A dark cloud would be just one more uncomfortable bump on any transoceanic flight, but the pilot and copilot couldn’t see it or detect it with their instruments. Even the normal filters of first class team recycling travel, which kept out the riff and for a minor additional fee the raff as well, could do nothing against this particular phenomenon.
There was a robotic stewardess on a track down the center aisle, magnetically attached to a drink cart full of goodies half the time. About an hour in, still close enough to the shore to make out the colorful layers of litter bobbing on the waves, the stewardess made its first trip to take drink and food orders.
It rolled right past Kanga, and he thought nothing of it, his mind dripping through the colander of his plan, distraught by all the holes. Even if this Cloudspin, the man with all his friend’s atoms, was there, it didn’t necessarily mean he would be interrupting and attacking the match. Monoxide had, according to her, only been at the last one to quietly sabotage a machine for later.
And if he did find this person, what was he supposed to do about them? The hacker had implied he worked with two others. Even with the lethal capacity of an altered kung fu slap he hadn’t been able to take on Monoxide alone.
The biggest hole of all was not something that could be solved; it was more of a gaping wound in his conscience. He hadn’t even thought about his teammates, or the members of the Hyderabad Chorus, until well after the Y2Kitten had cooled. They were now in harm’s way. If he revealed his misdeeds that would be the end of it, but he would wind up fired and imprisoned for his actions. He was certain of the latter, as he’d learned tampering with a public computer, including making it Y2Krazy, was a felony.
The secrecy had to stop, one way or another, in Estonia. Kanga resolved to put aside the match itself, to immediately hunt down the Millennials and force a confrontation so none of the other players had a chance to stumble into them. He would most likely die, but this runaway train, brakes cut since Winter, would finally careen to a smoking standstill.
“Can I get you something to eat or drink?” the stewardess asked Monique, who was seated behind Kanga, in its tinny intercom voice.
“No thank you,” she answered. The machine asked Tina in the window seat next to her, who also declined, before it turned and rolled forward.
“Yeah, can I get a-” Kanga started, but the robot rolled right past him and asked Barson in the next row.
“That was weird,” Leternau said, startling Kanga, who had forgotten there was someone sitting next to him. The alternate had been cheery lately, thanks mostly to Kanga sitting out so many matches. She had a strong chin with a dimple big enough to putt from and curly black hair that always stuck out from the bottom of her helmet when she was on her bounce bike. “Dumb thing didn’t even ask us. I could go for a grape soda.”
“It’s probably just a glitch,” Joey said to brush it off, but he almost wanted to go back to the subject when he realized Leternau was staring at him. “What’s with that look?” He cracked the most artificial smile of his life, including the ones in front of every flashbulb. “You’re not going to kill me to take my spot permanently are you?”
“No,” she said with a chuckle that was almost as manufactured as his joke. “I was just hoping we could talk; that’s why I sat next to you. Tina won’t really talk about it, and she told me not to bother you with it, but-” Her seat shuddered as Tina kicked the back of it.
“Knock it off Teeny,” Kanga said loudly enough for her to hear. “It’s fine; I’m fine. What is it Leternau?” She lowered her voice.
“How well did you know the four guys who died? And… I say four because I already know you and Winter were really close.” Kanga took a deep breath.
“Honestly, not very well. Winter, Tina, and I were kind of our own clique. Those guys were only with us for a season and a half. Three fresh faces and one trade from the Fond du Lac Voyage.” He looked past her, out the window at the gray clouds. “Chris Davidson, David Treyarch, Trey Matthews, and Matthew Crystal. We used to call them the chain gang, because of the way their names chained together like that. Not to speak ill of the… you know, but that was the most interesting thing about them.”
“So, nothing stood out about them to you?”
“It’s nothing… just that they got replaced really quickly.”
“You need seven reliables and two alternates to even play.”
“No I know, but even so. I didn’t get picked up until later. I just thought maybe the old guys knew the new guys and bequeathed their spots or something. Is that the right word?”
“A lot of teams have a diversity initiative now,” Kanga explained, “so people from all different communities get a shot at the game. Sammy and the others were picked up as part of that.”
“No kidding? They don’t get paid extra do they? I ask because I’m half Moroccan.”
“I don’t think so,” Joey said with a little laugh through his nose. The laugh turned into a lean, and he found himself overcome with a desire to divulge. With Juicy appearing much of the time he was alone, he hadn’t realized until now that he hadn’t shared any of his situation with another living soul who wasn’t on the run from the law.
“You know, the Millennials back at Baldigari lied straight to my face about them. They said they never killed that many players at once.”
“No way, they denied it!?! That’s nuts! Why would they do that?
“Probably because they’re evil,” Barson said, having twisted around and stuck his face between the seats. “Millennials are what happen when you don’t recycle a piece of garbage for too long. It grows legs and arms and starts spewing more garbage. Oh and, I actually did know Matt Crystal. You don’t give him enough credit Joey; he was a really nice-”
Sammy’s fingers crawled across Barson’s face and pulled him back. He scolded Kombo for butting into the conversation and told him to mind his own business, but he wasn’t the only one intruding.
“Oh, you’re back,” Leternau said. “Grape soda please.” Kanga turned and flinched, his arms shooting up to protect his face. The stewardess was right there, leaned so far into his personal space that there was no way any customer feedback-obsessed company would ever program it to do so.
He could see every detail of its manufacturing from the glossy painted stripes, orange and white like clementine slices atop a delicate vanilla sundae, down to the advertisement wrapped around its umbrella stand base. Its face, designed to be blank and calming, looked more like a knocked down mannequin watching the commission of a war crime at the moment. Its arms hung limply against Kanga’s armrest.
“Grape soda?” Leternau repeated. Kunk. The machine’s drink cart associate backed up and tried to push it forward again. Kunk. Kunk. Kunk. “This thing is giving me first class creeps.” She reached up to hit the call button and summon the human attendant, who was at that moment sitting in the copilot’s lap telling him how fantastic he was at flying.
“Don’t!” Kanga blurted, though he could barely twist under the stewardess’s dipping bird posture. Her finger curled back. If anyone investigated the robot they might find the shadow of a certain dark cloud in its code somewhere. “I uhh… I think it’s my pager,” he hastily lied, smacking at the device on his belt until it made a noise that added to his excuse. “It’s new, so I think most robots aren’t updated to deal with its signals yet. Can we just… switch seats?”
“No problem,” Leternau said slowly, questioning her own choice of used pager that didn’t seem anywhere near as cutting edge. She stood up so Joey could slither by her. That tactic worked; as soon as the stewardess’s intake fan didn’t have Kanga breath in it the machine stood back up and finally registered the alternate’s drink order. After handing over the purple can, a plastic cup, a plastic straw, and a napkin with three cyclical green recycling arrows on it, it rolled away.
With the encounter having killed their conversation, he tried to pass the time by selecting a film on the screen built into the back of Sammy’s seat. Normally the available entertainment was rarely older than two or three years, but the posters on display included a few films that were even pre-nineties.
A stolen glance at Leternau’s screen saw several recent blockbusters: Credit Cardians: Shopaholic Supreme, Cindy Wu Hu in Drop it Punk!, The Judge Julia Movie, and X gamers 8. The titles on his were a touch more pointed, a few sour faces under the hats on the posters looking quite specifically like the type of film noir where the protagonist wound up dead and posed at the bottom of a concrete staircase: Trapped in Europe, The Boy who Cried Murder, Sabotage at Midnight, and The Fool’s Errand.
He jammed his finger on the play button. It didn’t matter which film it started, as long as it obeyed. The screen went black, text fading in, but it didn’t identify the film studio or director. It was just a sentence. No, you don’t deserve a movie. Kanga practically broke his thumb on the off switch, the device thankfully unable to resist its function.
There was a worry weighing on him, making him slouch further into the seat with crossed arms, that the plane itself, clearly aware of his mischief, might decide to take a swim to get rid of him, but that felt like less of a dark cloud and more of a hurricane, so he was able to shut his eyes and force himself to sleep.
The Rockford Rendezvous was booked for just two nights in the luxury hotel nearest their arena, so Kanga thought it would be a simple matter to hole up in there and wait out the dark cloud. After setting down his bag he immediately unplugged the phone and the television, turning the latter around.
The clock radio on the nightstand might lie to him, so he bound it with its own cord and shoved it in the closet, alongside his powered down pager. When he was done stripping the room down to something one of the Amish could comfortably sleep in, he sat on the edge of the bed in the dim quiet, waiting to feel like he accomplished something.
His teammates were down in the heated pool, limbering up for the next day’s match, and he had been invited to join them, but it was growing more difficult to face them with each passing hour. He wondered if anyone would notice if he wore blinders out of the starting gate, to keep his focus.
“Juicy?” Of course she wasn’t there. His gifted rain forest was undergoing restoration and hadn’t made the trip with him, and even if there had been anything in the room capable of projecting a hologram he would’ve unplugged it.
He told himself he should’ve bought a book at the airport, and then he told himself ten other things he should’ve done, none of which changed the fact that he was simultaneously nervous and bored out of his mind. Bored out of his room to be precise, as he rushed out in casual clothes, hands jammed in his pockets and head down, barely ten minutes later.
The only thing he brought with him was his anyboard, but not the one used for matches. This model was his own property, its coloring and functionality much more drab, looking like a positively ancient skateboard that had achieved enlightenment and left its wheels in a storm drain somewhere. It was still plastered with stickers from his youth, the colors faded, but he would never peel them off. He had placed some, and Winter the others, and it warmed him that he couldn’t remember who had put on each one.
The city wasn’t far from the shore of the Baltic Sea, close enough for him to smell though he couldn’t hear or see it. The shops didn’t want him to forget, most of their wares similar to what one might find on a boardwalk back in the states. Candy shops with gummy ropes hanging in the window like beaded curtains. Mouthless eyeless mannequins in snorkels and goggles.
The beach was cordoned off in preparation for the crowds that would swarm it trying to view the match, and it had the side effect of emptying much of the shopping district. In his fuming wandering he wound up in the electronic entertainment subset of said district, which, thanks to it being the middle of a school day, was outright abandoned.
Following cracks in the pavement with the gliding tip of his anyboard, he was unaware as animatronic advertisements turned their eyes and heads in his direction when they were meant to simply scan back and forth. An entire shelf of virtual pets growled at him as he passed, their vibrations shaking a few of them to the floor.
Anyboards weren’t sidewalk legal in many parts of the world, but in Kanga’s experience people only complained if an amateur crashed and scratched something they were trying to glide over, like a hydrant or bike rack. He’d covered more distance on them than he’d walked in his entire life, so there was little chance of screwing up such basic maneuvers.
The lack of cars in the narrow roads made him feel even freer, so he sped up, gracefully swishing from one curb to the next in a wave pattern. Few riders, even among the skilled, actually understood how an anyboard’s internal processor made decisions regarding when to intensify its hovering power. They mostly assumed it was based on speed, factoring in the distance from the bottom or the nose to the nearest solid object.
What the mechanism actually measured was density, and, if properly opened up and tuned, it could differentiate between pockets of air at different temperatures. Kanga and Winter had worked together to modify theirs, giving them the precision of a cat’s whiskers. Winter had even made up a trick, one only possible with such modifications.
He had named it the bad breath bump, with the more advanced version being the 3b-360. Every city big enough to have its own recycling team had a case of bad breath, he had argued, and it came out in belches from the sewer system: methane and the warmth of decomposition. So to perform it you needed to gather speed before reaching an open manhole cover or drain.
The modified anyboard would catch the difference in air density over the opening, allowing him to roll over the wafting halitosis of Rockford, landing the nose while keeping the tail in the air with the other foot, and gliding to a stop. After he taught it to Kanga they believed they were the only pair in the world that knew how to pull it off.
“The grosser the city the higher you can get!” he had joked. “If Rockford wasn’t so nasty we’d never get the chance to clean it up.” Kanga slowed, one foot stepping off the board to stop it. Up ahead there was some street construction, taped off at a height he could easily lean and glide under. Past the barrier, next to some scaffolding, was a jagged hole in the street.
He would only be able to jump it if it connected to something underground venting one of the city’s impolite byproducts, but even if he couldn’t he could follow the hole’s curvature and jump on the way out.
Checking left, he saw nobody.
Checking right, he saw nothing but an arcade, most of its lights out except for a few machines so old and unwelcoming they were practically security guards. Since he wouldn’t be stepping foot on the popcorn hull encrusted and soda soaked carpet that was their territory, he doubted they would protest.
With both feet back on the board he crouched to build up speed. The 3b-360 involved one complete spin in the air, but that was for manhole covers. Theoretically, more spins were possible over a hole such as this. A 540? No, that was thinking small. He was risking everything these days. To be safe now was hypocritical.
His heart sped with his board. Crime. He had actually committed it, and not the offense of riding his toy around an empty street. Using new millennium code to tamper with public computers. Kidnapping and interrogating a Millennial without reporting her to anyone. 720. Two full spins was nothing to somebody willing to throw away the perfect life of fame and fortune.
Winter had to be somewhere. He couldn’t be gone. If he wasn’t in the Millennial body molded from the atoms of his old one then he was a spirit in the air, someone who had leapt from their anyboard mid-trick and vanished. If so they could speak again, only over that hole, riding a current nobody else even knew about, like threading the needle of one dimension and landing on the stitching of another.
Kanga zipped under the caution tape. There was the bottom, and it was dark. He grabbed the edge of the board and pulled, jumping at the same time. The air was there; he could’ve felt it even if the board didn’t respond. The spin began, racking up degrees like credit card debt. 180. 360. 540. 617 wasn’t an official trick, but it was where he was forced to stop.
Kish! The glass wall of the arcade shattered as something bulky, bright, and babbling barreled through it. The thing bent the scaffolding on its way out, causing enough of a lean for hammers and paint cans to come tumbling down. They had enough force to kill a man, but Kanga was pushed out of their path by the strange thing, wrapped up in something like arms that bruised his ribs and everything holding them in place.
They crashed in the hole, Kanga’s head barely missing the edge of the concrete. His anyboard landed the trick without him, silently gliding along the sidewalk before stopping just shy of the next corner. Shock had just as much of a hold on the recycler as the machine pressing against him, so it took several seconds for his wits to return.
His attacker refused to wait patiently, blasting the bleeps and bloops and virrt-der-ders of a video game’s menu screen music in his ears. When Joey reflexively tried to roll away it blocked him with a jab that embedded its fist in the dirt and rock beside his neck. His eyes followed its square metal wrist up its thick arm to its positively prismatic torso, somewhere between an old television and a laser show interpreted across a crystal chandelier.
“Player one press start!” it demanded in a distorted electronic voice. Kanga realized it was a robot, but an arcade cabinet as well, like they’d stuck arms, legs, and a small square head on one of the games just so they could say there was someone present to monitor the children so they didn’t vandalize the place or swallow too many tokens.
“Let me go!” Shouting hurt his fresh bruises, but what hurt more was the possibility his plan had already been derailed. If any of his teammates or the officials saw him wincing they might order an examination, and the injury could mean being pulled from play. Cloudspin wouldn’t wait for him to mend.
“Player one press start!” it demanded again. In trying to push it away Kanga’s hands found a joystick and six large buttons of varying colors. One of them must have been start, because the screen on the robot’s chest changed.
“I don’t want to play!”
“You only want to play!” It made a sound like a stale pizza crust fed to an intake fan. “You want nothing but to play! Nothing matters to you but the game! Put everything you have in the slot! Select your character player one!” Kanga guessed this was another effect of the dark cloud. The panicked thing dealt with his presence the only way it knew how, by centering him and getting his hands and wide eyes on the controls.
The game was not one he’d seen before, but it looked like a beat’em up, where musclebound characters shuffled, dukes up, from left to right and took on anything that got in their way. There were four characters to select from the menu:
JETHEAD! His head is a remote controlled fighter plane! Use his special to send it flying, the propeller chopping up thugs viciously. He fights to protect his disabled sister Himiko from figures in the Japanese underworld who believe she is the reincarnation of a powerful priestess. Kanga tried to select this dogfighting kickboxer, but the robot rejected his choice.
LADY RIGHTEOUS FIRE! Cloaked in the flames of her fury, nothing can stop her from claiming her vengeance. Use her special to indiscriminately turn everything to ash, even your own teammates! Kanga picked her, but she was disallowed as well.
THE REFEREEBRA! Half referee and half zebra, this unstoppable figure of law and order instilled justice in the African savanna. No blood is spilled without his permission, no matter how hungry the lions are. Use his special to penalize minibosses, taking them out of their own fight for thirty seconds while you thrash their henchmen. Kanga pressed, but it wouldn’t take.
SOLEMN GHOST! Invincible to most basic attacks, he doesn’t need anyone’s help, and he’ll let you know with a haunting wail! Chained by his own shortcomings, the ghost cannot rest until he realizes his unfinished business is long at rest already. Use his special to disappear and reappear in the realm of the dead.
“It’s not like you’re giving me any choice,” Kanga grumbled as he slapped the button. Solemn Ghost it was. A character like that hardly suited his play style, he thought. A protector, sure. Someone vengeful, definitely. A fair figure… well he didn’t consider himself unfair. But ‘chained by his own shortcomings’ looked like the robot was just insulting him. “What happens if I die?”
“You die!” the robot shouted in response.
“Do you mean out here!?”
“Level One! Treacherous Ice!” There was no time to ask again, as the gray masked ghost, long neck wound with chains, that was his avatar slid across the blue cracked ice on the screen. He was immediately swarmed by dwarf yetis rolling around like snowballs. Even in his shock and injury, Kanga’s hands responded.
He hadn’t been in an arcade in over a year, but there was a time in the youth of his ongoing youth where he’d been glued to such machines for hours at a time, even when they didn’t have heads of their own nodding along and encouraging him. Both Winter and Joey had known that it would take them exactly thirty-seven quarters to complete their favorite game gauntlet of Ion Blush, Gecko Sled Racing Extreme, and Professor Dread’s Wax Museum.
The last of those was a similar enough affair to the one before him now, perhaps even made by the same company. Controlling Solemn Ghost was, as gaming aficionados often described frustratingly light and wispy characters, ‘floaty’. His feet hung hovering off the pixelated ground without the help of an anyboard.
Once Kanga got the hang of his whipping chains he dispatched the growling yetis swiftly, making his way uphill to a windswept peak. There he bested the king of the yetis with the ghost’s special move, leaving only its skeleton, fog rising from its eye sockets, behind.
“There, I did it!” He slapped the space between buttons and stick. “Now let me go.”
“Level Two! Whirling Waters!”
“What? No, you didn’t say anything abo-” The level’s enemies were not concerned with his grievances, charging the ghost immediately. Kanga grabbed the controls and got right back to it, defeating scuttling squids with fishhook-tipped tentacles and tossing them off a pier into frothy whirlpools.
When he got to the second boss he tried to hit the pause button, but it was dead as silent film. The creature was a dolphin, inexplicably red. The shade was too familiar; it couldn’t be coincidence. Arcade cabinets had limited color palettes to begin with, so the idea that it had that perfect shade of monoxide-spiked punch was absurd.
“What the hell is this?!” Kanga snarled, unable to take his hands off the fight. Solemn Ghost’s long neck made ducking under the sonar ring attack very difficult. “Did the Millennials put you up to this?” It refused to answer. Kanga lost one of his three lives, not counting the one with blood pressure, to a surprise wave generated by a pump of the dolphin’s tail. His special meter wasn’t recharged yet, so he forced the ghost uncomfortably close and relied on highly damaging low kicks to get the job done.
“Level Three! Plummeting Sky!” The difficulty had steepened in the sky, his character forced to maneuver on a series of rubble platforms as they fell through the atmosphere. Notably the enemies he faced were skydivers, and with his mind now on the Millennials he couldn’t help but assume this had something to do with Cloudspin. Every time he dispatched one they left behind a headstone shaped like a dropping bomb.
“He’s not dead!” Kanga shouted, whipping the last of them away with a five button combination that sent a chain curling across most of the screen. “He taught this Cloudspin guy how to fly, I know it. I saw him invent it, with just a bad smell from a hole in the ground.” The robot had nothing to say, its mind lost as long as the game was being played. The next boss appeared just as the rubble crashed to the ground, emerging from one of the craters.
A monstrosity worse than the raw-looking dolphin, Kanga couldn’t even locate its weak point. The game was cheating. All bosses had a single weak point, be it a red pulsing knot on the head or a door on their chest that popped open to reveal a glowing green heart. This thing was a mess of humanoid limbs and faces, having nothing at all to do with the sky as far as he could tell. Some of its arms were white, some brown, and some black. Its faces were striped with all three like ice cream flavors sharing the same container.
Solemn Ghost tossed a chain at it experimentally, dealing a woefully small amount of damage, akin to tossing a cheese puff at it. He tried every move he could think of on it, even discovering a few he hadn’t used before in the process, but none of them were any more effective. He’d only gotten through about a tenth of its health bar when he lost another life to it. One left.
“I can’t do this by myself!” he complained, hoping the robot would insert itself as one of the other selectable characters and team up with him. The machine snubbed his request, and the palm thrusts of the monstrous boss pinned the ghost against the left side of the screen. Beaten to within a pinch of his foggy health bar, the ghost was spared at the last second, as something streaking across the background drew the boss’s attention. It scuttled away and left him there.
“Final level! Crystal Bowl!” Kanga moved on without questioning the strange stroke of luck. It was hard to get his mind off it however, for the newest level was an empty expanse of shimmering white. The ground curved downward gently in a way the sprite had never been intended to follow; it shuddered up and down the entire way.
“Where are the enemies?” he asked to more silence. Even with the challenge he liked it better the other way, swarmed with tiny weak foes. The quiet grated on him, the game’s music having given way to the hum of its internal fans. He could smell the sewer breath wafting up from underneath them. “Give me something to fight if you’re going to make me do this!”
The game only obliged when Solemn Ghost reached the bottom of the bowl, where the final boss stood waiting. A crystal golem with its arms crossed, toe tapping on the floor with a piercing note. Even digitized he recognized it as the sound of Crystalheart’s pulse. He didn’t wait for its villain’s taunt or speech, if it even had one. The infuriating emptiness had him chomping at the bit, so he whipped a chain out as soon as he was in range.
The blow cracked its crystal body, dealing massive damage. This was the inverted mirror of the last encounter. Where the beast from the crater had nearly infinite health the golem was almost immediately below half its vitality reserves. Where the former whittled the ghost down with an inescapable barrage of small strikes, the latter put everything it had into each blow. Its punches and stomps were slow, but its limbs radiated passion, expending itself so thoroughly that when it did land a blow on the ghost it drained some of its own health.
Kanga roared at the screen, fingers flying, goaded to greater and greater speeds by the sound of the crystal chipping away. The catharsis of destruction made him forget where he was; he no longer felt the dirt and gravel slipping down the back of his shirt or the stinging pains stretched across his chest.
She was all weak point. So vulnerable and so desperate to be defeated. Her heart got bigger as its pieces separated, like ice sheets cracking and drifting apart. It was impossible to miss by the end of it. She was gone all at once, no lingering death rattle, no promise to return in the sequel.
She was just shards at the bottom of the bowl. Solemn Ghost dropped to his knees, hitting the ground for the first time. He tried to gather up the pieces, but they fell straight through his hands. He bowed his head. The screen faded to black.
“I won!” Joey protested, smacking the screen this time. “What’s this art house film fading out garbage? Give me the ‘you saved the world!’ screen.”
“Player one wins,” the robot said dryly as if reporting disappointing election polls. “Claim your prize.” Something fell inside the robot, hitting everything on the way down. Beneath the lip of the controls there was a swinging plastic door and a bay for dispensing prizes, be they tokens, tickets, or toys. What eventually landed was none of those. Kanga lifted the flap and pulled out a rolled up glossy magazine, squeezed in the middle by a thick blue rubber band. He ripped it off, its vicious snap leaving a red welt on his wrist.
Unfurled he saw it was a recent issue of New High Score, a popular video game publication containing reviews, editorials, artwork, and coupons. The cover story was something about a gold minotaur in a home computer game where the player terrorized Greeks trapped in a labyrinth.
“What am I supposed to do with this?” he asked the robot, but its face was as dark as the cabinet’s screen. He couldn’t hear the fans. Looking down once more he flipped through it, noting that the tops of the pages were ripped in places. The tears looked fresh, indicating that magazines were never supposed to be one of the items jammed up inside the robot.
New High Score was a fine read, but hardly worth what he’d just been through. Kanga had a subscription to it already; there were three or four unread issues stacked up on his counter back in Rockford. Other than its poor condition there didn’t seem to be any reason to care about his prize.
Kanga kicked the machine, and was surprised when it worked this time. Its limbs were rigid; it made no effort to save itself as it slid further down the hole. All at once it disappeared into the darkness below, nothing but its splash in some foul water making it back out. The recycler turned and scrambled out as soon as it was gone, his fear of being spotted rushing back.
He collected his anyboard, letting it handle the effort of escaping while he caught his breath, magazine clutched to his chest with one arm. This was far worse than the stewardess. The dark cloud knew everything about him, tormented him with it like it was the phantoms from A Christmas Carol. And it was so blunt and tawdry as to do it with a video game.
“It’s because I broke another game,” Kanga whispered, swishing his feet to make one of the last turns before the hotel. “I didn’t respect the rules. I’ve got to find that guy… but I’ve got to win too. Have to make it up to everybody…”
“A great big welcome to all of you environmentally conscious citizeeeeeeeeens out in the staaaaaaaaands todaaaaaaaaay!” the English announcer boomed. Those citizens, distinguished from others by the ability to shell out two hundred dollars for seats around the starting gate, responded with a roaring cheer, and with clouds of confetti.
Many of the pieces were long, more like streamers, and had names written on them. They hoped that the wind would pick them up and suck them into the arena, that way when a player snatched them the camera might zoom in and broadcast the name internationally for a moment of trashy fame.
There was plenty of wind to pin their hopes on, some generated naturally but much of it coming from massive fans hidden deep in the rock. Blasting Shore Midair Entertainment used as its base a series of seaside rock formations, tall spires of porous black stone worn through in places by the surf.
Before investors got to it the place was merely a local curiosity, as the wind blown through its open places turned into a howling whistle. Sometimes, in the strongest storms, it would sing in argument with itself, almost like stars of opera fighting over a solo.
Since then it had been transformed, cordoned, polished, rearranged, empowered, and thoroughly marketed to whole families of all ages. In several designated openings one could rent a wingsuit, a flying squirrel leotard of sorts, and leap into one of the vents in the rock, experiencing a simulation of free fall.
Or if one preferred something a little more chaotic they could encapsulate themselves in a transparent sphere made of inflated plastic cells and get kicked around the subterranean tunnels by various randomized gusts.
Kanga looked up and saw some of the upper vents, sculpted to look like watchtowers, belch up a dome of garbage and swallow it all down again a moment later. He couldn’t stop himself from seeing the device from the dolphin park, that dark obelisk floating in the pool. Just like back in Florida, this place was an amusement park. Surely it didn’t operate with that level of trash present on any given day.
Nobody would want to roll around in one of those orbs if it was likely to pick up a milkshake smear in the first five minutes, like a hamster in its ball tossed into a fast food dumpster. He imagined floating, limbs splayed, over a gusting vent just to be smacked in the face by a citrus peel gone green.
“That’s why they called us,” he muttered, wrapping his hands around the metal bar of the starting gate. “It’s time for a cleanup.”
“Did you say something?” Kanga’s head whipped to the right as he remembered he was far from alone. Raffy was staring at him, hand stalled halfway through polishing his bounce bike with a red cloth. Joey looked past him hoping to find an excuse, and he found one in the form of the Hyderabad Chorus. The enemy team was clad in pearlescent white and a brave pink. They were speaking to each other in smiling Hindi and laughing loudly.
“What are they saying?” he asked Raffy, disguising his mumbling as scheming. Raffy glanced over at them.
“I don’t know.”
“I thought you spoke Hindi.”
“I do,” he rushed to say before pointing at his ear and then at the crowds behind them. “Too loud. I can’t hear them.” He went back to polishing to end the conversation. Either they had said something he didn’t want to repeat or he was embarrassed that he had grown rusty in the states, as Joey could clearly hear them thanks to their ringing confidence. They were currently 11-4 after all and they weren’t quite as jet-lagged as the American team.
Whatever bothered Raffy couldn’t have been as important as the match or the crisis it contained, Joey decided. He put himself to focusing, locking his feet into his anyboard and testing its hovering swish. He hadn’t played since Baldigari, and he was pleasantly surprised by how fluid the motion of his ankles was. He chalked it up to the warmer air compared to the snowy mountain.
None of that warmer air contained a plane or helicopter, not yet anyway. The Millennials were strange monsters with bodies like multitools, but he doubted that any of them were capable of powered flight, let alone having the ability to carry in and drop a team of their peers. It was on its way, surely. They always attacked in the middle of matches, so of course he couldn’t see anything yet.
The countdown started. Two victories. He needed to pull them both out of the porous stony monolith before him. Keep high, he told himself. There was plenty of recycling to be had up there, he could already see it, and that would keep him close to where the terrorists would land. If he could he would try and collide with Cloudspin on the way down, drag him into a deep crevice between the winds and force answers out of him. There wasn’t time to fantasize about Winter’s personality spilling out of him, declarations of undying friendship and faith or anything else, because the countdown was on three.
Kanga rechecked the straps of his compression backpack. Wiggled his toes inside his flexible shoes. Leaned. Two.
With Raffy to his right and Monique to his left he was flanked by two bike riders. Their bulkier vehicles would protect him from interference on the opening stretch, but once they were in the rock the bikers would trend toward the lower levels while the lighter boards navigated the narrower and more winding tunnels. One.
“Reeeeecyyyyyyycle!” the announcer screamed as the gates flew open and rattled on their hinges. There was no slope this time, all fourteen vehicles speeding into the lobby-cave of the establishment and quickly leaving the shuttered gift stores and equipment stands behind.
The air was so fresh that he lost himself in it momentarily. He couldn’t smell city, or sweat, or the aura of a hotel’s clean towels. His muscles loosened and his chest stopped complaining about the robot that had tackled it yesterday. He remembered that he loved the game.
There was a narrow shaft up ahead, too narrow for the cautious player, but Kanga knew he hadn’t been that for a long time. He leaned forward, smirking when he saw the Chorus instead turn away and head for a much wider passage. On his way he lowered both his hands, snagging napkins, straws, and a personal pizza box before feeding them into his pack at the last possible second.
As he hit the shaft he thought he understood how the trash felt; control was wrenched from him by the wind. It tossed his board end over end like the stick of an ice pop, showing no concern for the flailing thing stuck to it. If he struck his head it would be a disaster, so Kanga tucked into a ball and waited for a moment where the bottom of the board lined up with the curve of the wall.
When it happened he stood and stiffened, treating the wall like everything else his anyboard had casually hovered over. He spiraled up the shaft now, his board leaving behind a corkscrew trail of lively light.
An orthodontic retainer drifted by his face. He snagged it and tossed it into the pack; now was not the time to be squeamish. The shaft was a goldmine, or, given the flurry of it all, one of those prize booths where they locked one up with a fan and a thousand dollar bills to grab. Joey swept his arms like a filter feeding organism, wiping everything that caught onto his back.
Most of what he caught was paper products, but the weight tracker on his wrist climbed quickly regardless. He was already close to a pound when the shaft suddenly ended. He was blasted with sunlight and the smell of the ocean. Turning away from it as gravity reasserted itself put him facing the stands. He waved.
Hundreds must have waved back. Hundreds of people who thought he was selfless, who thought he deserved every last cent and luxury he had, simply because he could ride the upward momentum.
The children came back to his mind; the sicker they were the clearer he saw their faces. Guilt pulled on his windpipe. Should he have cared more, or at least pretended to? It wasn’t like he turned them away, but he also couldn’t be the creature they thought he was, the stainless unicorn galloping through the rolling meadows of fame and talent.
He was a garbage collector, yet the man in the gray jumper who showed up riding the corner of a gobbling truck every week didn’t get the same recognition. Joey was thankful when Blasting Shore swallowed him up again.
At the apex he’d gotten another good look at the sky, and there was no sign of his target. His spin also let him see the top of the facility and the dozens more shafts that terminated above it. That was his strategy: move from one to the next gathering everything trapped in them while checking the sky each time.
A good plan, until he hit the ‘blast’ part of the Blasting Shore. Trying to go down one of the shafts while it was blowing turned out to be impossible, dashing him on the porous black roof like a crash-landing pigeon. He righted himself quickly, boarding between the vents, waiting for any of them to rest.
There was enough refuse up there to occupy him, so returning to the depths wasn’t urgent. As he carefully selected the heaviest looking pieces of metal and glass his board hitched. He must’ve missed a large item, so he pulled back, lifting the board’s nose off the rock, and swiveled around.
The sight of it made him stop and drop to his knees. A yellow eye, so freshly dead that it looked like a glossy egg yolk, stared up at the sky. Its beak was locked open in desperation. Not a cry. Not a dying titter. It could only be the final attempt at a breath. That was all the creature wanted. To work.
Its neck and left wing were caught in a set of six plastic soda can rings. The gull must have thought itself lucky, with geysers of human food waste all around, never considering there might be something off about all the little hard pieces it swallowed. Pebbles would just pass through its system as they always had before.
Kanga didn’t think about it choking to death. He saw past that. A bird that choked on trash was one that successfully ate trash for years prior, trash that usually hung around in its gut, forming a tangling clog of fishing line, plastic bags, nails, screws, bottle caps, and other components of American dream runoff.
An animal like this was a treasure chest, hinged lid replaced with skin and greasy feathers. Coach Linejaw called them ‘guilty pleasures’, likening them to chocolate liqueur filled bonbons. They were delicious little finds, having hoovered up recyclable material all their lives. With a bird that size, adding it to his canister was possibly another pound or two right there.
The guilt came from how messy of an eater the compressor on his back could be. It automatically rejected organic materials that didn’t meet its standards, and such a fast rejection was really more of a shredding. Tossing a whole animal carcass into it resulted in a gory splash, staining you as cruel or callous in the eyes of the audience.
Eating them and turning them into score was bad publicity, but there were no cameras above the shafts. There wasn’t a soul watching unless there was a Millennial a mile above him with telescope eyes. So why was he stalling? The player in him was salivating at the thought of this cooked goose. He was wearing regulation gloves thick enough to prevent cutting himself on any of the glass or metal, so there wasn’t really any risk of disease.
Perhaps it was the striations of white underneath the litter, so dry in the rock that they were practically part of it. Bird droppings, and more than one lonely gull could ever produce. Perhaps they had lived there, forcibly evicted from their nests when redirected gusts broke right through the bottom of them and dashed their colony’s future on the rocks.
“It’s already dead,” he told himself. There was no sense in leaving its hoard there to spread again once it decomposed. That would be wrong. He grabbed it by the neck and the free wing, but the neck was so soft he reflexively let go. It was only when he imagined the judgmental look he might receive from a Millennial leaning out the sliding door of another flight-capable Millennial that he was able to spitefully toss it over his shoulder into the canister.
Zirfitchitch! The seabird was gone instantly, and there was now over three pounds stowed away for the Rendezvous. He didn’t turn his head to avoid seeing any feathers drifting to the ground, but he couldn’t ignore the splash of blood across the back of his neck. The droplets, sun baked to a consistency that could only be called death warmed over, felt far heavier than his pack. He prayed his uniform was tight enough at the neckline to keep it from running down his spine.
One of the vents finally ceased its incessant exhalations; Kanga dropped down into it without hesitation. It took him deep and dropped him in a domed chamber with a fan beneath him. Painted bright blue and separated from him by three crisscrossing layers of safety bars, its spin combined with the base energy of the anyboard and suspended him in the air.
As he searched for another way out he spun slowly, assaulted by advertising posters lacquered to curved walls all around him. Their smiling faces elicited a growl from the ornery recycler. Presumably people had already paid through the nose just to experience the park’s trademarked version of the atmosphere, so why swarm them with more requests to empty their wallets? It was like the owners couldn’t rest until all of the experience was extracted from the experience and replaced by anticipation for something else. There was no opportunity for things to settle as the rock itself had done for hundreds of thousands of years.
One of the faces looked far too real, but that was because it belonged to a woman from the Hyderabad Chorus. She dropped into the dome much as he had, her board leaving a pale pink trail as she rode the sides and collected cups and french fry sleeves. She smiled at him, bright yet dusky skin sparkling with exuberant exertion.
Eager to prove he could still feel that way, Kanga’s mind snapped back to the game, though he had to breast stroke awkwardly through the air to get close enough to the wall for his board to respond. Between the two of them they cleared the air in under a minute, both of their gazes locking onto an exit they hadn’t explored yet.
She was good; he could tell that from her confidence alone. Women tended to be naturally better on the anyboard the same way they outclassed men as gymnasts. Their generally lighter weight meant the board could get away with crossing wider gaps or hop that much higher over an obstruction.
Joey raced her anyway and managed to tie, the two of them squeezing into a shaft that could barely contain them. The only way to to stay neck and neck and not crash into each other was to cooperate, each take a side and stay there, resulting in a tight spiral of pink and red down the shaft at thirty miles an hour like a candy cable extruded faster than what the sticker on the side of the machine would ever recommend.
There was an urge to grab her and stuff her into his chest like more trash into his pack. She had what he wanted: the simplicity. It was still just a game to her. No terrorists. No movements. Nobody telling her that everything she did was actually a step cushioned by the sensitive toes of countless others.
She might’ve even been happier than he’d ever been. As an Indian woman she was likely in high demand among the North American teams. If she left Hyderabad she could probably quintuple her salary playing for New York City or Washington D.C. The whole nation was in a frenzy to have the most diverse team, the same marketing initiative that had quickly replaced his murdered teammates on the Rendezvous.
He was keeping up with her, but she had to go and ruin the mood sizzling between them like the burning edge of a roux. Concern softened her expression; she put her hand on the back of her neck and then showed it to him, but there was nothing there.
“Blood,” she said, shouting the word over their wind and all the other winds waiting to ambush them. The gull’s blood. She’d seen it and thought he was injured. Kanga tried to wave away her concern, scrunching up his face and shaking his head, but she was unrelenting. Even at those speeds, even with that level of spin, her unblinking stare told him she only cared about his well-being in that moment.
She was saying she was better. She could prioritize. There was room in her to care about everything, whereas Kanga wound up covered in blood he couldn’t see, feeling its travels across the sensitive hairs of his neck when he should have had his eyes on the numerous tetanus-coated prizes all around.
He had to lose her. As soon as the passage widened he veered away. Another current of air found him, allowing him to almost double his speed though it took him deeper when he wanted to head back up and search for Cloudspin.
To get his head back in the game he thought about glass, and how there was almost none of it to be found. That was good; it wouldn’t be safe to use Blasting Shore as an arena if the winds were impregnated with sharp shards. Of course, that implied the recycling had been curated…
No, that didn’t help him score and that wasn’t the point of his train of thought. He had to ignore the forces that kept switching the tracks on him. The point of thinking about the glass was to change his strategy. Without such high scoring items available, and with such a flurry of paper products, he needed to stratify them, to prioritize the denser ones.
Soda cups and cutlery were the winning choices now. Any weight that the napkins had was due to the stains on them, and the compressor would burn those away the same way it had the flesh of the-
He passed a camera mounted in the stone, protected by a glass dome. It was in sight just long enough for him to see its lens turn and follow him. Someone was remotely operating it, focusing on him, letting every single person in the stands see on the surrounding monitors. They might see the darkness on his neck as well, and depending on the quality of the video he may or may not be able to play it off as a sunburn from Estonia’s lovely beaches.
Joey ducked and went deeper. He snagged napkins and rubbed the back of his neck, disposing of the evidence in his pack. The deeper he went the darker it was, and that darkness might protect him further from the cameras.
Ten minutes passed. The same woman from Hyderabad passed by as well, but only once. After that he didn’t see another soul. Driven away from the main attractions, Kanga was sure he’d put himself in an older part of the park, perhaps currently under renovation. There was still plenty of litter, but they were past halftime now and he still hadn’t located the scorekeeper.
The most shameful loss as a recylcer was one where they failed to find the goal, and wound up hauling fifty pounds back and forth for nothing. If he came across any of his teammates he could ask them if they’d found it yet.
By then it was clear he had failed in one of his two goals. Cloudspin wasn’t coming. The Millennials never waited until the end of the match to attack, as that was when most of the players gathered around the Shinjuku engine they planned to subvert. Instead they struck more tactically, when the officials or players they targeted were isolated with the device.
Enduring the dark cloud had served no purpose. Worse, he’d made himself a cyber-criminal for nothing. It had never been a sure thing, he remembered. He hadn’t found an RSVP from the terrorists anywhere among the grimy napkins. What bit him even more was the delayed realization that the cat-faced hacker might have not kept their session in confidence. She had told him about her other clients, so what reason did she have to keep his plan a secret? She likely warned them in exchange for another payment.
“Just win,” he growled in the dark depths, surprised he could hear himself. The wind had died down. The walls were damp but smelled soaked. Napkins and other refuse were caked to the bottom of the passage, having turned into sickening spotty jelly in the moisture. He glanced at his wrist: just seven pounds. To make matters worse he hadn’t compared with any teammates, so he didn’t know how low that was for this arena.
“Man… gross.” Kanga recognized that his best shot was right below him. The napkin slurry’s weight came mostly from water, but the compressor wouldn’t get rid of all of it. He could probably sneak in a few extra pounds that way. He closed his eyes and squatted down as his board scooted along slowly, energy around the nose leaving gooey ripples in the pale gray gunk.
He dipped a gloved hand into it and scooped out a glob that made a sound like a wasp nest used as a pastry bag when it smacked against his pack. That was when he wished for the return of the winds, and he wished for it with greater force than all of his birthday, shooting star, and well donation wishes up to that point combined.
The smell of the stuff was horrific. On the surface it was merely bad, like the seat of a portable toilet, but once he skimmed the skin off the top it unleashed the full brunt of it, enough to make his stomach perform a trick better than anything he’d ever achieved on his anyboard so as to spin itself closed and cut off the thousand bacterial infections surely living at the bottom of the pile.
Comparisons flooded his mind as he scooped more and more of it into the compressor. Cotton swabs impregnated with rotten tartar sauce. Someone shipping gallons of rice pudding via unlined cardboard box. A used dental floss bird’s nest dripping with fresh hatchling fluids. Kanga’s breath hissed through his teeth, his nose possibly condemned for the rest of his life.
It was working though, his score climbing swiftly. The outer skin of the napkin slime had been pale, mostly white splotched with blue, but each layer grew darker as he got closer to the bottom. His gloves scraped against rock; one finger went deeper than the others. A crack? His curiosity got the better of him, so he dug at the spot rather than plow his way forward through the stained muck.
When he peeled back something that might’ve been a personal pizza box at one point he found a fissure in the rock. Fresher air wafted up through it, and there was light as well. He pushed the wet garbage out of the way on both sides with his forearms and then stuck his eye down close to the stone.
It was another chamber, quite well lit. He held his breath when he heard a snippet of conversation.
“…and their physicals came back clean?”
“Course they did, it hardly does anything to them. They said they had sunburns more uncomfortable.” Kanga froze. He knew that second voice: coach. What was Roger doing down there? The recycler pressed his cheek against the stone, ignoring how wet and slimy it was. It hurt his eye to look that hard, but when he did he caught the edges of two giant machines.
The scorekeeper? No, there would only be one, but Shinjuku engines were shipped around in small groups in case one of them needed maintenance mid-match. The chamber he spied on must have been outside the arena, perhaps a loading dock for Blasting Shore. Coach Linejaw’s thinning hair stepped into sight. There was another man next to him, in a suit judging by his dark shoulders. His hair was slicked back with so much gel Kanga could practically see his eye reflected in it.
“It can’t be worth it,” the slicked back man said skeptically.
“You can skip cultural sensitivity training,” Roger said, “and that alone saves us 10k a year. We don’t need to fly anybody in and out, we don’t need more tryouts, and we don’t need to worry about any of them getting a bee with a law degree in their bonnet and suing us. We’ve had zero issues… and their performance tracks too. Same as they were before.”
“Aren’t blacks better? Basketball and football are full of them.”
“Maybe if you make them black on the inside, hehe.” Roger’s head shook, wispy sweaty hairs flapping back and forth. “I don’t think anybody knows how to do that. Besides, you want a little bit of everything for the pictures.”
“I’d never do it,” Slicked-back insisted. “With LIRIC owning these things you can’t guarantee access. What if you get stuck?”
“So you spend a few extra months being tan and trendy. No big deal. Heh. Watch.” Kanga did just that as Roger approached one of the engines and started fiddling with one of its control panels. The machine rumbled to life like a giant washing machine. The coach’s star player hanging in the sky above him was stunned. Why did he even know how to operate it?
Apparently he couldn’t run it as well as he did his team, as it was full of knocking and chugging sounds Kanga wasn’t used to hearing. Its face generated some of its characteristic swirling energy, but only some at the edges instead of the full portal that ate garbage and men alike.
Roger rolled up his sleeve like he was about to unclog a sink drain, looking at Slicked-back and smirking before he plunged his forearm into the transparent lapping edge of the energy. Kanga’s gasp filled his nose and throat with the moist stench, but now he hardly noticed it. Instead he was mesmerized.
With each pulse the power of the Shinjuku recycling engine darkened Roger’s skin tone. His arm went from mayonnaise to golden toast, then to cinnamon, down to hot chocolate, and landed on black forest gateau. That was when he pulled it out and held it up, flexing all his fingers to show that there were no ill effects.
The effect stopped abruptly at the elbow, where the skin beyond remained his typical Wisconsin pale. Slicked-back was amazed, but refused to high-five the altered limb as if it might be infectious. Roger shuffled back, his gut pumping up and down as he mimicked dribbling with his black arm. He took a three-point shot toward the engine, but his feet couldn’t quite make it off the court.
“You know… you want to give it… a shot,” the winded coach said, mismatched hands on his knees.
“No way man,” Slicked-back said with a snorting laugh. “My team’s going to stick with the old way.”
“Don’t be such a baby,” Linejaw teased, walking his associate over to the active machine. “Look, we’ll start you off light. It barely tingles. What do you want to be? Puerto Rican? Hawaiian? Doesn’t your wife have a thing for that Spanish guy on that cop show?”
“Okay, okay. Just one minute. Give me that Spanish tan, just so I can decide if I want to head to the beach and try to force it myself.”
“Heh, that’s the spirit. Open your hand.” Roger rolled up the man’s sleeve and eased his arm into the flow. It only took a second for it to go from sun-kissed to sun-French-kissed. Slicked-back reflexively pulled away as soon as he saw the change. “What’d I tell you? Hardly feels like anything.”
“Actually it feels… sexy,” he said, rubbing his chest with the altered palm. “I’m still not interested… but I’d be letting my boys down if I didn’t cover all my bases. Do you… have a guy or something?”
“Yeah, we have a coordinator,” Roger confirmed. He reached into his pocket with his white hand and produced a business card that he handed off to Slicked-back’s paler side. “He’s got experience on the engineering side with these things. He’s the one who taught me to do this little hide trick, but if you asked me to do a face you’d probably wind up looking like a chewed piece of pepperoni.”
Roger checked his pager and swore, noting that the Rendezvous were behind in the score. That pushed Kanga’s eyes back up through the crack and reminded him he was about to fail in his other goal. He watched his coach and the other man return to the machine and put their arms back in, but he couldn’t linger, so he just assumed they were returning their limbs to normal before shutting the engine off.
The recycler pressed forward, far enough that he was confident Roger couldn’t hear him through the crack, and resumed shoveling the whitish bluish slop into his pack. Thirty odd pounds of it were dehydrated down to only six according to his wrist indicator, which also told him that ten minutes remained in the match.
He had to abandon the filthy fissure and begin his search for the scorekeeper. In a way he was relieved to be in such a frenzy. His mind had to be divided up among the circular passages in the rock and the conflicting wind patterns that threatened to dash him on the sides, with a thought spared for every soda cup and straw that flew by his head at sixty miles an hour.
There was nothing left to contemplate what he’d just seen. All he knew for sure was that he hadn’t seen any recyclables down there, just wealthy middle-aged men being a little too disrespectful with the machine that powered their profession, just riding their bikes with their hands off the handlebars. Their dark hands…
“Look Out!” Joey swerved, twisting his forward ankle to a degree that would impress an owl’s neck. Despite the stinging pain traveling up to his knee he managed to stay upright, his board losing a little paint to the rock. The gust had kicked up once more from a passage to the left, bringing with it Tina on her anyboard. Her hair was a windswept mess, and he had the feeling she would’ve been covered in sweat if the droplets hadn’t been blown off her like the drying phase of a car wash. “Where have you been?” she asked as they both stabilized.
“Here and there,” he answered. The words felt strange in his throat, like he hadn’t spoken in a year. “Did you find the finish line?”
“Yeah, and I’m heading back there. Follow me.” She crouched, taking the lead. Kanga slotted into her board’s trail, his ride a little smoother thanks to the residuals of her board’s force under his.
“I think we’re going to lose,” Kanga said without thinking. Tina’s head whipped around, doing her hair no favors.
“Why would you say that?” He didn’t know how to answer. It only just occurred to him that the players never knew who was ahead until the end.
“Bad feeling,” were the words he settled on. “I don’t have a lot. I thought I found some good stuff, but it was mostly water.”
“We lost Barson five minutes ago,” she informed him. “He’s fine, but he bent his bike like a fortune cookie.”
They continued on in silence after that. Their tunnel joined up with a larger one, then to one nearly as wide and tall as a plane hangar. Other players for both teams converged on their position. The Chorus was all smiles, and once their squad was complete they started singing. Even out of breath they were in tune with each other, their song good enough to sell CDs. Perhaps that was what they were doing, as plenty of cameras and microphones were trained on that final stretch to the Shinjuku engine.
“Hey Kanga? You’re saving our butts right?” Raffy asked as he pulled up alongside the pair of anyboarders on his bike.
“I’m under thirty… total,” Joey admitted. His teammate’s expression sank. Joey looked away, but all that got him was a clear view of that woman from Hyderabad, the one so irritatingly concerned with his safety. She sang along with her friends, but she was looking at him, eyes asking if he was alright all over again.
He pushed his board to maximum speed, pulling ahead of everyone else. Time was almost gone, and nobody saw the need to dash around and snag the last pieces of plastic film drifting in the air or pasted to the wall with a smear of peanut butter. It was clean enough to win, and clean enough to lose.
As soon as he reached the scorekeeper he swerved to a stop and ripped off his compressor pack. The recycling portal swirled in front of him and for a moment he felt twin daggers of terror in the back corners of his jaws. He felt like he was stood on the high dive, staring down at a pool of… something. Everyone insisted it was water, but his gut told him differently. He wanted to warn the others away from it, this dangerous maw of rearranging, this sedentary pit of rebirth horror shows.
“Fifteen seconds Joey!” Tina barked at him. He heaved the compressor into the portal; it clanged off the side once before spiraling away down the center and vanishing under its surface. He watched the display on the front tick up to a grand total of 307.4 pounds. His heart sank and he turned away, fearing that if it sank any more in front of the scorekeeper it would claim the barely beating organ as another offering.
The other players pulled up and tossed theirs in as well, mostly just the last pound or two of their final efforts, as all had visited it at least once already. Within the engine’s bowels the canisters were shredded on a molecular level, the recycling material separated and formed into ingots, and then the canisters rebuilt, down to their perfect coats of paint for each team, and deposited in a tray alongside the engine with a series of loud clanks.
In the end Hyderabad had nearly 400 pounds. It was an almost absurdly high score considering the percentage of paper products in the overall yield. The Rendezvous had been trounced, all hopes of losing with dignity gone when the difference between their score exceeded forty pounds.
Kanga felt buried. It didn’t help that people clustered around him, not in the warmth of a victory huddle, but in the shoulder-bumping discomfort of a public urine-scented bus ride. Worse than that, people were touching him without acknowledging he was more than a body. Team officials took his safety gear, wiped his face down with an exhausted oily towel that felt like he was its tenth facial appointment that day.
They corralled him and his dejected teammates to a stone platform behind the raised victory box where the Chorus were being interviewed by the main anchors of all the sports channels. The Rendezvous got the interns, asking their questions slowly, both holding their microphones too close to their own lips and then too close to the lips of their subjects.
Kanga wasn’t aware of much beyond the shrink wrap of numb sadness confining him. It actually took one of those far-too-close microphones to get him to acknowledge that the people there were people, and not congealed globs of drenched processed paper he was supposed to shovel down various chutes.
“With this being your first match since your heroics at Baldigari, do you think you’re still suffering the effects of your injuries?” Joey was an inch from casually admitting that he’d suffered things far worse since those cuts and bruises. There was a sucking curiosity beneath his heart, like staring off a cliff with the edge of his toes dangling, that wanted to see how the world would react to his unhappiness.
“No, I am fully recovered,” he lied. “I made a poor decision in regard to a deposit I found low in the course. I spent too much time and energy basically shoveling water into my pack. That’s why we lost today; it was my responsibility.”
“We’re all responsible,” Tina interjected before the microphones could swarm him and beg for elaboration. She’d done it before, knowing all too well how he could shut down and freeze when publicity pressure was applied. What a friend she was, somebody who actually knew him, not like that lying woman on the Chorus, pretending to care when she didn’t know anything but the presence of blood on his neck and hands.
“Our training back home focuses mostly on prioritizing heavier materials,” Coach Linejaw added. Kanga stopped blinking at the sound of his voice. The recycler considered snatching a microphone, perhaps taking the hand with it, and shoving it in the coach’s face. There were questions that needed answering. He stared at Roger’s arm, the one that had been artificially darkened. It looked ordinary now, though perhaps the profuse hair on it was a little curlier than on the other arm. A mistake made as he rushed back from whatever back-alley deal that was to the field.
“It’s probably my fault for distracting my Joey too much. Don’t worry; we’ll get them next time.” The whole platform went quiet. Kanga couldn’t move. The voice wasn’t in his ear, but it sounded like it was supposed to be, like it was bounced off ten different spots in the rock just to get to him.
Without looking over he felt a tingle on his shoulder, an electric emotional weight exactly like his last kiss. There was a song in the thin hair on his arm that could make it curl far more than Roger’s. What was she doing there? He didn’t care how; there were hundreds of cameras and projectors and speakers and cables all around them. One or many contributing to her presence didn’t matter. All that counted was her presence, her imitation arm wrapped around Kanga’s shoulder.
“It’s Juicy Stardrop!” one of the interns gasped. The other Rendezvous players had backed away, as if Joey’s left side had spontaneously combusted and they were covered in its gore. When Kanga finally managed to turn his head, like a millstone grinding against the grit that had built up over a century, he saw her.
She hadn’t repeated an outfit since the concert where they first locked eyes, and this time she was wearing something like a motorcycle jacket, but only the top half. It was as blue as a sky with sports drink clouds, and too tight to have wrinkles. Her short hair hung as straight and low as it could, shimmering like streamers. There was a line of pale opalescent color down the middle of her lips, like a god had tried and failed to shush her, leaving a mark in the process.
“Miss Stardrop! Over here!” an eager intern yelled. “Does this mean the rumors are true?” She hopped up and put her microphone, boxed in by a cardboard advertisement for one of her network’s programs, right up to that opalescent line. The gesture was pointless, since the pop star’s voice was in the machines all around them.
“And what rumors would those be?” Juicy asked coyly.
“The rumors that you and Mr. Reuben here are boyfriend and girlfriend!”
“Oh that? All of you are so far behind,” she teased. “That’s been true for ages. At least, I feel like I’ve known him for ages.” Once again a thirteen-year-old version of Joey tried to speak up within him, to tell him that all his dreams had come true. He was celebrated on the international recycling stage and he was holding hands with Juicy Stardrop, but the rest of him quashed that cracking voice.
Worst of all the expressions was Coach Linejaw’s. He looked both stunned and betrayed, as if Joey had reached into his pocket and somehow pulled out Roger’s entire stock portfolio. Such a relationship was an absolute boon of advertising opportunities, and the selfish player had kept her all to himself.
“Joey, over here, way over here, what’s it like dating a hologram?”
“Can you give us a kiss!?”
“Are you worried what the Foundation for Family Wholeness will say about this relationship? They’ve criticized your lyrics in the past-”
“Was this a decision made by your publicist?”
“Will you be creating any virtual children or adopting from a war-torn nation!?”
The only saving grace seemed to be that most of the questions were aimed at Juicy. Kanga felt like the artificial one, like the photographers were trying to capture the colors of a bird of paradise and he was just the corroded green statue it happened to land on.
His humiliation was not complete yet, as the media swarming the victorious team started to take notice. They trickled, and then flooded, away from the flustered Chorus players, one of whom was holding a CD, toward the back. A few even lowered themselves from the rear of the victory box like they were teenagers sneaking out their windows and dropping down to the lawn in the dead of night. With that many of them Joey inevitably got a question that they all liked, and that he had to answer.
“Joey, how do you feel about Juicy?”
“Every time I see her… I’m shocked,” he managed to say. She giggled and kissed him on the cheek while the crowd, aside from his team, practically swooned. “Shocked that she would choose to spend her time with a guy like me.”
“He’s being modest,” Juicy told them. “From the moment I spotted him at one of my concerts I couldn’t take my eyes off him, and as a hologram I’ve got lots of eyes.” They laughed. The vultures were happy for him, happy for this cardboard cutout of Joey Reuben with a celebrity’s smooch stamped on his cheek.
“Do you two have any plans for your future?”
“One game at a time,” Juicy answered for the power couple, their power actually measurable in watts thanks to her composition. “We’re just enjoying the season for now, having some fun. When I heard he was going abroad I just had to tag along, in case the Millennials tried to take him from me again.”
Kanga prayed that she wouldn’t reveal anything like their encounter at the dolphin park. She was a program after all, so the slightest miscalculation or glitch could have her let the Y2Kitten out of the bag while he stood there helplessly dripping sweat.
One of his prayers was answered, the one pleading her not to perform right then and there. She answered a few more questions cryptically and flirtatiously, then, on a whim it seemed, winked and vanished. The Rendezvous staff finally managed to squeeze through the reporters and escort them to the locker rooms. Kanga heard one last question shouted at him like a hurled stone.
“Kanga, was Juicy the one that got you hooked on embossing photopolymer!?”
None had ever been so glad to stick their head into the sterile smell of a freshly-cleaned locker as Kanga that day. He banged his forehead on the thin metal of its back panel. He was still hounded on all sides, but just by his male teammates, so the locker room was practically silent by comparison.
Only after he pulled his head out, and after consuming an entire bottle of chilled ‘mountain waterfall berry’ sports drink, did he take a seat on the central bench and deign to respond to any of them.
“Guys, relax, it’s not like she said,” he explained, relieved to tell the truth about something. “We’re not actually dating.”
“She’s a heck of a concert souvenir,” Sammy congratulated. “All I got was a tee shirt.”
“She’s been showing up and bugging me since then… whenever I’m alone. I didn’t tell anybody because I thought I was just going nuts.”
“Speaking of, somebody else is nuts for you,” Kombo said. He stepped over the metal pretzel with deflated tires that had been his bike an hour ago, sighing, and pulled out a flat box from under it, which he tossed to Kanga. “Whoever they are, they sent you another one.”
Kanga examined it: another box of Gross Guys candies. He stared enviously at the fire hydrant spewing of the exaggerated character on the front. If only he could expel everything he’d taken in that day, start raw and empty and fresh.
“So, they’re probably poisoned again,” Raffy offered. “They’re trying to sabotage the team by getting you suspended.”
“It’s not poison,” Joey defended, though he wasn’t sure why. “Whatever that stuff is… it’s not supposed to be there but it’s not poison. It’s not witch hazel or mercury or arsenic or anything like that.”
“Like I said,” Kombo reiterated, “nuts.”
“All the same, please get rid of those,” Sammy requested just as Joey stashed them away in his duffel bag. “D.O.U.S.E will wreck our season without blinking.”
“We’ve got bigger problems,” Kanga told them. It was time. He was high, on the rush of honesty, and there was no quitting cold turkey now. His blood started to rush, so to avoid discomfort he put his sock feet on his anyboard and rode it in a slow circle around the bench. The other players, in various states of undress, were corralled into his circle by the strange behavior. “Coach is hiding something from us.”
“You mean like… royalties?” Rigan asked. “It does seem like my jersey isn’t doing that hot.”
“That’s because you eat less trash than a dieting opossum,” Sammy teased, jabbing him in the ribs with his elbow. They laughed, but Kanga kept his eyes on the floor, his board arcing over the same loop of items again and again: Kombo’s bike, two duffels, a plastic water bottle, Sammy’s crumpled shirt, and the shrinking pile of sponsorship gifts and snacks that somehow made its way into the lockers prior to each match.
“No, not like that,” Joey said when they quieted. “Like something Y2Krazy.” He glanced at them. Their faces were stone, which looked odd in combination with their windswept hair, like flimsy nests atop petrified trees.
“I saw him during the match. Him and some other muckymuck. They were outside the arena, around the spare engines. They were… doing something with them.”
“You saw somebody else,” Rigan interrupted. “Coach would never do that. It’s against regulation for anyone without a license to so much as touch their controls.” The others grunted in agreement. Kanga just kept riding, over the bike, the duffels, the bottle, the shirt, the pile… It would take them time to accept it, just as it took him time to see the arenas as places that existed outside of the game.
“I saw what I saw,” he assured them. “They were sticking their arms into the machines… and their arms came out darker. They were recycling themselves, like the Millennials do, but only a little bit.”
“Coach was just with us,” Sammy said, “and his arms were the same color as always. It could’ve just been a shadow for all you know. You’re not actually eating those Gross Guys are you? Because you’re sounding hopped up on something.”
“I’m insulted that you think I could mistake scorekeeper energy for shadows,” Joey said sternly to bring their ears back in line. Bike, duffels, bottle, shirt, pile… He followed the logic of what he’d seen, pieced the conversation back together. “They were talking about some kind of scheme.
They said something about sensitivity training, and the other guy was talking about African-Americans in a weird way. They were… changing the race of their arms… and laughing about it. Why would they do that?”
“But they were!” Joey’s board plowed through the gift pile. A box of kung fu slaps, already opened and rummaged through, spilled out in front of the others. “They were talking about teams too. We might be in danger. Maybe if we don’t play well enough he’s going to toss us in and pull out somebody else that suits the diversity initiative. Whatever country is in vogue that week.”
“You’ve known Roger longer than any of us; why don’t you trust him?” Raffy asked. “Are you a bad friend?”
“You don’t trust people after you’ve seen them do something terrible!” Kanga exploded. He bounced his board on the pile again, sending things flying in all directions. “Ignoring this means that nothing matters. It means that I’ll pretend everything is fine as long as I’m taken care of. That’s cowardice! Just thinking about it makes me,” he slammed down again, actually crushing some of their thoughtful corporate gifts, “furious!”
“Calm down,” Rigan insisted, standing. “Even if he is doing this stuff I’m sure he has his reasons. We should just go talk to him, all of us.”
“With an official in the room,” Kanga fumed. That would serve two purposes. After he got Coach Linejaw to admit to whatever scam he was running he would turn the tables on the official, asking pointed questions about whether or not garbage was trucked in for the matches. He could ask someone who had to know, plainly, once and for all, if competitive recycling helped clean the environment.
He zipped around the corners of the room, jumping and gliding along the lockers as long as he could. His skin was ablaze, but better to push the fire out than let it blast him to ash on the inside. Better to let it lick and climb the chain of command. Kanga had to come out on top of it all if the things he had done were to be seen as beyond reproach. His little investigation, his computer meddling, were nothing, honest mistakes, compared to a conspiracy. Not like the ones the Millennials proposed of course. Something else. Something he noticed first. Something he didn’t need help with.
“There’s got to be an official still milling around. I’ll get one.” Kanga changed course, boarding toward the stairs. Thunk! He’d only glided over five of them when a plastic cooler struck the wall in front of him, sending him sliding back down. It tumbled down the stairs after him, bouncing aggressively. Kanga lifted the nose of the board and spun off the cooler’s surface to get distance. That put him squarely in front of Rigan’s extended arm and the band of color around his wrist.
“What are you doing!?” Kanga barked. His teammate had donned a slap bracelet, all of which had their safeties severed by Sammy already, and tossed the item in his way. Joey didn’t get an answer at first, not until all of them were prepared. Klak. Klak. Klak klak klak klak klak. All eight arms now bore the devices, every part of the rainbow represented. Rigan put himself at the bottom of the stairs, striking a pose he’d seen in the Cindy Wu Hu cult favorite The Pearl Dragon Screams.
“For the record, I wanted to tell you,” Raffy said as he circled around Kanga, hands held up as if he’d already bested a hundred men in hand to hand combat to the death that morning.
“There is no record boys,” Barson reminded his cohorts. They backed Joey into a corner, but he stayed on his board, swishing back and forth to keep balance.
“What would you tell me?” he asked. They were ready to fight, but answering that gave them much more pause. They responded to the question like a slap in the face, looking away, shaking the shame out of their cheeks.
“Don’t freak out,” Sammy cautioned him. “We’re not going to hurt you… unless you try to leave before we’ve explained everything.”
“Some friends you are,” Kanga seethed.
“Don’t act like you’ve been welcoming!” Rigan snarled. “We took you to that concert, and got you a hot girlfriend as it turns out, but you were icy all night. You didn’t want to be friends with any of us. You pretend like we’re not here because we’re not Winter. You didn’t like us this time and you didn’t like us last time either.”
“What last time? You guys…” A lightning bolt hit Kanga’s mind. One foot came off the anyboard as he stumbled, the other keeping it from flying off like a popped cork. He looked at their four faces and tried to see the old four in them. He couldn’t, but there was something. He looked past their faces, at the focus in their eyes and the twitches in their lips and foreheads. There was something familiar in their expressions, when melanin was disregarded.
These boys weren’t worried; they weren’t afraid. Even in confidence, even in victory, even in concern, Kanga could see a little fear in the expression of that woman on the Chorus. It was the fear that someone high in LIRIC, someone from white Europe, could speak one ill word and strip her of her career.
These four didn’t have that fear, and they never had, because that experience was the only thing truly foreign to them. They weren’t from the four colorful corners of the world; they had selected ‘four colorful corners’ as their wallpaper pattern.
“So who is who?” Kanga asked plainly.
“Matthew Crystal,” admitted Barson Kombo.
“Chris Davidson,” admitted Sammy Wenzhong.
“David Treyarch,” admitted Raffy Lavenil.
“Trey Matthews,” admitted Rigan Armando.
“The chain gang,” Kanga said, summing them up. “Unbelievable. You guys are trash.” Rigan snorted and cracked his knuckles. “What, you’re going to deny it? You recycled yourselves; you must think you’re trash too.”
“It’s not permanent,” Sammy deflected. “We’re under contracts with coach and the owners. They bump up our pay and we sacrifice our identities for a while, until people stop squawking about diversity.”
“This can’t be easier than just hiring new people,” Kanga said, touching his temples. The implications were quickly giving him a migraine; he wondered if that was how computers felt when they saw the blinding light of Y2K.
“Changing things is what costs money,” Barson said. “And nobody likes to be told what to do. Roger built the team his way, and he wasn’t going to break it down and glue it back together with pieces that didn’t match.”
“So the Millennials were actually telling the truth.” Kanga’s eyes rolled to the heavens and back as he groaned. “The lady with the rock for a heart and the girl that looks like cherry taffy were the ones telling the truth. They never attacked you four.”
“Roger pulled us out of the match when he realized the Millennials were there,” Raffy elaborated. “It was a good excuse for our disappearance while we got these new suits worked out.”
“Suits!? You’re calling them suits!? That’s your skin!”
“We just think of them like team jerseys,” Sammy said innocently. “Sometimes you get traded. You go with it so you can keep playing.”
“This isn’t a game!” Kanga screamed. The chain gang’s heads flicked up, worried someone might hear. They threatened him by closing some distance, though Rigan stayed rooted at the foot of the stairs. Kanga didn’t care it was four against one. His board swished and snapped aggressively, like a cobra with the jagged teeth of a crocodile. They didn’t feel what he felt. “Winter tried to stop the Millennials because he thought they killed you guys. It’s your fault he’s dead.”
Sammy, Raffy, and Barson recoiled. It didn’t matter if it was remorse or the windup to an excuse; it was just an opportunity for Joey. They were the people who could casually stop being themselves because there wasn’t that much there to begin with. They didn’t care about the boards, about flying, about inventing tricks on the corner even though there were already plenty of them on TV. They didn’t know what an anyboard could do when one was pushed to the scalpel’s edge of its ability.
Kanga kicked off the corner with one foot, flying toward Sammy. His phony arms crossed in an automatic block, but Joey wasn’t dealing a blow. He grabbed the board’s nose and pulled up, using Sammy as a ramp. The Chinese disguise collapsed under the blasting air of the board, like getting pummeled by a hundred tiny air hockey tables. Kanga got air, almost too much. His hair skimmed the ceiling as he sailed over the other two toward the stairs.
Rigan picked up the poor battered cooler and threw it again, powerful and accurate. It struck Kanga’s fingers on the nose and destabilized him. He came down on top of Rigan, trying to flatten him with the board’s energy, but he blocked, held his ground, and tossed his fellow recycler back.
Kanga performed a grind along the edge of the central bench, using the two feet of altitude to spin his board and keep the other sets of hands from grabbing his only lifeline away from him. He could’ve set the record for longest continuous grind going back and forth along that bench, but his skill with the board was only going to get him out of this one if it literally got him out of the room and back into Blasting Shore proper, where he could shout into the microphones of the world.
Kombo lunged, grabbing at his ankles. The spinning board smacked one hand away, but the other found a grip so tight that pain shot up Joey’s leg. He dropped down from the bench and leaned back as hard as he could. Luckily his foe hadn’t equipped his legs with Cindy’s skills, otherwise he might’ve been able to hold his stance.
As it was Kanga rolled onto his back, pulled him into the air, and blasted him with the full force of the board’s hovering power. He slammed into the ceiling, using his martial arts prowess to land softly since Kanga was already gone, headed straight for the stairs again.
The chain gang was a gang though, and the notion of teamwork finally clacked through the Newton’s cradle of their four thick skulls. Both Sammy and Raffy pounced on Kanga from opposite sides, weighing him down, slowing his board to a snail’s pace. While they held him Rigan stomped forward and got both hands around Joey’s shoulders, squeezing so tightly that it forced him to his knees.
The board shot out from under him, dented a locker, and landed upside down. They had him, but he still struggled like there was a chance to escape. Furious spittle frothed in his mouth; he snapped at any fingers that got too close. With Cindy on their side their hands were vices, locking him down like a captured spy on a villain’s torture table.
“Dude, don’t!” Sammy warned Rigan, who was readying a strike that would break Joey’s occipital bone against the floor. “If you mess up his face people are going to ask questions.”
“Well what are we supposed to do with him now?” the other player snarled. “He’ll whitewash us.”
“No he won’t,” Raffy said as Barson joined them, holding down Kanga’s legs. “He won’t because that doesn’t make any sense. He just needs a second to think about it… right Joey?” The young man could barely breathe, let alone think, but with nowhere to go the thoughts did eventually spear their way into the bush fire of his brain.
He didn’t have any proof. All he had was his eyes and ears as far as this race swapping scam, and who would believe such outrageous testimony? Not only would he be disbelieved, but he would likely be labeled a racist for calling his ethnically diverse teammates lying scoundrels. The only thing he could prove, thanks to the Y2Kitten, was his own crime.
“This headache doesn’t even have to make it to coach,” Raffy reasoned. “We just had an argument, that’s all, but we’re a team, and we worked it out between the five of us… right Joey?” They stared at him expectantly. Rigan, really the angry white spirit of Trey Matthews, hadn’t lowered his fist.
It didn’t matter that Kanga wanted to be honest, that he wanted to do the right thing. It didn’t matter that his best friend was dead while the chain gang hid in their hide jumpsuits. All that mattered was that they had the power, and while Kanga was beloved by many, his word didn’t outweigh those of four others and the coach.
It was no wonder the Millennials underwent such drastic transformations. They had to become weapons. They had to fortify their flesh so it could withstand the natural disasters of their oppressed rage and sorrow. They had to become power they didn’t want, because truth had none of its own.
“Just an argument… that I won,” Kanga said, throat already feeling like it had taken a punch that sent his Adam’s apple bouncing around like a pinball, all from holding back his gnashing anger.
“Fine, you showed us the error of our ways,” Sammy said, letting go. He urged the others to do the same. When they did he pulled off one of his slap bracelets and held out his lying hand for Kanga to take. “I promise, once this contract is done, I’ll never do this again.” It took everything Kanga had to take that hand, and his arm felt full of white phosphorus fireworks as he did.
They made him promise, four times over, that he wasn’t going to say anything to anyone, and they also made him seal the agreement with three other handshakes. By the time they finally let him slink out of the locker room with his bag over his shoulder his face was so red that it could’ve also passed for a Shinjuku engine makeover.
Now he didn’t even have his team. He was just a fool, standing in the middle of the field as the game ran, pointing out why it was wrong to have fun, wondering what everyone was actually doing there.
-Your #1 website for tracking, documenting, and classifying Millennial terrorists and their activity. This site is for various hobbyists interested in Millennials and people looking for fantasy recycling games that incorporate Millennial activity into stats and scoring – NOT for fans of Millennials. I hate even having to say it, because if they had their way none of these computers would even work, but there it is.-
Lavabox (as of 5-95): Class 2 Millennial, heat and brawl characteristics. Original identity unknown. Active in various cells since 5-92. Wanted for six murders, five recruitments. UPDATE: Lavabox was killed in a clash with law enforcement. His body was destroyed in a Shinjuku engine, which is standard protocol for disposing of Millennial trash.
Purranha (as of 5-95): Class 2 Millennial, feline and fish characteristics. Original identity is Fatima Estacado. Lone wolf. Wanted for destruction of cattle rancher property and releasing all the animals, as well as taking calling card bites out of the guards and owners. UPDATE: Purranha has received diplomatic immunity from the small island nation of St. Erin, part of their initiative to convince the world that their land is sinking because of debunked human-related global warming.
Cranegame (as of 5-95): Class 1 Millennial, heat and pain resistance characteristics. Original identity is Keith Lapetty. Wanted for theft and misuse of a Shinjuku recycling engine. UPDATE: Cranegame is a new addition to the Millennials, one that shocked a lot of people. He was until recently known as the ‘wheelchair firefighter’. Many people shared the story of his return to work, finding it inspirational. It’s not yet known what convinced him to throw himself away. He came out with mostly mechanical legs made from his chair, which is technically theft because he was licensing the item from the Ayonaki company as part of a promotional agreement.
Ribbondancer (as of 5-95): Class 1 Millennial, color and cord characteristics. Original identity is Laurence Redlawn. Wanted for indecent exposure and obscenity. Laurence was willingly recycled, requesting only that his new form be female. His parents contend that his rampant cross-dressing was a sign of mental illness that they tried for years to fix by sending Laurence to various specialists. UPDATE: He was living as a woman with a secret identity in Minnesota, but has abandoned his house and fled after a humiliated romantic partner revealed him to local authorities.
Damhands (as of 5-95): Class 3 Millennial, water, stone, and construction characteristics. Original identity is unknown. Wanted for redirection of water resources, depriving suburban communities of the ability to water their lawns and fill their pools. UPDATE: He has been arrested at a Native American protest against a pipeline installation on the Canadian border. Physically moving him to prison has proven difficult, both because of his abilities and because several people have handcuffed themselves to him.
Robotrio (as of 5-95): Class 2 Millennial, robot and hydra characteristics. Original identity is Melanie Phan. Wanted for thousands of counts of making robots and computers Y2Krazy. Formed from a fusion of two table bussing robots and a waitress, Robotrio has terrorized restaurant districts for years, taking aim at establishments that allow their bussing robots to vacuum up tips and keep them for management if they get there first. UPDATE: Robotrio has been declared the honorary head of a small labor union, resulting in the arrest of three of its high-ranking members.
Sugarloaf (as of 5-95): Class 1 Millennial, sugar and yeast characteristics. Original identity is John Crome. Wanted for destruction of public property. UPDATE: Sugarloaf, whose body contained an active yeast colony, suffered fatal cardiac arrest when the yeast became contaminated and the infection reached his heart. His remains have been purchased and put on display to warn young people against Millennial activity, his rot prevented thanks to a treatment of standard preservatives used in most U.S. bread. He should be posted as a warning for the next thirty years at least.
Basteroid (as of 5-95): Class 3 Millennial, space travel characteristics. Original identity is classified government information. Wanted for a crime we don’t even have a name for yet, essentially kicking satellites out of orbit so they crash back to Earth. He has caused countless world wide web and television interruptions, often during prime time. UPDATE: The military just released a statement expressing frustration, explaining that valuable resources are being wasted on Basteroid. Weapons satellites are spending huge portions of their operating time targeting him rather than monitoring the nations below, negatively impacting our safety.
Lucky Slimeball (as of 5-95): Class 1 Millennial (only suspected), ocean navigation characteristics. Wanted for various things if he ever comes ashore, as most of his acts have been committed in international waters. The rogue sailor is known for raiding cruise ships and stealing collectible toys from the Squeezy Babies line, some of which can sell at auction for over a million dollars. UPDATE: A recent sale of a Squeezy Babies mint condition propeller-mouse, valued higher than some works of Van Gogh, was recently rescinded when its source was found to be a deal involving Lucky himself.
Crystalheart (as of 5-95): Class 3 Millennial, crystalline, seismic, and acoustic characteristics. Original identity is unknown. Wanted for murder, assault, theft, destruction of public and private property, and disturbing the peace. Some call her the queen of the Millennials, though frequenters of this website will know the Millennials have no unified leadership. Unpredictable and violent, she has been a threat to North and South America since 3-98. UPDATE: A recent information leak from the Millennial Task Force confirms Crystalheart has left the continent for the first time in her activity. She is believed to be traveling with her underlings Monoxide, Powerthirst, Chiagreen, Dresscourt, Pilgrimage, and Runway Fox. Such a large gang is unusual, so there’s no telling what they’re planning.