...Here I Come
rating: +20+x

2021


January

Site-79: Yumegēmu, Tokushima, Japan


Director Allan McInnis plunged through the office on the balls of his feet, swung around a heavy wooden desk like it was a pommel horse, and dove under it. There was less than an inch of clearance between the bulk of the desk and the floor, but the fan had nevertheless already blown a few sheets of paper through. He stared at one of them with horrified fascination; the words formed one at a time, sharpening, clarifying, the paper turning glossy before his eyes.

IKIGAI

System: Nintendo 64
Developer: Togenyko
Publisher: Unknown
Release Date: 12 February 1999

Society has checks and balances to prevent things like Togenkyo from happening. Your school teachers encourage you to discover your talents. Your guidance counsellors help you put those talents to work in a career. Your career is a leaning and success curve, onward and upward in knowledge and accomplishments. Togenkyo's story is a perversion of that journey. Togenkyo is what happens when you're terrible at something, and everyone tells you to spend the rest of your life doing it, and you do spend the rest of your life doing it, and you never get any better.

Plodding along since the Atari and NES era, this company has produced a series of stinkers obviously designed to pay the bills for Ikigai, a developer's baby which ended up sucking the life out of its proud papa until his bankrollers did him a favour and strangled it in the crib. I don't know how much of his "vision" he accomplished before the jobbers rushed in, but the results aren't pretty. I was promised an action-packed hack-and-slash by Togenkyo's in-your-face marketing, and what I got was a frou-frou JRPG with obviously tacked-on horror elements. It's not worth your money. It's not worth my time.

I won't waste another second reviewing it, because it's not a video game, because Togenkyo is not a video game company. Togenkyo is a deluded idiot, and Ikigai is his suicide note.

A series of scarlet lines began cris-crossing the text, and McInnis realized someone had scribbled over every word in red pen. He realized this at about the moment when the musical sound of glass being crushed underfoot announced the arrival of his pursuer at the door.

He didn't dare breathe. He relaxed his body against the frame of the desk so his arms wouldn't tremble with the effort of holding his heaving chest aloft. He was afraid to even close his eyes, as though the white-clad IJAMEA agent might be able to hear the sound of a single blink.

A shadow crept beneath the desk. The man-or-monster knew where he was hiding. It had to be raising its razor-sharp naginata over its head. It—

BANG.

A spurt of blood splashed over the edge of the desk and onto the floor beside him.

BANG. The desk slammed into him, sending him sprawling into the red-stained carpet as the IJAMEA agent fell hard against it. McInnis scrambled to his feet and saw Kuroki standing in the doorway, the open elevator shaft yawning behind him, smoking pistol in his hand.

The agent was lying on the floor, pike still clutched in its linen-wrapped fist. It shuddered and groaned. It hauled itself up on top of the desk with one hand, and the shining white light from its cyclopean visor momentarily blinded McInnis.

BANG.

This final shot struck it clean in the spine, and it roared with pain and fury. The naginata came down into the carpet, slicing into the floorboards with deadly ease, and the creature used it as a crutch to regain a standing position. Kuroki's trigger discipline was excellent; he kept the gun levelled, but avoided making the tell-tale clicking sound which would have revealed that its magazine was empty.

Malice radiating from its expressionless face, the IJAMEA agent turned around and rushed towards the doorway.

"Kuroki!" McInnis screamed. "One side!"

And he barrelled into the creature from behind.

McInnis struck his foe centre mass, and shoved him hard into the hallway. Kuroki leapt out of the way, and McInnis dropped his weight, falling onto the broken door that lay on the floor as he shoved with all his might. The IJAMEA agent spun as he fell into the open elevator shaft, swinging his nasty weapon in one final vain gesture of hatred. It sliced cleanly through a dangling cable, and the severed bottom half followed him down into the abyss.


TO.png

They both lay there for a moment, taking the chance to catch their breaths. Kuroki sat up first; he jammed the spent pistol into its holster. It was no longer recognizable as any sort of tool; it had nearly morphed into a solid grey block by the time he stood up and pulled McInnis to his feet. "It's gonna get dark here real soon," he said. "We need to head downstairs."

They were able to make good time, not having to worry about their pursuer hearing their footsteps. It was almost certainly invulnerable, but a four-storey fall would at least have knocked the wind out of it.

Kuroki.png

"It," muttered McInnis. "What are we calling it?"

"Shinoda," Kuroki replied. "That's what the IJAMEA report said."

McInnis frowned. "If it's an IJAMEA agent, why are all its thoughts about a failed video game company?" He showed Kuroki the review, which had briefly been illegible before they'd moved one storey down.

Kuroki shrugged. "Maybe it's an IJAMEA agent and a video game developer? That dismissal notice said he was returning to civilian life, right?"

McInnis barely avoided snapping his fingers. "Yes. Yes, that's it. The newspaper article in the lobby said the founder was serving in a special forces unit. That was a euphemism for IJAMEA."

"Hmm." Kuroki swung open the door to the second floor, and they emerged gingerly from the stairwell. "An IJAMEA reality bender founds a video game company. Is that what all this is?" He gestured at the dim grey hall of computer terminals and filing cabinets around them. "Are we in one of his video games?"

"Let's find out." McInnis walked up to the nearest cabinet and pulled open the top drawer. "Assuming all these files are his memories, we should be able to learn something."

"Or we could go downstairs and turn on the elevator, like we planned."

McInnis shook his head. "You took me upstairs to see the stairs blocked because you knew the dream-game wouldn't let our first route be the correct one. Do you now think it'll let us defeat Shinoda if we don't know his tragic backstory?"

Kuroki's mouth worked for a moment before he replied. "That's actually pretty clever. You're right." He took the filing cabinet at the end of the row, pulling open the bottom drawer. "Why do I get the feeling this isn't your first rodeo?"

McInnis smiled grimly. "I've been chased through a Site by a monster before."


TO.png

The filing cabinets in the hall were a bust, but they had better luck in an adjoining office. One desk offered up an abundance of expository goodness: an old video game cartridge sitting on a printed email. McInnis nudged the cartridge aside and examined the printout first.

"Magic fox bullshit." McInnis picked up the cartridge. It was in remarkably good condition, considering its surroundings, minus two odd tears on the label.


Ikigai.png

"There's our boy," he muttered, handing the cartridge to Kuroki.

The chief looked confused. "I thought we were playing Hide and Seek."

"Maybe it's a sequel."

"Hmm." Kuroki pulled open the desk's top drawer. "I dunno. You said Ikigai was this guy's baby, right?"

"That's what the review said. And he was apparently planning it as far back as '81."

"So he's mad that it didn't work out. He's still in mourning. He's got control of this scenario, somehow—"

"Magic fox bullshit," McInnis interjected.

"Right, Kitsunetsuki. He's bending reality, and he's taking on the form of the protagonist from his dream game… his dream game… Ugh. I don't know what's a revelation and what's just obvious, at this point. I need sleep." Kuroki rubbed his eyes.

"I thought you said you didn't need sleep. In the game."

"I mean my brain needs sleep. I need time to process. I can't figure this shit out."

McInnis wiped his brow; it was getting warm in the office. "Alright, basic principles. He's chasing us. He wants something. What do we have that he wants?"

Kuroki leaned on the filing cabinet. "I assumed he wanted me, at first. I assumed he attacked the Site to get at me."

McInnis raised an eyebrow. "Why would he do that?"

Kuroki waved the question away. "Later. That's not the point. He's been playing, toying with me all this time. He probably could've killed me half a dozen times, but he held back. He's not holding back with you. He wants something from you, specifically. Either he thinks you have something, or he thinks you know something."

McInnis considered this for a moment. "Hide and Seek. Who are you seeking, Shinoda?"


TO.png

"Why hasn't he tracked us down yet?"

"Hmm?" said Kuroki. They were both sitting on the floor of a trashed common room, brushing rotten flower petals off a veritable carpet of random printouts.

"We've been looking through this dross for ages. Why hasn't he come up to attack us?"

"Reading is a free action."

"What?"

Kuroki smiled. "In survival horror games. Doesn't matter if there's a zombie lunging for your neck, you're usually allowed to keep reading the file before the teeth sink in."

"Let's not test that theory." McInnis rubbed his neck. "I hate this, you know."

Kuroki nodded. "I know. Hey, what's this?" His attention had been attracted by a few unusual splashes of colour on one of the printouts. McInnis crawled over to take a look.

Transfer Order
Subject: PoI-417
Threat Class: Minimal
Origin: Site-03-6
Destination: Site-79
PoI-417 is Daniel Dunn, CEO of Group of Interest Arcadia, captured by MTF ETA-6 ("Presented In Color") in late 2015. Thematic reorganization of non-critical assets has prompted Dunn's transfer to Site-79. Security clearance level 4 personnel will arrive shortly after the transfer to inspect his accommodations.

"This…" Kuroki looked confused. "…is bogus. This never happened. We don't have Dunn in custody; we don't even know if he's still alive. And this isn't a real form."

"These files are Shinoda's memories," said McInnis. "If that's true, he thinks it's real. He must have seen it somewhere, or somebody told him."

"Which means he thinks Dunn is here, at 79." Kuroki cleared his throat. "But so what? Is he here to kill a competitor? To rescue a friend?"

McInnis sat back on a cushion of rustling paper. "Unless Dunn is connected to Togenkyo somehow."

"Togenkyo?"

McInnis blinked. "Yes. Togenkyo." He pulled the Nintendo 64 cartridge out of his pants pocket, and pointed to the logo. "Shinoda's company. I saw their name on the splash screen for Hide and Seek when I first came in."

Kuroki's eyes were wide. "Togenkyo is the peach blossom spring, from Japanese and Chinese mythology."

"Okay?" McInnis picked up one of the shrivelled petals. "Yes, these are definitely peach blossoms."

Kuroki reached out to grip his shoulder. "No, you're not listening. It's not just that. Togenkyo is paradise. Know any other names for paradise?"

McInnis blinked again. He groaned. He looked down at the sheet. "Foreign investment capital. Magic." He looked up at Kuroki. "DWD."

Kuroki nodded. "Dan 'Wolf' Dunn."

They both spoke at the same time, though they didn't say precisely the same thing. McInnis said, simply, "Arcadia."

Kuroki said "Fucking Arcadia."


TO.png

It was all clicking into place, but they didn't have time to revel in their discoveries. The room was getting darker, and some of the papers were turning transparent. Kuroki snatched a handful and stood up. "He's moving away from us. He must know we're reading the files, and this is what he's doing about it."

"What is what he's…" McInnis stopped in mid-sentence as he noticed the gathering gloom around them. There was a wall of black at the end of the hallway, and it was grinding inexorably closer. It was rippling, roiling like a pot of boiling water, and as the faceless white shapes with their eerie glowing eyes came into view, they both took off at a jog in the opposite direction.

"Arcadia funded Shinoda's company," McInnis grunted. "He named it after Arcadia. He was grateful."

"Until Arcadia ruined Ikigai," said Kuroki.

"Which is why Shinoda is looking for Dunn."

"Who Shinoda thinks you're here to check on…"

"…so he thinks I know where Dunn is. Because someone told him I would?"

"Because someone sent you here to die."

McInnis didn't know what to say about that last obvious fact, so they jogged the rest of the way back to the stairwell in silence.


TO.png

The generator room was on the first floor, immediately outside the exit to the stairwell. It was the first good luck they'd had, and McInnis was immediately suspicious of it. He stood watch while Kuroki tried to activate the elevator, and rifled through the last few scraps of paper they had to explain their present situation. He dropped them one by one, as their contents proved worthless, and they winked out before striking the floor.

He was still staring at the final sheet when Kuroki finally emerged from the generator room. "All set."

McInnis passed him the paper, and watched his reaction carefully.

TOG03/ARC71/IJA58
Status Lost
Demand High
Value High
Availability None
Identifier Project KOTODAMA
Description Item is an electronic apparatus capable of bending space and time in the user's proximity, creating in effect a virtual reality environment. Negotiations were nearly completed when IJAMEA agents disrupted a demonstration of the item by its creator, resulting in the accidental destabilization of local reality in the Japanese town of Toyomachi/Yumegēmu. IJAMEA remanded both the item and its creator to Foundation custody, making the cost of retrieval prohibitively high. File closed.
Marshall, Carter and Dark, LLP

Kuroki no longer looked capable of shock, but he still seemed surprised. "Is this…"

McInnis nodded. "A reality-bending video game demonstration gone wrong."

Kuroki's hands were shaking, so McInnis took the paper from him before the rustling attracted unwanted attention. The chief put one hand on his own forehead and exhaled. "Arcadia funded Togenkyo to make an anomalous virtual reality game."

"Then ruined Shinoda's dream project."

"So he finished the anomalous game in private, and tried to sell it to MC&D for revenge."

"And Dunn caught wind, sold him out to IJAMEA…"

"…and they tried to bring him in, because he wasn't supposed to be using his abilities…"

"…and the demonstration went wrong…"

"…and that created the Nexus." Kuroki leaned heavily against the door. "What the fuck." He looked at McInnis. "So wait, Shinoda was in our custody all this time? And somebody gave him his VR headset and set him loose on 79? That doesn't make sense. I would've known if he was being kept here. We didn't have any John Does in comas."

McInnis shrugged. "Then he was being kept at a different Site, and someone brought him here. You said you thought someone was trying to kill me. Do you want to explain what you meant, now?"

Kuroki started in shock, and dropped the paper. His finger was bleeding; he had a paper cut. "He's coming."

They headed for the elevator; they could hear the machinery which ran it humming merrily within the walls. "Shinoda's project is letting him control the Nexus," said McInnis. "And he's managed to spread it all the way up to the Site. What's to stop him from expanding it across the entirety of Japan? Or further?"

Kuroki clapped him on the shoulder. "You, me, and the password makes three."


TO.png

"Bugger." It was all McInnis could do to avoid pounding the wall of the elevator with his fist.

"He cut the cable," Kuroki muttered. He looked like he might cry. "When he fell. He cut the cable. We saw him cut the cable."

"We've been keeping track of too many details." McInnis tried to project a hope he didn't feel. "Maybe the stairs won't be blocked, now? Dream logic?"

BANGBANGBANGBANGBANGBANG

They fell to their knees, hands over their ears, as the sound of the cable slamming belatedly into the roof of the elevator reverberated through the car like a drumroll announcing the arrival of their enemy.

Together, calmly, they stood up and walked back into the hall. The figure in white was strolling towards them, leisurely, like a pacing panther. A blizzard of peach blossoms whirled around his spectral, almost luminescent form.

"The cable's cut," said Kuroki. He swallowed. He screwed up his face and closed his eyes, taking deep shuddering breaths. "That's a detail." He opened his eyes and looked at McInnis. "It's a detail."

McInnis nodded.

Kuroki leaned into a runner's crouch, and launched himself down the hall towards Shinoda. The heavy blade swung out, and Kuroki dropped down to slide under it on the filthy tiles, scattering a flurry of pink petals. The IJAMEA agent roared in fury and attempted to bring the naginata around, but the hall was too narrow and he caught it on the wall, digging a heavy gash into the light plaster.

Shinoda looked away from Kuroki. He looked directly at McInnis.

He began to advance.

"Hey!" Kuroki yelled from behind him. "You wanna mess with the new guy, or you looking for Dunn?"

The mummified monster spun in place, his massive frame quivering with rage, and the two men shot off down the hall away from the elevator. McInnis lost sight of them around a corner, then ducked back through the double doors. He pressed the button for the top floor, and nearly wept as the doors shut and the cable-less car, deprived of the detail bestowed by Shinoda's presence, began to ascend.


TO.png

He watched the elevator display count up the floors, painfully slow, and resisted the urge to start jumping up and down. 2. 3. 4. The lights became flat, coloured bulbs, and no longer cast shadows. 5. 6. 7. Almost there. The lights were just dots on the elevator wall, black and red. 8. 9. 9.

9.

The lights disappeared entirely, and he felt the panic eating at his stomach lining. The walls of the elevator seemed to bend and waver, and for an instant they disappeared and all he could see was black in every direction. Then they returned, for another instant.

Then they disappeared again, and did not return. He looked down at the floor, and saw that it, too, was wavering. It was translucent, and through it he could see…

He blinked rapidly and tensed all of his muscles, trying to control his brain and body by brute force. His every instinct screamed at him to look away, and against all odds, he didn't.

Through the floor he could see a mass of pale, writhing bodies, filling the elevator all the way down to the ground floor. They rippled across each other like maggots crawling on a corpse, their chalk-white flesh vibrating with the rhythm of unnatural breathing. The walls of the elevator shaft were white, now, bulging out and disgorging more naked, faceless figures at a terrific rate. A few more seconds, and they would reach the elevator.

He knew what he had to do, and he knew he could do it.

He took a deep breath, and waited.

They lapped over the edges of the now completely invisible floor, and he felt it disappear. He plunged into the roiling column of bodies, lost in the tangle of their flailing limbs, and tried to imagine the pool at Eton. Tried to breathe. Tried to breach the surface.

Surrounded by ten storeys of impossible grasping cadavers, Allan McInnis swam to the top floor.


TO.png

"Where is he?!" Shinoda screamed, his white light burning a hole in Kuroki's back as he ran. "Where is Dunn?" From the sound of it, his feet were barely touching the ground.

Not fucking around now.

The security chief slammed open the stairwell door, which wasn't strictly necessary; it swung open as though it had been freshly lubricated. He shouted back over his shoulder: "Where else would the CEO be?" He bounded up the steps, two at a time. "We're going straight to the top."


TO.png

McInnis was barely able to pull himself through the open shaft door — thank god it had been open! — before the column of corpses collapsed back down to the inky depths. Kuroki was leading Shinoda upwards, he had to be, because what started out as a flat grey rectangle was suddenly filled with flat white rectangles, which suddenly became crude computer consoles, which suddenly became the communications centre he'd thought he'd never reach.

He leapt across the room and started scanning the machinery. When he saw it, he grinned. When he hammered out a few simple commands on a flat-keyed keyboard, which became deep-keyed and mechanical as his fingers struck each key, and a bevelled black box became a widescreen computer monitor with a very confused face on it, he actually laughed out loud.

When he had the second copy of the password in his head, and he barrelled back towards the shaft, he suddenly remembered that the car was on the first floor, the bodies were gone and the stairwell was blocked.

The password entry terminal was on the first floor.

I hope you're headed down, Kuroki. McInnis took a deep breath, and spoke into his microphone.


TO.png

McInnis was talking in his ear. McInnis was talking gibberish. Kuroki's mind suddenly felt a little more crowded, and he immediately realized what had happened.

No. Why? No! The one-time password was in his head. McInnis had to be trapped in the comm center; it was on Kuroki to get back to the terminal now. That would have been fine, if he'd been running down the stairs instead of up them. He could hear the heavy footfalls behind him, slow and regular.

How the hell am I gonna get around him?

He leapt across the next landing, pulled himself up the railing of the next flight of stairs…

…and smacked hard into a pile of stone and metal. He fell back on his ass, ears ringing, and realized he was looking at the back ends of the filing cabinets which had arrested their progress earlier.

He was certain this wasn't the same staircase, but that didn't matter anymore. As he struggled to his feet, head swimming, he saw the muscular, wrapped figure ascending the stairs blade-first.

"Are you finally going to do it, Shinoda?" He had nothing left but words. He was so very, very tired. "Are you going to shed blood in your paradise?"

"Et in Togenkyo ego," the spectre spat, and pinned him to a filing cabinet straight through his heart.


TO.png

McInnis stared at the red text hovering over the crown moulding of the comm centre.


Died.png

When he finally noticed the sound of rubble being shifted in the adjoining stairwell, he could barely muster the urge to care.

Unless otherwise stated, the content of this page is licensed under Creative Commons Attribution-ShareAlike 3.0 License