Aphelion Issue 279, Volume 26
December 2022/January 2023
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by Kyle Hemmings

Okay, okay, so say I'm in this low-key bar, really empty, where they serve sake and various brands of rice wine. And like this guy, the guy I'm sitting next to, turns to me. His face is craggy, his hair, straight, iron-grey mixed with black, his tie loosened, and maybe I spotted him before waltzing out of the massage parlor across 28th and 7th. But maybe not. Maybe that was some other guy.

He tells me his name is Lau and I tell him mine is Oolong, which is not my only name, and we shake hands, like the Americans do. I am half-Japanese and program games for a living and before that I sold air brushed paintings of dragons and little kids, which didn't sell very well at all. That was before my wife left me for a bond salesman, also Japanese like her. And I'd do anything to get back with Chiaki.

And there was a time when I didn't work at all.

Lau and I talk about the weather, about the state of Japanese baseball, about the stocks, about Bush's policy in the Mid-east. A waitress wiggles by, balancing a tray of raw fish, orange bodies of salmon or tuna pressed against rice, and her bouncing curves remind me of a stack of soccer balls. Maybe Chiaki's slim but curvy body that nettled my dreams with warmth. My laptop on the floor leans against my Reebok.

Several times I ask Lau what he does for a living and his eyes roll to me, eyebrows arch like the way you'd imagine them in old paperback novels of furtive private dicks and dangerous dames in trouble. My father, deceased, loved them.

A few minutes elapse; Lau and I stare vacantly at our reflections in the long mirror. I brush back my long black hair and ogle Lau as he sucks down his bottle of Segura.

Then, he turns to me, lips pinched, his cross-eyes reminding me of two sailboats at night, colliding.

His fingers gently stroke my wrist. What if, he says in this funny kind of hushed voice, what if I could chop off the last twenty years of your life and give you a second chance? Fail-proof.

Like come again, I think. My lips part just wide enough to allow the passage of an empty spoon. So I say how does he know the last twenty years of my life were that bad?

"Really?" He focuses his gaze down at the bar and folds his hands.

"Yeah. I mean like you don't know me or anything. What I've been through. Or haven't."

"Oh, a charmed life?" he says with a snicker.

Yeah. A charmed life. Maybe or not.

So, now, now he's telling me that he works for this organization, perfectly legit, government-sanctioned, but secretive because of the sensitive nature of the research involved. It's got an acronym for a name, but he won't tell me what it is. No, he says, laughing, throwing his head to the side, not the Man from U.N.C.L.E, nothing like that. Maybe that was before your time. But maybe, the man from TINT. Or the man from JPEG. Something like that, he says, laughing, but no, no, not the Man from U.N.C.L.E. or TINT OR JPEG. He claims he's a recruiter.

I hear three beeps, silence, and another beep from my laptop. A distress signal.

I grab my laptop from the floor, position it aslant from Lau, flip it open, and ask him if he minds me doing some work. With my kind of job, I inform him, you work all hours. The designing and all.

No, no, go right ahead, he says as he holds his hand in front of me, opening and waving his fingers the way a geisha would a paper fan. His open hand morphs into a loose fist on the bar.

I type my password, download rivers and slipstreams of data and enter the H-matrix. Pilaf, sister of Korgyi, my digi-damon, greets me with wide eyes and downturned lips. In a virtual sense, Pilaf and I are close friends, but I wish it could be so much more. Her child-like beauty often reminds me of Chiaki.

"Oolong," her words flash across the screen, "Help me, I'm swirling in a hypersink. I'm infected with someone's evil digi-thoughts."

My fingers bang out a piano-like staccato over the keyboard while my blood pressure rockets in burst mode.

"Any idea who?"

A stream of transparent tear drops stream down her cheek. Her yellow and pinkish face begins to fade from the screen.

"Someone...who was...digi-destined. The one who created me. He's thinking evil thoughts."

"Who created you? I need to locate the virus in order to save you."

Her mouth opens in a round cave of silent screams.

She vanishes.

I try to hide my hammered heart from Lau. Feel like I've been head butted and kicked in the balls. Just like the night Chiaki walked out on me. Lau is looking at me with an air of smugness, smiling eyes, lips meshing together, chin tilted up.

"It sounds a little too R U Real for me ," I say, referring to his proposition. I almost choke on my words.

"You do not believe me? It is okay if you do not believe me."

He rubs his eyes, then the hand lowers, pinching his nose. The hand falls into his lap.

"You were married once to a Chiaki Tochigi, the lead singer of the band, Violet Vampire Smooch. Her parents from Kyoto. She left you for a Wall St. trader because you couldn't pay the bills. The both of you experimented with drugs. You had an exhibition once in Soho but it was panned. You lived on the streets for a while, in a shelter, later in the St. Paul mental institution. Your love for art saved you. Your mother works part time in a Nisson building in Tokyo, across from the Blue Turtle Hotel. Your father died of lung cancer three years ago. He was fond of Mickey Spillane novels in their translations...Shall I go on?"

My saliva turns to a scatter of stones that will find a way back up my throat.

No, I say, lowering my eyes to the computer screen. I type in the codeword Cathode Tamer ***** and launch a search for Korgyi inhabiting the nan-zones on the outskirts of H-matrix. On the screen, a burst of blue smoke. Then a picture focusing--green and white houses perched behind trimmed hedges and an orange street. Korgyi is riding his bicycle. He turns and waves to me. The bike skids around.

Words scroll across in a bubble over his head, like passing train cars viewed from an alleyway.

"Hey, Oolong. Got your message. What's up."

My fingers race and dab along the keyboard.

"Korgyi, Pilaf has been infected. She just contacted me. Had to be by someone she once knew--digi-destined. She claims it's your creator. Don't know much more. "

His jaw grows slack and his eyes bulge.

"No. no. I don't know who created her. We split by D-mode mitosis after her appearance. No. My own hyper-sister? A rookie seichouki. An attack on her DNA Vir-strands? They broke into her code? I can't think straight."

He reaches into the back pocket of his jeans. He pulls out a cell phone and begins to talk. But the words don't show up. Then, a bubble forms above his head, the words wrapping within.

"Oolong. I must contact Rikuo from Warp-D-Contingency Control. They'll do a five-layer cell scan and sweep. If anything happens to my sister, I swear...I swear...I'll brake-bubble and self-destruct."

He raises two fists in the air, shakes them, and nods his head of Paul McCartney-like bangs side-to-side.

"No," I type in, "I swear on the Blue Infinitum that we'll find and restore her. I already lost my wife. I won't lose a moonlight perfect girl. Not Pilaf."

Remember. She is someone's damon. Talk to you, later, Oo."

I watch as his bicycle morphs into a motorcycle; he turns and waves, a cloud of white billowing smoke trails behind. Korgyi disappears beyond the vanishing point over a long narrow road.

Lau clears his throat and smiles politely. Swiveling his head to me, while munching a peanut, he says that for an initial investment, and it is not a scam, his company will clone me. My O-part, the blueprint, will continue to live the way I once did, the same routine, job, etc., with no interference, except for an occasional headache now and then. My H-part, now a hybrid, will live in a virtual paradise. I will have a list of possible life-style scenarios to choose from: Hedonistic Kama, Goal-Achiever Kama, Mystic-Ascetic Kama, Artist Kama. All the main scenarios have submenus to choose from. I will have electrodes attached to my head, linked to a mega-server, live the life I choose. My body will be fed through intravenous lines. I won't have to move a muscle to live the life I always wanted. Through a radioactive spread of thoughts, both my H and O parts will be nirvanasized.

"What I want..."

"We know what you want. You want your wife back. We can arrange a program to build her virtual presence."

I squint my eyes at him. I can discern a slight twinkle; his dark eyes turning to a shade of gray.

"Why me?" I say. "Why did you choose me? Like I got no money, boss."

"Our company reps do mega-width market scans and your name was placed into our computer bank for possible recruits. As for the money, I believe you recently came into your father's inheritance after some legal disputes. Ssssent by your sister back in Tokyo."

It's the first time I'm noticing he lisps. His face reddens. I turn my eyes to the floor.

I sip barely a mouthful from the glass of wine. Its tart and fruity taste lingers at the back of my tongue. I raise my head to meet his eyes.

"And I'm sure your O-part can meet the schedule of an installment plan. We're easy to deal with it. Not a problem." He lips twitch and he swallows a gulp from the Segura.

Just then, a smoke cloud appears on the computer screen, and that evaporates into white space. In the distance, Korgyi drives towards me on his motorcycle. He stops and takes off his goggles, holds up a hand. A bubble shoots up and expands over his head. Again, the letters and words appear in train-like motion.

"Oolong! Quick. Give me the real time location of where you are at. Hurry. Chop chop, man."

I press in the address of the bar, mistakenly capitalizing some of the words in my flurry. I type in a question.

"Korgyi, any clue to the identity of Pilaf's attacker?"

"Not positive. Rikuo suspects an M-virus from Black Infinitum. Working on it. Just a hunch. Will get back to you. No time, man. My sister is the world to me. She's not some damn ditsy zygote."

He waves and takes off on the cycle, growing smaller. The screen dissolves into blackness.

Lau finishes his bottle and slams it on the bar. You know, he says, (and I imagine his tongue now loosening,) that in this day and age, competition is everything. He wipes his mouth with the back of his hand. Winners and losers, he says, again with a noticeable lisp. But he says, pointing a stiff finger at me, you and I know that so few of us really win. So, our company was designed to help those ....who for whatever reason...have not won. The prerequisite for admission is an agreeable sum of cash, and certain pre-existing conditions. Which...which you have met. He nods his head and licks his lips.

Then, covering his mouth, he belches.

I lower my head, and slowly, I eye the computer screen for further activity.

"You know," Lau says, reaching for my hand. "you know, I was once in the same predicament you're in. I...I lost someone. Then, through our company's project, our company's aggressive and clever management, I was recruited and found her. In a different environment, of course."

And I have to admit the shit he's telling me is sounding promising. I mean what else would bring Chiaki back?

I take another gulp of wine and feel a slight buzz.

"And if the O-original does not pay, what happens?" I say.

He smiles and twists his head. Oh, they all pay, he says. We have never encountered that sort of problem.

In the light, I notice his gray eyes turning to blue. I've never seen a Japanese with blue eyes, unless wearing colored contact lens.

On the screen, a fuzzy picture of Pilaf wavering before me. Her face shortens, elongates, her lips twist and her big fluted eyes swing from side to side. Her words fill a grainy bubble above her. I can barely make it out.

"Oolong, please. Help me. This virus hurts. Hurts so bad. Tearing me... apart!"

"Pilaf!" I shout, without attempting to cover my embarrassment.

Lau' s eye brows raise slightly. "What... Pilaf? ... Did you say Pilaf?"

"No. It's just a program I working on. A design software called Peel Off."

He stares at me curiously.

I swing back to the computer screen. In the background, a playground, wooden horses, monkey bars, and a little man running in crazy circles towards the foreground, his legs and arms pump furiously, and now he's growing bigger, closer. It is Korgyi. He is exhausted, drops to one knee and wipes his forehead. He struggles to stand up.

"Oolong ," he says, standing in his tee-shirt and torn jeans, "we localized the virus. You're not going to believe this."

I study the bubble hovering over his head, but the words come across fuzzy because he is so short of breath.

"Korg," I type, "Please, catch your breath. Your words are blurry."

He places one hand to his belly and shakes his head sideways. I watch him attempt to inhale several deep breaths and then his body jerking in some spasm-like motions. He places a cupped hand to his mouth. Several non-sense characters now flicker within the bubble over his head. They indicate his coughing fit.

"Sorry." The word floats alone in the bubble.

"It's okay," I type, "now, tell me. Tell me, where is the virus."

He struggles to stand erect and still and places two hands on his hips. He looks out at me as if meeting my gaze head-on. I inspect the bubble over him for new data.

"You're sitting next to it. A mollusk virus from Black Infinite. An X-power strand."

A violent surge travels up and down my stomach. Something hot and corrosive.

"How can you be sure?" I type in.

"This type has a lisp, sometimes smoothed-over, barely noticeable, and the eye color changes when its body temperature goes up. Have you observed-- "

He pants, struggling to catch his breath, his shoulders working in forward-backward motions. He stumbles back and his words fade in the bubble over him. New ones replace them.

"An O-original lost his wife, joined some scam outfit, a daughter company of Dark Ultimate, promised to pay them back in return for a vir-replica of his dead wife. He couldn't make the last payment, so, he was infected with a mollusk virus, type Q, a mutant of the X strand. Highly communicable. If his prospects don't join, he infects them with the M-virus by deep channeling with alpha auto-suggestive thoughts. Rikuo suspects the O's evil thoughts dispersed, radiated, infected Pilaf as well."

In the background, I notice a small black ball circling around the playground swings, the monkey bars, the wooden animals. It's zooming larger, zigzagging, making its way to Korgyi.

He turns and notices the flying ball, turns back to me.

"Oolong. Quick, Do what I tell you. Press...Press."

His eyes begin to roll upward and he drops to his knees. The ball grows larger, now only pixels away from Korgyi’s location.

"What, Korg? What do you want me to do?" I type.

"Press." Korgyi's words flashing in the bubble, " Press ENTER. Quick."

With my fingers shaking, I go blank. The keyboard looks fuzzy, the way everything does before you black out.

"Oolong-- Please! Now!"

I draw a deep breath.

I hit ENTER.

A bead of sweat drops on the keyboard, runs down over the SHIFT key.

Korgyi collapses. The ball swerves over his head and explodes. The screen turns into a swirl of bright orange and red hues.

Suddenly, Lau pushes himself away from the bar. He places one palm over his forehead. "Excuse me," he says, "excuse me. But feel so dizzy...so....Pilaf. Yes, Pilaf. She was my creation. The exact features of my wife, so much younger than I."

He staggers back, then, stumbles in the direction of the restroom.

My wine glass bursts on the bar.

Lau stops, turns in my direction, and smiles mysteriously. Then, he vanishes into a cloud of blue smoke before the latrine door.

I swing my head back to the screen. An image of a figure walking towards me, tiny at first, a girl, yeah, a girl, then, her body looms before me, taking up half the size of the screen. It's Pilaf in tight turtleneck, short plaid skirt, white knee socks.

"Pilaf," I type in, "Pilaf, I'm so glad you're alive."

Her smile is broad and dazzling. It could knock the pixels out of the best screen resolutions.

"No, Oolong. It's not Pilaf anymore. It's Chiaki. Your kind deeds have helped me digivolve to another level, beyond MASTER, a level I never understood. We are now true digi-damons and I am transformed by your thoughts of longing. I've never been in love, Oolong. But now. So different. We'll be lovers in D-mode forever. Husband and wife in a bliss of Blue Infinitum.

She begins to disrobe, showing the soft outlines of her curvy orange-blossom flesh, her supple breasts that remind me of dew drops magnified a thousand times over. She spreads her arms to shoulder-level, palms facing me.

"Oolong, I've been waiting for you, so long. Don't you want me?" She walks closer to the edge of the screen, until her face takes up the entire view.

A tap at my shoulder startles me. I turn off the computer. The waitress with the curvy body asks if everything is alright. She turns her head to the broken wine glass on the bar, then, back to me. Yeah, I say, everything’s cool. She smiles stiffly, nods her head and walks away. I’m still a little light-headed.

So. So, I should have told that guy, Lau, to go screw. Instead, I went along. I went along with everything. I was almost good for it, going to buy into it, the whole scam and scoodoodle. I should have told him to go screw. I should have told him that. Pilaf almost lost her life and so did Korgyi. But then, again, in a way I'm glad. I found Chiaki. Now, she's only a couple of screen clicks away.

Tonight, I'll go home and and make D-Mode love to her. For hours. Not even a brown-out will stop us. Not even the sound of the damn rain and thunder outside my window. Not even the cat on the windowsill, my cool black stray who sometimes wonders in from the rain. That black cat with the green luminescent eyes.


© 2007 Kyle Hemmings

Bio: Kyle Hemmings lives somewhere in the wilds of New Jersey. Despite this, his imagination leans more toward "The Matrix" (and maybe "Digimon"?) than "The Sopranos"...

E-mail: Kyle Hemmings

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