The Installation

When I met them Saturday at the Doutor in Shibuya, during the lunch rush, Masae and Yuma were off near the indoor fountain, smoking up a thunderstorm.

As I approached the table, I could smell Yuma’s expensive, floral perfume mixed in with the fumes. I was confused for a moment, since I had never seen her smoke before. Masae, on the other hand, might as well have her TASPO card (for vending machine access to cigarettes) surgically attached to her wrist.

“Sit down already girl.” Masae growl-giggled in Japanese, slapping me on my back. Yuma kept fussing with her box of Capris, stacking it and the lighter in various ways.

“When did you start smoking?

“I know, I know – Manners says that A lit cigarette is carried at the height of a child’s face. Sometimes you just have to fuck manners.” Yuma took one last drag and then attacked the ash tray. “I thought I kicked the habit a few years ago, when my last movie wrapped, but after last week with Satomi I couldn’t stand it any more.”

“Don’t listen to her one bit.” Masae pointed her smoking hand at Yuma with a waggle. “She’s been sucking up my air for years, pretending that she doesn’t like it. She’s totally 99% Unnatural when it comes to her desires!”

I didn’t even want to get into it, since Masae was a well-known bullshitter and conversation vacuum. “I really don’t care – look cool and kill yourselves if it makes you happy. I just want to know what’s going on with Satomi.”

Yuma grimaced, and started fumbling with the lighter again. Her bright violet sweater even seemed to fade a few notches.

“You were there in the hospital. You know she hasn’t quite been herself since the attack.” Yuma gave in and lit another.

“Ever since she first met us, you could see the circles under her eyes, the ones she tried to hide with makeup.” Masae rolled up the sleeve of her gray hoodie, brushed some stray ashes off of her side of the table, into her cupped left hand. “I don’t think I’ve ever seen her sleep for an hour without being dead drunk.” Brushed the ashes again back into the ashtray.

“I know she has insomnia, but has she ever acted like that before? Trying to take off her clothes or speak jibberish in English?”

“Most English is jibberish to me. I think she knows that – during her episodes she always directs the messages to Yuma.”

Yuma started to pull at the ends of her long, straight hair. “It’s not like I can understand everything, but the important thing is that she almost always mentions Jenny, her ex-girlfriend from America.”

“I thought they had a really bad breakup… why does she keep bringing her up?” I thought I knew the answer, but I wanted to hear for certain.

“I’m sure Jenny is fine and all, but Satomi always demonizes her, especially when she gets like that.” Masae took a deep drag. “Jenny is always spying on her, or chasing after her, or haunting what little dreams she has.”

“We’ve tried to get her to go for help, but she refuses.” Yuma looked like she just missed the last train, all frantic and helpless. “So I promised myself to look after her, especially after all of the great things she’s done for us.”

“Usually it’s fine – after a show she just stays up all night working on who knows what, or she begs us to find the nearest bar. Sometimes alternating between the two until the sun rises. Hey, I need a refill – you want anything?”

I gave Masae the waving hand no – I wasn’t thirsty. She shrugged whatever, and went back up front to the counter.

“Tokie, listen to me.” Yuma leaned in close – her unsubtle perfume finally overpowering the smoke. “I know you know things. You speak computers like we make music.”

“I don’t know about that.”

“Seriously. I’ve been trying to read your blog, and I found Kaia’s, too. Those aren’t stories, are they? Something is really going on, right?”

I hesitated. Ever since I woke up to this Variant a few months ago, I’ve taken it as second nature that everything I’ve been through has been as normal as the setting sun. I never really stopped to think about what everyone else would think, especially anyone in my insular Tokyo world. But at that moment, as Yuma stared at me with eager yet sad eyes, I knew we were already past the point of no return.

“Something is really going on.” Masae returned to the table with a hot cup of black coffee. “I need the two of you to really watch Satomi. Not because she needs help, even though she does. Watch out for her – she’s a walking accident waiting to happen.”

“Tell me something new!” Masae didn’t seem to get it. Satomi was etched with dead circuits – we found that out thanks to Phone. Now it seems her antenna is slowly becoming active, but it’s not talking to the Collective. I didn’t know how to explain this to the girls.

“I’m serious. Really and truly serious. We think that something happened to Satomi while she was living in the US, but we’re not sure what.”

“You mean when she was in Berkeley, with Jenny?” Yuma instinctively reached out across the table to my hands – my face must have been screaming stress.

“We don’t know. I don’t know… but I have to find out, and soon. Is she at the office today?”

Masae looked at her phone briefly, then went back to her coffee. “Yeah, she texted me a little while ago. She wants us to bring her…. something.”

“Yeah. I don’t quite know how to say this.” Yuma had on the face of a parent about to discuss baby making for the first time. “She makes us go to otaku shops in Ikebukuro and Akihabara, and bring back statues and figures. For a few months now.”

“Lots of Figma and Nendoroid and 10,000 yen statues of moe anime characters.” Masae was clearly not enjoying her drink – she pushed it aside with a flourish. “Castoffable ones, you know – the plastic towels and bras and whatever can come off.”

“We don’t understand what she’s doing with them – she just takes our shopping bags and puts them in a closet in her office.”

I didn’t know what to think, either. I know that Satomi likes her women, but I never saw her as the introverted, fannish type that wanted to collect toys, not when she had a band and business to run. Maybe she was working on a secret art project.

“Come on, let’s go. I have to see what she’s up to.” With that, Masae left her almost full cup on the table, and Yuma grabbed her fashionable purse – so exclusive that I didn’t even know what the logo meant.

Agartha Labs was about a ten minute walk from Doutor – up the hill a bit, right past the Book Off and Shibuya Club Quattro building. Instead of some elaborate affair, Satomi’s baby barely registered on the visual scale – it was just a small office that took up the 4th floor of a typical Toyko-skinny building.

Not that Satomi cared one bit – her vision was virtual, thus there was no need for ornamentation when it came to the “mail drop”, as she put it. That said, she still completely redid the interiors when we moved in, with the sort of Silicon Valley playful chaos aesthetic that was diametrically opposed to the cramped, paper filled cubicles of most other offices.

For some reason Yuma took the narrow stairs when we made it there, so we were obliged to follow her up that way. I wasn’t averse to some physical activity, but I wasn’t at her level – she actually took two stairs at a time all the way up. I was about to ask her where the fire was, but once she swiped the door to the office open with her card, it was clear what the rush was.

Every modernist cubicle was empty, not just of employees, but their personal effects, even office equipment. Satomi had about 12 people on staff, all female, and they were nowhere to be found.

Masae and I carefully sized up the new emptiness, but Yuma rushed in past us, towards Satomi’s office. She started screaming at us to come quickly, and so of course we imagined the worst – Satomi slumped down on her desk in a pool of blood, or some other TV cliché.

Instead, we ran to the door, only to find the entire room filled with unboxed figures, carefully positioned on their included pedestals over every free part of the carpeted floor. Their empty packaging was carefully stacked up over by the windows. Satomi was in the middle of it all, putting the final touches on the installation.

“Oh, did you bring it?” Masae hesitated, and then reached into her backpack, pulling out an Animate bag. She looked like she was trying to find a route past the toys, and then resigned, tossing the bag over to Satomi.

Satomi was barefoot, dressed in the same light blue pajamas that Miranda had, the same ones that Cassandra stole. They barely fit her, since she was some inches taller than Miranda. I knew that Masae and Yuma didn’t know what the pajamas signified, but I did.

Or, at least I thought I did, until Satomi unboxed and placed her final figure, the brand new Kirino Kosaka figma that Miranda wanted so badly. Before the Fourth Event, that is.

“Where is your sister?” I asked Satomi, sternly, assuming that Helena couldn’t be far behind.

“I don’t have a sister.” Satomi suddenly stood up, facing us as we crowded the open door. “I don’t even have parents. I was never born.”

I whispered at 99% Natural to run for the front door, but they stood transfixed as Satomi slowly started to approach us, limbs randomly jerking, like something out of a J-horror film. Her short hair covered her face, leaving her grimacing mouth visible. As her toes dug into the carpet, the figures slid away by themselves to either side, allowing her to pass.

“Cassandra, she’s not yours to take!” I slowly approached her with open arms, poised for either a hug or a wrestling match.

“I was not yours to take!” Satomi’s head twitched slightly, and her face and hands started to steam, instantly covered with sweat.

“Don’t you dare burn her out!” I grabbed Satomi by the shoulders and tried to shake her awake. Since I wasn’t etched, I couldn’t stop the attack – Cassandra was stealing Satomi’s life energy long distance, one kilocalorie at a time, and I didn’t think she had more than a minute left.

“I’ll make you a deal. Satomi or Miranda – choose!” Her face was quickly starting to cave, as all remaining fat disappeared. I looked into Satomi’s eyes, and I couldn’t help but start crying. I couldn’t hold back my voice.

“Satomi, you fucking bitch! I choose Satomi!” With that, Satomi’s mouth curled into a crazy grin, and then her body slumped into my arms.

Yuma and Masae quickly rushed to us, and cried along with me, surrounded by silent, plastic figures.

Every last one was accounted for, except for Miranda’s long-wished for Oreimo favorite. It was lying in a pool of melted plastic at the center of the room.

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