We started at Angry Moborg.
Barry walked in first and the rest of us followed, nonplussed by the holographic green fish floating two feet above everyone’s heads. Just like every other Friday night, there were so many bodies packed in the place that I got a bit lost and couldn’t take the same route as Barry; one grubby guy in a Gundam for Lord Protector t-shirt refused to budge, even though I told him I was coming through, and when he turned and saw my face, the fucker gave me an Andi Chopra on sunny Pluto look and smirked.
Luckily, there was room round the other side of the Gundam guy’s circle of fuckwits, but, as I moved that way, I caught him prodding his friend with a free hand, gesturing for him to hedge back a little so I couldn’t get round that way either – double kasu – but the friend wasn’t quick enough to understand and I was able to sneak past and fuck up his plan. Still in range, I heard the two of them saying something about not letting the nips get comfortable in our fucking city, which was weird…until I remembered what face I had
Motherfuckers, I thought, but didn’t turn back.
Not worth it.
And too cramped to fight in this place anyway.
Pulling my jacket collar up a bit, I located the others hovering over a high table near the back. Barry was already propping his hand up, miming a pint glass, which was a complex Barry signal for me specifically to go to the barr and get the first round. I nodded back and repeated the gesture, then added a twin pair of two fingers, code for him to come and give me a hand with the drinks. Of course, being Barry, he shook his head like a Wraith-Tory down a coal mine then shrugged and started walking anyway.
Looked like the scientists hadn’t altered him too much.
Carving out a spot by the barr, I ordered five pints of something on tap, the nearest one, couldn’t see a name, but it didn’t matter as the barr guy didn’t understand a word I was saying anyway so I pointed at it, and he spoke back to me, ‘one beer, two beer?’ I held up five fingers and he nodded, walking away to get the glasses. As I turned, Barry arrived, asking if I’d got the usual shit or something fruity, and I pointed at the beer tap again. Out of the corner of my eye, I saw the barr guy looking at me, one of his colleagues parked at his shoulder, both of them laughing at something.
Probably the woman in the goomba costume next to me.
Or Barry’s gut.
Definitely not my face.
We stayed in Angry Moborg for two more rounds before heading out and walking down the street a bit to the TOP-UP Point.
There wasn’t much of a queue even though we were right in the heart of the city centre, and I waited behind two guys while Barry and the others went into HAZ Burger for a piss. Brief thoughts of anarchism, Sadia, blonde pubic hair and aliens in go karts passed through my brain, but none of it stuck; I was too immersed in the facial scanner above the TOP-UP point. It didn’t appear to be active at all, there were no notification lights, yet everyone put their face near it when ordered to by the machine. Even though they also had to key in their passwords.
Did it actually do anything?
I had no idea, and wasn’t really looking for answers anyway.
Just passing time.
The two guys in front of me finished and I moved forward, but someone else, a skinny guy, suddenly pushed in from the side. He hummed a shit melody off-key when I told him I was next – fucking kasu – and straight out told me to fuck off when I asked him to budge. Fuck off? To a random stranger? He was either good at fighting or good at pretending. Probably the latter, I decided, looking at his stick legs, sinew arms, the stupid fucking back of his grey-white neck, thinking which parts I could break if I started punching.
He put his card in the slot, ultra-relaxed.
Let’s see how this plays out.
Moving closer, I switched sober and evaluated my chances. He was clearly taller than me, but only a little bit, and it was irrelevant anyway cos I was bigger physically, I worked out, my body had some bulk behind it and I wasn’t gonna let some fucking skinny cunt take my place when I’d been waiting first.
A taxi driver yelled ‘FAAAAARE’ in the background as the guy put his face up to the scanner, giving me cover to step in close, get hold of his jacket and push him down onto the ground. May have been the shock factor, but he landed clumsy, hard, much harder than I’d intended, almost smacking his face on the concrete.
Of course, just like all these little shits, he started moaning instantly.
Didn’t care, blocked it out.
Got on top of him and stayed there as he tried to pull himself back up, my arm against his neck, whispering, ‘get up, get the fuck up, coward.’
Unable to wriggle out of my hold, he shouted back up that I was fucking dead, a fucking dead man, he was gonna do me off a cliff etc., but he was completely pinned down as the threats spewed out, so it didn’t matter much.
After keeping him like that for about a minute, the rage started to sublimate and my brain whispered, what next, kasu? Good question. Couldn’t hit him cold, that would be psycho behavior, so, instead, I loosened my arm and allowed him space to get back up. The fucker froze, moaned a bit more then re-booted. Clutched his throat as if I’d snapped the thing, used the wall to maneuver himself into a standing position and then jabbed his free hand at me as Barry and the others came out of HAZ Burger.
‘Back us up, kid, back us up,’ he yelled, adding that the fucking nip – me, apparently – was giving lip and they had to stamp that shit out, stamp me out.
Going with tribe over confusion, Barry replied as calm as one of those Japanese scientists, ‘fucking touch him and I’ll hydrate your tits off.’
‘You fucking heard.’
The skinny kid realized he was among wolves and ran [surprisingly fast], waiting until he was at the corner past HAZ Burger before screaming back that we were all dead men.
Dead cunt men.
Dead cunt men F something.
Brushing down the sleeves of my jacket [which had picked up a bit of dust from the pavement], I returned to the TUP, where there was still space, and told Barry it was nothing, just some twat giving lip.
‘What happened to Mark the pacifist? Fuck…’
‘He started it.’
‘Thought you were gonna pomelo him.’
‘Blood on the pavement, loose teeth…fucking Abe Ferrara shit.’
The two other guys in the queue came forward and patted me on the back, saying they were sorry for all that, no, worse, they were embarrassed that a gobby shit like that shared the same city as them. Putting my card into the slot, I said, ‘yeah, I know, I was born here, mate.’
‘Fucking sickening having knob heads like that around every weekend. They should just fuck off, full stop.’
I lined up my face with the scanner, riding out three consecutive warnings of FACE UNVERIFIED, PLEASE TRY AGAIN before it finally topped up my card.
‘Shift them all down south,’ the guy added.
‘Yeah, nice idea,’ I replied, trying to shake off the weirdness of not having an officially verified face. Temporarily.
Must’ve been those scientists hacking in.
Or a faulty scanner.
After detaching from our two new friends, we headed over to Bold Street.
13th Colony, the notorious VR barr that some of the local TV stars went to, was a regular haunt, but it seemed too quiet inside, so we kept walking up until we reached the square. It was busier there; they had all the plastic chairs out, people were sitting down and, based on their bobbing face movements, appeared to be having a good time.
Picking the sometimes pretentious but generally okay Le Bateau on the far corner, we strolled in and propped up the barr for the first hour, then walked around and talked to a few familiar faces, as well as a few girls, all of them eager to know who I was and what I was doing in Liverpool.
Barry and the others played along, telling her I was Mark’s friend from Japan, and Mark was somewhere in Tokyo fucking some Japanese catalogue model, while I was here, lodging in his housse, one hundred per cent single. The girls laughed and flirted a little; one of the blonder ones leaning close and telling me my face was fucking beautiful then kissing my ear lobe. Barry leaned in and told her I was a hound-dog and, an hour ago, I’d started on this gobby twat over near Angry Moborg, and the kid had run off pissing himself. The girl laughed and said she’d heard Japanese men were tough, and then later, near the toilets, she saw me again and asked if I was really, really tough, and I said, ‘yeah, well, I don’t just stand there and do nothing.’
‘Good, I hate pacifists,’ she said, pushing me against the wall and planting herself on my face.
I kissed her back for what seemed like a few minutes, ran a line over her tits, rubbed her a bit, but Barry told me later, at the barr, that I was by the toilets with her for two hours, which I didn’t really believe because Barry was drunk too and how could he tell time any better than I could? Two hours? I would’ve just taken her home if it was going on that long.
After arguing about it for half an hour and then forgetting about it instantly, we ordered something called Krsnik and drank to Japan. Some other guys heard it and came over, saying they’d lived in Japan before. To prove it, one of them spoke to me in basic Japanese and I spoke to him back and we had a kiddie conversation, and then they ordered some shots for us and we all drank to Tokyo and Japanese porn.
Then our group and the two other guys left and went outside into the square and brought some Krsnik with us and it was emptier now so we could sit down and drink. I tried to look at my watch, but it was blurred, so I looked up and tried to focus on things in the square but that was blurred too, and I asked someone what time it was and they said, ‘it’s Neptune time, baby.’
I woke up and went downstairs, watched some Doctor Who with Dad. Made some coffee, downed some water before drinking the coffee, then took two Panadol for the neurons smacking each other round the inside of my head.
Later, Mum came in and told us Charlie had got stuck at the airport and was coming back home. ‘She had a panic attack, so be nice, okay?’
She came back two hours later. We all smiled and asked if she was alright, but she didn’t answer, just looked at me then walked off, straight up to her room.
We were in a pocket barr near Matthew Street, some place Barry had heard of, but the rest of us hadn’t, and the others had already told him they’d meet up later and then we’d all go to one of the clubs, maybe the Razz, maybe the Krazy Housse, we’d decide later, so me and Barry sat at a table by ourselves, drinking from three in the afternoon until ten at dark, with Barry telling me it was normal I had a Japanese face, and he didn’t really get why people kept staring and asking about it, but then after a while he changed his mind and said, ‘actually, it is a bit odd, mate, isn’t it?’
The others turned up around eleven, meeting us at another barr in Matthew Street, I could never remember the name, but it was one of those places with a basement and it was always packed, and tonight it was extra packed and a bitch to get to the barr, but Barry and me didn’t really care cos we’d already had a shitload to drink and it was the others who’d just come out who were desperate to get to the barr and get some confidence in them.
‘Yaaa desperation of sober twats when they see how much craic everyone else is having,’ Barry said into my ear while the others were at the barr.
‘Our lovely craic,’ I replied, trying to pick up my bottle and almost knocking it off the table.
After an hour, they came back over, saying they’d managed to get three drinks down them, which wasn’t enough, and we should leave so they could go to VISH MART and get some quick beers before hitting the Krazy Housse.
Me and Barry agreed and followed them out, and then quick as a flash we were in the queue for something, and I asked Barry where we were and he said in the queue and that was about all I got as he was already dancing to some kind of music, maybe the beeping shit I could hear from inside.
Another flash and we were inside and I was standing near a pool table watching two guys I didn’t know play pool. They weren’t very good but I didn’t say anything, just looked around between shots and tried to focus on who and what was around me, but no one would stay still so I went up to one of the booths and sat down and no one in that booth said a word so I got up again and walked over to the stairs and up onto one of the dance floors, and my legs buckled a little on the last step, but I managed to hold myself together and keep moving, telling my brain I wasn’t drunk, I was a master of illusion, and then thought, ‘where’s Barry?’ because I really needed to tell him I was Mandrake, the master of illusion, and I knew he’d understand.
But he wasn’t at the barr or on the dance floor, and he wasn’t near the pool tables either. Toilets? No sign of him there either. Quelling the sudden urge to get out and head home, patch into Moon Factory 7, I moved back to the middle floor, Barry’s favourite, and went round the whole perimeter until, finally, I spotted him grinding up against a pillar on the podium.
I tried to walk over there but my legs were feeling weak again, so I sat down on the edge of the podium, trying to block out the nuclear drum beat coming from everywhere.
Then a guy was standing over me, didn’t know who, but he seemed to know me, and he leaned down to my ear and said something, couldn’t hear it properly, but I saw his face and he looked constipated.
‘Kasu,’ I mumbled under my breath, trying to get up and move away, maybe find the others, but something grabbed me, and I turned and saw it was him, the fucker was gripped onto my arm and yapping again, but the exploding drum was yapping louder so I could only catch a few words.
‘Take you to the fucking airport,’ he repeated, louder, and I tried to shrug him off, but he was strong, and yapping again, closer to me, ‘I’m taking you to the fucking airport, nip, putting you on a fucking nip plane, and sending you back to your fucking nip homeland.’
I looked at him and his scrunched eyebrows and then the general surroundings. Some of the nearby shapes were staring, while others were still making drunken triangles with their hands, and no one did anything as he pushed me hard in the chest, not even a token hey. Somehow I managed to stay on my feet and at that point, the only thing I could picture clearly were his scrunched eyebrows and how much I wanted to smear them into the podium, hopefully his face too.
Podium face motherfuck-…
I turned awkward and said something about hitting him with a blue airport, then swung hard and vague. Kind of felt like I got some of him, but not enough, I could see he was still on his feet, which meant the next thing would be a counter-swing.
Moving my legs into a flexible defensive stance was the logical move, but those legs were wobbling and my eyes couldn’t really see straight and, honestly, I just wanted to sit down again, preferably away from this beep music and all these-
Something smacked against my head, pulling the floor up towards my head, sliding in Sadia, naked in a bathtub, wiping me with a sponge, telling me the guy had probably got beaten up by a Japanese guy before. Or really liked driving foreigners to airports. One or the other.
Lights came back on and Sadia vanished.
My body was slouched down at the side of the dancefloor, with the drums turned off, and Barry next to me saying, ‘mate, this fucking place,’ over and over, with a blood-stained tissue in his hand.
It was almost dark when I woke up.
Huh? That fast?
I checked the clock and saw early afternoon numbers. Confused, I got up, looked outside and saw that it wasn’t really that dark, it was just a miserable day.
Grey like Ceres.
Filmned by old-age Tarkovsky.
Stumbling zombie-like downstairs, I made my usual cup of no milk coffee and told dad I was going out later that night. He asked me about the editing. I watched the surface of the coffee and told him it was coming along. He asked about the marks on my face, I told him I’d tripped and hit my head on a Nazi.
‘You got hit by a Nazi?’
‘Forget it, dad.’
Charlie came down in the evening and tried to have dinner with us. She’d been in her room for almost a week now, only coming out when she needed the bathroom.
No one mentioned this, we just smiled, same as the last time.
It didn’t matter.
She sat down for about two minutes, looked at the TV, looked at me, screamed and ran back upstairs.
Barry answered the door in a Richard Pryor mask and shook his head, asking what had taken us so long to get there.
One of the others said it was his fault, he didn’t understand the roads in the area and the signs were all shit and needed replacing, to which Barry responded with a curt ‘shut the fuck up’ and left the door open. Didn’t know what the others did, but I followed him in, through the hallway and the kitchen, where he tossed me a can, and then out into the garden, where he turned, threw off the mask, lit up and asked what the plan for the night was.
‘Bold Street,’ I said, miming a smoking pose.
‘Should try some different barrs this time.’
‘Then not Bold Street.’
He passed over a cigarette and a light and we stood out there for another hour or so, the others apparently elsewhere. The gymn was first up, whether or not I was gonna go back and grovel. I said I wasn’t and asked him back if he thought I should.
‘I wouldn’t, mate.’
‘Then I won’t either.’
‘It was a decent job though.’
‘I mean, it seemed decent. From the outside.’
Later, on the way into the City Centre, he leaned in close to my ear and asked what I was gonna do next.
‘What’s your life-plan, Marky-Mark?’ he repeated, louder, blowing smoke out the window.
‘Join the local gymn maybe. Huh?’
‘Dogging old Willy Fogg?’
I didn’t bother telling him about the writing, cos then he’d ask to see it, and I’d be forced to show him Lunar Crone.
The taxi spat us out and I had a moment where I just didn’t want to be there at all, followed by the thought of going home and checking Sadia’s profile again, re-reading our old messages, but it soon passed.
Then we were in another barr, nondescript, drinking Krsnik by the outside window, talking to some people we vaguely knew.
Time moved on.
Faces seemed younger.
Conversations happened around me, without me.
Sadia…trapped in an alternate dimension…waiting for me to stop fucking around and find her
is what my brain kept saying, in flawless Japanese,
but I refused to believe it.
Towards the end we saw the guys from the other barr, a week ago, the ones who adored Japan. We pulled them over, ordered more Krsnik, toasted to Ko Shibasaki, chatted about Quarter-Life, Pluto 2280, the pointlessness of private VR servers in city centre barrs, but it wasn’t the same this time; they were bored, we were bored, and I wasn’t feeling anything from the Krsnik, so I told Barry we should go.
‘Nah, mate, too soon to quit.’
‘It’s half eleven.’
‘Way too soon.’
‘Try another place, see what pans out.’
Deferring to him [to avoid a drunken hissy fit], we left the Japan guys and went up the road to another barr, a place we’d been to before, and drank some more Krsnik and stayed there for forty long existential minutes until Barry turned to me, finally, yawned like a velociraptor, and slurred, ‘I’m done, mate.’
I woke up and saw Charlie standing over me, head up near the ceiling.
There was a hockey stick in her right hand.
I asked cold what she was doing and she told me I wasn’t real.
‘Fake. Not real.’
I tried to whisper that it was me, her brother Mark, but she kept saying it wasn’t, it wasn’t, cos Mark was in a Japanese lab somewhere.
‘Okay, maybe you should just put the-…’
She brought the hockey stick down, hard.
Somehow, with some sixth, seventh, eighteenth sense, I guessed it was coming and moved a few inches to the side, just enough to avoid having my head mashed into the pillow.
Activating survival mode, I seized her ankles and threw her off the bed, then leapt on the arm that was still gripping the hockey stick.
We wrestled, struggled, screamed at each other.
And then stopped, exhausted.
‘Not Mark,’ she mumbled, crawling back out into the corridor, leaving me alone with the hockey stick.
Later that morning, dad came in and said Charlie was having real problems and that it probably wasn’t me, but at the moment it seemed that way to her. I asked if it was because of my face but, as usual, he didn’t seem to understand what I meant. But I knew. Whatever those scientists had done, the spell was breaking.
We were sitting in one of the barrs off Bold Street, a recording studio The Beatles used, and then The La’s in the 80s, and Canto Cave Man in the 20’s, and Barry was telling us about the GENTE+ stars he’d seen lately.
‘They’re all at 13th Colony,’ he said, spitting on my neck, ‘and they’re always trashed. Even the tall, blonde one from Not That Way JoJo. Serious, if you go over to them in the correct manner, ask them the right questions, the right way, then there’s a pretty good chance you could fuck one of them.’
I drank my pint, something Balkan I’d never heard of, and told him I wasn’t interested in GENTE+ stars, and he laughed, saying I was full of shit, and what was I interested in then?
‘Recently,’ I answered, looking up at the Canto Cave Man poster on the wall, ‘nothing much.’
‘What about that internet girl?’
‘No more messages?’
‘She’s not even online, mate. Doesn’t answer anyone.’
‘Don’t even care now anyway. Bigger things to worry about.’
‘Dada moment, sorry. What bigger things?’
Vetoing the idea of throwing my drink in his face, I told him about Charlie and how everything was fucked up for her at the moment, and the whole mess seemed to give some perspective, the persistent feeling that going out all the time was starting to nullify me as a human being.
Looking blankly at the table, Barry drank half his Balkan pint and said we just needed to hit different barrs, meet new people, and then it’d seem new again, and I said, ‘yeah, you’re probably right, mate,’ but it didn’t sound convincing at all.
An hour later, we walked into 13th Colony and poked around a bit, but there were no GENTE+ stars in there, or even Hey Muon stars, so Barry said, fuck this, if there’s none here let’s get the fuck out and hit something with a bit of class.
On the way back out, we heard the two women in front talking about a white dwarf movie star called Nick Stahl, saying he was somewhere nearby and instead of hard-lining the ultra-private VR servers, or the spiral clubs, he was slumming it in the locals.
Outside, Barry said, ‘ see, Nick Stool, somewhere nearby.’
‘He’s a guy though, mate.’
‘Guy, girl, raccoon, doesn’t bother me.’
‘Do you even know who he is?’
‘Course, Terminator: Autobahn guy, Intelligent Koala Farm…’
‘That bitch on Pluto, ice alien thing…’
‘Dead Bitch On Pluto.’
Barry clamped a fleshy hand on my shoulder and said, ‘nah, exactly, sentient, dead bitches, doesn’t matter, we go where the night takes us, poncho villa,’ which made me laugh for some reason, and I knew I shouldn’t but I couldn’t help telling him the night was not sentient and couldn’t take us anywhere, and that shut him up for a while as we walked up the road to the next barr, checking behind bins and lamp posts for white dwarf movie star Nick Stahl.
Barry stayed in the gravestone-like seat, staring at the two orange-looking women on the table next to us, while I got up and went to the barr.
Waiting for the drinks guy to serve me, I killed time by reading the Italian titles on the old giallo posters above the spirits rack.
LA CODA DELLO SCORPIONE.
LA DAMA ROSSA UCCIDE SETTE VOLTE.
When the drinks guy finally noticed me, I ordered two bottles of local made stuff, and, as he was clipping the lids off, looked back at the posters and saw that the text was now in Japanese.
Turning to ask the drinks guy if he saw it too, I reeled backwards when I saw a Japanese guy staring at me, holding out the two beers I’d ordered.
‘Watch it,’ said the guy behind me in flawless Japanese.
I swung round to apologise, but then the whole barr was Japanese; the faces, the words, the exit sign above the door, the Hegel quote on the window.
Feeling my heart about to go supernova, I turned my back on the Japanese mass hallucination and focused on the posters. Not Katakana. Not Katakana. Thank gods. The text was Italian again. And when the drinks guy told me the price of the beers, his words were in English.
‘Okay,’ I said back, card staying in my hand.
‘I’m gonna need to scan that,’ he said, gesturing at it.
Holding the card out with a slightly shaky hand, he ignored it and took the one that had appeared beside me instead. Pre-empting my inevitable the fuck?, a voice spoke near my ear. ‘Drinks are on me, dude.’
I turned and saw a tall, white guy, or a tall, tan guy, middle-aged, American maybe, smiling like an out and proud psychopath. Hey, aren’t you Nick Stahl? sailed through my brain, but it was too late to say it out loud as he’d already picked up the drinks and was taking them over to the table, where Barry was waiting with his gob stretched open.
When we had both settled, Barry slapped the table like he’d just won a poker hand and said, ‘fuck me, mate, you’re really here, aren’t you?’
‘In the flesh.’
‘Nick Fucking Stool. Unbelievable.’
A surprisingly young Nick Stahl leaned into my side and told my neck he liked to keep away from the louder barrs, and I nodded and said, ‘yeah, makes sense, I guess.’
Barry overheard and said, ‘fuck that, mate, I’d be where the women are, hoovering up all the prime muff in the area,’ but Stahl ignored him and stayed close to me, saying more quietly this time, ‘dude, you know what I mean, don’t you?’
Finishing his drink, Barry got up and told us he was gonna walk around for a bit, and I said, ‘don’t go too far, yeah?’
‘No chance, mate, I’m fucking anchored to a movie star. Gonna see what I can reel in ancillary style.’
When Barry was out of earshot, Stahl shifted closer, with his arm around the back of the gravestone seat. As he got more comfortable, his hand shifted, brushing several times against the edge of my shoulder.
I looked at him while drinking my beer, at his build specifically. He was a bigger guy than I remembered him being in his movies, taller and stronger, and oddly young-looking considering he had to be close to sixty years old. And his hand was stroking my shoulder now.
Shit, was he coming on to me?
What should I do?
I took another swig of my drink, confused, aroused, wondering if it was the Japanese part of me who was attracted to men, or the Mark part? Was this even attraction? I’d dreamt about fucking ED-209 before, didn’t mean I wanted to physically do it. Did it?
Realising I’d had been sipping my beer for over a minute, I shifted away from his hand and asked what the hell he was doing there.
‘Chance,’ he replied, eyes seemingly outlining my face.
‘Pure chance,’ I muttered, looking at the other table.
‘Hint of intention too.’
‘The real question is, what the hell are you doing here?’
‘In a dead end town like this.’
‘Yeah, I’m still trying to figure it out, I guess. Lot of things have happened recently…tough things…hard to make a concrete plan.’
He leaned in close again, the oddly purple dots in his eyes fixed on my Japanese face, and asked, ‘how’s the writing arc, Keni Cat?’
In the taxi, Stahl said I was a pretty awesome guy for letting him stay at my housse, and he guessed it was a little weird, but not that weird as it was the journey to the end of the night and things like this always happened in that kind of insanity.
‘Besides, it’s not technically your housse.’
‘You haven’t always lived in it, is what I’m saying.’
I stayed with the window, nodding once, wondering how he knew so much about me. Or gave the impression of knowing about me.
After a few minutes of silence, punctuated by the taxi driver’s weird choice of music [sounded like Mongolian throat gargling], I asked him head on if he knew any Japanese scientists, or if he thought it was weird that no one else in my family looked Japanese.
The taxi driver looked at me through the windscreen mirrror, puzzled.
‘I’ve never seen your family,’ replied Stahl, staring outside at the communal estates passing by.
‘Yeah, good point.’
‘And I don’t know any scientists.’
‘Me neither,’ I lied.
I collapsed without dramatics on the couch and asked Stahl if he was interested in watching a bit of doctor.
Parking himself on Charlie’s usual chair, he looked at the blank TV screen and slowly filtered out a what.
‘The Who man, Doctor of Who.’
He closed his eyes, muttering, ‘oh.’
Taking that as a firm yes, I grabbed the remote and loaded up GENTE+, then honed in fast on the Doctor Who icon before he could get sight of the other choices. I didn’t know which episode it was exactly, but I knew the Doctor, it was Pertwee, Sean Pertwee. No, wait, it was Sean’s dad, not Sean…Jon.
I closed and opened my eyes, too slow to be called blinking, each time seeing a different scene.
The Doctor was faffing around in the countryside. Then the Cybermen were walking slowly out of the sea. Then they were in housses killing pensioners. Then a factory manager was scolding a worker for wearing the wrong overalls. Then the overalls were…
I woke up in the dark, uneasy, waiting for my eyes to adjust.
When they eighty per cent had, I saw that I was in my room, deep under the duvet, with a human-shaped silhouette moving around nearby.
Wah, it was him.
Didn’t he have to sleep?
Keeping the duvet tight and discreet around my face, I watched him roam around my own bedroom, opening things, saying ‘kuso’ when it wasn’t what he wanted, and then, finally, picking up my computerr.
At this point, his survival radar must’ve kicked in as he turned sharply and looked right at me.
I had no choice but to sit up and ask what he was doing.
‘Insanely bored, dude,’ he replied, accent oddly unamerican until the dude.
‘Sleep?’ I suggested, gesturing towards the other side of my bed.
Ignoring my suggestion, he turned on the computerr.
My eyes resealed for a moment, and when I opened them again he was sitting on the edge of the bed next to me, asking something, but I couldn’t quite hear so I rubbed my eyes, adjusted my leg position and said, ‘what?’
‘This all you’ve done?’
I squinted at the computerr and saw the white of a page, and…shit, that thing. My abandoned opus. Well, at least it wasn’t Lunar Crone.
‘Is this all the writing you’ve done?’ he repeated, losing the accent again.
‘Chapter two is in there somewhere, but it’s not good,’ I mumbled, and that’s all I could manage as my voice sounded like it was coming out of a machine a thousand miles away.
Stahl shook his head and turned the computerr off.
‘What’s going on?’ I asked, pulling myself further up.
‘Thought you would’ve been further along by now.’
He rubbed his hand along the top of the duvet, missing my thigh by the smallest of margins. ‘When did you leave Japan, dude?’ he asked.
‘You know about that?’
‘I thought it was a few months already, but looking at this, maybe not. More like a few weeks, right?’
‘Did I tell you?’
‘Fuck, it is. Undershot again.’
‘How do you know I was in Japan?’
He whistled, quite a skilled one, and said he should’ve listened to the tyrant hologram, even though she was annoying and had made her case poorly.
‘Okay, this is getting weird.’
I lifted the duvet off and was about to get out of bed when, without any sign of actual physical movement on his part, he grabbed hold of my arm and guided me gently back down to the pillow.
‘You should go back to sleep,’ he said, voice softer than before, and, as I caught the purple dots in his eyes, I felt that he was right, I probably should sleep, and my legs thought he was right too as they refused to move, so turned on my pillow and drawled out in what I hoped were words that I’d ask him the knowing stuff again in the morning, when the light of sun was about, and my brain was working good and things were
light and sunny and