‘Where the hell did all that metal come from?’ I asked, not really caring if anyone else on Tsunashima bridge heard or flinched or flailed.
The cover came out of my bag again, mock innocent.
‘Metal land? Pluto scrap yard?’
We were walking home-wards, myself and that disgrace of a game. The assistant had kicked us out, ignoring my one plea for leniency and then the following seven threats to have him subpoenaed [I meant fired].
‘What then? Permanent ban?’
‘This is a first offence so, no, not permanent. Just take a rest for a few days then you can come back.’
‘A few days? Three? Two?’
‘I think a week would be better. And when you do come back, no game, please. And no more aggression. Okay?’
I’d told him I would come back whenever the will took me, which meant there was no point going back at all. It’s not like there was any work due. Or there probably was, but that was way out of my orbit.
A couple walked past on the bike lane side, fondling each other and, when they got about ten metres ahead, it finally clicked in my brain that the girl was Tomomi.
Wah, my Tomomi. The third most chilled-out player on Moon Factory 7. The girl I sometimes hung out with at Clamo Sha Sea Food. Did she know how dumb this new Pluto game was?
I turned onto another road, walked past the new karaoke building and then Saizeriya. The addict part of me, a smallish part, thought about going inside and patching in, swallowing their dumb 4900 yen deal, but then I remembered the caveat: only games in the Saizeriya catalogue can be used. Okay, then I’d go in and scrawl out some napkin messages, notes for the designers of this game, telling them every single thing that was wrong with the fucking thing. Number one: it lies.
I didn’t go in though, there was no time.
The game had to be played.
Given another chance.
Maybe skip ahead to the base part of the narrative and see if any of the others had got hold of it yet. Somehow. Not that I wanted to talk to half of them, but it was better than brainless NPCs. At least we could slow the pace down a little, collaborate.
I looked down at the game-card, attempting forgiveness.
Gah, all that metal though. And the harem shit. Walking around shirtless on Pluto. No helmets. Why?
The game shrugged and, if it had a voice, probably would’ve told me there was an answer, but it was too technical to understand.
Yeah, leave it to the science coats.
Re-entering the dorm in ninja form was my plan, but that failed instantly as the lights were on when I opened the door, and three of my roommates were camped in the common room.
The mute and Asami on the couch, Hide on the floor, some cyberpunk thing playing on Hey Muon and half-crushed cans of Tiger underneath the table. Wasn’t a hundred per cent sure, but I assumed Hiroki was already in bed, asleep. Exhausted from all his pointless vacuuming.
We all traded a token hey, with Asami asking if I was gonna sit down.
I gave a curt no, but she persevered and forced an excuse out of me. ‘I’ve got work due in tomorrow,’ I tried, to which she laughed and said I never went in to get any assignments so how could I have any due in, and, even if there were things to finish, did I really care?
‘You do, why can’t I?’
‘I care, of course, that’s why I wake up in the morning. Hey, don’t disappear into your VR Cave, sit down, chat a while. You can take the floor with Hide.’
‘Put me on the floor, huh?’
‘Yes, join me,’ Hide said tapping the carpet. ‘We’re the big cats. Her big cats.’
Ignoring the weirdness, I sat down and asked them why they were drinking.
‘Holiday,’ the mute answered. What was his name again?
‘Early end of the week,’ Asami added, pointing at one of the uncrushed cans under the table. ‘Take one if you want.’
It was too dark to see if the ring-pulls were off, but I managed to find one, and opened it up. Croatian brand, I guessed, taking a sip and then seeing by the label that I was completely wrong.
‘You manage to beat four today?’ Hide asked, pushing his feet out until they were almost touching my leg.
‘Your hibernation schedule.’
His feet touched my thigh and he laughed.
‘You mean did I wake up before four?’
‘Hey…’ said the mute.
‘What?’ I shot back.
He jabbed towards the screen.
‘He’s trying to focus,’ Asami whispered, ‘it’s the second to last episode.’
I shifted back and saw a small, cherubic guy with a knife, running, screaming at a taller, Bangladeshi guy with a shaved head and muscle crops growing out of his shoulders. He didn’t make it. The shoulders guy vanished and re-appeared behind the knife hero, smacking him across the factory floor.
‘Planet Dark,’ I said, remembering a brighter version of the same scene from my childhood. ‘Didn’t know Hey Muon had this one.’
‘That’s weird. It’s pretty old…doesn’t hold up that well either…not like Rabbit Hole…or Void Galaxia…or Alien even.’
‘Too loud,’ the mute said again.
I shrugged and drank my beer. The Bangladeshi shoulders guy talked down at the knife hero on the floor, and was about to kill him when the knife hero pressed a button on his watch and beamed himself out of there. The episode ran on and ended back with the Bangladeshi shoulders guy, on a Santiago rooftop, looking at the metal implants in his forearms pulsing giallo purple, saying, ‘brand new Phalanstére’. I vaguely remembered the next episode and how it would end, and thought about telling the mute…but drank more beer instead. He was unpredictable, the mute. And not the smallest guy in the world. In fact, if he didn’t slouch all the time, he’d probably be taller than me.
‘So the Indian guy’s radioactive now?’ Hide asked the room.
‘Purple flavour…’ I replied, pushing his feet away.
‘I don’t get it.’ Asami reached down, taking another beer…then quickly returning it and grabbing a non-empty one. ‘If he’s got that power then why doesn’t he get sick? Like, radiation poisoning or something?’
The mute shrugged, got up off the couch, picked up two empty cans from the table, dumped them in the bin then disappeared.
There is an answer, I thought, but it’s too technical.
The three of us stuck around a little longer, chatting over the frozen intro of the next episode. They weren’t so bad, a bit generic, but they tried. Not bad, for economics students. And Asami wasn’t bad looking.
Just as I was finishing my second can we started talking about recent serials and how they couldn’t make a dent cos of VR and adventurist realism. That was my argument anyway, vaguely stolen from a vlog I’d seen on Itō and skim-hauntology. Asami countered, saying it was changing back and would be different in another five years, and then Hide scratched his leg and said it would never change back, Planet Dark was the pinnacle and that was nearly twenty years ago.
‘What about that new serial?’
‘The yellow muon thing,’ Asami said. ‘The blob that absorbs the guy and flies him off to an alien base.’
‘Remake,’ I replied, sharper than intended.
‘He’s right, original came out ages ago.’
‘I didn’t know that.’
‘Probably underplayed it, that aspect, trying to make you think it’s a new thing. That’s pretty much what they do now. No original stories cos they might lose cash. Everything’s a copy of a copy of something that was done decades ago.’
‘Wah, so optimistic.’
‘That’s why he has all those friends.’ Hide held up his hands as soon as he said it, adding, ‘joke, don’t hit me.’
I finished my beer and picked up the game, Pluto 2280, looking at the words typed out boldly on the cover: Real Immersion.
‘New game-card?’ asked Hide, glancing up to tag in Asami, who already had a grin on her face.
‘Harem Survival 5 probably.’
‘Or that Queen Himiko thing…’
‘Pagan Love Slave?’
‘All nudity based on recently unearthed skeletons.’
‘Born at the wrong time,’ I finally managed to reply, getting a drunken nod in response, and then confusion from both of them. ‘Us, all of us. That’s the reality of it.’
I picked up my empty cans, like the mute, dumped them in the bin, like the mute, and was going to leave like the mute too, without saying a word, but the comparison irked me so I stayed put, lingering by Asami’s arm of the couch.
‘The wrong time in history,’ I continued, taking some of her beer. ‘The wrong time period. It’s-…we’re in a period of nothingness. No big thing will happen in the next fifty years, guaranteed.’
‘On Hey Muon or…’ Asami said, her face puzzled.
‘Anything. Serials, VR, music, space exploration. We’re in a captured society and there’s nothing we can do about it.’
‘Wouldn’t go that far,’ said Hide, stretching his legs out as if this discussion were going to carry on all night.
‘Yeah, creativity-wise, there’s good stuff out there…’
‘…like Jenny Jaunt, Portal to Another Portal, Dogged Dragon…’
‘Alone In The Kuiper Belt And That’s Okay…’ added Hide, stuttering a bit at the end.
I shook my head, dramatically, almost spilling some of Asami’s can.
‘All with the same structure, same distribution method…gives you a quick hit, maybe, and then nothing. That’s the essence of capturing. Same thing over and over with all the parts rearranged…pro-capital, anti-capital, mock-revolutionary, doesn’t matter, it’s meaningless.’ More of Asami’s beer, more shots of Pluto Harem 2280. ‘Sorry if that’s depressing, but it’s true. Long as the adventurists control the networks, we’re stuck.’
‘Adventurists? You mean capitalists?’
‘Same thing, yes.’
‘They’re behind Jenny Jaunt?’
‘All of them. Every single serial and game and filmn.’
‘I thought it was independent…’
‘Nominally, yeah. But if you follow the funding…nope. Not even close.’
‘Wah, you almost sound like a college student,’ said Asami, reaching over and patting me on the arm.
‘Almost, but not quite. I’m going to bed.’
‘Before I make us all suicidal. Good night.’
‘Actually, if we’re talking about the new version of Jenny Jaunt, it’s meant to be quite…’ Hide started, but I was already gone.