“But wouldn’t the planet turn to crap with a bunch of immortal SuperMegaNet users running around?” I ask.
“The planet’s already crap, and we’re hardly immortal,” Mimi-Siku says. “If anything, immortality would have the opposite effect. People don’t give a shit about the environment because they know they’ll be dead in a few short decades. Let future generations deal with it. But if we knew we’d be around for hundreds, thousands, maybe even millions of years, suddenly we’d care more because we’d be around to have to live through it ourselves.”
Or Ready Player One becomes the world, with everyone choosing the OASIS over actuality, and actuality is just where we store our servers or exile our undesirables. I continue to steep my tea. “All of this seems kind of complicated for a Sikuist basing his life on simplicity.”
“Well, big ideas, simple life.”
“That would make a cool T-shirt.”
“Is Redbubble still a thing?”
“Was it ever?”
We share a brief laugh.
Then I say, “You mentioned earlier that you could help me with my skin problem.”
Nodding, Mimi-Siku opens one of his desk drawers and pulls out a battered-looking smartphone. He taps something out. “Done. I’ve re-enabled access to your default skin. You can find it in your skins list.”
I’m tempted to go default (and back in color!) here and now—but I hesitate, phone in hand, thumb hovering over the touchscreen. Mimi thinks I’m twenty-one. If I suddenly become my true self…well, let’s just say adults tend to disregard me the instant they realize I’m underage. Mimi-Siku this Valentina woman may be, I’m almost certain he’d be less enthusiastic about hanging fundoshi with me if he knew I’m just a kid. And I still want to hang—long enough to figure out what this dude is all about. Like, I don’t necessarily want to be friends with him; I just want to…know.
“Thanks,” I say. “I, uh, owe you one.”
“Happy to help out,” Mimi says. “And if you really want to owe me one, I’m always on the lookout for new coders to add to my buddy list.”
“What, me?” I’m proud of my markup and scripting abilities, but I’m a Web kind of guy. I can program—I don’t think I can hack, though. “I just do Web sites.”
“I’m not going to lie, there were probably a dozen other able candidates on the Semantic Web server who would’ve fit the bill. But you fit the dress code.” Mimi-Siku chuckles, nods at my loincloth. “Also, you’re friends with Beta.”
A thought bubble pops up beside my head. In it, Beta and I are sprawled on my bedroom floor and are working over each other in Super Smash Bros.
“Not to worry you or anything,” Thought Bubble Beta says, “but we should have a plan.”
“A plan for what?” Thought Bubble Me asks.
“The off chance they come looking for me.”
“Taurus Labs. The government. Both, maybe.”
“I thought you said you were untraceable.”
“Oh, I’m 99.99% sure I am. But it’s always good to be prepared for that .01%.”
“We need a code word.”
“Something simple but obscure.” Thought Bubble Beta thinks for a moment. “Pompidou.”
Thought Bubble Me raises an eyebrow. “Pompidou?”
“Yeah. Like the 2015 Matt Lucas series. It means nothing to no one. If suspicious peoples ever come around dropping my name, text ‘Pompidou’ to me as a head’s up.”
The thought bubble pops out of existence, leaving me nervous and jittery and absolutely positive that Mimi-Siku is some kind of special agent sent to nab Beta and arrest me for aiding a wanted digital refugee. I mean, that makes at least a little more sense than a loincloth-wearing vandweller out to reinstall the world from behind his laptop. Doesn’t it?
Hair suddenly matted.
Bead of sweat trickling down my forehead.
Toes of one foot curled and tapping nervously against the floor.
Fingers like breakfast sausages trying to nonchalantly text Beta without Mimi-Siku noticing.
“What are you doing?” Mimi asks, totally noticing.
“Um…playing Angry Birds.”