[Void Galaxia] Chapter 36: Maybe He’ll Take Me With Him

+++

Elise at a Mexican restaurrant in Budapest.

Jame and Tariq next to the impossibly blue Lake Pukaki.

Ah To pretending to understand what the Indonesian fortune teller is saying.

Her, on a Pluto Ya duvet, in fucking Fresno.

Throwing her phone [and friends’ pics] towards the end of her bed, Lexi got up and stood like a powered-down cyborg in the middle of the room.

Twenty past eight.

In an hour, she’d be standing in pretty much the same state in the video caffé, waiting for the next customer to wander in and order blueberry pie…all the curious parts of her brain switched off.

No, that wasn’t right.

She still had her phone. And Mark. If he wasn’t too hungover from the welcome to the churn drinks Juana had forced on them the night before.

When did they leave again?

Half two?

Ah, didn’t matter. She wasn’t feeling that rough so he wouldn’t either.

Changing her Relaxed Bear shirt for one of her five Tenebrae work tops, she went out into the living room and immediately collided with Eisen’s attempt at I’m planning to go to the supermarket in Japanese.

A flat mate who didn’t do language exchanges as soon as he woke up, she thought, as she swiped her Tenant Card in the kitchen slot, turned on the kettle and grabbed two slices of bread from the basket. That would be nice. One who could already speak another language…who wasn’t from Fresno…who’d travelled to other places around the world…and for some reason had decided to stop dead still and work in the same tedious…relatively tedious…video caffé as her. A Japanese-looking guy called Mark, who appeared constipated whenever she asked if he was Japanese.

The kettle boiled, making a rattling sound that sounded like the washing machine.

Yeah, the whole thing was quite strange.

But he did say he wasn’t staying forever…in No Agro Lounge, about eight hours earlier, with her hand parked on his knee. Gods, that was pretty overt. But appreciated too cos he never tried to push it off. In fact, far as she remembered, they’d sat next to each other all night.

Wah…maybe when he left again, he’d take her with him.

If she let him know that was an option.

Anywhere in the world, por favor.

Except LA.

And Poland.

‘I don’t know because it is difficult to know,’ filtered through in broken Japanese, snapping her out of the daydream and re-spawning her slumped on the couch, her hand almost dropping a piece of toast.

When did that happen?

The kettle boiling, that was okay, but the toast…

More background Japanese, this time with an English translation.

Followed by a so desu ne?

Lexi glanced over at Eisen, her eternal flat mate, patched in with some pale guy in Japan. Six months and he was still nowhere near her level. And her level wasn’t even that high. Barely even low-intermediate, if she were being honest.

A noise from the flat below, a woman shouting at someone to stop buying so much bread.

She leaned back into the couch, eating up to the crust of her toast, closing her eyes when Eisen started speaking louder Japanese.

I’m too harsh, she thought. At least he’s trying. Least he has a plan to get out of here. Even if it is slightly dumb. Jammer, too. Gone to NASCAR, what the fuck? But at least he actually did something…has energy of some kind.

What do I have?

Nightmare Castle?

Work?

Cold shivers every time I hear the word Redondo?

Sensing a cascade of negative realism banging on the neural gate, she got up, dumped the leftover crusts in the bin and went back into her room.

On the shelf by the bed were stacks of second-hand textbooks – Portuguese, Cantonese, Slovenian, Japanese, Urdu – and next to those were children’s books in the same languages, stolen from the local library before it got shanked by Audio Village.

She picked one up – Kill The Mouse in Portuguese – and flicked through.

Something something cheese in the fridge.

If the mouse didn’t something the something, the cheese would go bad.

Grabbing her phone from the bed, she clicked on the Portuguese-English dictionary app and started translating the mystery words. At the same time, in her head, she walked around the main hall of Nightmare Castle, telling Mark about the history of the torture devices in fluent Japanese.

From the living room, Eisen’s Japanese voice continued, dragging her back.

‘Okay desu,’ she said softly, putting the phone in her pocket.

+++

Outside the caffé, she was greeted by an almost identical replica of the scene from the day before.

Mark staring through the main window, looking slightly confused.

‘Yes, this is where you work,’ she said, nudging him aside as little and swiping the lock on the door.

He turned, eyes glancing at the Tenebrae t-shirt, then at her face.

‘Feeling rough?’

‘A bit.’

‘Wanna walk around a bit first, get some more air?’

‘No need.’

‘Don’t have to buy anything.’

‘I’m fine. Energetic.’

‘Good, then you can start adding the cream paste to the pies. I’ll turn on the coffee machine.’

‘Coffee…’

‘After that we can sit and stare at our phones.’

+++

An hour later, Mark had shrugged off what was either a hangover or the longest ever period of immersion haze, and was now leaning off the edge of a stool on the customer side of the counter, asking Lexi direct what Jammer was doing in a lunatic place like NASCAR.

‘Driving? Chasing the cheerleaders?’

‘He still hasn’t messaged you?’

‘Nope.’

‘That’s weird.’

‘It’s only been a few days. Besides, he’ll probably come back after a week or so…when he realizes how hard it is. And that he has to pay all the insurance costs out of his own pocket.’

Mark nodded, looking over at the only booth in the caffé that was currently occupied. Unlike most of the customer base, this one had two teen girls taking pics of the Scanners poster looming above their table.

‘Don’t know if Juana will rehire him though,’ added Lexi, watching Mark’s fingers flick at each other. ‘He did leave without giving notice, and…I guess if he says sorry enough, maybe it’ll work…but I doubt it. Are you okay?’

‘Headache,’ Mark replied, fingers now digging into his temples.

‘Probably from last night.’

‘Yeah.’

‘I think Jammer left some Panadol in the back room, if you need it?’

He looked over at the STAFF ONLY door and stopped digging.

‘Open offer.’

+++

The rest of the day passed sloth-like.

Mark killed time the same way Lexi did when she’d first started working there, walking around the video shelves, reading the blurbs on the back of the cases, while she stayed behind the counter and paddled through a Portuguese entertainment site.

When Portuguese got too much, she switched to Cantonese, and when she struggled to read even a sentence of that, she loaded up one of the Japanese review channels.

Unlike Eisen, she didn’t shadow any of the dialogue, mainly cos it was annoying as fuck and would drive the few customers they had away, but she did try and mouth some of the harder words.

‘Do you understand what they’re saying?’ asked Mark, pouring out another coffee for both of them.

‘About fifty per cent.’

‘That’s impressive.’

‘Most of it in fragments.’

‘You want me test you?’

‘Yeah, please don’t.’

He slid the coffee cup across the counter, keeping his hand on the side just in case, and looked out the window at the VR plaza opposite.

‘Not much of a queue today.’

‘Wait till seven, it’ll be packed.’

He nodded, turning back to the counter and listening to the Japanese woman talk about the dearth of original programming on Hey Muon.

‘She’s not wrong,’ he said, half to himself.

‘I got the part about Hey Muon…’ Lexi replied, still scanning the subtitles. ‘And original something.’

‘Not bad.’

‘Hopefully better than my flat mate,’ she muttered.

‘What’s that?’

Before Lexi could lay the foundation stone on what she knew would turn into a Chinese tower of a rant, the door opened and Juana walked in. Oddly [for her], she was wearing a yukata-like robe instead of the usual Slazenger jacket, and had another, quite pretty Mexican woman on her arm.

‘Busy night?’ she asked, looking around at the empty booths.

‘Jam packed.’

‘Well, let me play the part of the Iraq genie and, ta da, give you the rest of the night off.’

‘Seriously?’

‘Go get lost in some VR. Play that Nightmare Dungeon game you always talk about. Have some genuine fun.’

‘But…’

‘Don’t worry, you’ll still get paid. Now go.’

‘Yes, boss.’

Lexi grabbed her jacket from the stool, and Mark’s jacket beneath it, then dragged him by the arm to the door as he didn’t look like he was going to be able to get there himself.

‘Did you see her eyes?’ he asked, as they stepped out onto the pavement.

‘Yeah, they’re always like that.’

‘What, glowing yellow?’

‘It’s a birth defect, she said her whole family has it. Come on, let’s get over there before her friend does something annoying and she changes her mind.’

+++

Globs of melted wax on the candle-holders.

Spider webs without spiders.

Paintings of pseudo-historical psychopaths tired of hiding the fact.

The lack of any other living people, apart from the grubby-looking NPCs chained up in the cells.

‘If you want to, you can start as one of those guys,’ said Lexi, hand on Mark’s arm as she led him down the corridor of the castle’s main dungeon.

‘And try to escape?’

‘That’s one option.’

‘What’s the other?’

‘It’s pretty hard though. The guards that come in are quite intimidating, and they don’t do stupid, reckless things like they do in the filmns. Or other VR.’

‘Like leave the keys dangling from their belt as they bend down?’

‘Yeah, nothing that dumb. Thank the pagan gods.’

Mark stopped by one of the candles, putting a finger up to touch the melted pile of wax hanging off the edge.

‘Feels real, right?’

‘Very.’

‘That’s what I like about it. You can tell the designers really loved this type of filmn. All the little details, like-…’

Lexi’s attempted monologue was broken by grunt-sounds of someone fucking in the next cell along.

‘Yeah, that’s on the marketing team,’ she said, deadpan.

‘The promo pic was quite sleazy,’ said Mark, not moving from beside the candle.

‘Doesn’t matter, there should be a fizz-screen up…if the door’s not closed.’

‘Category II limits…’

‘Though I’m not sure what’s happened to the soundproofing. It usually blocks cell noise…torture, sex…’

‘Audio must be glitching.’

‘Yeah, I suppose. The Lux is pretty old.’

‘Really? Doesn’t look it.’

‘About six years. Maybe seven. Can’t remember exactly. Wah, fucking hell…let’s just get past the sex noise first, before the guy peaks.’

Lexi gripped Mark’s arm tight and led him quickly past the open cell, gesturing at the hazy screen stopping them from seeing the pervert either fucking or playing the prisoner. ‘Black door over here leads down to the main torture chamber. Hopefully, no one’s in there.’

‘Dunno. I’m half expecting a maze of blurry screens…’

Lexi laughed. ‘More like some depressive strapped to the rack.’

‘Fantastic.’

‘It’s okay, you can just ignore them.’

‘Harmless pervs?’

‘Pretty much.’

+++

Luckily, they were both wrong.

The main torture chamber was vacant.

Apart from the collection of interrogation equipment with animal bloodstains on it and a vending machine costumed as a medieval cabinet that served players pseudo-goblets of wine [for a small in-game fee].

‘Nice rack,’ said Mark, as Lexi mimicked the action of strapping herself to the slab in the middle of the chamber.

‘I knew you were gonna say that.’

‘Sorry.’

‘Usually people call Lavinia the Goddess of Death and ask her to whip them. Or do other stuff. Actually, if you know the right approach, the right dialogue, you can even end up seducing her.’

‘Sounds realistic,’ muttered Mark, looking at his fingers and then, in a kind of weird reflex, tucking them away in his hoodie pockets.

‘I think the exact words are in a manual somewhere upstairs. Pay-to-open, of course.’

‘Adventurists…’

‘Yeah, it’s kinda annoying, but…that’s California.’

Kuso. I’ll probably be out of cash by next week, staying here. It’s insane.’

Lexi patted him on the back in mock sympathy, mock apology, mock something. ‘Hey, you wanna call her? Give it a try?’

‘What, now?’

‘We’ll do a dual approach. Both of us lie down on the slab, then take it in turns to attract her.’

‘Good tribute, bad tribute…’

‘Here, I’ll squeeze up a bit, let you climb on.’

Mark put a hand on the edge of the rack and watched as Lexi shuffled over to the other side. It wasn’t the roomiest of torture slabs, but it would probably do.

Rolling on, he tried first to lie flat on his back, but his shoulders were too broad, so he turned on his left side and…got stuck. His hand had nowhere to go but across Lexi.

‘I should get off…’ he said, but the movement attached to it wasn’t fast enough as Lexi grabbed his wrist and put it over her stomach.

‘This is okay,’ she said, turning her face slightly towards him.

‘It is?’

‘For me…yeah.’

‘Not too cramped?’ he asked, looking at the iron maiden in the corner, then the door leading down further to the pendulum cave, then slowly turning back to Lexi.

‘Nope.’

‘We’re pretty tight.’

‘I’d call it snug,’ she said, pushing her lips forward and stopping just short of his…hovering for a second to see if he’d do anything…then pushing on when a flash of him already inside her pulsed through the Russ Meyer chunk of her brain.

Mark may have conjured up the very same image, or an even more erotic one, as his lips pushed back, right hand moving up her body, mouth finding a gap to ask if they were really doing this, if the rack was stable enough, and her mumbling back that they weren’t really doing anything, just having fun like Juana told them too.

She repeated the line when her hand moved down onto his thigh, and his hands tried to roll her Tenebrae t-shirt up over her breasts.

‘I can’t stop…’ he said, giving up on the t-shirt and kissing her neck.

‘Don’t have to.’

‘But…the rack…here…’

‘It’s okay, just VR. No consequences.’

‘What about later?’

‘Later where?’

‘I don’t know…’

‘My place?’

Lexi moved her hand back up to his stomach, then off him completely when he still didn’t answer.

‘You okay?’ she asked, pulling her t-shirt back down.

It was a good question.

Mark was halfway off the rack, staring at the stone steps leading back up to the dungeon corridor. His hand was half-raised, as if he were attempting to point but some ethereal force was preventing him from doing so.

‘Ryu…’ he whispered, so low it was barely audible.

‘Real?’

Mark turned back to her, waking up a little. ‘Japanese guy…on the stairs…did you see?’

‘No.’

‘Just now…he was right there, watching us.’

‘Great, another pervert.’

‘Then…gone.’

‘Probably followed us down from the main hall. Good, he’s gone, you scared him off. How about we lie down again?’

Mark pushed himself fully off the rack and headed over to the stairs.

‘Where are you going?’

‘I have to find him, see what he wants…’

‘The Japanese guy? Now?’

‘…see if it’s really him. I’ll be back in two minutes.’

‘But-…’

‘Two minutes, I swear.’

‘Mark…’

Lexi lined up a few quick, cutting things to respond with, but finally just slumped back down on the rack and looked up at the cracks in the fake stone ceiling.

Was that just a very convoluted no to dungeon sex?

She pulled back the brief scene, the kissing and groping and redundant dialogue, trying to make sense of it all.

It’s VR.

No real consequences.

In Nightmare Castle, things like this happened all the time.

Cos it was fake.

But they weren’t.

They had kissed, they had touched each other.

And she was the one who’d initiated it.

Which meant…what?

He wasn’t interested?

The rack was too macabre?

Dungeon setting too bleak?

She rolled onto her side, looking at the dagger of light on the staircase wall.

Or maybe he really did see another Japanese guy.

A friend of his.

And that’s why his dick was hard.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s