Chapter 2:

One Thing After Another

Glitches in the Digital Afterlife


“It’s me… Sylas? Sylas Ōtsuka? Ōtsuka Sylas?”

A burst of nervous laughter bubbled from Yume, and her eyes shifted nervously to the people around, searching for some saving grace. Nothing was making any sense, and it was starting to set her on edge.

The man claiming to be Sylas, on the other hand, was equally as apprehensive. Unsure of what to do or say, he reached for her hand to offer comfort, but she pulled away quickly with wide eyes like a stray caught digging in the bins.

“You’re not Sylas. Sylas doesn’t look like… like this!

The silver fox raised his brows at the wild gesture. “Yume, I’ve always looked like this? What are you talking about? Wait, do you not like my hair? Is it my hair? I thought you said silver suits me!”

“It’s not just about your hair! I’d like to think that after seven years together, I’d be able to recognize my partner.”

Her words almost faltered as she took in what little she could distinguish from the changing strobe lights.

The Sylas she knew had slightly more prominent cheekbones and slight stubble, but the man before her didn’t. Instead, he had a well-defined jawline and was clean-shaven. His usual tanned features were complemented by his steel-grey eyes instead of the warm brown ones she was familiar with.

What if this is Sylas? No, it can’t be.

“ID.”

“What?”

“Can I see your ID?”

The confused man stuttered, agreeing to the sudden request and fumbled for his wallet. Yume surveyed the club again, picking out the security guards at their current posts in case she had to ask for help.

“Here,” something cold poked at Yume’s hand, drawing her attention to the identification card in his awaiting hands. “You’re really starting to worry me, Yu.”

The woman grimaced at the nickname, cautiously plucking the thin, metal slate to examine it up close.

Name: Ōtsuka, Sylas.
Birthday: 2079/05/09
Sex: AMAB
Address: XXX-XXXX T@Gu~N0sh!n—

With her eyebrows knit together, Yume tilted the card in different angles to try and make out the engraving for the address. The text was indistinguishable and ever-changing like glitches on a screen. Her eyes flickered from the transparent photo insert to the man before her.

According to the identification, this man was Sylas. Still, she felt hesitant to accept this fact.

“… Everything good?”

“Just to confirm this isn’t stolen, tell me the district and the city.”

It was less about stolen identity, and more so that she couldn't decipher the text. 

“Tamagawa in Chino.”

Yume squinted at the man before her, then back down at the card. Even with his clarification, the befuddled woman couldn’t reorganize the cipher, so with a mighty huff, she handed the caard back to the silver-haired man.

She noticed a black ring around his ring finger when he accepted the ID. It was originally a gift in the form of a necklace for their second anniversary, but Sylas was now wearing it as a wedding band. 

It was odd to her because he never did that, insisting on saving the special spot for a proper exchange—one that never happened. After all, she rejected his proposal two years ago.

Dubious, Yume decided to call her partner. Logically, if the man before her were truly Sylas, his phone would ring, and he'd pick it up. Though her plan was quickly foiled by the bright notification on her lock screen.

(2) New Messages: Takeuchi, A.

As the notification dimmed, Yume grimaced at her screen. It’s different from what she remembered it to be; a neon purple and her wallpaper of her and her little sister—

Takeuchi Aslin is calling…

The woman nearly drops her phone at the sudden intrusion. With her phone to one ear and her finger in the other, Yume hesitantly picked up.

“FINALLY! B, where did you go? I thought you were gonna wait for me!”

“What do you mean?”

“What do you mean, what do I mean? We went to the bathroom together, and you’re just gonna dip on me like tha— Oh never mind, I see you two!”

A shout from a short figure waving behind the circular bar caught the couple’s attention, “Oi, lovebirds!”

Who’s that?

Sylas noticed the confusion and leaned in. “That’s Aslin. You just got off the phone with her.”

Oh.

“Wait but—”

“B, don’t do that! This scary lady was so busy fixing her hair at the sinks I couldn’t even budge in to wash my hand. Why would you leave me?”

“I’m sorry. I didn’t—I forgot?”

The shorter of the trio started to sound off as she complained of the scary lady with magenta hair in the bathroom, to which Sylas nodded and offered the hysterical woman a kind smile. She could tell it wasn't a nod of encouragement, rather a casual one to show he was kind of listening. 

Yume, on the other hand, analyzed Aslin from head to toe.

Like Sylas, Aslin wasn’t recognizable at first. The short woman’s long hair was styled into two space buns, a mismatch of black and neon green split-dye. She sported baggy colour block pants that matched her hair, which oddly reminded Yume of a certain comic book harlequin.

The bold heterochromatic style felt bizarre to Yume since her Aslin never went beyond her comfort zone despite her nurtured curiosity.

“B, you good?”

Snapping out from her thoughts, Yume blinked down expectantly at Aslin. Her mouth parted to respond to the familiar nickname but paused, skepticism lacing her mind.

Sylas stepped between them, placing a gentle hand on the small of Yume’s back. “She’s not feeling too good. We might just head home early or something.”

“Oh, what? You should have told me earlier! I wouldn’t have taken so long then...”

“It’s fine, honestly. You two can stay. I’ll just head home myself.”

Suddenly aware of her outfit and exposed back, a chill ran down her spine. Yume stepped away from the man’s feather-light touch, backing away from the two imposters before her. She parted with the excuse to head home alone as her opportunity to get away.

In the midst of putting space between herself and the two strangers, the woman accidentally stepped on someone’s toes.

“I’m really sorry,” Yume winced before turning back to her supposed partner and friend. “But seriously, MAEV!S is performing for the first time. You two shouldn’t miss it!”

“Woah now, besties come first—this crowd ain’t even it. Let’s go grab some late-night burgers and head home!”

Aslin latched onto Yume in a blink of an eye, her other hand blindly grabbing at the collar of Sylas’ shirt so they could barrel through the growing crowd with ease.

“EXCUSE ME, COMING THRU! MOVE, OR I’LL YACK ON YA GAUDY-LOOKIN’ STILETTOS!”

“Aslin, please unhand me. Seriously, I’m fine! You guys don’t need to come with me!”

The trio certainly turned some heads. What a sight to behold as they shuffled right under their noses, with the shorter of the three pushing them through the crowd. The helpless couple tapped at their friend’s hold as they profusely apologized to those falling victim to Aslin’s human plow truck.

Yume was given no room to trip. Even though she was being blindly guided by the force of the smaller woman, Aslin ensured her tall friend was kept upright until they reached the club’s exit.

The short woman rejoiced as the three stumbled into the night, unhanding her friends to stretch. “Woo! Fresh air! You feeling better? … Yume?”

Sylas and Aslin exchanged a puzzled glance. Their noses scrunched in confusion at the empty spot beside them before their eyes followed her retreating figure weaving between the pedestrians. It suddenly dawned on them that she was running from them.

Aslin was the first to book it down the street, feet carrying her short stature with ease as she tried to keep up with her friend. Sylas did his best to keep up with the two women, following the partial neon green head of hair as his personal GPS pin.

Frantic shouts drifted down the busy sidewalk, and people certainly did their best to make way for the erratic woman and the man trailing shortly behind. Yume occasionally checked over her shoulder to gauge the distance between them in hopes they would be far enough for her to slow down.

Running in four-inch suede boots was not ideal.

"Hey, watch it!"

A small part of Yume wanted to scream. She was determined to believe everything happening around her was just part of some hyperrealistic dream—it had to be. What else could explain strangers chasing her down the street in the middle of the night?

Yume pushed past the throbbing pain in the balls of her feet as she glided over wet pavement and made a sharp left into a quiet street.

Overflowing bins sat idly on the edge of the street, awaiting tomorrow’s pick-up. The fearful woman nearly tripped over one, nudging a bag of rubbish onto the concrete.

Shit.

Ignoring the mess, Yume continued running at the sound of Aslin’s desperate call for her to stop. They were closing in on her once more, both slipping on the slick grounds of the empty street.

“Could you both please slow down?”

An unmarked truck pulled in from the direction Yume was heading, passing the tired woman on the narrow street. The driver briefly made eye contact with Yume, but she didn't mind until the voices calling after her started to shout something else instead.

“Hey! Let go of us!”

Yume halted at Sylas’ voice, whipping around to see why the game of cat and mouse had suddenly come to a wicked twist. The truck had pulled to a stop, hazard lights blinking while two masked figures tried to pull Aslin and Sylas into the trailer. The silver-haired man threw his head back into the assailant while the woman bit down on the hand, attempting to muffle her screams.

Her heartbeat echoed in her ears, and everything in her rigid body was pleading with her to flee the scene. Nothing about this situation would end well if she got involved, especially when it meant helping the imposters.

“Get your filthy hands away from me, or you can kiss your biological arm goodbye!”

“Yu, run!”

She should be running away, so why were her feet carrying her towards the very people she had just spent the last ten minutes running from?

“H-Hey! Let them go!”

Her voice barely reached the end of the street, but it was enough to garner Sylas’s attention, “Yume, leave! What are you doing?!”

Between all the contradicting words and signs screaming fight-or-flight, Yume decided on the former. A different instinct took control of the only one free from the ongoing struggle. 

She managed to land a few solid punches at the person holding onto Sylas before another masked man hopped out from the driver's side. He threw a blow to the back of Yume’s shoulder, sending her stumbling. She was vulnerable long enough for someone to grab her from within the truck.

A dirty cloth was pressed over her face, and Yume held her breath as she protested. The door slammed closed, and darkness enveloped the six of them. Sounds of a struggle from her friend turned into a pained squeak before everyone fell silent. She kicked herself into the masked figure holding the drenched fabric, sending the two of them into the wall of the moving vehicle.

Yume ducked for breath without the sweet scent of chloroform, using her free hand to blindly fumble for the phone in her pocket. She swiped around blindly, hoping to find the phone app by muscle memory alone.

The nervous woman prayed that by some luck, she’d pushed the right contact to call—someone who was still awake at this time and smart enough to pick up on the silent cue for help. She let the phone dial quietly, but the light from her pocket attracted unwanted attention.

“Enough of that now, miss,” a hushed voice whispered before a syringe pierced the skin near her collarbone.

Her eyelids felt heavy for the second time that night, and her limp body hit the hard floor of the truck with a heavy thud.