It started with a photo on social media. Sigma had been reluctant to pose for it, evident in the relative grimace he wore next to Diana’s glowing smile as she held out the phone at arm’s length, dangling the new set of keys from her opposite finger in the space between their chins. “All moved in!” she captioned it, garnering her a—so she claimed—modest 24 likes. The 19 comments she received, however, was something of an anomaly.
It began building momentum when Junpei left his congratulations in the form of a facetious announcement of a party at their new apartment, on their behalf, this very weekend. This got likes from most of Diana’s and Junpei’s mutual friends: Phi, Akane, Carlos, Clover, even Alice, but of course not Sigma; his account had been inactive since about three in the afternoon on Christmas Eve of last year. Carlos, having spent the past two months out of the social loop with only his sister on his mind, asked about location in the event of a real party, to determine whether or not it was even feasible for him to attend. Diana spent a solid fifteen minutes pacing among the yet-unpacked boxes in their bedroom—that falsehood that lies between social media and reality: of course the couple was not “all moved in” as she stated—wondering how much information she should divulge. She had turned off the location tag on the post intentionally, and deleted her location on her profile, just in case, and maybe giving even a general region on a public comment would be too much information, but sending a direct message and leaving the inquiry seemingly unanswered might invite more questions. As she was deliberating, Phi left a comment in her stead that it was “no good for parties anyway. sigma can barely lie down sideways in the living room”. “Yeah, because I’m six-foot-five,” Sigma grumbled, not because he wanted to host a party, but because he did not appreciate the slander against his new home. “Write that, Diana. I’m six-foot-five. That’s plenty wide.”
It all went out of control when Akane noted that the new apartment was the perfect size, because six and a half feet was just wide enough to accommodate the long edge of a Twister mat.
Junpei hopped back on the post to comment with more excitement than Diana knew he was capable of, challenging everyone to a Twister tournament. Aoi wasn’t even Friends™ with Diana (it looked like Akane was their only mutual connection via the social network), but his reply was an immediate and resounding “gonna kick your ass in round 1 sucker”. This bitter rivalry continued along back and forth in a separate thread while Akane continued the old one by offering up her own copy of Twister, and if Sigma and Diana were not willing to host, she and Aoi could just have the party at their place instead. (Junpei took a short break from his catty fighting to ask why it was her and Aoi’s place, what exactly was he then, to which she replied, “a squatter, unless you start paying rent,” which shut him up in embarrassment for a little while.) In the meantime, Clover commented that she had convinced Alice and Light to attend should a party happen, wherever it might happen, on the condition that the trio from the SOIS face off against the trio from Crash Keys to determine once and for all whose secret organization was superior. (This comment made Aoi go silent, also, which Diana found interesting.)
Sigma was starting to get into the competitive spirit as Diana explained the narrative flow of the various comments cluttering her post. He goaded her into replying to Clover that there could be a three-way battle with three trios—the SOIS, Crash Keys, and the Klims. “Do you really want to host a party?” Diana teased, drafting the comment to his specifications.
He had been withdrawn since the turn of the New Year, still acclimating to the feel of 2029 after arriving from a distant, desolate 2074. His phone collected unanswered texts faster than he had the energy to respond to them. It had exhausted him to jump through the hoops of scheduling a leave of absence from school—at Diana’s suggestion, once she realized what a functional catastrophe he had become when confronted with the minute challenges of everyday life. He had worked his way up to a 95% success rate when running errands with a shopping list. She had resolved not to demand sociability of him yet, though her friends and family had all been dying to meet her new boyfriend.
“I mean…” Sigma scratched the back of his head at such an angle that it made it natural for him to turn his face away from her. “If you’re up for it, sure.”
She knew it was going to stress her out way too much, but she had to seize the opportunity he was handing her.
“If you can unpack everything else and shop before the party, I’ll do cleaning and cooking,” she bargained. “But help me with cleanup afterwards.”
Sigma frowned. “Wait, are you doing cleaning or are we both?” he asked. “You said cleaning twice.”
“Well, I need to clean beforehand,” Diana said, trying not to sound patronizing. “Vacuuming and dusting and things?”
The functional catastrophe nodded. He had a vacant stare like he was wondering if he should have dusted before hosting a Nonary Game, or if maybe Akane got the GAULEMs to take care of it and he never noticed.
He got his act together for the sake of Twister, though. He may have forgotten one of the cheeses on the shopping list, but he also came home with a poster board and was drawing out the bracket with a ruler, finalized guest list in hand, by the time Diana got off work that Friday afternoon. There was a bit of logistic finesse to his bracket layout—while Alice and Clover were occupied in the first round of Twisting, Sigma would sit out to be available in the kitchen should Diana need him, but also to keep Clover’s blind brother company for play-by-play commentary and casual conversation about black holes, or the human condition. He had first heard of Light Field a long forty-five years ago but thought little of it then, other than wondering why a harpist who published poetry also knew about the medical properties of neostigmine. Meeting the man in person for the first time was an overwhelming delight. Sigma and Light were each in possession of an astounding wealth of contrasting knowledge that would take decades to fully exchange. They had made empty promises to meet again, but, what with Sigma being a functional catastrophe, nothing had come of it until now.
Nothing would come of it that night, either, because Clover and Alice both made it very clear that Light was going to be participating in the game, despite not being able to see the mat.
“Honestly? I think I only agreed to come because I want to see this,” Alice said with a gentle laugh. “But, since I’m here, congratulations on the new place.”
She passed Sigma a bag that made his arm sink as soon as he took hold of it. Inside was a champagne split—“for you and Diana later”—crammed alongside some cocktail mixers and a large bottle of rum.
“I want to make sure things get interesting,” she said with a sly grin.
And, like some kind of chaotic neutral rogue, she took to the coffee table pushed to the corner of the room (for maximum Twister space) and began pouring drinks. She insisted on giving one to Sigma, who could taste the orange and pineapple for about a second before it was just the sting of way too much alcohol. He accused her of sabotage, but the funny look she gave made him wonder if this was just how strong she thought drinks should taste, and that shut him up with a sort of reverent fear.
Sigma had set up the brackets in two sets of four, but Light brought the number of combatants up to nine. For a moment he thought about restructuring the entire tournament to run three rounds of three instead—perhaps Klims, SOIS, and Crash Keys as originally suggested. As soon as Diana caught wind of the news, she begged Sigma to take her off of the bracket to keep it balanced. “I’m wearing a skirt, for goodness’ sake,” she said, straightening a fold of it underneath her apron as she stirred a roux with her other hand.
As everyone waited for the Kurashikis, bearers of the Twister mat, to arrive, Light advised Sigma on how to restructure the bracket. “It might be best if you place me in the same round as Clover, as I’ll be needing her help to navigate the board,” he said, following his suggestion with a hearty sip of a concoction from Alice. “To that end, I’d advise placing Alice in the same round as well, for various subtle purposes. The fourth participant is up to you, but if you’re telling me that both Aoi and Junpei are participating, I beg you to pit them against each other with Akane in the same round. Purely to sate my curiosity.”
“So Sigma and I have to pick our poison, huh?” Phi murmured, hovering over the two of them as the revised bracket took shape. “One of us fights the SOIS, the other fights Crash Keys.”
“Well, we only have to beat two out of three to advance to the finals,” Sigma said. “I’ll take on Crash Keys. I figure I can outlast Tenmyouji and Akane easily.”
“Tenmyouji’s not an old man anymore, Sigma,” Phi said dryly. “But that’s fine with me. The odds are stacked in my favor if one of my opponents can’t even see the mat, right?”
“There’s no probabilistic assumption to be drawn from that fact,” Light replied haughtily. “I would advise against underestimating me. You don’t know what I have up my sleeve.”
“I’m actually… very familiar with what you have up your sleeve,” Sigma said, eyeing his left arm.
Light shot him a sneer. “Well, don’t spoil the surprise for everyone else.”
Phi gave a suspicious frown to him, then to Sigma, but Sigma kept his mouth shut with a sly smile of his own.
As a little joke, the dinner refreshments were takes on traditional junk food eaten by young twenty-somethings. Diana served the first pot of macaroni and cheese to the eager guests as they waited for the Kurashikis to arrive after unexpected delays in travel, and the smell of hand-breaded chicken tenders emanated from the oven where they were still roasting. Alice made sure everyone had a drink in hand to go with the comfort food—in Light’s case, in addition to the beer Sigma had bought for the occasion. “There will be no getting me on that mat unless I finish both of these,” he said, double-fisting his pair of beverages, then jabbing the neck of the beer bottle towards the plate of macaroni, “before I finish that.”
A few feet away, his sister fawned over the bartender topping off her glass with disconcertingly little juice. While Phi retreated to the kitchen to catch up with Diana, Sigma said, “How’s your arm treating you, anyway? Any issues so far?”
Light’s entire face gave a sudden glow as he turned towards Sigma with a growing smile. “It’s unbelievable,” he blurted, holding up his left hand and flexing it. “I’ve never experienced such a depth of sensory perception in any prosthetic before, let alone in something so lightweight. I’ve played concerts as long as two hours with barely any shoulder pain afterwards. And the accuracy is exquisite. I’m writing new music just because I have the ability to move my bassline however I see fit, without worrying about making sure I’ve made it to the right string after a jump. It’s exhilarating, Sigma.”
It was relatively easy to get Light rambling about a subject, his words flowing too fast to understand, especially without the context he was thinking too quickly to provide. To Sigma, already overwhelmed by the atmosphere with only three-quarters of the guests in attendance, it was a pleasant form of conversation, to listen—sometimes idle, sometimes active—to what someone else had was so excited to talk about. When Clover could bear to take her eyes off of Alice, she stole a glance at her chatty brother and smiled.
Junpei knocked, but Aoi shoved open the door without waiting for a response, and Akane burst inside, holding out the flat, square box in front of her. It was time for the games to begin.