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"Elegy, open the blinds," Ken said.

The whirring of the tiny motor tilting the lamellae was drowned by the sound of the aircon. The midday sun threw stripes of warm light across the messy room. It was the first week of summer vacation, Kens last one. His last year of high school would begin in a few weeks. Time enough for him to laze around and play computer games all day. Yawning, he rose from his mattress and peeked through the blinds. It took a while for his eyes to adjust to the dazzling light of the meridian sun. A lonely cloud threw some shade onto his room on the 43rd floor of the residential megaplex. Through the labyrinth of similar high-rise buildings erected for the exploding population during the last decades of the previous century, Ken was able to spot a sliver of Sunset City's beach. The only people dumb enough to go outside during these temperatures were foreigners. Throughout his seventeen years of life, Ken could never understand why people would voluntarily spend their vacation boiling on the beaches of the Sunset Sea Islands. Ken preferred the humming of the fans cooling his computer and the howling of the wind outside his window.

He picked up an opened can from last night's gaming session, swirled it around, drank the last mouthful of stale, room-temperature energy drink. The plastic bag next to his desk had reached maximum capacity a couple of days ago, but that didn't hinder Ken from jamming the can inside. After opening the windows to dissipate the smell of the instant noodles he had cooked last night, he picked the bag up and left his room. The kitchen-slash-living-room was the centre of the apartment.  Across from Ken's room was the entrance to his parents' bedroom. The entrance area shaped the flat into a "T", excluding the bathroom adjacent to Ken's room. He hurled the bag towards the flat door. As it hit the floor, the collection of cans inside made a loud, rattling sound. The stock of instant noodles Ken had stashed below his desk had run dry, so he resorted to scavenging the kitchen drawers. Upon finding the last package in the apartment, he threw the contents into a larger mug and poured boiling water over it. The hourly TV news blabbered out of the tiny receiver his mom had placed in the kitchen, Ken, however, did not bat an eye. Lazily, he shoved the noodles into his mouth and swallowed them without chewing much. Chewing on the mushrooms was fun though. He had always been fascinated by how much the dried fungi from the included bag of herbs would expand once doused.

Ken held his chopsticks in place with this thumb as he drank the remaining broth in the mug. Without putting much effort into it, he rinsed the mug in the sink and placed it on the drainer before returning to his room to get dressed. Although he despised the unbearable temperatures outside, Ken did not envy people living further away from the equator for their varying seasons. Constant temperatures year-round meant less effort for him. He always slept in underwear and if he wanted to go somewhere besides school, where uniforms were mandatory, he would just slip into a t-shirt, some cargo shorts and sandals, and he was good to go.

Before leaving the apartment, Ken picked up the materials he needed for club activities. His shoulder bag provided enough space for some crumpled tech magazines, the laptop he had been tinkering with, his toolkit and a couple of cables. He emptied the garbage can in his room into another plastic bag and threw some more junk from across his room inside. "Might as well get rid of this," he thought since he had to dispose of the other bag full of cans either way.

Even though school was off for the summer, Sunset City High School No. 32's Computer Engineering Club decided to continue meeting up. It's not like it was official, the group of clubmates just decided to meet up and continue their activities. They didn't have anything better to do in the first place. Nothing much would change either way. Instead of a supervising teacher, the only adult present sometimes was Tomohiro, the older brother of Tomoyuki, a clubmate, who allowed the club to use his flat. Also, the flat was closer to the apartments of Ken's clubmates than their high school.

After locking the door to the apartment, his parents wouldn't be home for another few hours, Ken went for the elevator. His steps reverberated through the corridor as they hit the nobbed linoleum floor. On his way, he stopped by the rubbish chute and tossed the trash bag down. As it fell, the echoes of the bag's collisions with the chute walls faded into the darkness of the tract. Ken stared into the abyss for a few seconds before he resumed heading for the elevator. The other bag Ken carried into the elevator. At the convenience store on the ground floor, he would be able to trade the few Sols he'd get for the can deposit for new bags of instant noodles.

The pubescent teen felt his stomach rising as the elevator descended. A seemingly infinite row of increasingly distorted mirror images of himself blankly stared at the inornate metal door of the cage. There was no reason to look anywhere else, as the information board on the wall adjacent to the automatic door hadn't been updated in years. Just the same old advertisements for driving schools, goldsmiths and nail salons, and a cartoon boy and girl telling the reader not to litter. Surprisingly, nobody had stopped the elevator mid-way today. Nevertheless, as soon as the arrows on the red LED panel stopped scrolling down and the doors to the ground floor opened, Ken was met with the sound of quiet conversations and children running around. The nobbed floor continued all the way to the convenience store.

The shop welcomed him with a gust of cool air out of the air conditioner mounted directly above the automatic glass doors. He nodded towards the owner and headed straight for the deposit automats. As always, it sometimes took a few tries until the automat recognised the code printed on every can. Once the machine had swallowed every last can, Ken pressed the big green button and grabbed the freshly-printed coupon. Before entering the actual sales area of the store, he stuffed the compostable plastic bag into a trash can next to the automats. The store was mostly empty, only a few customers were around at this time of the day, most of them were kids heading somewhere, just like himself. Ken had repeated this procedure so many times that he didn't even have to think about going to the correct aisle and picking up his noodles, his brain could execute the routine subconsciously. Usually, he would have headed for the self-checkout terminals, however, since the total sum for the instant noodles was less than the deposit he had traded in, he went to the owner's counter. Neither of them was interested in small talk, they greeted each other and wished the other a good day upon the completion of their transaction. Ken bagged the noodles and left the store, the cool aircon breeze hitting his neck this time.

kg5t849c00e21.jpgTomoyuki's flat was a couple of subway stations away. The maze of Sunset City's skyways and underground passages could be extremely confusing to outsiders, however, to kids like Ken, who grew up in the bridges spanning across major traffic roads and tunnels and metro lines sprawling beneath the city like a cardiovascular system, going from A to B was an easy task. Ken couldn't pinpoint the last time he stepped outside of the controlled climate of the Sunset City skyway system. As summers became hotter every year, the constant nineteen degrees Celsius of the bridges and tunnels became a refuge from the elements. When construction began in the 1960s nobody could have fathomed how wide-reaching the system would once be. Whilst storefront businesses were still prospering in the shadows of skyscrapers, the controlled environment of the completely encapsulated roads and paths attracted more and more shops and services.

hong-kong-1748873.jpgAfter the elevator ride and the quick stop at the convenience store, Ken's eyes had to adjust to the direct sunlight illuminating the passages again. Even though it was right in-between the rush hours, the passageways were packed with people of all sorts: businesspeople, salesmen, people enjoying their free time in cafés and commuters rushing to their destinations. As Ken walked across a footbridge above a six-lane highway, the colours of the artificial city and the natural world outside blended into a chaotic mess. The pastel reds and mint greens of the skyscraper facades overgrown with vines and connected by the aged white plastic plating of the bridges were interwoven by a network of metal and asphalt streets stretching from the coast way east, where they dug into the lush, tropical vegetation of the mountains. The sight was dazzling as the blinding light of the early afternoon sun overexposed the entire image.

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Ken felt relief as soon as the circulatory system of the multi-level metropolis swallowed him again. He had to take two sets of escalators to reach the nearest subway station. Ken held his smartphone to a ValID sensor and the gates to the station swung open. Not even a minute had passed until the arrival of a wall of air announced the next train. Although the retro aesthetic of the subway cars made them appear out of date, the noise they made was minimal. Thanks to the time of day and the high frequency of trains coming and going, Ken could sit down next to a window seat. Whilst the line he got on was mostly underground, the monorail tracks sometimes emerged out of the massive structures of the city as the terrain changed. Ken took a pair of bone-conduction headphones out of his bag and put them on. In the beginning, he had to get used to the unusual way of perceiving sound, however, over time, he came to prefer it over conventional methods, as he was more aware of his surroundings with his ears unobstructed. As the beeps and boops of his favourite electronic music playlist resonated in his head, Ken leaned his head against the window and observed the mega-metropolis passing by outside the subway car.

Ken didn't know how many kilometres laid between his apartment and the usual meeting spot, nevertheless, the skyway system continued, even though he now was in an entirely different ward. Behind the gates of the stop he got off at, the tunnels and pathways looked a little bit different though. Less bright and open, more rugged and dimly lit. Whilst the lower incomes in this area certainly influenced the look of the infrastructure and the businesses found within, they were still tidy and well-maintained. The well-funded, publicly-owned cleansing service did a good job at keeping even the most far-flung corners of the system clean. Ken passed dozens of hotels, some taking hourly rates, bars and small electronics shops on his way to his friend's house. He often looked at the gear the salesmen were exhibiting in their storefronts, there was always the chance to find some interesting, random component that might be useful for one of the club member's projects. This time, however, his efforts did not yield any results.

The apartment Tomoyuki shared with his brother was not located inside an apartment complex. In this part of town, the streets branched out like bronchi, lined with tiny, alveoli-like apartments. To Ken's surprise, the door to the apartment was already open. Even in this part of town, break-ins were virtually pointless, since any such crime was easy to track back through the Synapse System. Did one of the brothers forget to close the door? Ken peeked inside. He didn't notice anything uncommon at first, so he went inside and closed the door. The apartment consisted of a single, tall room with an entresol covering about one-fourth of the total area. Below the platform was the kitchen which covered the wall adjacent to the main door. A square of couches surrounded a table in the middle of the area in-between. Ken walked inwards and looked around. Then, he noticed the intruder. He pulled out his phone and sent a voice message into the club's chatroom: "Guys, there's a girl sleeping in Hiro's apartment. And she's all-white."

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  • 8 months later...

It didn't take long for the first club members to respond to Ken's voicemail. 

> lmao, did u hit ur head, Ken?

> bruh did you confuse your masturbation phantasies with reality?

> POIDH

Using nothing but his toes, Ken stripped off his sandals and left them at the doorstep. To prove his words and to escape the ridicule in the chat room, he sneakily approached the girl and snapped a picture. Her bright skin and white gown contrasted with the old, brown sofa's sunken cushions. Although the picture was slightly blurred, the chatroom's members reacted immediately.

> tf how did she get in there

> take a pic up her skirt, lol

Thankfully, there were members of the club who could provide actually constructive answers. Tomoyuki, the flat owner's younger brother, reacted quickly.

> holy shit, I'll be right there. Give me 10 mins.
> @Tomohiro
> @Tomohiro
> @Tomohiro
> @Tomohiro
> @Tomohiro

His elder brother, whose smartphone must have just unleashed a cascade of rapid vibrations in his pocket, replied as well.

> I'll try to get home ASAP.
>does she pose a danger?
>is anything missing?

With fast taps of his fingers, Ken typed his answer.

> So far she's just sleeping. Everything looks fine here. Should I wake her up? Call the cops?

A few seconds later, Tomohiro's reply appeared on the old ElePhone's screen, which was cracked despite the phone's rugged case.

> if she's just sleeping, let her be for now.
> have Yuki close the door once he's there.
> don't want cops in my room or anywhere near my PC.
> also, how tf should I explain some random teen chick in my room?
> leaving ASAP
> hold down the fort

Ken pocketed his smartphone. Carefully, he snuck closer and examined the girl's face. Never before had he seen anyone with skin as white as hers. Tiny red veins were visible on her delicate, almost translucent eyelids. Her eyelashes were as devoid of colour as her hair. Ken could feel her soft breath on his forehead. She was certainly pretty and her exotic appearance mesmerised the pubescent teen. Then, from the corner of his field of vision, he saw Tomoyuki, his childhood friend, enter the apartment.

As the boy carefully entered the room, Ken held his index finger in front of his lips, after which he made a gesture imitating a key being turned in a lock with his right hand. Even in this, slightly outdated, part of town, the concept of physical keys was long antiquated. Yuki held his phone to the panel next to the door handle. Upon recognition of the NFC signal, the lock engaged. Whilst many people had learned to accept the Synapse System and to trust the electronic lock as the only means of closing their doors, Tomohiro had installed an additional bolt lock on his door, which Yuki closed as quietly as possible.

To minimise the risk of waking the girl up, the two of them pulled out their phones again and exchanged a couple of messages.

> thhhhhhhhhe ffffffffffuuuuuuuuuuuuccccccckkkkkkkkkk

> what should we do

> idk man
> she just lying there?

> yeah

> checked the web yet?

> n

> let's do that then

On their toe tips, as if imitating sneaking cartoon figures, the two of them slowly moved towards Tomohiro's desk. Instead of booting up the PC though, Ken turned on the antiquated cathode ray TV which stood next to the computer monitor. For a moment, the two of them were scared that the TV might blast some loud sounds upon activation, which might have woken the girl up. Thankfully, the screen only displayed the logo of CH4. As children they often observed the Channel 4 logo bounce around the 3:4 convex screen, waiting for it to hit a corner of the screen. Now, as teens, they formed the newest generation of CH4 users.

The economic boom in the latter half of the past century made the Sunset Sea Islands an international epicentre for technological development. Electronics made in SSI enjoyed great popularity abroad. @Orioni businesspeople relied on their trusty digital wristwatches, @Sayfi militias used SSI-made radios to communicate and @Gallambrian school children relied on their pocket calculators, all of which were manufactured in the SSI and exported all over the world. Naturally, this technological boom also included the world of television. Whilst the medium itself wasn't invented in the SSI, during wartimes villages prided themselves in having a radio citizens could listen to on the main square, the nation made several improvements to the technology over the years. Flat-screen TVs were first produced on an industrial scale in the SSI, digital and smart television also experienced their infancy on the archipelago. SSI television shows were dubbed and exported all over the world as well, in the SSI, however, viewership was stagnating. Whilst middle-aged people and senior citizens still enjoyed the content provided by the various public and privately-owned stations, many people born around the turn of the millennium felt a disconnect to this antiquated medium. For individuals who grew up in a world of instant news cycles and video on demand, the slow and unresponsive television programme was deeply unattractive. However, there was one aspect of television which secretly experienced a renaissance amongst technology enthusiasts: videotext.

hqdefault.jpgThanks to the history of refinement of TV-related technologies in the SSI, it wasn't hard to acquire TV frequencies to broadcast one's original programme. Whilst the licenses weren't cheap, a group of passionate enthusiasts could afford one by saving up and pitching in. In contrast to other stations, Channel 4, the largest of the underground TV stations, did not broadcast any actual audiovisual programme. Isntead, the crowdfunded station focussed entirely on its videotext. Whilst most other stations used the outdated protocol to display news, broadcast schedules or weather reports, CH4 was a messageboard. Through the use of either a website or an application, users could submit messages or answers to those of others. The first few pages of the board were a catalogue of ongoing discussions. New ones or ones with recent replies were displayed at the top, whilst older ones would gradually slip towards the end. Once the board exceeded its 999-page limit, the oldest messages were deleted, although some dedicated users ran CH4 archives preserving the conversations for posterity. The advantage of this convoluted system was that you didn't need an internet connection to read the board. As long as you found a TV set, you could always see what was going on in the chaotic, collective community of Channel 4. Furthermore, with internet surveillance ramping up under the new administration, using an antiquated medium was a perfect way of running unmoderated forums without raising suspicion.

First, the two boys browsed the catalogue for mentions of missing people or anything related to break-ins, home intruders or runaway girls. Their search didn't yield any results. Ken pulled out his smartphone and accessed the CH4 app. After solving the captcha preventing spam by robots, he posted the following message:

Quote

Anonymous 22/07/19(Mon)15:19:59 No.57296324 [Reply] >>57296784

Imagine coming home to find a girl who broke into your flat sleeping on your couch. wwyd?

After refreshing the page a couple of times, replies slowly came in. Most of them, however, didn't provide any useful feedback. Answers ranged from "call the cops" (which they had ruled out beforehand), over "tfw no burglar gf" to users saying they'd take pictures of her or worse. There was only one reply which somewhat made sense.

Quote

Anonymous 22/07/19(Mon)15:29:39 No.57296784

Let her sleep, lol. If I was so tired that I would fall asleep in the house I just broke into, I probably had a bad day. Throw food at her to appease her, lol.

At that moment, the two boys noticed a shadow being cast onto the desk from behind them. Slowly they turned around and saw the girl peeking across their shoulders. Both screamed, which caused the girl to jump backwards, bare her fangs and to hiss.

For a few seconds, the two parties stared at each other quietly. Then, the girl's stomach growled.

"Want some ramen?" Tomoyuki asked.

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