Stargirl

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Chapter 5: Television

Half an hour later, they emerged from the office, staring at each other in disbelief.

‘That was absolutely fucking ridiculous,’ said TM, because someone had to.

‘Absolutely,’ Veggie agreed, ‘ridiculous.’

Ziggy nodded, exhaling sharply. ‘So am I a junior partner now?’

‘Are you serious?’ Veggie asked, giving her a hard stare dead in the eyes.

’Uh, yuh-huh.’

Veggie held her gaze for a second, then hugged her so hard her feet left the ground. ’You’re a bloody senior flipping… CEO, that’s what the heck you are!’

‘Woo,’ said Ziggy breathlessly, as Veggie’s arms squeezed the air from her lungs.

‘You’re in for good,’ TM agreed, high-fiving one of her dangling hands.

‘Thanks,’ Ziggy said with a wide grin, climbing up and out of Veggie’s bear-like grip. ‘I think I did pretty good, not gonna lie.’

Veggie trumpeted a blustering hoot, waving his hands about in wild excitement, and tried to hug her again. She stepped behind TM, who patted Veggie on the head affectionately. ‘That was the best thing I’ve ever seen in my whole life,’ Veggie told her with total seriousness. ’I mean, I’ve never even heard of getting an upfront payment for this sort of thing! It’s usually, like, weeks of provisional paperwork, and then you deliver something and get a bit and then you see if it sells and get a bit more and – but the whole lot? Upfront? It’s ludicrous!’ He finished his rant and took a few deep breaths, looking as if he might fall over with the sheer excitement of it all.

‘Yeah, it’s almost unbelievably convenient,’ TM said, eyeing up an antique lampshade in a nearby shop window. They needed a new one, and now they might actually be able to afford one.

’Well, it’s awesome,’ Veggie spluttered. ’I mean, this is the first actual money paid to Veggie TM – sorry, Ziggy Veggie Ziggy TM,’ he corrected, when TM’s eyes rolled pointedly in Ziggy’s direction, ‘cos I am so damn chuffed that I’m gonna put your name in there twice – in… like, aged.’

Ziggy beamed. ‘Glad to be of assistance,’ she said, and Veggie made a squawk of affronted outburst.

’Of assistance? Of assistance?!

‘Veg,’ said TM.

‘Mmyeah.’

‘I think she knows she did good.’

‘Oh, right,’ said Veggie, deadpan. He gave Ziggy’s hand a forceful shake. ’Pleased to meet you, since I’m not sure I ever fully introduced myself. I’m Veggie, two-time regional Guitar Hero champion and founding partner of this most lucrative and innovative business enterprise, and I look forward to many profitable years together.

‘Ziggy,’ said Ziggy. ‘Star, person, fan of toast.’

‘Awesome.’

Ziggy led the way home, arms draped around the shoulders of her new business partners, stopping to look at every vaguely interesting thing she saw. The sunlight, low and intense as late afternoon made its slow metamorphosis into evening, shone into TM’s eyes, and he had to hold a hand up for protection, but Ziggy just stared at it in wonder.

‘It’s not good for your eyes to look directly at the sun, you know,’ TM told her. She threw her head back with an enthusiastic ‘pfft’.

‘How do you know what’s good for my eyes?’ she asked, which TM had to admit was quite a good point. ‘You suddenly an expert in star-person biology?’

‘Is anyone?’

‘You gotta stop breaking everything down, man,’ Ziggy implored. ’You see sunlight and you turn it into something that’s dangerous and annoying. I bet you see a painting and you’re like oh look at that one tiny bit but you never actually just take the whole thing for… something irreducible.’

‘Everything’s reducible,’ TM started to say, but Ziggy shushed him.

‘Nothing is, really,’ she said. ’Say you’re looking at a flower, and then you divide it up into all the bits and start looking at individual petals, or cells even. And you think somehow that gives you a better understanding of what the flower is, cos you know what it’s made up of and what the bits are all called and how they fit together. But the moment you start taking the parts as anything other than a whole thing, you’re not looking at a flower any more.’

‘But –’

‘I’m not saying it’s not a valuable enterprise, understanding what stuff is composed of,’ Ziggy continued. ‘I just think people forget to take things for what they are sometimes. You wouldn’t want somebody to reduce you down to your components, you’d think they weren’t really thinking about you at all.’

‘How have you only existed as a person for… like, twelve hours or whatever, and you’re already schooling this fool about the nature of human thought?’ Veggie pondered.

‘Maybe because of it,’ Ziggy said. ‘I don’t have any preconceptions. When you look around you’re instantly categorising stuff into what you think it is, giving things names and dividing them up and comparing one tree to every other tree you’ve ever seen, but you forget how to just look at that tree as a new thing.’

‘I’m gonna enjoy having you around,’ Veggie declared, giving Ziggy a fist-bump.

TM walked along beside them, unable to stop thinking about what a tree really was. He supposed that by obsessing over the details of it, he was rather missing the point of the whole ‘take it as it is’ thing, but it was hard to stop. Someone had said much the same thing to him, not so long ago.

‘I think it’s sweet how you don’t think you understand something until you understand every tiny component,’ Aster told him, as they lay in bed. Aster’s bed, of course, since TM’s happened to be in the same room as Veggie’s, and that was rarely conducive to anything. ‘I mean, how small do you want to get?’

‘I don’t know,’ TM said thoughtfully. ‘I guess once you get as small as you can name –’

‘Like, get down to the subatomic level, because that’s the smallest level that science has given names to?’

‘I think so.’

‘That’s pretty arbitrary, don’t you think? Just deciding that you’re satisfied that you understand something once you’ve broken it down as far as anyone’s got terminology for?’

‘Well, I don’t actually manage to get that far most of the time.’

Aster laughed quietly. TM felt the vibrations of it travel through his chest where his skin touched hers. ‘So most of the time, you just have to be satisfied that you do actually understand what something is, despite the fact that you haven’t broken it down into every individual particle?’

‘I guess if I didn’t, it’d be pretty hard to get anything done.’

‘I’m just imagining you trying to open a door, but you can’t do it until you know exactly what the chemical makeup of the handle is. You’d be super late for everything if you had to go off and research every door you had to open on the way.’

‘You’ve got to break it down somewhere, though,’ TM suggested. ’If I don’t break the whole thing that is the universe down into some sort of component parts, saying that a door has a handle is meaningless in the first place ‘cos everything’s just… universe.’

‘I guess it’s about figuring out where it’s appropriate to make those divisions, then. Whether for utility or… something else. Heck, maybe the universe itself is just a component part of some divided thing. Like, for all we know, this universe is just one hemisphere of a brain made up of everything that we know exists, and there’s some cosmic corpus callosum in the fabric of reality joining us to the other hemisphere. And then maybe that brain’s part of a head, which is part of a body, and that body’s part of another species on another planet in another universe –’

‘Ad infinitum.’

‘Exactly that.’

‘It probably goes both ways, then,’ TM mused. ‘We’re probably just an indeterminate number of layers into an infinite sequence of universes inside universes. Little Russian doll realities.’

’So you’ll never be able to break anything down completely to its smallest part, ‘cos you’d have to keep starting again at the size of an entire universe.’

‘Hm.’

‘I can tell you’re already trying to break down the logic of this whole thing.’

‘Actually, I’m trying pretty hard not to.’

‘Whoaaaa,’ Ziggy gasped, bringing TM back to the present. ‘That’s TV, right?’

‘That’s TV,’ agreed TM, correctly; they were passing the window of an electronics store, which was filled with rows of lit-up screens all displaying the same show. ‘Oh, hey, Veg. It’s that show you like.’

Veggie leaned in with interest. ’It’s Awesome Survival!

‘You know it’s not really called that?’

‘It should be,’ Veggie sulked.

On the screens, the same woman was repeated in every image. She wore a long, slim-fitting khaki shirt with a thick leather belt and sturdy-looking boots, and was busy hacking away at an enormous tree branch with a sharp-looking machete. ‘This tree,’ she said, which none of them could hear, but luckily there were subtitles, ‘is a redwood.’ She gave the camera a knowing look. ‘It’s incredibly old, and incredibly beautiful. And now it’s going to help me in my quest for survival.’

‘Awwww, I know what happens next,’ Veggie declared eagerly.

A short montage followed, in which the woman fashioned wood from the tree into a long, elegant bow and strung it with what was apparently real animal gut. ‘There’s, like, a really awesome montage song playing right now,’ Veggie whispered to Ziggy. Sure enough, the subtitles read ‘CATCHY MONTAGE MUSIC’.

The woman, her actions repeated on every TV screen, pulled a set of sharp arrowheads from a pouch on her belt. It seemed to have pouches and straps for just about everything. In a sequence of shots that were alternately sped-up and slow-motion, she attached the heads to sticks to make arrows.

‘The direction is, like, kind of pretentious,’ Veggie admitted. ‘I mean, slow-mo and hi-speed, in the same sequence? But we forgive you,’ he told the woman on the screen endearingly, as she drew and loosed and arrow in a long-frame shot, her hair blowing in what was probably artificial wind.

The TVs changed channel.

‘Aaaaawwwwwwww,’ Veggie moaned, pulling a face at the person whose image now filled the screens. A weatherman, pointing at some area of either high or low pressure; TM never was certain which symbols meant what, but it was apparently significant. ‘I was enjoying that.’

TM glanced at Ziggy, who was utterly transfixed. He didn’t think she’d breathed since they stopped.

‘Who are these people?’ she murmured.

‘Erm,’ said Veggie, as if it was the dumbest question he’d ever heard. ’That was Riegel O’Ryan, only the best wilderness survival presenter in the entire cosmos. And that’s Al Tyer, local weatherman and extremely minor celebrity, as if anyone cares about him.’

Ziggy was trembling, TM realised, as if with a great exertion. It was like she was tensing all her muscles as hard as she could, turning herself into a rock-like solid object. As if she thought that something might pull her away if she didn’t resist. ‘I am… incredibly attracted to these people,’ she said after a moment.

‘Um,’ said TM.

‘Fair enough,’ said Veggie with a nod of understanding. ‘Well, on one count, at least.’

‘Zig?’ TM said quietly, putting a hand on her shoulder. ‘Are you okay?’

‘Er,’ said Ziggy. Then she blinked and shook her head, and gave him a small smile. It didn’t show any of her teeth. ‘Yeah, sorry. I just… it’s hard to explain.’

‘No worries,’ said Veggie knowingly. ‘You just witnessed your first celebrities of the televisual netwaves. That’s a pretty big-ass deal.’

TM narrowed his eyes at Veggie, just to let him know he was unconvinced. ‘You sure you’re alright?’

‘I think so,’ said Ziggy. ‘Let’s just… go, yeah?’

She walked slowly away, her partners following after a moment of confused hesitation?

‘You think she’s okay?’ TM muttered to Veggie, not wanting Ziggy to hear.

Veggie shrugged. ‘She made us more money today than we’ve made in… probably literally years. If she needs a minute to get over that, I’m more than happy to give her one.’

TM rolled his eyes and punched Veggie’s upper arm. ‘I doubt that’s it, somehow,’ he said. ‘She’s probably just a bit overwhelmed.’

‘Yeah,’ said Veggie, as if it were obvious, ‘overwhelmed with how amazing our triple partnership is.’

TM sighed, watching Ziggy as she led them home. Her arms hung by her sides, but her fingers were outstretched as if trying to make some sort of contact with something solid. ‘We’ll see,’ he said quietly.

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