It was after midnight and Reina was running late. She was moving through the city trying to catch up to the others before time ran out.
In a taxi, at a stoplight that seemed to be taking forever to change, she sent the following text to Bk:
SORRY! I’LL BE THERE SOON! WAIT FOR ME BEFORE YOU GO IN!
The cab was self-driving, so Reina could do whatever she liked inside the dark interior. She decided to spread out her tattered fur coat like a blanket on the cold leather back seat and lay down.
She was tired. Months of being late to work, sneaking around, and being evasive with the others were taking their toll. It was hard remember the last time Housekeeping had been fun. Why was she so scared to tell the others that she wanted to leave? Why would she be scared of her own crew?
Bk was the only person Reina was still close to, but she was so young that she couldn’t understand the way things worked outside of the program, or why anyone would want to leave.
Quitting meant giving up everything: a place in the dorms and the income that New Beginnings gave out. In her five years with the program, Reina had only heard of two people who got out legally and safely.
Sometimes there seemed to be an actual plan for taking action; sometimes there was just a vague feeling that things would work out by themselves eventually.
Reina believed that getting another job first — a real one — might help her chances of making a break and moving on. She didn’t know where that idea came from, but it seemed to make sense.
Large areas of the inner city were shattered from the missiles and bombs that had fallen haphazardly around Tokyo, but some industries were finally starting to come back after years of nothing. There were supposed to be opportunities in fashion and apparel again if you could find a spot or knew someone who could make an intro. Reina thought she could work as an assistant, help manage a shop, model (maybe), make accessories… anything if given a chance.
And so she had spent the last few months going to different events, shows, and openings, trying to network and make connections. But nothing seemed to come of it. She wondered if people could sense that she was part of New Beginnings and maybe that scared them away.
Tonight had been another dead end.
She had skipped out on dinner with the crew and instead went to a brand launch event in Aoyama held in an abandoned parking garage. There was supposed to be a scout there looking for makeup assistants and testers to hire, but Reina didn’t know what he looked like in person, so she just wound up against the wall by herself scanning the crowd.
Then she had to go. Time was running out and the crew would be wondering where she was.
Reina hated herself for not trying harder. She wanted to change her life, but there were so many things in her way…
At a stoplight, in the darkness, Reina finally got a text back from Bk.
It read: OK. I’M WAITING FOR YOU.
Light rain fell on a back street in Yoyogi.
The crew came out of the shadows with neck chokers, loop belts, safety pins, and other metal fixtures hanging from their dark clothing. Dim fluorescent lighting reflected off their silver accessories.
There were four of them in all: Daam, Yoky, Hama, and Bk; the usual crew, minus Reina. Clouds of breath plumed up above them as they walked forwards in a single horizontal line past craters and construction sites.
Daam was the only one who knew the way to go. New Beginnings had sent him the address a full week in advance. Building and floor schematics were also provided, but, as usual, he hadn’t really paid attention to them. Most targets tended to live in small apartments with nearly identical layouts.
They arrived at a sad block of public housing apartments. It looked like it had been built long before any of them had been born, then renovated a few decades ago, before falling into neglect again, after the very first missiles came down.
There was no real lobby, but there was enough room near the staircase where they could do last minute prep and wait for Reina (whom Bk had said was coming after all).
Hama reached into the knee-length baggy black skirt he was wearing and took something out. It was a butterfly knife. He began to warm up his wrists by flipping the blade around.
Over to his right, Daam double checked his backpack, making sure his retractable bat was located where he could easily grasp it. Then he placed a black leather strap on his wrist, which contained a retractable wire garrote inside. He pulled on the wire a few times to test and adjust the tension.
And then everyone sat in the lobby, doing nothing, saying nothing; just looking at their phones, and waiting.
At 12:31am, Reina finally appeared in the entranceway. Her rollaway suitcase clicked and clanked over the uneven floor.
“Sorry I’m late,” Reina said softly while repeatedly making small bows.
“It’s OK,” Bk said back at her.
Yoky looked at both of them with disapproval and scorn coming through her heavy makeup.
Daam kept his back to Reina and said, “Don’t worry; this should be an easy one”.
Reina knelt down and opened up her suitcase, hurrying to put on the Housekeeping top that was stored inside. It was a loose and baggy black hoodie worn in case things got messy during a job. The New Beginnings motto was printed on the back: “GOD LOVE WORLD PEOPLE”.
The silkscreened white letters showed wear and were beginning to peel off.
Daam said “Ok, let’s go. Third floor…”
Bk took out a small LED light and turned it on. It made the lobby bright and cast long shadows as it moved about.
Daam and Hama took lead up the stairs, going side by side. Following behind, Reina and Yoky took out their phones and began taking video. Yoky put a finger to her mouth as if to say “shush” before making a stabbing motion with her hand when they arrived at the apartment door.
New Beginnings had given Daam a printed copy of the door key earlier that day. He waved it at the camera a few times, licked it to make the others laugh, and put it in the slot.
The Crew entered the apartment slowly and quietly. The space inside was dark except for Bk’s light moving around. It smelled bad: old clothes, old people, stuff from an old world. Daam pointed down the hallway and gestured with his hand to Hama; directing him to where the bedroom should be.
Reina, Bk, and Yoky stayed in the entranceway, blocking it in case anyone tried to escape. They stood amongst various pieces of someone’s sad life: worn out shoes and slippers, rusting umbrellas, empty bottles.
Then there were some shouts from down the hallway.
A loud voice rang out that was not Daam’s or Hama’s. Reina recognized the words as English, but could not make them out clearly.
There were sounds of a struggle: Daam and Hama’s clothing and equipment ratting around, what sounded like a lamp falling over, and eventually, a loud thump hitting the floor.
A few seconds later, Daam yelled out, “Ok!”
Yoky walked from the doorway and went into the living room. She started to kick things out of the way to make space: a chair, a small portable stove, a pile of magazines tightly bound by string.
Reina knelt down, reached into her backpack, pulled out a plastic sheet, and began to unfold it. Yoky and Bk flattened it out as wide as they could while Reina went corner to corner with a roll of silver duct tape, securing it to the floor.
The job wasn’t perfect, but it would have to do. “Ok, ready!” Yoky said loudly. “Ok!” Daam called back from the other room.
Bk moved back and held the LED light just above her head. Reina took out her phone and started to record again, standing to the left to get a wide shot of the room.
Hama and Daam came out from the back of the apartment.
They had the target between them.
Hama pushed him down on his knees in the center of the living room while Daam fastened his hands with plastic zip ties.
The sight of him shook Reina.
He was a foreigner, but she couldn’t guess where from.
He had red wrinkled skin and blue bloodshot eyes that darted around the room in wild confusion. They fixed on Reina, and she stared back at him. He tried to say something directly at her, but Daam had taped his mouth shut, so he just made noises and tossed his head around.
He thinks I’m a foreigner too, Reina guessed. Most people did at first. Her big eyes and prominent nose made it easy to mistake her for one. But she was a New National, and didn’t speak any other languages besides Japanese.
She willed herself to ignore the face across the room and to concentrate on her screen instead. She rarely regarded targets with any kind of curiosity — years of New Beginnings behavioral training and inhibitor drugs had hardened her like the others — but now, a feeling broke through and she could not help but wonder…who was he?
Reina remembered her father, another foreigner who probably met his end like this. She always wanted to believe that he made it back to America, but he was old even then, when she’d last seen him as a small child. She knew deep down that he’d probably never managed to leave the country.
Lots of soldiers and families, including her own, had been displaced during the war and took up residence in public housing. Space and resources became scarce around the country. There were too many people and too many refuges. Some of them started disappearing. Orphans were recruited into the New Beginnings program, out of which came the Housekeeper squads; who did things to scare people, or simply remove them out of the way. But some people, mostly the old ones, stayed and didn’t want to go.
Reina wondered what this target’s reason for staying was. Family? Money? It didn’t matter now.
Yoky moved in with her camera. She framed Daam, Hama, and the target all in one shot.
Daam waved and smiled and, in a quick motion; he spun around and hit the old man hard on the jaw with his fist.
What none of them could see was…
High above their heads
A complex and shifting geometric shape spun into existence, a few lines at first, then taking on an actual form slowly tracing Daam’s quick motions in time and space
Then, something moved; like a pair of hands holding a toy, and placed the shape to just above where Hama was standing.
A delicate wire sculpture traced the movements that followed below.
“Sorry we were late!” Daam shouted at the target, kicking him hard in the stomach while Hama stood behind, holding him upright during the beating that followed.
Reina knew his words had been meant for her. She tried to remember that these people had been her friends once and tried to figure out the moment when it all began to unravel.
Then she was scared, her heart was racing, but she tried her best to stay calm. If only she hadn’t have come tonight; but Housekeeping work was mandatory. Someone would track her down if she didn’t show.
Her instinct was to burst into tears and to try and run away. Instead, she tried with all her might to hold the camera as steady as possible and to breathe deeper and deeper… try to wait it out.
The target swayed back and forth on his knees. Blood and saliva from his taped mouth was starting to leak down onto the plastic mat below.
Hama stood inches away from him, tapping his chest to try and find the best place to strike. Daam made sure that Yoky had a good angle for recording. Then he stretched out his garroting wire and slipped it fast around the target’s neck…
Another shape forms high above, tracing the dying man’s trajectories
The collective shape of all of Daam ’s motions continues to build in lines and complexity: diagonal, horizontal, loops and intersections
A hand (that is not a hand) picks up Hama and begins to weave a shape for him as well
They decided not to use the needle that night: a shot of something quick and lethal that crews were given to use on targets. It was too quiet. It was no fun. Instead, Hama stabbed in the old man in the chest, right between the ribs and deep into his heart. New Beginnings wouldn’t really mind how the body was delivered as long as it was properly processed.
Daam kept tightening the wire and the target’s face looked like it was about to burst and…
The hand (that is not a hand) reaches down again
It removes something from the old man’s core and considers it briefly — a white and yellowish thing, glowing and translucent without texture, the same as the others. Not worth keeping. It is flattened down and ground away into tiny sparks that fade into nothing
The target was still upright on his knees, except now he was dead.
“Well…” said Daam as he took off the garrote from his wrist and let his arms relax.
“Goodbye,” Hama said softly in a light tone. Then he kicked the body over on its back.
“How was it?” Daam asked Yoky. She quickly checked the footage on her phone and said, “Ok” without looking up.
Then they took some pictures with the body as it lay in the center of the room. Daam and Hama picked up their weapons and posed first. After a quick check for their hair and makeup; Yoky, Bk, and Reina came over to take pictures as well.
Then Reina and Bk stretched out the body, crossed the arms over the chest and folded the sheet below around it. Yoky took some ties, and she looped them through the holes in the plastic; lacing them up tight, and folding down adhesive seals at the top and bottom. Reina and Bk put a line of white masking tape from the front door to the living room, so the pickup and disposal team would know exactly where to go when they got here.
Hama wandered around the apartment. There didn’t seem to be anything of value worth taking, except some beers in the refrigerator, so he tossed them into his backpack.
Now they were just waiting for Daam to put in the call to New Beginnings and let them know the job was done. But that didn’t happen…
“Let’s go,” he said to the others as he began slowly walking to the door.
Reina wondered if he’d forgotten about her, about being late tonight, about everything. But she didn’t want to speak now after all the tension and bad feelings from earlier. So she did a final check of her stuff, patting down her pockets to make she had everything: her phone, her makeup, and
The shapes above them stopped spinning and weaving
A new form came into existence
A single motion that was an arm: swinging up then swinging down
And Reina felt her head explode.
It had come out of nowhere: a white light that overwhelmed her and took her beyond and away.
Yoky had used Daam’s bat to strike the back of Reina’s skull.
They had agreed to do it earlier that evening. Getting rid of Reina like this was quicker and faster than going through the endless bureaucracy at New Beginnings to try and replace her. It really was that simple.
Reina went up
Then she looked down
She could see wireframe shapes and the people that lived beneath them
Something was moving them from up here, manipulating them, without anyone knowing. Her whole life, and the lives of all the others, had been like this: completely out of her control. It was kind of a relief to finally know that at last.
Reina saw her body down there and what the others did with it; their thoughts and intentions were intersecting points and lines in moving grids. She could see Bk was sad about the way this had gone, although she couldn’t bear to show it. Not now, anyways.
Hama grabbed Reina’s body by the ankles and dragged it back into the center of the living room. Yoky gave Daam his steel bat back, and he rubbed it across the dead man’s palms and hands. It looked like the target had killed Reina in a struggle.
This was an occupational hazard; it had happened to other Housekeepers and crews before. There was no real way to prevent it. New Beginnings, understanding that, would not really care or investigate further. They would just process and dispose of the extra body like the others.
Hama and Yoky put Reina in a bag.
Bk didn’t talk or help out. She just stood in the corner with her arms crossed, looking down at the floor, wishing she wasn’t here anymore.
Yoky went through Reina’s purse and pockets. She took her wallet and her phone. She tossed the makeup kit at Bk’s head. She just barely managed to catch it in mid-air before it hit her.
Then Daam finally messaged the clean-up crew on his phone, and added a +1 in the pickup tab.
No one felt like taking any pictures after.
Reina looked at herself
The body way down there was still twitching a bit in the bag, but it would soon stop for good.
Her invisible hands reached down until they felt warm. She pulled herself up — her real self — a small white light rimmed with orange and yellow. She knew it belonged to her. She put it where she thought her mouth should be or still was.
Then she went up even higher
She could see outside of the apartment building now. The crew looked like a small line of ants moving up the street. But there were other forms to consider now. Shapes and lines were spinning all over the city, piercing the darkness with dots of bright light, small and large.
Reina knew that she could touch them all; move them around if she wanted to. She thought she would try first on the cleanup team as soon as they arrived.
Reina had found it, finally, here at last.
This was her new job.
Words and pictures: Patrick Macias
Starring reinaortgl as “Reina”
Logo designs by Takahashi Hiroyuki-Mitsume
CGI by all_knowing_nothing
Special thanks to T&M, KIRA, Jason T., Emily B., and and David Wise