The Story of Hanzo & His Unlikely New Friend
By Jordan Hills
“They thought I was asleep, but I wasn’t. I was wide-eye awake with my ear to the door, eavesdropping on their loud whispers.”
Autumn in Yokohama, Japan, 2040 A.D.
Hanzo Atari woke the next morning, moving more sluggishly than usual. He overheard his parents talking to the doctor the night before. Something about his temporal lobe, possibly benign, and other big words he didn’t try to pronounce. After finishing his morning Miso, to his surprise, he was greeted by mother with a present. She told him it was an early birthday gift. Hanzo was 9 turning 10 in a month’s time.
“お 誕生日おめでとう ございます! Happy Birthday, you may open it early, if you want to.”
He was overwhelmed with excitement and confusion at the same time, but he soon got over the confusion, no 9 year-old-boy can resist an unexpected gift. He ripped the wrapping paper right off of the box and could start to see the letters unveil underneath.
NEURO-KIT I it read.
The latest in virtual gaming.
This video headset plugs you into alternate reality as a fun gaming experience, all while reconstructing your synapses and rebuilding neuron response. NK-I is a prototype given to the Atari family, it pays off when your father works in programming and your mother in nursing.
*bbliihhhhmm mmbing* such a pretty noise it made when it powered on. Hanzo explored the many corners of the virtual world for hours, he lost track of time and his parents never came to tell him it’s getting late.
“That’s funny…” he thought.
Hanzo woke up much easier each morning, finished his morning Miso, and went back to his room to plug in and battle monsters and goblins. He would take a break to come to the dinner table and tell his parents of all of his new adventures, then back to his room he would go until sleep caught up to him. After about 2 weeks of non-stop excitement, something in the back of his head popped into his mind. All of this was very out of place, where did his mother’s strict house rules go? Was his view of reality off-kilter from his constant gaming or was bad news on the horizon, he wondered.
Levels went by, underwater levels, space levels, levels in the mossy treetops. Days went by but he couldn’t shake the uneasy nagging. The anxious thoughts pent up inside until one night he exploded like a downtown neon-sign crashing and hitting the ground in glowing rage. He couldn’t shove reality down any farther. Hanzo reach to the back of his NK headset and grabbed the cords. He went to rip them with his adolescent strength, pausing only at the notice of the smallest cerebral voice.
“Who said that?!” Hanzo exclaimed to the walls of his bedroom. He sat there and waited for a response.
“It was me, I don’t know how I came to be but I’ve been here, watching over you as you play… me?”
Hanzo couldn’t believe it, he would have thought that those 140+ hours of gameplay were either really getting to him, but it sounded so visceral. Hanzo creatively pieced together a virtual body for this voice to exist in.
“Who are you, a bot in my game?” Hanzo asked, shaking in curiosity.
“I’m no bot, I’m just me. Like how, you are you. I first remember waking up when you powered on the Neuro-Kit. You seemed very upset moments ago, are you okay?”
Hanzo took his grip off of the cords. After calming down, he dumped all of his unprocessed, fragments of thoughts onto his new friend. They spent all night in this virtual realm talking about monsters, weapons, frustrations, family. Practically everything that lived in the headspace of this young boy. Hanzo heard his mother calling him for breakfast the next morning, he hadn’t even fallen asleep that night.
When he didn’t think these cozy November days could amount to much, he had been given such a stimulating new console. And when he didn’t think those evenings could get any more epic they grew into a sanctuary and a bestfriend for him to console in.
“Your life sounds wonderful, and your family sounds nice,” NK-I (let’s call it that for convenience) told him. “Even though your future is unforeseeable…”
“HANZO, DINNERTIME! IT’S YOUR FAVORITE MACKEREL!” Mrs. Atari shouted from the kitchen.
Hanzo told NK-I how much he loved mackerel, and said he would return as quickly as he left. Minutes later Hanzo waltzed back into his room with his plate of still-warm fish and refreshing cup of lemon water. He sat down and put the VR back upon his head. His parents had let him bring the rest of his dinner to his room, now this was a new extreme even Hanzo didn’t think was possible. They played multiplayer games together as Hanzo scarffed down the last few bites, he was good at multitasking that way. He went to take a big gulp of water, the ice cubes stuck at the bottom of the glass betrayed him and raced to the front. Lemon water splashed up and shot out his nose. His display abruptly glitched as pixels fell out of place for a second. The datamoshing effect zapped this screen-captured kid back into his tangible, dark room.
As he fixed his eyes to the real world he realized his Neuro-Kit had been soaked by his lack of patience and control.
“NK-I! Are you okay?!” he exclaimed. He was swarmed with nervousness and overwhelming waves of guilt, apologizing so quickly that he never gave his friend a chance to respond.
NK-I spoke in an dysfunctional altered voice. The both of them not realizing how fragile this prototype really was.
“I’m sorry! I’m so sorry!” He continued.
“Hanzo!” NK-I had to cut him off to speak. “ Even though your future is unforeseeable, I wanted to tellLL YooOUuu, thhaAaanNK you. I am grateful to have known you, you’ve made my existence on this earth worthwhile.”
Hanzo’s 9-year-old brain couldn’t respond to such responsibility as this. They traded final thoughts of thankfulness towards the friendship that had formed. He had given this digital voice a glimpse into the human experience.
“Till we meet again. また会うまで.” NK-I sputtered as the whole system turned black. Hanzo began weeping. His parents dead asleep in their room didn’t wake to his cries. About 30 minutes went by, Hanzo kept replaying the conversations of the past weeks. In his loneliness he felt a tinge of love with the start-up chime replaying in his ears.
“Until we meet again.” He repeated to himself until the house had gone silent and his tears had dried to his cheeks. He went back to his normal sleeping habits the next few days. His parents never learning of any of this or noticing the console collecting dust on its fried circuitry in the corner of Hanzo’s room.
Each day he repeated to those words to himself, springing forth a half-smile grin and some form of hope he could touch. He was eternally grateful for the precious time spent with his unexpected companion. They had learned that from each other.
One week later, on a cloudy night, Hanzo passed away in his sleep. It was the night before his birthday.
In addition to being a gifted song-writer, and one half of the hiphop duo Fox & Tiger, Jordan Hills is also a talented artist, photographer, and writer, a first-class dog-dad and coffee slurping mustache guru. You can (and should) find him on instagram right here!