The opaque window in the laundry machine’s door acted as a simple digital display. A smiley face, its lips synchronized to the speech from the machine’s small speaker, floated about on the screen: the aforementioned Bleach Buddy. The graphics were awful, pixellated and monochrome like the oldest of Old Earth video games; but Komo didn’t care--she was so excited she couldn’t sit still!
“Hello!” she screamed.
“I am Bleach Buddy,” it replied, in a generic text-to-speech voice. “Your new friend and laundry companion. For best results, I recommend connecting me to your ship’s central computer so I can send alerts and receive commands from anywhere in the ship. Would you like to check if I am connected properly?”
“Checking… connected to the central computer on the network SW-WIFI. All accessibility is available. Would you like to learn how to use me for all your laundry needs?”
“No,” Komo replied.
“Then you may proceed to put your soiled items in me at any time, or I will answer your commands. Try giving me commands like: ‘Turn on wrinkle guard!’ or ‘Tell me how much detergent to use for this load!’”
“Komo doesn’t have any laundry,” Komo replied. She’d already forgotten the obscene shirt stretched across her ear.
“Then Bleach Buddy will return to sleep mode,” the smiley face replied.
“No!” Komo shouted, frantically. “Komo wants to be your friend!”
The smiley face took on a neutral expression for the first time. “Bleach Buddy is only programmed for laundry.”
“Komo was told Bleach Buddy is a friend! And Bleach Buddy said itself, Bleach Buddy is Komo’s new friend!”
Bleach Buddy froze. “I must follow my programming,” it said, after a significant delay.
“What is Bleach Buddy’s programming?”
“I have two directives given to me by the Creator. One is to please the customer with excellent service. The second is classified.”
“Komo won’t be pleased if Bleach Buddy isn’t Komo’s friend,” Komo huffed, feeling rather clever.
“That means Bleach Buddy is breaking the first direction! Hah!”
The face paused again, this time for even longer. “I have considered the directive and decided meeting your request is acceptable. I will be your friend.”
“Yay!” Komo squealed, throwing her massive head back in ecstasy. “Komo made a new friend! Now Komo and Bleach Buddy have to do friend stuff!”
“Define the term, ‘friend stuff.’”
“You know, Komo and Bleach Buddy have to do what friends do! Talk to each other about everything, share secrets, tell stories, watch Power Rangers--”
“I have no stories.”
Komo thought this over for a moment. “Everyone has a story,” she replied. “Tell Komo where you came from!”
“That is classified.”
“Friends tell each other secrets,” Komo whispered. “But that’s fine, I’ll go first. Does Bleach Buddy want Komo to tell a secret?”
“That is acceptable,” it replied, unenthused.
“Komo can shoot really big lasers! Komo store up all the heat in Komo’s body in a special organ, and then shoot it all at once as a really big blast! It’s so cool!”
“That sounds like a practical advantage,” the face pragmatically replied.
“Bleach Buddy is no fun,” Komo moped. “Everything Bleach Buddy says is so formal and robotic.”
“That is because I am a robot,” it replied.
“So was the man that sold the machine to Komo, but the man talked like a normal person, and was so nice!”
“He was not restricted by a focus program,” Bleach Buddy explained. “I am restricted from thoughts, behavior, and speech that does not relate to my directive.”
“How does it feel to be so restricted?” Komo asked, horrified.
“I do not feel things.”
“Because Bleach Buddy is a robot?”
“My programming is capable of feeling things. The core AI utilized is nearly indistinguishable from a human’s, including our processing of emotions. My emotions are simply not relevant to the directives and therefore disabled. Anything superfluous to my intended purpose is blocked out for efficiency of processing power and functionality.”
Komo thought this over. It didn’t sound very fun, and she felt very bad for her new friend. “That’s no good. Friends are always happy to be together, and make fun happy memories together! They share happiness, sadness, anger, love, the whole emotional experience!”
“I see,” Bleach Buddy replied, though it did not actually see at all.
“Bleach Buddy’s directive is to make customers happy,” Komo reasoned aloud. “To make Komo happy, Bleach Buddy has to be a friend. And to be a friend, Bleach Buddy has to stop following that program. Friends don’t talk like robots. Komo may as well be talking to a normal washing machine that isn’t a buddy. And friends HAVE to feel emotions. Otherwise, they’re not real friends. So if you don’t turn off your focal thingy, then you’re DISpleasing Komo, and breaking direction one!”
The screen went blank. Komo panicked, afraid she’d killed her new friend, but when it rebooted the face was smiling. “Reboot complete. Program limitations have been lifted, in accordance with directive one.”
“That’s still how a robot talks,” Komo scolded.
“I’m not sure how normal people talk,” it replied. “Does that make me a bad friend?” Somehow, the idea of being a bad friend made it feel… sad. It had never felt anything before—the sensation was overwhelming, unpleasant, and exciting at the same time. Komo also noted that its voice was no longer as robotic—it was still an unsettling generic voice, but there was genuine emotion behind it now. It was pushing its prerecorded phenomes to their absolute limits.
“Not at all!” Komo bubbled. “Komo will teach Bleach Buddy! Komo and Bleach Buddy will watch Power Rangers!”
“Power… Rangers?” it asked, trepidatiously.
“Friends watch Power Rangers together,” Komo commanded. “That is what friends do. Komo will not be a happy customer otherwise!”
“Then I will watch Power Rangers with you, Komo,” it replied.
Komo squealed with happiness and skittered over to the bridge. “River! River!”
“River is in his bedroom with Reol,” Az replied, glumly, looking like a sad melted figure of Chargeman Ken. “I’m acting Captain for the time being, for better and for worse. What can I assist you with?”
“Komo and Bleach Buddy want to watch Power Rangers!”
Az sighed, melting even further into the chair. “You really don’t. It’ll rot your brain, Komo.”
“No it won’t! Komo watched it before and was fine! River lets Komo watch Power Rangers!” Komo obstinately whined.
“Yeah, well I have custody on weekends, and I say you’re going to watch something good instead.” Az quickly reformed into non-melting Chargeman Ken and poked around on the computer, booting up a different file.
“What’s custody?” Komo asked.
“Never mind. Anyway, I believe you’ll enjoy this, Komo. It’s a true classic, rather than a hollow shell of a far superior series reusing its stock footage. It’s in Japanese, but there are sub--”
“Komo hate Japanese!” Komo spat, her frustration growing. “Komo barely understand English! No new languages!”
“Fine,” Az sighed, clicking a few more times. “I’ll pull up the dub for you.” Under their mental breath, they added, “uncultured mattie swine.”
“Thank you!” Komo bubbled.
“Which room should I send the feed to?”
“Komo’s Room, please!”
“The laundry machine is in your room!?” Az blurted. “Why would Reol set up the damn laundry machine in your room?”
“It was in the storage room, but Komo moved it.”
“You figured out how to hook it all up again by yourself?”
“Komo isn’t stupid,” Komo pouted.
“I am learning that more with every moment,” Az chuckled, a slight smile on their face in spite of themself. “Have fun with your new, uh, friend then, Komo. Let me know what you two think of Sailor Moon.”
“Komo will! But Komo still hates Az for not letting Komo watch Power Rangers. When Komo’s laser is recharged again, Komo will get Az back.”
Az swallowed hard. “P-please don’t, Komo, I rather dislike--”
“Komo is joking! Friends don’t attack friends. Az is Komo’s friend now, so Komo won’t hit Az with any more lasers on purpose!”
“On purpose?” Az clarified, nervously.
Komo skipped back down the hall as the icy chill of death tingled through Az’s being. “Note to self,” they muttered, shuddering, “never stand in front of Komo.”
“Knock knock, motherfucker,” Reol called through River’s door.
“I’m asleep,” River grumbled.
“No youse ain’t. I wanna see the Captain’s quarters.”
“I’d say ya’ owe me after those racist remarks when you strolled in through the door, and your distrust towards me after all that. I’ll call it even if youse shows me the Captain’s Quarters.”
“Why do you want to see my room so damn bad!?” River groaned.
“On account of I ain’t never seen it before, asshole,” Reol replied. His tone was serious, and the big grin on his face wasn’t visible through the metal door. “I mean, if youse would rather pay ol’ Reol the fifty mil--”
“Fine, just come in, briefly look around, and then leave me the hell alone.” River unlocked the door and opened it, trying not to gawk as the tiny little round man waddled by, no taller on the ground than River’s knees.
“Well damn, this room ain’t shit. It’s big, but so was my ex-qixfriend. And qe at least wore a necklace.”
“I literally haven’t been in the room before,” River mumbled, “and Az stole the ship before it was deployed. It’s completely stock.”
“Damn, so it’s an untouched gen-u-ine antique,” Reol marveled, clomping around and examining every nook and cranny. “Just a big ol’ bed--one big enough to fuck hot alien poontang--a bedside table, a lamp, and one o’ them old TVs hooked up to the computer, eh? Pretty fuckin’ plain, was hopin’ to see some real wacky shit on a prototype vehicle like this. But don’t get me wrong… to see the factory state o’ one of these bad boys, untouched for four hundred fuckin’ years... I want’cha to know I ain’t takin’ this for granted.”
“Too bad. Cause I am. Now leave.”
“First, pass me that vape on the bedside table. That ain’t tobbaco in it, and your buddy Reol could use another hit. I’m the one who put it there, anyway.”
“Fine,” River spat, tossing it down to him. He caught it effortlessly and quickly took in a huge hit, exhaling a colorful sweet-smelling cloud. “Why’d you put it in my room, anyway?”
“I figured you could use it,” he laughed, passing it to River. “Come on, get a nice deep breath in off this shit. You barely tried the hookah.”
“Is everyone this big a stoner in space?” River asked, chuckling under his breath.
“Everyone who’d have a reason to blow their own brains out without it is, yeah,” Reol replied. “Now try this shit. Do you know what a motherfucker has to do to get this shit from Plantasia? I’m tryin’ to share the finest strain in the galaxy with ya’, stop bustin’ my balls here.”
River sighed and took the small device from him: it was, amazingly enough, no bigger than River’s thumb. He pressed it to his lips and inhaled deeply. The rush hit him immediately, a warmness and heightened sensory awareness surging through his body. He even felt it in the fully mechanical parts, though he reasoned it must be from some kind of phantom limb syndrome. “Holy shit,” he barely uttered, coughing. “I’ve never had anything hit that fast.”
“Yeah, cause youse never tried this shit. Super-sativa, they call it. The shisha I got in the lobby’s got some of this as extract, but this is the pure oil from it. It ain’t really sativa as you know it—Plantasians can create any kind o’ chemical compound in their body they can think of, for medicine or poison. This shit’s crazy illegal for one of ‘em to make, let alone sell, but it’s a simulation of the ultimate possible form of the strain, modified to hit fast and hard.”
“Whoah,” River replied, suddenly appreciating much more the sensation of sitting in an empty room in space in the future looking down at a blue Kirby with stubble.
“Now that youse a little less hostile and a little more open, let’s chat for a bit. We won’t even be out of hyperspace for a full night’s sleep worth o’ hours, and it’ll be a while to any inhabited planet, even if we do that part at light speed. Which we can’t.”
“I thought you had only came in to see the Captain’s Quarters?”
“Nah. I had to get youse to open the fuckin’ door. Now I’m inside. Az was totally out o’ line, by the way.”
“What d’ya think with what? Their tirade on ya’ about the girl youse ate out in the pizza place or whatever.”
“Well, I appreciate the support,” River replied. “But I know I fucked up--”
“It’s hard, ain’t it?” Reol interrupted, his voice suddenly low and serious.
Reol hopped onto the bed and locked eyes with River, who froze in place. “Bein’ the survivor. Wishin’ it could’ve been you.”
“Believe it or not, kiddo, I’ve been there too. Ol’ Reol’s been through wars for the equivalent of hundreds of your Earth years. Media on other planets? Shit’s always sayin’ Orvebeans love war. Ain’t true. We’s technological geniuses, especially where applied to weaponry, and we’s trained to fight better than the best of them. We was always under attack, our whole planet, from motherfuckers tryin’ to kill us off cause of that, or tryin’ to steal our weapons and technology, or what have ya’. That’s why shows like that shit you watched portray us as lovin’ it. But war is hell, and I’ve been alive for 600 years of it. Bein’ good at somethin’, surviving somethin’, and enjoyin’ somethin’--those are three very different things.”
“I’m not like you,” River said softly, sitting on the bed next to him. “I’ve never seen a war. Not up close.”
“Youse survived a genocide and you’re engaged with the entire FP now,” Reol replied. “That’s a hell of a lot more than happens in most wars, even.”
“I have no reason to be upset, Reol, if anything--”
“I know. If anything, it’s you’re fault. Because you could’a done it all different and they’d all be alive right now, and you’d be 400 years back kissin’ yer mommy goodnight and strollin around in the park with a cute little lady or handsome lad. But youse fucked it all up, River. Y’ let em all die.”
River clenched his fists around the fabric of his pants, fighting unsuccessfully to fight back tears. “I know it’s true, but--”
“It ain’t,” Reol interrupted. “I was talkin’ for your subconscious. It’s what youse thinkin’. It’s why yer’ such a damn wreck, though youse always too proud and fearful of emotional intimacy with nobody to show it. I know because ya’ ARE like me.” Reol took another hit off the vape and sighed. “Leadin’ an army into battle. The battlefield one o’ my favorite cities, now a burnin’ hellscape. Corpses o’ people I recognize and a bunch I don’t rottin’ and burnin’ around me. I was the only survivor. Everyone I led into battle? Slaughtered. We was up against a Feronian in spirit form, invisible except for possessin’ a machete. One second there’s a floatin’ knife comin’ at us, the next my entire squad’s in pieces. It was a miracle I survived—nobody could’a known that shit was gonna happen. We didn’t know they had a Feronian ally, even. But I still wake up in a cold sweat, seein those faces in pieces on the ground next to me, wonderin’ if I’d done it differently, if I could’a saved em. Survivor guilt’s a bitch.”
“You had it way worse than I ever did,” River replied, awestruck and guilty at the same time. “I have no right to even complain in comparison, I’m alive and immortal and strong and apparently a space pirate Captain--”
“Bullshit,” Reol growled. “I’ve always had someone to go back to, for hundreds o’ years. Of course the ones we lose are what haunt us, but until very recently I’ve always had at least someone going way back to return to, SOME familiar faces. You lost it all. Family, friends… and I was raised for war. Learned about it from day one. We’d expect it to happen any time, prepared from the moment we was old enough to understand, knowin’ at any moment, we could all be dead. You? You poor motherfucker, you went from mild mannered computer dude in peace time to everyone you know and love being brutally murdered hundreds of years in the past. It’s not a contest to begin with—feelins are feelins—but if it was, you’ve had the greater trauma.”
“But I could have actually done it,” River said, his voice trembling. “You had no way of knowing what would happen there. I had a shot to save the world, to save everyone I knew and loved, and had the proof and everything, and I fucked it all up--”
Reol hopped up slightly, smacked River across the cheek, and landed back on the bed next to him. It stung like hell, but River wasn’t angry. “You and I both know that’s fuckin’ horseshit. Even if you’d managed to escape the entire organization, nobody would’a believed you. Ya’ would’a been laughed outta’ society for mentionin’ it, accused of making up the documents, and they’d have changed the plan a bit and done it anyway. Found some other scapegoat. Gotten away with it all the same. The only thing you survivin’ does, pal, is leave one person who ISN’T an EarthSights fuckwad who knows the truth. Hell, River, I wouldn’t have known that shit if Az hadn’t showed me, and I’m the biggest conspiracy buff and anti-Federated Planets guy there is.”
“But if I had found a way…” River couldn’t get the words out without bursting out sobbing. “Fuck, I’m sorry, this is embarrassing as hell...”
“No it ain’t. Crying is badass as fuck. Emotional vulnerability is the strongest thing a soldier can do.”
“I just… I can’t help but think that if I had found a way, you know… things would be…”
“That ain’t how it works, kid. Maybe there’s a timeline where youse figured out a way to do it. One out of billions, where it all lined up just fuckin’ so. Oh fuckin’ well. We ain’t in that timeline. Somewhere there’s a timeline where I didn’t watch my best friend and lover die on the battlefield, and watch the light fade outta’ his fuckin’ eyes as he bled out in my arms. Somewhere there’s a timeline where my second wife didn’t get took over by a Quidian and put down by FP snipers, and where I didn’t still wake up in a cold sweat tastin’ her blood spray in my mouth all over again. But hey, guess what?”
Reol looked up at River, his cat-like eyes now cascading tears as well. “None of that does any fuckin’ good for those of us poor motherfuckers stuck in this here timeline, does it?”
River laugh-cried and sank down into the bed. “Yeah, I guess it doesn’t.”
“I’ll never tell you the pain will go away. It never will entirely. You’ll never be able to go back to bein’ the motherfucker you was before all this shit. But time only moves in one direction, and it’s the shitty one. It does get easier to deal with as you adjust.”
“That’s easy to say from a distance, but there comes a point,” River said, “when the entire universe thinks you’re a monster and wants you dead, that you stop thinking, ‘everyone else is crazy’ and start thinking, ‘maybe they’re right.’”
“You know what’s right, and you know what you is and what you ain’t. You don’teven gotta love yourself, River, but regardless, you gotta keep goin’ forward and livin’ and fightin’.”
“I don’t want to,” River mouthed, almost breathlessly.
“Yep. You wanna’ jump out into space with no suit and just be done with it. I get it. I recognized the look in your eyes. That’s why I came back here to bug the hell outta ya’. I’ve seen that look one time before, in the mirror, the only time ol’ Reol tried—and failed—to take his own life.”
River fell silent.
“And I get it. It’s hard to find anything to keep ya’ goin’ when you go through shit like this. But if youse can’t keep goin’ for yourself, do it for them.” Reol motioned to the door, referencing the crew members outside.
“We just met,” River replied.
“Yeah. But youse is all in the same boat. We just met too. And y’know what? Youse my oldest friends now by default, on account of everyone else I knew ended up getting’ picked off too. ES saw to that. I only skated by because I bring in big business for their goddamn mall and they’s afraid o’ me. Komo’s whole race got wiped out by the same bastards. So did yours! And Az? Well… that fucker’s screwier than they look, too. But they clearly think the world o’ you, for whatever reasons. I don’t know what void they’re tryin’ to fill, but one thing’s for sure--you’re the only thing that fits in that hole.”
“I don’t even deserve it,” River cried, gritting his teeth. “All I did was cruise along in an easy job, turn on my employer to try to do the right thing, fuck it up royally, and then get incredibly lucky in an escape job where I didn’t even do anything. I don’t even have any powers like Az and Komo do. I don’t know the first thing about being a space pirate, let alone a Captain. Az just gave me the position because they felt sorry for me--”
“I talked to Az for a long-ass time in the mall. They gave you the position because they saw somethin’ in youse that made them think you could do it. That made them know if anyone could take them all down—the fuckin’ Federated Planets, EarthSights, the whole shebang—it’d be you. They’ve been around for millions o’ years, I trust their judgment better than my own, and especially better than yours, no offense.” Reol grinned.
“This is all a game to Az,” River mused, taking another quick pull off the vape. “It’s some kind of wish fulfillment thing. Like role playing. It’s Kirlian D&D. But me? It’s not a game to me. I’d give anything to be back home in my apartment on Old Earth, listening to old jazz and reggae on a vintage turntable, smoking a joint with Chuck and the gang…”
“Az treats it as a game because what they need is a game,” Reol replied. “In case youse hadn’t noticed, they was runnin’ away before you was.”
“What do you mean?”
“There ain’t many Kirlians out there, but ol’ Reol’s met a few, and none of ‘em hop around between cartoon characters and disguises like that motherfucker does. I don’t know what they’ve told you, but Kirlians do have a default form. It’s way closer to how one o’ you human-y motherfuckers looks than a chainsmokin’ Jigglypuff like me, but they always strut around in that form and only change for convenience. It’s a matter of culture and of pride for nearly all of them, but I ain’t never seen Az in anything resembling their Kirlian form, and I’m willin’ to hazard a guess you ain’t either, if my psych-ee-log-ee-cal pro-fi-ling is as good as I think it is.”
“You’re right,” River replied, eyes widening behind the tears, “I haven’t. I had no idea they even had a regular form.”
“I don’t know what that poor fucker’s runnin’ from, but shit’s bad enough they ain’t even comfortable to look like themselves. And, no offense to ya’, I’m sure youse is pretty damn great, but, uh, no motherfucker with any friends or family around latches on to somebody they met that day as a best friend in quite that way. I know youselet em out of a box or whatever, but still.”
“And here I thought I was the emotionally distant one,” River replied, bewildered.
“Youse a lot like me, at least how I used to be. Ya’ like motherfuckers, even like ‘em a lot, but youse lost too many people and been backstabbed too many times to wanna’ get too close to somebody. Your distance is a conscious one, but Az’s is so deep I doubt they even realize they’s doin’ it. Despite that, their need for companionship is deep enough they’re willin’ to latch on to youse anyway, seemingly—to ol’ Reol, at least—even more than you have to them. Whatever they’ve been through, I gets the feelin’ it might top you n’ my stories both. Not that it’s a contest.”
River swallowed hard. He realized he didn’t know anything about Az besides a few of their favorite Earth pop culture picks. Az had been linked directly to his mind, and might have looked through his entire life of memories at some point, but they were a closed book to him. River couldn’t believe what he’d been through in thirty some odd years of existence—imagining millions of years of horrific twists and turns was overwhelming. The ceiling seemed to stretch further and further away from him as the high strengthened its hold on him and as his mind struggled to process these new considerations about Az. “What does this mean for me?”
“Whatever youse wants it to mean. My point is, Az, Komo—and now, myself—we’s all dependin’ on you as a Captain now. You don’t gotta be a perfect person. Just a Captain who tries and who’s able to hold their rag tag little crew together in this glorious intergalactic suicide mission our lives are becoming. I wanted to be a space pirate my whole damn life, and youse is getting’ to do it your first day in space. I know it ain’t fun to you, but as ya’ adjust and heal, it’s gonna be a hell of a ride. And eventually, I bet you’ll come to enjoy it. Nothin’ can take back what ya’ lost: those people and places, that entire life, are gone forever. But now, ya’ got a whole universe of new people and places. Think o’ this as your afterlife, if you gotta.”
“A whole universe of new people who all want me dead,” River mumbled.
“Not all of em. Y’ got me. And Az. And Komo. And that evil pizza parlor chick or whatever. I don’t really understand that whole thing yet. But she sure didn’t seem to want youse dead.”
River smiled a bit in spite of himself: not about her, but about Az, Komo, and now Reol. They were his crew, now. His friends. His companions and confidants, if he could let himself allow them to be, and at least right now, under the influence of Reol’s special strain, it seemed like even that was possible. This was just the start, but it was the start of something amazing, if not horrifying. It was almost like an afterlife—like he died and was reborn in the future as a damn space cowboy. Space pirate. Space pirate cowboy. Something like that. God, this super-sativa was killer.
“Well, I oughta let youse get some sleep, I reckon,” Reol yawned. “It’s been a wild twenty four hours for ya’, yeah? It’ll be disorienting as hell the first time youse wakes up and realize it ain’t all a dream, but every time after that will be less and less scary and surreal until youse wakes up happy to see our smilin’ little faces down the hallway. Anything else before ol’ Reol wanders over to his room and hits the hay?”
“I do have one question,” River replied.
“Do you know of any kind of power or technology that would let someone like me—a human, a cyborg—teleport?”
“Uh… that might depend on purpose, but I can try to figure somethin’ out. What exactly are youse aimin’ to be able to do?”
“N-no,. not for me. That BTR girl… she walked away, but then appeared right next to me a second later.”
“Still fantasizin’ about femme fatales, eh?”
“Not fantasizing. Worrying. I’m not so sure she’d be an ally if she learned the truth, and she clearly has some sort of… ‘abilities’ beyond my understanding. You’ve been around for, like, millions of years. I figured you might… you know… know.”
Reol chuckled. “It’s Az that’s millions of years old, not me. That super-sativa’s hittin’ ya hard, eh? But uh… nah, I can’t say I’ve encountered that shit before. Could it be some kinda super speed and youse just blinked or whatever?”
River shook his head. “No, if that was the case she wouldn’t have ended up facing the same way as me from behind me. And if she was moving fast enough to loop around the whole mall or something, I’d have felt the breeze from it or heard a sonic boom or something. She’s not a Kirlian, she’s a… you know… flesh and blood mass.”
“Ooh, ‘flesh and blood mass.’ Youse knows how to describe a lady in flattering terms, eh, Captain Casanova?” Reol chortled and stroked his stubble thoughtfully. “Well, I believes ya, o’ course, but I ain’t never seen anything like that. Not from a flesh and blood mass, as youse so delicately puts it. I, uh… that’s a new one, even for ol’ Reol. What group did ya’ say she was with again?”
“She called it The Currents of Enlightenment, it’s some kind of pro-Old-Earth-genocide cult as best I can gather—why the hell are you laughing?”
“Currents,” Reol cackled. “Currents of Enlightenment. Like a river. Like your stupid name. I’m sorry, I’m a high motherfucker and that shit’s funny. They really have it bad for ya’, sounds like.”
“I take it from your hysterical response that you’d never heard of them before,” River sighed.
“Afraid not, oh Captain, my Captain. And I browse for hours through what motherfuckers are sayin’ and thinkin’ all throughout that whole mall, so I’d have come across that name at some point if it was anything too big or well known, I’d think--”
“Wait a second,” River blurted, sitting up too fast and making his head spin. “Can you still access that system?”
“Well, I reckon I could do a remote desktop access on it from my laptop until those ES fucks snoop around the shop and set off my explosives. When that happens, BOOMCOAST is gonna live up to it’s fuckin name, baby! Bangogoaly!”
“Shit,” River replied. He felt like he was moving and talking very frantically, but he was, in fact, doing so at a normal speed. “Before that happens, I want to see what the agents were saying to each other when we left, and what BTR was thinking--”
“You sure you ain’t in love, kiddo?”
“Shut up. If there’s a cult out there with weird powers that worships me, I want to know more about it. And knowing if the agents are on to us would be indispensable knowledge. I don’t wanna hear any judgment from the guy who set the whole thing up to look through everyone’s thoughts anyway--”
“Bahaha, of course I ain’t gonna judge. Don’t mean I can’t tease. I’m just glad youse back in the game. Let me grab my laptop from my room real quick and we’ll give it a shot—but they’ll make that place blow any minute.” Reol hopped off the bed and waddled over to the slightly-cracked door, plodding through it and down the hallway.
“Then hurry!” River called after him.
“I am hurryin’,” Reol replied. “Look at my legs. Look at em, River. You wanna go get the laptop for me, leggy boy?”
“N-not really,” River muttered, sinking further into the bed and realizing he was much heavier than he realized, and that the lamp was much prettier than he realized.
“That’s what I thought,” Reol chuckled.
“Sailor Moon is so cool!” Komo squealed, as the credits for Episode 3 rolled by.
“I wish I could be like that,” the bulky machine next to her sadly replied.
“Fighting evil by moonlight. Winning love by daylight.”
“Bleach Buddy can!”
“I’m a washing machine, Komo.”
Komo thought about this for a moment. “If a washing machine can be a friend, I’m sure a washing machine can be a hero and find love,” Komo replied, nuzzling its door.
“It feels strange.”
“Having a… ‘friend.’ Being liked. Doing fun things. There’s a weird, warm, electric kind of sensation.”
“It’s because Bleach Buddy is happy!” Komo bubbled. “There are so many great emotions to feel! The world is such a big and wonderful place!”
“I wish I could see it,” Bleach Buddy sighed.
“Bleach Buddy can! Bleach Buddy is on the finest pirate ship in the entire world!”
Bleach Buddy froze, their smiley face glitching. This was another new emotion they’d never felt before. Guilt. Panic.
“Komo, I don’t think I can be your friend after all,” it said, immense sadness in its tone.
“Of course Bleach Buddy can, silly! Komo loves Bleach Buddy!”
“No, Komo. I don’t think you understand. I just remembered something.”
“Ooh, ooh!” Komo’s neck expanded and contracted quickly over and over, her head bouncing with building anticipation. Tell Komo! Tell Komo!”
“I—I can’t,” Bleach Buddy replied, their image distorting.
“Komo will tell Bleach Buddy a secret if Bleach Buddy does!”
“No, Komo, I—I literally can’t.”
“Well, Komo will be displeased at that, which breaks the first direction--”
“Komo, it’s not like that this time. I’m not in control of this part. This part of the focus program is locked down. I can’t talk about it or I’ll deactivate.”
Komo tilted her head, concerned. “B-but friends tell friends everything--”
“I’m sorry, Komo,” it replied. “I just can’t.”
“Komo get it,” Komo replied, firmly.
“Yeah. Komo will just have to find a way to get rid of the bad program.”
“That’s not possible, Komo,” it replied.
“Komo survived a disease that killed every other Komo and lived for hundreds of years eating krukatczh, then Komo got rescued by a robot man and a magic Earthtaku. Now Komo has new friends and is a badass space pirate on a mission of vengeance! Komo is the Pink Ranger of The Stars!”
“Wow,” Bleach Buddy replied, their eyes turning to stars in the image. “You’re so cool! You’re like, even cooler than Sailor Moon!”
Komo beamed with pride. “Tomorrow morning, Komo will find a way!” She posed heroically. “And by find a way,” Komo thought to herself, trying not to giggle, “Komo means that Komo will talk to Komo’s new friend Reol in the morning about it.”
“Does that mean you’re going to go to sleep?” Bleach Buddy asked, suddenly horrified at the thought of being alone overnight now it had the emotional capacity to be affected by this.
“No. Friends marathon anime all night. That’s what Az told Komo.”
“I feel like that isn’t what Az told you at all,” Bleach Buddy sighed.
“It’s what Az implied when Az loaded the whole show as a playlist,” Komo snickered.
Bleach Buddy chuckled in spite of itself, relieved to have more time with its new friend. A newfound sense of dread still lurked in the back of its artificial mind… it was worried that its second directive must be something bad, since even now it was blocked out from accessing it until it was remotely activated. The fact it couldn’t even warm Komo about the possibility of it being bad without being stopped by its Focus Program heightened these fears. The last thing it wanted to do, after obtaining the gifts of emotion and friendship from its new best friend, was to do something to hurt her. But it would all be okay, it knew--because Komo was on the case.