[Void Galaxia] Chapter 14: Half-Altered Beast

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      ‘What I need is robot legs.’

      ‘Sure.’

      ‘Or metal plating on my knees. No, metal skin all over. Even better.’

      ‘Metal robot legs?’

      ‘Or graphene.’

      ‘Wouldn’t they rust in the shower?’

      ‘Hmm. Correction. Un-rustable graphene metal robot legs that can’t get wet. And if they get hit or impacted or something…hey, you remembering this? It’s important.’

      ‘I’ll get a pen and paper.’

      The female student in the navy blue artist robes stood up and looked at the desk near the entrance of the science building, and that was about it. Tutting for the cheap seats, the male student with scattershot green hair grabbed her arm, yanking it towards him.

      ‘Get off…’

      ‘If I can’t be bionic then you’ll have to be my legs.’

      ‘No way.’

      ‘Come on…’

      ‘I’m not a robot, Sion.’

      ‘Wah, you don’t know that.’

      ‘Serious?’

      ‘Mechanical stuff is inside, kaizo face, not exterior. Like wires instead of veins, oil not blood, that kind of thing.’

      ‘Kaizo face?’

      ‘Arms up, it’s carrying time.’

      ‘Get off.’

      ‘No moaning.’

      ‘Off, you fucking nut…’

      Yosh watched from the corner as the two idiot academics walked out of the building, the guy trying to climb on the girl’s back. Is that how students talk now? he wondered, blowing out smoke. Robot legs and back-climbing…just so he could paw at her tits?

      Thinking about it, the whole dialogue didn’t sound that much different from the kids back in his shopp.

      Maybe he hadn’t missed out after all.

      A beeping sound, electronic, somewhere above his head.

      Yosh drew down more of the cigarette, his eighth one that afternoon. Or the eighth since his package had disappeared inside that weird science room.

      One of the doors in the corridor opened and about fifty, sixty kids streamed out, all yapping, all openly carrying books. Yosh took another drag and tried to read the covers of some as they flowed past.

      Biological Representations of the Other.

      Genes: a study in dynamics and regression.

      The Foundation Pit.

      Some of the students glanced at him as they passed, fixing onto the cigarette, and then the tattoo. Yosh took another drag, noticed a girl in a tight top, rolled down his sleeve.

      Genes, regression, dynamics…it sounded tough, way too tough for him, but that didn’t mean all that much. The thing these kids didn’t have – common sense – that’s the thing that got you somewhere.

      Unless you were applying to be a scientist.

      But still…there was that kid he’d seen an hour earlier, playing the old school Zelda hack on his laptop, sitting on the floor like a beggar. That one didn’t even know how to get across the desert without getting scuffed by the sand monsters. And that was basic.

      Didn’t matter how much academic stuff was piled up in there, the kid had no common sense, no innovation.

      Another pretty student walked past, thick rim glasses, parody Harem t-shirt, too coy to look him in the eye.

      Neither do I, really, thought Yosh, watching the girl join her friends outside. Well, not much. But whatever I got, there’s more of it than what he’s got.

      He dropped the cigarette next to the others and stubbed it out. Nearby were some of those flyers again. Where the hell were they coming from? He’d kicked the last few round the corner two hours ago, now they’d self-replicated…

      He picked one up and read it for the third time.

      Still didn’t make much sense.

      Forever Exchange. Become a new you. Or something.

      Yosh glanced at the door to the science room, not really expecting to see anything. Only one student had gone in there the whole afternoon, nobody else. And stayed in there. Devoutly. Whatever Keni was learning or doing inside, it must’ve been complicated.

      Fucking science…

      Fucking mini-academics and their robot-…

      He paused his right hand at his lips, forgetting there was no longer a cigarette, and looked at the flyer again.

      Become a new you.

      Forever exchange.

      A new you.

      Contact: Physics Department

      Something clicked.

      He looked at the door again, and this time it was different. It wasn’t a door to a uniiversity faculty office, it was a door to some bizarre science experiment he didn’t really understand.

      But the flyer…a new you…fuck, was that really what the kid was doing in there?

      What did new you even mean?

      Physical? Mental?

      He walked quickly to the door, pushed it open and went through to a small office with a cheap, foldable desk and a stern-faced woman tucked in rigid behind it. He knew she was stern because she had her hair in a bun and was typing like a Tier-4 cyborg.

      ‘Hello.’

      She kept typing.

      ‘Hey, hello, you in there? I’m looking for someone.’

      She tapped a few more keys then looked up. ‘Yes?’

      ‘Student, boy, his name’s Keni. No, wait…Kentaro. Kentaro…’

      ‘Does your friend have a full name?’

      ‘Yeah, I’m thinking. Kentaro…Kentaro something.’

      ‘Is he a student of the faculty?’

      ‘What? No, he went in there…about two hours ago. I saw him.’

       ‘I see.’

      ‘Okay. The student in there now, where is he?’

      ‘I’m sorry, all patient data is classified and confidential.’

      ‘No, I just said, I saw him go in. I’m his…I’m his brother…Ryu. Go in there, tell him Ryu’s here.’

      ‘That is odd.’

      ‘What?’

      ‘He’s your brother, but you don’t know his full name.’

      ‘Yeah, not really. Not that odd.’ Yosh stretched out the last word, stalling, searching the blank wall for ideas, hitting something semi-believable. ‘See, he’s adopted. I’m not.’

      ‘Adopted?’

      ‘Actually, we’re not that close. He went to boarding school when he was eleven, I stayed and…yeah, that’s it. He’s my brother. Now, let me go in.’

      ‘I’m sorry, it is not permitted to interrupt the procedures, if indeed your brother is undergoing-…’

      ‘It’s urgent, a family issue. I have to see him.’

      ‘I’m sorry, the rules are quite clear. I can’t help you.’

      ‘Why not? What’s happening in there? What procedure?’

      ‘I’m sorry, you’ll have to consult the flyer and come back when you-…’

      ‘Stop saying sorry and just tell me the basics. What are they doing in there?’

      ‘I’ll have to ask you to leave now.’

      ‘Ask your fucking self, that’s my brother they’re fucking with. Tell me.’

      ‘I’m sorry, I do not respond to that kind of tone or language. And perhaps next time, you might want to come up with a better story.’

      ‘Huh? What story?’

      ‘Adopted kids tend to use their adoptive family’s name, even if they did go to boarding school.’

      Yosh dipped a hand in his jacket pocket and fingered the blade. There were no cameras that he could see, and he wouldn’t need to actually cut the witch; just scare her enough to get some information.

      ‘Look…if you don’t tell me what’s going on, I’m just gonna go in there and find out for myself. Understand?’

      ‘If you don’t leave, I’ll be forced to call security.’

      ‘Who, those arthritic pensioners with plastic sticks?’

      ‘Five seconds.’

      ‘Fuck that, I’m going in.’

       She picked up the phone and dialed.

       ‘Gargoyle bitch.’

       Feeling a rush of blood, adrenaline, demonic spunk, whatever, to his head, Yosh swatted the phone out of her grip and walked backwards towards the door. Just as he was reaching for the handle, the whole thing swung open, so fast that it almost smacked him in the face, his swerving skills saving his ass at the last millisecond.

      He didn’t see much of the three people who came rushing out, only their backs, but he could make out that one was a woman and another was being propped up by the armpits as if he were drunk or unconscious or…

      Ignoring the receptionist yelling in his ear, Yosh trailed out after them, catching up outside the entrance of the building.

      He could see them all now, or their side profiles at least.

      The woman was distinctively tall, at least five ten, as broad as a builder, while the other guy was even taller and…had a huge head, dark skin…wait, was he Indonesian? He really did look it. Or definitely South-East Asian at least.

      As for the other one, the guy in the middle, the one being carried…kuso, he knew that face. The little wretch was trying to-…trying to do something, escape somehow. Via that forever thing. A lobotomy. Flight or fucking flight.

      The three science costumes headed down a path and over a grassy knoll, so ensconced in their little drama that they didn’t bother to look back or slow down.

      ‘You’re not going anywhere, kasu,’ Yosh mumbled, picking up their trail.

+

      The fake South-East Asian scientist and the woman who looked like Fujii Mina dragged Kentaro into the car park and, after rapid scanning all the vehicles, over to a red Honda on the far side.

      Yosh kept close, creating and trashing about a thousand different ambush strategies in his head.

      If I rush the South-East Asian guy, put him down…I can grab Keni and run.

      Problems?

      Nothing huge. The woman won’t do anything, doesn’t matter how broad she is, and the South-East Asian guy has to back down if I pull out the knife. Gah, it’s not Shingen standard, but it’ll do. Only thing is, what if the South-East Asian guy doesn’t go down? He’s pretty big, broader than me, about the same height…

      The fake South-East Asian scientist opened the back door and pushed Kentaro in. The Fujii Mina lookalike was already in the driver’s seat, both hands on the wheel.

      Kuso, they’re leaving…

      Yosh forgot about strategy formulation and ran over, asking them straight what the hell they were doing.

      The fake South-East Asian scientist turned, languid as a Shinto koala, giving Yosh the chance to realise that he was even bigger close-up. ‘What’s up, brother?’

      Yosh stared at the man’s chest, picturing rabid wrestlers, walnuts being cracked, and decided against using the adopted brother story again. There was no point, this guy wouldn’t buy it.

      ‘He’s my friend, teme. I was waiting outside, over there.’ Yosh pointed somewhere behind him, a bit of concrete with other students’ cigarette stubs scattered over it. ‘What have you done to him?’

      ‘He had an accident.’

      ‘Huh? You mean, you’re taking him to the hospital?’

      ‘The airport, brother.’

      ‘What?’

      ‘Damage ain’t as bad as it looks.’

      ‘Airport?’

      The fake South-East Asian man shrugged and opened the passenger door. Yosh put out a vague hand to stop him.

      ‘What’s that doing?’ asked the South-East Asian man, confused at the fingers on the car window.

      ‘Wait…’

      Yosh kept his hand there, thinking it out. He’s too big, too casual. And South-East Asian, which means he might actually know how to fight. Can’t get into a scuffle solo.  Options? Think. Think. Okay, could use the door…trick him somehow. Drop a coin and slam his head…

      ‘Hand’s still in the way, brother.’

      Yosh moved his palm off the car window, while the other hand went back inside his jacket pocket, getting a solid grip on the knife’s handle.

      Public place, he warned himself, way too risky. Cameras could be anywhere. And the guy’s still big…big enough to break my neck if I don’t put him down first time.

      But if I don’t do anything…

      The ridiculously tall woman started the engine, calling out for her comrade to hurry up.

      Kuso…kuso, kuso, kuso…

      The fake South-East Asian scientist stared at Yosh then looked down at his jacket pocket. If he knew what was in there, his face did a good job of pretending not to give a shit.

      ‘You can’t take him,’ mumbled Yosh.

      ‘Friend made his own choice, brother. Deal with it.’

      ‘No, he’s-…’

      ‘Yes. Done. Goodbye.’

      The fake South-East Asian man turned and shuffled into the back with Kentaro. His gorilla arm reached across and closed the door slowly, almost daring Yosh to do something.

      ‘Wait…’ Yosh looked in through the rear window, trying with desperate darting head movements to catch Kentaro’s eye. ‘Hey…Keni…wake up.’

      Kentaro sat like a puppet stuffed with concrete, eyes blank.

      ‘You’re not running, kasu.’ Yosh hit the glass with his fist, making the South-East Asian man laugh. ‘You hear me? You’re not running.’

      He hit the glass again, almost hard enough to crack it.

      ‘Keni…’ he shouted.

      The car moved off, picking up speed quickly. As it went, Yosh looked once more at Kentaro and, for the first time, noticed a small plaster on the side of his head.

      What the-…a plaster. Kuso, they cut him? Lobotomised? What the hell was he looking so blank for?

      There were no answers.

      Only fumes.

      In the distance, the car became toy-sized then disappeared completely, leaving Yosh alone outside the Faculty of Science with no debt collected, no games, and no one to cut with the knife growing weeds in his jacket pocket.

      In old 20th century noir, it would’ve started to rain.

      Here, the sun was out.

      ‘Fucking students,’ Yosh muttered, lighting up another cigarette with a slightly shaky hand, then looking back at the entrance to the Science Department. ‘Fucking robot secretary too. Better have an address.’

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