qi and virtual space. saturna’s ascent slows as her sole touches down on a set of signals used to propel her leap towards the martial artist with the saber. her wo dao clashes with the saber but with its descent, saturna is at the disadvantage working against gravity yet, she gives to the attack, swinging herself around, her palm becoming a blur with only a visible gesture of prayer before it strikes down the nape of the saber wielder who tumbles down into the atrium.

the chain wraps around saturna’s ankle. a sensible approach to topple her balance but it does little to deter her course as she lets the chain wrap around her leg with the sickle fast approaching like a sliver eagle looking to dive on its prey.

yet this fate is not to be, saturna takes a stance, wo dao pointed askew toward her assailant as she stops her fall with her free hand out grasping both electric signals and qi. the chain slackens from the sudden loss of gravity and the sickle user, also a neija practitioner, detects the change in intention as saturna slashes the wo dao, energy ripples through the building threatening to melt all urban geometry in its wake and shreds up her attacker until they are forced to log off leaving a broken chain.

saturna lands on the atrium’s lobby littered with fallen soldiers and riot shields broken in half. I meet her downstairs via the elevator with geminis whose reaction to all this I can only imagine. the entrance opens up, a wave of soldiers and riot shields surrounding as if waiting for our fall, yet a figure walks in front of the gunners, placing their hands on the two rifles beside him as they lower them, indicating that this is not a fight of simple suppression.

the individual wears a mask at the side of their head as if another face that turns to the side and chuckles. sunglasses glimmer of fluorescence and their suit is slightly pouffed, less to do with a straining formality than the comfort of their grace enough to have the soldier behind him stare.

‘well now, I don’t suppose you were looking for a quick ending, saturna…’

‘I was just wondering what took you so long to appear. I was beginning to think you were belittling me, hanzhou’ she smirks.

‘your moon protégé division causes too much trouble for my liking but given they have ragamuffins like you in their ranks, I should expect this now. even if we do work for the same company.’

‘really? I just think the future looks different between us. it’s a bit more abstract than schoolgirl idols.’

‘our futures chased each other since 80 sects and moon protégé fought years ago.’

‘really? then shall we have at it again?’

her bravado stills as if her cavalier attitude melted into the blade, its lines and dents as she holds up her stance, wo dao slanted as if to slice the flat ground which they both stand on with a glimmer.

‘you really have no tact’ hanzhou spits as he draws a short but wide knife with a wiry design lacing from the hilt, a weapon used by wing chun practitioners. his stance haunches on the ground with a single fist, the chiseled arm tensed under his suit already hinting at what damage it can do. but in that hand when he opens it, a short pistol, a type 64 spawns, its fat rear grip fitting his palm with only the sharp tail and circular muzzle pointed out of his grip.

their qi and psycho-barriers tremble at the space, even the garden boxes quiver and a storm is conjured within the fountain. hanzhou twists his foot to begin and saturna draws her sword back ,her palm a retreating wave from a shore to accept his challenge.

he balks at the idea of a charge by firing the type 64, Saturna brings up the wo dao, the side of the slender blade licks along the course of the approaching 7.62x17mm round before her first step warps her a couple paces to the side spinning behind a pillar where she draws her type 54 and returns fire. hanzhou looks like he’s standing still but as soon as I blink, he’s already dodged all of saturna’s shots and enters her radius and in that moment, I thought I saw knowing smiles flicker on their faces once their blades clash, the reverberation an ancient shriek that pauses the observing soldiers where they do not notice hanzhou uses the point of their swords meeting to thrust the agile type 64 into saturna’s stomach but is thwarted as her palm bats away the gun, firing off course as she uses the momentum off his wrist to spin into a side cut that could decapitate her opponent who simply blocks with the small blade twisting all reflections. Blades locked, they can only spin them trying to shove their pistols in front of each other within that melee. Saturna’s type 54 locks back empty as if a knife disarmed, not knowing hanzhou set his intention in virtual space to sneak through her psycho barrier and empty the weapon’s magazine before she faces the bore of the type 64, its flash only covering the left periphery of her vision as she tilts her head. the bullet grazes her.

this movement is enough to give room for hanzhou to push her off balance while their swords are locked but saturnaunlodges the wo dao and stabs forward, its long blade forces him to pull back, swords freed. the soldiers around ready their rifles as if to claim the moment saturna falters but hanzhou spreads his arms out, signaling them not to move as if their opportunistic desire would sully the exchange they are entrenched in.

a trickle of blood runs down her cheek and she licks it, savouring the taste of iron and spent gunpowder with a rictus of delight.

‘impertinent child…’ hanzhou curses. saturna spawns a magazine but that makes enough time for hanzhou to appear in front to claim her life with the large dagger aiming to plunge into her neck but she brings down her pistol, the empty space within the grip catches the magazine and pivots, her forearm catches his bladed hand and traps it flat on her stomach as she double taps two shots that narrowly avoid hanzhou crushing buttons on his suit jacket. before he can ascertain his weapon’s sharpness with killing intent, saturna releases his arm that tries to cut her stomach but she already kicks herself backward firing towards hanzhou who, perhaps overwhelmed, deflects the bullets off his blade using qi to redirect their course like she did earlier. their exchange of gunfire punctuated in swings and thrusts depending on their position as if parrying in a fencing match, each wave of their weapons countering the other. saturna even reloads her weapon, a gesture that while unneeded given the unlimited ammo that could be granted on the wired serves to merely reorient herself from the vectors and forces with the click of her weapon’s action, the chamber of a round. but this reprieve is too long. hanzhou enters a place too close for her to react.

‘game over’ he whispers before bringing his blade up, tearing through in a fatal gash that was neither beautiful nor grotesque as if the gesture was just that. a single movement that ended the life of one behind it.

looking at the body, hanzhou relaxes staring at the work he has done and thinks of withdrawing his weapon to take care of this business. but something tenses behind him as if aware of a presence haunting his back and when he turns to reveal it, a wo dao cleaves down on him, his instinct to defend bringing both his pistol and dagger to attempt to hold off the strike but the amount of qi, not to mention shock at his opponent’s seeming resurrection weakens the structural integrity of his weapons which give way allowing saturna to cut him down, blood spraying cleanly to each side like red lapels.

‘did you really think you could catch me with a maneuver so predictable’ she chides with blood dripping from her lip and the wound still ripped down her shoulder. this was a technique she had used in her piece called afterlife eros where she used her own body and duplicates to create the specter of deceased lovers, one that now disepenses its moonlit attack upon hanzhou whose brow quivers at the sight.

he still has the energy to back off out of her range but it is clear that he has lost his advantage. saturna isn’t completely unscathed however as his attack did indeed connect but through the paroxysm of the blade engorging her flesh she was able to fuse both a flash transfer and load a duplicate corpse the same way she did in her gallery piece, one that many spectators thought evoked a celebration of life but such a ritual was performed due to her own scars and using the contact between weapon and flesh to form different silhouettes of slain lovers.

the only weapon she can wield reliably is her wo dao, the pain having dulled her senses and her wounded shoulder rendered the respective arm barely usable. many anticipate a decisive attack but everyone stops moving as a communication filters in from tai shu, one even I am privy to that signals the end of our symphony.

hanzhou hurls a sigh of disgust and saturna smiles upon the end. the soldiers all retreat, hanzhou bats away the medic team preferring to heal himself and we enter the elevator, the once clean lobby warped with the dents and gunshot holes, images that would be taken and sent to producer.

saturna leans on the back of the elevator unit, a streak of blood from her falling shoulder but she controls her breathing, invoking some qi to null the pain. the sight of her still trying to maintain that expressionless face, eyes dull to any death that flashed in her was enough to prompt me to place my hands around her shoulder to try to stop the bleeding. red seeps through her jacket and my sleeves dampening my arms forearms, as if her bloodied shoulder supported my hands in a prayer within my interlocked hands trying to form an arch that could bear her pain.

‘is-is this-which body is it that I’m holding onto…’ I ask, almost hoping for her to reappear just fine. instead she raises the hand from her wounded shoulder and places her hand on my face, the heat emitted from it cooling from the blood which leaves a streak upon my cheek yet smoothed her touch even as her fingers clung to flesh. almost not wanting to let it fall, I dive to catch it hands still on her wound until the hand is in my mouth, she winces a moment but it clears into an almost knowing smile. our interfaces didn’t connect here yet I sensed a faint twitch from her that soon settles into the soft throbs of her heart now regulating her bloodflow.

we arrive, tai shu and crineberg soldiers extract geminis and chihaya recovers saturna to heal after shoving me out of the way as if to reclaim her rightful place as her assistant.

I see her blood splattered on my sleeves as if an emblem apart from the smooth surfaces of the real world.I only keep it on as producer finds me.

‘what a show’

‘what can I say, it’s hard to know when you’re in the show or just another audience member’

‘hmph.’ producer smiles as they rotate their palm transferring me information reports about the security scandal within castle forest and watching the recorded footage of the raid from saturna entering a shell of riot shields all of them getting cut to bits from inside by her wo dao, and my clearing the common office by firing into the air. investors pull out due to a risk in their infrastructure. the whole affair as vague as the sensations from previous now in this stylized form before me.

‘play and work in action huh’

‘platinum torus helio is now in disarray. losing one of their main supports is huge. we already have some defectors coming in. on that note, there’s one I would like you to speak with.’ they usher me to one of the cubicles already seating me in my next role.

I enter it and the warehouse space disappears into a rustic café, lights pour from conical plates suspended off a wire from the ceiling. wooden tables gather as if in morning shift not yet disheveled from departed guests. gold engraves the wooden walls, a getaway from the toils of work . the window shows looping footage of men climbing a hill digging into a mountain while others move planks and a saw mill moves raw material down a conveyer belt.

‘beautiful isn’t it?’ said a voice. the owner of that voice is a slightly gruff man in a white suit inflated by his toned muscle, the dress-shirt however creased as if despite his stylish attire had been subject to long repetitive manual labour. he only stares at the displays of effort outside. ‘looking at something like this just really makes me feel alive’

‘perhaps you should retreat to some cottage somewhere. I’m sure there’s server spaces for it.’

the man unrolls his sleeves. his arms glisten slightly. a body whose muscles were the sinews of a river that nourished whatever energy he devoted to setting up this haven of leisure.

‘I can barely feel the sweat on my arm. this work’ he said before something breaks in his expression, rendering his pathos moot. ‘you know, a market used to be about the exchange of goods. one place moved to another. then it became about ideas and signs. now, we are the ideas and signs’

‘isn’t that part of a person? we express things and ideas all the same’

‘yes, we do and now it is all that there is, ideas clashing ideas in literal form. but if you can tinker with something from the real world, you could be well off. but I suppose this is no longer the case.’

I can sense that this was going to lead to some zero sum game that dismissed the world for its inherent miscreance, deviating from all forms of order, only capable of the wanton.

‘that doesn’t matter to me. I’m simply here to finish what I started.’

‘see it through to the end? how noble of you’

‘better than to half heartedly throw the world away.’

‘hmph, you are similar to us too. that’s why unlike many other users, you still carry a battle rifle and handgun to the field. not many would still retain this sense of…valor’

‘valor huh,’ I thought imagining some statue or arches and laurels, all this past shorn off into faceless cities for all fantasy was submerged into virtual space, wavelengths that can be spun into anything at all. ‘they’re at the manor aren’t they?’

‘information is still just information’

‘and what of the luminous king?’

‘them? they’re just a fairy-tale but I hear they only appear to the most dedicated of pursuits. they’re a body that still remembers our shape even if they have no face.’

‘thanks, I’ll keep that mind’ I tell him if not just to cap off the conversation. I re-enter the warehouse from the door behind the café where the pleasant atmosphere and bleak windows relegate into concrete totality. even the trusses above that support the arched roof are hidden in flat ceiling. the glow of the cubicles intensify now as many users get to work on moving trade, stocks and spinning narratives, the transactions of the real world that everyone would wake up to. the mechanisms of tomorrow. producer only sits on a bench staring at the hyperactive doings, letting the commotion pass without being swept up by it, only letting the light flash across their face as data is moved from one part of the wired to another, much like staring into an aquarium, a blue glow reaches from a glass barrier, one they can see through yet kept apart.

I sit beside them and set up an encrypted line.

producer turns their head searching among the crowd of agents and data collectors running among the glowing cubicles, their shadows fanned out, endless days passing through them, frantically searching through for the future.

<This world does have its ways of completions. The old world is simply an image as were their ideas of it. All of these different worlds have their own mass over us.In any case, be careful…>

at this, producer gives no further protest and stands walking to me and places their hand on my arm in firm but comfortable grip. our internal os’ didn’t connect but his hand lingered a moment before letting go, fading into the crowd racing by, melting his form in swarms of data and stock delivered either in footsteps or the virtual space ebbing the warehouse.

arriving at the manor’s outskirts, I am given body armour and a virtual space egg that has a mirage capability to conceal my movements in after-images as well as equip night vision. foliage brushes in the wind as if to rouse them for this happening to take place where I walk forward, melding with the tall grasses. the manor’s exterior is as expected, laced in cornices and eaved doorways with iron gates. there are laser trip mines around the doors except for the back entrance waiting for any would-be intruder to step inside. with no bandwidth coverage, I am on my own with only the half moon illuminating the house.

waiting to enter through the backdoor would be a bore, reducing the fight into endless unfolding of the manor walls to expose the enemy. I stand in front, nvg’s scan the house in grey as if imagining it as a relic before detecting no hostile snipers. I see the main door and run towards it, drawing the vp70, a black blur rights into the three dot sight, hitting the corners of the door to disable the mines before kicking it down like a holographic warrior come to wreck havoc on the old estates of columns and arches. moonlight is swallowed up into a dim ceiling, a flash trips and my interface disappears as electric signals die out on my limbs but I don’t let this stop me as I thrust the vp70 one handed to the right entrance unveiling a long sitting room before swinging the pistol toward the left entryway, where my other hand catches it, tilting to a center relock facing a dinner hall, the tension quick to subside but I try to shake this lax feeling off as I spin forward to press down the hall. movement weighs on me so I have to be careful even with body armour.

the corridor opens up to a wide kitchen. an island counter at the center allows me to frame the area, where I check two entrances on the sides for contacts before I slide over the counter taking cover between it and the sink where a sole window allows moonlight to glimmer off the faucet. this position seals up those two entrances with solid wall, each corner of the island now a possible kill-field all just at the edges.

there has been no movement yet when I peek above the counter. the rooms from the two entryways look almost exactly the same which is odd given the floor plans said the dining hall and sitting room were as long as the entire first floor. couches face each other from the inside the frame, the house groans and someone in nvg’s and hunting gear steps out from hiding within the room on the right. with my vantage and long cover, I’m able to quickly fire a fusillade of 9mm rounds that envelop the area of the entry frame only to find the unthinkable. shots off target shatter the image into glass fragments. the shooter was reflected from a mirror to draw my attention and expose my exact position but the thought vanishes I’m hurled to the floor, sudden impact robs the world of sound until I can discern my body hitting the floor and a bolt action racks to chamber another round, steps move forward.

initial twitches after the fact don’t bring immediate pain so I presume the shot must not have penetrated very far to be fatal, more likely hitting the g3ka4’s back harness but I keep still not wanting to find out I’m paralyzed later. steps near and I glimpse around the corner of the island where from a fallen mirror fragment in the next room, reveals the assailant a twisted figure, their silhouette a swirl of steel, wood and grass, perhaps a demon from remnants of gunpowder and brass or a wormhole that sought to consume everything until it is the only thing remaining in this abandoned manor and rustling fields. floorboards groan and I snap my leg, landing on something that gives. my assailant kneels, rifle knocked off balance and too close to be of any use but it is too late, the vp70 burst fires into their palette jutted from their neck, bullets lodged in their brain, trauma seizes them, staring up at the receded moon before dropping unceremoniously to the ground. not wanting to stay much longer, I move into the dining hall moving just making it behind the long table where the far walls blast open with wood flecks and dust, reflex forces me to duck from the shot of a sawn off shotgun from the other side, in the corridor. dust and particulate choke the moonlit space, lacquered cabinets bluntedfrom the pellets carved across the room.. shells load into two barrels before closing to resume fire and I use the quick break to hurl the dining table towards the wall. but the shots continue where I can barely discern the tablepane blasted off hearing only splinters prickling on the floor but I’m already at the end of the dining hall. between entry corridor a split second where the assailant fires their second volley down just after I land in the sitting room. wanting to end this, I dive behind a couch with a cloud-like back rest when i hear the assailant already loading their shotgun that they fire into the couch, feathers explode out of the shot cushions but I keep myself down as pellets tear through the backrest. knowing that I’m pinned, the assailant rushes but as I stare under the couch held up by stands at each corner forming points where the footsteps advanced from one to the next thin columns but with enough clearance for me to fire within that narrow space, catching the assailant who trips at the pain of 9mm bullets flaring up from their feet as I reposition to see their approach blundering as they fall headfirst into the next spread of burst fire covering everything between the wall and couch, two rounds slice artery and shunt his head to the side where he twirls, gravity leaving him to a slumped position, a splatter of blood coats the wood.

the wired egg’s signals return as electricity courses through me once again, my internal os reboots. echolocation detects no threats in the area. on my status settings, it appears the hunting rifle round only bruised me which was nothing that couldn’t be fixed. however, it did detect a connection from the sitting room’s stairway at the end closest to the entrance. setting the connection, I walk up the stairs to find a door where opening it leads to nothing, the door now framing the manor’s stairway like a memory that aborts itself to the void.

while I perceive the floor, a faint emanation ripples its smooth surface. while it is nothing but the presence of electric signals, a tepid warmth clings to my limbs and I quickly form a psycho barrier, righting my contours against the atmosphere spawning the g3ka4, unfolding the stock where I lean forward into it. in the distance, a lone figure stands with a browning hi-power pistol from the interface’s identification of the target. the name is erased but the face is one I clearly recognize from the castle forest office. I bring the battle rifle to bear upon him. iron halo and steel point at his head like an executioner’s blade at the neck.

‘did you find corrine?’ I ask them. they don’t look at me instead insisting on seeing the emptiness.

‘I should’ve known someone would come’

‘not one for visitors? I suppose there is too much connection and noise now that the wired is here’

‘so, this is your ending, is it not?’ they say, turning, towards me, none of their harried manners blurring them. they are as clear as ever even down to their pale lip bent into a grin. ‘as always, the things that are unseen are the ones that are in control’

‘sorry to disappoint, that you’ll just be another casualty. though why did you hide in the wired if your boys decided to bail? seems so unlike the torus helio’

‘hiding? no-I simply discovered the advantages this world had. now I’m truly untouchable.’

not wanting to hear their drivel any longer, I pull the trigger, a 7.62x51mm round expels from the barrel, a flash of white and smoke yet a wave of peach, no a massive organism, a quilt of flesh swallows the bullet writhing in pain before its palpitations resume. the creature gathers around its master forming a small circle. they chuckle.

‘soon you shall know the tragedy of the flesh.’ despite my psycho barrier, the pungent fumes were enough to perceive it faintly, tainting the minty ambience that once surrounded me. But my impulse to retch is enough for my psycho barrier to give as a fleshy tendril lashes toward me, and I back up, the thought to run flashing through me and I’m warped a few paces away, enough to steady myself and crack a round into the tendril that shrieks at the fresh hole blown into it before slithering back to the morass pooled around its owner. they then raise their arm to my direction, the flesh pile bubbles before it extends itself like a river to fall upon me and I take to the sky, needing a better vantage point and as I bend my knees, I’m already in freefall, using my bandwidth to get a shot from above only to have something slimy wrap around my leg. repulse shrivels in my back even dulled by electricity and I fire indiscriminately a long line of shots from the battle rifle becoming steel shrieks, each round carves through like jets already disappearing from their wake, the holes enough for me to rip the fleshy trunk off.

now that I was on the wired, I had access to a few more weapons and I toss a grenade the blast concaves the flesh mound giving me the opportunity to spear them, three spokes from the g3’s fired rounds embed themselves to the floor as the salaryperson dances around the pillars of smoke to return fire, in surprise I forget to maintain my altitude and I fall, dodging the first two rounds but the third richochets off the g3 knocking it out of my hands.

I land but the flesh mound converges upon me and I can only leap, the tendrils wrap around my after-image as I’ve already warped out of their way but they only mold together, little puddles sweep the space as if sniffing me out. I respawn the g3ka4, finding comfort in grasping its foregrip with flat surface clamped on the barrel.

‘all this running is so tiring isn’t it? no matter. sooner or later you will fall. your data shall become a part of me too


‘that’s right, this creature also sucks up data from whatever it swallows. that 7.62mm round is a wonderful one. a gun with the decisiveness of a guillotine.’ they open their hand and the flesh wraps around it forming the shape of the g3ka4, its soft surface throbbing as if straining to hold this shape, the labour that it provides. this must be a closed space, not a regular server if they are able to manipulate such a monstrosity. ‘now shall I make you face your own weapon’ and they fire, the flesh-composed battle rifle spikes when shot and I can only dodge, my back foot catches my warp-dash and I return fire to try to find a point of exposure around their gore fortress. our exchange in 7.62mm rounds, the clash of swords as a cat’s cradle of smoky pillars has us rolling and dodging out of the way lest the rounds slice through us, thoughts that offer reprieve by their trailing smoke. I drop the magazine and insert a new one, hoping to think of something while I slap the charging handle chambering a round from the new mag but nothing comes. only my opponent gathers data at such an alarming rate almost dodging the minute i flank them.

‘is this all you can do? for someone who fights on the wired, you must have more to feed me.’

‘don’t worry, I’m thinking of it’ but at that point, all I can think about is my grip on the rifle, held in place with the direction of the iron halo and the 7.62 mm rounds that keep me from succumbing to the oppressive heat that could melt me away into panic. but upon realizing this, I ease my hold. as if a child’s first steps, my toes grasp at the floor as if to ascertain it’s still there even with the loosened palm and I despawn the rifle leaving my bare hands which I place outward, curving as if to receive the flow of an incoming strike.

‘given up? very well’

the tendril charges, my stance firms as if just barely holding my contours and thrust my palms toward it, the tendril shrieks flattening upon a barrier as I feel something heavy course through as if I was reborn for a moment before it dissipates, the tendril falls but doesn’t recede as if completely crippled.

‘what the hell-?’ they start before something dawns on them. ‘you’re a qi user?’

my psycho barrier is stronger than ever though my own weight starts to loom as if I might fall any moment. I spawn the g3 back in my hands, softening my grip on it ready for any hard jolt its 7.62mm rounds may produce and everything attunes to soft natal throbs, not even metronomic but slow enough to perceive the ebb between seconds.

‘you’re just full of surprises. but it won’t work. you see, I know you’re not experienced as a qi user would know how to maintain their meridians. something a gunfighter would not know with their constant discharges.’ their taunts mean nothing to me, even if I were to say something, no words come and I simply anticipate their next attack. ‘well, if you’re that desperate, I’ll just have to end it’

they bring both their hands up, a conductor raising a crescendo as a tidal wave of flesh roars threatening to spill before it shoots long tendrils but as they near they’re close, wrapping around my body as my contours lose their definition, psycho barrier caving to the embrace of the flesh but it all occurs much too slow and I blink, warping backward to where the flesh molds in front of me and at the next trajectory, I already appear at their side from a distance and bear the g3 towards them, its sensation melts upon the pull of the trigger, the first shot still a pillar of thick smoke not yet unraveled embedding itself within the salaryperson’s side, it not yet registers and the fleshy mound is too preoccupied with trying to feed on something that’s not there. I leap in the air, vanishing before appearing overhead, the second and third shots spear down to trap them and time seems to resume as I land, the impact on the ground, the flesh rebounds to the aid of its master who writhes in a thousand contortions from their wound. its companion wraps itself around the holes but it is only at this speed I realize they’ve narrowly avoided the second and third shot. while injured it’s not enough to put them down as they cast their hand towards me, a part of the flesh still spills over in my direction, my limbs already sluggish despite the augmentation of electric signals.

this battle becomes a single plane of endless suffering from the affected flesh to our spent bodies trying to get at each other once and for all with no end in sight, or rather, that end is diminished as no comfort comes to our constant expulsions.

the mound drives itself toward me and despite the thought to dodge, it doesn’t materialize leaving a dull ache, but a flash appears nonetheless, the tendrils severed to the ground.

‘are you alright?’ a voice asks, its cadence rigid yet pulsing up to upper and lower pitch.


their polygonal cloud not yet a discernible shape but seemingly one step away from revealing its inner enigmas. in their hand, a slender scabbard held upright as if a citadel risen with its steel unerred by the electric signals that form little illusions along the blade.

‘y-you…who are you?’ the salaryperson asks

‘your organization can thrive but your action, no, your philosophy is truly despicable. ’ faux holds their scabbard facing the ground and suddenly, the entire server quakes. ‘cleanse all desire, may the moon bring no warmth to the black sky. will the love of mu and nirvana reconcile their cups, nehan no mu’

the flesh mound twists even more than usual as if it in exorcism and the electric signals move with increasing violence, a fervent drumming that dissolves at all matter their vibrations create a single ampere of noise that mutes the melting form of my once opponent. it is not long until white consumes my vision.

after a moment, I’m in a blue corridor, where I walk into a large chamber with domed skylight that slices the moonlight into lines of milk along a mural of smooth figures flying in clouds as if moulded by them and dropped where they discover their separation, toys scattered around with a train set running a figure 8. an entire city modelled in grey blocks where little cars zoom to office buildings that light up with pinpricks of light, make stops at cafes and then returns home before starting again.

‘you’re here because you saw it, didn’t you’ says a high toned voice and I turn around to see a child but as they walk towards me, their face is besieged with wrinkles.

‘kid, I think this is too silly to be a practical joke.’

‘I’m very serious’


‘I am I am!’ they insist with still some childlike character. I reach down and notice none of my firearms are on me. but they calm and walk around their toy city. ‘you’re here because we heard lots about you. your combat with platinum torus helio is commendable’

as I say this, the surrounding columns around me waver, light flickers, forming bright shapes until I start to perceive white limbs, hands that shook one another before coming apart and I realize that the luminous king is here. rather, there were many emerging from behind the columns to gather around the mural around the city where they joined hands and turned a brief waltz around the toy city as if waiting for their chance to be born into this world.

‘so that’s the luminous king? Is it? what kind of medieval era did we find ourselves in?’

‘luminous king is a symbol, like all things. anyone can be the luminous king, that is why they are without features. it is a mold in which a person can reify themselves. there is no need for groups like them to try and bring the real back in such a barbaric state’

‘err… while it was kind of an accident. they crashed the virtual currency market to try and restore something once lost.’ I said but saying that, I found that all the malice from before had disappeared and their purpose, finding reality, some part of the world they could find purchase in the sweep of signals was enough for me to find them almost on the same side. ‘ I guess I could empathize a bit’

‘well it’s no wonder producer chose you and saturna’

‘what? how do you know about that?

‘our businesses have…similarities.’

here I search the columns gathered around which were less like architecture referencing an olden time but more that their engravings, their prism bases smoothed at the corners very much represented this unchild-like character of the luminous king: a shape, an object melted into the ideal form of a column gathered to support the sky vaulted overhead, whose fountains of night turned the impermanent days into lasting remnants, feathers dropped from birds overhead.

another child, face wizened before the light cleanses their wrinkles walks in and announces several companies have been abandoned and that the crypto market demand has surged again.

‘good please replace the buildings in that toy set there’ they order and walk in a circle around it. the other child obeys and dutifully picks out a small piece replacing it with another in their pocket. it is here I realize that this model city is devoid of people, the empty street corners and plazas visible only from the flashes of light zipping by from one car passing through, an office floor lights up triggering another and it is here that these images strike me as almost too real and my own distant view now almost makes me weightless as if this realm removed me from all those void streetscapes that I faced everyday when electric signals would fall to the image at my window. the dancing figures now flicker, their slow movements now in a rapid succession of images as if their data is being transmitted.

‘the future is always in the hands of people. there’s no doubt about that’

‘what do you mean’

‘well, despite the crash, there were enough people who waited for their precious currency to come back and their faith was rewarded. that is the beautiful thing about economics. now people have a choice to decide for themselves the greatest good. they influence what images come through the wired, stylized in valour. PLatinum torus helio may have had brief support but they could not escape their tragedy’ they smile. ‘now I think that same audience, is looking forward to your finale’

at this, I’m warped back to my car. black towers lean in the pockets of expanse lifted from the low roof as if the earth had split again into shapes, the void above casting its fractures.

clouds gather, the morning grey yet luminous, steel forged from unseen mills, molded by unknown molten. from when a surface unending in its smoothness refracted light into miniature suns off the vertex not like a horizon but a fateful gathering that was utterly apart from the landscapes and snapped grasses, beyond the hot struggles of limbs and mouth, something very much like the sky in that it tethered the earth, letting it fall and blur around us. litanies of backfires pop from the bosozoku car’s risen exhausts, braking remolds the earth out of the streaks of green, riveting wayward grass with the circulations of the solar engine cells, the whirs rotate underneath the vent studded hood with revolutions, once explosions within internal combustion engines past the repetitive pistons and the slow waves of grassland intermittent with faceless high rises, spokes of sunlight shooting past from approaching streets like the strike of a sword before it falls behind the next city block. despite their smooth surface, each building juts slightly out or recedes from the side window, a picture unable to still. ambassador sedans wait around an unusual gathering of traffic as the intersection lit up in gold as if awaiting our congregation. their fronts with large grilles and laurelled badges lift slightly from the burst of acceleration upon seeing me yet the other cars behind veer this way and that, the sedans could not steer away colliding to the side of a compact, another tries to reverse out only for a container lorry to block the exit resulting in a collision that shatters the rear window. pulling up, I disembark into the maze of car wrecks as shadows meld together, the car cabins, an entangled web that laced upon the shiny pavement almost as if a crown for a diety risen off the spent age of industry now burnt out into ruins upon an unknown cityscape absent of stone or adhesive. the platinum torus helios members fire at the assailants cornering them, one fires in my direction, our pistols flash their barrels as slides rip spent cartridges from the ejection ports like the appearance of pipe-work, the unseen factories in each firearm that ignite gun powder, forming small suns within the intersection, sparks dance off the warped fenders where our silhouettes melt and fade as we reload new magazines, like dropping black edifices onto earth where the sky no longer shares its impenetrable chroma as it cools into blue