#70: PLUTO'S KISS
"The power to connect people is here."
This was a phrase she used often back then. That time, that place, that gap when things seemed so hopeful. That part of the world's history when it felt like humans were constantly moving up instead of down.
Sound, fury, pure communication in total silence. Life in acceleration. Transcendence to the next step. Realer than real life. Bring your images to fruition and step into the aesthetic worlds of others. Homepages, IRC, peer-to-peer sharing--personalized connections made up the bulk of transmissions. Corporations--where? Why? The only place a corporation had was on the outside of it, like the ticket booth at an amusement park.
"You're wasting your life in front of that electric box," she was told. By who, it doesn't matter--anyone who cared enough to comment, and anyone who didn't care enough to understand. She felt quite the opposite, really; it was the first time in human history that anyone had the privilege to waste their life in front of an electric box, and she was its pioneer.
Click, click, click.
Each time she made the slightest movement of a muscle, her mind entered new realms. Photographs of communities unseen, undiscovered artistry that transcended the days of yore, the world itself was compartmentalized into a single ray that passed through a prism of humanity that radiated the individual flavours of being. Unbearably simple, unknowably complex. Proust said once that a book was like an optical instrument for the reader to see things in themselves they could never see without it. The internet, then, was a kaleidoscope that all its users peered into at once, and saw each other as part of themselves.
Hugo: you're gonna just fuck off like that?
Hugo: no goodbyes?
Since her high school days Eriko had been an avid user of internet dumpsite chatrooms where nothing good ever happened. She was a bonafide loiterer, drifting in and out of online spaces like a wandering monk seeking to gain the world's knowledge in the palm of her hand. In those days the shape and size of the world was different, where the Net was not yet an inseparable part of life, and the people who found themselves on it were always of a certain type. Eriko was one of those types.
It started in the days she spent on Mr. Sakamoto's desktop.
Hugo: so anyway
Hugo: i'm not really the biggest fan of the new model
Hugo: i mean
Hugo: what're you gonna do with a gigabyte of storage
Hugo: that's too much for any human being, don't you think?
Hugo: surely you don't watch that much porn
Most of her days were spent like this. Before the time of Pluto's Kiss, the internet was an unregulated and unhindered space. Those who provided it--telecommunications companies--and the governments that netizens belonged to it, had no real way of enforcing power in a space like that. The power to connect people was here, and Eriko took full advantage of it.
The one place Eriko tended to park herself was a technology discussion chatroom. Anyone with a penchant for heavy net use in those days had a fascination with technology, and Eriko especially so--the outdated terminal she accessed from always left her longing for more, and her digital-phobic parents wouldn't dare allow anything more sophisticated than a telephone in their home. So, Eriko spent most days dwindling away her time talking about the latest PCs, game consoles, TV sets, cellular phones, and so on and so forth. She was dazzled by the pulse of electricity and wanted desperately for it to flow through her body.
Sometime into hanging out in these spaces, Eriko felt the power of the internet for the first time.
HelterSkelter: you are interested in technology?
HelterSkelter: the people you talk to here--good info, never will come from them
Hugo: what do you mean
HelterSkelter: insider info, high level info, real info
HelterSkelter: are you interested?
Hugo: is this a private club or some shit
HelterSkelter: no, only a private chatroom
HelterSkelter: we are not elitists
And they weren't. Invite-only chatrooms were known to have airs of pretentiousness to them--in an inherently free space there was no practical reason to have a password for a chatroom except for meaningless gatekeeping. This was before the day mom and dad knew the difference between a fishing net and the internet--no need for privacy among thieves. HelterSkelter explained that the chatroom he was the manager of had a password by necessity--there were plenty of industry insiders and hackers and so on who broke NDAs, laws, and so on that required protection. Thus, the room was tightly guarded and tightly knit. The other effect of such a structure meant that the members of this group were also incredibly close--discussions would always start by discussing the latest issue of NetRunner, a magazine published and distributed completely online, but quickly devolved into discussions far, far away from the intended purpose of the group.
Hugo: it's weird, you know, the others at my school
Hugo: it's like i can't see them
Hugo: and then, they can't see me
Hugo: but, i feel like i couldn't see myself until i came here
Bobonuts: I totally get it
Bobonuts: It's like I can really show who I am
Chappy: that's the power of the net!
And it was. When Eriko said the word 'school,' for example, a dozen different scenes appeared in the minds of the other members of the group. A bustling building full of inner-city kids, a quaint countryside private school, or even the campus of M.I.T.--the words Eriko chose to describe her life were vague enough that they only existed as concepts, and that was what she liked most: to exist as a concept. Everyone here was simultaneously exactly who they wanted to be and who the other person wanted them to be. They transcended names and faces, becoming pure thoughts.
Chief among these thoughts that occupied Eriko's mind was HelterSkelter, the group's leader. His phrasings were awkward and imperfect, suggesting English was not his first language, and neither was her's. They conversed on this uneasy bridge, where sentences shared between them became more like guides to ideas rather than possessing finite exact meanings. They quickly developed their own language of sorts, their own version of English with which they understood each other. HelterSkelter appeared to be somewhat older than Eriko. He talked about travelling, working, and meeting people in all sorts of places of the world--to Eriko, it seemed, school was a distant memory to him. Meanwhile, Eriko, a high school student, felt like she had performed a grand trick by sneaking her way into the world of adults inconspicuously and without incident. Many times it felt like she was roleplaying, concocting an image of a life that didn't belong to her. Only HelterSkelter knew the truth, and it was something they didn't talk about often--Eriko simply felt comfortable sharing more details with him than the others, so she did. All people her age only want to be accepted by others after all, and HelterSkelter carefully handled those emotions so as not to tarnish them.
Their delicate relationship went on like this for many years. Eriko grew into a woman and left her farm life behind to move to Osaka where she first began to study business, as it was the only way she could convince her parents to let her go to university. I'll get a proper education in buying and selling, and when I come back I'll revolutionize this little farm, promise! I'll make the Fujioka name go up in lights! These were the sorts of things she told both her parents and herself.
But soon the facade wore off, and she realized that wasn't it at all, that there was no passion to it, and that every morning she woke up with what felt like bricks in her shoes preventing her from going to her lectures. And, at some point, she quietly changed her major to criminology. This came with the sudden disappearance of one of their group members who they discovered had been arrested for a minor cracking of a local bank and going on a joyride with someone else's account. He was 17.
These sorts of stories were common in those days, because authorities had no idea how to properly try criminals who had committed invisible crimes online. The concept of cybercrime was in its infancy, and, like a hawk, Eriko saw her time to strike.
She continued to speak to the others as she got older, but the group, like any other social circle, had petered out as other obligations took its place--marriage, work, and so on.
HelterSkelter and Eriko, however, continued to be inseparable.
Hugo: osaka is huge
Hugo: huger than huge
Hugo: i feel like i've been an ant my whole life
HelterSkelter: i know what you mean
HelterSkelter: i used to live in a small village
HelterSkelter: but each time i changed schools, i went to a bigger city than the last
HelterSkelter: i never got used to it
HelterSkelter: it was like
HelterSkelter: there was a natural progression to my life
HelterSkelter: that one day I would be as far away from earth as the moon
Hugo: we already are
Hugo: just not physically
HelterSkelter: you know, that reminds me of a great book
Their English had improved over the years, but it was something they improved together, and it was still 'their' English. All this time, too, they had never learned each other's names, faces, voices, and so on. There was never any talk about trying to meet each other in real life, as that kind of meeting by nature seemed like an impossibility. How could two pure existences meet in the physical world? It was an unspoken law that existed between all Net users. The concepts of Hugo and HelterSkelter were limited to the text on the screen that appeared one after another.
And then Pluto's Kiss.
From where Eriko was, it wasn't really anything special. It had happened in the daytime in the US, which meant Eriko was just winding down to sleep as her computer made a strange noise before she closed her eyes, and when she awoke HelterSkelter had quietly left her life.
There was nothing really she could feel about it. Perhaps her and many others like her who had made a friend like HelterSkelter were for the first time feeling a new emotion, a new type of sadness, a new type of loss, something that had never been felt by any humans before that day.
On her way back from campus that day she had stopped by a cafe. She looked around at the faces of others, imploring deep within them to see if she could see inside, into the concepts that made them who they were. Could HelterSkelter have been right next to her? Were they there now? Did they exist at all? As these thoughts filled her mind she could see a few others in the busy cafe with the same look on their face. Those intrepid Netizens stared at each other in the cafe, all feeling the same indescribable emotion. They all knew what had happened. But it was their secret and nobody else's.