Chapter 4: Teh d00d from Hokkaido

The bar was located in a coastal village north of Sapporo, one of those places the tourist books call "quaint" and that locals call "run down". A sign over the street entrance, printed in romaji, read "CYB3R-G4RD3N OF B33R". The interior was furnished in Canadian gaijin style, complete with a huge, moth-eaten, stuffed moose-head hanging over the bar. Several booths along one side of the taproom were equipped with computers and gaming consoles.

As the Idoru pushed through the doorway, she observed a stepladder set up behind the bar, and the lower half of a man dressed in blue-jeans standing on an upper rung. The man's upper half was inside the mouth of the moose-head, wires trailing down out of the mouth to either side. She could hear the high-pitched whine of a motor from the head, which stopped abruptly with a sharp click, accompanied by muffled cursing. A moment later he climbed down the ladder, a slender man with unruly brown hair that was just beginning to gray, carrying a cordless screwdriver in his right hand, and holding the side of his bleeding left hand to his mouth.

He froze a moment when he noticed the Idoru, then smiled. <Ah, welcome! Come in, come in. My Japanese, very good,> he said, "and lord help me, but j00 are r4ck3d!"

The Idoru smiled and approached the bar. "j0," she said.

The Barman's eyes went wide with surprise. "j0!" <Very good!> "j00 sp34k l33t?"

The Idoru grinned and wriggled her shoulders like a schoolgirl. <Oh no...just a few words I learned on the web. May I sit at the bar?>

The Barman nodded vigorously. <Sure sure sure - sit. What other words you learn? Excuse me.> The barman turned toward the gaming booths and shouted in English. "j0 Piro! We got a customer; get over here and pour some b33r!"

"Pour it yourself," called a small blonde man seated at one of the consoles. "I'm playing Clannad."

The Idoru put her elbows on the bar and folded her hands before her face to disguise her amusement, as the Barman lowered his head and muttered, "Damn that lazy bastard." He turned and shouted at the blonde, snatching up the screwdriver and waving it threateningly. "Never mind your wussy girl games! Get over here and pour the b33r!" He turned to the Idoru, smiling. <So. What other l33t you learn?>

<Oh...let's see..."r0xx0r".>

<"r0xx0r"...very good!>

<Uhm..."0wnz'ed"?>

<"0wnz'ed!" You know what "0wnz'ed" means?>

<It's like this, you know, l33t thing you do when you, like, 0wnz someone.>

<"0wnz" someone.> The Barman nodded approval. <Very good.>

<What else...I already said "j0", right?>

<Yes.>

<"Fear"?> The Idoru said, in a questioning tone.

<Oooooo. Not "fear".> The Barman said. <"ph34r". Repeat please.>

<"ph34r".>

<Most impressive! You sp34k l33t like j00 l33t j00s3lf!>

The Idoru giggled. <Now you're making fun of me.>

<No no no...serious business, l33t. Important to stop 3v1l ones. You say l33t very good.> The Barman said, brushing aside some of the wires trailing from the moose's mouth with an elbow, while washing out some extra large beer mugs.

The Idoru looked up at the stuffed head. <What's with all the wires and circuits that you're putting in that creature?>

<What?> The Barman said in incomprehension.

The Idoru pointed upward. <What are you doing with that?>

<Ah! That is my "m00s3 of ph34r"! Very l33t ph34rm00s3!. Protect b33rg4rd3n from 3v1l.> The Barman finished cleaning the mugs, then turned and shouted. "Piro! Get over here and pour the b33r!"

The blonde gaijin stood up and sauntered over to the bar. As he approached, the Idoru saw that he was wearing kitty ears. "Why do I always have to pour the beer?" he said with a surly whine. "If I weren't always pouring beer in this crappy joint, I might be a famous manga-ka or game animator by now."

"Hah!" shouted the Barman, brandishing his screwdriver. "If you created game animations, I'd be head of design, and you'd still be pouring the b33r!" The Barman threw the screwdriver over his shoulder with a sudden flick of the wrist. It flew straight up the left nostril of the stuffed moose and stuck there, quivering.

"Maybe she doesn't want any beer," the blonde said. He looked at the Idoru. "Do you want beer? You look too cute to drink beer."

<Huh?> The Idoru said.

"Never mind that; just get the b33r!"

"Awright awright, you don't have to yell," the blonde said. He poured Sapporo beer into a mug, and set it on the bar. To the Idoru he said, "I don't know why I have little black kitty ears sticking out of my head."

<Eh?>

"You weren't going to say anything about them, were you?" The blonde asked with an edge in his voice. "People are always asking me about things like that."

"You're finished pouring the b33r, so quit bothering the customer," the Barman said. The blonde looked suspiciously at the Idoru, then headed back to his game console.

The Idoru took a sip from her mug. <Good beer,> she said. <I like Sapporo.>

The Barman shrugged. <a little watered down, but still, a <a href='http://www.megatokyo.com/index.php?strip_id=282' target='_blank'>fine vintage</a>.> He reached up and yanked the screwdriver out of the moose's nostril. <So, are you from Hokkaido?>

<No, I live in Tokyo.>

<What brings you all the way up here?> The Barman asked as he began tinkering with some circuit boards.

<I came to see a man.>

<Ah. You have a friend live in Hokkaido?>

<Not quite. I never met him.>

<Who is he, may I ask?>

<Great Teacher Largo.>

The Barman stopped his tinkering, then looked up with a hard expression. The Idoru sipped her beer and returned his stare.

"\/\/h4+ j00 w4n+ w1th t3h l33t m4s+3r?" Why do you seek Great Teacher Largo?

"3y3 g0++4 h4\/3 4 <001 +h1n6." I require the use of a "cool thing".

"\/\/uhf0r u g0++4 h4\/3 4 <001 +h1n6?" What need drives you to seek a cool thing?

"3y3 g0tz m4j0r p0wnz0r4g3 c0/\/\/\/\1n6 |_|p." I must soon join battle with a redoubtable foe.

"z0|_|ndz d1<3y." Your foe must be formidable indeed if you require a cool thing to subdue him.

"j00 b3tz j00r s\/\/33+ 455." Indeed.

***

Dust motes floated in the beam of sunlight streaming through the skylight in the pitched roof. A trapdoor in the floor of the attic opened, and Great Teacher Largo climbed into the illumination, followed by the Idoru. Largo stood aside and gestured the Idoru into a space lined with racks on which reposed many Cool Things.

The Idoru walked along the racks, letting her fingers brush over the glossy metallic surfaces as she passed. She stopped and reached for one, then hesitated, and looked over at Largo. "May I?" She asked. Largo nodded assent. "Try the next one above."

The Idoru lifted her hand to the black and silver enameled sphere that the Great Teacher had indicated, and took it into her hand. For a moment she held it reverently, watching the light play over the polished surface, then her index finger moved to a recessed button. She paused, pressed. A cylinder unfolded from the cool thing, it's curved surface melding slightly with that of the globe, the flat ends projecting to either side. A handle, roughly four feet long, sprang out from the opposite side of the cool thing, perpendicular to the cylinder.

The Idoru grasped the end of the handle in both hands and held it vertically before her. A light sprang up around the cool thing, and an illuminated "+0" appeared above the mallet-shaped head. With one hand she swung the mallet in a tight circle, and the figure floating above the mallet flickered to "+1", and then "+2". The Idoru spun the mallet from one hand to the other in a figure-eight hasso pattern, and the figure increased to "+5".

Largo nodded. "I see you like the 'magical mallet configuration'. Me..." He pulled a rectangular circuit-board from his pocket, holding it up between the index and middle fingers of his right hand. "I like accelerator cards." He made a quick, sudden motion, and the card spun whistling toward the Idoru's head.

Quick as thought, the Idoru whipped the mallet around and intercepted the card. There was a plangent twang as the card was driven through the floor of the attic, leaving behind a slit-shaped opening in the planks. A moment later there came a sound like a ruptured bagpipe from the taproom below. Largo bent down and stuck his head through the trap door, then looked up at the Idoru with a frown. "You pwnz0r3d my moose."

The Idoru nodded. "Payback for the 'r4ck3d' comment you made earlier," she said.

The Great Teacher rose to his feet, approached the Idoru, and took the mallet from her hands. "I wanted to show you these, as you are one who can appreciate l33tness. But one as knowledgeable as yourself must surely know that I no longer make cool things, in a world that no longer respects l33tn3ss. I keep these for aesthetic and sentimental reasons." He tapped the button on the cool thing, and the mallet head and handle folded into the body of the cool thing with a sharp double-clack. "As proud as I am of my m4d skillz, I am retired."

"Then give me one of these," said the Idoru.

"They are not for sale."

"I didn't say 'sell'; I said 'give'."

Largo uttered a short laugh. "And why should I help you?"

"Because my foe is an old comrade of yours, and you bear a very large part of the responsibility for his being here."

Largo looked at her a moment, then slowly crossed to a dirty window. With his finger he scratched in the dirt of the window pane a crude stick figure wearing glasses. The Idoru nodded. "Even so," said Largo, "I don't really think..."

"And besides," the Idoru broke in, "I'm r4ck3d."

The Great Teacher paused, then nodded as though she had made a profound point. "That's true," he said. He walked to the trap door and climbed down onto the ladder. He paused and looked up at the Idoru. "It will take me a month to make the cool thing; you can sleep up here. I suggest you hone your l33t skillz in the meantime." He dropped out of sight.

Smiling faintly, the Idoru walked over to the window and stared at the stick drawing. Her smile widened as she added horns, a tail, and a big nose to the figure.

***

One month later, Great Teacher Largo knelt in his sanctum, lit by 14 CRTs and 14 flat screen panels. The whisper of twenty-eight cooling fans from his sacred Beowulf Cluster filled the room. Shimenawa hung above tubs of Oaty-O's and Ki-rin Beer. The Teacher was dressed ceremoniously in his Quake combat garb, a dark chevron of camouflage painted across the bridge of his nose, extending down both cheeks.

Piro knelt nearby, looking both scary and disturbingly appealing in his Quake crossdress-combat outfit. He picked up a body pillow painted with the figure of a young woman in a form-fitting fuku, on which rested a cool thing configured as a magical mallet. He stood, and with ritualized steps brought the pillow before Largo and set it down. He then moved back to his former position with the same ritualized steps.

Largo seemed not to notice. He spoke, almost as if he were in a trance. "I have finished doing what I swore an oath to Bioware I would never do again. I have created 'something that is cool', and in this endeavor I was a success. I have done this because 3v1l must be vanquished, and stick-figure 3v1l most of all." He looked down at the cool thing lying before him, and lifted it in both hands. "I can tell you with no ego, this is my coolest thing. If, in the course of your journey, you should meet Romero, Romero will be 0wnz3d." He pressed a button on the side of the cool thing, and it collapsed into an intricate sphere of black brushed-metal, a small, winged hamster picked out on its surface in gold inlay.

Great Teacher Largo held the cool thing out to the Idoru, who knelt before him. "And so, my R4CK3D B4B3-0-R4M4 W4RR10R, bear this with thee on thy journey, and turn aside for none."

The Idoru received the cool thing into her hands, bowed her head before it and said, "Sw33t."

To be continued...?

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