VCO: Chapter 13

"VCO" image


Chapter 13

I can see my algorithm changing in ways I’m not totally comfortable with. And we can’t go back to where we control all the content. Which I know was Everhet’s plan all along, but it feels like all these contributions are poisoning the well.

Since last Thursday, users can upload their own content to the DPZ site; build playlists, add captions, and source their own advertisers. We even have a library with open-source music. It feels like a perk, but in reality, they’re paying for it; a percentage of user fees are used to pay record companies for the rights. 

This morning, I was shuffling a video playlist in the background and it stopped about three videos in, and on popped up an End User Term Agreement (EUTA) window that wanted to inform me that THE FOLLOWING CONTENT MAY CONTAIN SUICIDE OR SELF-HARM TOPICS. Then it said VIEWER DISCRETION IS ADVISED. I had to acknowledge that I understood and wanted to proceed.

This makes my lungs get so light it feels like they’re missing. Every kink is justified, but what becomes popular is data. 

And data is fact.



Everhet does all the IT work for the site, so I have to wait for him to do something about it. Until then I’m not watching anything too stimulating. I feel like an emotional wreck as it is. 

Without a device constantly in my face I now see Everhet’s apartment as it truly is; a one bedroom with the stank of patchouli incense and fuck fumes. As I’m trying to invent errands I can run outside of the apartment, Morgen messages me and says she wants to go out for drinks again tonight. Something I didn’t expect. 

This time I brought my own beverage to Ray’s Hole. It’s daytime. I feel like I was here yesterday, and yesterday feels like a lifetime ago.

The spineless body of my paper coffee cup feels like an animal bladder and the softness of its walls mutes the sound of the ice cubes colliding with each other. The houselights are off, but the ones backlighting the bottles behind the bar on, making a joyful blunder spout from a heavenly host of drink options.

“After what you told me about what happened to your house I looked into it for you.” She procures a sheet of paper from her kangaroo leather planner. She says, “Here’s the unredacted police report.”

That dream was real. I must have texted her again during a soda blackout. I think it’s seriously giving me brain damage.

I don’t know if the stuff from last time is fully out of my system. Maybe a neural association thing, but when I see Morgen, I feel high.

I pull the piece of paper toward me and notice the insignia for the police department is much crisper and cleaner than the document I was given.

Like a realtor telling me where to sign but not what I’m signing, she points to the top of the document then to the bottom. There are sections of her copy that aren’t marked out like they are on mine.

Her fingernails that touch the paper are a dark aquamarine color. Like rare algae. It’s a color I’ve never seen. 

She says, “These are our internal findings.”

When she pulls her hand away the red top of the table changes to a more vibrant distinct red. Something about the color of her nails re-calibrates my eyes and now nothing looks exactly like it did.

There’s a moment of silence like being suspended in a bowl of Jell-O. 

“Are you going to read it?” She asks.

I almost forgot she was there. I say, “Yeah I’m on it.”

In 1986, Bohnsdalen Natural Gas Company was acquired by ArtoFuel and Energy, entrapping all their legal affairs. The report says regarding my parents’ incineration, it was due to a failure at the production facility in Italy. No mercaptan was added to the batch ID that matched the batch that was going into our house. Mercaptan is what gives natural gas that rotten egg smell. If they didn’t add it, you’d never know there was a gas leak.

“But how did it explode?” I ask.

“Anything built before the seventies is likely still operating with an antiquated piping system for gas.”

I say, “That sounds like something people would know about.” I crinkle my eyebrows, “How often does that even happen?”

She rolls her lips in and gives a few silent small nods while looking at the ceiling like it’s something she could go into but is restraining herself, 

She presses her middle finger to her brow, massages the area until her eyelids close and says, “A fucking staggering amount.”

Again, I shift the base of my cup on the table in a circular motion like aerating a glass of wine. Speeding up the melt down of the ice. Sweat pushes around on the surface of the table, dragging strokes like a Zen brush painting. Art that evaporates over time. No trace. Perhaps a dry stain, only seeable in daylight. I’d usually go work out karma after witnessing something so slow and sensual like that, but it just hasn’t been on my mind lately, with DPZ being my job and all. 

I’m either oversexed or still grieving, one of them is giving me these strange feelings. That explains the derealization stuff. Maybe this is what being present is.

“Don’t people who huff gas get brain damage?” I ask. Hoping she won’t say anything about soda. I feel bad about it already. But it’s so good. It’s like a cigarette you can drink.

The room has a feeling of fullness without there being any other people here. Humid with the kind of energy you’re afraid to let carry you. I picture a cartoonish x-ray scan of my skull. And there being a block of Swiss cheese where my brain should be.

I just noticed the open sign isn’t on.

She struggles to get her words out as if she’s waiting for me to say something. Then she says, “You are aware that if you weren’t out with me getting drinks you would have died too that night.”

She said it as a statement and not a question.

Which I wish she wouldn’t have said. Now I’m just thinking about how maybe I did die that night, and this is just some alternate reality in which every decision is playing my hand in some game. Demoted to a more volatile universe where carelessness and carefree living are exponentially punished.

How is it that my student loans have been obliterated yet somehow, I keep finding ways to be in debt to someone?

“Well. You can sue the shit out of us. Out of me. But…” And her sentence trailed off. I don’t really like how she emphasized the word “me” and pointed at her chest and leaned over. But I did get a good look at those nails again. With my vision updating, that dark aquamarine color becomes greener. Alive. Bursting and rotten in a beautiful way.

She procures another sheet of paper and slides it over, and at the bottom there was a dollar amount with seemingly unending zeroes before the decimal point.

I look up with my finger pressed against the numbers beside the dollar symbol. I say, “Mine?”

She says nothing. 

“Is this like, how much I’d get?” I ask.


Not having money most of my life has left me unprepared for negotiating, but I still feel the instinct to advocate for myself. I say, “That’s it? That’s all I’d get.”

She says, “You can’t afford my lawyers.” She bats her eyes and softens her rigid lip corners and smiles. She says, “Not yet.”

She digs into her planner again and I’m picturing a head shot of me developed in black and white. Then her telling me if I talk, she’ll kill me or something.

But instead, Morgen sets what I assume is the wrong piece of paper on the table, but I saw under one of the big boxes at the top of the sheet labeled:


I say, “What is this?”

“It’s an application for a certificate of marriage by the court of Arto County.”

“Right.” I say, “Yes. It is.”

“Look, I’ll be straight up with you.” She tosses her planner on the cushion beside her and lays her hands flat on the table. “Your dating profile on the app said you were open to making visual signatures with partners on behalf of a third party. You checked every box. Intentional or not, I need someone open to anything like you. And I have to tell you that is a rare quality in this world. Plus. You don’t look terrible.”

I’ll literally be whoever anyone needs me to be so they’ll love me. Why else would I let a bot build my dating profile? It wasn’t even a bot. I look in my app and every box is checked. If you’re unwilling to choose, it automatically selects everything, so there isn’t a chance of you not finding love.

“Honestly, I don’t understand why anyone does. I like to focus on things the rest of the animal kingdom can’t do. But unfortunately, progeny is a requirement for this.” She blows raspberries and widens her eyes in a theatrical sarcastic way. Then says, “You know what I mean?”

Wait, progeny, I know that word.

From the Frankenstein movie:

“Behold, my progeny! A being born of

science and ambition.

The creature stirs to life, its eyes

flickering with newfound


“You have to have a baby?” My voice unintentionally swings up on baby.


I say, “You want me to give you baby?” My voice unintentionally swings down on me.

My phone vibrates.

I take into consideration my current situation and since I assume the rich and powerful have magickal powers to have me killed, I just want to cover my bases and ask her why she doesn’t get someone else to go through all the legalities and paperwork just to have a kid. I don’t know if I used the phrase test tube babies, but I did try to make a comparison between artificial insemination and caesarian sections. Something to the effect of how they are both in a demotic sense “invasive” but biologically they are undeniably “effective”.

“My grandfather put a clause in his will that forbids it.” Then she went into detail of how the will states the child must be one hundred percent organic from the seed of a legal spouse. Something about how physical fertility indicates fertility in every aspect. Your name is the real heirloom. Only after the child passes a blood paternity test will the Arto estate be transferred to her name. All executive powers included. She will own everything. And she will become Arto Supremo. Which sounds eerily mobbish.

I can’t wrap my mind around this. We would own everything.

Infinity plus infinity equals infinity; the limit does not exist.

I would own everything.

This is without a doubt a once-in-a-generation out-of-the-fuck moment.

And there’s no shame. People do this all the time for immigration purposes.

The server from last time comes over. Butler. His bottom lip mumbles, “You can’t bring outside drinks in.” Then lifts a clump of hair from the front of his face revealing his left eye. The same gold heterochromatic ring around the border of his pupil as Les. It’s uncommon but not that uncommon, I guess.

“Yes, he can.” Morgen says looking at me, “He’s with me.”

She holds open her palms towards me. Pointing at me with her whole hand I think trying to visually signal to Butler that I’m someone you should use manners around and that Butler should have obviously known that. Communicating like primates. Grunts and hand motions.

Then she turns her head to me and pulls out a ballpoint pen.

Depresses the button on the back with her index finger.

It goes Cuh-click. Then twirls it around her thumb and it lands pointed at me and says, “Aren’t you…Darling?”

I feel like this should be a nicer pen. A plastic clicky?

She says, “With me?”

I take the pen and with my name I sign it. As I stare down at my name, I see endless futures appear, and my heart went: 



The contract signed, consecrated with black blood. It feels like I’m opening and closing a door at the same time. I click the pen closed and the reverb in the room boosts. And the light aftershock of the pen’s Cuh-click in my ears didn’t stop.


James Jacob Hatfield is a displaced engineer, a painter, and many other contradictions. His work has appeared in X-R-A-Y, Maudlin House, Vol. 1 Brooklyn, Barely South Review, Chaleur Magazine, Havik, and others. His ekphrasis poem “torrents of lahar, No. 36” was anthologized by the North Carolina Museum of Art. He is a Sterling Fellow and a Weymouth Fellow. He is the creator and curator of the Gemini Sessions Substack. He lives in Durham, NC.

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