Charles was having a hard time staring out the window, but if he rested his neck and looked straight forward, he would be face to face with Hideki, who seemed to be digging out his nose behind a tissue. His hair seemed to be throbbing in the plasticised glass window, and shadows seemed to dance in the reflection, running through the carriage. People seemed to be looking at him, smiling, but he knew they weren’t. Quickly affirming with a sideways glance, yes, the passengers opposite were merely looking at their phones. One looked up, as they felt his gaze, so he tried to look away, to look away with the quickest of darting globe swivelling, he could do nothing but meet Hideki’s stare, for the splittiest of seconds, and it was snatched up, into the maw of the mantis.
-Did you watch Inception, Charles?
-Oh yeah, it was great
-So, what about the ending?
-You mean, did it continue spinning?
-Yes, so what did you think?
-Who knows? I don’t know, maybe?
-That’s what you are lacking, Charles, you need to make decisions, you need to be stronger.
-With all due respect, Sir, I do take decisions, when I have to, er, when it’s needed.
-Oh really. Did you see what SNK did with Terry Bogard in KOFXV?
-Are you an idiot? You’re supposed to keep an eye on the community, how did you miss this?
-Wait wait, I did, they nerfed him.
-Nerfed? I’m Japanese, speak in my language.
-They, they, er, reduced his power, his abilities.
Charles wanted to say that ‘nerf’ was a well established community term, but anyway…
“Was that the right thing to do?” quizzed Hideki, daggers ready.
Charles paused. Hideki didn’t appreciate the hesitation.
“You make a decision now?” demanded Hideki with a stabbing glare. “Is that right? What’s the best thing to do? Go ahead! Tell me!” Charles cleared his throat. “Well yes it was a good thing to do. They listened to the community-” Hideki slammed the table as he barked through almost gritted teeth: “Fuck the community!!”
Charles grabbed both cups of coffee and braced himself as Hideki stood up. Hideki wasnt that tall, so he didn’t hit his head on the overhead rack. However, before reaching across the table to grab his throat, Hideki remembered he was in a public space, and so lowered his volume, whilst retaining the seething anger through his grinding teeth. He sat back down.
-They don’t know what’s good for them. You know when Terry appeared in Smash Bros, right? While a couple of kid streamers didn’t know who he was, most of the fans in the gaming world went ballistic. Now I heard they bled over that negotiation, but they got it done and they got to show Terry to a massive new audience. Terry was made strong so that these Smash players, who wanted to try him in KOFXV, would feel comfortable. But did the community appreciate this? No, those dumbfucks just whined until the producer felt sorry for them. SNK should never have! Never!
-But Sir, people were giving up playing the game.
-Which people, Charles. Which? The same people that cried about Ukraine, saying they’re going to stop buying gas, what do you think is heating their home now, eh?
-… an electric heater?
-And they are driving to work on a fucking scooter down the motorway? Idiotic! Are you stupid? Fool! They don’t have a choice, so they whine while they drive through traffic jams and when they’re tired of whining about that, they’ll whine about something else. How long have you been doing this job? Don’t you know anything? Are you an idiot? Really?
Charles was tempted to tell Hideki to do the job if he was so good at it, but then he would lose his job and then not be able to buy gas, and the price of gas was going up. He put his hands on his thighs, looking down and then looked out of the window, and through the raindrops struggling through the condensation, he could barely comprehend the shape of the buildings whizzing past. They looked like teetering Jenga towers. “We will soon be arriving at our destination. Thank you for traveling with London Rail, fully nuclear powered and fully funded.” The message was then repeated in Chinese, followed by a video of an ex prime minister talking cheerfully to a man in a thobe.
“Drink your coffee,” commanded Hideki. “The halls open in 65 minutes, we have meetings and interviews all day long with licensees. What are you going to do, if they ask for something we don’t want to give, Charles?”
“Get them drunk and make them sign!” blurted Charles. This was his fifth coffee. His hands were trembling, his chest was pounding and his fingertips felt numb.