The Beast, Pt. 63 (Chapter 17i)

I turn and give Erb a smile. “I surely don’t know what you’re talking about.” He says nothing, just rolls his eyes.

Down in the lobby we tell the concierge we want to go out, and there’s a car ready to take us wherever we desire within minutes of our arrival. It’s automated, like the Johnny Cab, but unlike that antiquated nonsense, this one is sleek, modern. The whole things is rectangular, with a larger front portion for traveling as a group and a smaller rear area that can be closed off, presumably for more intimate encounters. And unlike the Johnny Cab, there’s no creepy-ass robot for us to interact with. Just a screen with a blue light that oscillates in time to the sound waves of the car’s speech. I actually find it kind of soothing, but then I remember the damn auto-doc, and I opt to help myself to some of the whiskey in the car rather than think about it any further.

“Where are we going tonight, gentlemen?” it asks us.

“Take us somewhere fun.”

“Take us somewhere cool.”

“Take us somewhere with girls!”

“I think I know just the place,” the car answers in a cool, vaguely electronic voice. “Please fasten your seat belts, or say, ‘We acknowledge the dangers of driving without proper safety measures and waive all rights in the event of injury or misfortune as a result of our being improperly secured.’”

“Wait, what?”

“Acknowledged! Please enjoy the ride!”

The sudden acceleration catches us all off-guard and we bounce around the interior of the car, the near-silent hum of the electric engine completely drowned out by our cursing. In the time it takes us to sort ourselves out and finish our drinks, the car pulls up at the private curb of some other hotel. Probably one owned by the same family as the Libretto. It’s an open secret that a very few number of companies, families, wealthy individuals own damn near everything in the Meadows. Together they form a coalition (which I don’t know the name of, but which I suspect is called something like, “Meadows Residents for Happiness, Sunshine, and Doublespeak”) that works together to oversee the upkeep and maintenance of the superstructure. Even with all the technological and industrial advances since the early days of space habitation in the 21st century, keeping the Meadows from becoming just so much more detritus in medium Earth orbit is a fantastically expensive logistical task.

How fortunate that they built a giant floating amusement park instead of some kind of a scientific facility dependent upon the generosity of governments and universities and wealthy benefactors!

All of this I think to myself, and then the car chirps, “We’ve arrived! Enjoy your evening, gentlemen. I’ll be back to pick you up when you need me,” and the door opens. We’re in what seems like a private garage, except there’s a line of beautiful people up against the wall, big burly men watching over them like cattle. One of these men is standing at the car, ushers us past the crowd, into a dimly lit hallway, through a raging a club and to a solid black door carved from some kind of real wood that opens as we approach it. The room beyond is filled with sofas, with dancers in costumes that evoke mist and clouds, with groups of identically impossibly beautiful people watching, talking, laughing, drinking. A few of them glance at us as we enter, but most of them are too busy with their own thing to pay us any mind. It’s luxurious. It’s elegant. It’s like a scene from a movie or some kind of a bad story. It’s nothing any of us have ever seen before.

We are so fucking out of our element.

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