Some questions for you, Tsukubashi-San:
- Why did the Ondōans appear to you?
- Why did they bring you back?
- Is the wormhole still there?
Is the wormhole still there?
It was a petulant question. And a non-catcher. I mean, who would know otherwise? The Russians? They never said anything.
A kid ran past, patch hanging drunk from his temple, howling at something. I turned to the other side, facing the calmer drones.
The Chinese…yeah, they’d be out there soon, they’d tell. Unless they decided to pivot to Mars…nestle in with the adventurists, set up their own farms, their own lithium mines, overworked YA-BOTs…
Or maybe further…Ceres, the Jovian Belt…Planet X…
Two tables down, the waitress appeared, struggling with two bowls of imitation shark fin soup. Hadn’t really noticed when I came in, but she looked quite pretty in those green and white stripes. Small circle lips, nice eyes, real eyebrows, none of that pencil-liner shit.
I watched with my Tsukubashi questions in the foreground as she put the bowls down and said something to the two teens opposite. Both were zonked out, pupils Jupiter-size, though one did muster enough awareness to lean forward an inch and peek down her shirt.
Sneaky little perv. Delusional too. Clown looked like he was still in Form Five. And the waitress…had to be at least two years out of high school. No way she’d be interested, unless she wanted to spend all her free time watching him sit on a plaza couch…glazed-over junk look in his eyes. And not even a plaza, more like one of the smoky places, or a youth group server…or even here in Saizeriya, her own fucking work place.
Nah, what she needed was someone older, brighter, someone who could at least take her to a barr without getting ID’d. Fuck her without leaking beforehand. Impress her with unni stories. Defend her against pervs looking down her work shirt.
A noise from the other table, drawing me back to my own.
Soup bowl was empty. When she came over, say something, get her number? The napkin, write it down there?
I looked at the Tsukubashi mess on the napkin, turned it over.
The pen hovered an inch above.
She’d see the questions too. Should I? Was she really that pretty?
My eyes went up again and re-assessed. The Form Five perv was talking to her properly now, asking something. Couldn’t hear it exactly, but I knew it was a question. As a supplement, he disconnected his patch, leaned forward and put a hand on her arm. For some reason, she didn’t remove it. Just smiled again, professional.
My body shifted upwards, hand gripping the pen like a spear.
Attack, not attack…
The pros: wasn’t far to their table, they wouldn’t be expecting it, both were young and skinny, one was patched out pale blue.
Cons: there were still two of them, the drone would wake up when his friend got hit, it was a public place, too many people watching, cameras.
By the time I’d waded through the whole list, things were already resolved. The waitress had finally stacked up enough irritation to push the kid’s hand off her arm, saying something with a Russian-looking face before heading off to a friendlier table.
Ha, good for her.
I lowered the pen and stared at the perv a while longer, hoping he’d look over and try something.
Instead, he prodded his friend, dragging him back to wretch reality, and the two started to chat out loud. Louder than the ether-wave track seeping out the ceiling.
Typical fucking teens.
Annoyed looks from the table to the left, also teens, made me modify a bit: they were typical teens with low self-esteem, not the other, more balanced ones sitting over there. Yeah, clumsy phrasing, but fairer. And I was a fair guy. After all, I’d been a teen once upon a time…almost three years ago.
A sudden shout, not a word but a WAH sound.
The perv’s friend.
I looked around for some kind of reaction, but the better teens were already on their way to the cashier, and pretty much everyone else on this side of the restaurrant was patched in. A whole third of Saizeriya, lost in some franchise sandbox. Fuck. Why even bother coming out?
Clearly emboldened by the lack of pushback, the bigger of the two kids started playing with the sugar tin, throwing it up close to the ceiling and catching it at the last millisecond with his left hand. On the fifth go, the idiot dropped it, breaking the lid off and scattering a mini-blizzard across the floor.
The man sitting on the table behind them turned and said something – shut up, I’m trying to eat, maybe – but the clowns didn’t care. Couldn’t catch the exact words, but I’m pretty sure they told him to slob off to another table.
I waited to see if the guy would bite back, even though I knew he wouldn’t; looked too much like an academic to pick a fight with anyone. No patch, Crystal Cliff jacket, grizzly beard…
Yup, I was right.
The professor mumbled something, shook his head and went back to his quantum mechanics book. Bigger of the two kids stared at the top of the academic’s head for a while then tapped the seat cushion, laughing.
My pen became spear-like again.
Sorry, Ryu, big brother, but there’s one concession I’m gonna make to those fascist fuckers. Kids out of control need the metal ruler treatment.
The napkin flipped over, pen down.
Make them scared of adults again.
Or the Battle Royale method? Only difference being, we wound instead of kill them…
Send them to Ikebukuro.
Edit: send them to Yosh, see what he makes of their noisy shit.
Or even better, send them to the moon and make them do-…make them dig for resources…sweat their brains out down in the helium mines or…
No, too rewarding.
People like that don’t deserve space or the moon…
Neither do convicts or rich people or venture capitalists or tycoons or adventurists or power-hungry motherfuckers or those Serbian guys who cut off heads or…any of that trash..
Only scientists and humanists and anarchists and charity workers and…
Am I part of it?
An image of a small boy with a tiny towel came into my head, face bleeding, tiles on the floor blood-streaked, my hand-…
I turned the napkin back over and re-read the notes on Tsukubashi-San. Edited the second question to ‘Why did the Ondōans say they brought you back?’ instead of the more direct, original one.
How would Tsukubashi have answered then?
I imagined him revived and sitting opposite, in his Can-D jacket and that I pissed about in a wormhole grin on his face. He was uncomfortable immediately. Looking around and seeing patched-in faces, patched-in kids, those two annoying teens…he started to sweat.
No, couldn’t have him here. Too weird.
I reconstructed myself moving instead, back in time and over to the old UK, landing at the airport, driving to…where did he live? London? Where in London? I’d seen it on the documentary, Glimpse of Ondōa, it was on the fringes somewhere, a small housse with a lawn and imported bonsai trees and he was hanging the washing out on the balcony with his wife. Then I pulled up, and he saw me from the window, saw that I was Japanese, so he came over, asked who I was with, and I said three letters JBA, which he seemed sceptical of, but I showed him a badge, a variation of the CIA one, and it got me an invite into his housse and then the living room, where he sat down on the most comfortable chair, one that reclined, whereas I got one brought out from the kitchen, a tiny, plastic thing. We sat down and he started talking first, about Japan, his chronic headaches, the flaws he still wanted to fix on Beyond the Rabbit Hole, then things blurred and skipped and I was pulling out my napkin, this napkin, and asking the three questions. How would he answer? I paid careful attention for squirming, but he didn’t budge, just sat and smiled like…like the MC in Void Galaxia, Captain Eto, a confident smile, you treat all your heroes this way kind of smile, and answered:
‘Accident. They just did. Very much hope so.’
I looked at the questions on the napkin to correlate the answers and then noticed the bowl was gone.
Shit, when did that happen?
My head shot up, scanning the scene. The two teens were missing. Sugar on the floor had been cleared up. My waitress crush…was behind the register, taking money from a guy in a Platonic Jazz t-shirt. Meanwhile, Tsukubashi-San, his living room, his housse and the fringes of London had all vanished.
I tried to bring him back but, for some reason, all I could think of was a generic astronaut on a derelict ship…and a face-hugger trying to break through the guy’s helmet.
The 70’s one?
My head went back down, the image of the alien soaking for a while before giving way to other parts of the filmn I vaguely remembered, my brain making up new parts, new scenes, new areas of the ship, sparing characters that died, killing characters that didn’t.
By the time I got to Ash sucking off Yaphet Kotto, a different, greyer waitress had materialised at the end of my table, asking if I wanted more coffee. After staring blankly for a few seconds, I managed to shake my head, vaguely pointing to the self-service buttons on the wall.
‘You’re welcome,’ she muttered in response.
‘Press the button if you need more.’
She smiled not at all convincingly and moved on to the next table.
Half-watching her play out the same scene with that customer, I fished out a new napkin from the box nearby and wrote another question, a random one that had just popped into my head.
– Why is the alien in ‘Alien’ black?
And then another, a consequence.
– Why does the alien kill the Yaphet Kotto? Racial subtext?
The topic took me in again, loading up fragments, scenes, alternate turns and longer conversations, the dinner scene lasting a full hour, Yaphet dodging the alien’s tail, bigger guns, unbreakable helmets…then air.
Dropping the pen, I looked at the clock on the wall, figuring there hadn’t been too much time wasted on this thing.
It was ten past one.
My brain had been lost in Alien for nearly an hour.
Outside, everything was dead. Desolate. The light from the neon hanging two floors up covered the commercial side of the street, showing me how depressingly familiar it all was. The opposite side, the shadowed parts, had all the residential shacks. Or potential residential shacks as the lights were never on and no one ever seemed to come out.
Maybe they were all patched in?
Seven month old corpse discovered by squatters, patch still glued to temple.
It happened sometimes.
To poor people with dodgy equipment. And no friends.
I lit the last cigarette from my pack and smoked half of it while staring at the green haze above Ito Yokado.
There was Kayo Mauve holding a baseball bat, telling me the universe was mine. Next to her was a holo-pic of the new Kem-4 VR pod hovering above what looked like the snow peaks near Nagano.
That was the universe?
I finished the cigarette and thought of the real universe. Billions of stars and moons and planets and space stations and black holes and…and countless other shit I’d never get to see.
Goddamn Tsunashima, what was the point?
Goddamn unii, what was the point?
What was the point of any of it compared to all that…everything up there?
I walked to the edge of the road and crossed, looking up. When I got to the other side, my head turned back to check for cars or bikes or pods, but there was nothing.
Back up to the stars then.
That mesmeric, infinite sandbox. Billions of planets waiting to be explored…to have the first Saizeriya or Ito Yokado planted on their soil, ha. Even this solar system, the ridiculous size of it…Pluto, Eris, Kuiper Belt, the blue of Neptune, the weird axis of Uranus, the insane radiation of the Jovian Stretch, Mars, Mercury, wreck of the Soviet Venus probe, Chu’s shiny blue portal to the Helix Nebula that would, three times out of ten, tear your ship apart.
And then there was the Moon…only thing we’d actually put boots on. And future mining colony/concentration camp, if the adventurists got their way.
Something on the street shimmered, grabbing me.
A large foyer window in one of the residential shacks, completely dark [apart from the usual loan shark posters].
One Man’s moon [a scene on a window]…
The residential blocks across the street shuffled closer and a huge glass dome came down behind them. Their lights were still bright. In the sky, spaceships went up and came down, taking wantaways out, bringing optimists in. A couple walked by on the street, the man’s arm tight around the girl’s shoulder…what was she, fifteen? Wah, there were no limits anymore, not when guys were swooping that low. She let his hand slouch down onto the top of her chest, and he started making circles, enjoying himself. Would my scene have people like that in it? Fuck it, let them stay…for now. Better to have muck and sleaze than puritans.
To a degree. But numbers weren’t that important, spirit was.
I pulled out of the scene and made a mental list of all the Space filmns I could think of where the numbers were low.
– Beyond the Rabbit Hole, of course.
– Void Galaxia
– Silent Running
– Infinite Atom Mall
– Red Dot Moon Grip
– Enemy Mine
– Blue Star Misty
– Event Horizon
– The one about thirty years back, with Sanada-San as Captain…
– Portals & Portals
– I’m All Alone In The Kuiper Belt And That’s Okay
That was it, all I had.
The loneliness filmns.
Each one a utopian…unattainable…nebula.
Not a dream.