…dimmest court room I’d ever seen, darker than Tento’s Horror Dome, with Yaphet Kotto ordering me to the bench, without my lawyer, and before I knew it I was over there, staring up at him god-size above, blank-eyed, facially retrograde, listening as the alien-hassler recycled for the seventh time that I was guilty, amoral, hangable, and what did I have to say about that?
‘Still not true.’
‘I didn’t do anything.’
‘Precisely. You failed to help him.’
‘What? The noodles.’
‘Not good enough.’
‘Where’s your conscience, Keni?’
‘You truly are.’
Something at the back of the court started emitting beeping noises and my hand moved vaguely towards it.
Another few beeps and it stopped.
Kotto stared at me [and my hand] as if I were a necromancer then asked for an explanation of my actions that night. Stalling for time, I looked at the painting lurking behind, split into three panels, two men eating, something broken up in the middle, and then, accompanied by sudden industrial wires sprouting from the ceiling, the electronic screech from Tetsuo on the court speakers, my mouth opened and a new line crept out. ‘He wasn’t a man. At all.’
‘Then what was he?’
‘Robot. He was a robot.’
In my hand there was a book, something about robot theory, and I had it open on a fixed page and was reading out loud, telling Kotto, telling the whole court that ‘robot was a Czech word, associated with workers and…’
‘He wasn’t a robot,’ Kotto said, punctured without shriek by one of the wires.
And then I had a homeless man in front of me and a knife in my hand and I was telling Kotto that more homeless men were robots than he realised, than anyone realised, and I was using the knife to cut open the homeless man’s arm, only now he wasn’t a homeless man, he was Ryu Murakami, and as the arm opened, wires came flowing out, lots of wires, so many wires, an impossible number of wires and I tried to pack them back in but there were too many so I gave up and dropped him and told Kotto that with all due respect I was right, I’d always been right, but he didn’t seem to care as he was picking up the hammer again, wrist leaking blood, bile, motor oil, and at the back of the court…beep, beep, beep…
BEEP BEEP BEEP
Sunlight, shadow, breath trail, fatigue…
I blinked a few times.
Shapes started to appear…outlines, details. Topside of a bed, wall with occasional cracks, alien planet-scape poster, unread books with pretty retro covers. The VR hardware with the Moon Factory 7 card lodged inside. A few other game cards on the desk next to it.
Okay, got it now.
It wasn’t a court, it was my room. No trial, no homeless robot men, no Yaphet Kotto telling me to…
I picked my phone off the duvet, already aware it wasn’t early. But maybe it wasn’t quite as late as…
The numbers became clear.
Neon fucking manko…
One in the afternoon again.
I’d been hitting snooze for the last two hours.
The communal bathroom was empty, exploited; hairs and fluff trodden into the tiles, razors and gels left in the sink, someone’s towel balled up on the toilet seat. The rest of them must’ve left hours ago. Asami must’ve left hours ago. I peeked my head out the door and looked at the clock on the common room wall. Shit, about five hours ago if they were all starting at nine.
Showering quickly, no guilt, I ordered some all-day breakfast on the wall-pad, paced around the common room for a while, scrutinized the credits on the Hellevator poster Hide had put up, then went back to the bedroom and opened my bag.
There was nothing much in there, just Ryu’s Anarcho-Communism book. I picked it up and skimmed through a few more pages, but none of it stuck.
‘I’m trying, Makhno-San,’ I muttered, closing the book. It wasn’t a complete lie. The last few weeks I’d kept it on hand, reading the first few chapters, trying to think up my own ideas based off what the author was saying. What was the name…Fahey? How the hell did you pronounce that?
Anyway, I was trying. It may have been in my possession for eight, nine years already, and I’d barely touched it until last month when the power was out for two days, but still…I was trying.
It’s just…compared to the games…
I put the book on the bed and went back to the kitchen, getting there just as the breakfast arrived in the chute [with the dinner menu attached to the tray].
Feeling slightly embarrassed, I took it out to the common area and started eating. As usual, the walls were dull white, the Hellevator poster exhausted, and there wasn’t much happening online or on the Hey Muon menu screen, so I went back to my room, loaded up my game card version of Moon Factory 7, stuck the patch on my temple, wolfed down the rest of the breakfast and then connected to the better-than-anything-else-I-had unii server.
Like the common area, the factory dorm was empty except for a few YA-BOTS, all reading the same book [Red Dot Moon Grip]. One that had actually been adapted into a real thing. That was terrible. Yet still got compared to Tsukubashi’s work.
Nodding at one of the bots who looked familiar, I put on a work jacket and headed to Ops. The day before there’d been a power outage, which turned out to be an act of petty sabotage orchestrated by the Nabians, and repairs had yet to be completed. That meant the turbo-shafts were off-line. Ah, didn’t matter, I liked walking…even though I knew I wasn’t actually walking…but that also didn’t matter as after twenty or so minutes of immersion you forgot you weren’t physically doing any of those actions and the environment became real.
I turned right down the worm corridor, left at the pharmacy, left again, right at the rival pharmacy, past security, up the ramp and the stairs and into the main spiral the technicians used to get to Ops.
My eyes were open this time, but they didn’t need to be; I’d spent so many hours in this game, I could’ve gone anywhere on the base with my eyes ripped out of their sockets.
Probably not a good thing…auto-recall, para-attachment…though not as bad as others.
I bit down the voice in my head reminding me I’d just missed a whole day of lectures and focused on walking into Ops.
As expected, there was a skeleton crew of NPCs doing their programmed work at various consoles, so I nodded politely at a few of them and headed to the main view port.
A surprisingly well-lit moon-scape was spread out in the near distance, dotted with residential domes, imitation trees and chains of factory estates that functioned as targets for capitalist intrigue.
It was a beautiful sight.
A depressing sight.
And after another ten minutes, it would be a quotidian sight. The objective reality for who my character was supposed to be.
I sat down on the assist-stool and stared out.
According to the log, the others would be back soon…back from their survey of the craters just south of the dome, and then it would be my turn. But I would do a different area, the northern outcrops maybe, or out by the hills on the east side, and I’d make sure I was gone before they got back, so I didn’t have to communicate with anyone. Wasn’t in the mood for that today. Unless Tomomi was with them…or Sachiko…or Rosie…
I tried to bring up the player roster in-game, but it just blinked ‘LOADING’ over and over. Probably the server struggling with my game card.
Didn’t matter, I knew they weren’t there. It was too early…they’d either be at lunch or on their way to afternoon lectures…not slumming in the dorms like me.
Something green streaked across the view port.
A console fell through the floor.
One of the background characters split in two and started chanting static gibberish.
I held my right index finger against the palm of my left hand until the scenery faded.
Stupid, shitty tech.
Taking out the game card, I checked it for signs of obvious decay, even though I knew that was unlikely. 98% of malfunctions are internal, please do not attempt to tamper with the insides of the device. That’s what they always stamped on the packaging. Which was lucky, as I had no idea how to open the thing up anyway.
Maybe it was the hardware, not the game? Or one of the software upgrades?
It was possible, Tomomi had been hit by a virus a few months earlier…but that had brought down her whole server. And all my other cards seemed to run okay.
Nope, I’d have to take it back to the Dragon Centre. The shop two doors down from Yosh’s. And after that, another week before they bothered to fix it. Which meant I’d be stuck with the dorm version and its intermittent lag. And the lack of stealth mode.
Fuck, twenty minutes and glitch. After…what, two months?
Thanks a lot, Yosh.
Muttering some of my more creative swear-words [coined by Chorror probably], I packed up the breakfast materials and washed the fork I’d used on the egg. There were some dirty bowls in the sink, but I had neither the energy nor the generosity of spirit to wash them. Why should I? That was their mess, not mine.
Back in the common area, I picked up my bag and thought about where I was heading. Dragon Centre, that was the first thing. Put Moon Station 7 in for repair, if it was still salvageable, then swing over to Yosh and see if Pluto 2280 was there yet. It was doubtful, but sometimes they got sent out early.
Putting the bag on my shoulders, I stood – object, abject, bored – and stared at the Void Galaxia poster on the door.
Time to go, Keni. You lazy wretch. Out into the sunlight.
I paced up and down the common area, unable to make myself leave. A cloud must’ve passed across the sun as the room went dark and, when I closed my eyes, the moon came back and I was in Ops again and there were the hills over on the east side that no one had been to yet, I had to go there, and…
The door opened and one of the others walked in. It was Hiroki, without a spacesuit. He nodded at me and asked if I’d been to lectures already, even though he knew I hadn’t.
‘Oh, right.’ He sucked in his lips, unsure what to add. ‘Now?’
‘Oh, right, okay.’
He walked past me towards the kitchen, nodding his head like a woodpecker. I had a feeling he was gonna come back out with the dust mop and do the floor, even though there was almost no dust on it, and that’s exactly what he did.
I put my hand behind my back and balled a fist.
It wasn’t enough.
‘You don’t need to do that, I did it earlier,’ I told him, but he kept going, pushing the mop around me like I was some unmovable boulder.
Finally, he finished, putting the mop back in the kitchen.
When he came back out, he looked at the couch for a few seconds, then clapped his hands together and informed me that he had work to do in his room and should probably get started on it right away.
‘Good idea,’ I said back, already moving towards the exit.
As soon as he saw the mess in the bathroom, he’d get the mop out again, and have that head on him like he was a sweat-shopp worker in Poland or something, so I moved quickly out the door and down the stairwell.
Outside the block, there were some more students coming back from lectures. None of them seemed to notice me, but I pulled my phone out and pretended to send a message just in case.
Social interaction avoided.
I kept walking, ignoring the dorm greenery. By the corner of the bike rack, there was a cockroach lying on its back with its tiny legs paddling in the air. For some reason, I thought of Hiroki, though I wasn’t sure why. I had a feeling I just wanted him to be like that, a…what was the word? Figative? Fictative? No…figative, that was it. A figative cockroach.
As usual, the train ride was bleak.
Grey clouds merging beyond the windows, hospital lighting inside, everyone on board physically, spiritually done. The standing adults slumped on the rings, the kids just off school eerily quiet, the pensioners annoyingly loud, all of them stuck to their screens, with a few diehards zoned out and patched in to view-only re-runs.
Fifteen more minutes to Jiyugaoka.
Not too bad.
I kept to the side and looked out at the cityscape. There were too many regular, functional buildings and open spaces, too much daylight despite the overhanging grey cloud canopy, so I thought of Hiroki again, in his room, on his computerr instead of patched in, doing things that would reach their end when he handed them in or presented them to the class, and then it would be onto the next thing, and what the hell did he even do anyway? My head said economics, but other parts weren’t sure. I knew it had something to do with business and numbers, but everyone in the dorm was doing something similar and not by the same name, so I could never place the person to their exact course. But I was sure Hiroki’s one was economics.
Yeah, now I thought of it, it was. He put numbers into columns and made graphs and predictions out of them and it meant…what did it mean? Where would that put him in a hundred years? Who gave a fuck about economists, really? Would he have a memorial stone on his grave – ’Hiroki Kimura, whenever he died, note: he could do some slightly specialized shit with numbers’ – was that something to remember?
The train pulled through a line of stations and I kept a vague eye on the lights on the map telling me my stop.
No, Hiroki wouldn’t make much of a mark, and the rest of them were just as average, but what about me? Was it memorable to wake up at one in the afternoon? To scribble notes to Tsukubashi-San in Saizeriya and wander around Ghost Park?
I thought forward, a hundred years.
A Fahey-ian Utopia.
Then they’d have better things to think about. Maybe they wouldn’t even have to look back and remember anything…I mean, what if they just suddenly got better at a load of things, like writing or art and they realized it and when anyone said, ‘hey, look at all this stuff they did before, a hundred years ago,’ people would just look at them and go, ‘yeah, but that’s shit, look at what we can do now.’
A nearby arm spasmed, clipping my knee.
Yeah, that’s how it might turn out, I could picture it clear as Icelandic midnight. And they’d have spaceships too, cryogenics that would actually work, not that Walt Disney head-in-an-ice-bucket shit, and they’d be going out to Mars and Jupiter, maybe even further…the Kuiper Belt, Oort Cloud. Bright people crewing the ships, the brightest of the bright, selected and voluntary and…volunteers, was that right? Or convicts probably. Prisoners, fighters, army guys…psychopaths?
Shit, a bunch of loons on a spaceship…how would that work?
The light on the map flashed. A voice: ‘Jiyugaoka, next stop.’
Shit, don’t even think about it, teme.
No flight, no space.
Not in my lifetime.
No, no that either.
The Ondōans…would pick up scientists, Tsukubashi-San, great people…not a wretch like me.
On the seats to the left, an old man dropped his phone, almost headbutting a schoolgirl’s muff as he bent down to pick it up.
Okay, semi wretch.
Not that bad.