The Mr. Customer of a few days ago would never have been patient enough to sit through a planetarium projection, much less allow the robot host to recite a spiel about being courteous during the show that he’s already heard several times. But just as the proximity of a human seems to be ever-so-slowly changing Yumemi, the proximity to such a painfully positive, upbeat, oblivious robot seems to be changing Mr. Customer.
The show finally begins, and it’s hauntingly gorgeous, as planetarium shows tend to be if you’re into that kind of thing. More than a movie theater, having the entire dome above you turned into a screen really gives you the sense of how small and insignificant we are, and how vast space is.
Not only that, Yumemi proves to be a pro at astronomy and the rich mythology tied to it. Mr. Customer sits in awe of her command of the material and the confidence with which she presents it. For a brief time, she ceases to be simply an annoying robot and becomes an omnipotent being even the deities in the stars seem to bow to in deference.
Then the power goes out, putting a damper on the show. No matter; Mr. Customer asks Yumemi to continue her part of the show without Miss Jena’s help. As he suspected, her language is vivid enough for him to create the pictures meant to be projected on the dome right in his mind’s eye.
Yumemi recites a story about humanity’s persistent, almost instinctual drive to reach the stars, starting with the sky and working their way up with each generation.
She also reveals the ability of the planetarium to serve as a time machine; I myself keenly remember looking up with awe at the starry sky 1,000 years into the future. There is no more basic—or more powerful—way to see that future. Ditto the past; as it takes years, centuries, and millenia for the light from stars to reach us as tiny faint spots.
Yumemi’s optimism and absolute certainty that humanity’s path will only continue to lead upward stands in direct, defiant contrast to the fallen world outside the walls of the Planetarium; a world Yumemi can’t begin to fathom or even perceive.
Her only exposure to it has been through Mr. Customer, whom she calls because he’s just like any other customer, pre-apocalypse. And when that Customer gets up to leave, Yumemi says goodbye with her usual programmed charm. However, that isn’t the end, as I had suspected.
Almost as if she searched her database for some kind of protocol that would extend her exposure to Mr. Customer, Yumemi asks what transportation he’s using; when he says car, she attempts to connect with someone to take him to his car. Unable to connect (since there’s nothing to connect to), she takes discretionary measures by deciding to accompany the customer to his car. It’s a clever way to humanize her further without breaking her robot rules.
And just like that, leaving the idealized haven of Yumemi’s world isn’t so easy, those robotic eyes start looking more and more misleading, and the reverie continues.