Some long-dead Earth philosopher had said, or written, or recorded a soundbite to the effect that most men lead lives of quiet desperation. From her lofty height of sixteen years, Aiko MacBeth believed it to be true. Not only men, she thought, but women, fuzzy asexual creatures from Arcturus, and probably even Hermat as well. Some dealt with it by crawling into a bottle. Aiko dealt with it by crawling into a SimPod.
They'd been introduced this year, the holopods. Some bright boy at the Colonial Office had done the math on one hundred and six thousand people sharing thirty-five SimDecks, and realized something had to change. Instead of SimDecks, the civilian areas of the station now sported the latest and greatest, SimPods. Three meter hemispheres in form, a whole bank of SimPods could be stacked in the space once taken up by a single SimDeck.
She stepped in, and the world changed. Color went away, leaving only shades of grey. She was in her apartment in Chofu, a down-scale neighborhood of Tokyo. She dropped her school backpack beside the wardrobe. Opened, it revealed her clothes. She stripped out of her school uniform, and replaced it with a man-tailored white linen suit and crisp silk shirt.
Not that it would stay crisp, she thought, sliding her Shansi type 17 pistol into the holster concealed at the back of her belt. Not this time of year. She stepped into the kitchen of the little apartment, pulled a highball glass out of the cabinet, and a bottle of Suntory white label from beneath the sink. Two fingers worth of single malt changed location from the bottle to the glass, and then into her gut. It was enough to take the edge off, without taking her edge. She returned the bottle to its hiding place, washed the glass, and left it to dry on the sideboard.
Outside it was raining. A Honda T360V with an advertisement for udon noodles painted on the side splashed through a puddle. Aiko picked up a newspaper, and held it over her head. Down the street, she could see the hot neon sign of the Mikado Club shimmering in the rain.
A voice spoke from the air, "Incoming communication. Kagurazaka Miyu. Do you wish to accept?"
Aiko sighed. "Yes," she said. Miyu was a pest. If Aiko didn't talk to her, the girl would start banging on pods until she found Aiko, and that would ruin the illusion, certain sure. There was a chirp as the line connected. "What?"
"Konbonwa!" the girl said. Which was a point in her favor. Miyu might be a pest, but at least she spoke Japanese. «Are you in a holopod again? What are you doing? Is it that Noir scenario?»*
«Yes, Miyu,» Aiko said, rolling her eyes. «And no, Miyu, you can't play with me!»
«Well, in that case, I guess I'll have to go spend time at your father's shop,» Miyu said. «I'll tell him all about my day at school, and....»
"All right!" Aiko said, switching back to Terranglo to capitulate. "Computer, permission granted to link my pod with Kagurazaka Miyu's pod."
There was a shimmer in the air. Miyu stood there, still dressed in her school uniform, but with a katana thrust through her obi.
"Elvis Christ, Miyu," Aiko said. "This isn't that kind of game. Katana were banned in the Meiji era. And can you try to not look like a rube?"
Miyu shrugged. "Who cares what I look like?" she asked. "No one's here to see me but you."
"I care, alright?" Aiko sighed. "At least let me disguise it." She made a gesture the computer recognized with one hand, and opened a control surface that floated in the air. A few deft touches, and the school uniform was replaced with a kimono.
"Ugh," Miyu said. "Here, let me do it." She took the control surface, and made more changes. After a moment, she was dressed in a cheongsam. "There."
"You do know this is Tokyo, not Hong Kong, right?" Aiko asked, sarcastically.
"So what?" Miyu asked rhetorically. "You're wearing boy's clothes. What are you supposed to be, some kind of gangster?"
"I'm the number three trigger man in Tokyo," Aiko bragged.
"So I'm your moll."
Aiko laughed. "You know what a moll is?"
"I'm a gun moll, okay? Not the other kind." Miyu looked annoyed for the first time. "What are we doing here, anyway?"
"You're annoying me," Aiko answered, "and I'm on my way to pick up a job."
«Shiny,» Miyu answered. «Let's do it.»
"Computer," Aiko called, "resume scenario." The rain began to pour with renewed vigor, and the two girls ran across the street, towards the glistening neon sign.
*Angle brackets indicate text in translation.
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