In Which The Day Is Saved… Through Science!
I got up early on Sunday. For the second night running, Puddy had spent the night in Mariel’s room. It seemed perfectly reasonable to me to think that they would end up a steady couple, and Puddy and I could just be friends. She’d probably already forgot her tirade about who was the “big dog”, and in time, I would, too. I wouldn’t hold it against her. She’d clearly been drunk.
Anyway, this was a new day. Yesterday had been my first full day at college and it had sucked, but nothing would really count until classes had started. That meant the pressure was off for Sunday, and as I’d woke up early enough to catch Mecknights when it came on at 5:30, it was already off to a good start.
I didn’t figure I’d have any trouble getting the TV in our lounge to myself. Who else would wake up so early on the last free day before classes?
Sadly, I had my answer as soon as I got out into the hall. The yokai girls were up and about: Sooni the bronze-skinned fox and at least two of her furry-featured cats were visible through the glass wall of the lounge. Their ears made them unmistakable from any distance.
New day, I thought, and it doesn’t matter how badly it sucks because it doesn’t count for anything… I can go in and sit down quietly. Maybe she’s not watching anything in particular. Maybe she’ll leave rather than share the lounge with a “pinkskin.”
Or maybe I would just go down to the basement and watch Mecknights on the big TV…
No. Puddy had told me I should stand up to others. I wouldn’t go all the way downstairs without trying. If Sooni wouldn’t let me put on my show, or if she was just plain horrible, then I’d use the basement lounge as my fallback. Thinking that made it easier, somehow. It didn’t matter if I went down in flames because I had somewhere to retreat to. I had a plan.
Sooni was seated on the couch, transfixed by whatever was on the TV. She wore a robe similar in design to the dressing gown I’d seen her in the day before, only much shorter, like the skirts the yokai had been wearing on Friday. I wondered if that particular fashion was to let their tails move freely, or just to show off their legs… or if, like Mariel, they simply had a very different standard of decency.
She didn’t notice me come in. The other two had pushed the table up against the back of the couch, and Sooni’s river of hair flowed out onto it. She had yards of it… way more than Mariel, even proportionate to her greater height. Every time I’d seen her before, it had been set in braids which had then been looped back on each other and piled in cones on top of her head. Most of it was braided now, but some was loose on the table, carefully laid out in long, curving lines to make it all fit. I think the loose strands must have been at least twice as long as she was tall.
Maliko and Suzi… the larger of the nekoyokai cat girls… were busily plaiting the rest of Sooni’s hair into tight braids. A pair of ornate, sturdy-looking brushes lay to one side. They worked quickly and skillfully… evidently, it was a job that they’d done before. At first I thought they were muttering something to themselves, but then I realized from watching their lips that Maliko was whispering short, simple words in Pax, and Suzi was repeating them. Boning up on her language skills before classes started on Monday, I guess.
I looked from them to Sooni, still who hadn’t seemed to notice me. She was still staring at the TV in mute, unblinking fascination even though it was on a commercial. Didn’t they have them where she came from? The sight of Kai–who I’d pegged as the least favorite of her three cat friends (if that’s what they were)–kneeling on the floor between her legs and looking at the TV with a considerably less serene expression made me forget the question as soon as I’d thought it.
She was wearing a ridiculous sea-green dress with an even shorter skirt than the yokai normally wore, made of ruffles that stuck almost straight out from her body. It was done up in the back with an overly large, overly elaborate bow which was matched by one on top of her head. The entirety of her face below the eyes was obscured by the back of a giant baby pacifier which hugged her face like a mask. I hoped it was a mask, and she didn’t actually have a giant rubber nipple holding it in her mouth.
“Why is she…” I started to ask, taken too aback to remember to be intimidated, only to be shushed by Maliko and Suzi at the same time.
“And now back to Pretty Neko Science Princess…“
Sooni leaned forward intently, putting her hands on Kai’s shoulders for support. I had never watched the show before; I was only halfway aware of it as “the show that’s on before Mecknights.” I fully admit that Mecknights is a kiddy show… this, however, was a baby show, a crappy imported animation with awful dialogue and the flimsiest rationales behind its science. I didn’t know much about it, besides that.
In fact, it’s a testament to how little attention I let my mind pay to the show’s existence that, upon meeting the three fuzzy-faced yokai, I hadn’t gone, “Oh! So that’s what a neko is!” I hadn’t cared enough to make the connection, but inside the TV were a lot of images of furry, cat-eared people waving their arms around and yelling things like “Where is Science Princess?”, while giant golems with clanking toothed wheels driving their joints destroyed a city of modern skyscrapers, a full dozen stories tall.
So, I knew what a “neko” was now, but I still had no fucking idea what a “science princess” was supposed to be, even after she appeared on stage in a puff of smoke, wearing an outfit that seemed to consist of a red miniskirt, a pair of handkerchiefs tied up in the back, and a tiara on her head. There was a curving sword on her back, like the kind that the real-life neko girls carried.
My eyes were mainly drawn to the princess’s sidekick, who was a small child in exactly the same outfit as Kai was wearing. Not just that, but the animated figure had the same white fur with black and brown markings as Kai did… as far as I could see, in the exact same spots. Even her disturbingly large eyes had a crude sort of resemblance to those of the girl on the floor in front of Sooni. The only real difference I could see between the two was that Kai’s fingers were wrapped in bandages.
“Come, Baby Kai-Kai… we must drink our science potion chemicals to give us great strength to defeat the evil gear-gos!” Science Princess said.
“Wait,” I said. “Did she just say…”
“Shh!” Sooni hissed, enraptured by the action inside the TV.
I couldn’t see why. Science Princess and her infant sidekick had just swallowed the green, glowing contents of a pair of oversized bottles which the princess had seemed to pull out of her billowing top (a feat made all the more remarkable by the fact that they had no lids or corks), and had both now gained several relative inches of height and a pronounced increase in muscular definition. Baby Kai-Kai crawled over to one of the “gear-gos” and lifted the whole thing up off the ground by holding onto one leg, then Science Princess jumped past, flashing her sword. The thing split cleanly apart into a bunch of different parts, the individual slashes on the giant monster waaaaaaay too far apart to all have been done by the same blade on a single pass.
The scene cut to a short, human-looking man with a big round head and a bulbous hooked nose, looking shocked. He cried, “This is not possible! No magic sword can hurt my gear-gos!”
Then, the view swung around to show the princess crouched on the ground between two of the giant things, with the bad guy still in the shot on top of a nearby building.
“Silly enchanter man,” Science Princess shouted up at him. “My sword is not magical, but is scientifically formulated to cause you pain when it cuts, as you can clearly see.“
Then, by way of demonstration, she swung her sword in two arcs from side to side, and the two metal behemoths split from top to bottom.
“Curse you, Science Princess! But Pretty Neko Island City has not seen the last of I, Dr. Technomagic!” the giant-nosed villain shouted from the rooftop, shaking his fist down at the heroes before running over and putting on what looked like a really bulky backpack. It had only just realized it was supposed to be a jet-pack, like what Skyknight wears on my show, when he activated it and went soaring off, away from view.
“Thank you, Pretty Neko Science Princess! You have saved our island city once more!”
“Luckily, the gear-gos were partly powered by science or my leverage detection circuits would never have led me here in time.”
I looked over at Sooni, unable to believe that she–or anybody with a brain–actually liked this shit, but she not only still had the same rapturous look on her face, she was actually mouthing all of the princess’s lines along with the image inside the box. I guess she must have seen this one before.
The episode ended with a party on the beach, and Baby Kai-Kai falling into a big bowl of gelatin fluff she’d been trying to eat from. Edifying stuff.
“Oh, Baby Kai-Kai!” said both Sooni and Science Princess as the episode ended, the fox girl pretty much strangling the hapless neko when she reached down and swept her up into an embrace by the neck, dragging Kai up onto her lap. Sooni was beaming a tooth-baring smile, but unlike all the times I’d seen her smiling before, a light of pure joy actually shone in her eyes. Kai looked like she wanted to die, but she kept her face pointed away from Sooni’s. I don’t think Sooni would have noticed, anyway. She was in her own world.
I just stared in horror at what was easily one of the five most disturbing things I’d ever seen. It actually ranked just below seeing the same cat girl cringing on the floor as Sooni swung away at her the day before. If that image wasn’t linked to what I’d heard from the nekos’ room afterwards, it might have been a tie.
As the end credits rolled… the end theme being nothing but the name of the show repeated over and over again… Sooni finally deigned to look up at me. When she saw the expression on my face, her own clouded over, and she pushed the costumed Kai away from her so hard that she stumbled into the cabinet that the TV sat upon.
“We always watch Pretty Neko Science Princess together,” she said to me, as if daring me to say something. “It is better in Yokano. The translators get so much wrong, but it is our favorite show.”
Behind her back, the other two nekos exchanged a look that pretty much told me what they thought about PNSP, but they didn’t say anything to contradict her.
“Does Kai always wear that outfit?” I asked, not sure I wanted to know.
“Oh, no,” Sooni said. “She has many more. I look up the episodes before they air, so that my Kai-Kai can match. She makes such a pretty Baby Kai-Kai!”
Kai had sort of just slumped down on the floor against the TV stand, and she tried to turn and hide her face against it while Sooni talked about her. Sooni wasn’t going to have any of that, though. She barked furiously in Yokano (which, I gathered, was the name of the language they spoke among themselves), and Kai leapt to her feet. She was visibly cringing behind the giant pacifier. I thought at first it was just fear, but I noticed the stiffness with which she walked back towards the couch, and the difficulty she seemed to have keeping her back straight. If I’d had any hope that I’d been mistaken in thinking that what I’d heard on Saturday was anything but a savage beating, there it went.
Suddenly, I was furious.
“What is she… your plaything?” I asked.
Sooni looked at me. The look on her face was shocked, a little offended, and slightly puzzled.
“She is my neko,” Sooni cooed, pulling Kai down onto the couch cushion beside her and laying a hand atop her head, just behind the giant bow. “She is my favorite. Nobody has a prettier neko than her. I looked all over Yokan to find my own Baby Kai-Kai, and here she is. Nobody has her but me.”
“She’s your pet? Your slave?” I asked disbelievingly, trying to get a handle on what exactly she was saying.
“My nekos are my friends!” she said, pulling Kai closer in a tight embrace. I heard Kai crying out in pain beneath the gag-like pacifier. “They love me!” Sooni declared, almost defiantly. “And I love them! Kai-Kai’s family gets three times what she is worth, because they did not want to send her away, but I wanted her so much…” As she said that, she shook her “friend” quite savagely. I could see fat tears spilling out of Kai’s eyes. “Anyway, what is it to you, girlkisser? Why are you even here?”
“Girlkisser,” Suzi repeated, tittering. She pronounced it more like “guhruh kissuh.” Would it have been worth the trouble to point out that I wasn’t one, to somebody who barely understood my language?
Anyway, I figured I would just lie and tell Sooni I had woke up early and wondered what was on TV. If she didn’t know how much I actually wanted it, she’d have less reason to be a bitch about it.
“I, um… I woke up and I wanted to watch Mecknights. I never miss it,” I said. Fuck! Fucking fuck fuck fuck! I needed to learn how to lie.
“That stupid show with the fire-arms and chained saws?” Sooni asked. “That show is for boys! Do you not know that?”
“I like it,” I said curtly. I wanted to launch into an eloquent defense of my favorite animation, or at least tell her how stupid hers was, but at the moment I was pretty glad of just having stood my ground and spit out those three words. Maybe it was the fact that I was standing and she was sitting, so she couldn’t look down at me. Maybe it was the fact that I’d seen her drooling like a zombie over a show clearly intended for eight-year-olds. Maybe I was just mad enough at the way she treated Kai–beating her half to death one day, then dressing her up like a doll–that I refused to be intimidated. Whatever it was, Sooni’s superior attitude just wasn’t having the usual effect on me.
“You may keep it, then,” Sooni said, rising gracefully. She glanced behind her. “Hair is done?”
Suzi said something in Yokano.
“Speak Pax, please,” Sooni said sharply. “You only have one day to practice…”
“Yes, Sooni,” Suzi said thickly.
“Your hair is braided,” Maliko added, with the seemingly obligatory giggle after it. I wondered if they had a punctuation mark for it.
“Let’s go change,” Sooni said. She started walking towards the door, pulling Kai alongside her. The other two quickly scooped up armfuls of the braids, climbing over the table and couch in order to prevent her hair from dragging on the ground or making her stop. Sooni seemed either oblivious to their efforts, or simply supremely confident that they would do this anyway. “I want to get the first coach into town. Shopping today, classes tomorrow.”
I heard Suzi asking “I can has cheeseburger?” as they filed down the hall. Little Kai (though she was at least two inches taller than me, and not much shorter than Sooni, she seemed tiny among the others, if only because she still hunched slightly in pain) half-turned and looked over her shoulder at me, but Sooni’s hand on her forearm kept her moving forward.
The opening music to Mecknights had already started. I was torn between a fierce desire to chase down the hall after the yokai girls (and do what, exactly?) and the feeling that I should just go back to my room and barricade myself against a world where girls like Sooni could buy anything they wanted, including, apparently, friends.
I thought of Amaranth, and her insistence that there were choices in life that didn’t amount to being victor or victim. I don’t know what she would have thought of me watching Mecknights, exactly, but I knew she wouldn’t approve of either of the above courses of action… submitting meekly to the cruelty of the world, or lashing out against it. I couldn’t see how sitting there and watching my animation would be any improvement… I still wasn’t doing anything about Kai… but, I figured, it might make me feel a little better.
Even though it’s just a silly, stupid fantasy show… it actually sort of did.