"I am afraid I have to tell you that there is a serious problem with your Mars Mission," said Mack with a long face.
Elon was facing Mack in the Space Z headquarters. Elon was not really expecting this, especially after his Mothra company just broke another self-driving car sales record, with the stock price skyrocketing.
"But, Mack, I don't understand. We should have enough funds."
"Money is not the issue," said Mack.
"Then what is?" demanded Elon.
"Just take a look."
Mack showed Elon a photograph on his tablet.
"Ah…this was from my last trip to Tokyo with my girl friend."
"Exactly!" said Mack.
"What's the problem with that? Ours is an open relationship. I and Claire exchange jokes on twitter all the time. About artificial intelligence and stuff. Roccoco basilisk and stuff. Surely this cannot be a scandal to threaten our Mars Mission! It is not the Russia scandal, or wikileaks."
"That's not it. Elon, please take a look at the photo more carefully…Pay attention to people in the background, to be more precise."
Elon took a better look at the photo.
"Wait a minute…it is not people. It is just a person."
"Exactly!" exclaimed Mack.
"It is the sumo wrestler. We went to see sumo on that day."
"Yes, and that's your next destination."
Elon looked really puzzled now.
"I am afraid I don't understand you a bit."
Elon said in a rare display of humility tinged with disgust.
"You are still planning to be on that mission, aren't you?"
"Yes, I have declared to take a few gap years from my business and be one of the first ones to be on Mars."
In fact, Elon was envisioning himself to be THE first human on Mars, uttering something memorable there, in the same spirit as Niel Armstrong's immortal "one small step for man, one giant leap for mankind," although the typical distance between the earth and the Mars would mean that it would take minutes for the glorious image to reach the earth and inspire people.
The positional relation between Mars and the earth is always changing. When Mars is closest, radio signals take about four minutes to travel one way. At furthest, they take about 24 minutes, thought Elon himself.
"Maybe I would just say don't panic," quipped Elon, which fell on deaf ears. Maybe Hitchhikers was not Mack's forte.
"In that case, you've got to fly to Tokyo, and meet that sumo wrestler, in order to save your Mars Mission," was Mack's still enigmatic suggestion.
Seeing that Elon was still puzzled, Mack pressed on.
"You still want this moonshot to happen, right, Elon?"
"With due respect, it is a Mars shot, rather."
"Whatever. I am just telling you this Mars shot of yours should include space sumo, seriously."
A few hours and some heated but humorous and good-natured exchanges later, Elon was on his way to Tokyo on his private jet. To save time of clarifying things out prior to departure, Elon asked Mack to accompany him.
"Can I have my second dinner, Manuel?" Elon was asking his private attendant, Manuel, who was a graduate of a respected butler school in the U.K.
"Certainly," answered Manuel, with a puzzled look. "It doesn't quite sound like Master, who is a fitness freak,"Manuel thought, but said nothing, and excused himself.
"You've got to be that fat?" asked Elon blankly to Mack, who was seated next to him.
"Unfortunately yes," said Mack.
"That is certainly a malarkey, isn't it?" teased Elon.
When Elon heard from Mack that he had to become overweight, super-overweight in fact, in order to salvage his Mars Mission, his first reaction was total confusion and disbelief.
"What do you mean?" demanded Elon.
"It is all your favorite exact calculation, an aptitude you showed in preparing for that boring company. In this case it's all about nutrition science. We cannot provide for all the calories of food intake on the rocket."
"But we have tons of payloads," protested Elon.
"Yes, but not enough to include food materials for you. Since the Mars Mission is about establishing a settlement, every gram of load counts."
Elon was still not convinced.
"I will show you how carrying some body fat is the most efficient and intelligent way to prepare for space travel. After all, it is nature's technology to prepare for periods of undernutrition."
Mack showed Elon a few dozens of equations and several tens of numerical tables and numbers.
"Hmm…interesting…I should rather say intriguing."
Elon's lightening-speed mind calculations grasped the gist of it in a few minutes.
"So I've got to carry my calories in the belly, basically, with other nutrients, such as vitamins, as the supplementary payload," said Elon.
"That's exactly it," said Mack.
"I see, so my belly fat would be like a booster rocket," mused Elon.
Mack's eyes shone with the hope that Elon was finally coming around to see his point.
"You see, Elon, belly fat is actually the most efficient way to transport energy needed for biological functions. It is a terrible business to cultivate even simple vegetables such as cabbage in space, let alone your favorite wagyu steak. We don't have that luxury. Better carry it in your belly. We would provide the vitamins, water, and other necessary stuff in the payload, needless to say. We are calling this operation space sumo, or OSS. The media would love it."
Elon was still not convinced.
"But, with due respect, my understanding is, no matter how sophisticated the technologies supporting space travel might be, you've got to remain pretty dexterous. You may be required to take action in some emergency. If you are overweight, it would be difficult to do the complicated maneuvers in space, would it not?"
"Exactly," retorted Mack.
"That's precisely why you should go and train in a sumo stable."
"Train in what?" exclaimed Elon, as if he could not quite grasp what he heard.
"Train in a sumo stable, not to become a professional wrestler, but to be a dexterous fat man fit for your Mars Mission. "
"Me? A fat astronaut?!"
"Probably people would learn to love fat Elon."
"No body fascism here please!" said Elon.
"Although it sounds ludicrous at first hearing, the idea to become overweight for space travel has been going around for quite long time. Among the experts, the process is called BFT."
"What is that?" asked Elon.
"It is the short for belly fat transportation."
Elon remained silent for a while. Gradually, he seemed to understand the significance of the whole affair, operation space sumo, or OSS. OSS requires BFT.
One of the strong points of Elon was that once something was presented in an appropriate context, he was very quick to grasp the core of the whole matter and apply it to himself.
"Your second dinner is here, sir," said Manuel, who had been busy preparing Elon's dinner in the backyard section of the private jet and didn't overhear the conversations as he was wont to do otherwise.
"Thank you," said Elon.
"But sir…are you sure you should have this second helping sir? The total energy would come to…bear with me sir…6840 kcal, sir."
Manuel was trained to be precise about the calories as requested by the number-savvy master.
"Yeah, that's great. Could I have two pieces of bread, and two chunks of butter as well, please."
"Oh, really, sir. That would be…bear with me sir…another 1260 kcal."
Elon looked at Manuel sternly.
"There is a rigorous logic behind my action, as you would come to appreciate soon enough."
Elon was trying to put as much dignity as possible, as he spoke.
Manuel's facial expression was blank.
Mack could hardly conceal his satisfied smile, as he witnessed the uncharacteristic confusion on Manuel's face.
The sun was rising as Elon's jet touched down on Tokyo's Haneda airport.
Elon and Mack were met by a smiling Japanese gentleman in his sixties.
"Hi! I am Mr. Ono, and I am your personal assistant today."
"Konichiwa!" said Elon, "Hajimemashite!"
Elon was eager to show his knowledge of Japanese, which he quickly mastered on the plane after the nap. However, it soon became clear that Mr. Ono was quite fluent in English. Accordingly, Elon immediately became his usual self.
Elon and Mack were whisked away on a black Lexus through the metropolitan freeway, and then through a maze of backstreets.
Eventually, they found themselves in front of a building, with a very wide window on the ground floor.
Various noise could be heard, apparently coming from inside the window.Something was bumping into something, and there was a thud, and one could hear a series of growls.
"What is that? Is there a zoo near here?"
Elon's face seemed to reveal puzzlement. He even appeared a little scared.
"Oh, no," answered Mr. Ono.
"This is the Takasago stable, one of the most prestigious sumo stables in Japan. Shall we enter and greet Master Takasago?"
In the world of sumo, a master is a retired sumo wrestler. A sumo master has seen the world.
There was an impressive black gate, which Mr. Ono pushed open. A short passage led them to a room entrance.
"Go on and enter," said Mr. Ono.
"What's inside?" asked Elon with apprehension.
"There is a sumo ring in it."
"I don't think so," said Elon, "there cannot be a sumo ring in that thing. It is too small."
"It is big enough," said Mr. Ono.
"The Japanese are very good at making an efficient use of limited space, an art you would have to master soon enough, if you are to make do with the spaceship on the way to Mars," added Mack, who was standing next to Mr. Ono.
"No mansplaining to me here, please," said Elon.
Elon looked through the door with an uncharacteristic cautiousness.
What he witnessed then was to stay in Elon's memory for a very long time.
Two sumo wrestlers, their body covered with dirt, bumping into each other. They struggled, with their muscles moving, throbbing, with terrible grunting sounds coming from them. After a few seconds of intense fight, one of the wrestlers was thrown, hitting the dirt really hard. The losing wrestler rolled over, breathing very heavily, while the winning one stood high and proud.
Several wrestlers were watching the fight around the ring. To Elon's utter amazement, the moment the winning wrestler fixed his composure again in the ring, the onlooking wrestlers dashed towards him, every one of them.
For a moment Elon thought that the wrestlers, for some reason, were dashing to assault the winning wrestler. Soon it became clear, however, that they were just trying to be the next one to have a training match.
Later Elon learned that the winning wrestler was actually a yokozuna, or a grand champion, the highest rank in sumo. The younger wrestlers were eager to be trained by the yokozuna, and there was a physical competition to become his opponent in the ring.
"That’s you, Elon. Remember how people started to troll and bully you on the internet? You are the yokozuna of the cyberspace. So people challenge you, in order to become stronger. Remember all the trolls?" whispered Mack.
Mack's tone was somewhat frivolous. Elon was in a more pensive mood. For Elon, the whole episode looked like a great tableau vivant of life's conditions, where people were competing, in the red ocean, to be the first one to make the breakthrough. Elon liked what he saw. He himself was trying to be the first one to go to Mars. All his life, he was like a young wrestler dashing to be the next opponent of the yokozuna. For Elon, going to Mars was beating the space yokozuna.
There was now a clear purpose to what Mack started originally, which Elon initially reluctantly followed.
In order to go to Mars, and say that impressive catchphrase as the first man on Mars, Elon had to be daring, and strong in body and mind.
That was why he now had to be overweight, like the sumo wrestlers, and yet dexterous, like the sumo wrestlers.
Elon had to be a yokozuna in spirit, towering, proud, and more than anything, daring.
"I cannot eat any more," gasped Elon.
Elon was seated on a tatami mat, having another generous helping of a chanko soup.
"But you must" said Master Takasago, the owner and chief trainer of the Takasago stable.
"Doesn't it taste good for you?"
"It does, thank you," Elon found it almost difficult to speak.
"But I have had…what…four bowls of the soup already!"
Master Takasago was uncompromising.
"An average sumo wrestler would easily have ten bowls, even twenty or thirty on a good day," said Master Takasago, sternly.
"You have to eat more, or else you cannot go to Mars."
A young sumo wrestler, with a surprisingly slender physique, was eating chanko besides Elon. This young wrestler was apparently struggling to consume his chanko, too. He was staring blankly at his helping of chanko, and sighed.
To that wrestler, Master Takasago said harshly.
"You have to eat more, or else you cannot become a good sumo wrestler."
Master Takasago was a kind man. He looked at Elon and the young sumo wrestler one by one, saying "you cannot go to Mars" and "you cannot become a good sumo wrestler" alternatingly.
Finally, Master Takasago was confused, and said "you cannot go to Mars" to the young sumo wrestler, and "you cannot become a good sumo wrestler" to Elon.
"I am fine with that," said Elon, and grinned.
After the chanko eating, Elon was told to go to sleep.
"But I am not sleepy," protested Elon. Elon rather liked to do his favorite pastime, surfing the web, even with only a smartphone.
"You must sleep," insisted Master Takasago.
"Nap taking is one of the top items in the job descriptions of a sumo wrestler."
Mr. Ono nodded.
"It sounds like a luxurious life, but is actually a very serious matter, to go to sleep, immediately after you have eaten."
"But I do not want to be a sumo wrestler!"
Elon was almost shouting.
"I just want to go to Mars."
"Then you have to take a nap now, Elon," told Mack scoldingly, as if Elon was a five year old child.
"Remember the belly fat? The long trip to Mars?"
"I'll fetch my pyjamas," Elon gave in reluctantly.
After a week in the Takasago stable, Elon gained 5kgs, or 11 pounds.
Elon looked at his belly half disapprovingly and half with a queer admiration and pride.
"I never thought my life would come to this," said the serial entrepreneur.
In addition to gaining weight, Elon did the basic training of a sumo wrestler, the shiko training, in which you were supposed to raise one of your legs high in the air, and keep it there, well-balanced, until you bring it down to the ground with such a force that everybody around you would think there was an earthquake.
As is customary with sumo wrestlers, Elon did the training before breakfast. The idea was to starve the body so that it would assimilate the nutrition even better when food was finally brought into it.
Despite being a geek, Elon proved himself to be quite athletic. After a few morning practices, Elon was making the shikomovement almost like a sumo wrestler. Surely not like a great one, but at least nearly like a fledgling one.
Elon wanted to try the sumo ring training, too, and bump into the opponent like other wrestlers were doing. But it was never allowed by Master Takasago.
"O, no, no way," said Master Tasakago.
"Unless, of course, you formally apply for an apprenticeship."
Which was something even Elon was shy to do.
"It was a good thing that Master Takasago said no," teased Mack.
"You would be bounced off like a small puppy, anyway."
Which was something even Elon had to admit to be true.
"Well done," said Master Takasago, with an approving nod, as Elon was consuming his seventh chanko bowl after a particularly arduous shiko practice morning.
"It is not bad for a beginner. Keep up your good work after you return to the United States!" Master Takasago beamed. Unfortunately, Elon was painfully aware that Master Takasago was referring to Elon's binge eating efforts, not his shiko form.
"Humph," sighed Elon, once Master Takasago, whom even Elon had learned to respect, was safely out of sight.
"I am not sure if I can gain weight and stay fit back home. American food is not as healthy as Japanese food, you know."
What Elon said was correct. Chanko was full of vegetables in addition to meat and seafood, and flavoured with miso, the quintessentialJapanese seasoning made from fermented soybeans.
"With miso flavoured chanko, the more you eat, the more you want to eat!" testified Elon.
"Exactly," said Mr. Ono.
"I will send the recipe for chanko via e-mail," offered Master Takasago.
"If you could, thank you!"
Elon was beginning to like chanko very much, apart from the need to accumulate the belly fat. Elon felt he could stay in the Takasago stable forever.
"Now it is time to move," said Mack abruptly.
"O?" queried Elon.
"Do we have to? I am feeling quite comfortable here."
"We must," said Mack.
"We need to move to phase two."
A several hours drive took Elon to a mountain Zen temple in the suburb of the Kanto plain.
"What do we do now?" asked Elon.
"You must get used to the idea of starving," said Mack.
"First getting fat, and then starving?"
Perhaps the sarcasm of Elon was justified, for this once.
"Yes," said Mack, without flinching.
"Remember, your belly fat has to last the entire flight to Mars! During fasting, you might feel that your life is in danger. However, the risk is only subjective, because objectively, you have enough calorie reserve to last during the entire flight. It is not a good idea to panic, especially when you are in a spaceship bound for Mars. There is no way out if you freak out. You need to learn self-restraint."
Apparently, some Zen priestspractice extreme forms of fasting in their search for enlightenment. In one practice, a priest would keep saying the mantra, without any sleep, without any food or drink, for nine days without break, standing.
"WTF?" cried Elon.
"Do they really do that?"
"Yes, and you will know why and how, soon," said Mack.
"Quite so," followed Mr. Ono, smiling.
A few minutes later, Elon was facing an old priest. Elon and the priest went to a stone garden, and sat beside it, side to side.
After some small talks, the priest started to lecture about starvation. Mr. Ono translated what the priest said.
"There are 8 stages of hunger," said the priest.
"At stage 1, you feel the first signs of hunger. Stage 2, you want to eat something. Stage 3, you think of food all the time. Stage 4, you feel that you cannot bear it any more. Stage 5, you feel weak and think you're going to die. Stage 6, you almost lose consciousness."
Elon was listening intently, as if what the priest was saying would affect him personally in the very near future.
Then the priest remained silent, as if he forgot that they were engaged in a conversation on starving, or in any conversation with Elon at all. After a few minutes, Elon could not contain his curiosity any longer.
"What is stage 7?"
"Stage 7?" said the priest with an air of a cat on a mild spring day.
"Yes, stage 7 of practiced hunger."
"Ahh…That…In stage 7, you forget about the hunger."
"You forget that you are hungry. You do not feel anything."
"And stage 8?"
Here the priest stirred a bit, as if to adjust tiny parts within his body.
"In stage 8, you would reach nirvana."
"You mean I am going to die?"
There was a certain hint of sarcasm in Elon's voice. But then, seeing that the priest was actually dead serious, Elon corrected himself very quickly.
"Nirvana…hmm…maybe I would like that…on my way to Mars."
"You can even go to space anyway, if you reach stage 8." said Mr. Ono, winking.
"So I don’t have to build all the rockets and stuff in order to go to Mars?" quipped Elon.
"Cut that, Elon. Actually, being hungry for a long time is the key for success in this Mars mission," was Mack's uncharacteristically sober and practical summing-up.
On the way back to the U.S. on the private jet, Mack started to share with Elon a detailed plan to become overweight in the coming six month until takeoff.
"I rather liked the chanko thing that we had back in Tokyo," said Elon.
"The miso flavor was such that the more you eat, the more you wanted to keep eating."
"Yes, I already heard that," said Mack.
"It is very different from what we have here in the States, isn't it?"
"Yes, that's certainly true," said Mack.
"Maybe we can learn a lot from those overweighted sumo wrestlers. "
There was no trace of sarcasm in Mack's voice. He was not even winking.
"I think everything is going rather well," mused Elon, as he was reclining in his chair, having his third meal on the flight.
Elon arranged to have a special miso flavored chanko for his return trip. Actually, he hired a ex-sumo wrestler for this purpose. Manuel had to reluctantly accept his master's exotic arrangements, which he secretly disapproved.
"I think I can become comfortably overweight soon enough."
"Well, I don't know how to put this," said Mack. There was hesitation in his voice.
"You know, there is a catch in operation space sumo."
"O?" said Elon.
"It is about the skin."
"Skin?" blasted Elon.
"Yes, the skin."
There was a momentary hesitation in Elon’s face, but probably Mack just imagined it.
"You mean after you become really fat and lose your weight later, your skin would get loose and dangle in a most unfashionable manner?
"That’s absolutely it! How did you guess that?"
All these years Mack was used to be exposed to Elon's astonishing intellect, but this was way over the top.
"I will make sure that the tv crew would shoot you only from certain angles," said Mack.
"O, thank you," said Elon.
As it became apparent that Elon was getting fat rapidly, out of control perhaps, the media frenzy about the whys and hows began. Some attributed it to some stress due to turbulence in the relation between Elon and his girl friend. Others surmised that Elon was getting anxious in the running up to the Mars mission, and was overeating as a result. There was also a rumour in the social media that Elon was actually considering becoming a professional sumo wrestler himself. A craze for sumo was erupting in the United States after President Trump was seen presenting a trophy to the grand champion.
Fortunately for Elon, Elon's girlfriend, Claire, did not complain about his transfiguration too much. She made music on the GarageBand software, while rhythmically poking at the belly of Elon, who was taking a nap after a generous helping of chanko.
Finally, the big day arrived. The day of the take-off.
Elon was proudly overweight, ready for the ordeal, the fasting, on the way to nirvana.
"I can report here that I have gained more than 50 kilograms, or 110 pounds, compared to when I started six months ago," said Elon, saluting Mack.
Elon was beaming.
"I feel just great, thanks to the sumo training I diligently conduced every and each day."
"That's great, " said Mack.
"You can almost become a sumo wrestler now."
"O, no thanks, " said Elon.
"Now the hunger starts," said Mack.
"I know that," said Elon.
"Are you sure you can handle it?" asked Mack.
"Yes, I am sure I can handle it," answered Elon.
"At least in my mind's simulation."
"Well, there is one thing I need to tell you," said Mack.
"What is that?"
"You know you always wanted to have a travel companion, on this maiden trip to Mars."
"Yes, that's right. The capacity of this trial Mars spaceship is two."
"Well, here he is."
Mack pointed towards a space behind Elon's back.
Elon almost turned around to see, but stopped short.
"Wait, let me guess," said Elon.
"It is quite logical, isn't it? It has to be somebody overweight, who would be able to carry a lot of belly fat. He has also to be somebody dexterous, in order to execute, if needs be, operations in the spaceship."
Mack was nodding approvingly.
"That would only mean…a sumo wrestler!"
"Bingo," cried Mack.
"Meet Asanoyama, the sumo grand champion," said Mack.
Elon turned around. Asanoyama made a bow, to show respect for such a great entrepreneur and adventurer.
"I am going to Mars with you, Mr. Musk." said Asanoyama.
"I know you," said Elon.
"You are the guy to whom Mr. Trump presented the trophy!"
"Indeed, and Mr. Trump sends his regards."
"Do you know anything about this spaceship?" queried Elon.
"No, but I am eager to learn on the way," said Asanoyama.
"In return, I would love to teach you some sumo techniques," added Asanoyama, with a sudden surge of his grunting voice.
"O, no thanks," said Elon hastily.
"There is no sumo ring on that spaceship…I think," Elon was rather uncertain, because Mack could be mischievous and cunning.
"OK, then," said Asanoyama.
"I am looking forward to sharing the spaceship room with you," Asanoyama added.
"Well, OK," said Elon.
"In space, weight would not really matter in combat," said Elon, looking at Asanoyama's terribly built body with both admiration and fear.
"I might become a yokozunayet. The first Mars yokozuna."
"You might," answered Asanoyama.
Mack was looking at Elon and Asanoyama beamingly. There was genuine admiration in his eyes. Elon has come a long way, with courage and determination. Mack was now sure that operation space sumo would be a success.
"O brave new world, that has space sumo in it," blasted Mack.
Some parts of this short story was inspired by real world events, but the story itself is purely fictional.