Monthly Archives: June 2011

Worshipping Clear Plastic High Tops

I have one more week to live.

You know I can be dramatic, perhaps hyperbolic at times, but seriously. I’ve been unwrapping chocolate my whole life, and now I’ve been giving the golden ticket for entrance to the slaughterhouse of sweets.

OK – dramatic and hyberbolic, so just bear with me.

As promised, I’ve been exploring the virtual representation of Satomi’s apartment, after it finally finished rendering into a full WOF hyperbase.

Just so you’re not confused, I’m not using the conventional Japanese meanings of “apartment” or “mansion” – Satomi’s place is a full on condo, except that she rents it. I’m not sure why, but she likes to move every few months; the best explanation she could give me was that she didn’t want to think of “home” as a fixed experience.

Her current place in Roppongi is on the shiny side – the whole building can’t be more than a decade old, and the units are much larger than what I’m used to here. As you enter she has a living room you step up to (after leaving your shoes behind, of course), and a spacious kitchen directly behind that. To the left and right are two bedrooms, which adjoin to the extended bathroom behind the kitchen. It’s actually a pretty weird design if you think about it, but it works well.

The building was skinny enough that there were a bank of windows taking up one wall of either bedroom; the one with a somewhat far view of the Roppongi Hills tower was converted into an office space (where her plastic robot sculptures are), and the one with a close-up view of the Tokyo Tower was her bedroom. For the heck of it, Google Maps of the general neighborhood:

Roppongi Hills is at the left (by the big green tree), and Tokyo Tower on the right edge – they’re about a kilometer away as the karasu flies. If you zoom in you can see it in its red glory. It’s pretty close to the Disney Channel building, and I’m not going to be more specific than that, because I don’t want the girls of Die Database to desire my demise even more.

So, my death. You still probably think I’m kidding about that.

Well, actually, it’s more like “a fate worse than” death, but the condemned don’t have time to be picky.

Yesterday, I woke up to find Satomi’s apartment ready for examination, both in Agartha Labs and Bodyweb formats, and so I first logged into the Collective version, which was more suited to parse the WOF data. I still used my usual eyephones, since the only glasses I have from Ai are super old tech – the black Buddy Holly type of frames, like they give away for 3D movies.

You might think I walked into her place virtually, picking up vases and magazines, looking for clues on slips of paper. In reality, the engine does most of the work – I had it OCR every bit of text on every box and in every book (the WOFA even scans the individual pages of closed volumes), and all of her mass storage, from the stray iPod to her TB of RAID drives were automatically mirrored (the WOFA can read magnetic and flash drives from a distance). It goes without saying that all objects were rendered in 3D, plus there was interpolation of their recent positions in the past, due to slight fluctuations in dust levels, odors, not to mention background radiation levels, from the Sun, Fukushima Daiichi, what have you.

So, I was able to selectively turn back the clock, and see what her favorite glasses and socks were. I could infer at what temperature she liked to run her showers, from the relative wear of the hot and cold pipes.

Did I mention DNA sequencing? Probably not, but that’s just so awesome that I have to brag – stray skin flakes and hair are automatically processed by the WOFA, and run through databases that only the Collective has access to. I try not think about it too much, about how exactly that genomic database of every living person was created, but it’s a story best served for another time.

Like I’ll have many other times…. oh well.

Harumi wasn’t kidding – her presence could be detected in lower and lower durations over the past months, and recently she barely has any traces at all. I could see that she was present for the construction of the plastic robot sculptures, in particular the arm. She has her fingerprint oils and sweat intermixed with some of the PET tendons and joints.

I bet you want the executive summary, right? Fine. Satomi has been at this apartment since right after the Fourth Event. Spectrascopic examination of the air within all rooms of her apartment, not to mention any number of other traces of her hand prints and movement (socked, barefoot and in sandles), confirms that she has been wandering through the kitchen, bathroom and office at all hours of the night – the patters are much more regular and habitual than her waking tours of the place, which tend to focus more in the living room and dining area.

In fact, it looks like Satomi had been building her sculpture exclusively at night – it’s lousy with fiber traces from her night clothes and bed, and the records of her energy use match up nicely. That didn’t take magic – she kept her TEPCO bills in a neat folder on one of her bookshelves, and they were automatically scanned and analyzed.

Continuing the executive summary, and this took a little doing – all of the Die Database songs were also written late at night. Her notebooks full of music and lyrics clearly show a somewhat different hand than her writing while fully awake, and detailed analysis of the ink and graphite also shows that the Earth was not facing the sun when it dried. Yes, WOFA is awesome.

We know that Satomi is etched, and that she is currently being controlled by the Nameless. We also know that as a Dark Antenna, Satomi had spent the past few years unaware that she was etched. She was apparently living a second life at night, at least in the confines of her apartment. All evidence points to the fact that she has not left her place during these states, but there was at least once occasion a few weeks ago where she never came home, which was highly atypical. (Anything from bacteria growth in the bathroom to the layers of oil and dust on keyboard keys can be measured – WOFA!).

I wasn’t quite satisfied with leaving my analysis at that point, but I had to switch over to the second version of the data, this time set up as a GhostServer. I wanted to see what similarities, if any, there were in the interpretation of the virtual spaces. My theory was that if S.OS was involved in some way, that there could some traces of older Collective tech as well.

Essentially, I wanted to see what the GhostServer would make of the WOF data, without any other assistance. So I configured the GhostServer, fed it the path to Satomi’s virtual room, and waited.

Did I mention I’m going to die in a week? That’s what I found out as soon as the GhostServer perfectly interpreted what the WOFA had spit out. I logged in, and the presentation was identical, with one critical difference.

S.OS was waiting for me inside.

It was using what you could call Sasha Williams’ Ghost, the stereotypical Sasha outfit with red polyester Circle X shirt, button down the middle, with “Hack” stitched on the name tag. She even had on the clear plastic high tops with purple yarn for laces, which to the Collective were the winged sandals of Hermes – emblematic of everything she stood for.

“I see you’re still It – a shame.” She – it – walked out of Satomi’s office, carrying the plastic arm from the sculpture. “I much preferred you as a pile of dust in that closet.”

I tried to log off, but I couldn’t.

“You like that one? Eyephones are the perfect hypnotic tool – right there flashing pretty lights into your brain. You’re not going anywhere, so sit.” She pointed me towards the black leather couch, and I was compelled to follow. She sat down next to me, and I could see that she was wearing denim overalls, with the straps underneath her shirt. The only difference from actual Sasha was her hair – it was a shorter version of the fiber optic, constantly changing wig the Trouble Twins were known for.

“I know you think I’m Bad News Bears, evil on a popsicle stick, and that’s fine. Whatever.” I hate how it sounds just like Sasha did, full of random idioms and information, intermixed with spite. “Just unclench your jaw and listen for once in your lives.”

It forced me to stare at her, as the couch changed to a hill of wild, dry grass, and the apartment a savannah, with some gnarled trees off towards where the Tokyo Tower once stood.

“I’m going to tell you five terribly important things. Then you’re going to say something stupid, but I already forgive you. Ready?”

Sasha’s long-dead Ghost bounded to its feet, and pointed the plastic arm directly in the air, the fingertips aiming at the sun.

“Five! Your species is really stupid, worshiping the Sun and/or Earth via elaborate fairy tales, punctuated by lots of blood.”

The grass faded, replaced by a white void. She pointed the plastic arm at me.

“Four! The White is not Heaven, not by a long shot. That’s why I have to get there.”

The white faced into an inky, starless black. She threw the arm into my lap.

“Three! The Black is not an empty space, and the Chosen Light must illuminate it, to show the implicit order.”

The Black suddenly filled with the White, and light, and an intrusion of energy, of substance.

“Two! In the beginning, let there be light, etc. But who had ears to hear?”

There was an incomprehensible flash, billions of years of galactic movement reduced to a quick PowerPoint that could only be the history of the Universe, eventually centering on the coalescing Earth. In 10 seconds, it cooled and flourished, got hit and healed (more than a few times), and finally the presentation slowed and zoomed into North America, then the Pacific Coast, and finally a series of warehouses in the San Francisco Bay Area.

“One.” She was standing in front of an industrial building still blackened from an old fire. The structure had a few cracks in the facade. “On Monday night next week, at 19:00, the Chosen Light will come to get you. You’re on the guest list for the last Suspender concert ever, plus one.” Through the door, I could see Jenny Samuels poking around with her camera, taking pictures of the interior.

It was 1994. A week from now, it would be the place where Sasha died – Point One.

“Now you may speak.”

“Why do you want to destroy everything! You fuck!”

It picked up the plastic arm, and patted my right shoulder with it.

“Like I said – stupid. Why does the delicious apple have so many seeds, each infinitesimally poisonous?” It took the arm, and started to walk back to the sculpture in the other room.

“I don’t care what it takes, I’m going to stop you, and destroy you forever.” I was starting to shake, as I tried to get up and run after it – I still didn’t have control back.

“If you were a tree, wouldn’t you just hate to grow in a big pile of dust and ashes? Or, wouldn’t you just love it? Let’s find out.”

Through the open door, I could see it attach the arm to the torso. She then grabbed it and gave a firm handshake, before logging out in a cloud of pixels that were constantly growing into larger, luminous rectangles.

As soon I got control back, I ripped off the eyephones and threw up all over the blue carpet in my bedroom.

One week left, and then I’m going to be fed to the Nameless.

How can I possibly spend my last free days?

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Pure Land Coat Rack

As I mentioned last time, I used the key that Harumi gave me to investigate Satomi’s apartment last week.

She was still recovering over at Yuma’s, so I had a limited window for some snooping.

As I also mentioned last time, I’m increasingly convinced that we’ve all been fooled by the Nameless, caught up in a huge fishing net we’re only now seeing the edges of. Some things can’t be discussed on this blog, but I can tell you about what I found at her home.

Satomi’s place is pretty close to the swank Roppongi Hills complex, but also near the Eiffelesque Tokyo Tower.

I took the Oedo subway line from Shinjuku, after spending some time on the Yamanote, and I felt conspicuous in the crowds, since I was carrying a small rolling suitcase and a separate tripod. Not that you don’t see the occasional citizen or tourist with a similar setup, but I was nervous due to what I was carrying.

Simply put, I was toting around one of the few remaining “Pure Land Coat Racks”, which is a nickname for the WOFA – the World Object File Apparatus.

Way back in the day, when the Collective first started, the only real job anyone had was to go everywhere possible, and collect detailed data about the world. This would be later used for augmented and virtual reality, via the Bodyweb. Of course, old school Pure Land Antennas would use their special glasses and other equipment to create their WOF maps and environments, but it wasn’t feasible to get the job done only via a few hundred Collective members.

So, to aid in the process – WOFA. On the surface it’s not very exciting – take a standard camera tripod, and add some extra motors and actuators, and set things up in the area you want to simulate.

In the case of Satomi’s apartment, it took a few minutes to get the base ready – I placed it in the center of her living room, at least a meter away from any other object. She has hard wood floors, which are always more stable than carpet, and her overall design aesthetic is “sparse”, so I didn’t have to trip over anything.

Then, I took out the sensor package, which is the size of a basketball when fully assembled. It screws on to the normal tripod mount, and is made up of dozens of lenses, microphones and sensors, so it can pick up what’s going on at all parts of the EM spectrum. For example, it records everything in the room in still pictures and video (normal and stereoscopic). It also uses advanced sonar and a temporary Wi-Fi microwave mesh (multiple bands above and below 2.4Ghz) to get an accurate measure of depth, and what’s there beyond the visual surfaces. Even IR is measured, so the temperature of the original environment can be simulated.

And yes, there is all sorts of tech in the sensor package I can’t even mention, but sufficed to say that if you put it in an environment for about 15 minutes, you’ll get a highly detailed recreation that you can use later.

Usually, you’d just throw the data into the Bodyweb, and get back the finalized WOF data in a few hours. But, since I’m highly suspect of the current integrity of Bodyweb security, especially after what happened to Kaia, I’ve been crunching the data myself. It’s been 10 days, and it’s only 86% done – and I’m using an array of i7 980x towers. Yes, those CPUs are a bunch of crap compared to what I could be using from the Collective, but it’s best to keep this job completely off any network.

Once the dataset is ready, I’ll make two versions to explore – one with standard hooks to Agartha Labs teletech, and one with my modified Bodyweb client, dumbed down for the etchless. I want to test a theory, but it’s too early to talk about it now.

While the WOFA whirred away, I had some time to poke around here and there, and I was struck by her latest art project. Off in the spare bedroom, there was a partially completed figure made of out plastic. It was life sized, kind of a cross between an artist’s dummy, a huge figma, and a skeletal robot, but there was only one arm, a leg, and part of the torso, hanging from a metal, rolling clothes rack – the kind you’d find back stage in a fashion show.

The plastic was partially translucent, and actually looked like it was compacted, melted and stretched PET from drink bottles – you could even see bits from the labels and lids, enough to recognize part of a former Natchan or Aquarius container. The limbs were fully articulated, with elaborate joints and digits, and rudimentary “muscles” that looked like they would actually do something. Coming out of each were a bundle of wire – not your usual plastic jackets with a rainbow of colors, but bare copper and a few other metals. It seemed to be running throughout the limbs, and the torso.

The torso was non-gendered and roughly humanoid, and seemed to have a complicated mechanism with which the arms and legs could be retracted into the body. It was hard to tell how it was supposed to work, since nothing was powered. There also was a bay in the chest and abdomen, that was filled with what looked like repurposed cell phone circuit boards, and perhaps a bread machine – I couldn’t really tell what was going on, but I’m eager to virtually explore it later.

Just to be on the safe side, I took what looked like a defective plastic hand from the garbage can. It was a swirl of clear and green plastic, with melted fingers and a few wires jutting past the wrist joint.

At this point, it looks like Satomi was creating a large sculpture based on some of the articulated toy figures she had been collecting at the Agartha Labs office, although with enough actuation that it would eventually have limited movement. That’s the kittens and gumdrops version.

If it was just Satomi involved, then I could buy that story. But we’re talking about the Nameless, and there’s no telling how this all fits into its master plan. I mean, what’s the point of some artistic soda bottle robotic army, when you can just use Miranda to wish everyone away into the sun?

Oh well – by this weekend I’ll have her virtual apartment to play around with, and I’ll let you know (what I’m allowed to tell about) what I find out.

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Ashes To Ashes

Ai is really starting to bring me down.

She’s been reminiscing about the bad old days, and her usual sunny disposition has clouded right up, sending waves of anxiety and sadness all the way to me in Tokyo. I’m sure it’s worse for those connected to the Bodyweb, since she’s the radiator that keeps everyone warm.

I really try hard not to think about past Varants, since all of the failure and loss can’t help but bring me down, above and beyond the mess that is my relationship with Miranda.

Ai’s last blog post was really hard to take, since one of my first memories was of that night near Fairview, when both her father and I died.

Of course, I was gone for only a few seconds, after Miranda awoke to her powers over Matter and reduced me to a pile of dust. I like to think that I had some sort of significant after life experience in that closet, but to be honest it was like the world just blinked itself into darkness and silence, only coming back after Ai brought back my spirit, and forced Miranda to bring back my body.

Ai’s father, on the other hand – I really don’t like to think about that, but it haunts us all.

Jenny pushed all of our minds, and forced us to come out to the living room to see his body, all bloody and broken and still.

Well, actually it was S.OS that was controlling Jenny, or for that matter the Nameless – it’s hard to pin agency and motive on actions, so I try to make it simpler by just relating what I saw.

It was Jenny that forced Miranda to remake his body, using Ai’s memories as a guide. Every last drop of blood seeped out of the carpet and his clothes, and his chest and neck knitted together so completely that there wasn’t even any scars, or a hair out of place.

Aurora transmuted the knife to an energetic radio burst that jumped out the roof.

Then Helena and Cassandra folded his body back to the bedroom, and we made it look like he was just sleeping soundly.

In fact, these are all Ai’s memories from after the fact – Jenny forced us to forget what we had seen, to forget our newly manifested powers, and just return to our happy-go-lucky kid mindset. It worked for everyone but Ai, since she was not beholden to the firm grip of S.OS and the Nameless.

That’s not to say she hasn’t been manipulated by their schemes and anti-logic – in fact, I would say that over the centuries she’s gone way past Stockholm syndrome, and is an active participant despite her best intentions. She’s so use to the cloying whispers and boundary shoving that it doesn’t take much of anything to get her going in the wrong directions.

Not that I’m one to talk. I didn’t have to follow Harumi’s not-so-subtle hints that the answers I sought were in Satomi’s apartment, but that didn’t stop me from using the key she gave me to investigate.

It’s been well over a week, and I still don’t want to talk about it. I don’t even think I’m going to talk about it now, except to say that I’ve been had.

We’ve all been had, and the entirety of Variant 237 has been one, big trap by S.OS and the Nameless. I played my part down to the letter, not even knowing that I was being expertly manipulated, starting with my job at Circle X.

I don’t know why it wasn’t more obvious – Circle X only existed in Variant 0, and that down-home convenience store became corrupted due to Sasha and S.OS each pulling it in opposite directions. Sasha wanted to use it to change the world, and S.OS wanted to use it to burn it to ashes.

At the first Point Zero, Ai put on a huge show, changing everything that came out of that part of Minnesota into something else. Fairview became St. Cloud, and Circle X eventually re-configured itself into Target (still with the same general iconography, but none of the menace). The Nameless put on another show of accepting this punishment, all better luck next time.

Now, Circle X is back, as a Japanese convenience store, that just so happens to be where I’ve worked for the past dozen or so Variants – just long enough to get comfortable, and to yearn for some excitement, escape.

Masae, 99% Natural and Die Database were tailor made to get my attention, a sort of idealized, romantic vision of what I had always been looking for, and like a rat in a maze I rejoiced when I found that cheese.

The sad thing is none of the girls knew that anything was up – in their minds their lives just fell into place due to fate, or luck. I know Satomi felt that, and I now know that she was so terribly wrong.

Fuck. My repressed memories of hiding in that closet when I was 8 are all rushing back.

My cheeks are brushing against rubberized rain coats and wool sweaters, and all around my feet are well-worn athletic shoes. I want to hide so completely, but deep down can’t wait to be found, to be acknowledged, to join with Miranda as “it”.

I couldn’t wait to be found, and at the moment I was, my being exploded and filled the shoes below me with heaping handfuls of dust.

How come I can’t remember the White?

How come I had to come back to this endless cycle of pain?

I still don’t have the answers, but one of these days I’ll be ready to pose the most important question.

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Eyes Of The Silent Partners

As soon as Satomi woke up yesterday morning, Yuma and Masae gave me my walking papers.

I’m no longer the unofficial fourth member of Die Database. If Masae had her way, I would never be allowed to see any of them again, but I know part of that is existential shock.

After what happened to us at the empty shell of Agartha Labs, their entire perspective of the universe immediately changed, and they blamed me for it. I was part of the problem, the secret occupying force that kept the world groaning in pain, and I killed their fanciful visions of God and Heaven and purpose with the clinical, accidental truth. If the cosmos was Santa Claus, then I strangled him in front of the kids.

Eventually, I know they’ll come around. I’m not saying that in a wishful thinking sort of way – Ai assures me that they will be around for the Fifth Event, but she won’t give me any more information than that.

Not that it really matters. Masae kicked me out of Yuma’s apartment, and told me that “if you ever even listen to our music again, I’ll tear your ears off.” She wasn’t being hyperbolic, believe me – I’ve heard stories of her teenage punk girl terror days.

Yuma seemed more confused than angry or spiteful. I know she was always looking for purpose in life, above and beyond the world of flesh and photography, of singing for her supper. I just don’t think she wanted to find it in that way, scratching on her door begging to get in.

The thing is, I didn’t tell them much more than what I’ve already mentioned in this blog. It’s just that words simply can’t suffice when your screaming under a resurrection cloud, when you skin is covered by absolute, certain terror.

I’m terrifying to them now, an agent of death come calling for what they hold most dear.

I really can’t blame them. It doesn’t matter if the Structure didn’t give me any powers, or if I’ve never been Pure Land Antenna. It’s much worse – I’ve lied to them without knowing, from the first moment we met. I didn’t remember my role in things until a few months ago, but how do you explain that? In their eyes, I’m a fake – a pseudo-person that’s been digging into their lives only to destroy it all.

I can’t change those thoughts. I can’t even really explain how things ever really got this way, dozens of centuries ago.

All I know is that there are only a few months left, and it really looks like this is going to be the last go around, the long anticipated collapse and revealing.

I could sit around all day just contemplating what’s next, but that’s not the job I was recruited for. Every fiber of my being wants to fight the seeming inevitability of it all. I always like to hope that this fire is burning in my belly on my own accord, but odds are it was placed there and tended by Ai, so deep that there’s no putting it out.

Oh well. I’m going on and on about this more than I wanted to right now, especially considering what I’ve found out during the past 24 hours.

As I mentioned before, Satomi let go of all Agartha Labs staff right before the office closed. I tried to contact everyone after things happened, but no one would return my calls, texts or emails, except for Izumi, the Lead Graphic Designer, who at least told me that she was under a non-disclosure agreement. The most she was willing to say was that everyone was offered “crazy generous” severance packages.

Yesterday, I finally heard from Harumi, Satomi’s first hire and current (ex?) Executive Assistant. She wouldn’t say anything over the phone, but she told me to meet her at Odaiba, near the petite Statue Of Liberty (only a few dozen feet tall). I took the Yamanote and Monorail to the artificial island, walked outside past the Fuji Television building (which always reminds me of a huge Erector set), Sega Joypolis and the Aqua City mall, and got to the spot about 14:00. Spent a few minutes aimlessly staring at the water until she showed up, obviously nervous.

Harumi doesn’t have the kind of beauty that jumps out at you on a crowded train. Instead, she’s more like those few days before the sakura really bloom – you look at her, and every part of her being looks like it’s becoming uncontrollably brilliant. Yet she always holds it back with tightly combed hair, clothes too conservative for most girls in their early 20s, and a voice just melodic enough to appease imaginary authority figures.

Today, however, she was fully shining forth, for the first time I could recall, and as she walked up and gave me a big hug, I had to remember to breathe. She smelled like the full moon, breezy and electric. Her white blouse and brown skirt were Platonic ideals.

“Tokie, you’re not recording this, are you?” She squinted her perfectly applied eye makeup, showy yet subtle, with a cute eyeliner poke at each outside corner. I had always liked her, ever since we first met, but the feeling she called forth was too much, especially considering her relationship with Satomi.

“No, no, I just want to talk to you about what happened at Agartha. With Satomi.” Harumi and Satomi were on-and-off together since she was first hired, but hardly anyone knew about it – they kept things perfectly professional around the office, even to the point of barely acknowledging each other.

Harumi sat down on a brown brick ledge, and I joined her, as the occasional tourist aimed their camera wildly.

“I really can’t say much now. Not really, ever.” She placed her obscenely fashionable black leather mini purse on her lap. “It’s not because of the agreement she had me sign. It’s because of her eyes.” She took out a small compact and gave her face a quick peak, like she was afraid her perfection would be stolen away at any moment. “Ever since the accident at that Die Database show, it’s like the light in her eyes had changed. Dimmer, joined by another glow.”

Harumi had told me earlier about how Satomi’s insomnia affected their relationship – it was too much for her to handle, so she never stayed over at night for more than a few hours.

“For the past few months, I hated for her to look at me, even when I longed for her gaze.” She couldn’t resist a slight touch of blush, before she hid the compact away again. “She had eyes like lions. Poisonous snakes about to strike. And her smell changed, too.”

“Smell?” I didn’t like where this was headed.

“She used to be all sweat, pollen and pheromones. One whiff of her neck would sustain me for hours. Now, she’s like a plastic water bottle, or shower curtain. Just a hint of stale, dead moisture.”

All the pieces were starting to fit together – Satomi was a Dark Antenna for months, slowly booting up and transmuting for ideal control. Her sleep patterns and physical changes were typical of the recently etched.

Of course, as far as we could tell, she was etched a few years ago, sometime during her stay in the US. So the big questions were – who etched her, and why was she left disconnected for so long?

“I appreciate you telling me all of this.” I patted my hand briefly on her left knee, enough to tell that even her hose was exquisite. “Can you let me know anything else about what happened before the office shut down?”

Harumi started to stare past Lady Liberty and its tall pedistal, at the Rainbow Bridge. “She really wasn’t herself. She only ate Circle X onigiri and Kagome apple juice, like a toddler. She canceled all of our contracts, and spent hours talking to the silent partners on the phone.”

“Silent partners?” I had no idea what she was talking about, which was frightening enough.

“She gave up majority control over Agartha Labs in March. Ms. Strauss even came in on Thursday and Friday, to supervise the transition.”

Now I knew what she was talking about, which was even more frightening. It had to be Kaia.

“Do you know how to contact Ms. Strauss?”

“Oh, it doesn’t work that way. She and her partners contact you, at your inconvenience. They’ve been waking me up at all times of the night for months.”

“Do you know who the other partners are?”

“No. I’ve only ever met Ms. Strauss and her daughter. Miranda – really cute gaijin, like out of a TV commercial. She loved to talk to everyone.”

This was the moment when I was certain we were fucked. The last time I saw Kaia, she was being dragged off by the Trouble Twins to see the Nameless – Miranda. Next thing I know, Kaia has a hidden, lengthy back history with Yuma, and now she had a controlling stake of Agartha Labs.

Or, had – what the fuck happened to Agartha, anyway? And why the elaborate manipulation of Satomi and Die Database?

Harumi could tell I wasn’t happy to hear what she just told me – she threw her right arm around my shoulder, and tried to smile. “I’m sorry that you’re hearing this from me, and not Satomi. Or whomever has been my boss for the past few months. Honestly, I’m happy it’s all over – I couldn’t take one more moment of those eyes just staring at me. Even with her door closed, you could feel them poking at you.”

She reached in her purse and pulled out a key.

“Take this. You know what it’s for. Don’t linger, before the girls catch you snooping.” With that, she gave a perfectly formed kiss on the cheek, took off her red bottomed pumps and held one in each hand, and then darted up the stairs between lingering tourists, her jog turning into a run past Aqua City. I knew I would never see her again.

As for the key, I’ll have to put it to use this weekend, before Satomi is walking again. Now that I know it’s not just her in there, I have to strike quickly before the last bits of evidence are gone. I don’t dare say anything beyond this – it’s always everywhere, now more than ever.

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The Poison Apple Of Truth

I’m sorry that my last post ended so abruptly, before I really got into what happened at Agartha Labs.

It seems Ai hit the panic button off in Berkeley, and pushed my brain so hard that I couldn’t even look at my computer or phone until a few hours ago.

Not that I blame her – not everything is suitable for public consumption, especially how we managed to stabilize Satomi, after she was possessed and near-fatally injured by Cassandra.

What’s funny is the part that Ai wants me to censor isn’t the seemingly obvious, brain-throbbing thing, but some minor details that she says are essential to reveal later. So, I’m going to do my best to tip toe around the events of the past few days, without totally losing you.

As I mentioned, Satomi was seriously injured – she lost almost 20 pounds in about two minutes, as her etched yet unfirewalled body was hacked. Her arms and legs were little more than weak muscle and bones, and her face was gaunt, like she hadn’t eaten for months. She was hot and damp, and her teeth were sticky red.

Once I gathered my senses, I told Yuma and Masae to help me remove the blue, button down pajamas, which were covered with bloody streaks trailing down from the neck.

Masae took off her gray hoodie, and placed it on the carpet like a pillow. Satomi was wheezing heavily as we tried to make her comfortable, and Yuma couldn’t stop crying – she kept grabbing the back of her neck and rocking on her knees, with arms bent back like she was being held at gunpoint.

We couldn’t call an ambulance, because we could never explain how she got into this mess so quickly. Plus, hospitals didn’t have the necessary tech to jump start the healing process – she needed mending from the Collective, and fast. In past Variants I had seen most of my “aunts” burn out at one time or another, and their spirits usually re-joined the White after about 10 minutes of excruciating pain. I estimated that Satomi only had about a minute left, and I started to panic yell at the top of my lungs.

Now comes the part that I have to edit. I know perfectly well who came to visit us in Satomi’s office, but I can’t say who, only how.

59 seconds to go, and Satomi’s started to shiver uncontrollably. We all started to feel an immediate and all-pervasive chill, so much so that Yuma looked like she was smoking water vapor as she took off her violet sweater, and used it to cover Satomi’s bra and stomach.

51 seconds to go, and the power outlets on every wall started to spark violently, streaming delicate, bright bolts to the ceiling. Multiple balls of lightning hovered right below the perforated ceiling tiles, about the size of melons. They quickly started to revolve around each other, like a tiny planetary system, or electron orbitals writ large.

39 seconds to go, and the figurines on the floor, and cellophaned cardboard boxes by the window, suddenly lept into the air, disintegrating into a fine dust as they did. In the other room there was a rush of air, and a crackling rumble, like fallen trees. A few seconds later a cubicle mist of expensive woods and metal pulsed through the door and into the growing mass on energy.

28 seconds to go, and our noses started to bleed uncontrollably. Before we could stop them with our hands, bright red ropes trailed from our faces to the ceiling, twirling into the now descending maelstrom.

17 seconds to go, and the seething, throbbing intrusion fell down like a sheet lofting over a naked bed. I tried to push everyone out of the way, but we really had no place to go.

6 seconds, as Satomi started to take her last breath, the room filled with sweet, musty air and condensation. Everything was so bright, like headlights right before a head-on collision, and as we all blacked out, I remembered feeling an infinite, anxious bliss, the hairs on my soul all standing at attention.

She was never this diffuse, this brilliant.

And before I could thank her, we woke up coughing, covered by a fine, dark crumble of exotic organics. It looked like the carpet was now coffee grounds, and there was a clear set of bare footprints leading from Satomi’s body, through the main office and out the front door.

I didn’t have time to marvel at her return. Instead, I crawled over to Satomi, who was breathing normally again. Wiped away some of the new dirt from her face, and she was as puffy red-cheeked as a baby. Every last sign of the attack was gone.

We didn’t even bother to clean up the mess, knowing that Agartha Labs was finished. More about that soon.

We just called a cab, brushed ourselves off enough so it looked like we were fancily dressed gardeners, and waited on the street for a ride to Yuma’s place, which was only a short drive away in Harajuku.

The whole ride there, Satomi was out like a light, and we told the driver that she had a few too many after lunch. He smiled a bit in the rear view mirror, straightened his cap, and went about his business.

Satomi has been asleep on Yuma’s bed since Saturday, the first time I ever saw her so rested. I suspect her OS will be done with repairs by tomorrow.

After I gave Masae and Yuma the hours long short version of what had been going on, from the Structure down to Suspender, they didn’t ask any questions. They didn’t talk to me all for the past few days, so shocked and angry that I’m sure Masae would have beat me up after she punched me out. The most I can get out of them are angry texts from another room, or dagger eyes as they leave the apartment without me.

Once Ai let me compute again, I did some digging to find out what had happened to Agartha Labs, the company and the office.

The staff were let go on Friday morning, with amazingly robust severance packages. Moving trucks were busy all that afternoon, and by the evening the entire office was bare.

Unfortunately, not just the office. AgarthaLabs.com is completely gone. Not just all servers, but all search engine caches. All that’s left is a “This site is under construction” message. All GhostServers are now silent.

I don’t have enough data, just theories – those I can share, and those I can’t.

Satomi clearly had the means to wipe away the past three years, but the motive? I simply can’t comprehend that.

That leaves “Cassandra” – at least, someone who desperately wants to pin everything on her. It might be her, a fragment of Helena from who knows when, but I can’t put together a compelling explanation.

I know that Sasha OS was involved in the theft of Agartha Labs source code, including the Ghost technology, but is there a connection between what happened and S.OS?

Yes, there are quite a few things I’m not telling you. I can’t, until the time is right. What I can say is that right now, I’m feeling really clueless.

Nothing like this has ever happened in any Variant, and it’s clear the Nameless is so far ahead it’s about to lap us.

I only have 5 more months to figure this out, before Miranda goes online, and the future that Isabel has warned of comes irrevocably true.

I’m using Yuma’s laptop to write this, as I stand watch over Satomi’s peaceful slumber. She’s looks like a enchanted princess who was kissed by the universe, and only the poison apple can save her from an endless sleep.

I know where that apple is, but it’s guarded by one particularly angry angel, coming back out of the ceiling holes.

I no longer have a God to pray too, but I hope that my cousin will suffice.

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The Installation

When I met them Saturday at the Doutor in Shibuya, during the lunch rush, Masae and Yuma were off near the indoor fountain, smoking up a thunderstorm.

As I approached the table, I could smell Yuma’s expensive, floral perfume mixed in with the fumes. I was confused for a moment, since I had never seen her smoke before. Masae, on the other hand, might as well have her TASPO card (for vending machine access to cigarettes) surgically attached to her wrist.

“Sit down already girl.” Masae growl-giggled in Japanese, slapping me on my back. Yuma kept fussing with her box of Capris, stacking it and the lighter in various ways.

“When did you start smoking?

“I know, I know – Manners says that A lit cigarette is carried at the height of a child’s face. Sometimes you just have to fuck manners.” Yuma took one last drag and then attacked the ash tray. “I thought I kicked the habit a few years ago, when my last movie wrapped, but after last week with Satomi I couldn’t stand it any more.”

“Don’t listen to her one bit.” Masae pointed her smoking hand at Yuma with a waggle. “She’s been sucking up my air for years, pretending that she doesn’t like it. She’s totally 99% Unnatural when it comes to her desires!”

I didn’t even want to get into it, since Masae was a well-known bullshitter and conversation vacuum. “I really don’t care – look cool and kill yourselves if it makes you happy. I just want to know what’s going on with Satomi.”

Yuma grimaced, and started fumbling with the lighter again. Her bright violet sweater even seemed to fade a few notches.

“You were there in the hospital. You know she hasn’t quite been herself since the attack.” Yuma gave in and lit another.

“Ever since she first met us, you could see the circles under her eyes, the ones she tried to hide with makeup.” Masae rolled up the sleeve of her gray hoodie, brushed some stray ashes off of her side of the table, into her cupped left hand. “I don’t think I’ve ever seen her sleep for an hour without being dead drunk.” Brushed the ashes again back into the ashtray.

“I know she has insomnia, but has she ever acted like that before? Trying to take off her clothes or speak jibberish in English?”

“Most English is jibberish to me. I think she knows that – during her episodes she always directs the messages to Yuma.”

Yuma started to pull at the ends of her long, straight hair. “It’s not like I can understand everything, but the important thing is that she almost always mentions Jenny, her ex-girlfriend from America.”

“I thought they had a really bad breakup… why does she keep bringing her up?” I thought I knew the answer, but I wanted to hear for certain.

“I’m sure Jenny is fine and all, but Satomi always demonizes her, especially when she gets like that.” Masae took a deep drag. “Jenny is always spying on her, or chasing after her, or haunting what little dreams she has.”

“We’ve tried to get her to go for help, but she refuses.” Yuma looked like she just missed the last train, all frantic and helpless. “So I promised myself to look after her, especially after all of the great things she’s done for us.”

“Usually it’s fine – after a show she just stays up all night working on who knows what, or she begs us to find the nearest bar. Sometimes alternating between the two until the sun rises. Hey, I need a refill – you want anything?”

I gave Masae the waving hand no – I wasn’t thirsty. She shrugged whatever, and went back up front to the counter.

“Tokie, listen to me.” Yuma leaned in close – her unsubtle perfume finally overpowering the smoke. “I know you know things. You speak computers like we make music.”

“I don’t know about that.”

“Seriously. I’ve been trying to read your blog, and I found Kaia’s, too. Those aren’t stories, are they? Something is really going on, right?”

I hesitated. Ever since I woke up to this Variant a few months ago, I’ve taken it as second nature that everything I’ve been through has been as normal as the setting sun. I never really stopped to think about what everyone else would think, especially anyone in my insular Tokyo world. But at that moment, as Yuma stared at me with eager yet sad eyes, I knew we were already past the point of no return.

“Something is really going on.” Masae returned to the table with a hot cup of black coffee. “I need the two of you to really watch Satomi. Not because she needs help, even though she does. Watch out for her – she’s a walking accident waiting to happen.”

“Tell me something new!” Masae didn’t seem to get it. Satomi was etched with dead circuits – we found that out thanks to Phone. Now it seems her antenna is slowly becoming active, but it’s not talking to the Collective. I didn’t know how to explain this to the girls.

“I’m serious. Really and truly serious. We think that something happened to Satomi while she was living in the US, but we’re not sure what.”

“You mean when she was in Berkeley, with Jenny?” Yuma instinctively reached out across the table to my hands – my face must have been screaming stress.

“We don’t know. I don’t know… but I have to find out, and soon. Is she at the office today?”

Masae looked at her phone briefly, then went back to her coffee. “Yeah, she texted me a little while ago. She wants us to bring her…. something.”

“Yeah. I don’t quite know how to say this.” Yuma had on the face of a parent about to discuss baby making for the first time. “She makes us go to otaku shops in Ikebukuro and Akihabara, and bring back statues and figures. For a few months now.”

“Lots of Figma and Nendoroid and 10,000 yen statues of moe anime characters.” Masae was clearly not enjoying her drink – she pushed it aside with a flourish. “Castoffable ones, you know – the plastic towels and bras and whatever can come off.”

“We don’t understand what she’s doing with them – she just takes our shopping bags and puts them in a closet in her office.”

I didn’t know what to think, either. I know that Satomi likes her women, but I never saw her as the introverted, fannish type that wanted to collect toys, not when she had a band and business to run. Maybe she was working on a secret art project.

“Come on, let’s go. I have to see what she’s up to.” With that, Masae left her almost full cup on the table, and Yuma grabbed her fashionable purse – so exclusive that I didn’t even know what the logo meant.

Agartha Labs was about a ten minute walk from Doutor – up the hill a bit, right past the Book Off and Shibuya Club Quattro building. Instead of some elaborate affair, Satomi’s baby barely registered on the visual scale – it was just a small office that took up the 4th floor of a typical Toyko-skinny building.

Not that Satomi cared one bit – her vision was virtual, thus there was no need for ornamentation when it came to the “mail drop”, as she put it. That said, she still completely redid the interiors when we moved in, with the sort of Silicon Valley playful chaos aesthetic that was diametrically opposed to the cramped, paper filled cubicles of most other offices.

For some reason Yuma took the narrow stairs when we made it there, so we were obliged to follow her up that way. I wasn’t averse to some physical activity, but I wasn’t at her level – she actually took two stairs at a time all the way up. I was about to ask her where the fire was, but once she swiped the door to the office open with her card, it was clear what the rush was.

Every modernist cubicle was empty, not just of employees, but their personal effects, even office equipment. Satomi had about 12 people on staff, all female, and they were nowhere to be found.

Masae and I carefully sized up the new emptiness, but Yuma rushed in past us, towards Satomi’s office. She started screaming at us to come quickly, and so of course we imagined the worst – Satomi slumped down on her desk in a pool of blood, or some other TV cliché.

Instead, we ran to the door, only to find the entire room filled with unboxed figures, carefully positioned on their included pedestals over every free part of the carpeted floor. Their empty packaging was carefully stacked up over by the windows. Satomi was in the middle of it all, putting the final touches on the installation.

“Oh, did you bring it?” Masae hesitated, and then reached into her backpack, pulling out an Animate bag. She looked like she was trying to find a route past the toys, and then resigned, tossing the bag over to Satomi.

Satomi was barefoot, dressed in the same light blue pajamas that Miranda had, the same ones that Cassandra stole. They barely fit her, since she was some inches taller than Miranda. I knew that Masae and Yuma didn’t know what the pajamas signified, but I did.

Or, at least I thought I did, until Satomi unboxed and placed her final figure, the brand new Kirino Kosaka figma that Miranda wanted so badly. Before the Fourth Event, that is.

“Where is your sister?” I asked Satomi, sternly, assuming that Helena couldn’t be far behind.

“I don’t have a sister.” Satomi suddenly stood up, facing us as we crowded the open door. “I don’t even have parents. I was never born.”

I whispered at 99% Natural to run for the front door, but they stood transfixed as Satomi slowly started to approach us, limbs randomly jerking, like something out of a J-horror film. Her short hair covered her face, leaving her grimacing mouth visible. As her toes dug into the carpet, the figures slid away by themselves to either side, allowing her to pass.

“Cassandra, she’s not yours to take!” I slowly approached her with open arms, poised for either a hug or a wrestling match.

“I was not yours to take!” Satomi’s head twitched slightly, and her face and hands started to steam, instantly covered with sweat.

“Don’t you dare burn her out!” I grabbed Satomi by the shoulders and tried to shake her awake. Since I wasn’t etched, I couldn’t stop the attack – Cassandra was stealing Satomi’s life energy long distance, one kilocalorie at a time, and I didn’t think she had more than a minute left.

“I’ll make you a deal. Satomi or Miranda – choose!” Her face was quickly starting to cave, as all remaining fat disappeared. I looked into Satomi’s eyes, and I couldn’t help but start crying. I couldn’t hold back my voice.

“Satomi, you fucking bitch! I choose Satomi!” With that, Satomi’s mouth curled into a crazy grin, and then her body slumped into my arms.

Yuma and Masae quickly rushed to us, and cried along with me, surrounded by silent, plastic figures.

Every last one was accounted for, except for Miranda’s long-wished for Oreimo favorite. It was lying in a pool of melted plastic at the center of the room.

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Hearing The Binary Number Stations

For the first time ever, I’m really worried about Satomi.

We met last night at the Metropolitan Plaza, and after a quick trip to HMV, we saw マイ・バック・ページ (My Back Page) at 19:15, at the Cine Libre. We picked out seats in the middle, as is my usual tendency. It was about the aftermath of the Tokyo University student protests in 1969, well before either of our births, and I thought it was OK, although a bit long. Satomi, on the other hand, was well past distracted during the whole thing – she kept going up and out to the bathroom, and would come back with a flushed face and slightly messed up hair.

I assumed she was just washing her face over and over, perhaps in an attempt to stay awake. Even since I’ve known her, from when Agartha Labs was in its start up phase, she wasn’t one for sleep. Besides staying up most of the night to work, she would only get an hour or two before waking up again, and then she would randomly wander about to the bathroom or kitchen for a few minutes, before heading back to bed. She didn’t like to talk about it at all, but she was usually seriously sleep deprived. Last night, however, it seemed like she was having a really hard time – she looked so tired that she couldn’t possibly get even a short nap, not even in a darkened theater.

Once the movie was over, I was about to fall asleep myself, but we managed to get down the elevator and escalators, and into the Ikebukuro train station. Satomi was still not focused – she kept getting distracted by the heavy crowd, random kiosks and fair gates, even though we were just headed straight through towards Sunshine 60 Dori.

“Are you OK?” I had to put my hand around her wrist, lest she wander off into the green JR entrance.

She turned around to me and threw her paisley scarf to the ground. “I have to get out of here….” I quickly picked it up, and then she started taking off her hip-length black wool jacket. I stopped her before it left her arms.

“Come on, let’s go get some fresh air.” Turned her around and headed back for the Metropolitan Plaza exit, and helped her up the escalators to the street. Sat her down on a nearby ledge, and then she really started to freak out. We were speaking Japanese most of the night, but she suddenly switched to English.

“I can’t go back to the US I can’t go to sleep there.” She looked up with a jerk. “I’m not stressed out I’m turning inside out, I don’t know if I can make it”

I didn’t know what to think, so I tried to simply comfort her by placing my left arm around her shoulder. She shook it away.

“I keep dreaming of Jenny, she’s watching me watch her in my head.” Tried to take off her coat again, but I stopped her, for fear that she was going to disrobe even further. She squirmed for a moment and then grabbed my jaw and cheeks with her hands.

“My left eye knows what’s going on, but my right eye doesn’t.” She was starting to raise her voice. “The binary number stations are so loud it hurts!”

Some passers by stared for a few microseconds before regaining their politeness, but it was hard not to look as she clamped her head and hair with open palms.

“I’m going to take care of you, OK?” I got out my phone and called Yuma. “We’re going to get on the train to Harajuku, OK?”

I didn’t want to take her back home in this state, so I figured that Yuma would know what to do. Maybe she could stay with her for the night.

“Are you there? We’re at Metropolitan Plaza…. Satomi’s totally freaking out right now!”

Before Yuma could respond, Satomi grabbed the phone and continued with the weirdness. “Look here, I’m going to make 12 other bands, one for each zodiac sign, and they’re going to fight over me to the death. It’s so simple, like taking off your skin and faxing it. My arteries are glowing and my veins are turning black. Watch out!” She hung up the phone and started singing something loudly in a language I didn’t recognize.

I didn’t know what to do. I got a text from Yuma and she said she was already on the way to the train station, and that she would meet us there. When I brought my attention back to Satomi, she was sitting as still as a statue, staring straight ahead with a slack face.

“Satomi, are you OK?”. She wasn’t responding, even after I poked her shoulder and waived my hand in front of her face. She just stared off to the other side of the street, for at least 30 seconds.

Then, without fanfare, her face tightened back to life. “Sorry about that.” Smiled – she was speaking Japanese again. “I haven’t been sleeping well at all lately. I think I was sleep walking or something just now – the last thing I remember is the train station.”

“We’re going to meet with Yuma, alright? Let’s go to the Yamanote.”

With that, she nodded, slowly stood up, and straightened her coat and scarf. She seemed back to her usual self as we threaded through the crowds to the JR gates, and even on the train to Harajuku she was perfectly composed and pleasant. She seemed remarkably awake and alert for well past 21:00.

By the time we exited, Yuma was pacing back and forth by the fair gates, her hands lost in her gray trench coat pockets. Honestly, she looked a mess, like she just grabbed anything to put on and ran the dozen blocks to the station.

Satomi just walked over and gave her a tight hug. “I’m sorry about before. Let’s just go home, OK?”

Yuma was about to burst in tears, but she composed herself and took Satomi by the arm out of the station. I walked a few paces behind, not knowing how to react.

As far as I could tell, Yuma didn’t seem shocked at all about the whole experience. She just seemed resigned to the mess, like a little kid who always came home to fighting parents. It made me wonder what other events might have happened in the past, and how the band dealt with them.

In the end, I don’t know. We spent a perfectly normal after midnight at Yuma’s – Masae came over a few minutes after we arrived, and brought a party in a bag. I just watched them drink each other silly, and I ended up walking them one at a time to bed, where they plopped down like a big pile of coats before wiggling into sleeping positions.

I didn’t get much sleep last night. I just curled up on the couch, and had mini-nightmares where I kept having to pick up Satomi’s holographic clothes before they hit the floor, in a never ending stress loop. By the time I finally got them to stay on, all that was left of her was a shiny, white mannequin covered with folds of light and colorful marking pen graffiti.

I have some serious thoughts about this – serious enough that I can’t share them right now, before I consult with Ai first. Sufficed to say that I need to start spending a lot more time with the band.

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