Olga glanced out of the bullet train viewscreen, taking in but not concentrating on the blurred kaleidoscope of greens, ochre and hot spikes. There would be feral cows, sheep and horses since the Global AnLib Act but the ShinkansenLev whizzed along too fast to focus. Although she worried about the Kapai city takeover threat she’d kept from Mokii, her loyalty to his sensitive soul urged protection. Maybe she could avert disaster without him knowing. Would Jorga meet her?
Meanwhile, she would allow her focus to withdraw from the view, ignore the auto-hostess offering refreshments, and enter Kapai city. Her mind smiled at Stefan the gatekeeper, more a figment bouncer. He should recognize her as his creator’s squeeze but he remained in his black suit, starched white shirt and black cravat, arms folded, bald head reflecting the tangerine entry light.
His image leaned forward although she assumed she would have heard him anyway no matter how far away she was. “Password?”
“Come on, Stefan, you know who I am.”
A sharp pain zapped from the back of her brain around to her frontal lobes. Damn. She knew she was going to be made to blackout and be banned from re-entry for hours. Unless… unless she used her pre-emptive a priori status, vicariously Mokii’s login as his mate, other half, better than.
So she didn’t lose consciousness although it was cheating.
“Veni Vidi Vici 2362.”
Such an obvious password, even when incrementing the year every 12 months.
Stefan stood aside, stern face uncracked, and allowed her to enter Kapai. He was larger and tougher than real life, much larger. She’d only enhanced her own virtual image a little, hiding more than revealing.
Oh, Mokii, what have you done with the décor this time? A lilac palatial hall with wide sweeping stairways led upwards in a spiral. A cross between the Titanic interior and a Cinderella nightmare flooded her mind as she drifted inside. Footmen in eighteenth-century finery of blue silk coats and white pantaloons carried silver trays. One approached her in a kind of tenth gravity lope. Did it have a face this time? Yes! Clean shaven, coffee-coloured, a slanted smile. Olga peered at the silver thimbles on the tray. Ruby liquid in some, emerald in others, all simmering with expectation.
She took a ruby elixir knowing it would distance herself even more from reality yet not so much as to hallucinate more than she was. As she gulped the mouthful, the footman winked as if he knew the ingredients had been switched. Too late. She stuck out her tongue at him and drifted off towards the green room to rest.
“Hey, Olga, sweetness,” said Mokii from her left through an iris leading, usually, to the games room.
“I’m not in the mood for anything intellectual, brat. My drink’s been spiked.”
“Not by me, lover.” His smirk belied his words. “The red? It’ll allow you more access.”
She rubbed her forehead, cold and clammy. Had Mokii induced air-con in here? She shivered, turned around… seeking, frowned and said, “Been a while since I’ve been in this pseudo-palace of yours. Where’s the sauna?”
The best aspect of freezing your butt off is stepping into a hotter-than-body temperature room swamping your olfactory senses with sandalwood. Mokii’s grin when she’d asked directions tore her apart, but she had to spurn his amorous expectations. Invent and yet thwart a migraine. She hoped she wasn’t too late. Running through crystal corridors, breathless when rounding helical stairways and topping a semicircular alabaster bridge.
There, below to her left shimmered a blue pool. A couple played inappropriately but to Olga it meant the sauna hid down there too. She found a door so red she expected a pool of blood beneath it, but after changing, she entered and couldn’t see for a hot cloud the colour and aroma of lavender. Alone, she sat on wooden slats. After a long ten minutes, perspiration stung her eyes so she toed the door open letting in a cool breeze to swirl the cloud.
With the breeze came a shape. Formless in the cloud but it had to be a person. Her contact. Olga looked at her own shape, nearly naked but with smaller, less-noticeable breasts than reality so as not to attract attention, and to experience such a boyish form. That’s the thing in Kapai, nothing was what it seemed, or was more than reality in that anyone qualifying to be there could enhance themselves. Experiment. Ah, the form before her clarified.
A shock of red hair; pale, freckled skin; plump boobs with nipples so long you could knit with them. She sat her ample posterior on the cedar-wood slats. Damn. Her contact had disguised her, or his avatar as a replica of the real shape of herself—right down to the barbed arrowhead tattoo on her inside thigh.
Annoyed yet flattered, Olga initiated the conversation. “Oh, hilarious, so I get to talk to myself, do I?”
The lookalike spoke low, hesitantly. “I couldn’t…think of anything more…amusing.”
Olga took in the words and their prosody with more than usual interest, after all this is someone trying to be like her, or even being her. Did it sound like her? Like most people, she had no real idea of what she sounded like. She doesn’t listen to herself, and even if she tried to, it might be like how a mirror doesn’t show the real you. She shifted uncomfortably on the bench.
“You’re not Jorga, are you?”
The apparition laughed like a man. “Whether I am … or not you’ve given yourself away … Olga.”
She cursed herself for her slipup. Jorga would only be in Kapai to take it over, by infiltration, seeking traitors…
Olga peered again at her other self. Edges blurred and before she could run, the shape morphed into her lover, Mokii. From red hair to black spikes, white skin to yellow, lady bumps to skinny male, but was it really him? Of course not, a ruse to confuse and disorientate her. Mokii still knows nothing about this attempted takeover but perhaps this devil didn’t know that.
In spite of the avatars, most cannot resist displaying a token of their real selves. She knew that Jorga loved—well, himself—via his long wheaten hair bending in the wind as if tempting his rivals to harvest it. She spotted a wisp of it through the otherwise black Mokiiness appearance.
She opened with, “You’re not fooling me, Jorga. What do you want?”
While not reverting completely to the mob-leader’s true appearance, he allowed his hair to be flowing although Olga had to struggle to inhibit a snigger at the golden sheaf of wheat.
“It was you who summoned me, Olga. Are you offering yourself?”
The conceit of the man, although it was a common enough gambit for feisty women and elaborate men to employ. “I’m offering to leave you and your pathetic attempt at a mind-city alone if you leave, don’t return and take your bombs with you.”
His image faked a gaped mouth horror. “Why would I want Kapai? … Granted the pleasure dome is the best … I’ve experienced but there’s nothing else.”
“So you’re not the Jorga who’s signed up in the memory-enhancing suite, who’s left micro-neuro traces in the e-library, as if they’re bookmarks but in reality would have disintegrated the entire collection if opened without your key? Course you are.”
His green eyes flitted then his pupils shrank to dots. She wished their mind city extended to telepathic reading of dangerous individuals. Maybe it would happen—Mokii was working on it, but she had to guess and face read instead.
“Jorga, there’s nothing you, nor your minions, can do in here without being monitored. Further, you might like to know that the mind-altering synapse surprises you planted have not only been disabled while in Kapai, but repositioned. Guess where?”
“You wouldn’t dare. There’s no evidence you’ve been through the gateway to Jorcity.”
“You always underestimate your rivals. Do we have an agreement?”
He wagged a delicately purpled fingernail at her. “Not yet … missy. You forget my main business … extortion. I know that your darling Mokii has been making a fortune, not just from entrance fees to this overpriced mind-spa, but via product placement advertising. Look … there goes one now.”
He pointed at a floating billboard, weaving its silent way through the room. Ostensibly, its subtle aquamarine colours and associated sea-fresh aromas being triggered in their olfactory thalamus cortex, told them of a multi-d film show tonight in the Kapai cinema. Attire, freaky, fee two credits, includes refreshments courtesy of Cortical Cola plc.
She did and thought through an appropriate answer while musing that Jorga probably missed the biggest income generator there. She smiled as Jorga ducked as if the flexi-billboard would actually hit or hurt him as it twisted over his head and squeezed flat to slide under the door-that-isn’t-really-there.
The imagined advertising vision triggered synapses in the witness’s brains, subliminally changing them. Experimentally now, and benign although Olga worried about it. The notion that ideas, which were always only neuron-web connections, could change personality was obvious and yet hardly thought about. Mokii thought about it a lot, and was being funded by India’s space programme. Perhaps they were going to send avatars to Mars.
“You’re a snarky gem, Olga,” Jorga snarled, “but you don’t know everything, even about these palaces of the mind.” He ran, in the opposite direction from the flying ad-banner and slammed the door behind.
Olga laughed out loud. She wondered if her actual body was laughing too, in the train. Fancy running like that, as if she couldn’t follow or find out where he was pretty much instantly. True, now his avatar was out of sight, she couldn’t be absolutely sure which direction he took but there’d be e-mote traces picked up by virtual sensors. She thought-called Stefan, who was more than a bouncer.
“Stefan, we might have a problem. Just leaving me in this vestibule is Jorga, CEO of Jorcity. He had too much hair, looking like a haystack although he could have morphed.”
Stefan ummed. “I’d have tagged him on arrival, like everyone. Any idea what he looked like then?”
“The bastard looked like me. Did you tag me, then?”
“Well, no—you’re management.”
“Great. He could be activating micro devices. Max alert.”
“Do you really mean that? Clear the complex?”
Damn. She knew that was easy for Stefan to do, after all there were no bricks and mortar buildings to close, or sirens to wail. Just think a switch and it would go, but everyone who had a presence would suffer a nasty headache. They might not return.
“Right, I’ll track your entry image—both of them. Hang on. No, that won’t work. Oh, hello Mokii.”
For the first time Olga saw her man without a smile. “Mokii, have you picked up my thought-alarm?”
Mokii shook his black spikes, not to say no but to clear his head. “I’m sending a ‘please leave immediately’ message but too many of our guests are too busy to notice. I’ll do a scramble. A moment, there. Olga, why didn’t you tell me about Jorga?”
“Oh, you’re never much good with bad people. I wanted to show you how I could handle him alone.”
Mokii smiled. “I reckoned the same thing, once I realised you and him weren’t having an affair.”
“Ah, my scrambling about to work.”
To Olga, the image of Mokii blurred as did the huge LCD aquarium behind him that looked so real yet was not only virtual like a prize-winning animated wallpaper background but as in everything here is virtual too—a kind of double-take-nothing’s-real. Her sense of balance went one way while her body fell the other. She grabbed Stefan, after all he’s a mountain but he suffered an earthquake too.
“W-what a-are you d-doing,” she stuttered.
Everything cleared. Stefan was upright, Mokii in focus, and the fish looked at each other as if saying, “What the fuck was that?”
“That should’ve been enough to disengage whatever Jorga was up to. A kind of anti-virus landmine, or chaos-mine.
“Olga, you knew I was listening, yeah?”
Olga didn’t like to say that was the plan. She turned to Stefan. “People will start leaving. I imagine Jorga will depart on the double.”
Stefan held a finger to his ear sensor. “He’s already left and in the image of me, the sewer rat, but at least we have an enceph-siggie for him so he can’t re-enter.” His smile broadened at the security success before he faded to his bouncer duties on the portal.
Olga and Mokii drifted to a bar-lounge, where they accepted pleasing mind tweaks, much as alcohol did.
Mokii’s smile upturned. “Jorga’s subordinates could enter, but perhaps I can message him. Threaten him with the use of chaos-mines in Jorcity if he tries to take over again.”
“Okay,” Olga said, “but in case Jorga or someone tries again we should concoct a safe-room, or have you already created one?”
His smile, with brilliant teeth, was so disarming. “Maybe I have.”
“There’s a cellar in Kapai? Does it link to the real world? I like Nakamaguru and the English shops in Hiroo. One of those?”
Mokii tapped his nose as he resumed his smile.
“All right,” Olga said, “it’s about time you and I enjoyed ourselves corporeally. Let’s close Kapai while your bots enhance security. I know a riverside restaurant and you still haven’t tried my sensory-bed.”
“Sounds wonderful, but I’ve work to do in here.”
“Three years, Mokii, and we’ve only met in here. Grief, we’ve only made love in your e-bedroom!”
“Not three, surely. Anyway, if we close Kapai, the sponsors will withdraw their millions and—”
“All right, maybe next week. Hang on, you agreed we would have a holiday after the last crisis.”
His smile was disarming. “We took a vacation to Kerala, remember?”
“Yes, but that was in here. Anyone would think you can’t leave.”
He didn’t reply.
“No. Mokii, are you stuck in here? Spent so long your brain connections are too entangled?”
“Not quite. I’m sorry, Olga. I love being your man while in here, but I don’t actually exist anywhere else. Why don’t you join me in here, permanently?”
She couldn’t speak. Her mind swirled with the chaos of Mokii’s existence. Everyone else in Kapai possessed a physical entity on the outside even if it was in Moscow, Alice Springs or London. Even Stefan came from the mind of a thirteen-year-old girl in Ottawa. Mokii was talking but she wasn’t listening. She thought through those scenarios when they discussed having children. He must have meant virtually. A phantom pregnancy in the literal sense. No pain yet a lot of gain. Was it gain that’s real though? Where does reality end and unreality begin when Mokii thought he was only real in a virtual world?
“I need to sleep on this, Mokii.”
“Take as long as you like.”
It might take her longer, or quicker, than either of them would like. Although in Mokii she had a man who was kinder, romantic and more thoughtful than any other she’d met, there would be much of a coupled life she’d miss out on. Such as children and having a physical, corporal experience with him. Yet, they’ve made love, but then even in a physical reality that pleasure is mostly in the mind and the same neurotransmitters with dopamine were released. A kind of non-baryonic state where only one of them had a normal existence. Weird, yet interesting.
“I’m not sure, Mokii. Does existing only in my, and other Kapai inhabitants’ consciousnesses, mean you live longer?”
It looked as if Mokii took a sip of absinth. “At least as long as someone comes in here. Disease-free too, unless as an inchoate, I am afflicted by mental problems. Anyway, you should know.”
Olga, half-listening to syncopated jazz looked at his brown eyes. “Why, what do you mean?”
“What do your parents think of me?”
“I’ve not really discussed you with them.” True, but it was because they’d want to meet him, and they couldn’t. She didn’t want them in Kapai, assuming they’d agree to such abstract tourism. Conversely, she didn’t’ want to take him home. Her dad was so protective though her mother, a lateral-thinking libertine, was an older version of herself. Olga shook her head. A family meeting was not happening yet.
“I see. It doesn’t matter. You know I can create a suite for them here. Just a moment. I’m blacking out. Back soon.”
“Mokii, you’re fading.” She blinked and saw orange script telling her the train was approaching Tokyo station from which a short Metro ride would deliver her to the Juntendo Health Institute.
She stood outside the swing door. She toed the door so it moved a little but she waited, not permitted to enter until the doctor gave her the nod. He was in there, with Mokii, testing, probing, monitoring. The Mokii in Kapai was wrong to say he didn’t have a body because it was in there, that ward. When is a body not a person?
The door nudged her foot back making her step out of the way for the bald neurologist to leave. He said nothing to her although his slanted smile and tired eyes spoke of no change. Four weeks since the fall.
Mokii didn’t wear his smile in bed. Tubes, leads and a clinical air gave the comatose twenty-year old a null-emotional face. Olga found it difficult to relate the energetic, clever avatar in Kapai with this alive but inanimate being, so her emotions writhed, her stomach knotted. The door opened behind her letting in the tall, slim figure of her superior.
His deep voice resonated around the small ward. “Sergeant, we’re not making any progress by using you in Kapai. I’m afraid we’re going down the traditional interrogation route and bring him out of the coma.”
Olga looked him in the eye. “Inspector Jorga, I nearly got the location out of him today. My guess is that his prisoner is still alive.”
“We don’t want to take the risk. His hostage might die before we can rescue her.”
“Inspector, the avatar of Mokii believes his corporate body doesn’t exist. Waking him up could kill him and we’d be no nearer to resolution. Let me have one more day.”
“All right, but I’m not going back into Kapai. I’m going to have nightmares for years.”
Olga relaxed in a chair, left alone with Mokii. She meant it when she told him in Kapai that she loved him, but he was a criminal in his other life, an abductor of his rival gang leaders.
Tired, she tried once again to find him in Kapai. She gave Stefan the right password and drifted up to Mokii’s private suite. Changed décor overnight. Emperor purple and creams, lavender assaulted her olfactory senses as real as it gets.
“Hey, Olga, you mixing with the wrong sort?” Mokii’s voice drifted across from behind diamond-beaded curtains.
Did he know she was with the police, or was this the beginning of contrition?
“Well, I hang out with you, Mokii.”
“I didn’t think this could happen in here, Olga, but I’m weary. That fall off the car park in the real world might have damaged my synapses in this one.”
She sauntered over to the curtain and parted it, slowly, with her hand. An improbable grey-blue mist met her. “Where’s this, Mokii?”
“You asked for a safe room.”
She entered, shivered and smelt the sea. “Ah, my feet are slip-sliding in the sand. Your neighbour’s boathouse at Zushi?”
“I want you to have Kapai.”
She forced her mind to return to the armchair in the ward, only to hear the G-sharp monotone on his monitor, followed by it being drowned out by running feet and competent but urgent voices.
Olga was pushed out of the swinging doors. She saw Jorga and nodded, not with a smile. She’d achieved a result for him, but perhaps for herself she’d go back to Kapai and rejoin the chaos of Mokii.
Geoff Nelder is a bad-ass editor who used to teach. He’s an award-winning published novelist and veteran short story teller recently published in The Wifiles, The Horror Zine, Jupiter and many more.