The Beast, Pt. 82 (Chapter 20a)

She disappears, fades out like a ghost gone back to haunt her friends. Like a necronaut returning to the world of the living. She’ll find them. I never did get her real name, but then she never got mine either. It’s stupid, but I suppose it’s at least fair. The universe favors symmetry, even if we misapply the lessons in our foolishness.

The Meadows is a bad place to be sober in. Without an altered perception of reality, you start to see things. You see the seams. You see the cracks. This place is so impossibly artificial, and not even in some vague self-righteous kind of way. The water’s condensed from the respiration of all the tourists. The billboards are all holograms. The staff genetically and cybernetically and surgically perfect. It’s surreal. When you’re altered, it’s surreal in a good way. When you’re not, you start to feel like the only real thing in the universe, and that kind of solipsism just isn’t fun. You go from feeling like a god to an intruder. You walk down the street and everyone else is human, an amalgamation of human cares and concerns, human wants and needs, human hopes and dreams. And you, you’re just an alien. Faceless. Fleshless. An intruder in a reality not your own. Ignored, if they even see you at all.

Would I notice the Lady in White in this crowd? I would think she’d stand out, but then, I could pass by my friends, the girls from the other day, any of the faces from the party, and not recognize them.

My feet have taken me outside onto the main drag. I don’t even know how. There’s a flood of people coming and going, both sides of the streets, luxury vehicles with human pilots, autonomous cars. Synths, bots, animals, cyborgs, otherkin. All the world contained in a tube floating around said world, and I am alone. Well and truly alone. Not even an audience for my witticisms.

There are cameras, too. Everyone has one in their pocket to preserve their own memories, but there’s cameras on every corner, cameras in the casinos. What happens here stays here. Forever. You can carry it with you as a memory, but even if you don’t it’ll live on in security footage somewhere. The human brain and unblinking glass eyes. The two places where our karma and our stupidity and our shitty behavior are recorded forever.

“I should call the guys,” I mutter to no one in particular, but even I don’t believe that. In a part of myself I would never admit to, I’m afraid to look at the Conncomm. So instead I wander and the artificial sun slowly sets, the lights and the signs grow brighter. I’m on an upper level again, looking down on everything, my arms resting on a railing and the world passing me by.

A voice behind me shakes me from my thoughts. It is cold and direct, male, utterly unfamiliar. “Mr. Studlu. I have a business proposal you’re going to accept.”

“Not interested.”

“You will be.”

The man sidles alongside me at the railing, his hand clenched around a partially obscured glass vial. “You have a small fortune. I have Beast. I propose a trade.”

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