[Inside the Stastias apartment building that smells of homemade peach pie, the painted-up Emevlas Stastias, who has developed a slight southern accent since we last saw her, lay face-up on a brown wooden table, mumbling something to herself in Portuguese. Her brother Equinox was behind the trusty Camileo camera this time. Time: 4:23 p.m. Central Standard Time.]
Emevlas: "My nephew always tells me that no one would survive the Robotron invasion of 2084. I think he's wrong, and I prove it at Slamtrack 8. I'll do to poor ol' Hittora what my past self did to Mr. SkyMont, and we all remember what happened to him, right?"
*Camera shakes up and down, signifying yes from Equinox.*
"The new me isn't one to underestimate anyone like Hittora, though. I realize it is a self-aware cyborg, and I'm aware of it's capabilities, however, it cannot feel fear...
or 50 splinters driven through the back. I've felt all, as I feel all right now. I feel everything, everyone, every second of life, which is a luxury ol' Hittora don't have, or ever can have."
*Emevlas sits up, gets up off of the table.*
"Monsters hide in all of us. In Go-Go Spectacular, in Kid Koala, in Ivan Dalkichev, in Jen Glass, in Danny Dalton, in the poster girl Second Comin', and even in Hittora. Same goes for everyone else in this company."
*chuckles maniacally, then severely inhales, suffering from mood whiplash.*
"Except me. I let my monster mold me, shape me, and consume me, and I am what y'all see today: an evolved version of ol' auntie Emevlas, and that's what Hittora will see come Slamtrack 8."
“Hello, friends of Red Line Wrestling,” says a pleasant voice. “My name is Hittora. I am pleased to meet you.”
The scene is simple: A black backdrop emblazoned with the RLW logo in great, bright letters. A young woman sits in front of it, dressed in a navy blue skirt suit, hands folded neatly in her lap, one leg crossed over her knee. She is pale with Japanese features, glossy black hair down to her shoulders, bangs trimmed in a geometric line above thin eyebrows and dark eyes, pink lips pursed in a polite smile.
Hittora bows her head to the camera. The motion is executed with perfect grace. When she nods up again, she is in precisely the same position as before. Her smile, too. She blinks at predetermined intervals and her eyes remain fixed on the same point in front of her.
“There are, of course, many questions about my arrival in RLW,” she says. Her voice is feminine with a faint electronic echo. She speaks English with a perfect American accent, but her cadence is not fluid like a native speaker, and her affect is flat.
“My journey, from my awakening in Tokyo to this moment, here in Chicago, is a long and eventful one. I will not trouble you with many details.” A slight nod and shake of the head, bouncing that shimmering black hair. “We will have plenty of time to learn about each other. Let us say for now that your world is a source of endless fascination for me. I want to explore it and become part of it.”
Notice the lack of body movement, those normal, nearly imperceptible shifts in position one makes even when sitting still. Hittora’s movements are localized and efficient. Her smile never wavers.
“From my extensive research into popular culture, I discovered that my kind are portrayed as being as full of diversity and potential as humankind is. I am the only one of my kind that exists in the real world, but I conclude that I am free to pursue my own goals. My goal now is to test my physical limits in the time-honored realm of combat sport.” Smile, blink, blink. “My support team believed it would draw too much media attention and interfere with my development if I were to wrestle in Japan. So I am here instead, ‘laying low’ as Dr. Ishida might say, so I can hone my skills.” She bows her head again. “I thank you for your hospitality.”
Hittora looks up. “My first opponent is Emevlas Stastias. Miss Stastias, thank you for sharing your thoughts about our upcoming match. You are correct that I do not experience human emotions the way you do. One day, my personality matrix may evolve enough to give rise to emotion. I look forward to it. On another matter, I ask your forgiveness to make a slight correction.” She bows briefly and her smile fades to a neutral expression. “You referred to me as a ‘cyborg’, a contraction of the term ‘cybernetic organism’. This description does not apply to me as I do not contain any organic elements. It is more accurate to describe me as a mechanoid. But this is impersonal between friends.” The smile returns, exactly as before. “You may simply call me Hittora.”
In the next moment, though, she raises her hand to her cheek and her expression morphs into one of mild concern. “Miss Stastias, as we are friends, please forgive my rudeness for saying so, but I have noticed a drastic change in your personality, mannerisms, and regional accent since your last performance. According to my statistical analysis of human behavior, I conclude that you are either engaging in ‘roleplay’ as a different character than earlier, or you may have an undiagnosed psychological disorder. Again, I beg forgiveness for my impertinence, but I have compiled a list of mental health practitioners in the Chicago area who may be able to help you. On the other hand, if you are roleplaying, I applaud your effort and I wish you much luck in perfecting your act.”
Hittora smiles and bows. “Please allow me now to share my thoughts about our match at Slamtrack 8. You have a penchant for slamming opponents through tables. Although I do not feel pain the way humans do, I can be damaged, and I confess I do not find the idea of being slammed through a table appealing. I will do my best to avoid such an event if possible. But I assure you as well that I will not attempt to do the same to you. I will instead rely on my skills and algorithms. I have processed several simulations of our battle and they indicate I will be victorious.” That ever-present smile. “Nevertheless, I wish you the best of luck and I look forward to our competition.”
With that, she smoothly uncrosses her legs, stands up, and delivers a traditional Japanese bow to the camera as this scene fades to black.
[Since we saw her last, the table that Emevlas was lying upon has been broken with her brother lying in the rubble, knocked out. Emevlas had found a tripod to place her ever-trusty Camileo upon.]
"Hittora, do you understand Portuguese? If so, understand this: Eu vou mostrar nenhum remorso. Nós podemos ser amigos fora do ringue, mas por dentro, somos inimigos mortais. Você tem um encontro com uma mesa após o nosso pequeno jogo, e não vai ser tão bonita quanto você foi criado para ser." Mevy's face turns from a proud look to a slightly strict expression.
"I assure you, Hittora, this is the real me. I've no reason to HIDE my true self like I used to. Do forgive me for calling you a cybernetic organism. However, we have never met face to face, so I wouldn't be able to tell if you had any organic material on or inside you. Before we meet inside the ring, I'll pray for you, sweetheart."
Emevlas closes her hands together palm-by-palm and gives the camera a truly wicked smile as this scene fades to black.
“Hello, friends of Red Line Wrestling,” says Hittora, bowing her head, smiling her perpetual smile. “Hello, Miss Stastias. Thank you for your latest video.”
Once again, she is seated in front of an RLW backdrop, legs crossed, hands folded in her lap, an exact duplication of the position she adopted in her last session. Her navy blue skirt suit is nary a thread out of place.
“And thank you for asking if I speak Portuguese. I am equipped with Google Translate and a proprietary speech codec, so I can communicate in many languages. But I have learned that the ability to speak multiple languages is relatively uncommon in humans, so I congratulate you on your language skills.”
She raises both hands and claps politely. Then she lowers them again, and her face turns neutral.
“If I may respond to your message: I am most disappointed that you consider me to be your mortal enemy in the ring. I did not realize you had such negative feelings toward me. Please accept my most humble apologies for any offense I caused to you.”
Hittora bows her head low, her black hair spilling over her shoulders, and holds this position for precisely five seconds. As she straightens up, her eyebrows are knitted in concern.
“When I reviewed my last recording, I concluded that I said two things to upset you.” She lifts her hand and raises her index finger. “The first is when I said I would try to avoid being slammed through a table. I understand this activity is very meaningful to you. I always try my best to accommodate the wishes of others, and I would do so in this case if I could. Unfortunately, I regret to say that the Third Law of Robotics requires me to preserve my own well-being. I hope you will understand and not hold this against me.”
Two fingers come up now. Her expression remains sober.
“Secondly, I caused offense when I impertinently suggested that your new persona was not your true self. I apologize deeply, Miss Stastias.” Another deep bow. “Truly, I have much yet to learn about humans. Now I understand that your previous behavior was the act and your current behavior is genuine self-expression. Thank you for clarifying the matter for me. I beg forgiveness again, however, as I found it puzzling that you would slam your brother through a table in your own home with no clear motivation. Dr. Ishida believes this was meant as a demonstration to intimidate me, but I do not see the logic in this.”
Hittora cocks her head slightly to the right and shrugs her shoulders.
“My data tells me that random acts of violence toward loved ones may be a sign of mental illness. As I mentioned previously, I have found 663 psychiatrists currently active in and around the Chicago area. I will send you a contact list by email, organized alphabetically by surname. Please consider seeking professional help. With regard to your brother, I have also generated a list of chiropractors and physical therapists to aid in his recovery. I wish you both well.”
And now Hittora’s smile returns, as pleasant as always.
“Finally, Miss Stastias, thank you for your prayers. I know it is a human convention to appeal to your deity on behalf of others. It is most generous of you to offer your god’s favor to me, even though it follows logically that I may receive an advantage over you. I have factored this into my simulations of our upcoming match, and my probability of success looks overwhelmingly positive. You are very kind.” An appreciative bow of the head. “I do not know if there is a god or deity who oversees my kind. If there is, it will be my pleasure to submit a request for a favor on your behalf. I will notify you of the tracking number and estimated time of delivery.”
She stands up off her seat, and bows to the camera at the waist before straightening up again. Putting one hand flat against her skirt, she waves politely with the other and smiles her Hittora smile.
“Thank you for watching and have a wonderful day.”
[The camera hadn't been turned off yet. Unbeknownst to Hit-chan, Emevlas had been listening off-screen with her last video having been recorded earlier in the week, and as soon as Hittora had left the frame, Emevlas, southern twang and all, spouted off with the ever-popular quip...]
"Google Translate sucks..."
*Emevlas inhales viciously, as if her mood whiplash caused her pain*
"IN. The ring, we're mortal enemies. You, and anyone else that dares face me. OUTSIDE. The ring, we could be friends. I don't hate you. But, in that crimson-and-white ring, we are opponents, not friends. I've known this since 1998. It's complicated, really."
*Mevy's expression goes from one of frustration to one of neutrality, after a deep, clean breath. She bites her lip afterwards*
"By the way, ol' Noxy's just fine. His back is used to being slammed through tables. He'd been at it since 1991 and until a couple years ago he was still tickin'. He was playing up being knocked out. Not that I ain't capable of something like that."
*From mild smugness to mild annoyance.*
"I don't need psychiatric help, either. Those 663 psychiatrists don't need me takin' up their 'precious' time."
As this GoPro video opens, for once Hittora is not giving the camera her usual smile, and she is not in front of an RLW backdrop. The environment is a brightly-lit but distinctly disorganized laboratory setting: counters cluttered with computers, cables, tools, and various unidentifiable equipment, with more of this piled on the tiled floor and in corners. Something resembling a retrofitted dentist’s chair is half-seen on one side of the image, and a simple aluminum frame in the back of the room is home to a sparse assortment of clothes neatly arranged on hangers, including a navy blue skirt suit.
Hittora is front and center, preoccupied with looking into a wall-mounted full-length mirror. She turns this way and that, examining how she looks in her brand new wrestling attire. It’s a one-piece singlet made of shiny, silvery material with a collared piece at the neck, and as she twists to the left and right, we see detail printed on the fabric: red kanji on the left hip, white text in English on the right. She is also wearing elbowpads and kneepads in this same red/left, white/right pattern and black wrestling boots.
Eventually she looks toward the camera and her Hittora smile is on full display. She gives a small bow.
“Please excuse my inattention. I have been admiring the ring attire you had made for me. It is very stylish.” Another bow, lower this time. “Thank you very much, Dr. Ishida.”
A woman’s voice from out of frame answers peevishly in Japanese, and the video trembles slightly. The speaker is holding the camera. Subtitles give us the translation: “Hit-chan, I keep telling you not to call me Dr. Ishida. That’s my father’s name.”
“But you are also a doctor,” Hittora replies in Japanese, “and it is disrespectful not to acknowledge your stature, Dr. Ishida.”
“God. Listen. When you interact with friends you don’t need honorifics. You can just go on a first name basis. So for the last time, you can just call me Rika, okay?”
Hittora nods. “As you wish, Dr. Rika.”
“If you are recording now, may I address my friends in Red Line Wrestling?”
“Go ahead, Hit-chan.”
“Thank you.” Hittora bows, switching now to her perfect English with its idiosyncratic cadence, and smiles, always pleasantly. “Hello, friends of Red Line Wrestling. Hello, Miss Stastias. I was sorry to have just missed you the last time I used the RLW interview booth. If I had known you were there, I would have been pleased to spend time with you. I beg forgiveness for misunderstanding your message about being mortal enemies in the ring.” She bows her head, black hair pouring over her bare shoulders. “I now understand you were referring to contextual behavior, as Dr. Ishida—“
“My apologies. As Dr. Rika has just explained to me. We are friends when we are not in the ring, whereas we must adopt a competitive stance toward each other when we are opponents. Your contextual behavior in the ring is to approach me as a mortal enemy and thereby not let our friendship inhibit your aggression. Thank you for reinforcing this concept for me. I will try to put this principle into practice myself when we wrestle.”
Hittora gives an appreciative smile. “I am also pleased for your clarification about your brother Equinox. It is fortunate that he is well and not adversely affected by being slammed through a table. I have concluded that I no longer need to worry about the prospect of being slammed through a table, because you have demonstrated that it is not dangerous to one’s well-being after all. Thank you once again, Miss Stastias.”
She cocks her head slightly to one side. “On a final matter, Miss Stastias, I would like to thank you for your invitation to hug you. I have learned that, in many cultures, humans amplify their social bonds through nonviolent physical contact. As such, it will be my pleasure to engage in a hug with you to strengthen our friendship the next time we meet. Please let me know if you would prefer to do this before or after our match. I assume it cannot happen during our match,” she adds with her ever-present, guileless smile, “because we will be mortal enemies.”
Hittora places her hands on her thighs and gives a traditional bow to the camera.
“Thank you for watching and have a wonderful day.”
[At the Stastias apartment building, where most things are usually fun and groovy and other such descriptors, Emevlas, painted up and everything, was absolutely livid at the "not needing to worry about tables" comment, but was doing very well at hiding that fact, thus a neutral expression crossed her paint-ridden face. This all starts with a chuckle.]
"Oh poor, innocent Hit-chan. You don't know what it's like at all to be driven through a table, do you, hun?"
*Mood swing: Neutral to Mildly smug.*
"Imagine 50 knives piercin' your silicone skin and diggin' into your 'shoulder blades,' your kidneys, your well-being. It ain't a pleasant experience at all, I know firsthand, Equinox damn well knows firsthand. That's why he wasn't badly hurt, he's done it several hundred times. I've done it several times."
"While you stood behind a podium, I busted my ass getting to the top of the business. While you greeted 7-year-olds who would soon turn into teenagers who have high libidoes, I was one of the faces of professional wrestling. While you were created to greet and learn, I was born, created, and MOULDED as a destroyer. Moulded... to leave bodies and wood in my wake. No matter what kind of body, organic or not, you ARE bein' driven through a table, and believe me, it will hurt."
*Neck muscles twitching, audibly breathing, a few of the signs of an unstable mind on Emevlas' part, just wanting to put someone through a table.*
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