FULL STORY | "Dance Dance Apocalypse" by Donald Jacob Uitvlugt
Tonight would be the last time.
Mitsuko looked at the clothes laid out on the bed. In the past, her outfits had been her armor. But no amount of armor could protect her against the cold, bitter fact of last night’s deaths. She couldn’t go on doing this. After tonight, she would tell the General she quit.
Yet she owed it to her fans, to the faithful who still believed in her in spite of the evidence, to go out in style. With a slow sigh, she dressed. She pulled on pink fishnet stockings and then a white skirt with a hundred pleats that ended just above the knee. Her white tube top sparkled with sequins. The sleeveless white jacket reached to the floor, lapels and hem trimmed with pink faux fur. She slipped into hot pink platform shoes, repeating a mantra to herself as she wound the straps around her ankles.
Last time, last time, last time.
She studied her reflection in the mirror and adjusted her spiky wig. Then she stenciled a star in glittering body paint under her left eyelid. There. She was ready to save the world. One last time.
Mitsuko hurried out of her apartment, down to the lobby, and out past the gauntlet of fans. She closed her eyes against the flash of camera phones. I hope I don’t look as tired as I feel. She was sick of the whole thing. She made a blind dash for the back seat of the awaiting car.
She sighed and sank into the leather seat. The door blocked out the rest of the world, at least for a few moments.
“They love their hero.”
Mitsuko’s eyes snapped open at the driver’s bitter sarcasm.
“I’m no hero. I’m just a dancer.” And after tonight, not even that.
The driver nosed them into the city’s stop-and-go traffic. Even with the fate of the world in the balance, life went on. People worked hard to pretend things were normal, mindlessly buying and selling to distract from the sword hanging over their heads. “You’re right. You’re not a hero. You’re a collaborator. Helping the damned aliens keep the rest of us in line.”
The car slowed. Mitsuko held her breath and forced herself to look out the tinted car windows. The helicopters confirmed her fears.
“That’s right. A new crater. Don’t worry. We’ll still make it to the club in plenty of time.”
They inched past the destruction. It was as if a giant had taken a bite out of the city. Buildings sheared in half, pipes and wires that just... stopped. In the center, a black pit yawned greedily.
“My sister...” The driver’s voice cracked. “My sister and her kids. They used to live on that block.”
Mitsuko’s stomach flipped. If the driver hit the accelerator right now, they would sail over the barriers into the crater. Game over.
Do it. I’m sick of the bullshit too.
Instead, the driver turned away from the destruction, toward the club. Mitsuko exhaled slowly.
“I’m sorry about your loss...” She checked his nametag in the mirror. “Thomas.”
“I don’t give a fuck about your ‘Sorry.’”
Anger flared insider her. “If that’s how you feel, why’d you even show up for work today?”
Thomas laughed bitterly. “I have a job to do, don’t I?”
“Well, so do I.”
Mitsuko stepped out of the car before it had completely stopped. She hadn’t asked for this responsibility. Like everyone after the conquest, she’d gone through the aliens’ testing not knowing what they were testing for. When she was chosen, her first thought was that the Otaku were going to eat her.
A man in a black suit and dark glasses waited for her in the alley behind Invisible Face Cream Arena. He opened the back door to the club and she stepped inside.
Music. The heartbeat of a world dancing for its life. She took a moment to fix her makeup. She didn’t cry. Not Mitsuko. Anger and fear flowed through her system, moving with the beat. Part of her wished Thomas had had the guts to do… something.
This is it. Tonight’s my last dance.
She handed off her purse to another suit and stepped from the hallway into the club itself. Rainbow lights strobed and reflected off the dancers. Mitsuko saw flashes of spiked hair, writhing snake tentacles, glowing fiber optic strands. Dancers wore skin colored chrome, vermilion, chartreuse, indigo. Textures whirled past her: silk, fish scales, stainless steel.
General Shining Aspirin Radar approached. Mitsuko forced a smile as she greeted the supreme commander for the Otaku of this sector. Today he had formed his body into the shape of a nineteenth-century maharaja, complete with turban, sash, and military decorations.
He pressed his palms together and bowed to Mitsuko.
“Your opponent awaits, o champion of Earth.”
“All right. I’m as ready as I’ll ever be.”
Shining Aspirin Radar scowled at Mitsuko’s lack of formality. Screw him. Tonight was her last night. She would act however the hell she wanted.
The General turned and led her through the dancing throng of aliens dressed as humans and humans dressed as aliens. The dancers writhed together, the music penetrating them all. Music, the universal language. Music had drawn the Otaku to the planet Earth. Decades of music, beamed without thought into the depths of space. The Otaku had followed the transmissions back to their source.
Now music was the only weapon against them.
“It’s her. It’s really her!”
The words rippled through the dancers. As recognition reached critical mass, a shout rose up, drowning out the music.
Otaku and human alike chanted her name. She did her best to hide her confusion. Why would the enemy cheer her like one of their own? It didn’t make sense. Then again, little about the Otaku made sense. That was the Otaku. Apes of humanity, masters of Earth.
A space opened up in the midst of the dancers as the General led her forward. White tile gleamed back the powerful spotlight. Mitsuko’s opponent stepped out toward them.
His skin was the color of a starless night. She couldn’t make out features, not even his eyes. The place where his lips should have been he had rouged the color of fresh blood. He sported a colony of blood-red pseudopods instead of hair; the tendrils undulated in time with the beat, like someone had fashioned a wig from the guts of a dozen lava lamps. His outfit was all zippers and red leather.
Mitsuko nodded to her opponent. “Good dancing, Euphonious Blue Jeans.” She had never danced against him before, but he had a reputation as a tough opponent. Her last dance ought to be a good one.
The Otaku gave no sign he had heard her. General Shining Aspirin Radar held up his arms. The immediate silence hurt the ear. Light turned his outfit electric white, with sparks of diamond, ruby, and sapphire.
“Ladies and gentlemen, Otaku and humans.” The crowd held its breath. “Let’s dance!”
The crowd cheers and the music erupts again. Mitsuko’s muscles tense. The ceiling of the club shimmers into a display of the skies above the city, complete with the hundreds of rainbow-hued Otaku satellites. Lasers shoot from half a dozen points. In her peripheral vision, Mitsuko sees Euphonious Blue Jeans start to move. And tonight’s battle is on.
Mitsuko sweeps her arms in front of her and pumps out her fists. The laser beams hit the shields she conjures and diffuse into iridescent fireworks.
The crowd roars and joins the dance They leave a respectful circle around the combatants.
A series of running-man steps. The satellites spit out mines, a net of destruction enveloping the city. Mitsuko sways her hips. Her shields detonate the mines, all but a couple that impact in the suburbs. The viewscreen shows the explosions. Water erupts from a swimming pool, dirt flies off a front lawn. A rhythmic flash reduces a quaint two-story to rubble.
Too easy. This isn’t like Euphonious Blue Jeans’ reputation at all. There. Mitsuko spots the slow seekers while they are still within range of her shields. Step, step, shoulder, shoulder, shimmy. The viewscreen lights up in pyrotechnics. Another cheer. Mitsuko curses as she sees one of the seekers slip through. The club building shakes and Euphonious Blue Jeans’ death toll points roll up. More cheers.
The moves come in faster combinations. Mitsuko can no longer keep Euphonious Blue Jeans in her peripheral vision. She focuses on the screen. Clap, spin, clap, spin. A little John Travolta disco for flare. Sirens sound. Combination points rack up for Mitsuko as Euphonious Blue Jeans’ death rays and missiles explode into harmless glitter and rainbows.
She can feel anger radiating off Euphonious Blue Jeans. The Otaku don’t like to lose.
The beat picks up, and Mitsuko hears Euphonious Blue Jeans move in an elaborate series of clog steps while his arms whirl about him. But she has found her groove now. Her platforms slap against the floor, keeping perfect time with Euphonious Blue Jeans. The point counters spin. Bombs and missiles explode as soon as they launch. Lasers criss-cross the sky.
The rhythm drives her. She is the music. The club lights sizzle against her skin. Sweat steams off her body, incense for this sacred rite. She is grace. She is motion.
She is all that is good and noble in the human race.
The club trembles. A cheer rises as another Otaku missile makes it through. She thinks of Thomas’ sister and curses herself for getting too cocky. Euphonious Blue Jeans is almost a blur beside her. The screen fills with glamorous death.
No. She is Mitsuko, champion of Earth. The best damned dancer on the planet. She shake shake shakes off her doubts and fears. Her groove is back and she steps, bops and rocks to it. As fast as Euphonious Blue Jeans is, she is faster. It’s now a question of endurance.
The cheers, screams and applause of the crowd become part of the music. The beat penetrates all, pounding in an orgy of sound. Mitsuko reaches over her head, as if she could snatch down the death machines and crush them by will alone.
Her shields deflect a missile into one of the Otaku satellites. She has never seen that happen. Right before the device flies apart, the screen grows dark. The music cuts off. Euphonious Blue Jeans is on his knees, panting. Mitsuko is victorious.
Utter silence. Then the club erupts in applause.
“Ladies and gentlemen, Otaku and humans. I give you your winner: Mitsuko!”
After the applause, the music started up again. The empty space around Mitsuko collapsed. Human and Otaku danced, celebrating loss and victory with equal vigor.
General Shining Aspirin Radar swooped in before the dancers crushed her. He led her to a corner of the room. Mitsuko had no idea what happened to Euphonious Blue Jeans.
“Excellent. An excellent score, a new record for your species. I must congratulate you yet again on being your planet’s ablest champion.”
His praise rang false. She had hurt them, Mitsuko realized. A possible future flashed in her imagination. One where the Otaku’s own weapons were turned against them. Mitsuko and the other dancers around the world, perhaps on a single given day, would destroy the belt of satellites ringing the planet and free the human race.
As quickly as the image flashed into her mind, she knew it would never work. There’s too many of them. They’re too strong. If the human race truly hurt the Otaku, the fun and games would end. They’d just stop the dances and wipe us out.
“Look at them celebrating your victory.”
She couldn’t tell the difference between human and Otaku as they swayed, gyrated and thrashed. They would have danced the same if Euphonious Blue Jeans had beaten her. The Otaku had already won the war.
“Why don’t you join them, Mitsuko?”
It would be so easy. Tired as she was, she could just let the music carry her away. Give up, like she had planned. Go out on top. Even the Otaku loved Mitsuko, the Champion of Earth.
She paused at the thought. The dance united both species. As long as they kept dancing, humanity went on. The human race danced on the edge of the abyss, and tomorrow they might fall over into oblivion. But we didn’t today.
Mitsuko smiled back at General Shining Aspirin Radar. “I don’t think I will tonight. I have to rest up for tomorrow, after all.”
The General nodded, dismissing her. The car was waiting for her at the back door. Thomas said nothing to her as they drove through the city streets. People were already out surveying the damage.
Televisions in shop windows showed footage from tonight’s dance. Passersby cheered as she won. Some of them danced along with her, right there on the sidewalk.
“She was your biggest fan.” Mitsuko could hardly hear the driver’s voice. “Little Nora wanted to be a dancer too, when she... when she grew up….”
She considered resting a hand on the man’s shoulder, and then thought better of it. Instead, she tried to put as much compassion into her voice as she could. “We can’t change what happened. But we can go on living. For them. Every day we’re still fighting is another victory.”
Thomas said nothing. Mitsuko sank back into her seat. Her body ached for bed, but in her mind she was already planning tomorrow’s outfit. Something green, perhaps. She liked green. She hummed as she choreographed moves in her head. Tomorrow she would dance the battle for Earth all over again. She would be ready. She would win.