cw: guns, violence, violent fantasies, depression, disappearance/implied suicide, ghosts(?)
reflections waver beside me from the ceramic tiles rendering this hallway, grids of jeweled terminals perspire droplets of endless corridors on the once smooth concrete wall pockmarked in craters and scratches, now the rock it once was radiating from the light fixtures like the blasted surface of the moon.
reaching the reception slot, A guard in class a2 polymer body armor clasped on a wrinkled dress-shirt, raises his head away from his surveillance monitor, its light slipping from his face as if a change in the time of day into his sallow expression to regard me from behind the narrow glass between us, his gaze slides over my card, the wrinkles on his face strain at the photo, perhaps trying to match the details of the silhouette to my profile, his uncertainty hardly adhered to the flat expression on his security pass before throwing the card back to me through the outlet under the glass, almost to ensure an efficient operation of his duties before returning to the faint cheer from an e-sports battle royale with soldiers jumping in simulated hillsides, his face glows from the monitor erasing its skeletal juts that hollowed his cheeks.
fluorescent lighting palpitates down the hall from each fixture as darkness laces the milky pools of light. I draw the G3KA4 carbine rifle from the harness carrier concealed by the foxhound jacket’s adaptive geometry, the polygonal fabric now settles into a calm sea. unfolding the oared stock to cushion the rifle into my shoulder aiming down the receiver beamed toward the ringed front sight as I grasp the bladed handguard clamped under the barrel, moving forward, every step’s contact might meld the rendered halls beside me, my presence occupies a fraction of the thousands of renditions of this corridor as if a pixelated phantom shimmers beside, granted out of ceramic, particles thrumming within the light fixtures above.
off the reflection from one of the tiles, men in suits wait by the elevator, their hands twitch near their coat lapels, afraid of the milky shapes rippling on the walls, the moon almost full, there had been rumours that a non-existent 888th floor appears at 12:21 from this 887 leveled megacomplex. many users on the wired’s BBS attributed the rumour to mere ghost stories found among videos of people writhing in demonic possession, or assumed there was a banal explanation, a clerical error or someone imagined a ghoul while going into shock from stubbing their toe.
if that were the case, the carbine rifle and supplies made me overdressed and overarmed for the occasion. But then, so were the guys by the elevator. underneath the long coat body’s adaptive polygons that retain a plausible figure, conceal a satchel containing cameras, bugs, fingerprint powder extending crowbar, food capsules and water enough to last a couple days to avoid physical dehydration, the coat itself strapped in 20 round magazines for the g3ka3 and 9mm magazines for the vp70 stored in its stock attached to a thigh holster. All these objects here as if I had been wishing for a cataclysm until only I and my target surface onto a desolate plane that once veined these reflections of the corridor, rendering all connections into dust settling onto the remains upon the earth that slit the sky.
Middle elevator arrives, the suited men form a perimeter around the entrance where I glimpse a suitcase carrier backing into the unit as his guards start to file in. I keep back so they would not catch my errant reflection until I hear the sliding doors close. at the interface panel, orbed numbers light up one by one to the unit’s destination, an ellipsis of transit, silent inhabitants moving to their residential units in the complex. withdrawing the rifle behind the jacket, the magnet harness catches it while I opt for the vp70 pistol, springing out of its stock-holster into my hand wrapping around the polymer grip licking to support the slide canted towards the oblong muzzle, a solid yet thin trigger lies behind. another elevator arrives and I enter, vp70 behind my back while I sidle past an exiting older lady who flashes a glare, I press for floor 886, looking at my watch to predict their time of arrival. it was only 12:10 and no one had specified when this room would appear in seconds.
the elevator unit surges up with the pneumatic shaft once I select the 886th floor to make sure I do not arrive at the same time as my targets in a comical coincidence where we would stop in a moment of disbelief before scrambling. mirrored walls echoed my reflection, images repeated across each pane folded into this box unit, all connected by each impulse in a schematic of the self. even as the elevator stops for other residents, their images bounced across each of the walls becoming near kaleidskopic as small twitches, shuffles or absent gazes fragment in my gaze as these disembodied creatures monitor my moves or even act at any provocation.
despite the efficient suction pneumatic shaft, the unit itself retained its cubic structure instead of a cylindrical one used in newer buildings. Some say that the use of the 21st century structures and motifs here are like why computers first came in a modular grey, to nullify some sense of frightening technological advancement vaporizing pastoral fields and family owned oligarchies.
floor 886, as requested, opens to a frame of concrete wall and tiles staring back at me before I hit the close elevator button to go up to 887, watch already at 12:20, the unit climbs a single floor until the lights cut, all the reflections extinguish into black as I back into one of the walls. maybe the entire unit would stop and plunge down all 800 floors, a final roller coaster thrill before a climactic crumple into annihilation more total than a gunshot wound.
drawing a flashlight from my pocket with the vp70 reveals a white circle that blots out my reflection while barely lighting the corners of the unit suspended mid-air from my steps echoing through the floor moaning down the shaft, I look for an emergency door above but the unit drops, jolting into place and I was to step into some new chaotic world imagined as long ago as y2k or some such dream of technological failure.
12:21 and nothing happened, worried that this whole thing might be unfounded despite the breakdown from the elevator unit already a good sign, I take the extendable crowbar from my bag and drive it in between the doors to force them open, unveiling another floor like the ones before it but this one utterly silent, untouched by the warbles of appliances behind the doors which were untouched of decorations. My watch did not move. Yet an instance where a glob of paint texture tears off the walls to reveal a wireframe model of the corridor before returning to its intended surface retaining a preternatural glow, its tiles barren of reflection.
moving my fingers, the air responds with a faint electricity, a frequency of static that could call virtual object to palm. Seemingly, I entered the wired (or virtual space) from this elevator, A frequency looms with milky figures whose tendrils approximate into limbs sculpt out of the fluorescent signals. They pass through me as if bodies of mist and I stay to the side, leaning on the wall pressing onto my flesh, a point of contact. through these bodies, someone else leans on the opposing wall, a young girl in a school uniform whose eyes I can’t make out obscured by her slightly dyed brown hair falling to one side, unaffected by the static, she moved her head very slightly, perhaps discerning something out of the white waves that might meet her in this corridor. there isn’t enough static for my voice to transmit so I try walking along the wall to face her but by the time the figures melt, there was only concrete wall and as I turn my head, the corridor empties with the static calming into a low electric drone characteristic of the wired, the bright figures returned to the canisters above me emitting their meagre light.
surprisingly, my internal OS was able to open with the virtual interface ready with various applications from echolocation to enhanced movement executables, time still ran as normal, reading it from the real world. there was even enough signal to enter the wired where I set up a connection into my local server. It was evening peak hours so the leisure servers should be running. A window prompts me to enter the nearest door, cold fluorescence wipes away with warm bouquets of gold light from the interior of a Japanese grill house. at each table blooming with raucous laughter and drunkenness after a long work day with shining glasses of beer frothing at the rim, noises of celebration for coming home, the cheerful atmosphere created for this room since many who frequented it liked the bar-room aesthetic brimming with nightlife delights recreated from old century shinjuku.
each table represented a private chat room within this server and I find the one requested for me with kunakida, viper and faux already there, each of them represented by, respectively: an anime girl in serafuku with a tight bow and rehearsed way of saying ‘niyaniaya’ which was funny to think of since kunakida was a fujoshi and that soon she too might be able to rid her human speech and body to become anime, virtual fey in electric cities; a grizzled man in full combat fatigues - viper was someone from a /k/ server who would pass weapon deals here and there, and I worried that he might be a plant from some overeager armament company smuggling guns to start some war prompting me to note the brands recommended and related gun crimes; faux’s avatar was modeled after a corrupted dataset and he had decided to stick with the aesthetic, a suited body with a face of polygonal clouds, modelling each errant piece of geometry and static that reacted to different emotional state.
‘hi, Foxtel! (^.^)/’ kunakida waves to me. one of the moderator bots asks us about drinks and I order a brio soda.
‘so, as I was saying…’ viper continues ‘the key to success here is having enough resources to pool in. that way, if anything happens, we have provisions’
‘survivalism is mere desperation. in this era, being content with being alive is no longer sufficient’ faux sits back, unconvinced of whatever viper was planning, as the brio soda arrives on the table from one of the mods.
‘and I’m saying that there’s enough psychic burnout to go around. you know it’s bad when all the work is done at home and no one goes outside anymore. motherfuckers get restless’
‘come on, foxtel is here, let’s try and at least not leave him out. ^ↀᴥↀ^’ kunakida parts their debate so we might have a semblance of decorum. funny to see an anime schoolgirl teach manners to a glitchfaced salaryman and rugged operator. we give a small toast now that our drinks are here and everyone takes their sip while I still wonder how faux even drinks with all those shifting polygons in their face.
‘sorry, just trying to figure out this supply line for an insurgent group for another building, they’re starting a coup’ viper explains to me
‘really? I wasn’t aware people still do those,’ I mention mostly thinking of BBS’ from disgruntled workers or residents, burned out consciousnesses of restless bodies kept in their rooms with all the virtual labour across the wired, imagining revolt only in images of historic coups or shitposts of crowds spilling into the streets waving a tattered flag of an old world all in the void of text boxes. despite the string of these messages, they only remained as such.
‘it’s a great myth, revolutions and flags from the steely commandant’ faux concludes.
‘nah, don’t worry about it faux’s just likes to think he’s so objective and transparent which is why the idiot won’t do a face reveal.’ viper eases in his chair as if a throne to a kingdom of chaos and disarray among him in the clinks of beer glasses and riotous conversations.
‘you say that as if human integrity is idiotic’ faux’s face stops moving a moment but his tone indicates a smirk.
‘who even reveals their face, I wouldn’t show you mine （/｡＼）’ kunakida intervenes. I had never seen their faces either but whenever the time called to see a user in person, it usually resulted in awkward exchanges and disappointment perhaps hoping that our bodies might invoke an innate joy that our veins throbbed towards but could only manage aborted interaction.
‘ew, kunakida probably has fujoshi stank’ viper yawps with the kind of vulgarity a lot of outsiders might think the wired was for, causing senate boards to call for restricted access from their decrepit pantheons already superseded by the exchange of data and information.
‘you’re the one with the unshaven look, even in the wired you choose to look unpresentable.”
‘that’s just a construct. no one can be the ideal person’ viper replies and I was unsure what he even meant by that, let alone if he was just stringing a bunch of words together, the kind used to rope in some heady topic to ascertain their intelligence to the jury.
‘well, the form of etiquette has been with us since the dawn of time. if not ideal, at least being benign would bring us closer to such’
‘I think the only place you’d be working for is a crime syndicate, which is fine, everyone participates in some petty crime ( ′¬’).’ kunakida sighs to viper who arguably, would be doing more lawless activities with their strings in the weapons trade, strumming up another noteworthy deal.
‘so… what’s up’ kunakida turns to me. ‘I can’t seem to id your signal origin.’ this also gets faux to pay attention, the polygons stop shifting, the puzzle of his expression nearing completion.
‘oh, you know that building with the 888th floor?’
‘still pursuing that eh?’ viper shrugs, his dismissal apparent.
‘I’m in right now. I’ve trailed some suspicious characters reported on the building’s forums.’
‘they have been spotted at a time close to the one specified in the post, going up and down within a time interval that would be too short for them to simply go and drop something off even at a second floor. even the days spotted all had a full moon. and with the timespan, maybe this place is outside linear time’
I open the search engine, my hand curves to pull in parallel information from building visitor passes, security footage and posts about the rumoured 888th floor with various video commentators reading the story and giving explanations, some handwavy and others looking into various myths of moon deities, a particular one noting about the presence of a ‘mugenjo’ or dream castle along with other rumours about the elevator’s constant malfunction at that time and a board asking about missing persons. the possibility of perhaps more behind this floor, people going missing or even disappearing, only gets a skeptical look out of viper, who deems the supernatural useless to the business of the real world which probably relates to why his use of the wired is mostly transactional.
‘you sure you didn’t hit your head? maybe the elevator fucking killed you and you’re bleeding’ Viper asks.
‘if so, I’m wondering how the lot of you ended up biting it.’
‘this is the individual who has purchased a heckler & koch g3 and a vp70, the former with tac-light, laser sights and various internal modifications. I still wonder how you are going to fight information with smoke and gunpowder’ faux surmises.
‘this does surprise me. most vloggers would kill for a haunted space °o°’ kunakida adds.
‘or real estate, given that it’s always a race to claim new units when they’re made err-appear but I’m surprised they haven’t moved in on this. Everyone’s always looking for space, or opportunity’
‘finance only has a certain amount of superstition it seems’ faux’s face ripples a moment before finding a shape more akin to a crystal ‘so… this space… what information have you gathered about its use?’
‘they got a suitcase and they look like they might be armed. there could be a smuggling operation going on and it’s practical if not artless for any mob to store contraband someplace that may or may not exist since space is somewhat at a premium these days. it’s like being able to hide a data drive at will, disconnecting out of existence at any moment. but thanks to the rules of time, they go like clockwork. there and out the same time.’
‘wow, you might be a better stalker than me (✧≖‿ゝ≖)’ kunakida concedes.
‘it’s called reconnaissance.’
kunakida sticks her tongue out in a childish way.
‘well from that area, I think the 80 sects triad operate there with a huangzhu blockchain, formatted currency and conversion with minor things like drug smuggling and prostitution. however, I don’t understand why they would store supply so close as raids are common’ viper states.
‘maybe they want it close. that is money in there for them. that’s right, what did you turn up kunakida?’ I remember asking her for some help on it a while back.
‘well nothing too much, I’ve sifted through building records and doxxed multiple residents with hidden profiles, all coming up clean with some in connection to 80 sects or questionable things like shell companies. there is one though, there was a story about a resident who disappeared. a tohka crueset. it’s old so much of it is secondhand. they say that one night she had an argument with her parents and then left. they quickly called building security to keep an eye on her movements but they claim to have seen nothing, or no one pass by.’
a photo of tohka appears out of kunakida’s hand and it’s the same girl from earlier in the hall, an expression that seemed to smile only at the urges of her parents telling her to be more presentable
‘it’s always the parents driving their kids away. what a tragedy’ viper shakes his head
‘so, you’re saying this disappearance might have something to do this 888th floor?’
‘maybe, based on witnesses, tohka’s friends say that her parents don’t treat her well but neighbours and adjacent family members have a consistent record of saying that they just worry about things like finances a little too much’
‘much to their detriment.’ I said. taking a closer look, the hair dyed a slightly lighter shade and aloof expression that still might catch your gaze in its several rotations under spotlights. There was a v-idol who looked almost exactly like her from a group called alterna, an idol unit doing songs and routines based off an everydays look of bustling city streets with windowpanes that glimpsed into various interiors, the thrill of a city and the unit would take great care to mimic that past-aesthetic as many of them dressed in period specific school uniforms, singing ballads that evoked those times between school and work with soft drumbeats and 2000’s era rock. When I bring it up, the resemblance dawns on kunakida.
‘right! she does look like her doesn’t she?’
‘that’s kinda fucked up, I remember when missing people stayed gone’
‘oh viper, scared of ghosts niyaniaya~ (｀▽´)’
‘first I gotta deal with all this wired shit fucking with people.’
and kunakida went on to pester viper who could only retreat lest he give to more of her barrages about how he’s scared of the supernatural.
‘whatever, I heard she’s been doing a concert for tai shu kwong. you should be careful around them even if you’re friends with one of their division leaders’ viper gives a paternal warning. Tai shu kwong was one of the megacorps that specialized in lifestyle services and products in eastern patch areas like montazuma with very strict security protocols tightening in a trade war with their rival crineberg.
‘is that a coincidence?’ faux asks
‘at that? maybe. best to treat it as a relevant tangent I suppose’ I answer.
‘maybe, but the relationship between the two is still present. from missing student to idol. that must come from somewhere, you know?’
we hear a bell ping from someone entering the grill house, three suited men from earlier walk in which signals that they are nearby back at the apartment and I tell kunakida, viper and faux I’ll keep in touch before I disconnect, viper telling me my usual shipment of g3 parts should be arriving soon either way.
‘good luck, have fun, niyaniaya~(≧∀≦ゞ’
‘safe journeys, foxtel. we will relay you any developments’
‘don’t die you son of a bitch’
after that send off, I blink into a dim room, outlines faintly discerned from a slit of light underneath the door now blocked by someone standing outside, I draw my g3 toward the door, running an echolocator that maps the room dimensions in mesh finding a short wall separating the living room from a kitchen where I creep behind for cover. slowing my breaths to steady my aim, files from faux and kunakida transfer to me with a receipt from viper that also contained an ad for some hypnagogic rap concert stream. the chime of the elevator rings from outside in an assemblage of metallic notes to form the toll of a bell that signals the arrival and the steps recede.
information opens in a pool of light around me as I sift through the records, swiping my hands left to right molds silhouettes of residents, infractions strain red on white records. tohka creuset, rotating hands bring related persons, immediate family and friends but turns up little. her father, a contract maintenance worker for several buildings and mother a part time receptionist, old jobs not yet subsumed in immaterial labour on the wired, holding on to the sweat of their brows, greased hands and time spent. a forum from her school that kunakida linked me to, talked much of tohka, the v-idol, her image becoming entwined with that idol’s steps through those romantic streets blooming of love flashing through the glimmer of city lights off windowed rooms just as distant as her photo, while resembling the v-idol, maintained its firm expression that would never think to place her hand on her chest to express yearning, particularly with defiant eyes that might have made her victim to lectures about respect, two droplets of another emptiness that evaded the white background around her.
tracing the thread on the 80 sects triad, conducting the narratives from related incident reports, old ram and chop attacks, ransom kidnappings and jewelry store robberies relating to government officials neglecting triad activity or getting assassinated by car bombs in old Macau, black and white photos of burnt Benzes, a quick slash left gets forum posts of possible drug dens and dead-drop spots coded in articles of antique auctions from certain words or numbers. running another program, I form a matrix of info, tracing the different threads, connecting them to the reports of tohka’s disappearance. the fractal fails to form as there are no associations between her immediate family and the 80 sect triad, leaving me to sigh at now having two incidents to investigate. only a couple of keywords intersect between faux and kunakida’s info, disappearance, work conditions.
a phone call ring materializes from kunakida and the electric signals load her form in front of me, jagged pixels melt into her avatar looking around the room, the vertices glint off her opal eyes, her mouth shrugs into a nonplussed line.
‘huh? this is one of the rooms? •✞_✞•’
‘sorry, I haven’t moved in. wasn’t expecting a house warming party so soon’
‘house warming, this place is like a corpse of a room. there’s no life in here 囧’
‘or no signs of it, we just live here…anyway what’s up?’
‘I picked up on something interesting, I’m sure you know of tohka’s little fandom.’
‘Right, I guess no idol would be who they are without their followers’
‘well I’ve combed a bunch of social media accounts and I found one account under her name here’ the account on a social media platform shows an anime girl figurine that looks like tohka and it is almost unnerving to see her in the real world in this fashion, in an artificial body created from her online persona into its state of suspension, the orbs of light reflecting off her eyes etched onto the figure’s smooth face, as if to confirm her simulacra taking hold in the real world even in physical object
‘strange, I didn’t think people still made dolls. is this just not a role playing account?’ I ask eyeing the recommended accounts also showing other tohka creusets, people living as her in the wired with log posts and updates of some distant high school day. this account seemed to read like a diary, with posts such as:
6:25 I am no longer here
6:27 my body is simply a city with portioned areas of work and pleasure, with no ends in sight
6:28 where do I begin, perhaps I never existed to begin with
7:18 moon apparatus arches, I am now filled with light, I do not remember when I felt as weightless as a river, my heart only submerges melding the heft of my hands
‘I thought so too but this isn’t playing her, but it seems to embody some interior thought grapsing at her in the static.
‘there are poets right?’ I ask, reminded of the system hijack trend among poets, using elementary hacks and disruption programs in order to deliver verse that upset the uninterrupted systems of commerce and conferences across the wired, creating affective disconnects.
‘yeah but this is kind of concerning content. like this is almost like a poem of the frustration of young people but applying with the face of a v-idol? and I’ve tried to ping the location of the posts but they give me a bunch of scrambled addresses, of places that don’t exist. like one of the loc’s were something like 82 lombard boulevard but that street only goes up to 17.’
I had not the faintest of how to pursue any of it in my current state - my body still remembering time, I yawn. The information here only sketched a vague outline of her but that entropy of what could’ve happened to her seemed all the more thrilling as I could only wait for another post, that this unending light of information might flicker of her presence, trying to claim itself from the various images produced from their angles and frozen light.
‘very well, I’ll follow the account. updates should come up if something happens’
‘niyaniaya, I was also hoping this account could get boosted. it really adds to the fandom other than the whole slice of life anime thing you know?’
‘so it appears’
‘that’s all I wanted to tell you. I have a live event to attend. I gotta keep up with a virtual let’s player.’ and she logs out without as much as a farewell and I follow the account.
I log my findings in a document within my investigation matrix before I make camp, the thought of renting a room, an old memory of how these spaces removed one from the commotion of busy streets behind the door into the glow of computer monitors, I start to lay a tarp and set up an electric lantern whose emittance of energy blows the sound of a little ember. I take a couple of fish capsules and konyaku from a Tupperware box while I do a manual search through the information list, reports of gang activity and relations with other gangs from leaked CIB reports, an updating infographic shifts in terms of triad activities forecasted, 80 sect has seen less raids and a more steady supply flow of accelerants and depressants all while my stomach imagines its hunger being satiated from the capsules.
it’s already late so I prepare to sleep, setting down an explosive mine in front of the door then inflating the tarp into a cushion, the lights fade into the soft darkness of the room, and I’m a little glad there was still some vague presence that haunted the desolate apartment floor like dreams that might begin to percolate into the void.
I send a message to ‘the producer’, an old case handler from before I had started being a detective, handling bounty hunting cases of faces that would end up in scopes, tics measuring distance to target and where to adjust each shot. he always set up closed spaces in rooftops due to his preference for unobstructed views of the sky and it was refreshing to see daylight which now melted away the concrete surroundings, the rooftop square contained by thin metal railing. air stirs with frenetic rushes of wind, endless signals perhaps lighting up distant rooms from the surrounding virtual city or the activities of real world transferring over.
‘the producer’ stood at the roof’s edge looking below, the streets speckled in colour out of a painting from a 1990’s Asian city scape, expressways curving from the mountains flickering with distant trees.
‘how nice of you to visit’
‘I’m just surprised I didn’t have to shoot anybody’
‘that was just an uncaught exception. I simply didn’t account for being trailed. someone of my position is always being trailed’
‘I thought you’d be more popular with the military chuunibyou aesthetic’ they ask referring to the various mercenary companies created either for hire or sport in virtual maps, attempting to revive an atmosphere of total war without any of the political reasoning that might once rouse entire battalions lined up behind podiums, only the conflict itself remained, throbbing hearts and exchanges of gunfire, blasts of gunpowder that leave smoke consuming the lands as village ruins are recreated for military enthusiasts to live out their dioramas in virtual space.
‘yeah right, I might as well join the military aesthete company. they do hits and raids you know?’
‘right.’ the producer only looked down, the windows from the skyscrapers had no silhouette of inhabitants, only the movement of cars below influences the air. ‘so what’s this case you’ve taken on?’
‘it’s just something I picked up on, pieced together out of surveillance footage. 80 sect triad storing drugs in some haunted floor that doesn’t exist.’
‘and yet you’re still there?’ producer asks, aware you would’ve been bored if that were really the case.’ the producer stretches their arms, their chest puffs up a moment with the breath from the crisp air before continuing. ‘plus, moon protégé talks about it every now and again. even saturna knows. the 888th floor is sort of an open secret’
‘Hmph, guess I’ve become ancillary’
‘oh, don’t be morbid, machinery and instrumentality go hand in hand. besides, what are you to do with that information?’
‘I’m not a cop, those 80 sects guys could do whatever they want.’
‘so you’re not going to report it. not many people would be able to go up there and have proof, you know‘ the producer looks away a moment before asking, ‘and the missing girl? creuset, was it?’
‘dunno how I feel about it…like the body that incarnates geometry/annexing my dreams, crossed out in aborted sketches’ I recall the line from a recent poetry text about the body and the wired.
‘ah yes, the one where in order for a dream to exist it must also be absent, but geometry is the tether somehow between the living world and the dream. think of why they build altars or transmutations with an arrangement of objects.’
‘like feng shui?’
‘sure’ producer shrugs before changing topic, ‘hey pass me your sidearm’
I give the vp70 to them and after examining it, they point it at me as white consumes my sight, the following shots in soft throbs before the rooftop scene returns the final shot dissipates into the air. they return the gun to me, the weight still the same as before indicating no lost munition, as the shots were simply simulations based on data from the weapon they manipulated in the closed space, gauging statistics and calculating the result of the gun’s firing capacity.
‘hell, that’s a loose spring…’ they mention.
‘well indoors, the unpredictable can be a deciding factor.’
‘you must be someone of some faith then.’
‘like a virtual space with parameters that can be manipulated, one can also do the same for a psychosphere’
‘hm’ the producer thought a moment, their expression showed little emotion as if only to wait through the moment. ‘so I saw you were following an account of a tohka creuset rp’ they ask
‘yeah, it’s from a recommendation by kunakida. she says that something that can’t be id’d is posting from that account, and it’s outside the established narrative, like she sees it as an actual person or something.’
‘hm…well, given my position, I do have access to some records…psychological ones at that. if this creuset person does exist I can probably pull something. schools do psych evaluations. even with the growth of virtual space, it seems few people can really access the interiors of a person’
I pass him kunakida’s files and the producer opens their hand, raising and batting at the air, manipulating a hidden interface, and they stop to think as I presume documents are loading before rotating their open hand in a tai-chi motion, grasping an unseen heft and weaving breath before opening their arms. this was their martial arts training at work, combined with system manipulation. a file appeared in my interface log. opening it only revealed a corrupted file, Glyphs scrambling her photo refusing number, letter or sense, leaving only her height, age, weight, psychological divergencies: Possibly avoidant personality, talking might be some effort but it failed to conjure much apart from a somewhat plain girl who might not easily open up to others, concealing something in those inscrutable broken texts, perhaps trying to find an ever-eluding form for her tumultuous states.
‘I can’t read this.’ I state the obvious.
‘it seems to be pure data. You have to remember that when she disappeared, her rebirth on the internet stemmed from a kind of death in reality, and reality things decompose. the creuset that had parents and an actual school life is gone. but revealing information can be influenced by many factors from what kind of other data in virtual space surrounds it. like an emotion, the relative interpretations of the physical aspects can begin to sway from even the slightest affect’ this was their way of telling me that the document was going to be important, some inscrutable artifact from the next world, the world of forgetting that phases itself out of the records and even memory. ‘since you are changing perspective on the case, this space depending on how volatile it is could change according to you, which means if the girl really is a presence on the 888th floor, it might change to reflect that.’
‘why’s that? isn’t it just virtual space?’
’don’t tell me you’re naïve enough to think it’s mere virtual space. a place like this being born despite the limited bandwidth allowed for buildings while large cannot be enough to render an entire floor with rooms that can support the remote wired connections of people. the 80 sects have managed their tactic this long because the first assumption was that there was extra bandwidth available. besides, a spiritual experience is more related to one’s own perspective than one thinks’
‘so, if I’m in a place more related to tohka, the corruptions might change.’
‘yes, but since when has information ever truly been the make up of a person?’
the sky ripples, particles of heat could nearly spin a mirage in this peaceful scene.
‘you should transition back in.’ a gale pulls me off, soaring over the painted streets that blur into the flat ceiling of the room. blue framed in the window, an imitation of day outside the corridor, I can picture breathing clouds into it if it were cold enough.
clearing the interface, I enter the corridor with the vp70 about to traverse into a quieting loneliness, immaculate to the point of warding away any human presence, almost the way when I was a child I would be kept away from desolate spaces beyond the beckoning amusements of playing blocks or whatever toys were strewn about the carpet, where I caught the vacant gaze of another, whose presence only kept me still.
an amalgam of noise haunts the space with an unseen everyday, little strum of a guitar or the clatter of dinnerware melding together in this hall yet each individual sound scatters across multiple rooms making it difficult to localize their locations. all this seemed like a game: whatever would be behind the door revealing more about the real creuset, a gameshow for a gross expose, stripping all the sheen of this stylized innocence, finding after all her lyrics and beauty that she might have been just a normal girl who shyed away from adults, not yet knowing how she might affect others, growing distasteful of honeyed compliments about her growth telling she will be a fine lady in one of the patch corporations or some other aspirational cliché. would there be a way that one might understand another, faster than signals in glances and silent meetings? each user encountered on the wired contained an absent human, whose presence felt despite not being present like my own body being invisible save for the limbs.
connecting to a dedicated city server made by tohka’s fandom, the door leads into a recreation of the suzuru district in an early 21st century city aesthetic when the windows still open with spectacles of couples meeting in cafes or mannequins in a diorama of a beach getaway workers once stared at for just a moment, longing for those far off vacations, the smooth geometric buildings casted shadows across the pavement as if predicting their future, a reality cast from the movement of the sun. yet there were things to see along the avenues. it would have been a better place to at least concentrate on the case if not just to have some noises around me of footsteps from passing crowds and fragments of chatter. this was what the wired was used for. from MMO’s to chatrooms creating digital public spaces like the plaza once did, recreating lively urban spaces once celebrated in photography books and art exhibits, the moon protégé triad even recreated a one to one scale Kowloon walled city with users acting as residents or shop owners.
suzuru’s residential district at sunset teems with doorways waiting for their homecoming inhabitants for dinners closed away from the city with the muted reports from news broadcasts and haphazard conversation, leaves still tremble from the coming breeze of nightfall. a few reports from the investigations on her disappearance trace her routine and I follow the directions the structure of her everydays that tethered her favourite cafes after school, resting at a park or just taking walks, these being also public knowledge within the server, users with avatars of tohka walk by and I find that the park was populated with many tohkas, some lounging under the shade reading books and others in a group where one throws their head back in laughter to some well-timed joke that roused a few errant giggles, this park seemingly contained the basis and apexes of her personality emulated by their postures, where each patch of grass or pathway, a tohka with a different temperament could appear at any moment in these fragment pastures meshed in cobblestone pathways where users with tohka’s likeness might morph between reserved steps or magnanimous hilarity towards their unseen destination, whether somewhere in those rooms winking from distant high rises or the unknown server spaces connected.
at a train station designed like a long western rowhouse whose roof dims the light over the platform, I visit the convenience store cubicle with fluorescent glowing shelves that muted the bright packaging of the snacks, recording the kind of snacks she bought from talking to a couple of users, schoolgirls about the same age as tohka, wearing her hairstyle with the tails on opposite side of their neck. (shrimp crackers, lychee jelly, all dressed chips, what a weird combination)
a bubble tea stand where I asked a role-playing shopkeeper what her favourite flavours were, guava, papaya but she didn’t get tapioca and tangerine. questioning local users and gathering info, inferring her preferences such as her avoidance of citrus flavoured sweets, made me feel more like a detective in a classical sense instead of sleuthing through message boards and disguised conversation over the wired, but my questioning would slip into little chuckles from the tangents made by other users as if I too was part of this little everyday where users would wave to each other, chatting by the corner before departing to their destinations, one of the schoolgirl users mockingly asks me if I had a gun since I was a detective. information swirls around me from a homebrew infography program, identifying users as they passed by, the scene of waiting students and shop keepers opened with, portrait frames and identifying information from their signal origin, search history and possible infractions in red.
next train arrives at suzuru station, I board behind the of doors shutting, an exhale before the sunlit carriage moves forward, gaggles of students with creased collars whisper past confessions to a few delinquents in slanted poses talking in Cantonese about some hallucinogens in rowdy noises, mention seeing tohka, thinking maybe their dosage was spiked before one of their cohorts nudged them to keep quiet, all of these whispers grow while the train glides about the city encircling all of city centres from montazuma, kai-chiro, new europa blowing past us across amorphous houses or apartment blocks into the carriage, the wild rumours that inhabited the now glowing city lights like magic dust sprinkled from skyscrapers and condo buildings, the train’s momentum softens the heft of the machines hurtling down the rails as if in flight, achieving a faint urban dream spanning from the smooth concrete to the earthbound stars.
The residential district was ordinary lacking distinct recreational areas with only a lone shopping district near the main road, a maze with houses behind the walls casting shadows on the pavement, fragments of sunset litter the road as if fallen leaves, another end in the seemingly ceaseless summer days, users walk just a bit longer. in fact, many in serafuku uniforms populate this side street, their blurred passage made it seem like tohka was here but the architecture of their faces always erred from hers, instead her presence manifested in mere instances of recognition. chatter and users deciding on nightlife recreations eddy around me, nightlife began in after-hour gatherings at local pubs or batting cages despite the buildings not yet lit up into dazzling promenades. datasets and portrait interfaces overlap, weaving perhaps into the shapes that could morph a familiar silhouette.
at the end of the street, one of those girls stopped in front of me, her expression lacking emotion but in the way that her parents might have urged to get by unscathed, tohka creuset, standing there with her hair tied up exactly like her school photo still needing to do something in the coming night. I thought her appearance fortuitous but a slight pang of disappointment also formed.
‘what a surprise’
‘you know I’m not here…you know that?’
‘yes, I know’ the programs I had running couldn’t identify her at all, there was no user controlling her character. she was in front of me, her contemporaries, no, imitations wandered around us as if the sea parted to this elliptical spot, a tarmac eye where we stood at the diameter of its imminent vision, tohka standing before me now, her smirk lacking the shying from her reports.
‘you must have a lot on your mind to think of someone like me and have that materialize…would you ask why I disappeared? everyone wants to know.’
‘I suppose becoming an alterior being after a parental argument must be a pretty big flex, but that’s not what I’m here for.’’
‘why, afraid to be disappointed?’
‘no but people don’t just up and disappear. that’s cause for interest, wouldn’t you say?’
‘well, I may not be who you think I am but i could be anyone! a student, an idol, an ideal romance. does there have to be something so suspicious about little ol’ me?’ she puts her fingertips together delicately.
‘I guess I have high expectations…’
‘so do I….’ her gaze loosens as if I were only a glint from the streetlights. “I’m a fantasy, and the city was once filled with them, so…here, I suppose fantasy can be granted out of virtual signals, a dream come true…’
‘so what is it then that you are supposed to be.’
‘behind you’ her voice whispers at my back causing me to turn, we draw, her with the same polymer handgun as our arms aim their weapons to their target, our profiles matching to human-shaped targets. ‘perhaps, you would’ve preferred something like this?’
her smirk obscured by her pistol’s sight, its barrel a black hole, this case, another riotous conclusion, and tolled gunfire ringing in real or virtual space, that merely left us with whoever bit the dust and the wavelengths of electric signals or distant grass cycle. a foregone conclusion but hardly the end. she lowers the vp70 as I do mine but I realize the angle at which the weapon lowered matched mine exactly and it was clear that I was staring at a reflection, and yet her strained smile seemed to be the only transgression that escaped our motion, our impulses.
‘maybe we’ll see each other again?’
a user bumps into me and I turn only to see the phantom no longer there in the now empty street with streetlights dispensing moonlight into the pale concrete. turning back, one of the delinquents from the train stood a distance from me, wearing biker pants with padded knees and a studded jacket, the programs also unable to identify him. he stares before a little grin breaks across his once stoic expression, and disappears, logging off the server but no animation playing for his departure. the survey_program redirects me back to the apartment, the directory points to a door of a nearby house, the one with a low pointed roof, static wavers at the intersection and I hurry to the house, fearing a collapse of this space,
back in the corridors, signal returns and the inphography executable tracks no visible users in the area but myself, the halls clear with the tiles dripping in moonlight. the spectrograph detects no other sounds but an incoming signal from a blocked source forces its way through my encryption and appears next to me, a small twitch, whips the vp70 towards it, a Chinese girl in maid outfit, round glasses, and braided hair with a glock 18 pistol in her hands leaning next to a door, waiting.
chihaya was a maid both in occupation and dress, the tai shu kwong company using it to advertise for both entertainment, hospitality and assassination services, both going for the killer maid aesthetic. although its use was not only in combat situations but in relief as well with tai shu’s supposed escapades into flood damaged peninsulas. she mostly served her boss saturna, which was how she knew how to connect into the same server space as I despite my prior fortifications.
‘a couple seconds was all it would’ve taken’ she says in a soft yet glassy voice, adjusting her glasses until the lens turned white, perhaps reflecting all possibilities of the situation in a hole of light, that her slender arm might have reached toward my wrist, subduing me before planting a 9mm round into my neck. tai shu’s security forces despite training in conventional military combat also had a rumoured cadre of kung fu masters and chihaya was a student of theirs, using her training to redirect an enemy’s strike before transitioning to the pistol, a combination of eastern marital arts and western cqb, her palm a deadly canyon all to lead into the recesses of where her enemy will be put to rest.
‘is that so? maybe I ought to give you a handicap…9mm rounds are pretty good at setting the stage...’
‘I’m afraid that would not be possible. I also have 9mm rounds, 30 of them in such a small space, you will have no escape and my 9mm will have no need to…officiate’ she said monotone, if not robotic as I feel the flat muzzle of the glock right at my stomach where the light armour was the weakest. ‘saturna would also be very sad’ she then picked trying to evoke some restraint at the mention of saturna’s sadness in a calculated attempt to diffuse the situation knowing that despite everything, I would try not to do anything to hurt saturna who once called me in a virtual parkway, the ends of her world and that those two points must exist like sun and moon do. she was always the poet in that regard.
chihaya brought it up knowing that would get me to at least hesitate. something viper would have called ‘fucked up’, as he held emotion and memory at some precious level not to be tainted in calculation.
‘you’re right, though you don’t need to treat me like I’m holding a hostage,’ I withdraw the vp70 as she withdraws her glock 18, supposedly ending a cycle of violence, and sigh, ‘what a useless exercise…so what brings you here’
‘tai shu just launched a new character for one of its mobages and it’s tohka creuset’
‘really? what class is she?’
‘that’s dumb. don’t tell me tai shu actually employs soldiers to sell mobage characters’
‘master is waiting’ she said opening the door which already established connection to the moon protégé triad’s server saturna manages.
her server went through a number of changes based on certain motifs, one moment adopting a new roman pantheon aesthetic with marble columns in red lined up beside fountains, gold statues reaching out to paintings of the heavens to celebrate the theme of new riches of the orient or new prosperity in line with china’s rise as a global superpower in the 2000’s. this time, it was a nightclub with a dancefloor, neon glowing off a bar with glass shelves at the center where prominent bottles of wine and champagne deck the place with a kind of sophisticated flair akin to nightclubs in 21st century hong kong where many 30 something finance workers from central would gather celebrating new mergers or meeting lost loves behind the columns away from the lights and throbbing trance music. some users (possibly moon protégé triad members) tussle at some arcade fighting games which was a nostalgic touch both in its inclusion and some wayward metaphor about virtualized violence in a world of endless commerce, something only saturna would think of when she designed it. chihaya stopped by the table where saturna was, long hair swept to reveal dull eyes and sullen expression that some might deem a little plain if not unapproachable. dressed in a punk jacket and I can only imagine the graphic on the back. her gang in the moon protégé triads was a mostly online group that dabbles in crypto mining and, of all things, performance art in a newly established arts and culture division for tai shu. some of it might be a front for triad activities but she seemed to have mastered an art of the spectacle that made crime thrillers so popular, attracting audiences to the dynamics of underground violence and business rather than arguing about their morality.
parts of a rifle scattered on the table, a wooden handguard distinguished it as an ak47 variant without the stock akin to the late 20th century jewel thief from hong kong, yip kai foon.
‘you know you should invite me to places like this, I don’t get out of my room often you know.’
‘maybe, but look at you, going out, meeting new people. I guess now with virtual space you can do whatever you want from your room and you can have your self and the virtual self’ she smirks taking a cigarette and lighting it, the ember from her lighter barely warms her expression. ‘I hope chihaya wasn’t too rough with you’
‘we only held each other at gunpoint once’
‘aww…finally getting along.’
‘barely…’ I sigh. ‘so how’s the work with tai shu?’
‘honestly? fucking brilliant. I have to stare at goods deliveries from crineberg and their shell companies to know who it’s going to and see if it’s any interest to the corp. crineberg, obviously making a home for defectors just so they can say how shitty we are, like can they just leave us alone?’
‘maybe mass executions of traitors, embezzlers, leakers and dissidents might help your case’
‘I’m just saying, some people, just need to die. that’s all’
‘right, I feel I’ll finally out-edge viper, him and his being all ‘I have to sell firearm even though I hate corruption and evil, because it is world based on the survival of the fittest’ like, what a little bitch. I could probably snipe him right now if he wasn’t so adorable.’
‘maybe, I know he doesn’t like tai shu’
‘what’s he gonna do report me to hr?’ she challenges since to my knowledge, both companies don’t have either, only offering a meager counselling wing and a suggestions box which is either automated or left to someone to fill employment. ‘crineberg mostly just annexes independent buildings and patch territories so I’m sure he’d know better than to side with them if he stands for muh freedoms’
‘well, I guess he picked the high life, guns over the service industry.’
‘aren’t they the same’
‘don’t tell him that,’
‘I won’t. so, you’re messing with 80 sects?’
‘if you want information, then I’ll need to be in your employ unless the nouveau riche theme last time was just a facade’
‘talk about a lack of initiative’ she chuckles knowing my inching for a business opportunity from her was in jest. she continues. ‘whatever the case, who would’ve thought that the rumours of an 888th floor are real. we might have to make that a new superstition’
one of the triad’s more famous rackets was actually spiritual guidance, mediums and others. while it might be called scams by crineberg and others, there have been compelling discoveries of spirituality and signs among the wired and perhaps the spirit world, such opportunity turning into its own business
‘so, how did chihaya know where I was.’
‘caught me.’ she puts her hand up before assembling the ak on the table, opening the charging handle on the receiver where she looks inside it. ‘80 sects traced that girl from the drug hallucinations to this building. and the fact she’s famous. famous enough to make her one of the stars in a mobage as well as be a character motif in the dramas on our entertainment division. 80 sects are marketing her drug-related appearances as, the hallucinated idoru’ she said the last part in a faux spooky way.
‘ms.saturna, I sensed a presence within that apartment, but it was not connected to anything nor is it the girl. thankfully, they broke their pursuit when they found out we would come here’.
‘right, there was someone who was following me in the suzuru server. they had no user id’
‘guess we can’t forget about 80 sects even though you’ve shifted your focus on the idoru’ saturna winks. ‘though, do you really have much insight into a girl’s turbulent heart?’
‘shut up, if you want to talk about empathy, perhaps chihaya ought to find another way to tell me about mobages’
‘i only react according to the situation and you seemed to need comic relief’ chihaya said deadpan.
‘quit bullying chihaya >¬<’ saturna interjects. ‘anyway, your pursuer must’ve been a spirit from meditation. There is a way for people to access the wired without the use of virtual space but it’s difficult.’ the ak is near assembled with only the barrel and handguard to install almost a premonition. ’all I’m going to tell you is that 80 sects is gonna notice you running around their storage rooms’
‘how kind of you to let me know.
‘it’s common courtesy. 25 is the most detested number next to traitors for us.’ she references the cantonese pun for traitor sounding similar to saying the number 25 as a non-sequitur, or a tagline on the importance of loyalty and friendship’
‘who are they gonna send?’
‘always ready to jump into oblivion…perhaps you and that girl might have more in common after all’ she opens her hand, her slender fingers press on the square casing of a magazine from the g3.
‘red poles?’ I ask referring to the triad underbosses. usually much better armed than average 49ers depending on who their gang is with.
‘maybe.’ she tosses the magazine which then dissolves in the air, appearing in my inventory console a quick scan for any items lost, show that most of my spare mags are gone. ‘pick them up by the door and be careful. especially in this place of secrets where things exist and don’t exist, I’d hate to see anything happen to you.’
saturna’s eyes narrow but almost in a knowing glance before I get to the door where chihaya stands with a gym bag where I retrieve my things, the items reappear in my inventory, the magazines strapped within the jacket as the polygonal cloth adapts to the shape once again.
exit, the glitter of the nightclub frozen in the glazed corridor as the dance floors shrink into the concrete walls around me. equipping the g3 rifle against the waves of static, leaning myself into the stock as if pressed against a barrier mediated by the battle rifle, staring down the upper receiver to the front sight, a shadow surrounded by an iron halo
New posts from the tohka rp account, pulling it up on an interface screen beside me.
5:00 I was told the real world was a scary place, always to be cheated and manipulated all in the dinner table, I only continued to eat, this world of eating and manipulating…
6:00 when will I ever be forgotten, it would be nice if that happened. I guess I’m my own container of me. I do not exist to anyone but myself.
6:30 but non existence is okay isn’t it? I walked in a crowded square and there were school girls and salary people just like me and those things I wanted to be just blurred into these steps, walking in this faceless cityscape.
7:00 work school dinner eat sleep work school dinner eat sleep.
tohka, sitting at a table with the silent ruckus of the cutlery while she sunk her chopsticks into a clump of rice in her bowl so as to ensure this supposed solace. one that her parents would perhaps ask about what she will become in the future which elicited little but it seemed this silence only endured as if her silence had separated her from the world, perhaps as far apart as the commercials on the television set, an assemblage of notes and frequencies among aborted signals then playing at a speed she could no longer keep up with.
moving up to an intersecting hallway, I, peek at the corner, a figure errs from the wall, their presence was virtually silent, meditatively so perhaps all possibilities of our encounter may have been mapped in their brain which might coil into its intended action.
‘I was wondering how long you would be staring off into space’ the figure turned revealing a strange mask, one with large eyes and a puckered mouth like a mythical trickster. the infography program failed to detect any signature. ‘then again, a voyeur would dedicate their time in the act of the gaze’
‘I don’t know who you are or what you know’ I replied, his mask within the sight of the g3, its features evaded the ring surrounding it.
‘my men had a close eye on you in the suzuru district. you may be good at cloaking yourself in virtual space but your presence is here in the spirit realm is as naked as you were born. it is always said in our side of the world a person wears many faces’ they said walking up until their mask touched the barrel of the rifle, the sound echoes through the hollow of the mask but it continues as if his face was a cavernous wake. ‘so tell me, do you think this weapon will kill me?’
‘7.62x51mm should be enough to open you up in more ways than one.’
‘you’re holding back…but you are just like her…the girl?’
I back up crouching my shoulder into the rifle’s stock, one foot bracing behind as my nerves steel themselves hovering in wait for the follow up shots should I miss.
‘yes, I know much about her’
‘a spirit medium who works for the 80 sect triad…what would you want with tohka’
‘I am merely a steward of this space. it’s important for one to take care of…hallowed grounds…’
‘yes,’ he enters a nearby door which opens into an empty industrial space flanked by concrete columns, the walls flush with packing boxes identified to be hallucinogens. I follow, keeping my rifle at bay for now. ‘there are many ways now for an individual to reach transcendence now. hers was a mere anomaly. so in order to preserve records, even data, it would have to be replicated through re-transcription or memory as a person can wake up and remember things to a point that it’s etched into their being, but then something happened. the memory was slowly rewritten, no longer conforming to its image from life and it became something else. it’s a touching story’
‘I’m tearing up at the thought’
‘she was a mundane ordinary girl. even you can imagine what she might be like, and be correct. there is very little meaning to her existence but that futility birthed a new yearning and so tohka, the virtual idol was born, a new image that kept students hoping. she had found, her instrumentality’
‘so you’re saying her passing was for a purpose?’
‘everyone’s pain had to amount to something’
‘somehow I doubt that’s what she wants.’
‘this woman you speak of no longer exists. you ought to not play into the phantoms of your projections.’
my feet pivot on the floor, soles gripping the concrete as I pull up the rifle, the iron halo from the sight remains a moment before a flash consumes it, a stream of smoke spears past, the masked individual’s hair flattens from the velocity of the 7.62x51mm round tearing past, concrete fragments fall from the crater on the far wall.
‘sorry pal, guess as a no one too, that’s exactly what I’d do’
‘hmph, I had hoped we could solve your doubts but I guess I can just bury you into a perfect memory.’ the individual takes a sutra which summons a doll with ball joints, placing their hand on its round head. ‘they say that nostalgia is the opiate of the masses. things that don’t exist drive people over to an abyss. something I’m sure you’re familiar with’
columns shiver, in seconds the meagre colour from the lighting pales as the doll dashes, no, it seems to get close and all I see is an after-image before bracing my weapon which repels a force that hurls me backward, as I tuck in to fire only to have the shots phase through the image of him beginning to its next attack. was it using some kind of frame skip? an application that allows a user or an apparatus to appear as intermittent images which can obscure trajectory, or rather its full movement, making each attack more fragmentary.
I had no idea where the doll would attack next, watching some iota, no, even a shadow to telegraph its move but all I could do was run to the columns, the trickster still stood but I knew attacking him would be futile since his body composed no mass on the wired. my veins thrummed, throwing myself trying to feel where the next attack would come, stepping back when it’s a frontal swipe or using the rifle to block but I couldn’t keep this up. I grab two grenades from my bag and throw, engaging the pins to toast the bastard.
prism columns mutate into clouds of smoke after a quick spark. electric signals bounce from the blast causing interference that threatens to sever the room’s image as I part through ghastly ribbons, intervals between the doll’s movements shorten, its appearances form a much more coherent attack pattern I can dodge. smoke slows down movement in virtual space as the effects take up a lot of memory if unoptimized,
I flick my hands to send files to upload into the space, thousands of interfaces amass into puddle of data. the doll body stutters before lagging into its attack position on the side. rotating to position myself the columns collapse into a single concrete layer before I’m facing the doll ahead of me, afterimages struggle to weave as its once effortless movement broke into thousands of postures as i line them into a single silhouette, its contours sharpen in the thinning haze, rifle drawn, jolts into me as my shoes catch the ground, all interface windows dispel as the slowed round now slit across the wired, flicker of the iron halo and its centered mast like the faint shadow of a target, my hands melt into this vessel of destruction, 7.62mm at a time.
smoke clears and I find the doll reverts into a paper person, its medium along with the merchandise had completely disappeared. not that I was going to report where their stash was but it was irrelevant. I only sigh, imagining the whole ordeal had evaporated like the air I just exhaled. waiting a while, tracing the two craters left from the bullet’s impact which apparently went right through the doll, shells on the ground like discarded bells, their aborted paths embedded into the stone, a moment left the disfigured geometry until a simulation from the interface tracked the course of each round, these constant paths that would span and intersect. that was how the wired was born, using the trajectories of people to fuel the future all the while using all the connections from the various users.
connecting to the main corridor, the survey_program found the main door had its access route cut which meant the trickster really was serious about burying me here. a stone coffin where I would be trapped in the contours of a body I would be unable to see apart from the limbs, its reach extends to the fingers, my sight ends at flat wall, my world cubic and unchanging.
nowhere to go, I proceed forth to the door ahead and enter a room with a soft light furnished with a bed, desk and bookcase which seemed like luxuries since some rooms, even in the real world, had less as they could use virtual space to construct furniture of any kind without worry of taking up real space. this was one of the few times I had even been to a room outside of mine as either I met people out in the city or on the wired. a closed space that condensed someone’s essence and habits from the way books were arranged on shelves to the stationery decorated with cute characters, a t-shirt thrown on the back of a chair and plush rilakkuma bears, a mascot bear with beady eyes, sat at the bed, a city outside dressed in curtains, a theatre of all its iridescent streets, park lamps waiting on secret rendezvous, arrangements of traffic lights and pedestrians turning in sequence, the hidden mechanisms that conducted these lights up and down these wayward streets not unlike a computer, the information coming from unseen processors.
checking the room, the desk had a small computer which I turn on. after a boot-up sequence, it lead straight to the home screen with an email message without a sender. the text box opens with a blinking square typing, an automated voice reads,
‘you’re safe now, the door will lead to the 888th floor.
I look at the keyboard which takes me a moment to get used to as it had been phased out with cognitive transmission allowing thoughts to be typed instantly.
'i appreciate="" the="" help,="" i="" suppose="" you="" don’t="" know="" someone="" until="" they="" point="" a="" gun="" at="" you…’
‘you really are just like me, floating in a state of suspension, surrounded by people who are so needed but us, we could only just be.’
this was an odd interaction but it didn’t take me long to realize what she meant, that viper, kunakida and faux could somehow intertwine themselves within the smoothed connections of the wired, appearing one place, then another in the delocalized activities that bloom in utterly exterior planes, where they were already different people depending on the services they performed. perhaps tohka and I were incompatible with the mirages of these constant movements, crowds that don’t materialize into familiar steps, and we become utterly apart from it, from the limits of our selves, our world and the places and people we can no longer see going places we cannot follow.
I was in her room and I take the time to look at the record that producer gave me, corrupted glyphs remained but it seemed calm, each edge or undefined shape now seemed like droplets of rain whose landings on a hand startled a moment but never becoming unpleasant. this place must have been where she might have made sense of things for a moment, unbound by silence or compliance as she thought her self to be able, no, not even that she had potential for anything that counselors might try to lure her to be their greatest project of finally focusing her cognition into some productive flurry, but more that she could understand where she was, or that she felt that she could no longer belong in this world that was atomizing more and more into the wired, these walls and books and their phantoms were a remnant of that world and even her memories.
checking ammunition, I head out into the hall but the lighting grows dim as darkness obscures the floor. dampened walls suggest there’s a presence here, the space illumined by lights coming from hollow silhouettes, their unidentifiable bodies ripple in static ebbing across the grids of tiles behind them. electric signals struggle to materialize any texture or being, the spectrograph acts up with faint chatter whose words I can’t discern from beings that elude understanding. I walk through, always near a touch, half formed consciousnesses wash around me hushing even, as if they notice my violent intent materializing or the hand near my thigh holster, these silhouettes chatter perhaps about my presence, trespassing on their dialogue already too fast, filled with some nuance or wit I cannot follow, forming another kind of noise; the noise of an approaching consciousness as their thoughts might form into language out of the vague sounds they produced.
“were you waiting long?” a voice. tohka’s. and I turn around to see her in serafuku with a smile. it’s not her. the ghost crowd around me barely acknowledge her existence. I try to id her but nothing comes up.
‘where should we go?’ I ask.
‘hm, well this is virtual space, we can decide on wherever right?’ she beams in an artificial way, the notes of her voice to elicit some tributary smile.
‘so what’s happening here. a hallway’s hardly a place to hang out’
‘you’d be surprised. pedestrian thoroughfares have a lot of people who stop there to watch.’ she walks ahead, brushing her hair aside with the back of her hand. ‘besides, this is just a ritual beginning. try scanning them.’
using the infography program, the silhouettes only give fragments of data, occupations, offenses, partial names, the ui of the programs has lines sweeping each of them as if tracing frequencies, an ever eluding surface.
‘the hallucinogens have transported them to this space, they think they can reach me like that.’
‘you? or the v-idol’
‘hm…I don’t know…I’m a student here and I’m someone else in suzuru right?’
‘something like that…’
?tohka? opens a door that leads into a quiet area with a backroom of multiple mirrors, a different angle as if a lovely photograph never to be seen again, different costumes of serafukus, blouses and attendants hung around the room from the gridded ceiling akin to a new inspon design choice of a dressing room having all the costumes suspended by hangers on the ceiling and making a meditative choice not by clearing the mind but by their collective gathering that inspires a new thought. behind on a bulletin, there are photos in a pile of old beaches and coves that probably don’t exist anymore due to the previous century floods, the seas that once glimmered of our forlorn dreams that fell upon the once modern world.
but walking past her costumes that flutter near her, mirrors tracing her every step until she reaches an empty stage, its hardwood floor ends a little bit ahead, dropping off into a void of electric signals, perhaps someone could peer in from that unseen space.
‘is there a concert?’
‘sort of, there is a performance today though.’
‘yep. call this a parallel space’ she said sitting down cross legged and her hand reaches out as an acoustic guitar materializes. she plucks a couple chords on the frets and strums almost in melody before she stops and starts again. ‘do you think I’m stupid?’
‘you know, disappearing. I mean I just couldn’t see myself in the world anymore, or you know…the world in general. I don’t know when you were born, but our worlds weren’t so different. but why…’
‘no, I get it…’
‘we’re supposed to be like normal people, yet why are we never like them, why can’t we just fall comfortably into it. I guess we’re not like people with trajectories or courses…only destination’
tohka’s eyes widened and a trace of her apprehension seemed to dawn on her before a smirk rises out of her with a chuckle.
‘idiot, don’t go showing off’
‘hmph, I guess I’m like the apocalypse after all’
‘what? what do you mean?’
‘you have a record of me, right? now that I’m here, that record means nothing to me, I’ve just created my own reality by being here.’
‘whatever you say.’
‘you’re a cold one,’
‘so we have some things in common, there’s not really much to say’
‘no, I mean, a cold one,’ she whispers beside me, hovering near my face before back of her hand gently claps against my cheek, the impact was enough to dispel any sensual tension she might have intended.
‘wow, now I know you’re not her.’
‘hmph’ she stands up. ‘was I supposed to be? this is virtual space, every signal has the potential to sculpt anything, it’s honestly pretty scary’
faint shuffling and whispers bathe the space and an after image of tohka steps forward, lights glow from afar waiting for her nascent flight, her song that might pour from those reserved lips. these notes soft as if from a dream, one that turned her still feet into jaunty leaps even twirling a moment between these unseen stage lights, another sun from a world where time moved from these slices of light, raising its arms to a spotlight to hail to the falling sparkles out of the darkness, before sashaying to the sweep of a skirt, the v-idol’s steps throbbing against the stage floor as if a quickened heart, the cheers of her audience breathe air into the space. yet despite the virtual amusements elsewhere, we were still here in our empty stage hearing these fragments yet, the dance, it always stepped close to where ?tohka? stood as if they were movements that despite their speed, perhaps tohka could step into and follow into that person she may have once thought of in turbulent desires falling through shreds of idol posters and beach cove images and virtual spaces that would dissolve as she fell on her bed limited by her world.
vague machines whir from the void and ?tohka? cuts a look to the side before three screens bloom in front of her, a group of armed men packed in body armour toting assault rifles and breaching equipment ride the elevator, time at 12:20 trying to get a piece of the 888th floor experience. infography progam identifies them as a group of silk road mercenaries affiliated with 80 sects, all armed with hk416’s and mateba revolvers holstered at their thighs.
‘visitors. their psychic interference might pull us into the 888th floor again.’
‘should we fight them off?’
tohka only smirks. perhaps a strip of delinquency remains in her jaunty body, the after-images of the idol dances and its hand extends to the side and ?tohka? reaches for it as a light envelops me and the ground I was on that softens until I no longer perceive it, floating in a way that somehow has me trying to tread water in void until I hear the distinct reel of a chain and gear turning below me fishing me into a scenic residential district with low electric signals leaving a faint hum off powerlines on this little sidestreet, these threads that might unravel into fantastic images, while someone in a hoodie leans on my back as my hands grasp the handlebars, riding a bicycle with tohka sitting on the rear fender rack. an interface appears in front of me showing the elevator’s arrival, the mercenaries disembark with guns drawn, turning to notice they have reached floor 887 still brim with the faint doings of sleepy residents from behind the doors. the mercenaries gyrate their arms as if to shake out their disappointment whilst arguing why they were still within the real world.
‘heh mil-fags’ tohka chuckles and I realize it was a different speech pattern, much looser if not melodic, until her shoulder softens into my back as if about to sleep. ‘I’m still tohka, don’t worry.’
‘right, like that ever worked.’
‘so you don’t believe me? I guess only a normalfag might fall for me’
‘right? nobody acts the way you do’
‘acts? I’m a real being you know?’ she pouts. though she did seem like a real being from her heft leaning onto me or her snickers that might withdraw into a wistful look, her eyes that toyed with the city light. none of what I thought of her, or even knew of her could at this moment even could trace her near lethargic breath that concealed all the things I would never know of her.
‘between the points of an ampere lies a soft pool where we might inhabit our intimacies…’
‘where did you learn that?’
‘c’mon tell me!
‘hey now it exists in a greater form cuz I didn’t tell you!’
‘you’re so stupid!’ she sticks her tongue out at me. ‘I hope a bullet enters your brain’
‘maybe you’ll have to inhabit my dumbass later…’ I chuckled and even found the prospect interesting. to be inhabited by such a playful spirit but the fact she was able to manifest an interface in a place with such low bandwidth was surprising.
the district soon flattened into a large rural area sudden enough to make me slow my pace biking if not for the sky spilling off the house roofs vaulting around us tracing the globe unlike the mesh of connections modelling a sphere but rather its blue filled everything comforting enough so that even its dust of stars gave us enough light to go by.
tohka motioned for me to stop as she walks ahead, half sinking into the tall grasses rolling with the sudden wind picking up, my jacket even flaps to the side, as my feet sink a little into the earth as the silence fills with the brush of grass against the night air almost akin to radio interference.
‘what is this?’
‘this is the festival.’ she turns to me as grasses part to her presence. ‘now if you may’
the cryptic way she framed this made it difficult to understand her intention as she stared at me as starlight flickered casually across her face that brought its distant warmth in this dim prairie. it seemed then I thought of what I could do, sensations that might pulse to propel me towards all spilling against my contours, my reach only could extend so far and so did my sight finding its horizon that could split earth and sky where things might disappear to within these howling fields now forming a frequency of half collisions, blades of grass chafing against each other as the scene forms its own shapes, our world finding its ends and all of it being momentary. a second, the wind relents to allow the field to stand, another, the blades coalesce into a tawny yellow from afar as if daylight fraying under sky becoming picturesque, and the next, i brace into the stock, cresting to the upper receiver beaming toward the iron ring and its centered thread.
sounds of the field erases from the shot’s transgression from their hushes, the bullet’s trail dissolves into ribbons of smoke that unveil a broken sky held together by this destructive mass of light, kaleidoscopic branches grow from this sudden break as the sky no longer reflected us or even became a picture with some significant hue but that it was the fragments of an entirely separate plane whose air tethered us between the frequency of steps and heartbeats, crevices formed veins coursing the bright iridescences contorting out of unseen light in sudden play that founded our momentary flights from earth, inside them I caught flickers of tohka which would then diverge into another branch forming a new route mapped in the evening, each tohka in their own route, some as instant as lightning or meander even intersecting each other in moment but all of them held together these fragments of sky. even the wires from the road traced her route in a gentle kind of wavelength from each antenna that once siphoned information across miles, fathoming the gravity of the world. it was on streets or on the wired, where the contours of her self could erode and she could emerge out of her fugue, a little lighter as her steps could propel her forth, a little uncertain yet tracing a route only she knew.
?tohka? looked at the display and shrugs saying that it should do.
‘now I think you ought to tell me who you are…’
‘oh? I guess I haven’t said anything about that have I? she said as her features began to fade, a full moon grew from the hole in the sky of its various craters, its luminescence left only her silhouette visible as it places its hand over its mouth in haughty gesture. ‘I am kaguya, of the moon and this was simply a tribute to this girl or rather, the interior of her being,’
‘even for a divine being, you sure know how to make an entrance.’ I said half in disbelief for the almost tawdry way she introduced herself
‘but this is the beginning’
‘of what? I don’t quite follow’
‘virtuality. the reason the wired is so potent is because the electric signals are conduits of potential. anyone could be anything across it, the line between the real and the virtual becomes ever more blurred. Even when I became a being on the wired, she could truly become who I wanted to be, part of it was because she wished it, and another, well…’
‘and someone doesn’t want that to happen?’
‘perhaps…or maybe there’s just one thing left.’
‘the final door’
it was at that moment she belonged in a world entirely apart from mine, one that’s vague with only inklings of a sensation that carried them across the electric void that knew no ground, only the thought and its psychospheres imagining our places to meet.
‘it’s only a matter of time until virtuality completely consumes everything around it. if people back then said there was no need for the wired, then now, there may be no need for the real world’
soil begins to give and I find myself falling, faster as the scene before me dissolves and where kaguya stood was only a white screen diminishing until I’m surrounded by darkness. I nearly laugh, thinking that this must be some kind of elaborate game, the play that kaguya or tohka took in this alleged floor that despite its mundane architecture was a trace of her everyday, where fragments of her, or who she wanted to be flickered in the streets among friends or betwixt her nerves, it didn’t matter if she was just a normal girl but that in our courses, we were always a proximity apart yet close enough to shorten, just a single turn or a step toward but still allow ourselves to part in these wired thoroughfares. soft motion buoys me upward, my bones fade in against my flesh like the lights in a room that have just turned on, before the electric signals recede into sleep.