Kanji Like Stars

By Joseph Hurtgen


WWWoronin/ shutterstock


Downbeat sprawled out on the broken concrete, eyes rolled back, body vibrating. Out of his mouth a stream of data, numbers, code, keywords, shadows of intelligence. Xqijy— everyone called her Exie—kneeled at his side, face dappled in sunbursts of purple and blue, a phantasmagoric tiger. Silver brocade wrapped at her forehead, great clouds of peroxided white curls towering above, tight black leather stealing the night around her.

Two fingers on D/B’s neck, a faint pulse detected. Had he done this to himself? An accident? On purpose? She didn’t know. She covered him with her body. Mouth covering mouth, Exie poured hot breath into D/B. But the hacked chanting went on, could go on for hours until he had nothing left and would blink out, unless Exie could do something, but what could she do? She’d spent the last 15 minutes dragging him through the streets until he collapsed. She couldn’t reason with him. Couldn’t get him to stand again. She hefted D/B’s heap of flesh over a shoulder and staggered down an alleyway, tried to not think about the stench of decaying flesh and day’s old fish, focused on the faint trace of sandalwood on D/B. One drop behind each ear upon waking and a CRISPR injection, “For luck,” he’d say. And it had worked for a time. Memory enhancers, neurological multiplication nodes, increased girth, which she had him reduce, or else. D/B had cut purses from the accidentally rich cryptocracy. For the past year it had been highroller hotels and sushi from Ginza Bay. If Exie wasn’t working overtime to tamp down trauma, she might have noticed that she hadn’t eaten since that morning and the drugs were wearing off.

D/B’s droning went on and on. “Magicmonkey4672. Triple$ynthetic77. Averagepanda043.”
Exie found an autonurse—something like an ATM but medical white with a laser and a couple of retractable arms with opposable digits. It could put on Band-Aids and shake your hand. It could really do wonders with a scalpel. When prompted for payment, Exie remembered that she was penniless. D/B wouldn’t let her pay for anything, sure, but now that it mattered, she couldn’t pay for anything. “Damn,” said Exie, thinking of thrashing the machine until she registered the laser eye, all-seeing, all-powerful. “No payment plan?”

The laser eye’s glow warmed and cooled, like breathing. “Female subject, you are not in the database. Reporting to authorities. Have a nice day.”

Exie shrugged. Her exotic face painting would award her image a scratched head or two and a trip to the virtual wastebaskets of the authorities, as if anyone gave a moment’s worry to authorities. D/B’s breathing was a thin rise and fall of the chest, and she wasn’t even sure who had done it. Well, she was damn sure it wasn’t the authorities. But beyond that, who knows?

She eased D/B down to the ground, pulled out her phone. She tried Moxie. No luck there, but Exie wasn’t surprised. Moxie was never around in a pinch. Light tapping coming up behind her. She spun around, saw jagged teeth like knives and also real knives with jagged teeth. “Give us whatcha.” 


A lunge, blade and tooth a blur spitting toward Exie. She rolled, pulled out a gun, a huge matte black thing D/B had 3D printed in the central library’s sub-basement. The trigger pulled back almost too easy. The big gun thundered in the alleyway and shredded the body knifing toward her. The other man ran. She traced his moves with her gun but let him go. Receding body swallowed by shadow, the teeth of blade and mouth leapt back in her mind. She fired another round.

A quick search of her late assailant’s pockets yielded five wallets. He’d been busy this day. She scanned the first credit card at the autonurse station. An alarm went off, a punishing deep bass throb that caught her off guard. She nearly messed her pants. From the smell of it, D/B hadn’t had the same luck. “Shit.” Exie knew better. Of course a stolen card would set off an alarm. And the authorities really might get involved now. She glanced down at D/B. She couldn’t tell if his chest was still moving. His face was going the wrong color of purple, and she hadn’t done his makeup today. 

D/B’s codes continued, now at a whisper, though his eyes were fixed and his mouth was shut. “X59 Keycode 0010111000111001.”

Exie needed to move, but her emotions had just decided to spill and with them hot tears coursed down her face. She remembered wandering around the Sunshine 60 building with D/B with a bottle of champagne. She loved looking in his big orange eyes. He’d been proud of them. “What other Japanese you know’s got orange eyes and an ear in his neck?” It wasn’t eyes in the back of his head, but D/B really could hear anything. He’d sneaked people’s passwords by walking around with oversized headphones on—noise canceling except for the ear in his neck which was Labrador strength. D/B could hear her lathering up her legs for a shave. He could hear the pages turning in her books from across the studio apartment they shared at the top of their junkai. But despite his heightened senses, he was no good at sensing danger.

She picked him back up and trudged out of the alleyway, got on the Omotesando and hardly recieved a glance at the passers-by. D/B would have gotten more looks had he been upright, swaggering along with the neon-lit street reflecting in his techno jungle cat colored eyes. Despite D/B’s smell, things were going well enough until he started shouting an avalanche of technobabble.

A man in the crowd stopped in shock. “Those are my passwords! How do you know my passwords!” D/B kept going, rattling off a waterfall of characters, numbers, kanji. Everyone around gasped one-by-one as the incapacitated man told them the usernames and passwords to their accounts. He couldn’t see them, but he could see through them.

A man shouted and grabbed at D/B. Exie tried to step back, but D/B fell with a thud and the crowd swarmed. Someone grabbed at Exie, but she spun away, she caught a glimpse of D/B’s black shock of hair and then fled down the street, fled from the violence, the crowd kicking and clawing at DB, demanding how he knew their information. A half block away, Exie snapped out of her flight response with thoughts of D/B, her D/B, but her hands were shaking and someone strange, someone angry, was running after her and shouting. She fled.

The door to their apartment was already open. She reached for D/B’s gun but a hand was on her arm faster. 

“We’re going in. You’re going to sit down. We’re going to talk.” The voice was even, almost polite. Not the voice you’d connect with the guy who’d just broken into your apartment. There were two. A guy and a lady. Street clothes. Unassuming save for the hardened lines on their faces. “Lot’s of money’s gone missing this week. And it all went into one purse.” The man led her to a couch and had her sit.

Exie tried to look like she didn’t know about Downbeat’s electronic activities. She was almost convincing since she really didn’t know much about hacking, but an original Banksy ten feet across above her couch was evidence enough that she must know something.

“And that purse’s ping stopped here.”

Exie looked around. “In Tokyo?”

“In this apartment,” said the lady. “Today.”

“Where’s your boyfriend?” said the man.

“Who are you?”

“We’re asking the questions.”

“I lost him on Omotesando Street.”

“Then we’ll wait for him,” said the man.

“He could be awhile,” said Exie.

The woman glanced at her partner. “Why? Is he leaving the country?”

Exie didn’t know if she’d get another moment of lapsed attention from her questioners. She sprung off the couch and was out of the apartment in seconds, her erstwhile captors following close behind. She hurdled over the fourth-floor banister, spun as she dropped down a floor and grabbed the third-floor banister. Her hands stung, but she held on, then let go and dropped to the next floor. On the second drop, her left hand slipped and the catch with her right hurt. She pulled herself up and over the banister and sprinted down the last two flights of stairs. She was out on the street and blending in with the crowd before her followers could spot her.

But now she really was homeless. She had to find D/B. She should have been recording all his nonsense. Maybe somewhere in there, he’d spout the password to his purse. With a password, she was heiress to a massive fortune in crypto. But without it? She didn’t want to think about her life without D/B’s password. Exie headed back down Omotesando. The kanji hanging above like stars glowed with information that Exie didn’t need. She found the spot where the crowd had mobbed D/B. But D/B wasn’t there. She saw something orange on the street and had to close her eyes and take a breath before she looked closer. Relief. It was the head of a goldfish. Exie felt somewhat reassured, but now what? She put a hand in her pocket. She had those five wallets. The cards were no good, but rifling through them, she found almost 5,000 yen. It was late, so she did what any sensible person would do with 5,000 yen in hand. She rented a hotel room, got a six-pack of beer, and ordered sushi.

As Exie cracked open her 4th beer, her phone lit up. A message. “After this job, I’m taking you to the Tokyo Skytree observation deck.” Exie closed her eyes, feeling hope flood in. After a few seconds, she looked at the message closer. It was an unread message from Downbeat from a day ago. Exie’s stomach sank. She stared at the message, right into the blue light. She drank the beer and tried not to think past the feel of her high. Maybe she would go in the morning. Maybe D/B would snap out of it. Maybe he’d meet her there. She counted what was left of the 5,000 yen. She had enough to pay for the trip up to the deck. She would go in the morning.

She shot up the elevator to the observation deck early. Looked out on the sinuous Sumida River and the dense street grid below, the towers rising like capacitors. All that flowing information impenetrable from her vantage point. There might as well not have been a city grid or an information network. Why was she here, anyway? To confirm that D/B was dead and that she was as good as dead, probably. D/B used to have brown eyes. He used to work in a kitchen, chopping vegetables, prepping the rice. Exie was poor when she met Downbeat. She’d slept in train stations, movie theaters, furniture stores. He’d noticed her grabbing leftovers off plates on the restaurant’s patio and gave her a meal. She started showing up at the restaurant every day and soon moved in with him. At night they’d sip from the same bottle of Asahi and huddle on his bedroll looking out over the lights of the sprawling city. Same city she saw now. Exie stayed on the deck till close. The moon hung low in the sky, a rare burnt orange. D/B never showed, but Exie knew some places to get a hot meal, some places to sleep, some places to wander off into and forget what came before.


About the author: Joseph Hurtgen has a PhD in English Literature from Ball State University. He is a freelance editor and science fiction writer. Hurtgen lives
in Kentucky with his wife Rebecca and two children, Frances and Ira.



This post has already been read 339 times!

Share This:


My name is Jack L. Bryson and I'm the editor of Teleport. I studied literature at University of Montana. I live in Mountain View Ca, and my email is coffeeant1@gmail.com

Leave a Reply

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.