TUNE - Chapter 14


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         "Are you going sometime this century?" Yumi asked, staring wearily at Andy through the grid of circles punched out in the yellow plastic rack.

         "I'm thinking, I'm thinking," Andy said. Finally, he picked up one of his red checkers and dropped it into the middle slot.

         "Finally," Yumi exhaled. Then she promptly picked up one of her black checkers and dropped it into a different slot.

         The first couple of hours following Mo’s departure were incredibly frustrating. Andy's head was swimming from all the madness in the morning -- from the alarm incident and the revelation of Mo, to the mysterious pact between the obnoxious Kyderon and Yumi. Andy was dying to discuss it all with her, but Yumi immediately retreated into her writing again. If she was into her writing before, now she was on fire. There was so much to record. Her typing could not keep pace with the turbulent sea of speculation and questions churning inside her.

         But again, her journalistic duty was also a convenient way for her to deflect Andy. And truth be told, it embittered him. Yumi’s detachment set an incredibly uncomfortable, awkward tone for him in the cell. They had to find a way to be comfortable around each other if they were going to be stuck together for years to come. So when she finally took a break from her writing, Andy nagged her into a game of Connect Four. Something he and his Yumi played frequently. He thought it might make for good baby steps toward this Yumi seeing him as someone other than the shitty Andy back in her dimension.

         "I wonder what happened to Dash?" he asked, taking his turn again. "They've never skipped breakfast before. Do you think it's related to what happened this morning?"

         "Probably. I would imagine something like that would disrupt a business day," Yumi mused, dropping in another one of her checkers. Then she gazed out at the Praxian visitors loitering in front of their cell. “Whatever it was though, I’m surprised how quickly they swept it under the rug and got the place running as usual.”

         "Oh no, you don't,” Andy said, catching a diagonal stack of three black checkers. “I see what you're doing." He blocked her from a 'connect four' with the bravado of a mic drop.

         "So predictable," she muttered, dropping another black checker elsewhere in the grid.

         After a moment's silence, Andy caught her eyes and asked pointedly, "So are you going to tell me what you and Mo were talking about back there or what?"

         Yumi sighed. "For the fifth time, no. I told you, the fewer people who know about it the better. Just trust me on this. We need to keep quiet about Mo's little secret so he won't blow mine."

         "What secret?" Andy cried. "Come on, just tell me!"

         "Connect four," Yumi said, dropping in a game-winning black checker.

         "What? How-- Where-- Damn it! How did I not see that?" Andy pounded his head against the floor. They were laying in the bedroom, playing belly down on the carpet like kids.

         "All right, that's three,” Yumi yawned. “I win again."

         "Best four out of seven. Come on!"

         "No mas. Just give it up, dude, you're never going to beat me. I'm getting bored." She gave a glance toward the viewing window. "Looks like they're lovin' your show of sportsmanship though."

         A group of Praxian visitors were pointing and laughing merrily at Andy. He didn't know if it was the frustration over the game, or the frustration over the morning’s events, or just the result of being stuck in a cell for a month, but he snapped.

         "I am getting really sick of being stared at," he growled.

         Before he knew it, Andy found himself running down to the viewing window.

         "They really do get a kick out of watching us don't they?" Yumi mumbled. "Do we really seem so inferior to them?"

         Andy stood directly in front of the force field and barked at the Praxians like a yapping dog behind a fence. He knew they couldn't hear him any more than he could hear their cackling, but he couldn't control himself.

         "You want a show? All right, I'll give you a goddamn show, you sadistic bastards."

         His angry gesticulation only seemed to tickle them further. Boiling with anger and indignity, Andy spun on his heels and stormed toward the kitchen.

         Meanwhile, Yumi grabbed her notebook and moved onto the bed. "Well, I guess it's no different than the way we view our animals back home," she muttered, nibbling on her pen. "Maybe all those animals in our zoos are having the exact same thoughts as I'm having right now, but they just can't express it to us. How would we ever know?"

         Once in the kitchen, Andy raided the fridge for some eggs. He piled them into his arms and hustled back to the viewing window.

         "Maybe that's it," Yumi continued. "Maybe the animals in our zoos have all these thoughts too but they just don't know how to communicate them to us. Who knows, maybe that elephant at the San Diego Zoo is writing War and Peace II in his head but has no way to get it out. Or maybe all giraffes have an innate understanding of string theory but it's not important to them. How would we know?"

         The eggs splattered against the force field as Andy hurled them like a maniac at the Praxians. The crowd cheered, howling with laughter. The throng began to grow as more and more Praxians gathered to witness the "crazy human." Fuming with anger, Andy couldn't think straight anymore. He ran to his bedroom and came back with a marker.

         "But we can communicate with these aliens!" Yumi continued. "We can do complex mathematical equations! We've split the atom! We're highly evolved, intelligent creatures..."

         Before Andy knew it, he had his naked ass pressed onto the force field with a certain expression containing a four-letter word scrawled across his cheeks.

         "How do you like them apples?" he shouted angrily.

         "...aren't we?" Yumi finished musing, jotting down her wandering thoughts.



         "Connect four," Yumi yawned.

         "Okay, one more game!" Andy cried desperately.

         "Forget it. It's been an hour already! I'd have more competition from a Real Doll."

         Yumi tossed her chips into the Connect Four box. As Andy grudgingly followed suit, the service window opened behind them and Dash finally appeared holding two trays of food.

         "Lunch time," she said.

         Andy sprang up and grabbed his tray. "Oh, thank god! I'm starving!" He scuttled to his desk and dug in. Yumi took her tray and moved to the bed.

         "Okay, have a good meal," Dash mumbled and turned to go.

         "Dash, wait!" Andy called after her.

         Dash turned back around. "Yes?"

         "Hey, what happened to breakfast?"

         "Oh. Sorry about that. We were… busy this morning."

         "Did it have to do with all that commotion we heard? What the heck was all that? It sounded like an explosion! And gunfire! Is everything okay?"

         "I'm sorry, Andy, but I'm not allowed to talk about that."

         Then she simply stood there, gazing down at the floor. She looked terribly dispirited, as if she was being followed by her own personal raincloud.

         "Hey, are you okay?" Andy asked. "You look down."

         Her mouth began to tremble. "I… I'm being fired, Andy Go," she murmured with a choke.

         Yumi dropped her fork. "What?" she cried, food dribbling out of her mouth.

         "Today's my last day here," Dash sniffed.

         Andy stood up and rushed over to her in a daze. "What happened?"

         Dash tilted her head back and looked up at the ceiling, valiantly fighting the tears threatening to fall from her eyes. "Oh... I guess I just messed up one too many times. There was that time I was caught talking to you, then I lost my key to the Tuner the other day, and just yesterday I printed out a contract on single-sided sheets instead of double-sided like my dad told me a million times to do. That was the final straw. My dad totally snapped. So he fired me this morning and told me this was my last day.” She sniffled. "I deserve it..."

         "The hell you do," Andy exclaimed. "That dad of yours is a tyrant!"

         Yumi joined them at the service window. "I can't believe he would fire you just for that... His own daughter!"

         "The worst part is now I have to go back to my old job," Dash moaned woefully. "Working at the Feed station..."

         "Aw, Dash. Come here." Yumi reached into the window and wrapped her arms around Dash. The hug squeezed the tears from the Praxian girl’s eyes. They fell heavily down her invisible cheeks.

         "Now, now… Don't cry, Dash," Andy said, patting her tenderly on the shoulder. "Working at the Feed station doesn't sound so bad. You said the Feed is like TV, right? Isn't it fun working with celebrities and stuff?"

         "Andy Go, I told you, the Feed is not like TV in your world. That was simply the closest analogy I could think of. All I'm going to be doing is sitting alone in a dark room pushing buttons. I'll never get to work outside or travel to other dimensions or work with animals like you again... Plus I have to work the graveyard shift... It sucks!"

         She buried her face into Yumi's shoulder and stifled a few sobs. Andy didn’t knowing what else to say. Confounded by what was unfolding before them, the Praxians in front of the cell pressed their faces against the force field and gawked. After a bout of silent crying, Dash finally pulled away from Yumi and turned to leave. "Okay, I have to go... I have to feed the other animals. Have a good lunch. See you at dinner time..."

         With a sullen heart, Andy glimpsed Dash wiping her face on her sleeve as the service window sealed shut behind her.

         "Okay, bye, Dash," he called after her woefully.

         "See ya, Dash," Yumi murmured.

         Andy and Yumi stood in uncomfortable silence for a stretch.

         "I can't believe I'm saying this," Andy mumbled at last, "but I think I'm going to miss her."

         "Yeah?" Yumi asked softly.

         They stood quietly for another moment. Yumi waited patiently for Andy to process his thoughts.

         "Come on, one more game!" he erupted.

         "Forget it!" she huffed, stomping back to her food.



         Four hours later, dinner time rolled around and Dash appeared looking more dejected than before. She carried herself like a wilting flower. Her eyes were parched and red.

         "Dinner time," she said morosely.

         Yumi and Andy thanked Dash quietly and took their trays.

         "Well, I guess this is good bye then," she mumbled.

         "Yeah," Yumi murmured. "Best of luck to you, Dash."

         Andy tried to look cheerful. "Hey, you can always come back and see us as a visitor to the zoo, right?"

         "That's true," Dash sniffed. "I'll come by and wave to you sometime. But I won't be able to talk to you anymore." She took a moment to sneak a peek behind her. Having made sure her father wasn't around, she pulled out a small stack of paper from her work bag. "Or get your feedback on my artwork anymore..."

         "Jeez! You did all this in the last couple of days?"

         "I can't seem to stop myself!" A flash of her normal, cheerful self peeked through for a moment like a break in the clouds. "It… It makes me feel alive..." Then handing Andy the papers, she asked, "Would you keep these with the rest of my art, Andy Go?"

         "Of course, Dash. I'll make sure these never--"

         Suddenly he was engulfed in her arms.

         "Oh, Andy Go!" she croaked, squeezing him like an anaconda. "I'm going to miss you! I'm going to miss looking into your sketchbook and our late night talks and your art lessons..." Then she ruffled his hair with feverish affection. "You're such a good boy! Such a good boy! Yes, you are!"

         Andy was at a loss for words. "Uh..."

         "There's no one I can talk to about this art stuff anymore," Dash moaned pitifully. A big glob of tears welled up in the corner of one eye. "No one I can share it with. I'm all alone out there, Andy Go."

         Then she dropped her head onto his shoulder and began to weep. He felt a waterfall of hot tears spreading down his shirt. As Dash shed all her dreams and joy upon his shoulder, Andy's sympathy turned to pity, then pity turned to anger.

         "This isn't right," he muttered.

         "What?" Yumi asked.

         "This isn't right," he rasped through gritted teeth. "Art shouldn't be a crime."

         "Wait until you see my collage work on the cover of my Fourth grade binder," Yumi drolled.

         Andy hissed like a boiling kettle. "This is such bullshit!"

         "Hey, I agree with you. But it's their world. What about respecting other cultures?"

         "What culture? They have no culture! That's the problem!"

         With one last sniffle, Dash pulled herself up and rubbed at her drowning eyes.

         "Well, good bye, Andy Go," she whimpered. "I hope you enjoy your dinner."

         "Bye, Dash.” Andy's voice cracked with sympathy. "Come visit us soon."

         He watched Dash drag herself away down the narrow corridor one last time until the wall closed up again.

         After she left, Andy started flipping through her drawings as he ate. There was one of Andy signing his contract, one of Andy and Dash chatting as he took a dump, one of Dash walking Andy on a leash through a park, one of Dash throwing a ball and Andy chasing it. All drawn in a wonderfully innocent line, devoid of any self-consciousness or cynicism. Andy swallowed, fighting back a surge of emotion.

         "I can't believe you're getting sentimental over her," Yumi said, bemused. "She's one of the Praxians who duped you into a lifetime of incarceration, isn’t she?"

         Andy flipped to the last drawing. It was a portrait of D86. He looked furious as usual and the words "Work work work!" were exploding out of his monstrous maw.


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