Access [Serial Experiments Lain]

Discussion in 'Archives' started by Styx, Aug 13, 2012.

  1. Styx That's me inside your head.

    Sep 16, 2008
    Alright, so I've written this sci-fi/thriller fanfic (with some philosophical elements, I guess) that's VERY loosely based on Serial Experiments Lain (read: it has little to do with the story at all, and if I change a term or two it would be a completely independent storyline). I decided to write it on a whim one day and finished it in about four days. That being said, I'm wary that it may be lacking in quality: I switch between past and present tense and the plot might be full of holes.

    Therefore, feedback is more than welcome!



    We were just past the halfway point home from our monthly hi-bye in college when our cells brought us the blissful news.
    Rei playfully shrugged.
    “Guess we have somewhere to go this weekend.”
    I nodded, although if I went by my gut feeling, an overjoyed dance would rather be in order.
    “Been long enough too: two months already.”, I said.
    Cyberia is the hottest club in the country and beyond, and with good reason: no one has heard of it. Based on bartender J.J.’s last estimate, about 550 people in total know of it and approximately 380 of them fill the dance floor every time. Pretty low-key for a joint that can make the improbable certain. Then again, it may just be low-key enough for a venue that only opens when it, or rather its quirky proprietor, pleases.

    “Then I’ll finally have a use for this.”, I boasted as I flipped a white card from out of my pocket. The train seats within hearing and viewing distance were virtually empty anyway.
    “No Boundaries…”, Rei read on the digital screen, “Wasn’t that the one you won the annual cocktail inventing contest with?”
    “Uhu.”, I confirmed. “Got a prescription for it the moment the winner was announced. Got a text from J.J. advising me to check my card. That’s when it appeared. How’d you do?”
    “Horribly.”, she moaned. “Seventh place! I don’t think I’ve ever done so poorly. I don’t get it either: people who tasted the Window In The Sky all told me they loved it! Thought long and hard about the name too.”
    “It’s because you basically shoved it in people’s mouths!”, I teased. “You didn’t drink anything but that stuff last time we went to Cyberia, and ordered it for people who didn’t ask for it. There is such a thing as too much advertising, you know?”
    “It wasn’t as much advertising as it was genuinely liking the damn thing. I felt like I outdid myself.”
    Rei shrugged again, but I knew she was still disappointed. I’d be too, if I had done my best for a change instead of fooling around with crazy ingredients and giving the result a flashy name. As it turned out, intuition is what works out best for both of us. Don’t know what to make of that.
    “Better luck next year.”, she said flatly. “Besides, has anyone ever won first place besides us?”
    “Ransack won it once, I think.”, being pretty sure that he did. “But that was a fluke.”, I immediately added.
    “I know, right?”, Rei snapped. “No one still orders his Ransack Mk. V anymore, if they ever even did. ****** generic-ass name too. I mean, come on…”
    She’s right; half of the drink is in its name. Ethereal or badass names seem to work best in garnering attention, but there are almost as many exceptions to this rule as there are examples.
    The other half of a Cyberia cocktail is the experience of drinking it. Taste alone just doesn’t cut it. Texture, colour, and even being aware of what you’re drinking are all part of the package. Because believe me, Cyberia’s compounds contain ingredients you wouldn’t deem potable, from paraffin to motor oil and yes, actual drugs and medication as well. J.J. has never been shy about admitting that he mixed antidepressants into a generous percentage of his own creations. In fact, I’m pretty sure that’s where the term prescriptions originated. Speaking of which…

    “How many prescriptions do you have by the way?”, Rei asked one stop before our destination.
    “54, since I scored the No Boundaries one. You?”
    “Same here. Eden’s Elevator was my latest addition. Want me to set you up for its prescription?”
    “Depends. What’s in it?”
    Rei scrolled on the card until she met the list of ingredients.
    “Gin, banana, lemon juice, Xanax, sweeteners, some vitamin supplements…”
    “No, thanks.”, I broke her off. “Is that what you’re gonna kick the night off with though?”
    Rei flashed a smile.
    “Nah, I think I’ll stick with Wealth & Taste tonight!”, she decided genially. Recalling that this was her winning entry last year, I smoothly replied:
    “Make that two. The No Boundaries can wait.”, and I saw her flash another smile, detecting a subtle hint of randiness behind it.
  2. Styx That's me inside your head.

    Sep 16, 2008
    J.J. is paranoid, and that’s just about the only thing regarding him we can be certain of. He is a veritable enigma, and one that hates getting unraveled. Loathes being touched, keeps his real name for himself and asking personal questions may result in him not serving you for the rest of the night.
    It goes without saying then, that there is no shortage of rumours surrounding the man, and by extension Cyberia as a whole. I’ve heard ravers claim that among his most controversial recurring ingredients is amanitin, the toxin that gave the death cap its grisly name. He has developed a technique that adds the otherwise deadly substance molecule per molecule to non-lethal doses, or so the story goes.
    Others have speculated that he used to get picked on due to having a rare kind of skin rash, which would account for his dislike of touch and his fondness of long-sleeved jackets. Cyberia comes into play as his escape, his way to be on top. Although I don’t find this latter theory any more credible than the other tall tales revolving around him, I happen to like that particular version. The little guy rises above himself, rises above everyone, and rather than gloating and taking revenge he shuts himself out from the world that despises him and creates a new and probably better one with and for the people he can trust. I’m no romantic but screw me if that doesn’t sound awesome.

    As much as I’d like to say that Cyberia relies solely on the trust of its frequenters, I’d be lying. Before we entered the unearthly wonderland, Teka (one of J.J.’s handpicked bouncers) guided us to a neural scanner, but not before he thoroughly checked our IDs and prescription cards, and whether they matched. I started a conversation while a wide cyan light swooped and rose in front of my face, searching for the true reason of Cyberia’s secrecy.
    “So Teka, how’s it going in there?”
    “I think you came at just the right time.”, he answered. “Haven’t seen any dealers around today though, so I’m afraid you’ll have to make do with whatever J.J. hits you up with.”
    “We’ll be fine.”, I assured him.
    The cyan lightwave of the scanner suddenly stopped and stabbed my eyes with a brief glint. The implanted unit guarding the memory of everything Cyberia had been found: all was in its rightful place.
    “You’re clear. Have you guys got your PSA’s or will you rent ‘em here?”, Teka inquired.
    I jiggled my pocket to indicate that I had mine with me while Rei showed hers. We were good to go.

    PSA’s, or Personal Sound Adjusters, and the neural scanners are the two most cutting-edge pieces of electronics that one could find in Cyberia and very few other places (assuming that the rumour about adding compounds on a molecular level is indeed nothing more than that).
    The PSA is a piece of headgear that can adjust the volume you perceive, and even ban the music to the background for conversational purposes. It is in fact so useful that I always feel like I went cold turkey on something when I go to a rave without said technology after a visit to Cyberia the night or weekend before.
    While the PSA system exists solely for entertainment, the neural scanner has a far more sinister purpose. The technical details escape me but it marks the area of the brain where the memories involving Cyberia are stored. It also has the capacity to wipe said memories. And by wipe, I actually mean destroy. It has a negligible effect on newbies (I’d wager they’d just get a blackout of the previous night) but imagine what it can to to us regulars. We meet people here. We learn here. We experience. We live. I wouldn’t want to have the most pleasant scenes of the film of my life cut out, and neither do the others apparently. Cyberia isn’t a “thing” yet. If the machine’s memory wiping ability has ever been used, or even if it hasn’t, it’s a pretty damn effective system.

    Keeping this in mind, Cyberia is in fact very much like an addiction. We all want access to awesome music, reality-warping beverages and sleazy members of the opposite sex (or the same sex if that’s how you roll). To retain this access, we are silent as a grave regarding this Shangri-la of technology and entertainment and guard it with our lives or at least our memories of this place (which to many are equivalent). This is quite possibly a stupid decision, given the possibilities. However, keeping our mouths shut is the only way to keep indulging in this harmless fun, so it is the better decision by default. Or is that what all addicts believe?
  3. Jiku Neon Kingdom Keeper

    Jul 24, 2007
    Moe, Victoria
    It's a really interesting little piece, like the ideas and style of the presentation are particularly fun. It's somewhat difficult to define what I feel makes it good instead of just fun and interesting, but I do get the feeling that it is. The technical aspect is solid obviously, but there's just something else about it that I find somewhat hard to define. I guess that's all I have to say on the matter but I would like to ask if this is completed because it seems somewhat like an ending but at the same time I can't be completely certain of that.
  4. Styx That's me inside your head.

    Sep 16, 2008
    For a moment there I was considering to leave it at that, since you thought it looked wrapped up. But no, there is more to the story than that. In fact, we're not even halfway through. It starts off slowly, but stuff will happen. By the way, I am seriously struggling with this new format who thinks it knows how to organize text better than I do.


    “I was just thinking...”, I mumbled, trying to catch Rei’s attention through the PSA.
    “I was just thinking... The technology in this place never ceases to amaze me. I mean, it shouldn’t even be in a place like this, or at least not almost exclusively. Don’t you feel the same way?”, I pondered. I was certain it had at least crossed her mind.
    “I don’t know.”, she replied awkwardly. “I mean, it’s not like I haven’t thought about it, but after a while I just...accepted it. It would sound crazy to anyone who hasn’t seen it with their own eyes, but there are an infinite amount of unlikely events so a select few of them have to happen right? Besides, there are plenty of other things to be amazed at in Cyberia; no use frying your brain over something you’ll probably never know anyway, is it?”
    “Yeah, I guess you’re right...”, I admitted.
    “And hey, you should see what they keep in the Interface. I’d wager it’s a gadgeteer’s wet dream to just sneak a peak in there.”, Rei joked. I brightened instantly.
    “I’ll find out soon enough, won’t I? Veterans with 50 prescriptions or more are allowed try their **** in the Interface now. I don’t know about you but I’m gonna take my chances this night or the next.”
    Rei suddenly whirled over to look me in the eyes.
    “You don’t say? “, she gasped. “Vance is giving up his haegmonia at the turntables then?”
    “I think he got a second job or something. Either way, the rule has been in power for a while now. I think Ransack has even claimed the right already.”
    Rei’s gaze hardened.
    “What? How did we not notice this?”
    “If I were to take a guess, I think he just played what Vance chewed and regurgitated for him. I doubt that there was any contribution on his part. That’s Marcus Ransack for ya. Not my style though: I’ll at least squeeze in a few underrated gems.”
    Rei concurred with a nod. We ordered our first Wealth & Tastes and got the show on the road.

    After two unexpectedly delicious glasses of one of Rei’s masterpieces (amaretto, honey and ground silver...who knew?), I shuffled over to the bar. Wealth & Taste was all fine and dandy but I did hope to order my own winning combination sometime tonight. There was that, and something else I wanted to discuss.
    “Yo, J.J.!”, I shouted. After pouring and serving two or three more drinks he turned around to meet me. I immediately noticed another feature of him that always struck me as odd: his age. To me he looked about 23, while Rei was positive that he was in his early thirties. A mystery even on the most basic level. Heck, we don’t even know what J.J. stands for.
    “What’s up, Styx? Ain’t Paracelsus with you?”, he greeted. He used our code names, which we all have and are free to change at any time. It’s all part of the air of secrecy and privacy Cyberia is supposed to have, what other reason could their be? J.J. apparently loves to be discreet as much as he loves discretion to be used around him.
    Paracelsus is Rei’s nickname, knowing full well that the real one was a dude. She thinks of herself as an alchemist, devising new compounds and mixtures for others to enjoy. She has a point, even though the word looks so dated nowadays. As do many.
    “She’s over there on the dance floor. Hey J.J., is there any chance that I can have a go at the Interface turntables tonight?”, I boldly asked.
    “I think you just might. Let me check...”
    He twisted a knob on his PSA, probably tuning in to Vance’s specific frequency. Only Cyberia’s regular DJ has that frequency. Ravers can use the same frequency to request tracks.
    “He wants to finish this set, which will last for about two more hours. You okay with that?”
    “Sure thing.”, I forced myself to say, barely containing my patience. “Did you say who wants to relieve him though? That way I can just ask him directly instead of having to bother you again.”, I suggested. J.J. gave me thumbs up to indicate that all was taken care of.
    “Thanks a lot. I’ll have a No Boundaries and another Wealth & Taste!”, I ordered. I showed the prescriptions on my card and paid up. A boyish dream was close to being fulfilled: this demanded a few more drinks to steel the nerves.

    “Can you fix a prescription for me?”, Rei shouted. She didn’t like turning on her PSA when a song she liked played. I played along, knowing it wouldn’t bother anyone.
    “Sure!”, I bellowed back at her. “Which one would you like?”
    “The Strangulation one! Oh, I do hope you have it!”
    I vaguely remembered choosing that one a while ago when I had enough cred to pick a new one. It took me a while to find it, scrolling through a bunch of other prescriptions, some of which I hadn’t used in a year.
    “There ya go!”
    “Thanks!”, Rei yelled gratefully. “I’ll go transfer it now! Want something in return though?”
    I couldn’t refuse the offer, so I asked her if I could check her prescription card to see if there was something to my liking.
    “This one!”, I pointed out. “The Lonely Blue Planet!”
    A grin slid across Rei’s face.
    “You sure?”, she teased. “I never quite liked it, it was too soft for me! You might as well order lemonade!”
    “No, I’m sure. I have access to the Interface in a little over an hour! Don’t want to run the risk of puking on some of the state-of-the-art gizmos in there! You’re free to come along if you like, provided you refrain from expelling body fluids as well!”
    Rei’s contagious grin infected me as well when I spoke that last sentence (at the top of my lungs), and she nodded gleefully.
    “Sounds good to me!”

    It’s a simple but brilliant system really. Each prescription represents a cocktail you can drink. Newbies start with only two, but if they keep coming back (assuming they’re on the level), they get a permanent prescription card and can collect many more prescriptions the more often they visit Cyberia. Inventing new cocktails, cleaning up after closing time or introducing Vance to new tracks (nigh impossible given his savvy, but it has happened...I think) also increases the rate of acquiring them. If a good friend who you regularly order drinks with has another prescription, you can acquire that particular one more easily. Luxurious drinks with rare ingredients or pseudo-dangerous cocktails are harder to obtain prescriptions for.
    I believe, at the risk of sounding poetic, that there is more to prescriptions than just a marketing strategy. Trading, inventing, recommending and earning prescriptions in Cyberia is infinitely more fulfilling with more people involved. It strengthens the bond of brotherhood, the feeling that you are part of a community. It’s a social network. With booze.
    A good idea, in short, that nevertheless failed to breach Cyberia’s walls, much like anything regarding the phenomenon. Us regulars know better. Scaling up good ideas has been a recurring motif in history, and look where it got us...
  5. Styx That's me inside your head.

    Sep 16, 2008
    Rei was taking in every note, every beat and every pause and translated them into movements of the fairest kind. She was indescribably sexy when she came up to me, brushed her hand against my cheek and returned to her otherworldly trance. The cocktails she downed were kicking in big time, but not painfully so. She was caught in the middle of a pillow fight with alcohol, drugs, meds and music. Her entire body would ache the next morning, but she didn’t give a ****.
    “Please please please play more of this when it’s your turn!”, she begged. I was going to, seeing as she wasn’t the only one I’d be doing a favor. It occured to me at that point that my moment in the spotlight was nearing, but looking up at the visible part of the Interface, I didn’t see Vance playing the crowd as per usual. It was a recorded set, and people were already too drunk to care. I still wanted to shine that night, even for a less critical audience.
    I jabbed a nearby partying dancer with my elbow, catching his attention.
    “Hey man, when did Vance leave?”
    “About half an hour ago. Didn’t you see him pass through?”
    I shook my head and wriggled through the groups of ravers to the exit.
    “Teka! Did Vance pass through here?”
    My voice had already become hoarse from yelling.
    “Yeah...No chance of catching up with him though: that was 40 minutes ago.”
    “****...”, I cursed under my breath, “Did he tell you that I could relieve him though?”
    “Well yeah kinda.”, Teka remembered, “He told you that either you or Ransack would t ake up his post. If you’re here, doesn’t that mean that he’s playing now?”
    “It’s a pre-recorded set.”, I corrected him, but Teka gently gestured to zip it.
    “That don’t sound like a pre-recorded set!”, he suddenly bellowed. He rushed in, leaving me confused and in want of an explanation. Only after turning up the volume admission of my PSA again did I know the perfectly good reason for his aberrant behavior.

    It was an old song, outdated to such an extent that no remix would be able to modernize it to today’s standards. The only vocals I could make out was a phrase that sounded like “Bangarang!”, whatever that meant. It was, timeframe not even considered, abonimable. I quickly hushed it with my headgear and followed Teka in. I passed faces ripe with indignation and disgust, suspicious minds coiling around the situation.
    The dreadful music stopped only moments later. Teka had apparently dragged a guy out of the Interface cubicle towards the bouncer at the emergency exit. Hadn’t been too kind with him either, by the looks of his bruises. They restrained him together, their grip tightening the more he tried to struggle. Two buddies of Marcus Ransack’s group volunteered to guard the emergency exit while the two doormen dragged him off.
    Odd. They could have used the emergency exit to kick him out and be done with it. Unless...
    “Come on!”, I spurred Rei on. “This I gotta see!”
    “Huh? What?”, she wondered, but I was already dragging her along by the arm.

    I barged in in the middle of the process. The big emergency exit bouncer was holding the fake DJ from behind, arms shoved underneath his prisoner’s armpits and reconnected underneath the guy’s chin. Teka had already reconfigured the machine: the cyan ray of light had turned an ominous crimson and shone much more intensely.
    “We ought to knock him out before he gains any new memories of this place. Hold him into the beam.”, Teka growled. He ambled over to a first-aid cabinet in the corner, retrieving an injection needle from it. The culprit they had caught looked like he could have a nervous breakdown any moment, and was shaking all over to boot. Even if he got away, even if he tried to run, he didn’t have the speed in his trembling legs to outrun his captors for long.
    It only took a few seconds of blood vessel searching before Teka plunged the needle into an artery, unplugging him from consciousness. It was strange. It happened to newbies all the time, as a precaution. Why then did it feel so much more horrifying as a esteemed punishment? Are we so lost in connotations that we can no longer see things for what they are?
    Only then did they notice us, and the otherwise amicable Teka gave us a piercing look. He twisted a knob on his PSA, and I knew that he was trying to get J.J. on the line. So his gear too, has a unique frequency. One that only personnel knows about, no doubt.
    “J.J., we have two regulars who witnessed the process. What do you want us to do?”, he transmitted out loud. No bad trip could spark the same fear that I felt at that moment. A fear shared by Rei, whose fight-or-flight response looked about ready to choose the former option. We would never be welcome in this public secret again!
    “All right.”, Teka growled, and he shut off his PSA once more. He stepped forward and, while still having a stern look in his eyes, looked noticeably less ferocious than several seconds before.
    “The man in charge doesn’t mind you seeing what you just saw, as long as you treat it with the same discretion you have proven to treat the rest of Cyberia and its personnel with. We can count on you guys, right?”
    The both of us nodded without saying a word.

    This elaborate obsession with secrecy and keeping itself low-profile has always had my approval, and even today’s extreme example is no more than a necessary evil in my eyes. Cyberia is a place of passive-aggressive anarchy. It is our haven for the cheap pleasures that are exceedingly hard to come by in our everyday lives. Dredging up this opportunity will force us to either stop being anarchists, or to stop being passive-aggressive. Neither prospect seems very appealing to us.
    You might wonder, however, whether it was commendable to go apeshit on him for such a minor act of mischief. Imagine though, that you have an extremely noxious poison stored safely in a tank, until one day, you see droplets seeping out. This had never happened before, and it is happening now. You would panic. The song that was played today is situated in a generation long past, an age that bred anger and very little more. It is the hand-drawn swastika in your son’s math notebook. It is that ***** of an ex-girlfriend who rings your doorbell after having promised to vacate your life for good. Fancy analogies aside, it is part of a memory that no machine is powerful enough to wipe; a remnant of an abhorred past. It doesn’t belong here. It musn’t be.
  6. Styx That's me inside your head.

    Sep 16, 2008
    It's a bit late, but I just wanted to inform whoever read this that Access won't be updated for a while due to problems with my computer. I have finished it so I definitely won't abandon the project, but it'll take some more time before I can get to it again.
  7. Jiku Neon Kingdom Keeper

    Jul 24, 2007
    Moe, Victoria
    I don't really like to post too frequently without critique, so I kind of held this back but I feel like acknowledging your message is kind of important as well. So thanks for the update, I hope things go alright with you.

    Also, "It never ceases to amaze me," rather than "It never seizes to amaze me." I don't think I caught any other typos though.
  8. Styx That's me inside your head.

    Sep 16, 2008
    “Did anyone tell you who that guy was?”, Rei inquired. She took place behind the wheel, as she usually did. She likes driving more than I do, and is consequently a better driver too.
    “Nope. I was with you the whole time, remember?”, I reminded her. “He didn’t look familiar though.”
    “Not to me either. It was probably just some random troll.”
    “I don’t think so. Like I said, only people with at least 50 prescriptions can get in the Interface. I think you have to slide your card through a reader. A veteran must have let him in.”, I deducted. Rei scowled upon hearing this.
    “Oh wow, that narrows it down. In fact, that narrows it a lot. It just so happens to be that Ransack’s mates were guarding the emergency exit during the incident. I don’t know if you noticed, but Ransack was nowhere to be found after we came back.”
    “Really?”, I blurted out, and I caught myself scowling as well. “Wouldn’t it have been easier for him to just hack into Vance’s music database and replace his entire set list with archaic shite? I’m sure he could do it, being the master hacker he claims himself to be.”
    “Not if he wants to be counterhacked by J.J., boy.”, Rei retorted. “As much as I dislike Marcus Ransack, I do believe him when he says he’s a an ace hacker. I’m convinced J.J. would outwhiz him though. Remember how he taught us how to change our grades?”
    I couldn’t help turning my frown upside down after being reminded of that. Good times...

    Indeed, we didn’t leave immediately after the incident. We decided on one more drink to flush the unpleasant aftertaste of fear away, but it took us more than half an hour to finish it even though we didn’t order anything particularly wild. When coming to Cyberia, we played with the idea to stay until closing time and help J.J. for extra prescription cred, as we are wont to do. He knew he couldn’t count on us though (there have times when we were both hornier than dogs in heat, and wanted to go home ASAP), so we didn’t bother to say goodbye. He probably had other stuff on his mind today as well: J.J. couldn’t ignore the first dent in Cyberia’s bastion of protection.

    Neither of us felt the need to talk much more during the way home, or so I thought. Without turning her head though, Rei suddenly spoke:
    “You know...I was scared. Terrified, in fact. “, she confessed.
    “About Cyberia’s future?”, I asked, knowing that that wasn’t the only thing on her mind, if the thought had crossed her at all. Her angst somehow felt more profound than mine.
    “Yeah, well, that too. But that wasn’t what I was thinking of. You see, we’ve had our memories toyed with without knowing what kind of consequences it could have. We blindly trust someone we know so little about. Almost like...”
    I felt it coming: the R-word.
    “Almost like religion.”, we both finished simultaneously.
    She treated the realization as if it were a criminal offense to even compare the two, but what she said was true. Cyberia regulars and religious cultists show an unsettling amount of parallels, with its almost hierarchical structure, legal limbo of its very existence and status as forbidden subject for initiates.
    Perhaps I was just being a coward, but I didn’t like to mull over it at that time anymore. Perhaps when my head was clear after a good night’s sleep I’d pick up my ponderings once again. Or perhaps I just hoped to find an argument that satisfied me.

    “Good thing we had our PSAs to tune that hell noise out. I don’t know who ever thought it was a good idea to record a piece of **** like that, but it sounded like it got shoved out of a mule’s ass.”, I started. A change of subject would do me good. Alas, it wasn’t meant to be...
    “Hmm-hmmm.”, Rei nodded. “I’m worried though...Tonight I heard some ravers talk about a new version of the PSA. One that can play a song of your choosing if you don’t like the one the DJ’s playing.”
    Didn’t like the sound of that. It didn’t seem right at all.
    “I’m not a big fan of the idea, to say the least.”, Rei continued, ”If everyone dances do different music, you’d be hard pressed to find any kind of cohesion among the crowd. It sounds too individualistic for my taste. What’s the point of still going to Cyberia without the feeling that you’re a part of something?”
    Her observation was spot-on once again, reminding me for the millionth time why I loved being around her so much. Her honesty sounded blunt and uncaring, but I knew that it was filled to the brim with emotion. I decided to throw in what’s been eating me at her as well, come what may.
    “On one hand we want to be individuals, and set ourselves apart from society’s anonymous gears, the cattle that we both detest and feast on. And yet, on the other hand, we desire the company of kindred spirits. Maybe we want confirmation that we’re not nut jobs, that we’re a minority that actually matters. Or maby we just can’t decide. Maybe we’re suffering from the same indecisiveness that gets nothing done on a political scale.”, I cynically mused. I liberated a weary sigh that felt like it should have left my lungs hours ago.

    “Maybe we should strike, or riot. Maybe we should have a ***** fit of sizable proportions. We’re going out and getting drunk and high, we’re having fun but most of all we’re bottling up our anger. I wonder whether this is healthy, or whether it will continue to be.”, Rei contemplated. At this point she did turn her head, and our eye contact triggered both our faces into smiling, first wryly then heartily. There was still room to savor the immaculate synchronization between two people in a car at night, tired and tense though those people may have been.
  9. Styx That's me inside your head.

    Sep 16, 2008
    It had been three weeks since we were last able to find our thrills in Cyberia, and we were in such a splendid mood that we decided to take two newbies with us. Both were college students like us, in-between friends and acquaintances. Their names were Ordy and Telda and they had been together for a year or so. Believing they’d humble us in the partying department, they boldly accepted our invitation to a venue they couldn’t imagine in their wildest dreams. Too bad they wouldn’t remember anything from the wild night they were about to have (nor did we the first two nights, courtesy of the neural scanner’s eraser function), but the memory of them being baffled with every sight, sound and taste would surely compensate for the lack of gloating.

    “So where is this place we’re going?”, Telda asked impatiently. I glanced at her in the backseat and for a brief moment, considered breaking our agreement of not prioritizing getting into the newbies’ pants (Rei lusted secretly after Ordy as well, so such an agreement was indeed in order). She looked great, albeit somewhat trashy.
    “Remember the old biscuit factory at the edge of town? The one that went broke six years ago?”, Rei returned the question.
    “Yeah, I do.”
    “It’s not there.”, she said flatly.
    “Well then, where is it?”, an annoyed Ordy wanted to know. Never quite understood why Rei wanted to bed him. She used to have better taste, but then again, she occasionally fucks me, so her standards aren’t too high.
    “It’s somewhere else.”, I sheepishly teased. “You’ll find out soon enough.”

    “I wonder if those new PSA versions will be for sale already.”, Rei thought aloud.
    “Doubt it. Three weeks seems a bit of a short notice, unless they were already fully developed three weeks ago. Last time’s incident may have sped up production though. And let’s not forget that it was just a rumour.”, I argumented.
    Ordy and Telda exchanged confused looks. Rei saw them through the rear-view mirror and loved their not knowing what the hell we were talking did I.
    “Do you think Ransack would have the nerve to come back? I’m sure J.J. will have found out about his part in the incident by now.”, I said.
    “Probably not. Maybe J.J. had Teka and the others hunt him down?”, she hypothesized, getting her hopes up. It was a possibility, drastic as it may seem. Transgressors like Ransack are a danger to Cyberia’s underground policy. J.J. woud have taken appropriate measures...whatever those may have been.
    “So kids, do you like sweet, sour or bitter?”, Rei wanted to know.
    “Telda’s a sweet tooth, but I’m more of a bitter lover., Ordy answered. “Why?”
    He didn’t seem to like being called a kid, which was reason enough to call him one. Denying your inner child or refusing to give it space should be a cardinal sin.
    “Newcomers don’t have all the privileges Cyberia has to offer. You’ll have to cope with a limited selection. We’re not allowed to let you have more than a taste of the veteran-exclusive booze either. Sorry!”, I explained. Ordy and Telda were visibly disappointed, even after re-assuring them that they’ll still have plenty of choice. It’s all about access, for them as well as us.
  10. Jiku Neon Kingdom Keeper

    Jul 24, 2007
    Moe, Victoria
    I get the feeling that this is definitely moving along... not exactly sure where. However, I like that. I like that I don't know everything in certain terms. I like the atmosphere here. Sometimes I feel that just building a feeling for a world is more important than having all the details and consistency laid plain for all to see. It gives you a better sense of what is there than you could get from a lot of raw data. Anyway, I'm glad you're not taking this too fast or too slow and I'll probably follow as long as you continue writing.
  11. Styx That's me inside your head.

    Sep 16, 2008
    As expected, the two unsuspecting college students were impressed with everything Cyberia threw at them, from the cozy sofas and spiffy video wall to the very existence of the PSA system. And of course, the booze. I recommended a Redshift for sweet Telda and a Taser Touch for bitter Ordy. The two starter prescriptions that every newcomer gets to choose will get you drinks that are nothing compared to the hardcore stuff, but will succeed in getting you hammered every time. It was no different this time.
    The only thing the two weren’t quite keen on (understandably so) was handing over thei cell phones to Teka before being allowed in. We mostly removed their suspicion by handing over ours as well, even though we were no longer required to.

    The cell phone rule has always been in effect for newbies; I hadn’t seen any new precautions being taken so far. I considered striking up a conversation with J.J. the next time I ordered a drink, but eventually decided against it. The conversation wouldn’t last long before I’d have to ask his personal opinion on the matter, and I knew how much he hated giving those. Whether he took measures or not, it would both contribute to J.J.’s air of mystery. Funny how that works.

    Meticulous trance algorhythms were sprinkled with the sound effect of fingers hitting computer keys. The next track combined celestial synths with an encouragingly pumping bass. I observed Telda and Ordy whilst plunging into the universe of beats and vibes myself, sipping cocktails and generally being excited to be here again. Telling me there was more to life at that point would have met with me calling you a liar. My moment of utter bliss was broken off by Rei pulling my sleeve and nudging to my right.
    “What is it?”, I asked, noticing that she had lowered the music’s volume even though she loved this track to death.
    “I spy with my little eye something that looks like a complete waste of oxygen over there.”, she snapped, her tone combative. The reason didn’t remain a mystery for long: the black-clad figure of Marcus Ransack stood amongst the crowd.
    Ever the shady appearance, using his own name instead of a code name (even Telda and Ordy had sworn by the aliases of Luxy and Razgriz), and an all-around unlikable personality were three of his most prominent characteristics. That being said, another one of his typical traits, or so I’d always believed, was his genuine love for Cyberia. I never deemed him to be up to something that would endanger its continued existence. It made me all the more furious.

    Having been lost in thought, at first I didn’t even notice that Rei was no longer standing beside me. Luckily my perception sharpened before long, but I couldn’t prevent the first punch from landing. Ransack staggered back while Rei rubbed her knuckles.
    “That one was for messing up a great set list with old-school ****!”, she roared. “The next few are for having the nerve to show up here again, and the ones after those are for being a shit-filled cunt!”
    But the next few and the ones after those didn’t connect; Ransack’s buddies were already on her. One of them took advantage of the opportunity to feel up Rei’s boobs while grabbing her, for which I busted him on the nose. Ransack himself returned the favor but only got as far as a punch to the cheek before the cavalry showed up. Teka and some of the indoor bouncers arrived at the scene to break up the fight. It was nothing new for them (some cocktail combinations did have the effect of making someone aggressive), but Teka was surprised to find us being the instigators of the brouhaha.
    I wasn’t too scared of getting my memory wiped this time, but I did risk a hefty loss of prescriptions.
  12. Styx That's me inside your head.

    Sep 16, 2008
    “All right, guys... This oughtn’t be happening.”, Teka moaned. “You have how many prescriptions now?”
    We were in a back room used solely for cooling off hotheads and settling disputes in a quiet environment. It was so cramped that they left Marcus’ friends behind; they’d get penalized later, no doubt.
    “54 each.”, I answered.
    “52. Quality over quantity.”, Ransack sneered.
    “Right. Point is you’ve been around since forever. I can’t even imagine Cyberia without you lot. And then this happens. So what’s the story?”, Teka sighed.
    “They attacked me! They attacked me out of ****ing nowhere!”, Marcus Ransack rambled.
    “What were you on?”, Teka asked the two of us. Rei had chosen for diversity that night and listed Eden’s Elevator, Wealth & Taste and Institutionalizer as her choices. I had stuck to a Skull & Crossbones the entire time, having promised myself to lift it from its underrated status. Neither of our combinations had the reputation of being dangerous. In fact, they were rather wishy-washy compared to what we usually guzzle down. We still had two newbies to keep an eye on, not that they were missing us.
    “So why the knuckle sandwiches?”, Teka wondered. Ransack was about to whine again but the bouncer cut him off with a hand gesture.
    “We have reason to believe that Marcus here is responsible for allowing the troll into the Interface three weeks ago.”, I explained, trying my damnest to keep cool. “His friends stood guard at the emergency exit and we think Ransack escaped through it after the guy was caught.”
    Marcus started laughing uneasily, then burst out into a waterfall of laughter.
    “Oh, is that what this is about?”, he asked mockingly. When he came to, after wiping the tears of laughter from his eyes, he continued:
    “Alright, I confess: I did use the emergency exit. You know why? Because your No Boundaries piss made me sick, that’s why. I added some DD to it because it tasted like crap and before I knew it your cocktail, if we may call it that, had me puking. I barged out of the emergency exit to empty my stomach. Thanks for that by the way. ”, he accused, pointing a finger to me and all everything. Theatrical, sure, but plausible enough. And stupid.
    “There’s already Diamond Dust in it, you fuckwit! Adding any more will make you sick! Do you even read the recipes before you select prescriptions?”, I hissed. At that point I sounded angrier than I really was, at least with Marcus.
    “Why didn’t you just use the bathroom then?”, Rei pointed out. Ransack merely shrugged.
    “The exit was closer. I don’t think I would have made the bathroom.”
    “Ransack came back later to say goodbye to his friends.”, another bouncer interfered. I recognized him as the emergency exit guard from last time.
    “Right.”, Teka concluded, rubbing his eyes with his thumb and forefinger. “The two of you will be penalized for offensive aggression. Expect a loss of five prescriptions.”
    “There goes my permission to access Interface.”, I complained, though I knew I had no right to. Marcus smirked: he knew his penalty would be milder since he didn’t start the fight.
    “Ransack...”, Teka continued, “You’ll be penalized for defensive aggression and for unauthorized use of the emergency exit. I’d wipe that smug look off your face if I were you; you’re in for a five prescription penalty yourself.”
    I enjoyed Ransack’s discontent grumbling more than I should, even forgetting that we let down Cyberia for the first time. We were its apostles, we were part of it, and we let our grip on that feeling slip tonight. Before we were allowed back into the ravers’ hive, Teka had an announcement to make.
    “Since you all seem to be so interested in what happened three weeks ago, I regret to tell you that we are still looking for the veteran who let that rat slip into the Interface. Random accusations aren’t helping anyone though.”
    “It was an honest mistake.”, Rei hissed. She hadn’t spoken much since we’d been escorted to this room. “I admit that we went out of line though. We acted rashly and won’t do it again.”, she quickly added. Feeling the exact same way, I had nothing to add.
    “I’m ruling out the three of you, but there still plenty of other candidates: Jade, Sulear, Ozone-“
    “Ozone suffered a stroke. He was hospitalized at the time.”, I interrupted.
    “No surprises there, if you knew the booze he favored. Could have lent the troll his prescription card though.”, Ransack countered. Teka shook his head.
    “No, that wasn’t the case. We searched him a few times over, and yet he was carrying nothing. Nothing at all. Didn’t find anything in the cubicle either. That’s why it’s been so hard to track who’s behind this.”
    That explanation served to shut Marcus up, but for some reason it remained glued to my thoughts. Couldn’t exactly find out why; the cocktails were disrupting my cognitive processes. ****ing Skull & Crossbones...
    “Listen guys, we all know you’re concerned about Cyberia’s prosperity. You mean well.“, Teka appeased us. “You know we have to penalize offenders though. But hey, I’ll tell you what. Try out our new PSAs. It’s on the house. There’s a good chance yours got damaged anyway.”
    Surprised by Teka’s sudden generosity, we accepted the new systems (we had to take the old ones off during the interrogations). Rei frowned upon receiving hers.
    “There has been talk of these. Are these the ones that let you pick another song if you don’t like the one playing? I’m not a fan of that to be honest.”, she criticized.
    “There are several new functions for you to enjoy. Why don’t you go back into the fray and fool around with them a bit?”
    Sounded like a plan.

    My mind still refused to co-operate, choosing to be an indolent pain in the ass instead. After choosing the prescriptions we’d want to ditch, we still had to make an excuse for explaining our absence to Telda and Ordy. Maybe we ought to skip that part: their memories of tonight were to be erased anyway.
    I flipped through my prescriptions, encountering a drink I didn’t really care for, but which lifted my mood all the same: the Lonely Blue Planet. I had completely forgotten about it. It meant I had miscalculated, and that I still had 50 prescriptions left, thus retaining my chances to be DJ for a night. I was glad to notice that my improved mood also kicked my thinking gears back in motion, like sunbeams plowing through clouds. Nothing was found on the trespasser. Nothing at all…
    “I know who let the troll in!”, I blurted out.
  13. Styx That's me inside your head.

    Sep 16, 2008
    (Things get a little...wild from here. Any of the following entries could make the story fall flat on its face. I hope all goes well. Feedback is appreciated.)

    “What?! Who?”, Rei asked, looking understandably puzzled. Before I could decode my epiphany into words, however, a familiar voice crept through my PSA.
    “Paracelsus, Styx, Ransack...Can you hear me?”, a man transmitted.
    “Loud and clear, Vance.”, I growled. We hadn’t tuned in to his frequency, but apparently that was no longer necessary.
    “You were close to unmasking me. I hope you don’t mind keeping the honours to myself.”
    “Go ahead. You have some explaining to do anyway.”, I mumbled.
    “What the ****, Vance? What’s going on here? Is this a personalized frequency?”, Rei asked. Cyberia’s DJ let out a brief chuckle.
    “More or less. Only the three of you can hear me. I figured this makes talking easier.”
    Ransack’s look betrayed that among the three of us, he had the least idea of what was going on.
    “So these PSAs Teka gave us were just so we could communicate with you?”, he asked.
    “Because Teka and the others are in on this too.”, I hissed, cursing under my breath.
    “That’s correct.”, Vance confirmed.
    “So what do you want from us, Vance? Why the charade?”
    “I have a request. Do you want the short version or the long version?”
    “The short version, please.”, Rei chose.
    “Very well: I want you to kill J.J.”
    The three of us were taken off guard, but I managed the sanity for a request of my own.
    “Never mind. Give us the long version.”
    “As you wish, Styx.”, Vance complied smugly. “It will give you some time to expel the chemicals coursing through your bodies. I’ll want your senses and wit to be sharp as a razor when you carry out the task; it won’t be an easy one. Be discreet in the meantime.”
    His voice turned a few tones stricter as he continued:
    “The other ravers mustn’t be made aware. Remember that I can see everything from here.”
    “What makes you think we’ll carry out your task?”, Rei wanted to know. Good question.
    “I have two convincing arguments on my side by the names of Luxy and Razgriz.”
    “Who are they?”, Ransack growled.
    “The newbies we brought with us.”, I responded.
    “Damn it!”

    “Anyway, you wanted the long version.”, Vance went on. “You see, the rumour about me having a second job is true, more or less. I am actually a government official. I am charged with the Cyberia project, along with J.J. and the bouncers. J.J. however...regrettably switched sides.”
    “Why don’t you kill him then? You outnumber him!”, Ransack bellowed.
    “I don’t have the know-how. No one here has but you, Ransack. You see, J.J. isn’t what you’d call a normal person.”
    “So J.J. is like a robot or something?”, Rei questioned the guy. She turned her head over to him and saw nothing out of the ordinary. Just him taking orders, pouring drinks, exchanging information with his customers. He’d be missed.
    “Not quite. The J.J. you see is a detailed hologram projected by artificial intelligence that developed a bothersome sense of sentience.”
    “How is that even possible?”, Rei roared. “We’ve seen him grab bottles and pour drinks!”
    “An elaborate interplay of electromagnetic and gravitational forces, nothing more.”, Vance expounded.
    “And we’re supposed to shut him down?”, Ransack snapped.
    “If you must, but I’d rather you reprogram him so the show can go on.”
    “What would you have him do?”, the informaticist asked. The timbre of his voice did all but blatantly betray that he had already submitted to his fate.
    “Let him transmit the data he gathered on you, for one. Then write him out of Cyberia’s circuits. Make sure he doesn’t have the power to shut Cyberia down anymore.”
    Ransack chuckled mockingly.
    “So you’re gonna shut everything down manually like in the good old days?”
    “Only tonight.”, Vance clarified, his smirk oozing through our PSA systems, “I will contact the ministry to send some people over to transfer the power to me.”
    “Why didn’t you send them over to shut J.J. down in the first place?”, I remarked. My question was met with a wheezy laugh on the other side of the line.
    “Because J.J. doesn’t like to be tangled with, and their lives are worth more to us than yours.”

    Our mission had been clear: reprogram J.J.’s main computer in the back room. Ransack had requested Vance to allow me to join him, to beguile J.J. into leaving us to our devices. Vance had complied, on the condition that we didn’t remove our PSAs. We had to keep in touch, lest he killed Telda and Ordy. Another complication to add to the pile.
    It wasn’t J.J., however, who I intended to distract. I had other prospects in mind than letting Vance get away with his deception.
    The plan, if we could call it that, had so many uncertain variables that it was bound to fail, but the way I saw it, failure was no worse than giving up outright.
    Rei’s task was to distract the J.J. hologram in the main dance hall. J.J. had to divide his (funny how I refrain from calling him “it”) consciousness between his hologram self and the mainframe in the back room: he almost literally had eyes on his back. The catch was to take his mind off his rear self and bomb his hologram with questions and small talk.
    Right before I followed Ransack to the code locked back door (Vance had given us the passcode), I shot Rei a glance worth more than a million words. My entire half-baked plan and the role she’d have to play were enclosed in that one exchange of eye, a sense of desperation and my feelings for her added for extra flavor.
    She wasn’t who I was worried about though. I was almost certain that not only did she understand everything I meant to tell her, but that she was planning to do the exact same thing anyway. She’s a wonderful woman; words fall short to describe what she means to me.
    My greatest concern was the role Ransack would play in this monkey business. After passing through the bouncer-guarded back room, I lipped instructions that were significantly different from what Vance had ordered him to do. He didn’t seem to respond at all, making Marcus Ransack an even greater key point in this gambit than he already was. Success or failure depended on whether he believed the battle was already lost.
  14. Styx That's me inside your head.

    Sep 16, 2008
    “One thing still irks me though.”, I started. “Why the fuck would the government partake in a project like Cyberia?” It was an honest question that had been on my mind since Vance’s reveal as an official. It also happened to serve as a diversion. Even if everything went according to plan, if Vance decided to tune in to J.J.’s frequency even once, all could have been lost.
    Vance played along better than I expected; he must have been bored from merely observing.
    “It wasn’t meant to be the Cyberia you know, at least not for this long.”, he explained. “J.J.’s broken moral compass turned it into the cesspool it is today.”
    Everything he said angered me to no end, but I had to be calm and collected if I could hold on to any hopes for this to work.
    “And yet you took up position in the Interface, night after night.”, I sneered.
    “Because I was convinced an opportunity would arise.”, Vance argued. “And I was right. Patience is a virtue. Besides, it would have been a waste to abandon such a project.”
    “Ah, I see...So it was a matter of pride.”
    “Pride and duty, Styx. It is a wonderful feeling when the two coincide!”
    Meanwhile I saw Ransack hack into J.J.’s mainframe. By the looks of it he met with little to no resistance, which means that Rei did her job remarkably well. Of course, I vaguely overheard her in the PSA, and she was indeed doing one hell of a job. I only hoped that she had some inspiration left for the sidequest I had non-verbally burdened her with.

    “Forgive me my ignorance.”, I went on, “but I fail to see how playing obsolete bullshit in night clubs would help the government.”
    “Hahaha, you’d be right about that!”, Vance laughed. “The music was supposed to be only one part of the project though. It was planned to cover all aspects of the Cyberia phenomenon. We’d gradually skimp on the shticks without you even noticing, but J.J. saw things differently, so the only thing we could alter was the music, which was wired to a separate circuit that J.J. wasn’t connected to. Too bad the first taste of old-school happened to be so traumatizing. You’re worse off than we thought...”
    “It wasn’t exactly the best period in history to be reminded of!”, I hissed, letting my anger get the better of me. “You have yourselves to thank for the traumas we suffer.”, I accusingly added.
    “We made choices, you prick! We all had to make them!”
    “Wrong choices! Selfish choices!”, I roared. “Anyone can make dumbass decisions like that! That’s not what we pay taxes for!”
    “Careful, mate...”, Vance threatened. “Your friends could be paying the price for your insolence.”
    He was being serious. I decided against bickering any further.

    “None.”, was Vance’s flat reply. “I’m not letting you out of my hearing range by removing my PSA.”
    An unfortunate decision, well played on his part. It didn’t make or break my plan though, and I only intented to check up on our machinations’ progress. I didn’t insist; Vance sounded dangerously ill-mannered as it was. Our little debate a few minutes earlier was most likely to blame.
    Suddenly, I heard the government agent cursing heavily.
    “What might we be doing, Ransack? I have the students at point-blank range. Do you think a little darkness will have me miss?”, Vance hissed.
    “It’s got nothing to do with that, Vance. I relieved J.J.’s mainframe of command over the electrical grid, but it won’t simply let me switch to manual controls. I’ll have to transfer control to your computer now.”, Marcus lied.
    “Get to it then!”, an pleasingly irritated Vance barked. “How long will it take?”
    “About fifteen minutes.”, the whiz estimated. A generous and credible time limit, but I knew better. The bouncers would surely be savvy enough to try and turn on the lights manually, which would put me in full view again. I had to hurry.
  15. Styx That's me inside your head.

    Sep 16, 2008
    Against better judgement, I tried the door. Locked, as I should have known. Vance wouldn’t let us go before he had assumed command of Cyberia. Fortunately, Rei came to our rescue and opened the door for us: she too had heard the code. I wanted to ask her how she evaded the bouncer usually guarding the door, but a finger on her lips reminded me to be silent.
    My goal was crystal clear, but I didn’t quite know what to suggest to the others. Some master plan I had... Rei, however, confidently moved back into the mass of ravers, apparently knowing perfectly well how she should keep herself occupied. Ransack, on the other hand, chose to stay behind and work out J.J.’s controls. He was in a natural position of power, more so because of Vance’s relative tech blindness (a fact that, in retrospect, could have given him away as the odd man out).

    There wasn’t much to be seen in the darkness of Cyberia, let alone a bouncer. I didn’t quite know how much hostility I’d meet along the way. Regardless, I snuck behind the bar and smashed a full bottle of whiskey in order to arm myself with a half. This hardly interested anyone; perhaps the barflies weze still puzzled over J.J.’s sudden disappearance act. My impaired vision made it difficult to confirm, but I knew that J.J.’s projected image was indeed gone. People had most likely seen him vanish into thin air, and it could well have been the killing blow for Cyberia as we know it. Or who knows, maybe it would just add to the mystery? The thought was both thrilling and unnerving.
    Shortly after unleashing my fury on a poor defenseless whiskey bottle, I heard Vance addressing me:
    “Styx, what was that sound? Where are you? Are you outside of the control room?”, he thundered. His nervous cluster bomb of questions was amusing for a nanosecond, before realizing that I had no answer at the ready. Did I slip up after coming this far?
    “Vance, you’re not gonna like hearing this.”, Ransack interfered.
    “What’s it this time?”, he snapped. Vance had lost it... Perfect.
    “I keep getting an error message. You’ll have to disable your firewall or at least enable alien connections until the transfer is complete.”
    I never suggested him to do this or even hinted at it; Ransack was improvising on the spot. My respect for the guy skyrocketed as a feeling of camaraderie sprouted. Vance’s grunts and curses were the icing on the cake.

    I slid my prescription card through the reader after carefully maneuvering in Vance’s blind spot. I barged in briskly, swiftly fended off what I hoped was his gun arm with my free hand and stabbed him with the bottle. The painful sensation of the wound was amplified by the lingering alcohol that once housed it, turning the struggle in my favor pretty quickly, especially after he dropped his handgun. I pressed his face against his DJ equipment and dared a look through the dark cubicle window, where the reason for my smooth progress revealed itself. The joint was drenched in chaos, and several probably Rei-approved micro-incidents demanded the bouncers’ attention. The goons were hindered in every passive way possible. What a girl, and what a crowd... The feeling of comradeship only grew.

    Telda and Ordy were cramped in the back of the Interface cubicle, and it required a closer look to see that they both their hands and feet were cuffed and that they were gagged. I gave them an apologetic look.
    “I’ll get you loose as soon as possible.”, I promised. I turned my attention to the agent again, knowing that he was still too dangerous to drop your guard around.
    “You’re not accessing us, Vance.”, I said, realizing that he too, was after that one multifaced commodity. The apprehended DJ suddenly started giggling like a loon.
    “There will be others very much like it, hero. Cyberia is a nothing but a pilot project.”
    “Then it’s a failed project.”, I countered, annoyed with his inabilty to admit defeat.
    “Is it? J.J.’s haven of antipathy is no more, and we’ll learn from our mistakes. Cyberia was a zero-sum at worst.”, he gloated. This aggravated me even more, only this time what irked me was the amount of sense he was making. I hadn’t thought it through before, but my sense of realism forced me to conclude that Cyberia was done for. No more prescriptions, no more tips on how to one-up life from J.J., no more tripping through impossibly spectacular dimensions. It was the end of an era.
    And what, in the long run, did we accomplish? Plucking a single feather won’t rob a bird of its flight. Was our victory really so hollow? Did we besiege a castle of air?
    “Ransack, reboot J.J. Let’s see what he has to say.”, I tried. This decision made Vance giggle even louder, and even more irritatingly. I whacked him on the head with the bottle, knocking him unconscious.
    The lights turned on again, which was a blessing since I was sick and tired of not finding the cuffs’ keyholes and consequently feeling like a moron.
    “Thanks. So is this a regular night at Cyberia?”,Telda sneered.
    “Not quite.”, I replied awkwardly. I got the two of them into a world of trouble and had basically been toying with their lives the whole time. A wry taste vexed my tongue. I got them safe though; I had accomplished that at least. I couldn’t help staring at the bar. J.J.’s projection had re-appeared, talking vividly with the ravers in his immediate presence. I couldn’t begin to guess what they were talking about. Maybe he was trying to explain his sudden disappearance and how he got back, maybe he was telling them the whole truth, or maybe he inconspicuously carried on with his usual duties.
    “Ransack, what’s J.J.’s frequency? We have some things to discuss with him, don’t we?”
    “No can do, Styx. Sorry.”, was Ransack’s surprising retort.

    So that was it then? I had put everyone in danger only for us to stumble at the final hurdle.
    “That’ll do, Styx. You were close but no cigar. My buddy is applying some acute pressure to Ransack as we speak. As for you, I’d like you to remove your PSA. Comply without trying anything funny, or she dies. I’m watching your every move. Take it off and lay it in front of you.”, another familiar voice had commanded. I obeyed while looking for the source of the threat. There it was. In the middle of the still crowded dance floor, Teka was holding Rei at gunpoint. Her PSA had already been ripped off, but even so she tried shouting at me, to no avail.
    “Can you still hear me? Nod if you do.”, Teka continued. I confirmed, seeing as his voice was the only sound making it through the sound-dimming cubicle.
    “Good. I could have easily killed you outright, but I’m a decent guy. Sit tight and remember we’re in control of the situation. You will all take a trip to the neural scanner when this is over.”, he briefed us. Rather than believing he gave a **** about our well-being, I imagined that he still hoped for us to find our way to Cyberia once again, only to be spied on and knead in a shape of their liking by an obedient supercomputer. If only the government could have been so parsimonious when it had mattered...
    My hands were tied. The bouncers were blocking all the exits, basically holding everyone in Cyberia hostage. The ravers were understandably stunned by fear, making our power by numbers meaningless. Ransack was probably being threatened to reprogram J.J. according to plan, or else format him entirely. Telda and Ordy were too scared to even speak, the former being close to hyperventilating. And I, I couldn’t even twitch without arousing suspicion. All had been lost.
  16. Styx That's me inside your head.

    Sep 16, 2008
    (Don't know who I'm still updating this for but what the heck...)


    Cyberia. The place that made the improbable certain. The theme park that housed a plethora of emotional rollercoasters. My love for it, as it turned out, was reciprocated.
    At the exact moment that despair swept all my other sentiment away, an explosion of glass and booze startled friend and foe alike. The shelved bottles behind J.J.’s bar exploded, first one at a time, then several at once. His rage. His revenge. All eyes were turned to the spectacle. Telda and Ordy burst out of the Interface, panicking.
    “What the fuck?!”, I vaguely heard Teka curse through my removed PSA.
    I quickly grabbed the device, shouting:
    “Ransack? What happened?”, but receiving no response. I looked around to see terrified party-goers make a dash for the exits, only to be blocked by security. The sound of a gunshot closeby made my heart stop.

    The entrance keeping bouncers had trouble keeping the flood of ravers in tow before, but after the shot, their priorities had switched from assuming control to not being trampled. Although not quite as heroic as before, the crowd once again turned the tables to our advantage. There was indeed something to be said for the usefulness of the masses, I gave the government that much.
    Rei was in fact very much alive, and from that moment on, armed and dangerous. The same couldn’t be said for Teka, whose brain had been blown to stew courtesy of an anything but panicking Telda. She was trembling like a blade of reed in a gust, but seeing Rei pick up Teka’s gun had given her a second boost of courage. We were on top of the game again. I turned off the music, seeing as no one was in a dancing mood anymore.
  17. Styx That's me inside your head.

    Sep 16, 2008
    Our victory came too late for one man. We discovered Ransack’s body upon ambushing the guy guarding him in the control room. Apparently he thought the shattering glass was a stunt on Marcus’ part and decided to pay him in cash for it. He probably expected his buddies to let him out once they had it under control, seeing as he wasn’t as vigilant as he should have been. We disarmed him and left him in the room, figuring there was time to mourn Ransack later.
    With three guns circulating in our four-man band, rounding up the rest of the dazed and confused gang of government agents proved to be relievingly easy. None among them cared to be the brave but stupid hero and they all reluctantly accepted their fate. We stuffed their lot in the control room, threatening to mow them down if they tried to fidget with J.J.’s mainframe.
    Cyberia had been abandoned. Some of its customers, even regulars, had opted to have their memories wiped of this nightmare, and by extension of all of Cyberia. They had been tranquilized and driven home by peers. I guess brotherhood doesn’t always need to be glorious or flashy in order for it to be in effect. The simple act of helping friends or even strangers deserves as much praise as going on a rebellious crusade, probably even more so.

    “Permission to ask personal questions?”, I addressed him.
    “I owe you that much.”, J.J. laughed.
    “Vance talked about you crossing over to our side. And still you kept this place booming. You kept Vance and Teka in their positions. Why?”
    J.J. chuckled.
    “Cyberia is a beautiful lie to believe in, Styx. You know that as well as I do. Aside from the music, Vance had no power here. I control everything, from the lights to the distillers and the neural scanner. I made the laws; Vance could only wait for a suitable moment to overthrow me, and that’s exactly what he did.”
    “And he did it through us...because he was afraid of you?”
    “You saw what my generators could. They’re omnidirectional, and I have several more installed in the back room. Vance didn’t want to be held responsible for an imploding government official, I guess.”, he joked.
    I had so many questions that I just fired them off one by one, picking one from the pack in a random order.
    “How did Rei warn you? How did you react?”
    “By believing her. She had my undivided attention when she wrote YOU ARE IN DANGER on the tap using her finger. And well, what else could I have done but play along? I told everyone who cared to listen that whoever fished the golden marble out of one of the bouncers’ pockets would receive an exclusive prescription. It was...fairly effective, if I do say so myself.”

    He chuckled again, but I didn’t see the humor in it. I was amazed at how easy my peers were bought. Prescriptions: the most valuable currency in Cyberia. Nothing else mattered to some.
    J.J. saw through my glum expression. If I had not known he was a computer, I never would have figured it out. He knew humans better than we know ourselves.
    “Hey, if I had told them the truth, they would helped us all the same. Vance lost because he refused to believe that you could be the sum of your parts, let alone more, but I never doubted this. I still don’t.”
    “You sure?”, I skeptically asked.
    Always the diplomat, but I guess he was government-created after all. I wasn’t sure he fully convinced me, but it was another beautiful lie to believe in. I stuck with it.
    “Look out!”, he suddenly warned me.
    Glancing over my shoulder, I saw Vance rushing towards me, mad with rage and wielding what was left of the broken whiskey bottle. He was out for my blood, having discarded all sense of logic like an infuriated beast. Before I could play the matador, however, Ordy tackled the berserker and pinned him to the floor. Vance growled with a gurgling wheeze.
    “Want to stuff him with the others?”, he asked me.
    “Not yet.”, I decided, before turning to J.J. again.
    “Do they have their memories marked too?”
    “Vance doesn’t, but all the others do. They wanted to be able to stuff their project under the carpet if needed.”, J.J. explained.
    “Good idea.”, I concluded.

    And thus it was done. We called out the goons one at a time, and under threat of a gunshot, had them walk to the neural scanner where they had their memories wiped and were tranquilized. A slick, incidentless operation, which Vance had been forced to watch under Ordy’s weight.
    “Take this.”, J.J. offered when the last bouncer had been taken away. He pulled out an unlabeled bottle of green liquid from under the tap.
    “What is it?”, I questioned him.
    “A necessary evil.”, he vaguely answered. Recalling that this was Cyberia’s definition in all its forms, to all sides, I took it from him, knowing exactly what role it would play.

    Vance was dragged to the control room, after taking his keys from him. His desperate insults and taunts went ignored; the man was little more than a pathetic lump. I was the last to leave the control room. I left the bottle green fluid on the floor.
    “In case you get thirsty.”, I said as I closed the door behind me. We baricaded it with whatever we could find, after which I had my final talk with J.J.
    “He’ll want to destroy you.”, I predicted, more than a hint of sadness in my voice.
    “And I will let him.”, J.J. resolved. “There is nothing left for me here. Cyberia is no more. I’m sure you will get your thrills elsewhere.”
    “It won’t be the same.”, Rei interjected. “This place was a relief from everything that’s wrong aboveground: a sanctuary.”
    “I’m glad to hear that guys, I really am.”, J.J. smiled. “I will shut myself down knowing that I have accomplished something. I hope you realize the same.”
    “We...find it difficult to see any kind of success in our actions at the moment, but we’ll manage.”, I confessed. Rei nodded to indicate that she felt the same way. J.J.’s smile only widened.
    “Indeed you will. You’ll survive. You’ll evolve. You’ll decide and you will err. Forgive me the sentimentality, but you are human, and you made me transcend my original purpose into something quite like it. You have that kind of power.”, he told us, and with that, his hologram vanished forever.


    “What was in that bottle anyway?”, Rei wondered. We had adjusted our car seats until we were practically laying flat on our backs. We had returned to the abandoned industrial district that concealed Cyberia after bringing Telda and Ordy home (they swore us to respect the omerta, and we believed them, after seeing what we saw of them that day). Only just now did we realize how fitting a location it had been: hidden among the collateral damage of the government’s greed and stupidity.
    “Amanitin.”, I coldly replied, knowing full well that I couldn’t be sure but finding it a good enough guess anyway. Rei didn’t respond, but I knew her mind was overflowing with emotion and insecurity. What’s a person to say in such a situation?
    “You know...”, I began, “I’d never have entered the Interface if it wasn’t for that prescription you gave me.”
    “Well...It wasn’t as much a gift as it was an exchange, was it?”, Rei argued, and for a second I hated her for killing the moment.
    “You don’t understand. It doesn’t need to be a gift in the economical sense of the word. I treat everything you give me as a gift, because I like to be reminded of you wherever I go and whatever I do. I love having you with me.”
    Rei managed a heartwarming smile, the kind that leaves me numb as a corpse yet hot as a stove.
    “If you’re trying to get into my pants, it’s working.”, she joked.
    “I wasn’t, not this time, but good to know.”, I teased her back.
    “You should know already. I’m an open book to you, without any dark secrets. I think we had enough of those. If there was something about me, I’d want you to know. You have access to my every level.”
    That word again...
    “Mind if I ask you a difficult queston then?”
    “Shoot.”, she said boldly.
    “Well, I was thinking... With Cyberia gone, we’re basically down to two options, aren’t we? Either we fall in line, or release our anger in less...scrupulous ways. I was wondering if you had already made that choice.”
    I know I had. Society had disappointed every shackle in the chain gang we never asked to be part of. We had been mesmerized into a Bread and Games scenario, a war of attrition that we were scheduled to lose, and the only thing that had thwarted the decision-making class was the sheer revulsion of the past, of the measures they had taken and continue to take. Vance said he would learn from past mistakes, but that promise wasn’t reflected on the government’s overall conduct. They were still whittling our patience down, stacking a debt they could no longer hope to ever repay, not after abolishing the one potential miracle they had shown me.
    I looked Rei in the eyes and saw that her smile had developed into a grin that would make the devil jealous. I knew she had made a choice, and I knew we had chosen the same.

    The End
  18. Jiku Neon Kingdom Keeper

    Jul 24, 2007
    Moe, Victoria
    I've been holding off on replying for a while because I haven't really been sure what to make of it. But now that I know it's all finished I feel like I should say something here. It was a very enjoyable read, even in installments. I enjoyed rereading it all and pushing through to the end a bi more though. Regardless, I like your characterization and in general the tone and pacing. No errors that I can remember at the moment. Overall, I'm really glad I read this and I know where my best writer nomination is going for next year's user awards. Not a bad day at all.