Outside of the Skies
Trrrrr! With a machinegun-like noise, needles as big as an index finger each pierce the ground.
Streams of needles perforate the dirt, resembling a madly spinning lamp's rays of light more than actual bullets.
A storm of bullets flying at over 1000 m/s.
And amid this I'm still alive. Dancing between projectiles, not pausing for an instant.
Right now I'm running through New Eurasia at a speed of 1500 km/h. The atmosphere density and pressure are not like those of Earth, so breaking the sound barrier is easy peasy. In a few minutes I'll leave the plains and will be able to attack their base in a chain of hills.
Trr! Trrrr! Trrrrrrr!
They're hovering a kilometer above me, and their sniper-like precision showcases their persistence.
Kicking out my leg in midair, I barely avoid a particularly lucky burst.
An upper kick with my right blocks the hail of needles.
The bullets bouncing with high-pitched squeals are wedge-shaped bee stingers. Oversized, very much so. Forget poison or anaphylactic shock; a simple hit with this would spell instant death.
I accelerate again and finally make it to the hills.
The bullet storm keeps pursuing me. Thorny mountains grow in the brown soil - trr, trrrr!
Yeah, that's a familiar sound. Reminds me of Mom's sewing machine.
Trr. Trr. Pew pew pew. Meow meow meow. Trr.
An alien sound mixed in with the whistle of falling bullets.
Puzzled, I lift my stare and am speechless for the second time on this planet.
No matter how you look at it, these were cats.
Surrounding me, meter-long flying chimeras circled through the air.
The only cat part was the head, though.
The body below was definitely that of a bee.
"C-can't be, this is too much!" - I shout as I charge into the hills.
I never even liked Hello Kitty.
Eager to shoot the prey that'd stumbled into their territory, the beecats rrrrrattle their wings and pursue me with battle purrs.
"Oh, whoa, not bad!"
As soon as I reached the top of the mountain, a panoramic view opened before my eyes.
Before me is a huge building as large as a rocket-launching complex, looking like something human-made, namely a huge cat food factory.
I don't even know where to start in this nonsense.
These are cats, or maybe bees, right?
They have no brains, but they'd managed to build a factory, yeah.
Diligently picking up carts full of tin cans, moving strictly in lines, a conveyor belt if I've ever seen one.
How do they do it? They can't even speak…
No, that's not it. What the hell is going on here?
The year is two thousand and five.
The place is an unremarkable planet in the Milky Way.
And I am on my third planetary murder spree. I lightly sigh at the sight of a group of beecats.
This is how it began, but I'm no superweapon nor a cosmic monster, I'm just a simple girl.
An innocent homo sapiens from the third planet of the Solar System, fifteen years old, resident of the C prefecture in Japan; an adorable creature that used to invite only praise from the neighbors: 'Just like a French doll!'
And this is me now - performing destructive activities that put Laputa* to shame on an unknown planet; anyway, this foreword is not essential.
Let's go back to ten minutes ago…
Let's go back so far that my inner clock gave up on counting.
Let's go back to a certain clinic.
Two years ago I'd been dragged into a clinic named after someone or such.
The disease has a name so stupid I won't even mention it. Anyway, it's an infection that makes your mental issues affect your bodily abilities.
I was fifteen when I'd caught a nasty case of the disease and had been admitted to the clinic.
The clinic is located in an inaccessible place in the mountains and is so disconnected from the outer world it might be compared to, say, a lunar base…
Speaking softly, it's a research center.
Speaking frankly, it's just a prison.
This patient's Eden, provided you got used to being treated as a lab rat, of ours was instantly and completely lost that day.
Of course, when there's a prison, there're going to be prison breaks. Prison breaks mean riots. It really wasn't a good idea, gathering only the possessed. Just forget to lock a door, and you've got a biological catastrophe on your hands.
The change that occurred before sunrise spread through the clinic in less than an hour, and the eight hundred people locked up together - the personnel and the sick from buildings A (the beginning stage) to D (the terminal one) descended straight into a classical Hell.
The pleasant sound of flesh being torn, the screams of those melted alive, the victims' pleas for help all mixed together. I'd just finished sending a letter to my family, but I couldn't enjoy the pleasant sensations.
Listening closer, I could distinguish the screams of doctors on duty, which I found surprisingly enjoyable. Nonono, helphelphelp, whywhywhy, nowaynowaynoway. I'm no judge, of course, but they could use some imagination. Japanese is known for its rich vocabulary, is it not?
"Hello. Me? What about me? Well, I'm in my cell. 'Why'? Well, I haven't even had breakfast yet."
Among the roaring blaring and echoing of the alarm sirens I pick up the squealing, flashing cell phone.
My building is D. A spooky place where the hopeless are assigned, so the security is tighter and the construction is like a labyrinth. The main wave of riots isn't here yet. I can only hear the victims' screams through the window. That said, even I alone can probably break through the D building's thirty-layer steel walls.
"Yeah, I know. I can hear it. You want at least me to behave? Well, that's hard. Everyone was kind to me, and I'm thankful that I'm considered a princess… But you do understand that saving doctors is not my style, right? All who encounter me end up being victims."
Thus, once the benefits are gone, the deal's off.
Rising from my bed, I crack my shoulders. The deputy head doctor I'm talking to, quite the article himself, laughs: 'Yeah, that's why I like you', even though nobody asked, and hangs up. I guess he'll leave his colleagues to their fates and escape via helicopter.
"Well, that's how they are. The further up, the more rotten."
Not that I hold a grudge against the doctors. They always put others' lives above their own, so who can judge them for prioritizing their own hides for once?
But the phrase dropped by him at the end made my chest tighten sweetly.
'Well, bye. Let's have you demons solve the problem of your existence yourselves."
"Of course, dammit."
This is way more fun to me than revenge on the clinic. I quickly pace across my gym-sized room.
"All right… Why don't I do some spring cleaning?.."
I put my hand on the steel door - just my size: four meters tall, three wide.
Oh, licking my lips is improper. If a surveillance camera was recording this, I'd blush, but my family isn't likely to watch this movie.
The steel door opens with a screech, and I jump out into the corridor.
Well, once you get started, don't slack off.
Important problems get solved without the main actors all the time, after all.
Anyway, the bloody operation began.
Upon leaving the special security area built just for me I enter corridors of a hell no lesser.
There's not a single window in the passages, and they're separated, like the dots on dice. Once you pass through, you lose all landmarks; this is, of course, intentional, to make escape harder for the inhabitants of the cells.
I ran through the labyrinth while pondering on what to apply myself to first and bumped into someone.
"Oh, good afternoon!"
After some questions I whack someone to teach them a lesson about rudeness.
Seeing such a cute girl and going 'ugh' instead of 'hello'! He can go 'ugh' himself.
Suppressing my irritation, I learn the path to the next cell and snap their neck. My visits continue in this spirit and at a good pace.
Am I a doctor? Yeah, something like a doctor.
From an outside perspective, that's the only role that fits me.
And I move on to the next patient.
Sadly, in the end it wasn't an easy victory.
I took out the stragglers from the C building with one hand, but against those assigned to D my tempo was, of course, slowed.
All of 'us' have their own, unique manifestations of the disease.
There's a man who'd tried to get the organ he sold back and ended up buried at the bottom of a pool among his own over-duplicated organs;
there's a guy who'd been so afraid of conflicts with the neighbor he loved he stopped time, not just hers but his own and that of everyone around him;
there's a boy who'd been incapable of eating solid food since birth and so began liquefying and eating lives.
Long story short, a bunch of weirdos.
This is our disease - to get over mental trauma we remake, or sometimes warp, our bodies.
Say, there's a patient whose disease was triggered by bulimia.
The patient cured his mental disorder that forced him to eat large amounts of food by enlarging their stomach.
Basically, the disorder tries to bodily bypass mental trauma while leaving it intact. It's weird like that. The D building's patients took it too far and strayed from the basics of humanity a little.
Of course, I'm also sick. The same terminal stage, no better or worse.
After all, even now I'm changing non-stop.
With every minute my body moves further away from the former me.
"Still, that's odd. The doctor said only three were capable of moving."
To be more precise, only three patients of the D building should've kept their human self: me, that Helmia girl and that Kuramitsu guy.
The other forty, I'm told, were not in a state to leave their cells of their own will, yet, including the rude woman, including the boy playing with guards in the observation room, they're all out, freely and indiscriminately letting off steam.
"Well, what now?.. I got suuuch a rare symptom, and they just go and die of their own accord."
And thus I efficiently make my rounds with light footsteps.
It's a shame to let such good food go to waste, after all.
Perhaps this is my last, decisive battle.
Perhaps it's a battle for survival where honor is at stake.
We were thrown out of society, but that's just why I'd like to assign places to everyone.
"That said, the result is pretty predictable."
It's a proof of boredom and nothing more.
The competition is not too important for me, who was fine lazing around in her cell before.
Truth be told, I have a different goal, and all this is unrelated to it.
Thus I should hurry up. Genocide is a hobby. I was told right at the beginning that I couldn't leave this clinic without disposing of all the other patients.
"Hmm, where haven't I been yet…"
I consult the map I memorized in the observation room.
Red lights blink off in my mind.
The last unchecked cell in №404, the furthest from the exit in the D building.
I check the number and knock on the steel door. Bang bang bang.
"Excuuuse meee, just a formality - do you have a will to live?"
Bang bang bang. No reply.
I looked through the peephole, but it was completely dark inside. 404 is a unique suite. The case is long expired, no documents are left.
Nothing can be seen inside.
The corridor is well lit; maybe just this particular room doesn't have electricity.
Thus I'll have to force the electronic lock open. Bang bang bang bang BANG!
"Helloooo! You don't have to answer, though, I don't mind. I'll just smash you along with the room, okay?"
I switch from light knocking to the position of slamming through with my body.
And then the intercom crackled and came to life.
"It won't work. Disappear. No one can defeat me."
A machine-like voice!..
And would you look at that, this uncaring, cool guy, authoritative tone! Only Dark Lords can get away with that!
"No one? What about me? I wasn't expecting much, but you sound strong!"
Slam slam slam slam
. I happily pound on the steel door. The usual deal, ten centimeters of steel, easy peasy…
"Uh huh, so you don't want to get out on your own? Bullshit, isn't it? They lie that you're sitting in there like a good boy, right? You would never submit to the authorities, right?"
With no answer, like hell he's gonna get mercy from me. "Ours" have to have a rebel's will, no way around it.
"So, can I? What about now? I can come in, right?"
"Drop it. Don't enter. My power is too much for you. If you come in, you'll regret it for sure."
Hey, I'm already hella interested!..
Bang bang bang slam slam slam!
My limbs kept striking non-stop. As though in a fever, I punch and kick the tiny door.
Just like most steel doors, the one numbered 404 was quickly, losing, fo… rm?..
A room suspicious in every way.
Not just unwarped, simply untouched. Just a darkness that defies light. By the way, my eyes can freely see infrared in any darkness, and anyway, how does the intercom work with no power?
"I say this not for myself, but for you. If you value your life, don't enter my world."
I put my hand on the sliding door's handle.
The corner of my mouth rises evilly.
This condescending challenge dispelled the last of my doubts.
Can't win? I? And value my life, too? Very funny. I'm about to cry from all the laughter. No one had seriously said something like that to me in these two years.
"What good timing! All right, do your worst!"
Abandoning the door-breaking, I forcefully push it aside.
Before me opens a wall of darkness. I excitedly peer at it and fearlessly take a step.
My brain, eager to kill the owner of the machine-like voice, instantly froze.
The very heat that made my heart dance in anticipation of murder, turned into ash under the rain. In the space of a single second I…
"I told you: don't enter my world."
…had been literally thrown into outer space.
The various kinds of science offer different definitions of vacuum, and I'm bad at playing with meanings and connotations. As a human, I can only rely on the information relayed by my sensory organs. In space there's vacuum, no gravity, it's incredibly cold, and the entire sky is littered with stars, an endless sea of lights.
Stars shining with different colors.
Stars that make our Sun look tiny.
The Milky Way is far away, but compared to the sight from Earth, it's thousands of times closer. So close it feels like it's within an arm's reach.
The shine, the bottomlessness makes me forget to breathe.
This is a world of gods.
Not a place for the existence of a single living human.
The solitude of stars - that's probably me right now. The spirit of a human person floating alone in this sparkling blackness couldn't bear the emptiness.
Anyway, this is spacious, but also kinda tight… harder to breathe than in a locked five and a half tatami apartment…
The true terror of space brought me back to reality.
I mean, I've been in both a furnace and a freezer, but complete vacuum is a new experience!
My eyes are tingling. The humid areas of my body are cold.
"Ah, oh, heeeey!"
Breath! I think I have to hold by breath?!
No, the opposite, seems like holding it makes the oxygen in the lungs go stale! The pressure differential doesn't tear me apart, the cold doesn't numb my limbs, but if the blood gets stuck, that'll suck - for me personally! Seems like I have to exhale, or else it's game over, but then I only have enough oxygen for about ten seconds, and after that comes oxygen starvation and death.
"Aah, hey, what the!.."
Anyway, there's no escape.
In twenty seconds I died among this impossible, unreachable beauty, and then…
"Damn. Made it again."
…in thirty seconds I opened my eyes and came back to life.
Looks like my disease of non-death has now defeated vacuum.
My first space adventure felt slightly cool. I practically flew beyond the clouds, and for some reason I could hear my own voice.
I really didn't want to try, it looked silly, but I made a few arm movements, pretending to front crawl. Oh, I'm moving, I'm moving. Like a fish in the water, only better than water, and not a fish… All right, let's leave the question of who's the insane one - me or space - aside.
"Wh… wh-wh-wh-wh, wh… Aaah?!"
A strangely effeminate male voice rolled over me in the fake vacuum.
Whoosh, whoosh, whoosh!
A weird something flies at me from six o'clock.
It looks just like a normal tatami…
"Whooooah! It's a giiiiirl!!!"
And, no other way to put it, a fatass, a fleshy snowman.
Space within a hospital ward.
A tatami UFO, a flying carpet parody.
And someone over thirty, and so fat the word doesn't do him justice to boot.
"Holy shiiit! The younger sister type has to have some limits! Hey, why are you alive anyway? Oh, maybe you don't breathe? Do you happen to be polygonal? Well, it doesn't matter! The main thing is the chest, and arms, and legs, and face, and voice, and hair, and ass, and the chest - that means strike! You could even be a star, I ain't complaining!"
The snowman's going mad, like a schoolgirl from the past, and I scowl unconsciously.
Thus I met the strongest NEET in the Milky Way, also known as Panda-Eyes, also known as Ookumaneko Mokumoku.
By the way, I have the rights to the nicknames.
"Still, you have some pretty hair! Black, below waist length! Oh, I'm almost in love already!"
"Dhah-hah-ha", - the Two Snowballs guy laughs and jumps around me.
…That's him, Panda-Eyes. The oldest patient of the D building. Even the doctors haven't ever seen him, or something like that.
Only his nonsensical name, age and the sad reason for his detention are documented.
"Are you the famous hikkikomori? The one that's been here since he was sixteen, the scum scared of real life?"
Damn, let me kill him, maybe?
"Exactly! But it's not good to instantly give up on hikkikomori! Lairs and lethargic sleep are essential life knowledge, I'm sick of repeating that. Yes-yes, I'll no longer bear the refusal of human rights to cave bears!"
What human rights would a bear have?..
"Okay, stop… Apologies, I've calmed down. I was just excited about having my first guest. But that's a lie too. I'm actually still excited. You're incredibly erotically dressed, after all!"
The snowman leaps around the expanse of space.
"Phew, your top - bang, your bottom - bang! Is this a sports bra? Are those gaiters? The girl's quite ripe-nya? Or are you heading back from a fitness club? Aah, damn, why is it so dark, can't see jack!"
I keep quiet and approximate the UFO's further trajectory.
This guy's end will come as soon it appears to my upper left again.
A fist doesn't feel right. I'll put my heart and soul into a right kick that'll rip this huge carcass in half.
"All right, the Eromanga island constellation, gimme some light! Oh, this is a good angle. But I want a better view of the armpits-nya! All right, the Libra star goes here, down and to the left! Lights!"
An attack on my sight?! A satellite previously hidden in a big planet's shadow appeared before us and reflected the Sun's light. In an accurately-aimed cone of light I unconsciously shut my eyelids.
Well yeah, I still gave him a solid kick.
The meat snowman drowns in the silvery confetti of the universe.
The hikkikomori who'd suddenly appeared, said whatever he felt like and did whatever he wanted is now space dust.
"Nope, just kiiidding! Diiidn't work!"
Wh-wh-what the hell?
I definitely hit him, so why is this meatball laughing and jumping?! This is not super-speed or super-regeneration, nothing this simple!
I swing a deadly strike with my foot.
"Ohoho, what long legs! Cool!"
The panda parody goes nuts in delight and bounces around me. I'm honestly fed up with him for many reasons, I just want to kill him, and he!..
"Take this, and this, and thiiis!"
Like, hell, this, overfed, pelican, will, tire, me, out!..
"Hey, what the hell?!"
"Hahaha, what the hell-nya-nya?"
The panda grins sarcastically with a few constellations in the background.
I hit him in the hanging belly, but Ookumaneko is unharmed. Nonsense. I'm hitting home, so why isn't he taking damage?!
"Ooh, lucky dodge there. And yours truly moves on to the behind. Oh wow, that's one hell of a wasp waist! I'm dying!"
Yeah, can't compare to yours!
"And the legs are delish! You're a special hybrid made to send men to Hell!"
Your rottenness!.. Is!.. The peak!
"Buuut alas! You're a high schooler, my dear? I don't want any old haaags!"
"Die this instant!"
"Hahaha, I caaan't!"
Taking the perfect moment, I vertically smash through his face, skull and entire body.
But once again I'm faced with failure.
…I hate to do it, but I must admit.
I don't understand the logic, but this man is physically undefeatable.
But he's also wrong about something.
"Keep in mind, I turn seventeen this year."
I must correct the factual error.
"Oh? Really? Nah, still overdeveloped… But that's the disease you have, I see, sorry, sorry. As an apology, I'll also share a secret. What do you want to know?"
"Tell me how to kill you."
"Haha, ever so simple! But that won't work; I don't know how to kill me myself. You see, while I'm in this space, the universal rules don't allow for my destruction, no matter what you do."
"Huh? What? You want to say you're unbeatable?"
"Well, yeah, technically. Elusive Joe, you know?.. How do I put it, this universe doesn't care whether I exist. I'm not related to it, there's no interaction. So it doesn't care. It doesn't spend a single quantum of energy on me… So, once you're in here, the rule naturally extends to you. The attacking influence of various phenomena on me is not permitted. Basically, I'm the Elusive Joe who's not so much hard to catch, nobody just cares enough to."
"I don't get it."
Is he also bonkers on top of being a worthless leech on society?
"I don't need your sophistry. What, is collision detection off for you?"
"It'd be more correct to say I fell out of samsara. So I can't be killed. And I also can't kill you. A perfect stalemate."
Basically, looks like someone lost the lottery. Badly.
I don't know whether Ookumaneko speaks the truth, but I understand that I can't destroy him.
"Hmm, where are you going? Don't fly that way, there's three black holes in a row. There might be some sense in going to watch, but they aren't really that rare."
"Doing whatever you like. I don't know how you manage it, but our paths split here. No time to waste on people who just sit and…"
Huh? I think I came in from this way… Hm, hmmm?
"Hey. Where's the exit?"
An unpleasant truth.
The sickening foreboding scares me a bit, and I ask the meat mountain behind me about the door.
And the panda on his tatami says:
"Sorry, I can't answer that either. There's no exit. You can even die, and you still won't leave. And even I can't do anything about that. Sigh. I told you not to come in…"
"Wh-what are you talking about, cut the crap! Is this your disease or not?!"
"Well, yeah, there's your answer. I'm stuck here precisely because I'm incurably ill. I'm my own worst enemy, so to speak. Sigh. I told you not to come in, just sayin' a second time."
"Ugh, you! Let me go right now, you fucking panda!"
Whoosh! The UFO that looks like a white comet runs away.
"Hey, stop right there! Tell me something more useful and go away after that!"
I nervously kick at the vacuum below me to not allow him to escape.
Hmm. This lets me move faster than swimming.
"What?! A birth of an interstellar travel method faster than my tatami! Cool, the concept of a cute girl is cool! Wow, you're one dangerous female! Mostly in the sense of your build! By the way, I don't care about anything else, but I can't give you the title of fastest in the universe! I'll have to disappear you."
And so Ookumaneko takes an insolent pose on his tatami.
"What, we can interact after all?!"
I chase the fleeing NEET with all my might. In this case it's better to rhythmically jump than to run.
Kicking at the sky, I seem to myself to be a water cannon ship.
"Ha, you fool! I'll turn the macrophysics to my advantage! Take this: Meteor! Just kidding, I can't do that!"
The bridge of my nose was struck by a comet.
"Khh, so you can!"
"I just know the trajectories of celestial bodiiies! But I'm seriously scared. You're aware that you just demonstrated that in this universe, you're tougher than Earth?"
Strongly excited, Ookumaneko skillfully weaves between asteroid belts - the reefs of Milky Way.
Suddenly everything seemed unnecessary. In this situation, surreal if you stop to think about it, getting invested is a bit stupid.
"Hm? What, are we done playing tag? There's wonderful places later on, with stars scattered like foam. I call them the Honey Way, you know."
"What originality!" - I sigh and turn on my heel.
I don't have the time to chase a fat lump of meat.
My goal is not here. Maybe I'll come back to where I entered, knock everything I find with my fists and find a way back?
"It won't work. I told you, whoever enters this place doesn't come out."
"Shut up. Anything is better than being stuck in this place."
"So irritable. Do you have some urgent business or something?"
I go back the same way, Panda-Eyes floating around me.
"Yes. So die already. Then the normal room will come back, right?" - I drop, confidently passing over a small solar system.
I don't know what symptoms Ookumaneko has, but the idea should be the same as the other patients. The dozens of phantoms summoned by the illness fade away when the carrier dies.
"Uh huh, probably. I suppose my disappearance is the answer."
"So go die. You have nothing better to do anyway. The other side is a perfect place to hide from reality."
"That's harsh. But wait. There's a double star there, look. There's two intelligent species, rare in this universe, there, but they've been unhappy with each other for almost a century now. And now they strained their limited brains and thought up a war. So sad, the problem needs to be solved…"
"Leave your patronizing speeches to yourself. I have my own family issues to sort out."
The idiotic situation made me say more than necessary.
Ookumaneko hummed in surprise and stared at me.
"Sorry that it's such a trifle."
I apologized, feeling my cheeks heat up from the embarrassment, and moved faster.
He made a barrel roll with the tatami, then stopped moving around and said:
"Uh huh. This is a big problem."
He compressed, straightened the flight trajectory.
"Don't you want to rest? Being constantly angry is tiring; let me treat you to an air cruise! Or airless. Well, I can't show you the exit, but I can show you the sights."
I stop abruptly.
I wanted to tell him to shut up and die, but it really is hard to break the status quo by indiscriminate destruction.
So, as a rare exception, I listened to another.
Well, to be honest… it's also because he's behaving a bit like my family right now.
Well, since I've decided, let's do some empty talking.
I don't really want to, but it's a good idea to secure a resting place.
"Can I sit on the side? I'm a bit tired of standing."
I point at the tatami ship.
Ookumaneko, completely unused to having females near him, tensely points at himself with a questioning face.
"Not you, turn this sideways. The tatami has room for two."
"Ah… oh, of course, yes! You sure? Really? In a tandem? You like my ride?"
"What can I do? I don't see another bench here."
"Holy SHIT! Whooooa, what a twist, why of course I don't mind sit wherever you like! Here, left half is yours! There mustn't be any diplomatic conflicts with such a cute girl!"
"Thanks. Well, I'm not grateful in the slightest, but I understand your feelings."
I say "excuse me" and sit down next to Ookumaneko.
The tatami's owner jerks an inch to the right.
"Woah, unbelievable distance of possibly touching shoulders during sudden braking! Are physical events on the level of the cause of the ice age to be expected?!"
"I can do rains of blood, if you'll settle for that. By the way, does the tatami just ignore inertia and such?"
"Oh, so cold! This is a bad H-scene! But you can only afford such an attitude for… now!"
Predictably excited, Ookumaneko increases the tatami's speed. Looks like he's really going to give me a tour of this universe.
"To start us off, let's visit a few of the more successful systems. Say, the classic spots like the glass planet, that seems pretty romantic. Curious, though; the surface is so flat that any life there has grown wheels."
Apparently the tatami's steering wheel is on Ookumaneko's side, to the right.
Looking disinterested, he started up the spaceship and sent it to distant worlds.
All three hundred and sixty degrees of view are flooded by a sea of stars.
The situation itself is pretty romantic, yes.
Because I'm not normal, of course. An ordinary person couldn't bear this solitude.
After all, we are floating on a small raft in a sea of night. However good the view, a human needs a guarantee of their personal safety to begin appreciating it.
"Mhm, having two people here really puts the scale into perspective. I think your presence is quite helpful. While we're in transit, is there anything you'd like to know? Say, my hobbies, my favorite authors, my preferred type of girl."
"Listen, what is this?"
"Well, looks like the universe. Ever heard of those?"
"I know it's the universe. I'm asking where it came from. I've seen a lot of us, but nobody had this kind of scale."
"Really? I think Yashikido-kun's problem is worse. Then again, when I wound up in the clinic, he was the only other one there, so I can't say."
"I killed Yashikido recently. Was he an old acquaintance?"
"When I was assigned to B, we talked on the phone once; does this mean 'acquaintance'?.. At that time both mine and his disorders had been normal. We made a bet on who'd die first."
"Sorry. Yashikido's won that bet."
'Who knows?' - Ookumaneko smiled happily.
From behind and to the side his gaze looked incredibly soft… And in general, the outer corners of his eyes made his eyes look super kind.
"So where did it spring from?"
"Well, quite simple. I just locked myself away from everything, and the room became a universe. I tried to avoid seeing anybody, and the room became dark. And then I once realized I was floating in vacuum."
'Quite the sad fact', - he folded his arms on his chest.
To suddenly notice you're stranded alone in space. Sad fact indeed.
"Hmm. So you looked for an escape not in yourself, but in your surroundings. Thus, its creator is you after all?"
"If we're talking about the very beginning, then yes, that's how it is. But that doesn't mean it's that simple. Let's put the issue of reality and fiction aside - this is a universe. I'm sorry, but once you've been thrown in here, that's that, curtains. This place is beyond your planet. Never mind leaving, you're already outside."
I entered room 404.
It was a closed world.
To return to reality, I just had to leave room 404, but its inner space is beyond and around Earth. According to the definition of "leaving to the outside", an exit from this space simply doesn't exist.
"That's why you told me not to come in, right? Great. Now explain it properly."
"Sorry, I can't do any better than that. My universe is too vast to be contained in words."
Ookumaneko theatrically raised his double chin and made a dismissive noise.
"Did you hear that phrase from your granddad?.. Anyway, how many have become the victims of this room?"
"I don't know. A dozen?.. Everyone who came for a checkup instantly died! The way you entered and live here is humor of the highest class! If I knew such a day would come, I'd have built a galaxy-themed home cafe!"
"On the other hand, I'm not having fun at all. So. You're saying this is the 'outside'; does this mean this space is endless? There won't be an exit to the room on the other side of this universe?"
"Hmm, I wonder. I think there were some walls at the beginning. But the universe expands since the moment of its birth… I think a velocity higher than the speed of the universe's expansion can't be achieved."
"So I can't go outside of it?"
"The limits of a four-dimensional continuum. We have no choice but to become the new Adam and Eve! Oh, my back feels a threat on the scale of a black hole!"
"You're digging your own grave. Why did you need an expanding universe? You're a hikkikomori, so just limit yourself to the four walls of a five and a half tatami room and suffer all you want."
"Well, that's, alas… The universe is alive too. It's born, it grows, and one day it'll fold in on itself and die. Expansion is a necessary quality of a universe. I can only observe, like right now."
"Then again, you seem to be the one sustaining this space?"
"Anyone can watch. It's like watching bacteria in a microscope, only macro rather than micro."
"So something very small watches something very large?"
"Yes. Or we're watching a small universe, being just a little bit bigger ourselves. Perhaps this universe is very small, but it's still a universe and thus enormous to us."
Pfft. However you look at it, it's still a small useless toy. Boring.
"So it's all sophistry! Everything like the other patients. How many years of time have you already killed in here?"
"So mean! When you take away a hikkikomori's free time, all that's left is bones! You telling me to lose weight?!"
"Mhm, anyway, according to the time of your former reality it's probably been about ten years. By the way, how are the world creation theories doing there? Still not many supporters of the Big Crunch? No dark energy discovered?"
Thus my words went by, ignored. Perhaps he doesn't understand what "losing weight" means.
"Come on, nothing to do, fat, what a freaking tragedy! There's only you and I here, what's the point of watching my looks! You could do with being cuter for your years, but what's done is done. Why are you so old?"
A strike with grouped fingertips, known as a 'spear hand', strikes the back of Panda's head at the speed of light.
The "speed of light" is no hyperbole in this universe, by the way.
If the mass of my palm achieves light speed, something like Earth would be smashed easily, but the fat carcass before me pays it no attention.
"Grrr… Is this man made of fresh pudding?!"
Unbeatable. Truly unbeatable. Regrettably, I'll have to abandon the plan of killing this drone and returning that way.
"Hahaha, your compliments humble me, 'softie' and such… Oh, we're here. Watch, young one. And rejoice. The mass of the sun in this solar system is about three times that of the one you used to live under. This is the system that resembles yours the most."
"Hey! What's with the self-importance, are… you…"
I forget to breathe.
Open my eyes wide, to make sure they keep the memory of this world forever.
It was a glass case with an overly detailed model.
Planets orbiting a sun.
Resembling my universe, representing our dreams come true, home, sweet home.
"Not bad, eh? This rainbowy glow is the largest ring in the universe."
"Uh huh", - I drop a tear despite myself.
Yes, this universe is beautiful.
It may be man-made, it may have a fatally nonsensical aspect, this universe itself is a miracle beyond human comprehension.
"But your presence is so irritating that the score is surprisingly even."
"W･H･Y!" - the spectator on the tatami turns upside down.
Well, I don't know myself, but for some reason I can't keep my cool when talking to this man.
Not that he ticks me off, rather, I can't accept it, and I have a itch under my armpit, and my nose becomes sharper.
Perhaps I'm mad at myself for tolerantly thinking even such people have a right to exist?
What's disgusting is disgusting, I don't like what I don't like.
And to think that when I realized my illness, I decided to change so that I'd never let anyone get away with an offense.
"Hey. Does this Earth-like planet have life?"
"Of course. They're like us in that they walk straight on two legs, have a pair of arms, rely on speech. But they're about five thousand times as introverted."
"Too elaborate for a joke. Are you sure this isn't a copy of our universe?"
"Riiidiculous! Who could possibly create a copy of an entire axiom space in a mere ten years? The basis is the same, but generally it's all random. Most importantly, this universe has neither envy nor sorrow. It's a quiet universe without conflict."
The fat panda shines with happiness and love. He looks stupidly convincing.
'Probably true', I nearly ended up saying, but caught myself.
What was that? Suspicious, doctrinal, smells of rot! Why did I get sentimental and nearly agree?!
I could say it's dumb, but angrily denying everything every time is the dumbest of all.
I'll just ignore everything. Neither this man's illness nor his dossier nor escaping this universe nor my goal are worth a single penny, after all, I can just up and forget the whole story, hahaha! I'm near satori, my chakras are opening!
"Kiddingkiddingkidding! Bullshit, I'm not having fun at all!"
It's scary just thinking of the speed with which my spirits lift!
"Worry not, o maiden. You may be unhappy. You may not go to your job. You may shy away from the world, and it is good."
Ookumaneko shines even brighter, smiling like Gioconda.
Hold on, that's just the sun shining behind his back, it's all a big scam!
"Whoooa, holy shit, everything in this universe seems so small that you become indulgent!"
"Hahahahaha, I am God!"
A shining meatball-man sitting like Buddha.
"Shut up, fatty, there's no gods like that!"
Knowing it's futile, I still automatically get up and raise my foot for a kick.
The wide spinning kick to the torso passes through Ookumaneko again… wait, what?
Thrown off the tatami, the five-centner hikkikomori flies into the sun.
"Is he still alive?.."
For the first time in my life I feel pangs of conscience.
I executed a pointless joking reply.
"Heeere I aaam!"
Ookumaneko, thrown toward the sun, bounced off it and came back.
Zero damage. With a sleepy mug he scratches his three-level belly.
"Thought it would end like that."
"Hahaha, don't fret, o maiden! Outside it would be the world's strongest spinning kick, it's just that those things don't work here! But you could touch me, and that's a big step forward… in the inter-gender meaning, of course."
Ookumaneko puffs up his cheeks like a blowfish. He thinks that's a cynical smile.
The new kick whooshed and spun empty. Last time I either got the angle or the mood right, or maybe it was just a miracle of probability.
"Well, these things happen sometimes. Maybe our perceptions of each other matched."
"Meaning it's important to catch the right moment?"
"Yep. Meaning you couldn't contain your outburst of sadistic love toward me, and I couldn't resist the perverted masochistic allure, and the universal laws shifted in a bad direction! Behold the wonders of love!"
"Oh… So, it was a one-time miracle."
"Coool! It took a single kick for you to become as before! And you were so precious when behaving according to your age, too…"
The meatball takes his spot on the tatami, looking sorrowful.
The seats on the miniature spaceship have been assigned to the crew, and at the present the count of territorial infractions is at 0.
As Ookumaneko said, the tatami-sized world floating among stars really was free of conflict… ouch.
Ouch ouch ouch.
"Hey, something's hit my shoulder! Like a hammer! Can you really only touch yourself?!"
"What?! Well, you're so extremely strong that anything's possible, but I really have no reason to…"
At this point he, sitting with a theatrically horrified look at his face, was also hit in the foot with an unknown something.
A small shockwave and a quake.
Turning toward the source of the light and the attacks, I saw what was probably a spaceship, although it really resembled a pine cone.
Correction. Three huge pine cone-shaped satellites three thousand kilometers in diameter were attacking the tatami. To give you a comparison, Moon's diameter is three thousand four hundred and seventy six kilometers.
The distance toward them is about half a hundred million kilometers. Even I'm amazed at the thought of accurate fire at these distances.
"Beams! They must be shooting beams!"
"Heh, how very rare! We were discovered! Of course, someone must have noticed me falling into the sun!"
"What?! That was a minute ago! Did they react this fast?!"
"A century's passed for this system! Let's get out of here! I'm fine, but you're within their laws!"
The unknown beam strikes again and again. Yeah, that hurts when it hits.
"I agree, but how 'very rare' is this all, exactly?"
"Well, not as rare as your sudden appearance. I'd say about as common as the characters of the book you wrote coming to kill you."
"That isn't rare, it's just impossible!"
Bang bang bang.
The coneships swim through the blue space stream and aim at me.
Ouch, it caught me! A huge, Jupiter-sized, space mine has just caught my side!
"Whee! It's like a space railroad!"
"You're not like Tetsuro at all!"**
The tatami escapes, slightly faster than the pursuing fighters.
For some reason Ookumaneko is happily smiling.
"And anyway, this universe has no wars! Why are they attacking?!"
"To survive, of course. They don't have an idea of good and evil, no personal emotions. They're defense satellites, so to speak, for reflective reacting with a capability for automatic program corrections. They don't fight so they themselves can live…
"Anyway", - he went on, - "Of course, conflict, wars, survival are an important element of life. Your "conflict" seems to mean a fight for survival based on personal feelings. It's not good to be so egoistic!"
"Well, so sorry! I'm the most important thing to myself! And anyway, you gave life to this universe! God being pushed around by his creations is nonsense! If half-baked characters begin rioting, the world will simply become devoid of writers!"
"Now, now. The creator is not invincible. Just being in a different dimension hardly gives you a right to pretend you're God. This didn't happen in my time, but by yours most of society probably uses software. If your society is supported by things made of math and abstract symbols, it's you who are unnecessary."
"More drivel. Well, yeah, stuff like Excel is handy, but you need the hardware for it. It wouldn't exist without the metal box, and the artificial intelligences need human maintenance at times, and there's plain wear."
"Outdated thinking. A box isn't needed to pass information along. It's a waste of resources. Considering the total amount of cosmic energy, there's no need to keep yourself restricted to a form tightly bound by the laws of physics. When it comes to efficient use of energy, they who are made of pure information are on a plane above us."
"They? Don't tell me those were one-dimensional?"
"Maybe if we think in your terms. There's micro and macro here, too. When a program becomes more multi-threaded, multitasking, less contradictory, a living creature is born. And once it's alive, sooner or later it'll aim its bow toward its creators, standing on a higher evolutionary step. After all, God is a waste of resources, too."
"Brrr, they joined together! They're glowing so much the space is growing bright over there! Isn't that bad? You hear? Aren't we in trouble?!"
"Uh huh, the Creator must be overthrown. Even if the universe is my creation. Even if your universe was created by someone. The creature has the power to exceed the creator."
"Why are you so calm?! We're going to get splatted, you're about to be overthrown yourself! Right about now!"
"It's an analogy. I'm not even the Creator. All right… okay, we're locked on to a weighty planet! Gravitational catapult - cancel retro!"
Instantly cutting his chatter short, captain Panda joyfully spun the wheel toward a planet right in front of us.
"Juuumping! Tighten your seatbelts!"
The tatami accelerates as though a curved spring was released under it.
"Hey, we're gonna crash? What's the big idea?!"
Naturally, the attempt miserably failed.
"Well yeeeah, of cooourse! Now I think about it, this thing doesn't have such a feeeature!"
I'm seriously fed up with Ookumaneko's laugh.
We smoothly move into a quiet region of space unlit by a sun.
The mysterious pine cone force has completely lost us.
The tatami, accelerated to warp speed, didn't perform any subspace jumps, it just picked a moment and rushed at the giant planet's satellite. And crashed right through it.
As a result, the satellite shielded us, the cones' beams flew off to the other side of the universe, and we used that moment to scram.
By the way, the pine warriors burned down as they released the beams. This is a harsh universe, creating weapons intended to self-destruct on use.
"Now, worry not, o kind-hearted maiden. They just translated ship-shaped energy into a beam shape. Probably right about this moment the beams are gathering back into pine cones. Although there'll be fewer of them, of course!"
"I'm not worried. You're way stranger than them. Why were you so calm when you could die?"
"I won't diiie! The only one who could disappear is yooou!"
"Then why'd you run? You could've just left me to them."
"Now, I'd be sorry to lose you. My previous travels can't substitute for the real thing, of course, but now I'm very entertained. Why? Because world's finest beauty is next to me! How is it, do I look like a prince on a white steed yet?!"
Are there albino hippos on Earth?
Well, whatever. I put a hand on the tatami's edge and lightly push him with my shoulder.
"Whoa, p-personal space invader?! Might I finally get a grateful kiss?!"
The carcass jerks back.
Thought so. Ookumaneko says he's happy, but doesn't even try to touch.
No masculine actions, and he's ridiculously shy.
"Here, are you a virgin because you're a NEET? Or are you a NEET because you're a virgin?"
He's hopelessly unused to girls.
"Shocking, my heart is rent asunder! And have you already decided that I'm a virgin? Isn't the purpose of conversation feeling your way along, so to speak?"
"No idea. So?"
"Nothing. When you become a NEET, you become a virgin."
'The flag resets, so to speak', - Ookumaneko nods, looking like a sage giving some grand truth.
"Don't you want to just stop trying to live?"
"Hahahahaha. This is my first time feeling the emotion of 'leave me alone, please' toward another human!.. I see, so this is the desire to kill…"
Shaking heavily, Ookumaneko says something like "calm yourself, o three-stage belly of mine", as though he has a demon in there. I see… Looks like this has been going on since childhood.
"Oh, an asteroid. A bit too close, we can't avoid it by now."
As though he has sensors in all of the surrounding space, he bends his huge body, smoothly banking the tatami.
A two-hundred-kilometer mass flies right by us.
Releasing gas in a dotted line, the comet passes us by.
As though there was no difficult navigation.
Like a child, I open my mouth and look at the miracle that's happened right in front of my eyes.
"Sorry to scare you. This universe looks small at a glance, but the scale comes back when you participate in phenomena. Then again, seeing as were detected by those ships, the error is still there. Just now I lost control a bit due to your black nature."
"Whatever. It's fine."
"Yeah?" - Ookumaneko watches the stars with a sleepy gaze.
I'm in a pickle…
I was taking it lightly, like, this is still an illness-caused universe, with cause and effect. But it's not that simple. Time to come clean.
Ookumaneko Mokumoku. Of all the patients I came to crush he is the greatest, strongest and most irritating unbeatable panda.
He said his creation is real too.
That is true.
Everything here looks empty, but there's no bottom in sight.
The problem has developed a scale at which nobody might be able to solve it…
"I can't believe this… There must be limits to solitude. You've been in such a cool place and done nothing… Did you want to hide away from everything so much? This is not too different from death."
"What? Is life so precious?"
"Well, what do you mean by "precious"… The longer you live, the more treasures there are."
"That is, assuming there's a reason to live."
"So you have nothing to live for, Ookumaneko-san… You should die. Come on, die right now."
"The third roast already! The princess commands: kill yourself! Heh, this is becoming a habit!"
"Wow!" - the ballman happily shifts around.
I really want to kick him, but no, won't work anyway. And icky, his belly is kinda slimy. At least I'm lucky about something. He doesn't know enmity.
"Well, you see, it's not that simple. Death is a decision too, after all. It's normal for humans to not die when there's no reason to live."
I'm taken by the vague irritation again, and I tsk. This time I run him over with a stare filled with the deepest contempt.
Ookumaneko made his super kind eyes even kinder and smiled:
"Uh huh, yeah, it's like that. Come on, look down on me! I've been that way for ten years now, after all!"
He spent the entire ten years since the manifestation of his illness in this universe.
Even more time has probably passed since he was brought to the clinic along with the room.
"Oh, we're nearly past the natural asteroid belt. After that are stars, take a good look if you like them."
A disappearing comet.
The lump of crag and ice that'd obscured my view became a dot smaller than my fingernail.
In such a universe you're always alone.
Ever since the beginning of his illness Ookumaneko Mokumoku had never made a step outside.
"Listen, do you know a picture book called "Zatura"?"
For some reason I decided to retell a story I'd read long ago.
In a normal family there were two brothers, just as normal, and a disaster happened to them. A story about cosmic drift in a setting similar to my current situation.
Once the brothers found a forgotten tabletop game in the cellar and started playing it, and then they were thrown into the galaxy drawn on the cover. They had to finish the game in order to return to Earth. But there can't be a game without difficulty. A world of squares crammed full of deadly events. Rolls of the dice. The entire horror of reality in a children's game rules.
The brothers thought they'd make it, but had to open their eyes to the cruelty of the events. Getting into extreme situations, they fight. The events come closer to death, minute by minute.
The treatment of characters was especially striking. The older brother got a 'Chance!' card and just for a second thought how good it'd be without his brother. And it happened. Remaining alone, he later meets himself, plagued with regret.
I forget the ending, but I recall it was good, as befits a children's book.
"Ah, so it has a looped world too…"
"Human life is looped in general. Especially mine."
Ookumaneko watches space detachedly and speaks.
We wake up in the morning, go to sleep at night.
The simple routing work of the main heroes - pawns who believe themselves individuals.
Birth and death, success and failure, meeting and parting are sides of the same coin. On a cosmic scale the human life is a cycle. This is also a difference between macro and micro. Aging, degradation are not variables important enough to concern yourself over. We live the same life every day.
"I know a movie like that. 'Jumanji'."
"Oh, they have the same author."
"Wow, really? He clearly thought of adults. Marketing such a brutal movie to kids was crazy of the author. There's no need to tell everyone so plainly that their life is a tabletop game."
I know 'Jumanji'. Back in ninety-five, when I was seven, it was very popular.
…Apparently, he thought of it as not a thriller, horror or family comedy movie, but a documentary.
'Well shit', - Ookumaneko swore. It looked a bit adorable, fitting his name.
*A Miyazaki reference.
**A Galaxy Express 999 reference.