[Void Galaxia] Chapter 18: Home Alone [With Theories]

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      The next morning there was another note.

      Not from the Mark simulacrum, but from my family.

      They said, or Dad said, that they would be away for a while. There was a mountain they had read about in Wales and they all thought, hey, why not go and climb it.

      What? I asked the note, moving on to the next part.

      It was a new mountain, apparently, just got classified the other week and half of Liverpool was off to climb it.

      But what about me? Didn’t they want all their kids to come?

      The note said they’d thought about asking me to come but I was still asleep when they left and they didn’t want to wake me, and besides, with the Japanese problem, perhaps it wasn’t the best idea to publicise it too much to others.

      ‘Yeah, thanks Dad.’

      I scrunched up the note and dropped it on the floor.

      No publicity, right.

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      I walked around the barren housse, aimless, the Japanese Bela Tarr.

      After an hour or two, I went to the bathroom and stared at the face in the mirrror, willing it with every ounce of whatever passed for spirit in my stupid head to change back to normal.

      It didn’t.

      But it was weird…looking around the room, things did seem a little lower.

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[Void Galaxia] Chapter 17: Note From Self To Self RE: Self

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Dad put down the mop and untied me.

      Billy threw his weapon on the sofa and trudged upstairs to get ready for work. As usual, he moaned as he went, saying that I owed him whatever the adventurists cut from his wage for being late.

      ‘That’s what you get for not working local.’

      ‘Oh, did they relocate your gymn then?’

      ‘Fuck off, that’s different.’

      ‘Ha, typical shit comeback, definitely our Mark.’

      He was right, but by the time I’d come up with a better one, he was already up the stairs. Well, plus point, at least he believed me now.

      Mum sat down and stared at the linoleum tiles, the plug and wire thing still fairly tight in her hands. I stayed distant, on my hostage chair, even though I really wanted to stand up and move my legs again.

      Dad stayed in front of me, like an old movie cut-out, eventually placing a fat hand on my shoulder. I looked at the knuckles, the wedding ring, then went back up and saw a Japanese man, middle-aged, fierce, glaring down as if his thoughts would set my face on fire.

      I blinked.

      The Japanese man was gone. It was dad again.

      ‘What’s going on, son?’

      ‘I don’t know. Really.’

      ‘Do you remember anything about last night? What time you slept? Any strange noises?’

      ‘No, nothing. Except…I think I went out. At some point.’

      ‘Yeah, I remember that part. But we didn’t hear you come back in, your mum or me. Where were you?’

      ‘Not sure…just out…drinking maybe. I don’t know.’

      ‘But you did come back…’

      ‘I must’ve, yeah. But when…’

      ‘What about day-time? The afternoon? Anything weird happen?’

      ‘Dad, I don’t know. It’s-…there’s nothing. No places, people…I can’t remember anything.’

      He shrugged, tightened his grip on my shoulder, told me we’d figure it all out soon enough then sat down properly on the sofa. There were no details on how exactly it would all be figured out. Just that it would be. Via the universe. The hand of a clumsy god. Muons and up quarks. Science. Something.

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[Void Galaxia] Chapter 16: Surface Japanese

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Stumbled dazed into the final chamber, gun in hand, ready to shoot anything that looked like it might shut this nightmare Tsukamoto-Scape down.

Topography was huge, elaborate, colourful, industrially dank.

Around five hundred cloning pods, all empty except one.

I walked towards it, gun elevated.

Glass of the pod was covered in condensation. Shape of a face edged through, but it was impossible to tell who it belonged to.

Behind me, a gun-man appeared.

Shit, it was him, COPENHAGEN.

‘Damn you, Keni,’ he slurred, bits of shredded ice hanging off his forehead. ‘You’ve really fucked up my plans here.’

‘And I’m gonna fuck them up even more.’

‘Not this time.’

Copenhagen raised his gun, but I knew from the news-types he’d always had trouble with his aim. Everything else in life, he’s decisive, they said, except when he fires a gun.

I shot blindly and hit the space tycoon on the shoulder.

Shot him again, sending him backwards through some pipes and badly-constructed electrical equipment.

Copenhagen landed hard, wheezed, began his death spiral.

I swaggered over, told him he’d been shot.

‘Yeah.’ Gargled blood. ‘Don’t suppose you know why my gun was faulty?’

‘It wasn’t.’

 ‘God…fucking props. Takes me back to my theatre days. I played Henry once, you know?’

‘What?’

‘Henry the…I don’t know, one of the numbers. Fourth maybe. Played him as a cripple, very bold.’

‘No idea what you’re saying.’

‘Jesus of Kensington…’

‘Who?’

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[Void Galaxia] Chapter 15: Triton No Taikutsu

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The man who looked like a young Nick Stahl sat relaxed on a rocky outcrop [not unlike a patio], surrounded by endless acres of nitrogen ice, staring up at the gigantic, bluer than blue warden Neptune looming above, thinking the words warden uncle, then warden aunty, then Stasi overseer thing, then infinite fucking blue uncle Stasi over aunty seeing nothing but same kid moon wasn’t even from there just crashed in one millennia and

       blue uncle bobbed there and took it

       blue aunty bob

       blue Stasi overcount bob

       bluuuuueeeeeaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaah

       He held up a fingertip, prodding impotently at the smallest gas giant.

       Directly in front of him was a chessboard on a plastic table, a half-slouched human player on the other side, but he didn’t seem interested in either.

      Neptune vs chess?

      Only one of these had ever invited him to kill himself…even if it was a failed attempt. Cut. Wrong choice of words. A thwarted attempt, that was more accurate. Thwarted by his purple holo-babysitter.

      Ah, those first hundred…the sunny years.

      He stretched out a human hand, pushing it slowly towards the forcefield a metre beyond the table. Those almost imperceptible flecks of blue were the only things protecting him – and his chess opponent – from almost instant death. At first, when Assta had told him he was stuck on this moon, he would make a habit of wearing a helmet outside, even within the perimeter, and avoid the nitrogen ice on the surface at all costs. Didn’t want to do anything stupid like die before the rescue ship came. That was the idea. Now, he couldn’t even remember where the helmets were kept. Or what they looked like.

      ‘Grey patches…’ he muttered, fixing his eyes back on the table.

      The player opposite didn’t respond.

      ‘Pointless. Unreliable.’

      A plume of nitrogen gas erupted nearby, the dust expelled clashing with the forcefield and turning the blue flecks frantic. Auxiliary dust trickled down at a sedate pace, wry if he felt like attaching personality to the thing, and settled on the rocky slope beyond the perimeter.

      The man who looked like a young Nick Stahl shunned the spectacle and instead arched his neck towards the black ceiling above. ‘Up there, Keitho…that’s where the real madness is. Oort Cloud. Alpha Centauri. Helix Nebula. Da’ba Da’baka. The million other places she never bothers to tell me about.’

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[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.

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[Void Galaxia] Chapter 13: Tsukubashi Rabbit Hole

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I woke up around eleven, groggy, a kaleidoscope of weirdness lashing round my brain.

      Asami naked on a rock, fingering herself with a starfish.

      Ryu in a VR homeless camp.

      Alien totems on Pluto.

      Black alien selling eye insurance.

      Yosh with a two metre knife, about to-

      Kuso, Yosh…

      I rubbed vaguely near my eyes, drawing in the foreground.

      My fucking dorm room.

      Same as the night before.

      Yosh was sitting on the edge of the bed, both eyes open, expression forensically blank, hand still in the jacket pocket.

      ‘You sleep late, teme.’

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      It was a Saturday, so everyone else had either left for the day or was still in bed. Probably the former, knowing my dorm mates, though Asami usually liked to sleep in on at least one of the weekend days.

      Yosh followed me into the bathroom and talked while I brushed my teeth. He said he didn’t want to do anything, but it may turn out that way.

      I asked him through the mirrror what he would do.

      ‘Nothing that won’t heal.’

      I imagined slashes instead of stabs.

      ‘How bad?’

      ‘Just…focus on your teeth. Okay?’

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[Void Galaxia] Chapter 12: Adventurist Babysitting

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Immediate reaction to wholesale life change [as I walked from the room]

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      No memories, who cares? Did I ask enough questions? Details must be known. What exactly are they doing to my brain? Who will I turn into? Why was that guy pretending to be South-East Asian? Was that a Jamaican accent? Where’s Ryu? Why is he not calling back? No. Can’t do it, too insane. Wait for the games. Pay Yosh. Stay still. Live like I’ve always lived. Slug-like. Tsunashima. Wake up late, depressed, stable. Pluto 2270. Moon Factory 7. Occasional unii. Gods, that’s my life? Fuck all that. Move, get out. Leave Japan, unii, this. Leave all of it. Your life is a wreck, wreck. You don’t want to be here. You never did. You’ve wanted this fucking wormhole for years. Get the fuck out. Go.

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      Outside, the posters were all gone.

      Position filled, clearly.

      I felt a weird kind of peace walking back past the other departments, into the car park and onwards to Hiyoshi station. The branches of the ginkgo trees sensed it too, swaying with almost sentient rhythm. Didn’t know if I’d really go through with it, but just the idea that I could…

      Liverpool…North Britain…fluent English and Japanese…gym muscles without doing any of the hard work…kuso

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      The wreck came out in a daze, swaying, and Yosh followed him outside. Something strange was going on, all the posters had been picked up. ‘Fuck, those cleaners got some pace,’ Yosh muttered to himself, swatting at a not-in-the-way-at-all gingko branch.

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      I stood looking at a random poster on the train, a promotion for Pachinko VR in Shinjuku. A weird thought came. This could be the last time I’d ever look at one of these things using this face. No, scratch that. This could be the last time I’d ever see Pachinko machines. If that’s what I wanted…

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      Yosh sat down next to an old man and watched the wreck staring at the wall. Was he thinking about the pointless science lecture he just attended? Or the pending fucking debt he owed?

      Better be the debt.

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      The narrow street outside Tsunashima station was empty. Somehow evening had come. I went into Matsuya on the corner and ate some spiced meat with rice. At least I thought that’s what it was. Couldn’t remember ordering…

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[Void Galaxia] Chapter 11: Will Change You Wholesale

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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?

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      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.

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[Void Galaxia] Chapter 10: Why Did You Play In Hell?

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Surprising even my own subconscious or Other-Scape or whatever the philosophical term was, I woke up at nine the next morning

      dozed a bit

      imagined forest sex with Asami, an army of purple eyeballs watching from the canopy, a spiraling vortex to cartoon Pluto

      then finally rolled off the bed around eleven.

      My head was still fuzzy from getting a patchy amount of sleep, but I remembered very clearly the thing hovering outside the window. And the paralysis that came with it. Hoping it was just a variation on immersion haze, I went online and searched shadow creature with purple eyes that floats outside windows. No results except 18+ fan fiction. Okay, immersion haze then. Good.

      The VR server made a beeping noise, winning my attention.

      Right, time to play that ridiculous-…

      I blinked several times before the message on the screen sank in.

      Installation Failed. Try Again?

      Again?

      And stare out the window for another four hours?

      Kasu…

      I reached over and removed the game.

      What I had to do was go back to Yosh and see if this really was Pluto 2280. My gut said he’d given me a knock-off by mistake, an ambush rip-off from a smaller developer maybe, and if I showed him some of it, his gut would say it too.

      He might even feel guilty about hassling me so hard for the games yesterday.

      As if it was my fault Ryu decided to be so fucking lax all of a sudden…

      I picked up my phone and checked my messages.

      Kuso, still lax.

      Not even a forgiveness emoji.

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[Void Galaxia] Chapter 9: Days Of Grey, Nights Of Neon

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My dorm VR server was dead.

      Or it may as well have been. Four hours to install a fucking game?

      Was this real?

      Didn’t it know I was already pissed off?

      Muttering, ‘fucking Martokras,’ under my breath, I switched to my game-card version of Moon Factory 7 and patched in. It functioned okay, no frazzled weirdness…until the background scenery starting flashing green and the NPCs walked on air like it was the floor.

      Okay, that definitely needed to be fixed. Another game?

      I scrolled through my cards – Harem Survival 4, Quarter-Life, Pluto 2270 etc. – and struggled to put colour to any of them. Too familiar. Played to death and beyond.

      What else?

      Dorm version of Moon Factory 7? Tomomi or Sachiko would probably be on, I could do some crater watching with them. But the lag would be pretty bad…half-filled in background, NPC buffering freeze…unless I detached the install?

      I checked the timer on Pluto 2280. Three hours and fifty-eight minutes left.

      Fuck. Four hours.

      Everyone knew dorm servers weren’t the fastest, but new games never took that long to install. One hour max.

      Kuso.

      I looked at my phone and saw it was already eleven.

      What was I gonna do for four hours?

      Forums?

      Vlogs?

      Sleep?

      Opening a new tab, I went to 100 More and scrolled down the main page. Apart from a video about what it would feel like to fall into the atmosphere of Jupiter, there was nothing of interest.

      And didn’t wanna look at my phone anyway.

      That’s what addicts did.

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