This segment of Agents Provocateurs completes datastream 5 of the ongoing series. Head over to the serials homepage, catch up with the rest of the datastream, and bring yourself up to speed for the continuation next week, on a new flash website!
>> DATASTREAM TILE: “How the other half lives – the lost datasegment”
>> HEADER: Toa Carter is a member of Section 17, a shadowy government run spy agency that covertly controls the power of megacorporations. After a blackout isolates him from the rest of his organisation, Toa finds himself dealing with the death of a close friend. But the deeper he looks, the more obvious it becomes that his friend was murdered. And murdered for reasons that are appearing to have far wider implications.
Toa breathed in deep and remembered the discussion that Constance and he had had on Tonga. He wasn’t entirely sure that he could let the hyper real replace reality, but he was sure that it was possible. He had known enough people who had faded into lives other than their own. Right now, the hyper real smelt so strong it could almost be real.
The sweat and noise was real.
Toa had appeared, almost instantly it seemed, amongst the thick of it. The stadium was as closely packed as its fans, and one by one, the realities of it were ticking home. Toa could decern the shouts, the cheers turning from white noise into hundreds of people shouting, each one of them a voice in their own right. He could hear and feel the impact of the gloves, pounding against flesh and face down in the ring. The whole place melted and flowed about him like treacle, and then warped into perfect reality.
Almost reality. Hyper reality.
“Whose fightin’?” Toa asked. Garly’s anime avatar stood out about as much as his own island getup. No one noticed. No one questioned. Garly’s neon figure clutched at a popcorn box, miming eating.
“Clinton Altizer vs Ted Marcinko.”
Toa let a smile finally touch his lips. How long had it been? “Girl, you don’t even know the first thing about boxing, and yet here you are.” The view shifted and realigned with suddenness that sent Toa’s head spinning. They were in the prime boxes. “Is this live?”
“Yup, yup! I told you! Pay per view, on me. Best seat in the house. You can oogle-oogle all you like, and then do the nasty with Clinton when he wins the fight.”
“Like I said, you know nothing about boxing –”
“I know a good looking man when I see one!”
“– And you have no idea if Clinton Altizer is going to win the fight. He hasn’t won his last three fights.”
Garly laughed, a rich and dancing sound that Toa felt warm him somewhat. He couldn’t help it. Compared to the last few days, even the last month, Garly was pure joy, her laughing childlike and full, despite the all too adult things she was probably thinking. She was shoveling popcorn into her Avatar mouth, most of which was missing. It vanished before it hit the floor.
“I know how you like your men,” Garly remarked, telltale tone and matter of fact. “Short and tight and all muscled like that … I know you think Clinton has the better body out of the two of them! Ted is practically a lard ass. I’m surprised he could haul himself into the ring … Clinton is going to kill him, I can tell.”
Toa resigned himself, finally sitting back in the seat. She did have a few very solid points. He updated on the two mens careers, feeling the realization hit him along with polite pay per view feeds on the Tale of the Tape. He dismissed the pre-fight analysis before it could take hold on his vision. Altizer was looking good, in more than a few ways.
“Plus,” Garly added. “You don’t go for white boys. And Marcinko is pasty.”
“Ok. Sure. I’ll accept that.”
Toa smiled a bit. The hits felt real, and smacked through the stadium with an impact that could bruise. The more he let himself sink into it, the more the crowd went back to white noise and the unfamiliar, an almost black wallpaper to the detailed action happening in the ring.
“I’m sorry about Preston.”
“Hmm,” Toa mused. At first he wasn’t even going to answer. Just ignore it all and focus on the match. “Yeah. I’m sorry too.”
“You don’t need to feel guilty about him. You didn’t kill him, Toa Carter.”
Toa scowled, gripping at the plush armrest as the round came to an end. The sound of the bell rung with a sharp clarity like high definition. Clinton was looking worse for wear, but the sweat made him look good all the same.
“I still want to track down who killed him.”
“You’re not like everyone else,” Garly said, meek. Toa looked over at her Avatar, but of course, it gave very little in the way of emotion. Just a switch and an update, changing emote to emote. Everything carried on the tone of her voice.
“What do you mean?”
“Some people would just pretend it didn’t happen,” she explained. “They’d just ignore it. Or leave it to the Black and Whites. People always drop off in our scene. The gay scene. That’s just how it is. It’s how the society of it is.”
“Legend today, nothing tomorrow,” remarked Toa.
“And you vanish like no one knew you existed. Preston is like that. Preston will just vanish, and everyone will just pretend it was an overdose. Not murder. It was only fun for a while, for the scandal. But no. Not now. Now it’s just an accident. Let’s pretend it was an overdose. Nothing else.”
Toa nodded, grim. Whenever he looked at Clinton, his view was straight and sharp, giving a perfect closeup, switching back to wide when he thought about the ring. The bell rung for the next round of the fight. He felt Garlys hand on his arm.
“But that’s why your different. You’re doing what no one else would do. That’s something very real, Toa Carter.”
“It’s just what any decent person should do.”
“Not everyone would do it though,” Garly remarked. Clinton was starting to lay it on heavy in the ring, bashing and bruising with each lightning fast blow. “So don’t feel guilty. You didn’t kill him. But I know you will find who did.”
Toa nodded, vacantly. He really didn’t want to think about it now. He thought about Tonga again, wondering why Preston had wanted to go to Tonga of all places. Just coincidence. Strange synchronousity. He was distracted by that curious alert noise of Garly’s, watching as an exclamation mark sprung up about her head.
“What’s that? Puzzle me, puzzle me, twist and turn. How many secrets am I going to learn?”
“What you mean?” Toa asked. He looked down at himself, realizing that his Avatar was carrying Preston’s necklace. “Oh, this thing? Preston’s. The detective down at the station wanted me to take his stuff. The rest of it was just clothes.”
“Puzzle me, puzzle me! Can we put pay per view on pause? I’ll owe you. Serious.”
Toa frowned, looking down at the necklace. It occurred to him then that it had carried. Very little, unless it served some technical purpose, ever carried. He just nodded vaguely and the ring and the stadium vanished. A Tronlike grid stretched out into eternity in all directions, with Toa and Garly, presumably, in the center of it.
“Pull that thing off. Crappy plasty crap.” Garly was half the height of Toa, and the difference in Avatars looked comical. Garly couldn’t reach. Toa slipped the necklace off. “No, no, no. I mean, pull that crystal thing off!”
Toa attempted it but stopped. “I think it is that crappy crystal thing, girl.” He passed it down to her, defeated by it all too soon.
Garly pulled at it with her seemingly undexterous anime hands. The crystal pulled off, leaving what looked like a thin, fine gosamer hair. It shined with a golden, razor edge, letting off a keening sound like a tuning fork as it was exposed.
“How many secrets am I going to learn?”
Toa frowned at the thing, as Garly discarded the crystal. She dropped the rest of it, the fine hair hitting the grid with a twang, rippling green outwards from it. It somehow managed to stand up on it’s own, the chain falling away. With a creaking, organic noise, the thread began to take root, pushing into what was quickly becoming ground, spreading upwards into a huge tree.
Toa stepped back as the transformation took place, finding that they stood in a vague, deep forest. This ancient tree was the only real focus though, much like the ring had been in the stadium. Impossibly, there were golden apples hanging heavy from the branches. Toa was more drawn to its base though, where giant roots had joined with moss, overgrowing small rocks. Pale rocks.
“Oh, Toa Carter …” Garly said, her tone quiet and scared again. “This is wrong. Bad. Worse than Frank. Look at them. All of those corporate secrets.”
Toa stared up at the apples, realizing them for what they were. Nuggets of information. Images swum and floated within their skin, boiling up as Toa focussed on them. He suddenly felt the powerful surge of what he was looking at. An old Japanese man, regal and in traditional attire, in a bonzai garden.
“This is my last will and testiment, for release on the occasion of my death –”
“Project 216 was first conceived in 2011 –”
“– which has been an overriding concern of ours since day one –”
“We have been involved in Republic society since the end of World War Two. Our presence there –”
The voices stopped, as Toa fought to stable himself and shut them out. All that remained was the calm sound of the forest at night. Those apples all hung, the images still moving within their skins.
“How the fuck did Preston get hold of this?” Toa said, stepping backwards, staring up at the tree.
“Any corporation would kill for this information. It comes from Nippon, I think. Although I can’t tell which corporation. Or even which one it would be going to. Oh … I don’t want to look at this. I can’t! Toa! I don’t want to know what’s in there. I don’t want that weight! They’ll come after me!”
“Don’t worry. I won’t let that happen.”
Toa stared at the skulls under the tree, looking up at the massive trunk. He walked towards the ancient wood, treading carefully between the skulls. His eyes were locked on a small knot on the trunk, where a branch had been carefully prunned off. For some reason, it attracted his eye.
“What’s this, Garly?” Toa asked, motioning to the knot.
“I don’t want to look.”
“Garly. What is it?”
The girl’s Avatar moved her hands down from her face, her emoted expression fixed as she stared at what Toa was pointing at. It changed in an instant to an emote of confusion. A breathless gasp escaped her.
“Riddles in riddles! How did you see that? It’s an oubliette!”
“A place where you put people to forget them?”
“Or information!” Garly hopped about, but it looked impatient more than anything. “This isn’t even the message. This isn’t the information that is being transported, big friend. It’s that!”
“What is it? Get me into it.”
Toa stared at the girl, who stayed stuck in place. She didn’t move or speak, for a long moment. Finally, she nodded, perhaps won over by the blunt conviction in Toa’s tone. The unspoken words between them.
“For Preston. But I don’t want to go in.”
“Just open it for me then. I need to know what killed him.”
Garly nodded again, and the forest went silent around them. The dark trees about them slowly faded into black, and then there was only one tree, the huge tree that Toa stood in front of. A terrible cracking sound began to shake through the tree, a deep and powerful moan that shook Toa to his core. Before him, the tree began to split up the middle, the knot correlessing open. He stared into the blackness within.
For a moment, there was nothing but complete, pitch black. Toa blinked against it, realizing there was more. A rabbit, laying down on the ground, perhaps inside the tree, but now there was no tree. Just a stuffed rabbit. He looked at it, and began to realize.