All characters belong to Tatsunoko Productions.
A thin line appeared on the bottom of her monitor, travelling upwards.
“Jinpei! Would you please stop it?!” Jun shouted, rubbing the bridge of her nose.
She has been sitting in front of the computer and concentrating on her research for hours by now. The sky outside went from pearly grey to greyish blue with a kind of a greenish tint to it, followed by dark blue, and finally the purple-orangey-blackish muddy colour of thick, late afternoon winter clouds, saturated by Utoland’s much discussed light pollution.
She did get off the computer a couple of times. Sometimes to stretch her aching back, at others to grab a bite to eat or brew herself a cup of espresso. There was no training scheduled for that day and no sign of Galactor, so everyone was free to do whatever they wanted. The shop was closed as well, its plumbing problems being fixed.
She tried to have some fun at first. Like going out to buy a new hat. Or have a bath. Eat a cake. But with the passing of time, she started to feel a little bit guilty and nervous about all this. Was it really okay to slack off like this? What if the enemy was plotting schemes in the darkness and the ISO just didn’t know?
Well, there was no helping it, so after a while of chatting with her friends on the net and watching cute kitten videos on YouTube, she decided to some research.
“Jinpei, would you please stop jumping on your bed? You’re making my screen flicker! How about you do some chores for once?!” she shouted irately, massaging her forehead. What was up with that boy?
She heaved a sigh and scrolled down, quickly reading the contents of every link which appeared on the screen. It was a tricky job indeed. Trickier than she thought.
She was looking for any intel on Kodinsk - Galactor’s version of Utoland. Though its premises were heavily guarded, it seemed to be a fairly normal city rather than just a humungous base (emphasis on the seemed). There were schools there and nurseries, parks, theatres, cinemas and restaurants. The city had its official homepage and there were several sites describing how to obtain a tourist visa to visit it. However none of the pages said anything about the history. Not a single clue about the miracle, which transformed a small town of some fourteen thousand into this sprawling metropolis within barely five years. Also no word on its energy source, waste management, public safety or emergency phone numbers. No maps. Even the obviously teenage-girl blogs and tumblr accounts and the like were curiously void of any photos of anything else besides the people in question, their friends, the parties they threw and the normal teenage-person-stuff they were up to.
The word ’Galactor’ was almost never mentioned.
And last but not least, the name ‘Berg Katse’ never showed up in any association with Kodinsk whatsoever, in spite of the fact that, according to ISO’s trustworthy sources, the place of his residence was right there.
Not even Encyclopedia Dramatica showed any results. Which was pretty strange, considering the dirt and leaks they usually dug up on anyone they found even remotely fun to tease.
Though she did find an unintentionally hilarious page about this mysterious city, written by someone equipped with an outdated translator and a rather poor grasp of the English language in general. Phrases like ‘Bicameral Federal Assembly uncertainty Federalnoye Sobraniye parallel consisting of an jolly house. ’ or ‘Totally member extract near comparative representation homegrown confederate lists adorable cast-down least’ made her chuckle every few seconds, which is why she read all the way to the end. She didn’t learn anything at all, useful or not, but she did welcome this unexpected entertainment. She tried to feel guilty about that. It was not the writer’s fault. All he or she was trying to do was to make the page more accessible for foreigners. But one after another, her attempts to be considerate all dissolved in bursts of stifled laughter.
Her screen went actually black for a split of a second.
“God dammit, Jinpei! Don’t make me come over there! If you jump on your bed one more time, you’ll be in charge of ALL chores for the rest of the month!”
Her amusement was gone.
She closed the tab and scrolled down to raise the music volume a bit. Or at least tried to. The on-screen cursor didn’t move in sync with the mouse. It kept freezing or disappearing altogether, appearing a moment later someplace completely different.
This time her sigh was even heavier.
She switched the mouse off and checked its underside. There was barely a speck of dust on it. Batteries then, she thought to herself. It was not even a month since she changed them, but there was always the possibility that they weren’t charged enough. She didn’t check before inserting them. Grabbing a packet of new ones out of her desk’s topmost drawer, she switched them over for the flat pair which she connected to the charger. The cursor remained stationary during the whole process. What else was there to expect after all?
“…see? All better.” She mumbled to no one in particular after turning the mouse back on and jerking it there and back.
Raising the volume and jumping to the next track, she found herself somewhat surprised. What she heard from the speakers was not the Lionel Richie song she expected, but the Linda Scott version of the cheerful and bubbly ‘I’ve told every little star’.
Granted. This was a playlist she didn’t listen to very often, but she didn’t remember downloading that song in the first place.
Another reason to clean up my disk. She told herself gloomily. It just seemed like So. Much. Effort. At the first glance it seemed pretty well organised, but she knew better, oh yes. She knew better.
She half expected Jinpei to start bouncing on his new mattress again to add to the annoyance.
Instead the cursor froze.
“Really? You’ve got to be joking me. ” She said exasperatedly, being on the verge of grabbing the mouse and hurling it against the wall.
Her head was starting to hurt. The room was dark since the dusk came before she knew, and thus the cold glow of the screen became the only source of light. It was common knowledge that such things do tend to cause headaches, nevertheless right now she had a more urgent problem to deal with.
It looks like something’s slowing the system down. Do I have a virus or what?
The odds were very low. As an important member of the ISO, her computer was protected by a state-of-the-art antivirus and antimalware program, tweaked by the master hacker Jinpei himself. Actually grabbing him to check this out wouldn’t be such a bad idea, but she was still too cross with him to do so. To find the reason on her own, she opened up the task manager and checked the CPU and memory usage of all currently running processes, but there was nothing out of the ordinary. Her antivirus also didn’t report any threats. Strange.
As she considered her options while thumping her fingers against the desk, the cursor moved on its own, and almost at the same time the song started to loop.
“Why haven’t I told yo- …why haven’t I told yo- …why haven’t I told yo- …why haven’t I told yo- …why haven’t I told yo-…”
Now positively creeped out, she grasped the mouse and moved it wildly there and back. The cursor didn’t bother to obey even for a second as it slid across the screen to the start panel, went into accessories and clicked on the Run command. A small window appeared and something was typed in it so quickly, there was no way she could’ve read it.
The monitor went black, though the computer was obviously still on.
Forced termination of the program did nothing. Pressing ctrl+alt+delete had no effect.
“…why haven’t I- …why haven’t I-…why haven’t I-…why haven’t I-…why haven’t I-…why haven’t I-…why haven’t I-…why haven’t I-“
White horizontal lines moved up and down repeatedly. She noticed a thin bar at the bottom of the screen, containing commands like ‘play’ ‘pause’ or ‘stop’. In other words, it was a video.
Slowly she realised the video wasn’t all black. If she focused her eyes long enough, she saw the outline of a person. And this was all she was willing to see. No matter who it was or what was this about, someone took control of her computer. Her computer, containing plethora of confidential data.
First of all she switched the wireless receiver off.
That didn’t do anything.
Then she unplugged the adapter.
No effect. Something flashed across the screen. Letters? Numbers?
In a panicked last effort to put an end to this even if it meant she’d have to type all she learned about Kodinsk again, she grabbed the power cable and unplugged the whole computer from the grid.
“This can’t be possible…” She whispered.
The computer had no electricity. It had no batteries. But why, why was it still on? Why did that video refuse to go away?
“…haven’t I- …haven’t I- …haven’t I told- … why haven’t I- …haven’t- …haven’t- …haven’t I told- …why- …why- …why- …why hav-“
The song became an erratic jumble of nonsense.
The flickering stopped for a moment, only to be replaced by a binary code.
“…Jinpei?” Jun cried out.
Petty grievances didn’t matter anymore. This was a job for him.
There was no answer.
The video got a bit brighter. The dark silhouette got clearer. It seemed to be an extremely gaunt person with his shoulders rising and falling with heavy breaths. He also seemed to be kind of twitching.
For a moment her fright was replaced by angry embarrassment when she imagined that there was some sicko out there who enjoyed hacking her computer and making her watch as he jerked off. She had no doubt that this person was watching her. Taking pleasure from observing her.
White letters flashed on the screen.
“Go away…” she whispered.
YOU HEART HAVE LEAD US
THE GUN IN YOUR HEART
THE LEAD IN OUR HEART
WITH THE LEAD IN OUR HEART YOU HAVE LEAD US
The song, in the meanwhile, lost all rhythm and words and turned into an ear-shattering electric screech. Unable to bear it, she grabbed the speakers, tore their jack out, and hurled them across the room.
There was the binary again.
“JINPEI!!!” she screamed.
Was he angry with her? Was that why he decided not to answer? She slammed her fist against the keyboard and just like that, both the codes and the letters vanished, leaving just the person visible. She observed him just as he observed her and soon she came to the realisation that he wasn’t masturbating. No. He was laughing. He was laughing so hard he was shaking.
Zeroes and ones filed the screen again, and then they disappeared along with the video, leaving an empty blue screen behind. Everything was quiet. No more writings, codes or people. She sat there for a while staring at it, breathing heavily, and then, just as she was about to get up and turn the light on, it went on on its own.
No, not really on its own.
Jinpei was standing in the door with a big box of pizza in his hand.
“Hey, oneechan. Man, you shouldn’t spend the whole day in front of the computer.”
“J-Jinpei… where have you been?!” she exclaimed.
The force of her voice made her little brother take a step back.
“Whoa. Oneechan, I told you before. Ryu and I went out to see the hockey match between the engineers and the administrators. I came a bit later, because I thought I’d grab a pizza for us so I don’t have to cook.”
Indeed. Jinpei was wearing his winter jacket. And there was a layer of melting snow on his cap too. She didn’t understand anything anymore.
“I’ve asked you if you wanted to join us, but you were too busy typing, so I thought I won’t disturb you. And… why are those speakers over there? Did… did something happen?”
Jun turned back to her computer. The screen was black. Of course it was. The thing wasn’t even plugged in. The light on her small Wi-Fi box shone red as well.
“Someone… someone hacked my computer. I think.” She said slowly.
“You want me to check it out?”
“Okay. But let us eat the pizza first before it goes cold, okay?”
Suddenly she wanted nothing more than to eat a slice of cheesy deliciousness with her little brother, swallow a couple of Aspirins, and forget the whole thing. This was the strangest microsleep she ever experienced, but it wasn’t that surprising. After all she had spent some twelve hours staring at the monitor and that was bound to wear anyone out. Yes. That is what happened. A microsleep. Nothing more. Though she did make a note to herself to buy a new mouse.
“Hey, hey. Do you know it? Do you know it?”
“No! What don’t I know?”
“You really don’t know?”
“Come on! Tell me!”
“It came to this town. It is here!”
“The Flowercrafts of Happiness!”
“Flowercrafts of Happiness? What is it?”
“It’s a shop. A special shop. You go there when you’re unhappy. They’ll fix you right up. You’ll always be happy then. But they don’t accept just any customer.”
“Eeh? So what do I have to do?”
“You have to suffer beautifully.”
“What? That’s so retarded.”
“But that’s what she said.”
“The girl who was a regular.”
“Can I talk to her?”
“No can do. She threw herself off the school tower just the other day. But she looked very, very happy when she died. Everyone said so. She left a note too.”
“Morbid. What did it say?”
“It read: I have nothing left. Which is kind of funny. Her parents were pretty rich and she looked so happy when she died. No one could understand it. It’s really odd. Recently it seems like people have been killing themselves for the strangest reasons.”
“Eeh? That’s kind of disgusting. We should better get some ice cream.”
“Yeah! A great idea! Let’s go!”
Oh, and the Linda Scott version of I've told every little star belongs to Candadian-American Records. (I think)