We step out of the elevators and into the hallway. The more we talk about this, the more the excitement builds within us. Our hearts have been energized by each others’ presence. The nagging little voices of doubt that accompany our every waking moments and decisions have been deadened at least a little by alcohol. In this moment, if nowhere else, we have bought into the promises of the Meadows.
Maybe anything truly is possible in this place. Maybe it wasn’t created just to let people make fools of themselves and then part them from their money. Maybe this place, cynical as it is, exists to give people an environment where, by the quickness of their wits and the luck of the dice, they can elevate themselves from nothingness to greatness. Better lucky than good. Even kings and fools are equal before a roll of the dice, and nothing else can make that promise but death.
So what if the place is artificial in every sense of the word, a living breathing maze of smoke and mirrors? The maze, at least, is honest with you. It will stick its hand into your pocket with a grin, but you know that it’s doing that. You can plan accordingly adapt and overcome. Move your goods to another pocket. Let the Meadows fish around all it wants, but lead it to the places you want to go, the things you want to see. For a couple minutes and for a price, you can have everything. Risk it all on a game of chance and feel invincible. Spring for bottle service and feel pampered and important. Throw down a couple creds and get them all to laugh at your jokes like you’re every bit as funny as you’ve ever wanted to be.
See a bear ride a lion. See a man that would have been a god two thousand years ago dance just for you. See the rich brought low. See the impoverished climb higher than they’d ever dreamed. See a woman with the kind of body and face that could launch a thousand ships twirl round a pole, slide down it like a dream. See it all, just for you. This is the Feast of Fools. This is bacchanalia, hilaria. The things we do here are Holi. It is endless celebration, life in miniature, death and resurrection.
Nothing is true. Everything is permitted.
The course is clear, at least for one night. The Beast can wait. We cannot.
“Fucking Team Winner!” I shout, pumping my fists into the air. I have no idea what we were fighting, but we’re already victorious, already worthy of cries of triumph. “Man, fuck seeing a show! Let’s do some shots, pop some stims, and hit a fucking club!”
Papa Chub claps me on the shoulder. “Yeah! This guy gets it!”
“Yeah!” Monk chimes in, harmonizing with us, contributing back-up vocals.
“Woo!” Googe cries out, the notes his voice hits rising in proportion with his excitement.
Erb rolls his eyes, shrugs. “Sure. Fuck it, woo!”
“That’s right, motherfucker!” I grab him by the shirt, pull him in front of the group. We’re running down the hall. I’m dragging him behind me, his feet flailing to find purchase on the carpet. I shout “Woo!” at the top of my lungs like I’m a siren. Everybody wake the fuck up, I’m saying. Everyone get out of our way. This is an emergency. Do not keep calm and carry on. Freak the fuck out. Raise your fists. Raise your weapons. This place will take you for all you’re worth, so take it first.
I let him go before he stumbles completely and falls onto his face, but the message has been received. The boys are racing behind me, their hearts beating in time with my own now, all of us united in purpose, even Erb. He’s toeing the edge, treading water in the shallow end, but even he will find himself locked into our shared giddy exuberant madness before long.
The door picks up my biosignature and unlocks. I kick it open, my boys whooping and cheering behind me like a band of marauders. We swarm between our two rooms. We dig a bottle of whiskey and a bottle of tequila and a bottle of vodka out of our luggage and pass them around laughing and cheering. We pull out pills and vials of liquids and hypos of short-lived nanites and array them on our beds like so much candy, so many toys. We plan as best as we’re able.
“Alright, a shot and a stim. and then we cab it over to Buddha.” “Buddha sucks. Let’s go to the Golden Calf instead.” “These little bastards will police your system, right?” “How the Hell would you know Buddha sucks?” “Pass me an upper.” “Wait, how about Jungle?” “Josef says Buddha sucks, and I trust his opinion.” “Pass me an upper.” “Yeah. They monitor your brain chemistry, kidneys, liver, shit like that.” “You just want to go to Buddha so you can eat sushi off a naked chick.” “They’ll manufacture uptake inhibitors, antihistamines, adrenaline, activated carbon. Whatever you need.” “Hey, someone pass me a fucking upper.” “…shit, if it’s served off a naked chick, I could go for some sushi.” “Or else they’ll just disassemble the chemicals into their component molecules.” “…actually, that sounds rad as Hell. I’d pay for that.” “Thank God for nanoassembly.” “Oh, shit, is this añejo? Nice.” “Josef doesn’t like any place with a theme, regardless of whether its good or not. Buddha’s going to be good, I promise.”
* * *
It takes us an hour, but we change into nicer clothes, settle on a plan, get ourselves good and fucked up on the pharmocopoeia pharmocopia cornucopia corn liquor liquids we brought with us. We’re laughing and drinking and on top of the fucking world even though we haven’t gone anywhere, and we’re already swaying, and we’re already dancing, and Erb is being responsible and getting us a cab, and I hope it’s not a Johnny cab, and man, I miss Josef, let’s toast that motherfucker I’ll drink to that.
Do the victory dance over to the bathroom and pull out the black powder the black meat the black gold the soy sauce and let’s just fucking stare at it. Let’s just fucking stare and ignore the knocking at the door and the cries of dude I’ve got to use the bathroom and the cries of hey are you okay in there and the cries back of yeah I’m fine just these fucking nanites. Stare and consider and ponder and decide and revise, decisions and indecision, decisions and revisions.
Take a deep fucking breath. Squint. Control yourself, goddamnit. Squinting is control. Make your eyes focus. Make the machine run the way you want it to. Run the engine red hot, the needle screaming past its breaking point. It’s your machine, goddamnit. Run it how you want. Run it until it explodes, and if it explodes before you hit the finish line, then at least you went out in an actual blaze, and that is glorious in and of itself no matter what.
“Dude! Dude! We’re going to kick the goddamn door down! Are you okay in there or what?”
Yeah. I’m fine.
“What the Hell are you doing?”
Open the door and tell the truth. Yeah, sorry, I spaced. Just standing there staring at nothing. Must have been something I mixed. Maybe a little bit of a freak out, too. No big deal. Let me shower. Didn’t shower yet.
Eye roll. The faces blend the way they always do at the end of the night but the night hasn’t even begun yet. Maybe a shower’s actually a good idea. Cold shower, sober you up. Let your body and your brain figure things out for once instead of self-medicating. But then, if those two could do any kind of a decent job, you wouldn’t be self-medicating anyway. “Alright, man. Whatever. Don’t take too long, yeah?” A pause. The face frowns. “If you go silent on us again, we’re kicking the damn door down and sticking you with the bill.”
Shut the door and stare. The powder beckons. You said it could wait, that the present was more important than the past, but the Beast is ravenous. Isn’t that always the way?
Think about what you know. It only lasts five, ten, fifteen minutes, but it feels as long as your mind can handle. Snort it, shoot it, mix it and drink it, it doesn’t matter. It works. If it’s real, it works. If it isn’t real, it could be anything, do anything. The nanites will save you. Technology will save you where faith and common sense fail you.
Put it down. Put it down and join the boys. Put it down, put it behind you, let it go, move on. You’re here; move on. You’re here; move forward.
But it’s such a big bathroom, isn’t it? A shower meant for two, a tub meant for two, and you’re just one. You bought the ticket. Now take the ride.
Movement out the corner of the eye. The white of the shower curtains, but there are no shower curtains, just a glass door. There is white where there is no white, and that settles everything. Dump it in the complimentary cup, water from the facet, shake to stir, swallow.
That’s not so bad. That’s not so
Word Count: ʕ •ᴥ•ʔ
(Don’t adjust your television sets. That’s where it was supposed to end. I promise)