The next day, my blonde fragment of American void still hadn’t messaged, so I sent her another message even though it was out of rotation and probably a little bit creepy. In clipped verse, I told her I’d been reading more of her story and that it was the most amazing thing on the site, and at the very end of the message, asked if she was alright, if there was anything she needed or was worried about.
After that, Planet Dark.
Then BLONDE JAPANESE EMO TOURIST FUCKS GYM INSTUCTOR NO BLUR.
Another day expired and still no reply.
I wanted to send another message but didn’t.
A third one in a row would kill it stone dead, I knew that.
Instead, I sat in my room all day, online, not writing, just staring blankly at a whole season of Planet Dark and every now and then reading her stuff, especially the thing about the burning girl. It was beautiful. Depressing. Vacant. A portrait of empty death. Maybe it was the dry air in the room, but at one point I cried. Then turned back to Planet Dark and went blank again. Then switched to Elf Serenade and had a wank over the social worker. Fuck this world. Fuck my own artistic output.
Dad called me down for dinner in the evening and asked what I was doing up there in my room all day. I told him I was writing and that I’d be done in a few days.
‘And then you’ll look for a job?’
I didn’t tell him about Sadia.
Didn’t tell any of them.
It was none of their business.
The next day and the day after that, still nothing.
A whole week and no reply.
I checked her phone status and it was blank, then her Authomaton profile to see if she’d been online at least, but that was frozen too.
Eight days and no activity.
And fifteen unanswered messages from other men.
‘You’ve got a life now, haven’t you?’ I mumbled to her avatar; the monochrome face looking down at a crumpled leaf in her hand. ‘Pretentious fucking witch.’
The next day I got a phone call.
It was the Japanese scientist…the woman, not the weird fake Jamaican guy. She informed me in her robotic voice that my friends were nearly fixed and they’d be reintegrated within the next week.
My friends? Wah, I’d forgotten all about them.
‘We also did a minor trim on your manager at the gymn…’
‘Is everything okay, young man?’ she asked, voice deepening.
‘Excellent. So you’ve adjusted to your new life. Do you have any plans for your immediate future? Perhaps a new college?’
I hung up.
The fuckers were still watching me, still checking up on their experiment. Fucking science, fucking scientists. They were no better than the rich…or those Mexican guys cutting off other guys’ heads…kind of. Well, I guess they weren’t that bad. Not bad enough for Jeff Fahey to write a book about them anyway.
Ah, forget it. They’re watching, who cares? They can’t do anything, not without my consent, and my consent isn’t going anywhere near them.
In fact, if they were still lurking around in Liverpool, maybe going to California wasn’t such a bad idea after all. I could hide out with Sadia, stay there for a month or two, make them think I’d moved away forever…
The only problem was: no Sadia.
I went back online and checked all possible inboxes she might use to send a message. Maybe I’d given her my other e-mail at one point and forgotten about it?
The only new message was from some guy telling me to read his book, Titanic 3: Iceberg Ambush. Apparently, it wasn’t a direct sequel, but a reimagining to an imagined sequel he’d seen in a vision.
I deleted it and refreshed the screen.
Where the hell was she?
The next week went by quickly.
I was sure she’d reply to me within that time. She’d probably just gone on holiday somewhere and forgotten to mention it.
But I also knew that if she didn’t reply in that time then it was over.
Bored of looking at the posters on my wall, I sat down in the living room, with Dad, Charlie and Billy. As soon as I was comfortable, Charlie was up and on her way back upstairs.
‘She’ll come round, son, don’t worry,’ Dad said to me, his tone not as comforting as it usually was.
‘Come round to what?’
‘You know, stuff.’
‘You mean my face?’
‘I mean, stuff.’ He stared at my face then sighed. ‘She did mention the face actually. Not sure what the problem is exactly, it looks fine to me, but…’
‘She doesn’t understand why I look Japanese.’
I nodded back, realising it was pointless to get into all this again. The truth was, corrective science didn’t seem to work on Charlie, and I was the only one who knew it. Whenever I mentioned it to Dad or Mum or Billy, that I wasn’t really Japanese, they just looked at me like I was an eskimo child wearing a trench coat. Pure oddness.
Ah well, maybe Dad was right. Maybe Charlie would just get used to it the natural way. It was the best and only shot I had.
‘You seen this, Mark?’
I blinked methadone style, switching to the filmn playing on the screen. Something set in space, with the spaceship creeping up towards a Pluto cut and paste. Void Galaxia?
Nope, too old, shit CGI. And they were already on a base in that one, not coming in on a ship.
I leaned forward, curious as to how I’d missed a filmn about Pluto, anxious for it not to be shit.
The action cut to the interior and the actors appeared. There was Andi Chopra, Captain Eto’s lieutenant, the vampire woman from Infinite Atom Mall.
Ah, Pluto Fear. I did know it, though I’d never actually seen it all the way through. Too old, too cheap, too shit. And those plastic fucking aliens…
The filmn continued.
Eto’s Lieutenant and Chopra sat in a green-filtered lab on the spaceship. They were drinking something, some kind of bootleg stuff, and then the woman came in and told them they were drunk and irresponsible, and the two of them slurred words back at her.
‘Drunks in space,’ said Billy, reaching for the remote.
‘It’s just started, give it some time,’ said Dad, swatting him away.
‘It’s shit…why do they always do drinking scenes this way?’
‘I mean, it’s a bit weak. Like, having actors who aren’t really pissed pretending to be pissed, only they can’t swear or anything.’
‘Ha, they’re not, are they?’ I laughed.
‘It’s a family filmn, son. They can’t push it too far.’
‘Yeah, I know, but…it’s still a bit weak.’
‘Okay, let’s just…’ Dad said, increasing the volume by one bar.
I watched a bit more.
The crew didn’t stay in space long, the planet was calling to them with a hypnotically sharp long shot of the Pluto red patch. Wah, was it really that red? From a distance, as far as I could recall, it was definitely a kind of red, cos of the tholins effect, but was it that stark?
I took my phone out to check, but got bored typing the first word and went back to the filmn.
The ship was coming in to land, showing more of the topography. Okay, the tholins patch had gone, but the ice wasn’t sublimating as the thrusters hit, and for some reason that didn’t seem right.
‘Why isn’t the ice sublimating?’ I asked the others.
‘Shhh…this is a good bit,’ dad said back.
The scenes on Pluto continued as one of the crew got left behind due to a broken oxygen tank. They all said goodbye, see you in the next life, and then walked off. Across ice that wasn’t sublimating. One of them went a little too far and got picked off by a plastic alien, while Chopra and Vampire woman from Infinite Atom Mall set up a pseudo-tech perimeter around their base site. Then Eto’s lieutenant appeared and booted up the generator.
And still the ice didn’t sublimate.
‘This is wrong…’ I muttered, just loud enough to make it to my own ears and no one else’s.
Warning lights went off and the plastic aliens attacked, bringing down all three of the remaining crew. Chopra revived first, seeing the base site trashed, the generator dead and realizing there was no time to get back to the ship before their air ran out.
‘We’ve got about an hour,’ he said, and they all wandered off to prepare psychologically for their deaths.
Eto’s Lieutenant stayed put and chatted with the AI back on the ship, while Chopra and the Vampire Woman decided it was best to go out erotic and attempted sex. Pulling their suits off, they both waited to freeze and choke, whichever came first, but they didn’t do either. They just stood there, unfrozen and breathing.
Actual breathable air.
‘The fu-…that makes no fucking sense,’ I burst out, practically leaping out of my chair, images of green Martokras and topless commanders sliding into my brain.
‘Breathing air on Pluto…’
‘It’s the plastic alien effect, kidda,’ Billy said, laughing, ‘they’ve got thermal heating in their blood.’
‘Don’t care, it’s fucking stupid.’
‘All of it, every scene on the surface. That…’ I pointed at the plastic alien creeping out from behind a rock, tilting its head at Chopra’s ass. ‘It’s ridiculous.’
‘I just told you, they’re possessed…and it’s an Andi Chopra filmn, not a NASA doc.’
‘Nope, I’m done.’
‘Where you going?’ asked Dad, his eyebrows literally bending diagonal.
‘Away from this fucking mess.’
I got up and went upstairs, hitting the top of the banister with my fist. I didn’t know why I was so angry, it was only space. But for some reason…for some unknown but deep in my gut reason I really wanted to hit something.
My room pulled me in and I did tiny circuits, trying not to smack the wall, trying to breathe more like a monk, not a sociopath.
I’m Mark, not a nut. I’m Mark, not a nut. I’m Mark…
I sat down on the bed, unclenched my fists and took a few more breaths. The computerr was still on so I got back up and sat down in front of it. I checked my inbox, not with any great hope, and saw that she still hadn’t replied.
‘Fuck’s sake, Sadia…’
That night I couldn’t sleep, again.
‘Why were there plastic aliens on Pluto?’
‘Why were there plastic aliens on Pluto?’
I repeated it so many times I wore myself out and punched the mattress in frustration and pure void anger, telling it there was no sense in any of it, and why did it even fucking matter, I wasn’t going to Pluto, it was a filmn, a fucking Disney filmn, and why couldn’t they show that there were plastic aliens on Pluto that could make the air breathable?
Tsukubashi wouldn’t do this.
Tsukubashi wouldn’t do this.
Tsukubashi had read some fucking science.
I woke up in the afternoon.
Moon Factory 7 poster. Unread sci-fi books. Dusty VR-home machine.
I went online and, even before I checked, I knew there would be no new message for me.
The profile loaded.
I was right.
My eyes docked with the screen.
The screen changed to her profile and I stared at her avatar. Then switched to her book and clicked on it, but as soon as it came up I mouthed fucking poetry shit and clicked back out again.
Realist – she’s out. You’re out. Don’t even look anymore.
I went downstairs and found Dad sitting alone in the living room, watching Doctor Who. The others were out. I sat down on one of the chairs and told him I’d finished writing.
‘That’s great, son. You’re a superstar.’
‘Don’t know about that. Superstar with no fans maybe.’
A few scenes of Doctor Who passed, extras being attacked by other extras in cobalt blue rubber suits, the doctor yapping away like a lunatic on the finest acid, wide shots of wintered Essex.
‘You wanna show me what you’ve got?’ Dad asked, eyes glued to the screen.
‘Still needs editing. Next week maybe.’
‘Course, son. Take your time.’
A few more extra deaths, then the end of episode credits.
‘Okay, what about this?’ I looked at Dad, smiling like a loon. ‘We sit here the whole day and watch Doctor Who. No breaks, just pure, uninterrupted Who.’
‘That was my original plan.’
The plan was followed to the letter. We sat there all day and watched Doctor Who, and the only thing that jumped into my mind from time to time was why was there air on Pluto? From where? Who?