Asobi ni Iku Yo! Episode 11 – The Mind’s Eye
Kio Kakazu sat in what used to be his bedroom, next to what used to be his futon. It was the Cathian Embassy now, and Captain Coone was lying in the futon he had slept in for years now, utterly motionless. Her tail was tucked under the futon—if not for the two cat ears poking out of her purple hair, you could easily imagine her as a normal human woman. He hadn’t understood the explanation Eris had given for why she was unconcious—although he thought he had heard the word ‘nanomachines’–but he knew it was somehow related to the dog robots that had just attacked his house and injected her with a syringe.
Six months ago, he would have been unable to even imagine any of this, despite all the Star Trek he had watched in elementary school, or the novels and anime he currently devoured in what little spare time wasn’t occupied by school, club duties and escorting the Cathians on “cultural exchange” missions that seemed like a flimsy excuse to have fun. Dan Simmons and Vernor Vinge had left him completely unprepared for the reality of hovering spaceships, holograms and catgirls. Sometimes, he found himself wishing he had rented “All Purpose Cultural Catgirl Nuku Nuku” last summer, instead of watching Evangelion for the fourth time.
Would that have helped? The Cathians certainly seemed like something right out of a late-night anime, from Eris’s gigantic breasts to their outgoing and playful nature. Could it be that they were nothing more than that—some anime stereotype given life? And, if that was the case, what were the odds of something like that being a coincidence?
He felt his heart start racing, and his palms get sweaty, not from the convoluted conspiracy theories that had just sprung up in his mind, but from the thought of Eris’ breasts. He found his mind wandering back to that time he had touched them—accidentally, of course—the morning after the night he’d met her. How long had it been since he’d learned there were aliens, actual, honest to God aliens who spoke Japanese and looked just like he would, if he had ears and a tail and breasts to accidentally squeeze? Months? How long did it take for him to get used to it? Not even weeks. It seemed instantaneous, like he had always known that catgirls weren’t just something in anime but actual living beings, and that they possessed technology beyond anything human minds could reproduce, at least in reality. But not in fiction, he heard himself think.
Flustered, confused and aroused, he tried to put all that out of his mind and focus on the conversation in front of him. Eris was talking to the blue-haired girl, apparently in command with the captain out of action, about the Cathian ship hurtling towards Earth. It would burn up in the atmosphere, killing everyone on board, except for the bridge crew which had already fled to hyperspace. The only way to save them would be to restart the ship’s computer systems and change the ship’s course.
Unfortunately, the only person capable of restarting the system was the Captain, currently lying unconscious on his bed. Apparently, as long as the Captain was alive, only she was capable of overriding the systems.
A little flag flew up in the back of Kio’s mind, as if he was seeing a misspelled word or watching a fan service anime written by someone who had never successfully spoken to a girl. “This is wrong”, the voice said, “Something is off here”.
Could there really be no other way to override the system? Could the Cathians, who had advanced their civilization to the point where they could explore space solely for their own amusement, really never encountered another situation where the captain was incapacitated and someone needed to make system-wide changes?
He felt his cheeks flush, and a sensation of shame overtook him, for no reason he could ascertain.
“Something is wrong”, he thought to himself. “But what is it?”
The meeting continued, and everyone agreed that they needed to get into space to rescue the crew. But how?
“It looks as if we’re out of cards to play,” his uncle said.
Suddenly, as if it had heard his words, Captain Coone’s bell started glowing, then levitated over to Kio. It attached itself around his neck, making him look like the world’s queerest Christmas ornament.
“What’s this?” Kio lurched backwards in shock. The bell tinkled silently, as if to remind him it was firmly attached to his neck.
“Did the Captain give that to you?” Eris asked, head tilted inquisitively at exactly the angle that anime directors years before had calculated allowed for optimal adorableness.
“Well, she asked me to hold onto it”, he replied, pulling the bell against his neck as much as the short ribbon would allow to give himself a better look. His eyes were diverted though, by Eris and the girls in the hologram standing up and saluting him.
“From this point on, the Cathian ship crew will be under your command,” Eris said from her stiff salute, “Captain Kio Kakazu.”
As he stood up in shock, the voice in the back of his head spoke up again. “Did she really just say ‘Cathian ship crew’?”
Kio realized that he had never heard of the name of Eris’ ship. Although he had been on it many times, and heard the girls talking about various aspects of its operation, he had never once heard its name. Did it even have a name?
They called Antonia, the preposterously rich girl who had kidnapped him and Eris a few short month ago (yet whom, strangely, Kio had never been angry at), and she agreed to buy a rocket they could use to fly to the Cathian ship. But what could they use for an engine? Eris said they could use her ship, Ruros. Despite being heavily damaged, the core should still be functional.
Just then, Kio heard a clanking sound. “What’s that?” he asked.
Eris pulled aside the window shade to reveal a robot, clanking up to the window. “That’s Professor Jameson!”, his club advisor exclaimed.
Kio remembered an old pulp magazine his grandfather had given him, years ago. It was written in English, and therefore completely indecipherable to a 6-year old boy, but it occupied Kio for hours, gazing at the lovingly created artwork of fantastic worlds. Come to think of it, that might have been his first taste of science fiction.
A hatch popped up, and Ruros’ hologram avatar popped into existence. “I’m back,” he said in a screechy cutesy voice that Kio still refused to believe belonged to a male, even a virtual one.
Eris began to explain that she could use Ruros and the Assistroids to create a wormhole that would let them jump right to the ship, but Kio found his mind wandering. That sense of shame overtook him again.
What was going on? He couldn’t think of any reason. There was something stuck in the back of his mind, something forgotten: like a homework assignment he’d forgotten to do, or an itch he couldn’t quite scratch.
It happened again an hour later, when he and Eris were visiting the apartment of the technomage that had helped Aoi defeat the first Dogisian attack. When Eris paid for the counterspell to break the time-freezing seal with the model kit rights for Assistroids, Kio wondered why intergalactic beings would bother with copyright.
“Copyright violation is a very serious infraction according to most intergalactic law,” Eris replied. “Orsonians will strip you of your ability to think”.
Orsonians? Where have I heard that before?
It wasn’t until the next day, gathered around the Captain’s comatose body once more, that everything . Antonia’s attempts to buy a rocket had failed, spoiled by the Dogisians leaking the news of the Cathian ship’s rapid descent into the Earth. It seems no government wanted to sell space on a rocket to a third-party, fearful that they’d have to use those rockets as a last ditch attempt to destroy the ship. That didn’t make any sense, either, but by now Kio had learned to push those things towards the back of his mind. There was a pressure there, a thought brewing he knew he wouldn’t be able to ignore, but he kept pushing it back, afraid of what might come bursting forth.
“If we can’t buy a rocket”, Eris said, “you’ll have to make one, Kio! We can buy a rocket engine easily”.
“I can’t build a rocket!” he exclaimed.
“You have the captain’s multi-task organizer”, she replied, pointing at the bell around his neck. “You can change the elemental composition of any matter, and build pretty much anything. Whatever you can contain wholly in your mind, you can create.”
And then his mind could no longer hold back from all the thoughts he had been trying desperately to contain. It came rushing forth, until he couldn’t contain it any more. Head in his head, he let out a scream that startled everyone in the room. Eris’ tail stood on end, and all eyes focused on him. Normally he would be mortified, but his mind was focused entirely on Eris’ words.
“Anything you can contain in your mind, you can create.” He thought of the Cathians, and their Star Trek technology. Of the robot lurking in his garage seemingly cut whole cloth from a childhood memory, of the saying from Arthur C. Clarke he had read online: “Any sufficiently advanced technology is indistinguishable from magic.” All of these impossible things, and yet, none of them unimaginable. They were all things someone had thought of previously, some human, visions of an unreal world that existed only in someone’s mind.
And later, in his mind, brought to life by their skills and imagination.
Kio knelt there, head in his hands, engulfed with the painful realization that everything here was his own doing, but that none of it was his own work. It was the aggregate of a childhood of pulp science fiction and anime, filtered through his own imagination, fears and desires.
But none of it was original. All ripped straight from the pages of some pulp serial, or some thick, stained manga magazine. And, combined together, none of it made any sense. Inconsistencies and holes riddled it through and through, making it the sort of ridiculously implausible scenario only a fool, lost in his own delusions of grandeur, could mistake for reality.
He had been living a delusion created for himself, a fiction invented out of his own memories. And, even worse, he was a pitiful hack of a writer, incapable of creating something coherent enough to make narrative sense.
But why? He sat numbly through the entire plane ride to Siberia, staring out the window at the horribly imperfect world he had woven out of his own subconscious, and pondering that question.
The plane landed at an all but abandoned military base. Once they had all hurried into the relative warmth of the warehouse, Antonia’s contact presented the rocket engine, looming over the entire group.
He stood in fear for a moment, wondering how he could possibly build anything that could contain something that big, and then realized that he had already managed much greater feats subconsciously. He had no doubt that he could create a rocket’s frame, but should he?
He locked himself inside a storage room, to practice making things consciously, and to be alone to think.
He wasn’t in there long before Manami walked into the room.
“I don’t know how all this is going to turn out, so I need to ask now,” she started. “What are you going to do after this?”
“Well, I’m going to figure out how to build the rocket, and then–”
“That’s not what I mean,” she replied curtly. “What are you going to do about Aoi and Eris?”
“What are you talking about?”
She didn’t answer him. “Why do you think Aoi risked her life, her entire career to save you? That’s not something girls just do for any male friend. How do you think she sees you?”
Another realization hit Kio, this one less painful. Was Aoi attracted to him? They got along well, and he had been attracted to her ever since they met at the start of high school, but he had never imagined anything romantic happening between them. She had always seemed out of his league.
But wait: was this yet another creation of his, the manifestation of some hidden desire? He didn’t know how to react to that, so he just played dumb.
“Um, best friends?” He gave her a silly smile.
“I can’t believe how dense you are!” She grabbed him in a headlock. “How can you be so unaware?”
There was something more than exasperation for her friend in Manami’s voice. She wasn’t just angry for Aoi’s sake. Did that mean that Manami, too, was in love with him?
She had been the first girl he had ever fallen for, back in middle school. And yet, nothing had ever come of it. They had each been too timid to make a move. Was she, too, under whatever spell his subconscious was casting.
This isn’t right, he told himself. I can’t put these girls through this. This world I’m creating, I have to make it stop.
His mind focused, like he had been practicing. But what he imagined wasn’t a rocket, but a world without catgirls, or spaceships, or the unusual affections of his female friends. He hesitated for a brief moment. For the last year, he had been wondering what he was good for, searching for some special talent or gift he could use, some purpose to make his life meaningful. And now, for some reason, he was given this power and thrust into a situation only he can solve. This was his chance to be a hero, to do something meaningful. Could he just throw that away?
He had to, if only for the sake of Manami and Aoi. Now that he was aware of his power, he couldn’t manipulate their feelings like that. He could never be so cruel.
He had to fix this. He might not be able to contain the entire world, but he could change himself. And so he poured all his focus into the person that, 24 hours earlier, he had still thought he was: someone normal. Shy, unremarkable, maybe a bit of an otaku, but otherwise completely normal. He gathered in everything he knew of himself, felt the surge of power he had felt earlier, and willed it to become real.
Nothing happened. Eris poked her head in through the doorway, her cat ears perked up and her tail swishing behind her as she gave him a huge smile.
“How’s it going, Kio?”
She looked confused at the look of dejection on his face. “Is something wrong?”
“No, I’m fine.” He sighed, and turned his thoughts to the rocket he needed to build.