Taki swims back home. the river is unusually warm this evening. she is feeling maudlin but thoughts of her son perk her up. she crosses the wet threshold of vines and gobbles up her three bites of soggy sandwich in her pocket for dinner cos she wants to race to see if Takahashi is home. she attaches her whispering-pink scarf to her neck.
Taki: he'll be where he usually is, on top of his flower bed. trying to escape but a head heavy with homework that he can't help but sleep and expose his dreams for all to see. hey, a girl can dream.
but he is not there, in his usual spot he likes to hide. instead, the fairy garden that the two planted together when he was young sits idle, save for one large hash mark in the soil.
Taki: the Hashi hash. and one E-Skate filled with soil as a makeshift pot i see. his traditional trademark and new trademark. this was his favorite field as a kid. he doesn't visit this part of the house no more, knows he wouldn't be caught dead or sleeping in the Hotbox, this is where i'd make him work.
Taki calls her son. she begins crying, trying to keep it to a low sob under her breath to disguise it as best she can during the phone call. phone calls are always fuzzy things anyways.
Taki: hi, Kettle Petal, just want to pray you i hope you are safe wherever you are.
Takahashi: *breaking up* uh, hi? mom? what's up, in the middle of a heist here.
Taki: keep being successful, son. remember, when you are busy, when you are filled with work, get yourself even more filled with work. work till your night bones come off. always be alwaysing. dream of work. sleep is for the dreamers, dreams are for the workers. i knew you'd turn out a zombie. sweet dreams, sweet, i'm dead-tired, good night.
she lets it all out. the exotic parakeets in the room wake up blearyeyed---you can't tell cos their eyes are tiny tiny circles---look around the room in a bored fashion, put their heads back down and go back to sleep.
she calls her sister out-of-town. out-of-state:
Taki: hi, babe. so have you given any more thought to my proposal?
Madame Pons: of course i have, lovely, and the answer is definitely maybe. i dunno, i'd like to help. i'm kinda inbetween dreams here, sis. at the moment i'm in the moment. i'm saving my savings for a trip to the Old Country. Initiation starts soon. did you see Jill on tv last night? on the Mueller Channel? Mueller Show NBC? so sparkly and grand! the last of the brassy dames. have you noticed she's started wearing different pins on her lady suits now for each television appearance? there was one that was an apple of course, and a Bump one with a sickle for the U.
Taki: oh come off it, man! how long is your witch obsession gonna last?!! is 40 years long enough?......*low hush* oh, what am i saying? of course you'll do it more the more i tell you not to. even a nice sweet person like you.
Madame Pons: i like 50. 50 is a nice round number. this is all i've ever wanted to do. it's this or death! i gotta be free. i gotta be me.
Taki: well ever since you had your midlife crisis in your twenties. think about it some more. i'd love to have you over for a visit. but things will go down smoother if you agree to my demands. easy access pass. you can enjoy the Hotbox at night with the lights off and the windows open letting in the breeze.
Taki: i've got one more call to make before the night is through.
at Exodus College Laertus gets up nervy and can't smooth out his back straight. he is terrified of public speaking but knows this is a special occasion, the only chance he'll ever have to do this, so he gives it his best cos this is important.
he scans the room of languid faces in the dark with the projector screen filling the room with rude glares looking at all the departing characters in their happy faces, even the Lich. he begins to cry. the tears can be seen trickling down his gray cheeks. he begins to sing as best he can.
Laertus: *singing broken up by coughs*...Come away with me...*choke up*...to the butterflies and bees...*stop and stutter*...*back to voice, speaking voice* i'm sorry, i can't go on...*back to singing voice* to the trees...
Professor James Gunn: thank you, young man, you are what this university is all about. a serious student of pop culture. how can we know how art affects you if you don't show it on your face? take off your makeup and your cosplay cloths, class! be naked in your feelings! this is my life's work! i need to know how you really feel! not how you reddit feel! and with that, i bid you a not-so-fond farewell and acidic adieu.
Gunn manufactures a plastic gun from the projector and holds himself up. in this auto-stickup, he carries himself away by the nape of his Freddy Krueger sweater and escorts himself out of the auditorium.
Laertus: i'm good. i can pick you out of a busy crowd already.
Dirg: did you say busty crowd? have you finally finished The Last Jedi? can we have a spoilers-heavy discussion anon?
Laertus: i've decided to recruit to a different Space Force. i'm joining the Royal Space Force Wings of Honneamise! i'll have a window once mid-finals are over. i did catch another 15-minute chunk of it, and it's taking a dangerous turn. i'm getting depressed. are you seeing this? are you seeing the blossoming romance between Rey and Ren? Kylo Ren? like, brother and sister stuff? what is this, Bruce Timm's Star Wars? i mean the whole biracial thing with Rey and Finn was a ship to root for in these times, this was a rebel love! i'd much rather see biracial than incest on screen, you know? that's more positive.
Dirg: way to SJW up true artistic freedom! hey man, you love who you love, you know?
at the Old Spaghetti Factory, the crones are getting ready to leave.
Gladyce: i was excited about the Cowbell Burger. but it was an actual steel cowbell between two buns.
Doryce: when they say rustic they mean it. steel is a dying industry, they gotta sell it somehow. can't put this type of iron in the meat. let's vamoose, the carpets here are freaking me out. restaurants shouldn't have carpeting, too '70s. lemme just put this whole bilberry pie up my skirt and we're outie. besides, i'm meeting my drug dealer out back. on the flip-noon.
Gladyce: oh dear.
the two ballsy ladies are looking for a bawl, not a brawl. Gladyce wants no part of this and is concerned for her partner, Doryce is looking for a happy cry. Doryce pushes the button for the elevator, despite having established that the establishment has stairs. she enters and closes the door. the elevator only goes up one storey. she encounters Dirg. they both keep their hands in their pockets.
Doryce: got the stuff?
Doryce: got the Yuban?
Dirg: you are on specify tonight, grandma. no.
Doryce: *flustered* YOU BAN YUBAN!!? i can't sit through Gladyce's stories no more. by the end of this particular cyclical addiction of mine, i'm gonna have a hard dark-black steel-beam slab of petrified and crystalized coffee grounds lining all inches of me stomach like a snake. like a Brassed Off miner conductor.
Dirg: this place is shady.
Doryce: hurry, we haven't much time! yeah, never trust an eatery with no pictures of stars eating there.
the two are greeted by an angry mob of grease-lined employee faces in caps with the feathers backward with a spherical pile of dirty dishes in their scrubby arms ready to push in the elevator.
Doryce: nothing......see here? shaggy carpeting in the elevator, just weird.
Laertus: excuse my partner. in friendship! i know nothing! my ailed partner. nice to finally meet in person quietly. i go to Exodus College.
Dirg: *joining dramatically* and i attend Marvel University.
Gladyce: what brings you to the piers, dears?
Laertus: i'm afraid we have nowhere to lay our reading heads. this one got us kicked out of our dorm. it was bad enough when just the pizza was banned from us. Dirg and some dude named Takahashi went to our local nearby pizzeria and handed the owner an envelope of white powder.
Dirg: hilarious. what? it was just baking dough.
Laertus: NOT in these dangerous times where there's a shooting streetfight every night! if you haven't noticed, the war is leaving bullet holes in neighborhood fences.
Dirg: i know that's the point, a little gag brings levity. where's the humor now? what form does it take? is there still room in this world for Punk'd? i remember when i looked up to that tall ashen guy. what we've learned from this glorious Administration is that nothing matters, life doesn't matter.
Laertus: so you get into trouble deliberately to speed your point? what were you doing there?
Dirg: Tak and i were doing research for our graphic novels.
Laertus: uh-huh. you're a bad influence on people, i'm your one and only friend. you need the power of Juju. you were looking at porn, in broad nightlight at the pizza parlor, and worse, you used my screen! you unplugged my screen in the dorm and plopped it down on one of the tables and just started watching porn in public with the volume up.
Dirg: hey those were European anything-goes outdoor-cafe-style pizza tables. here comes the best part.
Laertus: then you "botted" the owner. you called over a swat team who delivered 100 boxes of pizza. to the pizzeria. all filled with anchovies. there are no more fish in the sea cos of you. what was your beef?
Dirg: that's just it, they messed up my clams-casino order. the clams weren't stinky enough to be pizza toppings, they had to smell like a woman freshly satisfied. that's the only way i'm gonna learn, i need real examples.
Laertus: the two bolted out of there, it was harder for Takahashi. did you take the hidden bridge through the brook?
cop in doughnut-colored mustache, calling it in: we got one bozo. and one traveling on one E-Skate......go to the stream...there's only one stream!!!...
Dirg: yep. Tak stubbed his toe when he got tangled in it and fell into the river. he deftly swam away to escapist safety. it's more a footbridge than a bridge.
Laertus: imagine. we take infrastructure for granted. horrible thing that happened in Italy. i'm glad those lesbians survived to tell the BBC. the owner claimed on the report you called him a fatty.
Dirg: no, we were debating outloud what to call it. "botting" or "fatting".
Laertus: so the investigators traced the screen back to my dorm room. i knew i shouldn't have signed up to have my computer screen officially certified and registered at the Apple Store for one more nominal extra charge. the gig was up, now the whole school knows we're roommates! we are two campus cats in need of a cradle. nowhere to rest my weary green head. without staining the pillow. and worse yet, no one will serve us pizza on college grounds anymore! our pictures are taped in each and every parlor in town. that's why we're here. in search of pizza.
Gladyce: you can travel with us, dears. we're always on the move.
Laertus: thank you kindly. make mine the Renee Powell Suite, i hear Carnoustie is nice this time of year after the tournament traffic and construction and icky bestball rules are all done. i will have to disappear on occasion. for class. i want to try to limit the time needed for this pop-culture degree to no more than four years, you know?
the other three chuckle and close their eyes when they smile.
Dirg: what was the big deal? we all watch porn. why hide it? porn can bring humanity together. the disinfectant of carnival stained-glass pizza-light and all that. you do. you watch animal porn! i've seen it!
Laertus: furry porn tyvm. drawings. i love animals. in the comfort of my home. in my apartment there is literally only the screen there. sitting on hardwood floors. there's a metaphor in there somewhere. i can't do like you, it's hard for me to have fun, i can't roll around like you do.
Dirg: *singing* do you trip like i do?......trip like i do......
LeBron: dude what is your deal? what is wrong with you? is this about the pizza party? you still mad i didn't invite you?
President Bump on the phone: hey you guys should be praising me for showing restraint. i wanted to call her a b. b for bashful, she's bashful. coil my tongue around a bumblebee mouth. and die. but she's a real rottweiler for sure. this is why there is no White House dog. dogs can sense the primal fear in me and pounce. yous all gon be sorry when i throw myself a party JUST FOR ME and NONE of y'all are invited! to the ceremony. when i get my Star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame...again.
Melbourne: she bashed you good. hey, you got your legal defense fund sorted? all filled up?
white Thai cavediver: funding secured.
Bump: why is only my glass black and the rest are white? what you tryna say bout me?
Melbourne: Diet Coke causes dementia. apparently. water is safer, even in Flint. where there's flint in the water. i know, it's a tv-causes-cancer sort of thing, but why risk it? let us all put our hands together and pray for Aretha. God love you, Queen......it is a bit morbid how they're approaching it.
Bump: yeah, you gotta wait. wait to exhale. like with Jotaro and DIO. i was rooting for DIO so hard and bad, but Jotaro faked his heart stopping. DIO's Stand is called The World, that's why i like it. you just never know. stop. in the name of love. Jo had his own Stand hold his heart from beating. it's gonna hurt like hell.
Melbourne: please, for once in your life, don't take the lead on this one, let me take over. a god amongst women, a natural woman. mmmmm. nuff said. leaving us at the worst possible time. the Civil Rights singer. never copied anyone else. she wasn't tryna be Sinatra or nuthin'. everyone ELSE was HER clout-chaser, they all clout demons! she came out of the womb a fully-formed original, the Celestial Zygote. back when we still had a Soul to sing about.
Mueller: i'm the most-beloved Republican by the Democrats ever. even more than Reagan. don't they know i'm not one of them? hey Avenatti, what are you doing? saw you at the Wing Ding. you have to approach it more like me.
Avenatti flashes his handsome-star smile.
Avenatti: what can i say? i like chicken.
Melbourne: so disappointed. so close. like old times, Smokey and the Bear. to come to the edge and never let it out. that would be horrible in my job. the storybook was ripped a page. now we gotta wait till freakin' April! it's gonna be a long lonely lugubrious winter. Christmas won't be the same this year. who was the first person you called, Tiger?
Tiger Woods: my best and one and only friend Federer. we both have back problems. school's out for summer.
at a nearby secret compound:
April D Ryan: why are you here? why are you helping me?
The Line: sis, you gotta believe in something. atheism is the luxury of the rich. you always look like you're worried, like something is about to happen to you. hey i fill the holes, ma'am. anywhere i can help i help. i'm the glue guy to this operation. if O wants me to bodyguard you pretty ladies i do. think of me as your protector at the state fair. but a cog in the revolution, here to do my part, a flag planted in the streets of this war. you look like my dead auntie.
April: oh now i get it. death humbles the falling giant. guilt stopped up your gun with grease? gilds the gallant and the talented into a guild? or are you Sasuke lying in wait?
The Line: death of a certain sort. down with the patriarchy. i realized i was part of the problem.
April: you sure you're not hiding out here like the rest of us?
The Line: what'd you finally do anyway?
April: said the immigration-policy-writer looked like a child molester.
April: no, Stephen Miller on twitter.
The Line: don't worry, we'll kick his big butt and this will all be over. in good time. i can play in the shadows like those piffle Qs. and wait for those Qs to give me my cues. heck, my whole skin is a shadow. you're like Frankenstein's monster.
Omarosa: come on, man!
The Line: no, i didn't say you looked like Frankenstein's monster. that Katrina Pierson tho, boy siree! i want what she smokes. to appear on tv. one look into those cat-eyes after one interview and you know this fine woman would make a great turned soldier. uh, like you. you talk to Mueller's team?
Omarosa: you have no idea just how truly strong i am, do you? you're not supposed to call the monster Frankenstein, but everyone does, the world does, it's too far gone to ever go back throughout history with a black markie pen and correct it now. i AM Mueller. in many respects.
Melbourne: Taki? well hello! what are you doing here at this ungodly hour? shouldn't you be waking up from a good night's sleep right about now? the night is young, much younger than you or i.
Taki: in the area. my son called. my son the artist. he's working on a comic book, you know. The Whispering Eye. kids these days.
Melbourne: your eyes are red. like they're whispering pink-eye. you've got fantastic tits.
Taki: hey! how can you tell!? i'm all covered up! i'm wearing a buttoned coat!
Melbourne: hopefully they'll be festival tits soon. well, feel free to stay. the liquor cabinet's always open so here's the key. time for me to retire, i'll be in my upstairs chambers.
Taki: you are so cynicalistic.
Taki snoops the stairwell till gone and makes her way to the bedroom door. ajar. sick. she hears noises coming from the bed. Melbourne is sounding out the nnnnnnnnnnnnnrrrrrrrrrr of a jetplane streaking through the sky. Bosanquet giggles after each turn. Taki slams open the door.
Taki: A-HA!!! late-night study session, good doc? i saved your life from all that junk science and Peace Corps motivation in your brain!!!
Bosanquet slips out of bed and slips her coat over her pizza-stained negligee.
Bosanquet: exactly. purely professional. this man has a serious problem and i'm trying to fix it. but i can see now that he is beyond my help. it's up to you now. he is seriously troubled and disturbed. nightie.
Taki: *pulls out her liquids-proof pad and electric pencil* oh? and what seems to be the issue? i'm something of an armchair psychologist, all reporters must be. no offense. didn't mean to imply you were amateur hour, but you do charge by the hour, space-age toots. hello? hey, are you crying? why you crying? THAT was the sound you were making?
Melbourne: oh it's all been an act! i wanted to make you jealous with her so you wouldn't come. but it didn't work. you obviously didn't fall for it. you're obviously too smart for me. and you're obviously not interested in me.
Taki: wow. you didn't even flinch when i mentioned i'd come. this dismays me. but it is in keeping with your serial-killer persona.
Melbourne: i have to be stoic for my clients.
Taki: so you keep saying.
Melbourne: but the thing of it is, i'm terrified to death of air-racing. never done one before. i've had this recurring nightmare every time i've slept for the past year. it's always the same: i'm traveling in my air-racing plane and it goes wobbly after that first green bulkhead turn on the course, i can't control the nose, and the wings veer into a spinout. not a cloud in the sky. not a cloud in the sky. my small plane and me in it pilots erratically into the crash of a blue Formula 1 racecar with one line of white racestripe driving on the coastal road of a road race. the driver in this car? me. my last sight is nothing but blue ocean everywhere i look all around me.
Melbourne clutches his wrist.
Taki: um, can i use your bathroom?
Melbourne: where's my restroom? down the hall to your left.
Taki checks. the bathroom door is locked. figured. she returns to the bedroom. there, she sees a Mexican boy wearing a plaid shirt being pulled out by Melbourne's arms from under the bed.
Taki gasps in horror.