The writing prompt here was “describe a time you felt very uncomfortable.” A lot of these prompts are autobiographical, which I don’t really want to write. So any autobiographical prompts will become stories about a fictional character in that situation.
I have also been watching a series I really thought I hated, Soukyuu no Fafner, and discovering it is not as bad as I initially thought. However, it did get me thinking. It is a series very much about showing teenage mecha pilots as even more “ordinary” than, say Evangelion (which is very much about someone who has never had a normal life being put in ever-greater stress). It is not quite as good as Rahxephon but I feel it is trying to do the same thing.
Something I can’t help but feel is that the idealised stylisation of anime characters makes impossible outfits look good even on “plain” characters. I wanted to write something a bit more embarrassing.
This room is my personal childhood nightmare. The blinding, condensation-slick tiles and low benches of swimming lessons. The dimpled, plasticky feel of the walls and the harsh disinfectant smell of a doctor’s surgery.
It is long and narrow and I am standing as far from its door as possible, wishing that there was another door, with a lock, and the safe waterproofed wooden boards of a cubicle between me and the outside world. My shoes, sensible black leather with squared-off toes and simple buckles and thick soles have left dusty footprints on the slightly damp floor as I tried to get as far away from the outside as possible. I am trying not to look at the neatly-folded set of clothes on the bench as I compose myself, searching my schoolbag for the papers I know I will need. There is a checklist.
I have forgotten the first item on it. Hairband or clip for subjects with hair longer than the shoulder. I will need to try and find some way of getting around this. It proceeds on, until it reaches the instructions we have all been given. Step One. Remove clothes. Thankfully there is not a diagram. When I was a child I hated changing for swimming because you took off your shoes and then were left standing in your socks in half a centimetre of nasty-smelling water that sloshed around the floor of a changing-room that was humid and smelt of chlorine, talc and women’s bodies. I can remember clearly the black streaks of mould up where the walls met the floor, of my mother or my gym teacher encouraging me to hurry up so I didn’t get an infection. This room is not flooded. It is merely damp and cold because it is tiled, and tiles attract condensation. There is no chance mould could form here, not with the amount of decontamination and cleaning that we all go through.
I take my shoes off and then my socks and now I am barefoot. I would always go swimming wearing my bathing-suit underneath my clothes – even at school they would have us change in the peace and slightly-more-hygenic discretion of the locker-room before we headed out to the pool and its unthinkable horrors. Today I have to change “on-site.” Something that the woman who led me here said is echoing unpleasantly in my mind. If things ever kick off for real you will need to be able to do this in, perhaps, five minutes? I am sure I have been avoiding doing anything for that long already.
Nothing more can be done save opening the packet of clothes I was given. There is a label on it which I read to find a few more moments’ delay. Bio-Electric Attunement Garment. Subject: MAKABE Tomoko. Size: Medium
Like everything here it is cold and synthetic to the touch and smells faintly of disinfectant. The instructions here are vague and coy. Insert legs into garment and pull up to waist. Ensure seams and marked areas are oriented properly.
I have a vague idea from talking to friends whose families took them diving that putting on a wetsuit is extremely awkward.
The suit is lined with something that makes me recoil in surprise. It is slimy, there is no other way to describe it. I test it with my finger – it is like there is a thin layer of gel lining it. Is this to help it go on easier? I begin paging through the papers I have. Do not be alarmed at the garment’s unusual material. It contains a layer of bio-electric interface gel which serves a twofold purpose – ensuring the wearer has a measure of protection against concussive impact and allowing for real-time biometric analysis.
I will have to put up with it.
Any illusions I might have of this being an easy process are immediately shattered by merely trying to get my legs in the suit. It clings and creases and is sometimes slick and sometimes sticky and it takes quite some fighting to even get some headway made, let alone ensuring all the labelled areas are correctly aligned and free from creases. The assumption is clearly that anyone who volunteers for this process has a physique only seen in the dreams of their male classmates because rather than appearing a gleaming presence in sleek latex I eventually manage to fight my way to a dishevelled mess of creases and air pockets. What remains is fastening the front and back zips and then negotiating the various buckles, clasps and clips for sensors worn on the outside.
It is as I am trying to fasten the back collar zip I realise why a hairband was essential, as my long hair I am at least a little proud of gets jammed fast in it. Resignedly I pull the gloves on, fumble my way through ensuring the sensor-clips are properly affixed in places that look right and make to leave to face whatever is waiting for me outside.
At that point the realisation hits that I will have to go outside, walk through the corridors of this shining home of the last hope of humanity looking like someone whose fancy-dress was the wrong size and then sit through some kind of briefing, next to two young men I have only known a few weeks, wearing something that features prominently in the fantasies of boys my age. All I can hope is they look as ridiculous as I do.
Hair tangled in my collar, fingers barely reaching the end of my gloves, a buckle digging into my side, one heel halfway on top of my foot and every imperfection of my body neatly captured for real-time biometric analysis, I step into the corridor and then realise that there is every chance that if things ever kick off for real I will probably die looking like this.
At least I get to pilot the giant robot first.