0 1 0
1 0 1
0 1 0
1 0 1
0 1 1
0 0 1
Sitting on a block of granite shaped like a sofa, Jake Robertson tapped his fingers on its arm. With her back to him and standing at the edge of the granite shelf, Aya gazed out at the overcast San Francisco Bay. The image of the Bay was piped in from his private webcam on the roof of Websuit International's office building.
She turned around, pulled a few wisps of black hair out of her eyes, and clipped them back into her barrettes. Displayed in the finest detail in his helmet's HUD, her brown eyes caught a reflection of the small whitecaps of the Bay's choppy surface. The weather report had said a thunderstorm was rolling in. Without giving him so much as a glance, she sauntered back into her cave, the tails of the red hair ribbon swaying back and forth like a hangman's noose.
He followed her in like a wet tanuki raccoon dog—because he was one. They walked to the back of the dim cave past the calcium-encrusted stalagmites and stalactites. He snapped his katana in its scabbard into the sword rack right outside her metal office door. After tightening his belt around his wakizashi and taking off his boots, he walked into her office. She waved her hand at the wall and it brightened into a screen displaying the Bay again. She motioned to a brown suede leather recliner in front of her metal desk. He sank down in it. He picked up a steaming café latté in a raku pottery mug from a low table next to the recliner.
She sat down in a straight-backed black office chair behind her desk. The fragment of an intricately carved hand-held mirror crafted into a pendant hung down from her neck. Its subtle blends stood out against the blood red of her kimono and its ivory collar. It was a replica of a bronze mirror like the ones he'd seen on his many trips to the Asian Art Museum—of which he had been a regular donor member for close to a decade. The wide daring sweep of the kimono collar encircled her bare shoulders in an ivory band. Her skin unblemished and tight. His heart rate sped up. He'd given up trying to control it. It was his baser nature he had to live with. Besides, her beauty wasn't really anything to get excited over. Exactly like her entire sim office was custom-built, so her image in The White Imperium was also exactly that, an elaborate photorealistic artifice. Her image was the ideal product of her imagination and wasn't art the idealization of the real? Therefore, if he were able to shuffle off his crass physical self for this digital idealization, wouldn't he himself become art?
Casting her gaze on him, the brown of her eyes shifted to a glossy black reflecting the harsh fluorescents in her sim office. She slipped on her pewter glasses and stared down her nose at him. Under her whithering stare, he sensed her aloofness and unrelenting disappointment in him. About what, he didn't know, but he didn't give a shit.
"If that ever happens again..." Aya said to him.
"What exactly is the problem?" He stirred the café latté with a stainless steel spoon.
"You know exactly what I'm talking about," she said.
"I'm not clairvoyant," he said and swept his sandy brown hair off of his forehead. "You're the one who asked for the status update." Even though she wasn't an official part of the project team, he'd consented, as a mere courtesy. That's right, ever since he'd entered hi-tech, he'd always been the one to call the shots. No one had ever had the drop on Jake Robertson and there was no way in hell he was going to let Aya be the first. After all, it wasn't like she had him by the balls—anyway, they were too big for her, even in real life.
"Oh, that little thing?" He sipped his latté. Dammit! How did she find out? She couldn't have hacked him. He used the latest encryption technologies on all his devices.
She glared at him.
Through his hakama and pants, he pushed his baseball-sized testicles up from between his thighs. During character generation, he'd made sure to specify the smallest size possible for tanuki-ningen, but even sprawled out at their widest angle, his legs still squeezed his balls together. "How'd you know about that, anyways?"
"Need you even ask? Through the other miko."
He clenched his hands and bent the spoon handle. Dammit, I should've known. Aya and all those other little fuckers! God, how I hate them and how the Empress's REST services have control over every registration, authentication and authorization, every login and every log out of every single user in the entire fucking system.
He rubbed his white-gold, embossed class ring. "No one was hurt."
"He was shot! What do you call that?"
"If you call being in a coma, 'fine'."
"Good news travels fast, and bad news even faster." He smirked. They'd probably traced Ken's IP and watched that neighborhood. But still, how did they find out what his condition was? Did they hack the hospital? Or maybe it was as simple as someone staking out his apartment. But the most vexing question of all was why spend so much effort on two people? "Why do you even care about him, or that woman?"
She dismissed his question with a wave of her hand. "What if the un-matured had been hurt?"
Shit, how did she know the kid was there, too? Maybe they hacked the sphere's webcams? I had it all planned out too. It was at Ken's apartment, so his son shouldn't have been there. Man, I have fucking shit for luck. "How was I to know he'd be there? But he wasn't hurt anyways."
"You can thank your lucky stars for that. Don't you understand the word 'dox'? That means getting some dirt on her, not swatting."
"It was just a warning."
"It doesn't matter, if you didn't really care about the inviolable nature of an un-matured's life, then you should've never have signed the contract."
"You're not going to go on your rant about children in Syria, again, are you?" He himself donated to worthy causes like the Red Cross. "Of course I care," he said. I didn't want to hurt anyone. "Stop treating me like a serial killer. Never even shot a gun. It was an accident."
"If the Empress ever finds out..."
He shrugged his shoulders and rolled his eyes. God dammit! I'd be seriously fucked if the Empress denied me access to her REST services. Would she really do it? For whatever reason, the quest was her motivation for integrating with his game. She didn't even want any money or IPO shares. It boggled his mind. After all, what kind of blackhat hacker would forego money? He crossed his arms and tapped his socked foot on the office carpet. "So, what do we do now? I could still dox her."
She turned to gaze at the image of the Bay, glanced sideways at him, and grinned. "No need. The path has been smoothed."
"Smoothed? What's that supposed to mean?" He squinted at her.
"She should've received the requisite equipment by now."
"I have to approve every single—"
She waved his authority away with her hand. "Why so surprised? Everyone has their price."
He gritted his teeth. "So what? She's got the websuit and CVRG, but that doesn't mean she's going to use them."
She spun her chair around to face him. "Could it have escaped your notice?" She raised an eyebrow. "No, it's impossible for you to have missed it with your almost obsessive attention to detail." She glowered at him. "Observe." She subvocalized and the wall monitor faded to an in-game scene.
A tent in a forest clearing. Deciduous trees crowded together in the background. Ken and a woman entered the tent.
Fade out to black. A deafening explosion.
Immediate cut to a shaky video recording running towards the tent, which has now collapsed and its right side burning.
"East side, along the road!" the man taking the video said to three men and a woman. "Capture the Berserker King's shinobi operatives. We need to interrogate them."
"Yes, sir," they said in unison and jogged off-screen.
"This is X-Ray-one-oh-seven," the man said. "Reporting minor assault by BBK shinobi team. We'll be relocating the base within the next twenty-four hours."
A close-up of the collapsed tent. The man's tanto dagger tore a path through the heavy canvas. Then, ahead of the camera, another blade ripped through the canvas and Ken's head popped up out of the opening. "Ray!" Ken said, "grab the first aid kit. Betsy's hurt."
Aya froze the video.
"How did you get that footage?" he said. Not those little fuckers again. "It's against the contract, miko can't go beyond—"
"And they didn't. The Empress's command is always obeyed, on penalty of dispersal."
"Then how in hell—"
"Spies, of course. Even though we're constrained to our respective domains"—she made a wide sweep of the room with her hand—"we entertain frequently. However, barring an in-person meeting, live video feeds are the next best option."
Get a handle on the situation, you shit for brains. He really wasn't any good at this cloak and dagger business. He'd conveniently forgotten about the shinobi of the Broken Mirror; they were like vermin, everywhere and nowhere. Those forces were mix of bots, advanced AIs, and players. Even though the Berserker King and his Uqbarian allies had routed the Empress's army at the Battle of Black Cliffs, the Empress had left behind a core guerrilla group and then grown it into a force worth reckoning.
She pressed a finger to her thin lips. "Now I have a question for you. A very important question. How can he be both in-game and in a coma?"
He couldn't tell her everything about his pet project. Nevertheless, he had to tell her something that sounded somewhat believable. "Oh that?" He couldn't help but smile a little. "It's not really Ken in the game, it's his copy."
- San Francisco Bay Area
- Quantum Katana
Tech writer by day / Dungeon master by night
Be immersed in my TechnoPhantasia stories and strike down charging oni with your blood-splattered digital katana.
Discord: quantum katana#8807 (hanging out on the LitRPG Forum and GameLit Forum servers)