The Pinocchio Protocol
‘Tell me what punch means?’
‘Uh huh,’ Sachiko says, drawing long and hard on her velvet-silk-synthetic cigarette. ‘Tell me.’ ‘How is me telling what—’ I try my hardest to think.
‘Try,’ is all she says.
‘Er, alright—’ I cough— ‘well, punch means to hit someone, right?’ I search about her face for some kinda clue that I’d got the question right. But all I see in her face is me, my very own confusion. Fuck. I really want this job.
‘Alright,’ Sachiko says at last now, crushing out the cigarette which smells faintly like strawberries grown in the downtown City hydropod. Now she’s taking a slow sip of her rainbow coloured drink. Then, before I know, she goes, ‘And what about hit?’
Hit, punch—that’s right, right? What the fuck is she talking about? All I want to know is why they call it the The Pinocchio Protocol, it’s not like I’m gonna understand any of it. It’s me tryin be curious. I realise I’ve been staring at her face and not saying anything, so I say, ‘Hit?’
‘Yeah.’ She smiles now. ‘Tell me what that one means.’
I pause, see the smoke still going up from the crushed-out cigarette in the glass tray. ‘Well,’ I say, ‘it means to smack something.’
‘Yeah.’ She sort of leans off to the side, wincing. After a click of the gums and a quick exhale, she goes, ‘I’m having trouble with smack too.’
‘Smack?’ I’m starting to get annoyed. If I don’t keep this job I’m back at the goddamn half-way house. I’m not gonna let some City girl fuck me outta a good thing. ‘Don’t you got something better to do then fuck around with—’
‘Sorry.’ She touches my hand. ‘I didn’t mean to…—’
‘Don’t worry. So what’s it mean?’
‘The name? The Pinocchio Protocol?’
‘Yuah.’ I nod.
She whacks me on the arm.
‘Hey!’ I jump up from the barstool. ‘What the fuck was that?’
‘That’s what hit, smack, and punch mean.’
She slides off her stool. Waves her hand over the pay-terminal. I briefly imagine what it’s like to have money enough to make getting chipped a good-idea.
‘You listening to me, Mr Osbone Jazz?’
‘Jazz,’ I say for like the fifth time today. And then I say, ‘What?’
And Sachiko goes, ‘That’s what The Pinocchio Protocol means.’
‘I don’t follow.’
‘You instantiate an abstract symbol in reality.’ She smiles, loops her arm around mine, and we head out of the wood panelled, gold-brass fixtured bar, and wait at the cycle-line crossing. I must have drifted off because she’s still staring at me like she wants me to say something. Bike-cycles fly by in a blur.
‘Did you hear me?’
‘Instantiated … symbols?’ I try and recall the phrase.
‘That’s right. That’s what we’re going to do.’
The lights flash and all the bike-cycles slow down to a stop in the exact same way. We cross over and walk about in the park. It’s getting cold now and I can see a little of my breath as a cloud. I keep thinking she’s going to explain some more but she never does. We just go on walking—trees, grass, the usual shit, but then we come to an arti-park, it’s got trees and grass and flowers that don’t look like anything on Earth. They all look alien. Like they got them off of some other planet. I want to ask Sachiko how they do that, but I think she’ll probably just punch, hit, or smack me. A man selling coffee from a cart comes past and she buys two cups. I think about telling her I prefer the fake, CHINA-CO green tea I had growing up, but then I remember where I am in a City and in a goddamn arti-park that probably cost more than it cost to keep me alive a hundred thousand fucking years.
She hands me the coffee and says, ‘Cheers.’
We stroll around some more drinking the coffee. As I wonder when we’re actually gonna do some work, a fucking kid cuts me off on her bike-cycle. The girl, maybe older, fourteen? she goes flying off and lands on the grass. The cycle goes on for a bit, swerving itself around a duck, then stops itself—the same way they all do—and then glides over to her where she is on the ground. I half think it’ll sprout arms and give her a hug but it just sits there—floating, not floating—whatever the fuck they do, waiting for an instruction.
Sachiko, who I forgot existed for a good twenty seconds, runs over and gets herself on one knee to help the girl. I, reluctantly, after having a look both ways for whoever is not watching this kid, go over too.
The girl has got eyes like soft blue lights. Her hair is soft too, and gets blown about in the breeze easy. She is younger than fourteen, maybe twelve. Sachiko is good and knows how to calm her down. I stand and watch and think that maybe this is all a set up and I’m gonna have to go back to the half-way house tomorrow. Then Sachiko starts doing stuff I wouldn’t think a parent would do—she jabs the girl with a pen and it looks like she’s taking a bit of blood.
‘What the fuck are you doing?’ I say. I look over my shoulder and check no one is watching. ‘Are you fucking crazy?’
Sachiko looks up at me and makes a face like what the fucks the matter with me. With me? Like I’m the fucking crazy one? The girl has stopped crying enough for Sachiko to get her name. It’s Speculum. I do a double take. Speculum? What kinda fucking name is that? Must be some Luna Colony thing. They give all their kids names like Luminous, or Asteroid, or Nebula. But Speculum rings a bell. I could swear the priest would say that word when he shaved and sang at himself in the mirror.
Sachiko has drawn a finger-sized vial of blood and now I’m pretty sure I’m not going to the half-way house, I’m going back to federal.
‘Let’s go for a walk, OK?’ Sachiko says, pulls the girl up, and discreetly pockets the vial. ‘Come on, Jazz.’ She says it with a weird intonation and I think that maybe she can read thoughts.
So now the three of us are walking this arti-park, the sun is about centre point in the sky, and I’m still not sure what any of this has to do with The Pinocchio Protocol. When I took the job I thought that maybe it had something to do with the movie business. I know the City folk are the movie business. But Sachiko is not.
‘How do you feel, Speculum?’ Sachiko says. I shiver at the sound of the girl’s name.
‘Just OK?’ Sachiko puts on a kid-voice. ‘Because we’ve had a few complaints.’
Complaints? I try and get Sachiko’s attention. ‘Shouldn’t we—’
‘That’s not my fault,’ the girl says.
‘Come on now, Speculum, we all know what happens to liars.’ Sachiko brushes the girls soft hair behind her ears. ‘Tell me.’
Exact same tone she took with me. Before the girl gets a word out, I cut between her and Sachiko.
‘Stop this. What’s going on?’
‘You wanted to know what is The Pinocchio Protocol?’
‘Yuah, I want to work—’
Sachiko points to the girl. ‘She is.’
I divide my glances between the two of them. She’s the job? She’s what I gotta do so I can get a better life? I’ve gotta work with a goddamn kid.
The arti-park trees all shift colour from some colour I don’t know to some other colour I don’t know. But the difference is nice.
Sachiko stops us walking and I realise we were walking only because we stopped. She pulls out a lolly pop, the girl notices it right away. It’s got drugs, cannabinoids, or something; don’t eat it, kid. But then Sachiko stuffs it in her own mouth and starts sucking it.
‘This little girl,’ Sachiko says around the lolly pop, ‘has been very naughty.’
I look at the girl and think she’s innocent.
‘And I need you to talk— deal with her.’
‘What’s she done?’ I keep my eyes on the girl.
‘She’s forgotten what punch means.’
‘Are you fucking kidding me?’
Sachiko laughs. With the lolly pop, shiny under the arti-park colours I can’t really perceive, she points to the girl—who, by the way, is still; and in no way afraid, or even aware, of what the fuck Sachiko has just instructed me to do.
I take my time and look up at Sachiko and make sure she isn’t fucking with me. ‘I gotta teach the kid what punch means?’
‘Uh huh. Just like I showed you.’
Exact same tone.
‘That’s The Pinocchio Protocol?’
She squints, sucks the lolly pop. ‘Sort of.’ Waits a beat and then goes, ‘Come on. I’m writing your Worker’s Report after this.’
I look the girl in the face; she gives me the finger; and I hit her—very fucking gently—on the shoulder.