[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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[Void Galaxia] Chapter 8: Copy Of A Copy Of A Copy Of A

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      ‘Where the hell did all that metal come from?’ I asked, not really caring if anyone else on Tsunashima bridge heard or flinched or flailed.

      The cover came out of my bag again, mock innocent.

      ‘Metal land? Pluto scrap yard?’

      No answer.

      ‘Fucking kasu…’

      We were walking home-wards, myself and that disgrace of a game. The assistant had kicked us out, ignoring my one plea for leniency and then the following seven threats to have him subpoenaed [I meant fired].

      ‘What then? Permanent ban?’

      ‘This is a first offence so, no, not permanent. Just take a rest for a few days then you can come back.’

      ‘A few days? Three? Two?’

      ‘I think a week would be better. And when you do come back, no game, please. And no more aggression. Okay?’

      I’d told him I would come back whenever the will took me, which meant there was no point going back at all. It’s not like there was any work due. Or there probably was, but that was way out of my orbit.

      A couple walked past on the bike lane side, fondling each other and, when they got about ten metres ahead, it finally clicked in my brain that the girl was Tomomi.

      Wah, my Tomomi. The third most chilled-out player on Moon Factory 7. The girl I sometimes hung out with at Clamo Sha Sea Food. Did she know how dumb this new Pluto game was?

      I turned onto another road, walked past the new karaoke building and then Saizeriya. The addict part of me, a smallish part, thought about going inside and patching in, swallowing their dumb 4900 yen deal, but then I remembered the caveat: only games in the Saizeriya catalogue can be used. Okay, then I’d go in and scrawl out some napkin messages, notes for the designers of this game, telling them every single thing that was wrong with the fucking thing. Number one: it lies.

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[Void Galaxia] Chapter 7: Pluto 2280

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      When I got back to the Computerr Research Lab, my number was up, so I waved the Pluto 2280 game-card – the non-labelled side –  at the admin guy and walked deeper in. Straight away there was a problem: some kid was sitting in front of my screen, playing one of those classic half-bit, non-VR games. I checked the ticket. Yup, it was definitely mine. What the fuck was this little trog doing?

      ‘Hey,’ I barked, waving the ticket above his head.

      No response.

      ‘Time’s up. Finished.’

      Nothing, no head movement, barely even blinked.

      On the screen, there was a beach and a man running up some steps onto a promenade. Behind him, someone yelling, off-screen, then gun-shots. So loud I could hear them through the guy’s headphones. Which I decided to yank off.

      ‘I said, time’s up, kasu. It’s my turn.’

      He looked up, dazed. ‘Five seconds.’

      I spent the five seconds looking at his build. He was sitting down, but I could tell he was small. Arms pretty thin…chest covered in an over-sized Critters 6 t-shirt…probably no work put into it.

      ‘Five seconds gone, kasu. Get off.’

      He shook his head and kept playing.

      It was probably wrong to start a fight in the computerr lab, but he was pushing me, and he was skinny, and it would be over quick.

      ‘You deaf? I just told you to get off .’

      My hand pushed his bony little paw off the keyboard. He tried to slide it back, but I blocked, cuffing him on the temple as an exclamation mark.

      ‘It’s not saved, abuzere.’

      ‘Don’t care. Move.’

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[Void Galaxia] Chapter 6: Sounds Like A Death Cult

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The sky was streaked with green slashes [safe pollution, the media called it] as I got back on the train and out of Jiyugaoka.

      Just like before, all the seats were taken by a mix of school kids, mums with prams and geriatrics staring off into space, so I stood by one of the poles in the middle, thinking, semi-scrambling.

      Yosh was right. It had been over three months, almost four. Never usually took this long to send out new games. Even during the bosses’ strike last year. Shit, Ryu, what were you doing over there?

      A baby cried out from one of the prams, getting a quick, ‘there, there,’ from its mum before she looped back to her phone.

      Wah, forget Ryu, what was I doing? I knew Yosh, knew him when I’d started this shit, where he was from, who he was with, the shit he’d probably done in Ikebukuro.

      But, Yosh…he liked me, didn’t he? At least a little, and enough not to…not to what? What would he do exactly?

      The train stopped and more people got on.

      A man in a Silent Crimson 8 vest, carrying a guitar case on his back, moved in front of me and filled up most of my space.

      Fuck, no apologies, no gestures.

      ‘Hey…’ I said, firm but not aggressive.

      He shifted his feet, turning further away. The guitar case pushed against my chest, forcing me back a little. What the-…was he drunk?

      I steadied myself against the bar behind and examined the intruder. Two, three inches shorter, weak shoulders, skinny arms…

      Running off a lunatic hit of adrenaline, I moved forward, pushed the guitar case to the side and off his shoulder. The guy turned, annoyed, his mouth already open to call me something…then closed it fast when he saw how close I was.

      No words back on my side, just a focused glare.

      Tsukubashi’s potentialism.

      Kristeva’s abject.

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[Void Galaxia] Chapter 5: Dragon Centre

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I stood with one elbow on the counter, next to a completely incongruous rolled-up stack of fiberglass, staring at the game posters on the nearby wall.

      Robot Diablo [Argentinian]

      Le Regle De La Jeu Medieval [French]

      Harem Survival 4 [Iranian-Guangdong collab, ridiculously popular]

      Kokoro no iron [One of ours]

      The last one had the best art, a pretty realistic image of a heart being crushed by a giant metal claw, but the concept…still generic. Young teens, robots suits, battles spilling over into high school girl changing rooms.

      I heard a noise from the door and looked over, but it was something happening in the corridor outside.

      Quick check on the back room doorway.

      No Yosh shape.

      Back to the posters.

      Ah, Harem Survival 4…the one that finally took the subtlety away…played by gamers with absolutely no sense of shame…

      Another noise from the corridor, followed by a rough shout of NOT THAT WAY, YOU SPOON.

      I tried looking out through the window, but there was too much promo stuff blocking the view. Just a head or two bobbing past.

      It was weird, the centre was fairly active, but none of it seemed to be spilling over into Yosh’s place. Like someone had drawn a magic circle in invisible chalk. There were one or two kids slumped on the VR dentist chairs in the corner, but compared to normal, the place was practically derelict.

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[Void Galaxia] Chapter 4: Hiding Out In Moon Factory 7

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…dimmest court room I’d ever seen, darker than Tento’s Horror Dome, with Yaphet Kotto ordering me to the bench, without my lawyer, and before I knew it I was over there, staring up at him god-size above, blank-eyed, facially retrograde, listening as the alien-hassler recycled for the seventh time that I was guilty, amoral, hangable, and what did I have to say about that?

‘Still not true.’

‘Insufficient.’

‘I didn’t do anything.’

‘Precisely. You failed to help him.’

‘What? The noodles.’

‘Not good enough.’

‘But…’

‘Where’s your conscience, Keni?’

‘Who?’

‘You’re guilty.’

‘No…’

‘You truly are.’

‘I’m not.’

‘Don’t obfuscate.’

‘Ob what?’

Something at the back of the court started emitting beeping noises and my hand moved vaguely towards it.

Another few beeps and it stopped.

Kotto stared at me [and my hand] as if I were a necromancer then asked for an explanation of my actions that night. Stalling for time, I looked at the painting lurking behind, split into three panels, two men eating, something broken up in the middle, and then, accompanied by sudden industrial wires sprouting from the ceiling, the electronic screech from Tetsuo on the court speakers, my mouth opened and a new line crept out. ‘He wasn’t a man. At all.’

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[Void Galaxia] Chapter 3: Ghost Park Ghost

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Turning another corner, I saw Ghost Park across the road and set course. The two teens from Saizeriya were there, drinking mega cans of Asahi, smoking with poor technique, their arms hanging off the swing chains like monkeys.

      I strolled over and sat down on the adjacent set of swings. One of the chains was hanging down lower than the other, but that was normal. As was the graffiti scrawled on the padded ground claiming, NO KIDS ALLOWED. Ha, it was true, the only kids who came here were the ones too young to patch in to Kanto Land…or those slippers-outdoors types, struck with luddite parents pining for the old days.

      Pushing off the ground, I let myself swing lopsided, eyes switching back to the two clowns.

      The taller kid, the sugar tin-throwing perv, had finished his can and was now crushing it awkwardly with his right hand. Mumbling something, the other kid swatted it onto the ground, gave a quick stamp, then kicked the remains at the slide opposite.

      ‘Way off,’ the taller one yelled back.

      ‘You didn’t fucking crush it right, kasu.’

      I pulled up the sleeve of my shirt and stared at them. Neither one of them had the balls to stare back.

      Fucking kids, always loud, always cans.

      They talked some more. About Ikebukuro and the things they were doing there. Or the things other people they kinda knew were doing there.

      Liars. Story-tellers. You wanna know about Ikebukuro, take a seat…take a swing, I’ll tell you.

      But what was the point?

      Fucking kids.

      Fucking Tsunashima.

      I turned away and pushed off from the ground, going back to Alien. That scene, Yaphet Kotto and the alien.

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[Void Galaxia] Chapter 2: Annoyed In Saizeriya

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      Some questions for you, Tsukubashi-San:

  • Why did the Ondōans appear to you?
  • Why did they bring you back?
  • Is the wormhole still there?

      I stopped.

      Is the wormhole still there?

      It was a petulant question. And a non-catcher. I mean, who would know otherwise? The Russians? They never said anything.

      The Chinese?

      A kid ran past, patch hanging drunk from his temple, howling at something. I turned to the other side, facing the calmer drones.

      The Chinese…yeah, they’d be out there soon, they’d tell. Unless they decided to pivot to Mars…nestle in with the adventurists, set up their own farms, their own lithium mines, overworked YA-BOTs…

      Or maybe further…Ceres, the Jovian Belt…Planet X…

      Two tables down, the waitress appeared, struggling with two bowls of imitation shark fin soup. Hadn’t really noticed when I came in, but she looked quite pretty in those green and white stripes. Small circle lips, nice eyes, real eyebrows, none of that pencil-liner shit.

      I watched with my Tsukubashi questions in the foreground as she put the bowls down and said something to the two teens opposite. Both were zonked out, pupils Jupiter-size, though one did muster enough awareness to lean forward an inch and peek down her shirt.

      Sneaky little perv. Delusional too. Clown looked like he was still in Form Five. And the waitress…had to be at least two years out of high school. No way she’d be interested, unless she wanted to spend all her free time watching him sit on a plaza couch…glazed-over junk look in his eyes. And not even a plaza, more like one of the smoky places, or a youth group server…or even here in Saizeriya, her own fucking work place.

      Nah, what she needed was someone older, brighter, someone who could at least take her to a barr without getting ID’d. Fuck her without leaking beforehand. Impress her with unni stories. Defend her against pervs looking down her work shirt.

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