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false kotatsu


© 2018 medical dragon


all rights reserved. no part of this book may be reproduced in any form or by any electronic or mechanical means, including information storage and retrieval systems, and are you actually reading this? god I could go for an actual meal right now without permission in writing from the publisher, except by a reviewer who may quote brief passages in a review.


season 1


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ED

OP



the truth is simple, oftentimes very simple. you wake up, eat breakfast, brush your teeth, go to work, exchange words, make money, go home. these things are all true. when you get home you crack open a beer or a fruit juice or tap water depending on your means and inclinations then sit down to whatever new arrangement of moving pixels you haven’t seen yet is suggested by your favorite single-letter app. and here is where it gets tricky. yes it’s true that you are chin-deep in blanket, laying on your ass watching fictional beings wake up, eat breakfast, go to work, etc, but after a period of time (sometimes never depending on your capacity for suspension of disbelief) you begin to accomplish the experience of untruth. you, all of a sudden, are a shy but plucky fashion intern, climbing her way through a gauntlet of corporate lisps. or maybe you’re a handsomely gifted surgeon, performing craniotomies on conjoined infant twins amidst a torrent of faculty love affairs. or, maybe, you’re an unremarkable japanese teenager who- despite having no personality or admirable traits to speak of- one day encounters an interdimensional being with a magical device whose antics ends up embroiling him in a quest to save his world from assured destruction, all with the assistance of a harem of magical girls.
such was my untruth as I coiled within the mound of blankets piled before an overheating laptop. that first part wasn’t entirely inaccurate though.

1


things were about to get real. ryunosuke sohei was finally, finally about to discover the secret behind of his father’s past- the revelation of its prior discovery, of course, having been cut off during the latter’s death in season 1 ep 13 (the shadow world syndicate battle arc) of the reboot of the reboot. ryu-kun had only just began an impassioned speech concerning the triumph of certain moral virtues and the acquisition of energy from amiable human relationships when an obnoxious buzzing screeched through my apartment. at first I hardly recognized the noise, having received approximately zero (0) visitors in the two years since my grandfather agreed to fund the lease, and it wasn’t until the third or fourth ring that I took it upon myself to hit the spacebar, hoist my shell of blankets, and hermit crab over to the buzzer, where I pressed the dirty grey button.

“hello?”

*click* hello? is anyone there? even through the grit of the intercom the voice came through soft and girlish. I was told to come here, I need your help. not without apprehension I unlocked the door and pressed the button to let in what I assumed was a her into the downstairs lobby. seconds later my guess was confirmed when the door creaked open to reveal what looked like a 17 year old girl in a private school uniform, out of breath and holding beneath her arm an antique wooden box carved in mysterious runes. I pushed aside a pile of empty ramen cups to make room for her on the floor. after politely nodding away my offer of blanket shell she caught her breath and began to talk. her voice, soft and dainty through the intercom, was even softer and daintier in the messy apartment. speaking with breakneck speed she revealed she was a student of my grandfather’s, who had recently gone missing, and whose only instructions (he said in the case of such an event) had been to seek me out and deliver said box as soon as possible. the box, which hadn’t left her arms since she arrived, was placed before me. she gestured with uncertainty towards it. my grandfather? I thought, who I hadn’t spoken to in two years? many were the mysteries surrounding my grandfather’s rumored research into interdimensional travel, his supposed descent into madness, and his subsequent exile to a certain pacific archipelago years ago. what could the old man have been working on? what could he possibly want with me now? and what did he leave with his- if not legally underage I would describe as- blindingly gorgeous pupil? I reached towards the box, which appeared to be giving off a faint aura. I felt a strange pressure begin to rise in my heart as I reached out, and not just because of- if not in total respect of the laws meant to prevent legally-designated minors from the solicitations of individuals with intentions in contrast to my own, pure ones, I would describe as- sexy piece of ass before me. where I opened the carved lid there sat a rectangular glass object the size of a phone, simultaneously ancient and futuristic, carved with the same mysterious ruins marking the outside of the box. therein she began to inform me of the interdimensional travel agency established by my grandfather and the subsequent hostile threats he had incurred after rejecting the buyout offer of a multidimensional conglomerate intent on monopolizing earth’s higher dimensional hospitality industry. we sat quietly for a moment while I took it all in. my laptop made overheating noises in the corner.

“is this a joke?” but no sooner had the words left my mouth than an object flew through my window (shattering it in the process), and rolled across the floor, bumping into the wall across from us. we both stared at it. then each other. then with a hiss it began filling the room with smoke, causing us to jump to our feet. between coughs the girl managed to shout out something about ‘being found’ and, without hesitation, I cast off the blankets encasing my incredibly muscular frame (10% body fat) and took her in my arms princess style, kicking out the remaining glass in the window and carrying her down the fire escape, avoiding the barrage of shrieking red lasers shot by shadowy beings in what I quickly identified as infrared adaptive camo. when we finally made it to safety- after darting through multiple back alleyways and cutting through the kitchen of a chinese restaurant and into an abandoned arcade- I realized she was still in my arms.

blushing and with a voice even softer and daintier than before she said, “I think you can put me down now”. after finally exchanging names I discovered she was none other than one of the nation’s most popular idol singers, salamander genesis. she was looking at the floor when she spoke her next words. “since your apartment’s been found out, maybe we should go to mine though I’ve never had a boy over before” and with that suggestion we made our way to her downtown high rise apartment where she lived alone and where we discussed in detail how we would go about finding my grandfather and unlocking the secrets of the mysterious device and how she felt no one understood because she was so famous and beautiful but for some reason it wasn’t like that with me and


*click* hello? is anyone there? the voice was ethnic and manly. I have shawarma for delivery boss. I hadn’t ordered any shawarma, and it’s not like I would be able to afford to anytime soon. but I was reminded that I would be running low on instant noodles soon, so after unsuccessfully seeing if shawarma guy would consider the delivery a write-off, I donned three sweaters, downloaded a podcast, and struck out into the blistery december evening.


“aergia unlimited: machine sorcerer guardian ryu, often shortened to aergia unlimited or msg, is a long-running manga series illustrated by itao yanagihara and serialized in a popular boys magazine overseas that is often enjoyed standing in convenience stores. the series follows the story of a seemingly unremarkable junior high student named ryu who runs into the alien princess of species that has secretly been observing humanity from spaceships within earth’s outer orbit. since its debut in 1995, the series has gained a considerable following, spawning several films, a tv series, spin offs, a mildly successful takoyaki franchise, and a slew of related merchandise. despite its immense popularity both nationally and globally- and after a major hiatus- it was announced that the current arc would be its last, and that both the anime and manga series would conclude on an unspecified date this upcoming season. here to talk with us today is cultural critic and internet icon kawaii melvin reviews with what he thinks is the probable conclusion...”


2


shrimp flavor was on sale, I lucked out. once safely back in the apartment I had cranked the heat on the radiator and boiled some noodles. slurping noises were made as I slipped under the false kotatsu and, eventually, into a toasty, msg-induced coma.


the truth is I sleep on the floor as if some adherence to asceticism will grant me gifts and abilities or at the very least a mentality of mental/physical fortitude that will serve as a foundation for future propulsion unto heights of success as defined in regular human terms. by regular human terms I mean producing things like money and social bonds in copious amounts, and achieving things like healthy mental stimulation and my own self worth, also in copious amounts. ok, so I know that’s not likely. the truth is I’m mildly paranoid that the moving company losing my bed frame wasn’t an accident; that my subsequent bank-account related reluctance to purchase a new one was fully predicted by whatever deity oversees these kinds of things; and that certain events were set in motion thereafter in an effort to undermine and prevent the achievement of my maximum worldly potential. minimal worldly potential even. but who was pulling the strings on all of this? it couldn’t have been me, it couldn’t have. no, by way of my relegation to a level of social productivity occupied by the average marine invertebrate, my continued exclusion from society must somehow have ensured the maintenance of some global constant of karma that- left unchecked- would likely result in someone more worthy than me failing to attain happiness, someone undeserving of the punishment of, for example, subsisting on a diet of flavored noodles and tap water for what is now approaching two years.


when I woke up, somewhere between I have no idea and diagnosable malnutrition, it was light out. at that time of year daylight assured you it was anywhere between 9am and 5pm. even the sun could hold a regular schedule. though it provided not even the illusion of heat, and my readjustment to a cold apartment distracted me from noticing what I eventually discovered was a buzzing from the square of floor past my head. I groped vaguely until I felt an icy glass slate in my palm. 3 apps updated. nice. and beneath that google alerts: armando reyes. holding the phone above my face I tapped at the rectangle until a news site loaded, former internet icon still missing amidst outstanding narcotics charges, purported lifestyle still more desirable than jobless loser who has instant noodles two meals a day. last part my addition. as part of me still wondered why, over a year later, I still subscribed to his email alerts, despite them never containing anything unheard of, another rectangle blipped into the top of the screen new thread post: yo did you read my latest blog post, followed by new thread post: it’s a good one, followed by new thread post: also check out this fanart megumiswimsuit0018.jpeg, followed by- almost supernaturally- dave m: dude come thru quick. urgent’e. as part of me wondered why I still had a phone at all, I grabbed a pair of pants, locked the the door behind me, and put on the pants (yes in that order). the elevator hadn’t been repaired since the day I moved in. I braced myself against the cold air of the emergency stairs and descended two flights to the basement, room 014, the only room on that floor, and the room dave lived in.


the basement hallway was perpetually unlit in defiance of landlord roberto’s sworn enemy, fire code compliance. a crack of pale blue light bled from the entrance to room 014, the door left slightly ajar by a dave who- not having to worry about any other occupants on his floor- often left his apartment very unlocked. this despite his self-proclaimed distrust of anyone belonging to ‘the outside world’, and the constant email reminders of uncle roberto. his uncle, not mine. just so that's clear. just so it's clear how dave manages to afford a 3 bedroom apartment working on average zero (0) hours a week making memes in photoshop that generate him on average zero (0) dollars in income. the apartment in question was highly unlike my own (this not even assuming he had hot water) and opened into a living room type space with a single hallway disappearing into the left wall towards what presumably were the three bedrooms, a bathroom, and a kitchen. the main living room area in which we always ‘hung out’ was sparsely furnished, the only light in the room coming from his computer monitors and the blue glow of a fridge-sized aquarium full of jellyfish pushed against the wall. this though, was enough, and gave the room a sort of manchild bond villain lair type of feel. the rest of the fixtures consisted of a simple black desk with the aforementioned triple monitor setup (complete with ergonomic black office chair), and two grey, cubic couches, facing each other in the centre of the room. sitting in one was dave, and in the other a guy I had never seen before, talking animatedly. dave noticed me walk in and gave a brief wave, indicated it would only be a bit, and that in the meantime I could ‘feed the jellies’, couldn’t I? I walked between them over to the tank and picked up one of the vacuum sealed packets littering the floor, looked over its silver packaging in the blue light.


“...see dave, the important thing in generating user retention is to create a stable framework of compulsivity, capitalizing mainly on impatience. through things like daily login rewards, time-delayed objectives, and lottery-based resource allocation, you can essentially condition the player to repeatedly return and interact with the game on the level of a compulsive gambler. add to this certain social features and incentives, and the collective appeal of the game skyrockets. what’s crazy though is you can see these mechanics functioning, albeit in slightly modified form, in almost every form of entertainment out there- film, literature, whatever. the engagement and enjoyment of art consists of a continuum on which all these storytelling forms lie, mobile gaming included. each provides a constant inflow of dopamine-producing narrative triggers- things like suspense, foreshadowing, fanservice- and as a developer of mobile games, aren’t I as much of an artist as pink-haired rembrandt painting her way through art school? or the filmmaker, or the-”

“meme creator.”

“sure. and let’s consider this then- that in all of these mediums there are countless examples of self-reflective media, meta-narratives that turn in on themselves and question their underlying structure and conventions. though admittedly it’s a highly overdone when it comes to modern day storytelling, mobile gaming as an art form has yet to accomplish this, which is why I’ve devoted everything I’ve had to it these past two years- a mobile game about mobile games. you see what I’m getting at? but dave, man, let me tell you- the creative process is so incredibly complicative. how do I choose what to include, how to to include it, how to go about generating the thoughts, the ideas that- when tessellated, will combine to create the ultimate aesthetic representation of me, my passion.”

“which is mobile games.”

“which is mobile games. and that lends itself to my anxiety about it the process. I worry about the fleetingness of all these thoughts. I worry about what a single fragment of consciousness might mean when ensconced in some gamified layering vaguely narratological. and I worry that this potential meaning might be an important one, important enough that if I don’t snatch it before it withers out of memory, I’ll miss out on something whose impact when immortalized in software might guarantee me some equivalent fragment of success, self-worth. and so I’m catching all these fragments in bits and pieces and copy-pasting them best I can, in the language of whatever content I happen to have been consuming during that period of time, and then hope that somehow my reworking of them will accumulate into experience or skill or at least some sort of stem that can be materialized into something, well, material.

what I realize from this though is that my ambition doesn’t rise from anything I’d consider sincere, say like a need for personal growth, or a desire to make nice things for other people. the satisfaction that comes from sharpening a technical skill is a motivator, sure, but when I try to ascertain the authenticity of my drive beyond this, I can’t explain it. which I don’t really view as much as a problem as I do a fact. because truth is, authenticity hasn’t until this point ever been much of a concern for me, in part due to the idea that a preoccupation- in my opinion- that authenticity depletes energy and focus better spent on other things (like conversations with my dealer), but also due to the reason that most things aren’t really much of a concern for me to begin with- which may seem contradictory to what I’ve been saying but... I just want to make mobile games man, and the fact that I can’t articulate why that is just bums me out. but hey, maybe there’s something in that. yeah something totalizing and complete in the idea of disappointment and uncertainty that can be explored through narrative, yeah. I should get going though.”


he grabbed a backpack from beside him on the couch, stood up, gave an acknowledging head nod in my direction, pushed on his shoes, and left through the open door.


“lucky.” dave said from the couch, gesturing for me to join him in the now unoccupied seat.

“sorry?” I sat down.

“he makes games. for your phone and stuff.”

“oh his name is lucky.”

“no I meant your timing”

“oh”


the tank bubbled in the darkened room, the jellyfish blobbed. I shifted in my seat.


“were you selling drugs to that guy?”

“by the way I’m glad you responded so quickly, I was worried you wouldn’t come I-”

“don’t I always come? and I know it’s not urgent, you don’t have to say it’s urgent.”

“matt, I was in the middle of editing this picture of a fetus when I got to thinking… here have a snack” he threw me a silver packet lying next to him on the couch.

“I thought this was jellyfish food?”

“are we really so different? now consider this…”


3


[1.25 hours later?]

“...and it follows, matt, that anime is socially stunting, on the scale of the individual that is. let’s use pop culture as an example. geared towards the masses, the particular media of pop culture function as signifiers pointing in the direction of expected behaviour. we have sitcoms about suburban families with arguing parents, annoying little brothers, vain older sisters; our top 40 charts are stacked with choruses about falling in love and having a good time- in words pretty much identical to those; our movies feature main characters who are morally righteous, or at the very least become so by the end credits. point is, popular culture not only reflects the values of its creative and consumptive population, but guides them in a way that fits into its own history and defines the collective terms by which we determine present and future acceptable behaviour. taboos are vilified, collectivity praised, and sarcasm and irony are employed in ways that make clear the target of its undermining and why it is ok to do so. so what am I saying here? popular culture is popular, and it is so because it reflects and builds upon the culture that demands it. hence why popular culture and apparent normalcy go hand in hand. but what happens when one denies popular culture, say, in favor of a medium that has its origins in a certain pacific archipelago? even today that medium is vastly removed from contemporary north american culture. granted, its consumption is always rising- but even still, despite its relative acceptance in in its homeland, there it still maintains its niche subculture status. so we have this population of fans in north america (and of course other parts of the world, but for now we’re our focus) whose primary- and in many cases, only- entertainment diet is composed of narratives whose values originate both culturally distanced from and outside of the conversation of our present society’s values. add to this the accompanying (even if minor) disambiguation in meaning that comes with translation and localization, and you find the degree to which it acts as a foreign body in the north american immune system. and not even one created as intentional reaction to or abstention from common values, like the punk movement or furryism.”

“that’s a word now?”

“our view of the world is influenced heavily through the entertainment we watch, this is an undeniable fact. of course you and me and most people aren’t idiots. we don’t really think there are magical high schoolers with J cup titties or interdimensional aliens and stuff, but we reflect and recreate the patterns we see in the media we watch through our everyday lives, and to an extent we even prefer their originators over it. life I mean. how else do I rationalize being a miserable, balding, hikkikomori asshole? because I have an alternative to my own reality, virtual indulgences in the form of glassy-eyed, panty-flashing animated drawings doing things I can never dream of, like being the vampire robot wizard lawyer or having meaningful friendships. where was I going with this?

“socially stunting.”

“socially stunting, yeah. so you have these people like us who have tapped into the escapist reality capitalized on by the other side of the world, and what follows is that the forms of humor and morals and relationships a part thereof are saturating our worldviews to the point where we can’t relate to people in our own society anymore, where we fail to have in common values and desires shared by the majority of people in our everyday lives. does that make sense?”

“so we’re both self-marginalized losers, ok.”

“but is it such a bad trade-off? because the people who gravitate towards this sort of escapism, or fantasy novels, or model train building, or bingo for that matter, can claim to find something that takes the edge off of reality. and the ubiquity of these reality softeners is a real gift. think about even 100 years earlier. yeah there were books and paintings and letter writing and all that stuff, but out of all the people of that time don’t you think a lot could’ve had relatively more enjoyable lives given the incredible variety of media and information we get to choose from today? add to that that the people who had access to the arts and entertainment at the time were comparably fewer than those today, and even if we do agree that the majority of the stories coming from this medium are somehow detrimental to the average human being’s functionality in modern society, the difference must certainly be negligible when considering how much better this sort of entertainment-centric existence is than life was for the average human being 100 years ago. and that’s not even considering the advent of comfort technology like flavored toothpicks and self-cooling pillows.”

“or brand name instant ramen.”

“exactly. all this, I believe to be true, despite the fact that I consider myself one of these maladjusted types. but what I’ve since discovered is that the quality of mankind that has thus brought us to this point in history is not one of apparent indulgence, but one of continued desire for improvement, for advancement, for the breaking of boundaries and creation of new realities. though that begs the question, what comes next after all this? after aergia unlimited and magical swimsuit academy and roboshota complex and and… what happens when it’s not enough?”

“is that what you called me down for? well if you ask me I think there’s a lot to-”

“oh, no no, not that. I got a package today, here’s 20 dollars.”


4


twice in one month was above average for me as far as leaving the building goes. I was nowhere on the level of hikki dave though. whereas my own agoraphobia was grounded mainly in fear of exerting even the most minimal of efforts, dave’s declared a phenomenal, borderline schizophrenic distrust in statistics. by his reasoning, in never leaving his apartment he had eliminated nearly every chance- however freak it was- of accidental death arising from real world participation. traffic accidents, lightning strikes, botched muggings- dave had traded these possibilities in and consolidated his potential for premature worldly departure in the combined 0.00000312% of research-confirmed domestic-based fatality (though what research he wouldn’t say). which maybe had something to with why he never had packages delivered directly to his apartment. I couldn’t fault his reasoning though. mostly because he paid me to do stuff like this. it was the small sum accumulated from these sorts of errands that allowed me- however briefly- the regular luxuries I was denying myself in refusing to find a job. so it was that the weeks following successful errands for dave would be enjoyed in the rare company of things like shampoo and brand name noodles.


I was thinking pretty carefully about how to budget this $20, never knowing when the next package would come, so carefully in fact that I failed to notice the blue-vested trio with clipboards bottlenecking the sidewalk directly outside the post office. by the time I realized (read: began to consider evasive maneuvers) the most apparently chipper and probably female of the three locked eyes on my trajectory and moved to block me before I could pretend I couldn’t speak english or something.

“hi do you have a minute?”, she said. it wasn’t too late, but against my better judgement I mumbled something about time and it not being in great quantity, and did walmart let you off early, and anyways bye, which she apparently chose not to hear, because she followed up with “do you know who doesn’t have a minute?” (emphasis on doesn’t) “children. poor ones! poor, minuteless children. relative to the not poor ones of course.”

I wasn’t interested in buying anything right then, I told her. or signing any petition. or joining a cult. “actually, I’m pretty much a part of one already. so uhh, excuse me.” I made to move past but she reactively blocked my path as she continued her pitch from atop the curb.

“not a cult, silly. we’re collecting funds for the better education bureau, which, as you may already know, is a not not for profit organization organized by billionaire organizer franz chu.”

“uh huh”, I said, shifting to the side, looking for a gap in her defense.

without missing a beat she mirrored my movements, effectively blocking my every attempted juke. “did you know that 9 in 10 children below the age of 12 can’t afford a virtual reality set up?”

“well legal working age is 16 so yeah I-”, juke

block “and that of those 9 in 10, 34% will at some point turn to reading or illicit substances to satisfy their implicit human thirst for escapism?”

“nice so-” juke

block “what we at beb aim to do (or, more accurately, the people who employ me at beb aim to do) is establish a community-supported network that provides disadvantaged children with the privilege of a virtual reality education they otherwise couldn’t afford.”

“listen, that sounds stupid, I’ll just say it. and I’m not interested ok? so-”

“for just $40 biweekly and an upfront donation of $300, you can have the opportunity to

sponsor-”

just then the post office exploded, sending a meter long metal bar straight into the back of her head .and out through her left eye socket.


nah, but the shoplifting gates at the front had gone off without warning. we both turned, shocked at the fact that post offices even had anti-theft devices, and at the speed with which a girl in a parka and ski goggles was sprinting down the street into the distance, occasionally flailing her arms to prevent herself from skidding on the icy patches. in the entryway a portly manager and slightly less portly womanager stood dumbfounded. which is probably a good word to describe blue-vest as I slipped past her and into the comparatively warm air of the beeping post office.



5


the managers needed some time to sort things out with the bewildered clerk at the desk, so I looked at stamps for awhile with the enthusiasm of someone who only really only has envelopes as an alternative. as usual the package was addressed to dave murillo and his loyal friend matteo cairn. as usual it was a girl labelled constance working at the counter. I say labelled because that’s exactly what she was. it was printed out on one of those label making devices and stuck onto the upper left corner of a blue and red polo in slightly too-small letters. CONSTANCE.

she looked a little undernourished and had that perpetually anxious look on her face, but was cute in that little undernourished, perpetually anxious look kind of way. the kind of way only confirmed to, in fact, be a ‘way’ by virtue of the existence of its exhibitor, which in this case was constance.

I signed and collected the package, a cake-sized box, and found to my relief upon exiting that the sidewalk was deserted. ever wary I made my way back to dave’s.


dave was busy cutting some clips to a track he briefly described as ‘futuremoe piracycore’ or something like that. I left the box and went upstairs, anticipating the future muscle pain I’d have from extraneous juking. back in my apartment I powered on the laptop and slipped into a blanket cocoon, stared at the ceiling while I waited for the machine to boot up. after a moment of reflection on the preceding events, a realization of mundanity, a probably conditioned impulse for digital stimulation, I wriggled an arm free and checked my phone, saw that anders had posted another link. new thread post: unofficial official fanart of megumi sato (1/7th of the harem of one ryunoske kinomatsu)- maid version. below that was another link to his latest blog entry- a tirade on the proposed superiorities of said megumi over the other 6/7ths, complete with footnotes and external links to reputable sources (his other blogs).

armando was gone, so to speak, so anders had moved up a level in a friend hierarchy that had really only consisted of four people to begin with. by sheer virtue of availability anders had, since I met him, contributed to my life a near constant feed of increasingly obscure msg-related content. it all started in our first year of university, where we met in an intro to physics course we had both ended up failing before deciding alternate methods of student debt accumulation, though not before realizing our own shared interest in a certain japanese media franchise. while I fought my way out of the purgatory that is general studies, anders managed to complete a degree in secondary education, which he followed up with (much to my own surprise) actual employment. since then he virtually clung to me. and by virtually I mean virtually, as in via a single conversation thread on a- then pretty much, now almost entirely- abandoned early 2000s era msg forum. I scrolled down the thread forever bookmarked and clicked a random link, settling into a comfy midday nap amidst the ambient noise of some reviewer’s diatribe on an episode long since aired.


6



[synth noises] what up kawaii nation it’s yo boy kawaii melvin reviews and today I have for you my first impressions on the new reboot of aergia unlimited machine sorcerer guardian bla bla; now, I gotta admit, I hadn’t watched the original series before the airing was announced, I know, total pleb, (hahA) but I did do my homework and made sure to get it all in before watching the new series, which I gotta say, is amAzing, no for real, I got high hopes for this one; for starters we got our mc, ryuuta-something or whatever (i’m shit with japanese names [lol]) and he’s like, just minding his own business, you know, hanging out in his apartment one night- which he lives by himself in- how cool is that when you’re in junior high yo- when, anyways, he hears this big noise outside and goes to investigate- but there’s nothing there, so he goes back inside and turns out next day is the first day of the semester or something, and he doesn’t know anyone, cause I think he just moved there? idk but he meets this other girl who’s also transfer student on the first day, and she’s like totally cute, like pink hair, everything, and of course the whole class is buzzing about it, I mean duh, but then it turns out she’s kind of harsh and doesn’t get along with people- weird right? but our mc doesn’t really notice cause he’s not really into anything other than staring out the window at the back of class, but she approaches him at lunch on the roof and offers him this contract- and like this is where it gets interesting, lemme just say I love the pace of this show so far; so he initially says no, but turns out she’s this alien from another planet who crash landed on earth and...


7


I spent the next few weeks without incident, in my normal routine. meaning the majority of my days were spent staring at the ceiling, rewatching msg episodes, absorbing digital content, and sleeping to delay boredom. I was involved in exactly the latter when the obnoxious buzzing started screeching through the apartment again. three times. four. I tried to block it out, tried to metamorphose into something not conscious and without a direct line of communication to the downstairs lobby but it wasn’t working. the screeching kept on. why was that thing the only thing that worked in this building? I didn’t have time for this sort of thing. okay I sort of did. what I didn’t have was the combined physical energy and conscious desire necessary for this sort of thing. what I didn’t have was a warm apartment or stretchable limbs or a maid named megumi or any combination of things that would prevent me from having to get up and out of my thermal cocoon.

eight times.

I was at the buzzer, body entering hypothermic shock. button press and-

“I didn’t order shawarma.”

no answer.

“I said I didn’t order-”

“hello?” the voice was not soft and dainty. or ethnic and manly.

“is this matteo?”

“who is this.”

“come downstairs.”

“no. who is this.”

“I’m supposed to come meet you.” it was a kid’s voice. the voice of a kid. the sound of a voice that belonged to a ki-

“hello?”

jesus, “ok I’m coming, just, just give me a minute.”

“hello-”
“I said-“


we stood outside in the empty street. it was daytime, annoyingly enough, and basquiat was paying little attention to me as he used a sharpie to scribble stick figures onto an electrical box. I was more or less talking to myself.

“...and besides all that, which doesn’t make any sense at all, don’t they have to do a security check for these things?”

“Iunno.”

“and I still need to know how they got my information in the first place.”

“Iunno.”

with a look of satisfaction basquiat capped his sharpie and turned towards me.

“what are we going to do today big bro?”

“first of all, don’t call me that”, I said. “second, sorry, but there’s been some sort of mixup, so we’re gonna go to your school and talk to whoever’s in charge of this sort of thing”, here I gestured to basquiat as I said ‘thing’.

“you’re supposed to take me to the campus.”

"huh.”

“the vr campus.”

"the what campus.”

“that’s the program.”

“the what program?”

“ded.”

“beb you mean?”

“Iunno.”

jesus. “does this have something to do with those blue vest guys?”

“Iunno”

"yeah, cool. alright, well at least I know who to see now”, I began walking.

“where are we going?”, he said, popping up alongside me.

“somewhere cool.”


it was not somewhere cool. luckily for me she was there though, outside the post office, accosting this time what looked like a salvation army clerk for apparently stealing business. she seemed to catch us approaching out of the corner of her eye, and turned- at which point the anger previously directed at the probable octogenarian drained from her face with uncanny speed.

“oh it’s you”, she said, putting a finger to her cheek innocently.

“yeah it’s me, listen I need to talk to you about something, about this”, I said, gesturing.

“why hello there”, she said, in that time-honored kindergarten teacher sing-song voice, then leaning over, “who might this be?”

“basquiat”, said basquiat.

“basquiat? that’s a cool name.”

“matteo came up with it. cause I’m black and do art.”

“that’s a little offensive don’t you think?”

“definitely.”

jesus, “can we do this somewhere else? like not in the middle of the street?”

blue vest glanced over her shoulder at the salvation infantry, who was on her phone muttering what I could’ve sworn sounded like ‘block is hot’ and ‘backup’.

“let’s do that”, she said, “follow me?”


she took us to a busy cafe a few blocks away, squeezed between a subway and a former blockbuster turned liquor store and with a small sign above the doorway reading mina’s. it’s exterior made it seem tiny, but inside it seemed to stretch backwards indefinitely. it was one of those places with iron light fixtures and panelled wood- walls, floors, and furniture- its art school employees would likely describe as reclaimed. the lighting was warm though, the ambience cozy, and the barrels and glass antiques everywhere made it feel like the extended captain’s quarters of a mid-17th century spanish galleon, coasting the atlantic in that hallowed time before street canvassing was a thing. and though there seemed to be no end to the square footage as we made our way through, there was hardly anywhere to sit, because filling every seat stool and bench were chattering nuclei of blue-vested beb employees and their stacked clipboards. squeezing past noisy tables and couches, we made our way towards the back of the cafe, finally spotting some empty seats at the very end, along with who I recognized as the same lucky from dave’s apartment, clicking at his laptop and taking up a whole booth to himself.


“who’s this?” blue vest asked, sliding in next to me, across from lucky.

“I don’t know. cool if we sit here? and you’re too close.”

“for sure man”, said lucky, “dave’s friend right, who are your buddies?”

“I don’t know. you guys know what you want?”

basquiat slid in next to lucky as a waitress materialized to take down our orders. she left and returned with two lattes for me and blue vest. basquiat had an americano.


“you must’ve signed up for the buddy program.”

“how is that possible.”

“because I signed you up.”

“how is that possible.”

“because I got your name from the post office girl then followed you home.” she was giving me that look again.

jesus. “that’s very illegal. and extremely creepy. and very illegal. why on earth. is this stalking? am I getting stalked?”

she looked down into her lap. across the table basquiat was pointing to things on lucky’s laptop, seemed to be explaining something to him.

“I- I don’t know what to say.” her voice came out weakly at first. “I just, I thought you were so nice, you seemed so interested, and no one ever talks to me so long out there and... and then you were gone, just like that. I thought I had to meet you again somehow. I know it might’ve been a little forward but…”

“you’re heavily understating things. very obvious things, I’ll add. also none of what you said should have been the conclusion you reached based on the conversation we had.”


she looked genuinely hurt, impossibly so, on the verge of tears. I couldn’t stand to look at her, not like that. I tilted the brown puddle at the bottom of my mug. the two across from us were seemingly oblivious. lucky was turned towards basquiat, nodding with an air of intellectual curiosity to what the kid was saying.

“...and then she was like, ‘no, you can’t keep drawing stick figures, you’re in 7th grade, we do 3d shapes now’. and like, I really didn’t want to.”

“so what did you do?”

“I switched to spanish and now I just draw there.”

I looked at the girl beside me who was staring down with the kind of intensity intended to prevent tears from coming out. lucky, meanwhile, was staring with a different kind of intensity. “that’s.. that’s so brave.. weren’t you scared? that you wouldn’t learn how to draw, um, sorry if I’m putting this poorly- correctly?”

“nah. if I’m gonna draw I’m gonna draw what I want. otherwise I wouldn’t draw.”

“woah. that’s incredible, really good. really really good. hey are you listening to this matt? hey how did you come up with something like that?”

“Iunno.” basquiat turned to look at the droopy girl beside me, then me. “she looks sad matteo, what’d you do.”

“nothing. I didn’t do anything. she solicited at me without my consent. she stole my information without my consent. she stalked me. again, without my consent.”

“that’s what stalking is matteo, you don’t have to qualify it with-”

“shut up basquiat.”
“listen man”, lucky chimed in, “I know this doesn’t concern me, but she didn’t have to admit it to you like she did. and look at her, she’s clearly sorry about it. you don’t have to be a chode about it.”


maybe I was being a chode. wait, no I wasn’t? but it was three against one. I told her then and there- if only so I could get home- that I’d accept her apology, granted that she’d promise not to stalk me anymore- or that at the very least that she’d inform me of any future invasions of privacy she might perform. after a moment of what looked like internal debate concerning I can’t possibly imagine what she turned to me resolutely. “I accept your apology”, and after a brief discussion on beb in which I discovered nothing I didn’t already know (which still wasn’t very much) we said goodbye to basquiat and lucky. I paid the bill, and we left. and just like that my hard-earned cash was gone.


“that was lucky”, I said.

“his name is lucky?”

“no that was lucky I had enough money for all three of you.”

we exited the storefront to the chime of a tiny bell. it was dark outside.

“is it really ok to leave basquiat with that guy?”, she said.

“it’s ok, I know him, sort of.”

“sort of?”

“he buys drugs from my landlord’s nephew.”

“oh.”

the street lights were on and casting soft orange spotlights down the street on either side. a gentle snowfall was beginning to drift through the beams.

“well”, I said, “I’m this way. but you already knew that.”

“sure did! I don’t think I mentioned this but my name’s cali, as in california.”

“as in the state.”

“as in the sushi roll.”

“I’m going home.”

“ok! well, I’ll see you tomorrow then! bye.”

I was already walking away, gave a small wave.


the streets were nearly empty at that time. a little snow and people fled indoors. maybe it was instinctual. maybe it was that our ancestors, at once so in tune with nature, would at first sight of snow gather their kin among them to prepare for the long winter. around crackling fires in cavernous dwellings, the most lived of them would speak, making use of hands and vocal chords to color stories passed down from generations ago. in these timeless myths beasts would be slain, far off lands explored, the gods would reach down to man, and those listening would imagine a world so eternally distant, yet so preternaturally within rea-

wait, tomorrow? I stopped where I was. the only perceptible sound came from a car driving by, crushing the thin layer of snow beneath its tires before it disappearing down the street. I had covered half the distance to my apartment before realizing.


8


I was exhausted. the combined effort of walking that day what probably totalled my monthly average in addition to the human interaction which also added up to a similar total had completely robbed me of even the desire to fire up the false kotatsu. I was just on the verge of unlocking my door when my phone buzzed with dave m: you home? need you here asap. I groaned. leaned into the door. debated. asked myself why I was debating. remembered how my ramen fund had disappeared. felt my phone buzz again.

U R G E N T.


the jellyfish were blobbing.

“that’s why you called me down?”

“please, just answer the question.”

“it’s been a long day, a really long day, I mean it dave.”

“no worries, we’ll make it quick.”

I knew it wouldn’t be quick. it was never quick. I slumped into the couch. “what was the question- what do I want out of life? nothing much. to never have to work an actual job and to sustain my current lifestyle, however miserable, until I die. good enough?”

“ambitious. but let’s calculate your living expenses first. $450/month for rent + approx $140 worth of food. $30 for toiletries and other household necessities. $30 for internet. assuming you never buy new clothing, travel, basically purchase anything other than the bare minimum, that means you live a $650/month lifestyle. we’ll round that up to $750 just cause, add in computer replacement every 3 years, plot for predicted life expectancy, and you’re looking around a little under half a million to let you keep doing you until something like 75 years from now. I ask you the question now, wouldn’t it make a lot more sense to make this in one go rather than intermittently, repeatedly for that entire time period?”

“yeah. yes. duh.”

“of course it would. now what I’m about to lay down isn’t your regular get rich quick scheme. something more like an irregular rapid acquisition of funds proposal.”

“groundbreaking.”

“now, I’m going to assume you haven’t been keeping up with my video game project updates, despite being shared on my google doc since like last year.”

“you’d be right in assuming that. and you know game producers don’t have job positions for idea guys right? at the very least you’ll have to learn a technical storytelling format if you have any hope of seeing your vision actualized. like lucky.”

“like who?”

“nevermind. but no one’s going to want to sift through your 200 page world building google doc, let alone do all the actual work when it comes to building your game.”

“naturally, of course, and I realize this. but the act of simply thinking of one has lead to some pretty interesting developments. but first, more on the actual value of my (excuse you) 342 page google doc outlining the world’s first open-world hikkikomori rpg”

“contradictive.”

“see, shuffling them around in my head then putting these ideas serves a great many purposes.mainly distracting me from things like my own failing health, or the letters from the collection agency, or the horror of existence- but most of all the fact that I’m doing nothing to make the materialization of these ideas a real world possibility. if anything it’s just sort of a shift change from the constant flow of external media pouring into me.”

“I think the active form would be more appropriate.”

“is it though? the constant flow of external media I pour into myself? where agency is concerned I think neither I nor them have a controlling stake.”

“them being the facilitators of your consumption, I assume, whose communication and entertainment networks you choose to utilize.”

“do I though?”

“you do.”

“let me put it this way. in my opinion hedonism, though not entirely determinative, forms the foundation of human existence...”

[groaning noises]

“...satisfaction, ambition, fear- these are all derivatives of pleasure. pleasure- which I’ll redefine here- as not that which makes us just feel good necessarily, but that which makes us feel- according to whatever we’ve been taught or hold as truth or want to believe- what we compel ourselves to feel the most. so you can see how this definition makes room for apathy or fear or self-destruction as pleasures as well. and what pleasure is for me is the simulacra of adventure, the promise of challenging events and meaningful interactions arising constantly in succession, and with me at its centre. in short, what my viewing choices provide. and I don’t think that this desire is entirely manufactured outside of us either, though the entertainment complex contributes to and takes advantage of it. whether or not a certain type of self-destruction is inherent in this practice, and to whose agency is responsible for it are arbitrary, because there’s something deeper lying at the base of a desire like mine. see matt, we are the sole observation point of our existence, everything happens through us. whereas you could spend hours, days even, going over how you were responsible for ruining armando’s life, I’d probably go crazy having to listen to you for more than 30 seconds. what these shows, what these fantasies do on a conceptual level is recreate that core narcissistic perspective of what it feels to be human, in its most self-idealized, solipsistic form.”

“wait how do you- I mean why do you-”

“so it doesn’t matter who’s responsible for it, or to what degree it’s morally acceptable or reprehensible. there is no other way to indulge in solipsism on this level in the real world, and no other industry that caters to it so generously. at least not yet. and I’d even argue against that real world/nonreal world binary. the fictional world isn’t a realm we enter as opposed to the one we were born in, raised in, and ultimately will die in- it’s just another stimulus to the mind’s faculties, another way to occupy one’s thoughts for a given period of time. and if compared to, say, being a cashier, or studying microbiology, or spending time with your kids, it’s just another set of sense impressions accumulating into conscious experience. it’s thought satisfying desire.”
“it’s animated teenagers falling in love.”

“it’s better than minimum wage.”

“but it’s still just a show.”

“true, which leads me to why I’ve invited you down here today”

“as opposed to every other day.”

“I don’t know if you noticed but I’ve done some recent remodelling.”

he gave me one of those eyebrow-based looks. I looked around the room. it looked the same. except, wait, it was missing. it was missing, as far as an empty space can be said to be missing. there was a wall where the hallway had been.


“listen, I know where you’re going with this and- ok, I don’t know, but based on the last 20 minutes I know how you’re going to go about going with this, and regardless of where it leads I don’t have the time and likely physical energy to accompany you there.”

“nanomachines.”

“huh?”

“are still a long way off, but consider this- cocaine and vr.”

“sounds like fun, I’ll pass though. how are you going to use the washroom now, it doesn’t look like that wall- wait. does this have something to do with armando?”

eyebrow-based look.

“what the fuck dave, are you fucking serious? not armando’s? he wouldn’t do that?”

“well I am an exceptionally trustworthy individual who happens to own his own place.”

“your uncle owns it, and, one more time- are you fucking serious? they said he went missing with- well I don’t remember, but it was a lot, and you’ve been sitting on it this whole time? dave? am I going crazy here.”

“probably, and not exactly. it was uncle rob he left it with, but you can’t just keep that amount of that kind of stuff in one place for too long, and I happen to be next stop on its tour. actually I didn’t even know it was here til last month. now calm down, listen to this.”

“and now I know about it too. I’m implicated. you implicated me dave. there’s been an implication.”

“listen listen listen. forget the coke thing for a minute. remember about a year ago when I was getting homeless people to complete online surveys in exchange for fruit snacks? anyways, it got me thinking, there’s gotta be a more efficient, less fruit snack dependant way of mobilizing others to do your bidding in exchange for a similar sensation of power and self-actualization, so I sold the gift cards collected as a result and collected enough startup capital to fund an invitation-only, open world vr mmorpg whose battle mechanics essentially served as an overlay to a semi-automated script that completes web surveys.”

“none of that can be real.”

“it failed spectacularly (you would’ve known if you kept up with my google doc), due in part to logistical and manpower undersights.”

“sounds like you just thought of the idea and stopped there.”

“but it got me thinking, what kind of life am I leading, and is it really any better than what I watch on the screen? and, more importantly, what will happen to me when uncle berto has to flee the country when they inevitably find all that coke in the boiler room.”

“jesus fuck don’t tell me where it is.”

“it’s behind that wall now actually. but like I said, consider it inevitable, which brings me to this- remember those electronic whiteboards they put in nearly every classroom in every school when we were in junior high? and how useless they all were? how none of the teachers could figure out how to use them, how pretty much each one became the target of penis-inspired vandalism at one point or another? well I was rewatching episode 13 of the off-world substitute teacher arc-”

“great episode.”

“-when I remembered the whiteboards. and I thought, what the hell kind of bureaucratic system could allow this much redundant product to ubiquitously materialize across our public school system? turns out that- due to the relatively limited selection of educational technology on offer in the market- schools often see their unused technology budgets go to waste at the end of the year, on frivolous expenditures such as touch screen tvs, replacement keyboards, teacher’s lounge karaoke machines, etc. so when something novel comes along, ie the digital whiteboards of our own era (may they rest in peace), school staff jump at the chance to spend what money would otherwise be rescinded by the public school sector’s selectively benevolent governing body. as it turns out (I discovered through careful research) the purveyors in question of those whiteboards actually belonged to a startup from our own city- by which I deem relevant due both to the relative insignificance of this city, and the resulting effect a globally marketable innovation would have in combatting the effects of said insignificance. thus we see two distinct possibilities that serve as the objects for my forthcoming optimism. 1. that the development of an educational technology comparatively novel enough in the eyes of teachers would generate basic interest among the pedagogical budgeteers of this city, and 2. that said interest would at the very least result in respectable capital return, and at the very most establish such a company in a position to expand extra-municipally, exponentially, etceterally.”

by this point I considered the possibility that I was hallucinating, barely capable of keeping up with dave’s endless elevator pitch and my own biological processes simultaneously.

“the answer, as you’ve no doubt already concluded, is educational virtual reality.”

“this is starting sounding familiar.”

“no no, not like before.”

“no not the survey thing, that didn’t even happen. wait, that didn’t happen right?”

“it’s incredibly simple, matt.”

“it’s actually very convoluted, dave.”

“it would be too much to expect schools to fork over money for their own vr setups, of course, and in any case there would be little need for a middleman thereof, which is what I intend to be. but what could work might possibly be a subscription based program regulating facility access with discounts to students whose schools bought into varying levels of membership...”

I sat up. I couldn’t believe it.

“...of course the offerings wouldn’t solely be vr access. in addition to the vr setups running educational programming- ranging from the documentative to the fully interactive- would be an on site development community responsible for creating and commissioning learning content from third party vendors, accessible through the payment of a particular currency gained through regular participation in the facilities offerings, but also attainable through inflated purchasing. kind of like a mobile game. all in all it would be a campus of sorts. are you listening? I’m talking about the birth and edification of a major sub industry here.”

jesus fuck

“and though til now I’ve been talking in the hypothetical, let me tell you, this plan has been in the works for nearly two years, and was consequently launched just last-”

I wanted to punch him in the face.


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