[r]ating: ESRB Rating of T < plot complexity; dystopic universe >
[s]ummary: "Bring forth your flowers and machinery." In a world where Konoha Inc., Sound Corp., and Akatsuki Industries rule the world, where citizens are required to enter virtual reality at least twice daily, and you can't escape your programming, somebody gets a mind to fight back. As usual when a a not-so-heroic band of heroes tries to turn the tide against a giant corporate moneymaking machine, things turn out rather poorly.
[n]otes: Cyberpunk AU. I actually LIKE it. Lots of e. e. cummings quotes and an epigraph from Philip K. Dick (how could I NOT?), and virtual reality and zomg my FAVOURITE THING EVER, and A Last Stand. Not complete at all. Wants to develop into a wider universe.
[n]ote the Second: But the really important thing, here, is that I want a second opinion on these parts of this thing. If you see this, please comment!
For Mercer everything is easy, he thought, because Mercer accepts everything. Nothing is alien to him. But what I've done, he thought; that's become alien to me. In fact everything has become unnatural; I've become an unnatural self.
— Philip K. Dick, Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep?
o. to fabricate unknown-ness
DATE: 6 June 2051
SUBJ: Employee C-012573 Observation Report
ANBU-01 Operative Tiger-0 (henceforth referred to as ANBU) monitored Employee C-012573 (henceforth referred to as Subject) for the requested duration. ANBU did not note any unusual activity during the first three days of the monitoring period.
On the fourth day of the monitoring period, Subject broke routine. Subject visited a black-marked web café (#U-3068). The visit lasted perhaps ten minutes. When the subject left, it repeatedly displayed signs of agitation and paranoia.
From there, Subject went to a small bookshop (Bingo Location #H-5944). The subject made a single purchase. Later investigations revealed it to be, The Byakugan Effect, the Cell Phone Signal and Other Stories: An Impartial Catalogue of the Urban Myths Surrounding SIM. This book is a known Seditious Material (specific identification number on the Bingo List: H-1339). Purchase or possession is an A-class offense.
In addition, research into #H-5944 has revealed that the establishment's owner is a ghost. Ghosting ownership of Bingo Establishments is a B-class offense. Traces on the ghost owner revealed the phys owner of #H-5944 is Hyuuga Hiashi. Hence the classification of "H".
At this time, ANBU suggests using the subject to infiltrate the Hyuuga, Inuzuka, and Aburame alliance. Interest in the Byakugan Effect and colloquially named Cell Phone Signal indicates that the Hyuuga alliance will likely approach it. Use of the CPS to reprogram Chuunin Class 012573 would achieve the greatest effect. Further details of this plan are attached via the usual protocols for review at the Hokage's leisure.
i. yes is a pleasant country
August 19, 2054
The headset is white, streamlined, almost completely unmarked. Pure. Virginal. Tenten knows what it means, what it makes, what it will do. She knows how to connect it, how to disconnect it, how to calibrate and repair and destroy it.
Konoha Incorporated designed it to help consumers deal with stress. Pick up this beautiful white thing, put the visor over your eyes, plug it into the Sim Machine, and enjoy a wonderfully relaxing simulation. Easy as one-two-three. Don't worry about the mint green lines, short at first but growing consecutively longer, that appear in your field of vision. That's just the load time.
Wrong, she knows, and she wishes she didn't. Even knowing what those lines do, she is helpless against them. Each line made up of tiny symbols, symbols she has been seeing and interpreting since her infancy, combines to write certain messages into her brain. Subliminal conditioning at its best: it works even when you know that it's there. You can't escape it, you can't fight it.
The messages are an inexorable force. They crush her under the weight of their daily demands. Even when she is supposed to be "relaxing," they attack her and insist that she vote this way, think that way, buy these products. Do not buy from Sound Corporation, do not take the Manda Line to downtown Suna because Sound Corporation owns it, do not buy anything from Akatsuki Industries.
Tenten hates being part of this hidden war. She hates that Konoha Inc. ships her out to the various nodes in its mega-conglomeration— and all at a "reasonable" cost, of course. Konoha Inc. derives most of its profits from Project Shinobi, after all. They're the breadwinners of the mega-family and privately, desperately, she hates it. Not that the conditioning will ever let her leave.
If she flees, the ANBU-0 computer systems will label it as "Misallocation: Individual-Specific: Spatial Irregularity; Non-normative G-level operative", also known as MISSING. And the MISSING error means that a Hunter Agent will go looking for them.
With weapons. Lots of them.
She hears a soft chime and looks over toward her viewscreen. A truly revolutionary, and expensive, design: it looks like frosted glass, but can easily connect her to any medium in the world. The letters that appear on it now are a cool, detached colour— only a little darker than mint green. The colour Konoha Inc. uses in its impersonal, "strictly business" messages.
Konoha Inc. Employee C-012573 has not yet entered Sim. Konoha Inc. Regulation #75141021201921 (accessible from all screens by Search + Genjutsu-419) requires all Konoha Inc. Employees to enter Sim at least once per day. G-level operatives of Chuunin status are required to enter Sim twice per day. Failure to comply will result in prejudiced termination of your employment.
Dutifully, her scheduling program pings at her, then supplies a helpful message in dark pink, stating that she scheduled half an hour of Sim for right now. It has automatically loaded a list of scenarios, and should she choose to Sim later, the list will become invalid, and she will have to download it again.
Re-downloading the list would mean an increased "load time." Translation: more time spent with the lines that control her brain. More time conditioning. It'd give Konoha Inc. even more power over her than it already has.
Not that what it has isn't absolute or anything. Nope. Nosirree, she's not a "victim" of the Byakugan Effect. Why, a chuunin agent falling for that urban myth? That's just silly.
She sighs and slips the headset on, sitting down in her least comfortable chair. It's another urban myth, that maintaining awareness of the physical world will decrease effectiveness of what they colloquially call the Cell Phone Signal. She of all people should know that, but she tries anyway.
She taps the only button/symbol on the headset: a tiny stylized leaf.
ii. nothing false and possible
Mint green lines on a background of white. Like this, at first:
Then, of course, another comes. Now you see this:
And so it goes, growing incrementally longer and taking up more of your vision, until all you see are the glowing green bars. Konoha Inc. chose the colour specifically because it is cool and refreshing, relaxing. The signature chime sounds, and the Cell Phone Signal disappears.
You will not feel the effects until you re-enter phys, of course. Sims are, after all, escapes from reality.
iii. a sunbeam's architecture; a mountain's heartbeat
The wonderful thing about the Sim is that it contains global scenarios. It networks. Each scenario creates a virtual reality (called a Slum), hosted on a specific server, and enables all the people accessing that scenario to interact with one another. It really does create a virtual reality, though there are constraints.
It takes about three minutes for Tenten to choose her scenario, load up her Consistent Client Character (as opposed to a Scenario-Specific Character, called an NPC in the role-playing game world, or a Temporary Client Character, a character created by a client that will only last for a timed interval), and actually enter her preferred Slum. During those three minutes, four mint green lines crawl and flash at the very top of her vision. It would be enough to make her skin crawl, because she doesn't know what those lines are telling her.
The character and scenario data loads. Eventually. She resolves not to think about it, instead checking out one of the Event lists nearby.
The voice contains only the barest hint of a tone and she knows the speaker instantly. Only one person can make their character walk that very fine line between "non-expressive" and "subdued."
Neji knows full well how to use the CC character's tonal modulation functions, but he refuses. It's no surprise, really. He rarely emotes in phys, so why should he emote in Sim?
"The same goes for you." She puts her hand on her hip, simulating a flirtatious tone. She can only get away with it in a Sim. "Maybe I'm here for the company."
He only looks at her. As usual. Just one more daily dose of frustration, making sure Tenten goes insane before she's thirty.
She seriously contemplates doing something crazy, sometime, like pouncing on him in a "modern life" Sim and dragging him into a love hotel. Somebody needs to shake him, to make him see that the world is not logical. Schedules and machines and regulations might control it, might make things seem organized, but the world consists of humans, damn it, humans, and humans have feelings and wishes and idle thoughts.
There has to be room in this world they have created for love and fun and spontaneity.
Neji doesn't say anything for a while. They just sort of stand there, her ostensibly checking the Event list, him just sort of standing there. After a few moments, he turns and walks away.
She can tell from the measured pace that he wants her to follow. He's moving quickly, but slowly enough for her to keep up. Since he wants her to go with him, she goes.
Privately, she finds it amusing that the program has difficulties animating his walk. His gait is fast and fluid, which causes problems for a machine trying to process several hundred other mannerisms at once. Whenever he stops, he is slightly farther ahead than where he was when moving.
They reach their destination within a few moments. The teahouse is a tiny place, barely large enough to contain more than one room. Indicative of a private chatroom. She scans the teahouse's specs for a moment, smiles a little when she realizes that Neji or one of his family members created the channel and that they're hosting it on an entirely separate server.
The world around her goes a pale creamy yellow, with white circular fracture patterns everywhere she looks. It only lasts a moment while Neji uploads them to his family's server. Doing so requires six passwords and several user IDs. When he's done, everything but the teahouse bears a cream-with-white-fractures overlay.
They enter and take a seat in one of the smaller rooms. The teahouse has scenery and props, but no characters. Scenario-specific characters are a serious drain on bandwidth and system resources.
The scenery around her runs, of course, with the cream-and-white theme. Crisp, clean colours, understated opulence. Obviously the product of a Hyuuga mind; it shows in the patterns on the cushions.
"You received a notice," he says after a few moments.
That is as close as Neji comes to making conversation. He is deliberately drawing her attention to the fact that he knows about it. That he did so in a presumably secure server that his family owned can only mean that he is about to reprimand her over the Effect.
"So I procrastinate," Tenten replies, 'idly' toying with one of the many knives that her CC character keeps 'hidden' on her body. "Can you blame me? The Cell Phone Signal…"
At last, he looks directly at her. "A sudden change. Strategically inadvisable."
"I know, I know. Don't give any hint that I think those rumours mean anything." She sighs. It taxes the server, causing its animation of a stick of incense to lag.
"Don't do that," he says when the server has recovered.
"Usually it can handle a sigh," she says.
"The firewall has to work twice as hard." He turns his head, activates the Effect. After a moment in which the world shatters again, he adds, "Three others are also here."
If the firewall is working twice as hard, then that means that Konoha is—
She turns off her character animations and strips down the model. Within moments, the intricately patterned yukata is gone, replaced by a form-fitting pink shirt and dark pants. The weapons vanish too, and her hairstyle shrinks from an elegantly twisted and complicated knot to a simple pair of buns.
She looks remarkably similar to her physical self.
"Neji. Is there any way at all of knowing what the— the CPS is telling you?"
He thinks for a moment, then shakes his head. "Not without the Sharingan."
There is only one person with the Sharingan, and he is MISSING. The only reason the Hunter Agents haven't found and killed him yet is that he is hiding with the Hyuuga, and the Hyuuga have ingratiated themselves enough with both Akatsuki and Sound that Konoha's moving against them could be potentially dangerous. They all hate Akatsuki and Sound on general principle, but if they can take down Konoha, then Akatsuki and Sound will probably go down as well.
Of course, they're trying to bring down not one but three corporate consent engineering machines. That 'if' is so large, it makes the Konoha Public Service Memorial look like a child's very groundwork for a sandcastle.
That is when Tenten realises that their cause is hopeless. How can they fight an enemy who controls them? How can they hope to keep a secret if they don't even know if Konoha is trying to make them tell it?
"Why are we even trying?"
He stares at her for a moment. The non-expression on his face says, clearly, 'How did you miss something so obvious?'
After a short while, he answers. "Fighting lies is the Byakugan Effect."
iv. a good universe next door
(Cut to Tenten and Neji, in phys. SOMEBODY has subconsciously ratted out the location of the Kekkei Genkai alliance's current safehouse, where Neji is hiding. And SOMEBODY has allowed an ANBU operative into the safehouse. And Ibiki, of course, immediately uses Tenten's trigger word. Because it's just too damn perfect and mentally damaging for Neji.)
(So, of course... EVERYBODY WAS KUNG FU FIGHTING. Of the Neji's version of 'ZOMG WTF ARE YOU DOING?!?!?!?!' variety. He makes repeated attempts at breaking Tenten out of the mind-controlled state, but no dice. So then, of course, he has to surrender. After he kicked Tenten's ass, he'd still have Ibiki to deal with.)
v. hate blows a bubble of despair
(THOSE KIDS WERE FAST AS LIGHTNING. In other words, more fighting. This time of the mental kind. After all, Tenten knows damn well what she's doing. She just can't stop. She keeps getting the feeling that something is wrong, but every time she tries, she imagines that she's drowning. She keeps trying to come up for air, but it isn't working, right?)
vi. the image of one fatal word
(AND IT WAS KIND OF FRIGHTENING. Only no more fighting. The six o'clock Feeds drop the name Hyuuga Neji. She sees his given name in her BRAIN PLACE and the Byakugan Effect reactivates.)
(Now, it is time to kick some ass! RAAAAAAUGH! HER NAME IS MICHAEL J. CABOOSE AND SHE! HATES! BABIES! Er, Konoha Inc. and all the other moneymaking machines.)
vii. bring forth your flowers and machinery
(She's MY girlfriend now, bitch! In other words, Neji finally works up the required anger to risk putting a crater in his cell. After all, Byakugan, Kaiten, and Jyuuken all exist in phys. In a blur of pain and light [note: heavy repetition on pain and light. This is NOT going to be an easy task.], he makes it through.)
(He manages to make it to a stairway Tenten has just entered. He has no real idea how; he's running on fumes, stubbornness, and nin. Tenten gives him the standard Kekkei Genkai opener and an "I remember!" before she goes "ZOMG WTF LET ME HELP YOU OUT THERE".)
viii. the ragged meadow of my soul
(A lull in the battle. Things aren't over, probably NEVER will be, but that's okay. They've never expected to live very long, and really, they're just out to make as big a stand as they can. Hopefully, big enough that in the underground Links, their cause will leave BIG, BIG echoes that are impossible to shut down. And someday, even if they never see that day, even if it takes hundreds of years, the Konoha-Akatsuki-Sound juggernauts will fall.)
(Romantic last stand philosophical bullshit aside, Tenten and Neji take the opportunity to cuddle during one of the downtimes while they try to lay low as a betrothed couple HEAVY in the public eye, rather than an engaged pair of revolutionaries who are screaming and fighting and shooting at things.)
(Meanwhile, Hiashi is farting around behind the scenes again, trying to play Akatsuki and Sound against each other. Crazy old bastard.)