“I am not rubbing anything on my genitals!” I shout louder than is necessary. I’m dimly aware that any passerby is going to hear me screaming about my genitals, but I’m in no state for that to matter or silence me. The only thing that matters in this moment is communicating my righteous indignation to this overglorified toaster.
“Well, that’s inconsistent with my analysis of your situation. My professional analysis, mind you.”
“Fuck you, toaster.”
“I am neither interested nor waterproof.”
I cross my arms and pout. “Listen, I’m your customer. Hell, I’m your patient. Don’t you have to do what I ask so long as I don’t hurt myself?”
The smug LED smile becomes a frown. “That’s not strictly true,” the auto-doc says hesitantly.
“Well, I need that anesthetic or I’m going to hurt myself. Unspeakable things will happen. I feel out of control. But not in any sort of vague psychological sense that would necessitate a psychiatric hold. I only feel out of control if I can’t get that anesthetic.”
The machine renders the digital equivalent of nervous chewing of its lip. “I can’t–” it begins, but I simply stick out my hands, and it just sighs. “Please place your hands under the dispenser,” it says. “And may God have mercy on us both.”
I roll my eyes, put my hands under the dispenser, rub in the anesthetic. “Wait a minute,” I say after the tingling gives way to a pleasant numbness. “What about the numbness? I mean, the stimulant? I mean, caffeine? Or, stim? Wait…”
“There’s stim mixed into the compound. Mild, but long-lasting. As you requested.”
“Oh. Well, then.” There is something else, and it’s on the tip of my tongue, but whatever it is escapes me. The auto-doc goes quiet waiting for me to speak, to react, and in time the screen goes from blue to blank, and a wave of panic fills me. I’m alone, alone, and I want to say something to it, keep the conversation going, keep the banter going, keep the noise going, but my tongue is so much useless meat in my mouth and it won’t obey any of my commands. I stand there, silent, numbed, helpless.
There’s a woman’s voice from behind me, high and breathy, rehearsed and measured, putting stresses on all the right words and syllables to create a tone that’s confident and flirty and teasing all at once. A singer’s voice. An actress’s voice. “This is your party, right? What are you doing hiding all by yourself in here?”
I spin around on my heels, and I’d be raising my fists if my arms would cooperate instead of flopping around limply. I blink once, twice. I know I’ve seen this woman before, but I don’t remember her in the slightest, so where would I know her from? Her name’s on the tip of my tongue, and more than anything, I’m frustrated at the failure of my own mind to piece this puzzle together.
She whistles a few notes, a song terribly vapid and familiar and suddenly it clicks.
“Oh, shit! You’re bearcat!” I wince as soon as this leaves my mouth. No one’s bearcat. There’s no such thing as bearcats anymore. Bearcats haven’t existed for at least a hundred years. The very notion is gibberish.
She frowns, crosses her arms under her considerable chest. “Uh, yeah. Something like that. Cat Berry. Nice to meet you.”
I recoil like I’ve been slapped, narrow my eyes, appraise her suspiciously. I don’t think it’s actually nice to meet me. I think I’m in her way somehow, although I don’t quite know how. If this really is Cat Berry, the Cat Berry, the one I’m only vaguely aware of from vids and pop culture, I don’t know how I could possibly be in her way. She’s a millionaire. A billionaire if she’s invested her money wisely. What obstacle could I possibly present to her?
“You’re in Miss Berry’s way,” a voice growls, and I look behind her and I swear to God, there’s a fucking gorilla there. Sure, the thing’s been shaved and stuffed into a suit and it doesn’t really look like a gorilla and gorillas have been extinct even longer than bearcats, but I recognize a sagittal crest when I see one. And I’m ready to fight and my fists are feeling so good and numb that I have to look down at them to make sure that they’re even balled up into fists, but they are, so I look back at her gorilla bodyguard and I say, “Excuse me?”
“I’ve got this, Aloysius,” she says over her shoulder, and the Gigantopithecus that serves at her beck and call backs off with a grunt and a snort. She turns to face me, flashes a smile that would raise a paparazzo corpse from the dead erection first and says, “I heard there was an auto-doc in here, so I wanted to score some alprazolam. You know. To help take the edge off.”
I stare at her. It’s hard, for reasons I don’t entirely understand. I see breasts, I see lips, I see a waist, but the key components aren’t assembling themselves into a cohesive whole. I’m standing in front of the auto-doc, my tongue snaking across my lips like an autonomous snake, my eyes unfocused, my body either twitching spastically or swaying rhythmically. I can’t even tell anymore. “So, uh, Miss Bear. Eee. Miss Beary. What brings you to my humble party today? I mean, you’re right. I’m the host. This is mine. This is all mine. Soiree. What brings you to my soiree?”
She smirks. Not a smile, not a grin, not anything but a smug little smirk. She shrugs, rolls her eyes up towards the ceiling, smiles a rehearsed smile. It’s an act. It’s all an act, one practiced to perfection, one performed a thousand times before. “Oh, you know,” she says. “Just slumming it.”