[Void Galaxia] Chapter 11: Will Change You Wholesale

+++

At Jiyugaoka station, I stood in a daze, possibly on the platform, possibly on the tracks, surrounded by lunch-time bustle, trying to think of all possible routes to money [plus not having my fingers chopped off].

      There was Ryu…

      But he wasn’t picking up. And he’d just been fired anyway. Would probably need everything he had just to take care of himself.

      Asami?

      No, too humiliating.

      Mum?

      Pointless. She’d say no before I even managed hello. And she didn’t have much anyway, not since Dad died.

      Nozo…

      Last time I saw him, he was in debt worse than I was.

      My Astora account…

      Three thousand, two hundred yen.

      Next student loan installment…

      Half a month away.

      The coins on my desk?

      Ha. If I wanted to buy a lollipop…

      Fuck. Think Keni, you wretch. Think.

      Who else?

      Who else did I know that didn’t hate me?

+

      Yosh walked onto the platform and waited two carriage lines down from the college wreck. The word ‘kasu’ was still seeping out of his mouth, towards his boss and the idiot with the game debt, but he was careful to keep it muffled.

      It was pointless though. The wreck wasn’t stupid, he wouldn’t run.

     And why did it have to be him on follow duty?

    Masa didn’t know anything about running the VR Centre, yet there he was, trying to run a fucking VR Centre. Just cos he couldn’t be trusted not to get mad and stab the kid outright..

      Great. Punished again for being the calm one.

+

      On the train I stared at a line of eye mask ads, pieces of them, and tried to figure out where exactly I should go.

      Osaka?

      I phoned Ryu again, the vague idea of hopping on the shinkansen a sudden speck in my head, but he still wasn’t picking up.

      Home?

      No, no, no, no…

      Pluto 2280?

      After I had my neck cut, sure.

      A nearby phone made a beeping noise as loud as a pachinko machine, sending me back to the eye mask ad, the reality of it, and, from there, my current problem.

      Okay, no cash, no lenders. How about selling something?

      A fairly detailed sketch of my bedroom appeared in my head, with all the things I could strip down and take to the second hand shopp. It was a short list. The only real thing of value was the VR server, and that was unii property. The games…maybe. But most of them were over two years old, they wouldn’t be worth much. If the guy took them at all. And even if he did, even if I got a decent price, it wouldn’t make a dent in all that fucking interest Yosh had stacked on…

      Fuck. What else?

      The window? Could I sell that?

+

      On the train, Yosh stood with both arms on the top rails like a monkey. He’d stopped the internal whining on gang politics and was now observing the kid, trying to predict what he was thinking.

      Probably scrambling for money lenders. Or shit to sell second hand. That’s what I’d be doing.

     Ah, wait, he’s phoning someone.

     Osaka?

+

      The train stopped at Musashi Kosugi and I thought about getting off, catching the Nambu line and visiting Ako or Yasu in Kawasaki, see if they had any savings I could drain to save my ass.

      It was a long shot. Last time I’d seen them we’d argued about how many Akira adaptations there had been. Not sure if they’d forgiven me for that yet.

+

      The train stopped at Musashi Kosugi and Yosh pictured a scene from a movie, he had forgotten the movie’s name, but the scene had a little American guy with a funny accent being chased by three other guys on a train. In the scene, the American had waited for the train doors to close before jumping off.

      That wouldn’t happen on this train though.

     Wreck was so deep in thought he didn’t even know Yosh was there.

+

      The train doors closed and I realised I’d just told Yosh I was going to class, and if he found out I was going anywhere else then he’d know I was a liar. And besides, Ako, Yasu…they played in the Katcha Centre all day, they wouldn’t have that kind of money. No-one I knew would. Except Ryu maybe.

      Kuso. What the hell could I do here?

+

      The train doors closed, and the wreck stayed on board.

     Yosh forgot about the movie.

+

      I got off at Hiyoshi and walked the ginkgo tree road to Keio U.

+

      Yosh got off at Hiyoshi and followed the wreck down a ‘Heal The World’ road to the uniiversity.

+

      The cars outside the Student Union were covered in those posters. The Forever Exchange. Each one seemingly a different colour, but all of them insanely bright. The whole scene looked like a kindergarten snowstorm had hit and no-one could be bothered to clean it up.

+

      The cars were covered with bright, weird-looking posters. Yosh picked one off a windscreen and read about something called a ‘Forever Exchange.’

      ‘Tired of Life.’

      ‘Looking for Something Different.’

      ‘Call the Physics Dept.’

      He threw it back on the ground, muttering, ‘fucking academics.’

+

      Inside, it was just as bad.

+

      Inside, it was even worse.

+

      I figured out where my building was and picked a route to take me there but, at the first corner, the posters appeared in Giallo red, lured me in to skim the text and, after reading through seven times, I looked at the poster again, the colour of it, and thought, red like the Ondōan wormhole swirls, was it a sign?

      Tired of Life. Something Different.

      Hadn’t I always wanted something like this?

+

      The wreck stopped and started a lot, and then stopped a little longer to read one of those shit-design neon posters.

      Yosh played with the knife inside his jacket pocket.

      Was this a trick?

     Some special kind of torture?

+

      I walked into the Physics Department and told them, without hesitation, that I was tired of life and interested in something different. Obviously accustomed to this kind of abruptness, the woman behind the desk nodded and asked me to take a seat.

      There was one other person in there, a girl with a hood pulled tight over her head, so I sat down next to her and asked if she was waiting for the same thing.

     No answer.

     Peeking round the side of the hood, I realized she was asleep.

+

      Yosh saw the wreck go into one of the rooms. He walked past and glanced through the glass and saw him sitting next to a hooded girl, waiting for something.

      The plaque on the door said ‘ROOM 207.’

      The notice board nearby said Physics Department.

      Okay.

      Science shit.

      Moving on to the end of the corridor, Yosh sat down on one of the steps and lit up. There was a poster of the eleven planets on the wall opposite so he looked at that.

      Waiting season.

      In a student-filled Hell.

     Don’t be too long, wreck.

+

What you might call an interview…

+

      After roughly twenty minutes of counting the eyebrow hairs on the hooded girl, I was shown into an oddly dark room with a desk, a projection wall and four pale blue lights hooked up on a ceiling rig.

      I hovered for a few seconds, getting my bearings.

      There were three people sitting behind the desk, their backs to the projection wall.

      A man who looked like a property agent, middle-aged, glasses.

      A woman who looked like a less friendly version of Fujii Mina, middle-aged, glasses.

      A man who looked South-East Asian, middle-aged, no glasses.

      They asked me to take the chair set out Securitate-style in the middle of the room, where the four lights were focused, and the first question asked was almost accusatory: ‘what exactly are you doing here, young man?’

      It took a few seconds for my eyes to adjust and, when they did, I concentrated on the shape in the middle, the one who resembled a property agent.

      ‘I saw one of your posters.’

      ‘And why, if we may ask, did you follow up?’

      ‘Don’t know. Suppose I’m tired of life. A little bit.’

      ‘Really?’ said the property agent clone, turning his coffee cup in a half circle.

      ‘Interesting,’ said the less friendly Fujii Mina, tapping a pen on the desk.

      ‘Cool,’ said the South-East Asian man, pulling on the string of his Hard Kaur Priestess hoodie.

      ‘Was there anything else which attracted you, young man?’

      ‘Well…I guess I’m looking for the other thing too. Something different.’

      ‘Is that so?’ replied the property agent clone, rotating his cup back the other way.

      ‘Intriguing,’ said Fujii Mina, tapping harder.

      The South-East Asian man grunted cool again and scratched his chin, seeming to lift up his entire face in the process. Wait, was that…

       I looked closer.

       It was. The guy was wearing a fake face.

      ‘And you can commit to this fully?’

      ‘What?’

      ‘I said…’ repeated the property agent clone, slowly, to an almost patronizing degree. ‘Can you fully commit to this venture?’

      I switched back to him, or attempted to. My eyes were still drawn to the one with the mask. ‘Well, to be honest, I’m not completely sure I know what I’m committing to. I mean, the poster was a bit vague.’

      ‘Yes, I suppose that’s true,’ agreed the property agent clone.

      The fake South-East Asian man, or the Japanese man with the South-East Asian face, made a deep groaning noise, possibly affirmation. I didn’t get it…why was he pretending to be South-East Asian? Equality quotas? Identity crisis? Didn’t he know how weird it looked?

      ‘Do you have any specific questions you’d like us to answer?’

      I glanced at the fake South-East Asian man, but vetoed the obvious one and thought of another.

      ‘Yeah. What exactly do you do here?’

      ‘Good question.’ The property agent clone stood up and walked towards me, blocking out two of the four lights above. ‘What we do, young man, is adjust people. Young people between eighteen and thirty, ideally. Using physics, a pinch of biology, a little state-of-the-art medical surgery, specific things like that, we adjust them into something new and different. And exciting.’

      He looked back at his two colleagues and they both nodded.

      Clearly emboldened, he began walking circles around my chair, moving side-on every time I tried to look him directly in the eye.

      ‘To be more precise, we take you from what you are now and turn you into a different person, then relocate you to a different place. I suppose this wasn’t explicit on the poster, yet there was an assumption that this would be the case, no?’

      ‘Err…I suppose.’

      ‘You see, young man, we want you to be happy. Science wants you to be happy. Therefore, we will alter you to achieve said state.’

      He stopped and put a hand on my shoulder. This time the four glowing orbs behind him lit up the sides of his face like a devil’s halo. Intentional?

      ‘New memories, new thoughts, new face…a new you in every possible way.’

      ‘In a new place,’ added Fujii Mina, resting the tip of the pen against her neck.

      I nodded, processing the words. I didn’t know for sure, but it seemed like…it sounded like these…slightly unnerving scientists were giving me a viable way out. In a room that looked like a futuristic torture chamber.

      ‘Do you have any more questions?’

      I did have one. ‘The adjustment part. Is there any possible way…whatever it is you’re gonna do can…hurt me?’

      ‘Certainly not.’

      ‘Can I get some details on that?’

      ‘What you mean, brother?’ the fake South-East Asian man asked, his accent shifting a little.

      I faced him, almost instantly shifting downwards to the stern Indian woman printed on the front of his hoodie [the mask was too distracting].

      ‘I mean, what exactly will you do to me? Like, the procedures? Operations?’

      ‘Shit, brother.’ The fake South-East Asian man leaned back in his chair, laughing. ‘That’s you going into the weeds there.’

      ‘You mean you can’t tell me?’

      The property agent clone put his other hand on my shoulder. ‘Young man, there is an answer to your question, obviously, but I’m afraid it is far too technical.’

      ‘Can you try?’

      The three scientists looked at each other.

      ‘I’m not dumb,’ I added, sitting up straight in the chair. ‘I do know some science…standard level…from games.’

      ‘Very well, young man,’ said the property agent clone, returning to the desk and picking up a remote control. ‘We’ll try the basics, see how we go.’

      The fake South-East Asian man leaned out of his chair and pulled down the blind that had already been covering ninety-five per cent of the window.

      Almost immediately, a brain appeared on the projection wall. Then flickered. Then vanished. Then came back again. Then vanished again.

      ‘Silly machine…’ said the property agent clone, whacking the machine at the side of the projection.

      The brain returned, with minimal buffering. Not a real brain, of course, but a cartoon drawing of one. The property agent clone picked up a stick from the desk and walked closer to the image.

      ‘This is the theory. Point one, the mental aspect.’ He pointed at a specific part of the cartoon brain. ‘The human brain is generally a lazy organ…and the Spantolibro-Empart is by far the laziest part, existing as what we call our identity…meaning the sum total of all our experiences and thoughts and analyses of those experiences and thoughts. As you can see it is not a huge part of the overall mass, maybe somewhere between 16-18%. Understand so far?’

      ‘Yes,’ I lied.

      The property agent clone looked at the other two and shrugged.

      Fujii Mina responded with a hushed, ‘interesting.’

      The fake South-East Asian man laughed, then borderline growled, ‘shit, brother, boy don’t understand shit about shit.’

      I looked down at the floor, playing back his words, trying to figure out how many accents he was mixing together. It sounded ridiculous. Like Keanu Reeves attempting Swahili.

      ‘Comprehension or not, we shall continue.’ The property agent clone went back to the cartoon brain and pointed at other areas, each one lighting up as he touched them. ‘We can theorise two things. One, the majority of the human brain is non-performing, and two, there is room for a new, far broader identity. With intense electro-defintrelist stimulation to the right areas, specifically the canto-gaibutric and the slotadabitric emparts, we can install new data, i.e. a new identity, whilst at the same time erasing the dominant alcretic-stems of the previous one i.e. the personality. The benefits are of course substantial, I think you’ll agree, young man. Not only will you possess a new identity, but you will, more pertinently, possess a broadened one. You will be able to recall skills from your previous self, including the ability to pick up your original self’s native language faster than natural, if you so desire, If not, you will simply remember fragments, yet be unable to communicate in any meaningful way. Akin to a dog, if you require an analogue…’

      ‘A dog?’

      ‘On the other hand, due to increased cerebral activity, you will be able to excel at various subjects that, previously, seemed annoyingly dense. For instance, political theory, philosophy, Béla Tarr filmns…’

      ‘Wait…I have another question.’

      ‘Only one?’

       ‘Yeah. Maybe. I don’t know yet, I need a little more time to-…’

      ‘Go ahead, young man. Ask your question.’

      I looked at the picture of the cartoon brain and remembered the thing he’d said about sixteen or eighteen per cent. ‘The part I don’t get is…why don’t we use more of our brains already? It doesn’t make sense…does it?’

      ‘It does to us people of science, I assure you.’

      ‘But…’

      ‘I did warn you it was a detailed and esoteric subject, young man.’

       ‘Yeah, I know. I can follow what you’re saying, mostly, I just-…’

      ‘This shit is technical,’ said the fake South-East Asian scientist, his accent now semi-Jamaican. ‘You hear me, brother? It’s heavy shit.’

       ‘Precisely. What my colleague is telling you is undoubtedly true. Science is a difficult subject for the layman to comprehend.’ The property agent clone put his stick back on the desk, clearing his throat. ‘Perhaps it’s best if you just trust us, young man. Understand that we know what we are doing, and what we are doing is a wonderful, liberating thing. Is that agreeable to you?’

       ‘Another question,’ I said, still looking at the cartoon brain.

       ‘Yes?’

       ‘You said that you erase the old identity.’

       ‘That’s correct.’

       ‘But why? I mean, if there’s so much space not being used in the rest of the brain, why can’t you have two identities. Maybe one is passive and the other is active. I don’t know exactly, but isn’t that better?’

      ‘Oh no, young man. That’s a terrible idea.’

      ‘Kuso, brother. That shit is chaos.’

      The Fujii Mina scientist adjusted the frame of her glasses and muttered, ‘childish.’

      ‘But, I don’t get it. Why?’

      The property agent clone pressed a button. The cartoon brain disappeared from the projection wall.

      ‘I think we’ve reached a limit here, young man. Science, as we’ve already explained, is a complicated business. Your question, of course has an answer, but it is simply too technical to explain.’

      ‘But…’

      ‘All you need to understand is that the operation is completely safe, the benefits far outweigh the hazards, and once it’s done you’ll be two hundred and seventy-two per cent smarter.’

      ‘I will?’

      ‘Guaranteed.’

      ‘Oh.’ I looked at the projection wall again, seeing the residual haze of the cartoon brain hanging on in ghost form. ‘Wait…what about my body?’

      ‘Yes, we were just coming to that.’

      The property agent clone pressed a button and another image replaced the ghost on the projection wall. This one displayed two blank, human bodies laid out next to each other, no faces or organs or veins apparent.

      ‘Point two, the physical aspect. This is the easier of the two procedures, simply because the technology has been available for the last twelve years. Using Diabolik-Craspian 89 techniques, we are able to re-shape the face to make any ethnicity resemble another, no matter how distinctively oppositional they may be. In short, we can take a Japanese face, like yours, and turn you into Yaphet Kotto, if we so desired.’

      ‘You’re gonna-…I’m gonna look like a black guy?’

      ‘Ah, you’ve heard of him. Interesting. But, no, I’m afraid all our black subjects are taken. Taken weeks ago, in fact. Very popular model. Second only to Iranian.’ The scientist looked at the two body outlines on the screen. ‘No, the candidate we have lined up for you is…let’s see…ah, yes, a young man from Liverpool, North Britain. Caucasian, I believe, an inch and a half shorter, broader shoulders, extremely…’

      ‘I’m gonna shrink?’

      ‘Please, let me finish, young man. Yes, the subject is shorter than you, that is something we cannot correct, at least not without doing long term damage to your bones. We can stretch them, but we cannot pull them back in, that has always been the case, but the key point to remember is: it will still be your body. Therefore you will not shrink, you will remain the same height as you are now. The only difference will be your face, and your brain, of course, which will be-…’

      ‘Wait, stop. Slow down a second.’

      The property agent clone stood statue still, the stick extended outwards like a wand. ‘Yes, young man?’

      ‘I don’t know. I just-…I feel like there’s a thousand questions I should be asking, but…I can’t think of them.’

      ‘That’s perfectly natural, don’t worry.’ He turned to the other two. ‘Now, I think that concludes everything, desu ne?’

      They both nodded.

      ‘Good, good.’

      ‘Wait…I’ve got another one. A question.’

      ‘About the physical aspect?’

      ‘Yeah.’

      ‘Quickly then…’

      ‘Actually, it’s not really a question, I just wanna get it all clear in my head. Basically, what you’re saying is, you’re gonna do stuff to my brain, while it’s still in my head, improve it, add stuff, whatever. Then you’re gonna change my face, here, in Japan, into a British face, but my body will still be the same, no change in height or anything. And when all that’s done, you’re gonna wake me up and, what? Drop me off in Liverpool?’

      ‘Mostly correct, young man. Though I would make one addition. As I said previously, we cannot shorten your bones, but we can lengthen them and make you broader. Also, we have the ability now to artificially stimulate muscle growth, so you will also appear stronger.’

      ‘How strong?’

      ‘That is not up to us, I’m afraid. Muscle growth is stimulated to match the data received from the other subject.’

      ‘The guy from North Britain…’

      ‘Correct. Fortunately for you, I seem to remember the subject being a gymn fanatic so, yes, you shall in all likelihood be a great deal stronger after this procedure.’

      ‘Can I see a photo of him…before I do the op?’

      ‘No, I’m afraid not.’

      ‘But…what if he’s ugly?’

      ‘He is not.’

      ‘You’ve seen him?’

      ‘I have.’

      ‘What does he look like?’

      ‘I cannot say.’

      ‘Come on, teme, just tell me someone he looks like, a movie star or singer, just vaguely. Who is he similar to, facially?’

      ‘I’m sorry, that kind of information is not permitted.’

      ‘Then how do I know if you’re telling the truth?’

      ‘Shit, brother.’ The fake South-East Asian scientist glared at me. ‘You all twisted up in the head.’

      ‘What?’

      The Property agent clone coughed. ‘Young man, it is part of our criteria to select average to good-looking subjects. Not that we care about beauty, but society does, so we must add it to our calculations. Simply put, selecting a physically disadvantaged subject might contaminate our results.’

      ‘So he looks okay then?’

      ‘Yes.’

      ‘Not weird-looking at all?’

      ‘No.’

      I nodded. ‘Okay then…okay.’

      ‘Now, young man, I think that covers everything. If not, then I’m afraid you’ll have to save any further questions until next time.’

      ‘I guess I’m okay for now.’

      The property agent clone walked back over to my chair, put his hand on my shoulder, smiled, then moved over to the door.

      ‘Very well, so you agree to the terms?’ asked Fujii Mina, the suddenness of her voice plus the sharp tap of her pen against the other guy’s cup making me jump a little.

      ‘Sorry?’

      ‘You will submit to the procedure, yes or no?’

      ‘You mean you want an answer now?’

      ‘Before you leave this room today, yes.’

      I looked over at the property agent clone for confirmation. He wasn’t nodding, but his head was tilted in a way that gave a similar effect.

      ‘Will you submit?’ repeated Fujii Mina, the blue lights intensifying behind her.

      ‘I need more time. Way more time. I can’t just-…’

      The property agent clone coughed again, regaining my attention. ‘Time is something we cannot give you. I’m sorry.’

      ‘Not even one day?’

      ‘No.’

      ‘Kuso…’ I muttered, a little louder than intended.

      ‘What is it to be, young man? A new life in a new country with endless possibilities or this…whatever it is you do now?’

      ‘I don’t know. I think-…’

      ‘Great. We’ll take that as a yes.’

      ‘Wait, I haven’t-…’

      ‘Come back tomorrow, same time and we’ll begin.’

      ‘But I didn’t-…’

      ‘We will give you the rest of the day, young man, to get everything in order.’

      ‘One day…’

      ‘Precisely. See you tomorrow. Eleven in the morning, if that’s not too much trouble?’

      ‘Err…’

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