Chapter 3: Electron
A few minutes later, the filing cabinet slid across and a young woman with dark purple hair and features that might have been Korean emerged.
‘…’ said TM, impressively.
‘I feel like this is more me,’ said Ziggy. She had exchanged the blue suit for dark jeans and a tie-dye T-shirt topped off with a leather jacket; TM was almost sure they hadn’t had any clothes like that just hanging around in their bathroom, and certainly not in her size. Michel Furcoat sauntered over, hissing half-heartedly, and tried to scratch at her leg. ‘That’s adorable,’ she said, watching his purple-plastic-covered claws bouncing harmlessly off the denim.
‘Are you still… Ziggy?’ TM asked.
‘Yeah, of course,’ she said, pushing the cabinet back into place with a stripy-socked foot. ’Well, I guess I’m technically not, but you can keep calling me that. I’m still the same me as I was before, I think, depending how you define me and whatnot. Just… trying a different look.’
‘Good news, TM,’ Veggie said, glancing up at her from the table. ‘My feelings of sexual desire will no longer be getting in the way of our professional business-doings.’
‘It was the Bowie after all,’ Ziggy mused, to which both men felt they ought to respond. Neither did. Veggie took his suit jacket from the back of his chair and draped it over his head, plonking himself down as if to sleep.
‘What actually are you?’ TM asked after a while, more because he felt somebody ought to than because he particularly wanted to know the answer.
‘I’m me,’ said Ziggy. Her eyes – a hint of Taiwanese in their shape, TM thought – twinkled. ‘I’m a star.’
‘You’re not… making it up?’
Ziggy flicked her tongue of the roof of her mouth. It was a pleasantly shaped mouth, TM thought: neither too wide nor too narrow, with a hint of a natural upwards curve. It was perhaps a Japanese sort of mouth. ‘It’s complicated,’ she said. ‘Well, it’s not, really, but it’s probably not super easy to explain, or believe.’
‘Is this some hippy thing?’ TM asked. ‘Like how we’re all from the stars, eventually?’ He put on his best Carl Sagan voice: ’Made of star stuff, and all that.’
Ziggy considered the point. ‘It’s not. Although that is true. You’re all from the stars, if you go back far enough, but I’m a closer descendant, so to speak.’
TM eyed her suspiciously. ‘So you… are literally an actual star who’s just dropped down to Earth? No BS? I mean, this –’ he gestured at her appearance, which none could deny was significantly changed from what it had been only minutes before ‘- is weird, I’ll give you that. It’s convincing. I’m just not sure what it’s convincing me of.’
Ziggy gave a loud sigh through her nose, one hand on her hip and the other tapping a finger against her cheek. She had long, soft fingers, the fingers a naturally talented pianist might have before all the practicing made them callused and lean, and well-groomed nails. ‘What’s an electron?’ she said abruptly.
‘Um,’ said TM.
‘It’s a tiny sub-atomic particle. Right? A probability density function, a negatively-charged electrical field generator, a fermion.’
‘Um,’ said TM, again.
‘But if I tried to talk to you about electrons a couple of centuries ago – well, not you specifically, obviously, I didn’t know you back then – what an electron was, even if I tried to explain it, you would think I was making it all up.’
‘Nowadays, it’s a theoretical term – which makes it, in some sense at least, a real entity. Right?’
TM felt that he ought to respond, but even ellipses began to evade him.
‘Language is meaningless unless it refers; even if the referent doesn’t actually exist, a thing of sorts is brought into reality when you talk about it, if only in your head. Point is –’
‘There’s a point?’
‘The point is,’ Ziggy repeated firmly, ’what’s the actual difference between terminology and made- up? And besides, I could call anything an electron. Or I could claim that electrons do exist, but every theory about them so far has been completely wrong. Like, they’re necessarily something, not necessarily anything in particular, but necessarily not anything that anyone previously said they might be.’
‘I have absolutely no idea what you’re on about,’ said TM.
‘Good,’ said Ziggy. ‘Forgotten what your question was yet?’
‘Sweet,’ she said. ‘Let’s get some air.’
Veggie groaned, the sound muffled by the table and his jacket, and reluctantly initiated the long process of standing up. Michel Furcoat, lounging about on the table, gave him a somewhat fruitless poke in the ear.
‘Look,’ said Ziggy quietly. ‘All people have star stuff in them. Like how all KFC has a bit of secret spice special sauce recipe, or all fictions have a little something of the people who came up with them. I’m just… a jar of one-hundred-percent special sauce.’ She paused. ‘Well, like ninety-six percent, after you factor in all the packaging and manufacturing shit.’
TM blinked. ‘That’s a really weird analogy.’
‘Sorry,’ said Ziggy. ‘Still getting used to… well, everything.’
TM couldn’t argue with that.
‘So where do we go?’ Veggie asked, making his wobbly way over. ’What is out?!’
‘Just anywhere,’ Ziggy suggested with a shrug.
TM had a thought. ‘Veg, what day is it?’
‘Shit, you’re right. Let’s go somewhere that isn’t the park,’ TM said quickly.
‘Why not?’ Ziggy asked, raising an eyebrow.
‘No reason,’ TM said.
Veggie gave him a look that meant ‘I vaguely remember why you don’t want to go near the park, and I don’t fully approve’.