I’m releasing this first chapter of the story into the wild for you to enjoy. Please let us know what you think. If you’d like the rest of it, let us know.
NB: This is an unpublished first draft of the first chapter of Super Time Tokyo Zombie Party, a novella (or a novel?) in the Zero-Point Awakening series. This story comes after Counterpunch (Book 5) and before Beach Head (Book 6) in the reading order.
This is unedited draft, so you are reading it at your own risk. 🙂
Chapter One – Rina
The missile struck Shimbashi on a Thursday. Rina Jin had just clambered onto a stool to perform her spinning owl dance for a couple of dour-looking forty-somethings in matching salmon pink sports jackets, when a light bright enough to pierce the edges of the hoarding over the front window stunned her into silence. A few heartbeats later, the room rocked like it was a level three earthquake.
“Why are you stopping? Come on, we’re paying for this.” The guy had a greasy mustache. Rina knew the type. She’d never date them, but they paid well. Neither man seemed concerned by the flash of light or by the shaking. A light swung slowly back and forth above the table. Shadows spread and retreated, advanced and retreated.
“I’m so sorry,” said Rina. “I lost my concentration. Please let me start over.”
The other man waved a hand. “Let her alone. Just get on with it. If we’re late for the presentation the customer is going to hate us.” He checked his watch, frowned, then reached below the table where he’d placed a portable dog kennel. Even through the black cloth that covered it, and the wooden table, the growl of the animal within was unmistakable. It creeped Rina out. By rights she should be asking them to take the dog out of the store. It was owls only in here, after all. But it was in a cage and there were few enough customers as it was. And he was a paying customer. And that was that. If Sasaki-san fired her, she’d never afford her own apartment.
Rina bowed to the customers, low and deep, eyes pointing directly at the table top. Even after she straightened, she kept her head tilted down, the picture of demur obedience and innocence. This she had perfected after two years of working in the Sugar Owl Cafe, a seedy maid joint on a poorly-traveled back road of Akihabara. It wasn’t even Akihabara proper; it was closer to Okachimachi, but you’d never know that from the signs on all the buildings around it. All of them were proud to claim the Akihabara title despite being over fifteen minutes from the station. The place was squeezed into the gap between two far newer buildings and looked ready for demolition. It reeked of old cigarette smoke and stale food. It was really a wonder anyone came in at all.
“Well, go on girl. Let’s see the dance.”
She was about to recommence, she’d even positioned her hands just right—it had taken her hours to perfect the proper angle of her arms to approximate the spread of an owl’s wings—but then the sirens blared and a series of police patrol cars and fire engines screamed by on the main road. She stopped. “Please forgive me, but I really should check to see what that is.” All the hairs on the back of her neck were standing to attention. She backed away and raced to the back room where Sasaki-san had his head down, an excel spreadsheet on the screen of his grimy laptop.
“What do you think that was?” she asked.
“Huh? Aren’t you supposed to be hitting those two up? Come on. Get some more drinks out of them at least. They haven’t ordered a caramel Owl Pachino, have they? You were supposed to sell at least one today.” His eyes didn’t lift from the screen. His fingers hovered languidly over a dirt-encrusted mouse.
“There were sirens. And a flash. Something’s happened.”
“None of our business.” Sasaki looked up. His hair was a grimy mess of bedraggled curls, and a fringe so long it was hard to see his eyes. His cheeks were pock-marked and his mouth seemed to curve to one side so that he always had a skeptical expression. “You need to get back out there. Go on. Go!”
“Yes. Of course. Sorry.” Rina turned and fled. She was prepared not to show how flustered she was when she made it back to the table but there was a different siren, the one reserved for emergencies. An announcement followed. It was almost impossible to make out the words but she heard enough. It was the local ward office emergency center. They were being told to evacuate. Immediately vacate to the closest evacuation center, had been the order.
Her customers were already standing, making their way towards the door.
“I want a discount,” one of them said. “We never got that dance.”
“Go. Go,” said the other. “It’s an evacuation. No need to pay.”
The two barely looked at her as they left. Rina stood silently long after the door had stopped swinging, listening to the sound of the panic outside. Sasaki-san didn’t appear to be worried, but then he never seemed to worry about anything. If it were her, she’d never get any sleep thinking about how they could make their monthly rent repayments. She’d once heard a rumor that Sasaki’s grandmother owned the building. Nothing else made much sense. They certainly didn’t have enough custom in the cafe to pay for other staff.
A deep growl came from beneath the table.
“Oh,” she said. They’d forgotten their dog. She bent and scooped up the cage by the handle on its top. It was surprisingly heavy. “I’ll just get you to your owners.” There was one final soft growl, then the animal quietened. “Sasaki-san!” she called. “Those customers left something behind. I’m going after them.” She did not expect a response and did not receive one. Instead, she headed out onto the street with the cage in hand.
Outside, the sky was tinted a dirty orange. The sun was already mostly hidden behind patchy rain clouds, but it was high enough that light was still flooding between the buildings like incorporeal reaching fingers clawing through the dusty air. More police cars roared past. Someone shouted. There were people on the streets as there always were but few of them seemed concerned. Old ladies made their way along the footpath. Touts handed out brochures and tissue packets. The two men with their awful jackets were nowhere to be seen.
An announcement blared out from loudspeakers. “Please move to the nearest evacuation point. This is not a drill.”
Rina looked back at the grime-coated grey walls of their building. It was five floors of ancient, poorly engineered earthquake fodder as far as she was concerned. She didn’t want to go back there and have it fall on her head, especially not with the customer’s pet. Sasaki-san would yell at her for that. The thought of actually evacuating to a shelter was alien. She shuddered at the thought of all those stinky salarymen huddling with wide, panicked eyes while octogenarians handed out out-of-date bottled water and packets they probably didn’t realize contained space blankets. The apartment she shared with her mother was within walking distance. She could go home. She was pretty sure their lease didn’t allow animals but her mother—she was supposed to call her by name, so Junko—probably wouldn’t notice until later and by then she would have figured out a solution. Junko had never been a particularly perceptive person even when she wasn’t wiped out from a night hostessing at the club. Rina held up the cage and whispered to it. “What do you think? Home?”
The answering growl was barely audible, but it was enough. Rina turned her back on the cafe and the deepening yellow glow in the sky and began to walk.