Chapter 1:


Only in Chaos Are We Conceivable

Detective Jay Sakamoto excitedly flipped to his bookmark in the latest Thomas Miyamoto epic when the phone call that would ruin the rest of his night arrived.

When the ringing began, the faces of myriad past associates emerged in his mind. Few occurred to him as important enough to pick up for, especially this late at night. In any case, Detective Sakamoto’s phone was a relic of the last century; the caller’s voicemail would instantly be broadcasted by speakerphone. From the antiquated machine came a brief burst of static followed by the raspy voice of an old man.

“Hello? Jay, I know you’re there. Stop reading Quest for the Lost Grove or whatever sappy romance you’ve got lying around and pick up the damn phone!” Jay groaned and begrudgingly shifted out from beneath his covers. He walked over to the dining table and tapped the receiver. “There you are. Why are you turning in this early? Don’t you have anything better to do?”

“Evidently not Henry,” Jay yawned. “What is it?”

“There’s a case tonight I need you to take in my stead. There’s been a body found downtown in one of the gated residential complexes by the water. Older guy, some kind of professor I think. Now look. I know it’s my shift, but you gotta let me take the night off. Claire’s just about to have the baby, and that husband of hers is late as usual. I don’t want to be down there, inspect a dead body, and then come back here for the baby. It’s bad luck.”

“Right. Right. Okay. Slow down there,” Jay rubbed his eyes. “Why are they calling one of us down there?”

“I didn’t ask. I was in a hurry. They just said they wanted someone with investigative experience down there and fast,” Henry breathed sharply and whispered. “Oh, and I heard this reporter was on the scene before the police arrived. From the sound of it, she's the same one from the old case in ‘54. That one's a vulture. If she's already been there this’ll get plastered over everything digital before you can even begin to mouth the word murder.”

“Okay. I get it,” Jay leaned back. He raised his large hands in defeat, as if his partner could see him conceding. “Fine. You win. I’ll be right over. What did you say the address was?"

“654 Bakersfield Avenue, Apartment 17E. It’s the building with both a suits and a diamond jewelry storefront besides the concierge. The officer is an old friend of mine and knows you’re coming. They cordoned off the scene after the initial discovery so my understanding is the scene is mostly untouched.”

“Knows I’m coming huh,” Jay murmured, picking up a pack of cigarettes from the kitchen counter and a handwoven cotton scarf draped over his desk chair. “Buy me a drink tomorrow night then.” 

Before Henry could respond, Jay dropped the call.

Jay switched out of his nightgown into the outfit of an archetypal forlorn detective. He donned a thick military green trench coat masking a generic white striped oxford shirt, loose red tie, and a pair of navy blue blazer and slacks. He stared longingly at the eight hundred page novel that stood invitingly on his night stand.

Thomas Miyamoto's penultimate novel in the Paradise series told the fantastical journey of a reclusive immortal prophet. In search of an oasis among the stars, a safe haven for generations of exiles, the prophet arrived on a world where the architecture of its cloud-ridden cities are held together by silken spider webs. Inhabitants traversed the streets as a tightrope walker would, wary of the insidious abyss over which each city suspended.

Truth and malice dwelled in the intersecting threads of the banal. The cities' malicious grand architect hid in plain sight among an ensemble of eccentric characters, but Jay remained unaware of this hidden mystical culprit. None his deductive reasoning seemed to help identify the haunting specter, whose apocalyptic purpose seemed as arbitrary and unresolved as the cities themselves.

His meandering thoughts were interrupted by the tender warmth of soft fur brushing against his leg. Jay looked down and observed his large fluffy Norwegian forest cat curl up around his ankles and gaze up at him expectantly. The detective gently shook Dojo’s hefty body off his foot and headed for the backdoor that led to the garage. Dojo waddled along behind him.

An antique burgundy coated sedan sat in the garage surrounded by mountains of unopened moving boxes. The car was an expensive gift passed down from his grandfather and like most older things it turned out to be sturdier and more trustworthy than shinier but more fragile modern gadgets. 

Jay unlocked the car with the keys from his pockets and opened the side passenger door. Dojo climbed aboard and made himself comfortable in the custom bed strapped to the passenger seat. Detective Sakamoto took his place at the driver’s seat and slotted his keys into the ignition, turning the dial below the speakers to an old radio station playing a somber jazz track.

The sedan backed out into the quiet cul-de-sac and turned southwards. Jay turned right at the next intersection, then rolled down his driver’s side window and felt the winter air chill his brow.


[20:47] * Rejoined channel #Clouds
[20:47] * Topic is ‘Maya’s Anniversary Stream @ 18:50, Tune in for free at | Clouds Moderator Meeting at Server Reset + 1 | <@CloudsAdmin> vita brevis'

[20:47] <YM> yea were heading out now. later
[20:47] <Riko> when does the VV exp drop again?
[20:48] <YM> oh right, bear, you’re at the office right
[20:48] <YM> I’ll bring the last volume of BPP when I’m there
[20:48] * YM (~windysnow@irc-B1Y363F.IP) Quit (Quit: Left)
[20:48] <2drinks> the pictures are real. You can run the photo forensics yourself like I did. It’s in raw image format. It’s legit.
[20:48] <E> that’s easily duped if you know what you’re doing
[20:48] <cozybear> ye- aand he’s gone D:
[20:48] * lostparadise7 (~lostparadise@megubot.34BA823.IP) has joined #Clouds
[20:48] <yzfrvr> Riko, it’s 12am
[20:48] <autodidact> midnight Riko
[20:48] <Riko> thanks guys, gonna nap until then lol
[20:48] <2drinks> Then check the timestamp? You think they digitally hacked a RAW mere minutes before posting it?
[20:48] * Riko (~riko27@knobbit-C8162M4.IP) Quit (Quit: Left)
[20:48] <TenShi> hey Trav, wb, are you still farming lol?
[20:48] <Traveler> Hey! yea i’m like 3% from max level so I can probably make it at this rate
[20:48] <ShadowDog> or you just photoshopped a print and then took a picture? How stupid do you think we are
[20:48] <yzfrvr> just ban them? who cares anyway, this isn’t the place to be posting this
[20:48] <TenShi> sasuga, well good luck
[20:49] <2drinks> Stupid enough Shadow. This is a huge story.
[20:49] <ilovetrees> alright i'm back with drinks everyone o/ who’s tuning in tonight?
[20:49] <yzfrvr> tenshi can we do something about this guy?
[20:50] * 2drinks (~IniMiney@irc-Q73699N.IP) Quit (Quit: Banned)
[20:50] <TenShi> there, happy everyone?
[20:50] <ShadowDog> maybe take down those pictures too
[20:50] <E> ?
[20:50] <ilovetrees> there she is there she is there she is!


Traveler had not left his room in years. His caretaker took care of his food and laundry. A cleanly scrubbed bathroom and shower sat past his wardrobe closet. Withdrawn into his hundred square foot hermitage, Traveler's eyes and ears experienced the universe through harmless pixels and decibels.

He rarely ever thought about his real world name, preferring the online alias that he achieved some small level of infamy with. He sat comfortably surrounded by four large computer monitors, each he had meticulously arranged to perform very specific tasks for his well-being. The screen closest to him shined the brightest with the colorful world space of The Vigil of Venus, a niche online multiplayer game where he held one of the top ten spots on the leader boards.

Tonight, Traveler was pitted against the clock. A large update to the game world was dropping at midnight. To celebrate, many of the community's most enthusiastic players raced through the game’s unforgiving experience curve to reach the maximum level possible.

He was resting after a long six hour training session when he spotted a recent private message. The message contained a friend request from a low level character named “Philomela.” He glanced at his near completed progress bar, then back at the request. Random friend requests were generally against his policy, but the community in the game was already small as it was, and new players in Vigil were rare. Most importantly, Traveler was in a generous mood.

Almost immediately after he had tapped accept, Philomela materialized at Traveler’s location. Her character still wore the basic white and brown starting shirts and shorts, but her facial model differed greatly from the default bald and expressionless templates. It was clear that the player behind Philomela had spent most of their time and attention on Vigil’s highly customizable character creation engine. 

Still, Traveler was impressed. Whoever they were, they had even gone out of their way to utilize the game's advanced modding functions. Philomela sported high quality short hair textures dressed with an aquamarine gradient and battle scars that weren’t part of any default pack. Most notably, the character’s facial expressions were rigged such that her heterochromatic eyes, dainty pointed ears, and mouth moved naturally with the player behind the avatar.

“Hey there! That's a nice character,” Traveler typed. “Are you a newbody around here?”

“Yes,” Philomela spoke over the game’s voice channel, much to Traveler’s surprise. It was a feature some players rarely used, and her voice bore a striking sonorous quality to it. “It’s nice. When I passed through the tutorial portal, I saw you were idling in the middle of town for the last two minutes and figured you were in need of company.”

“Oh! Yeah, I was just taking a break, since I’ve been playing all day,” Traveler replied coolly. “What about you? Did a friend of yours ask if you wanted to play with them?”

“Not exactly,” she said. “I thought I'd just try it out. Though I must admit I’m not really sure what I’m supposed to be doing.”

“I can help with that. Here. Those are some simple quick guides that I've bookmarked,” Traveler then sifted through his hefty inventory, secretly thankful that he had an addictive penchant for hoarding resources and equipment. “And here’s just some equipment that you can use as you get more levels. They should help you kill some of the tougher monsters.”

“Thank you,” she replied curtly.

Traveler’s alarm rang. His phone rattled against his wooden desk. Had it already been five minutes? He felt slight disappointment and even some annoyance at his own device.

“Alright. Sorry, but I’ve gotta get back to training,” he typed. “I’ll be online all night if you want to message me or if you need any help.”

Philomela smiled. She turned around without another word, channeled a teleport scroll, and blinked out of existence.