I look over my shoulder. The voice belongs to a man maybe just ten years older than me, hair beginning to grey at the temples. He’s got a sour look on his face, as if he’s been sent out on an errand that’s beneath him. He could be any of a million different people in the Meadows. Father, businessman, hedonist, some kind of professional visiting for a conference. And sure, maybe he could even be some kind of drug dealer.
What he absolutely could not be is someone with Beast.
I snort. “Well. There’s no possible way–”
“Yes, you did hear that right. No, I’m not a psychic. No, you’re not hallucinating.”
“Then what the fuck is–”
He sighs like he’s exhausted, like he’s done this a dozen times before and he’s been dealing with idiots all day. “Don’t be tiresome, please. I don’t have the patience for it.”
I study the man. His exasperation has turned into a look of disgust, and at any other moment, I would have told him to fuck off and be done with the whole thing. But he knew what I was saying while I was in the middle of saying it. And he guessed the next two things I would say before I’d even had time to put them together.
Plus, anger was a welcome distraction from the introspection I’d been feeling prior. I grunt at him and turn away, focus my eyes on nothing, try to cut out the other things in the world so I only hear his voice. “Alright, you’ve got my attention. Talk.”
“You came to this place because everything and anything can be bought here. You’re looking for Beast because there’s some mistake in your past you want to undo. You have an obscene amount of money to your name due to a string of absurd luck. I want that money. You want my product. You will give me all that you have, and I will give you a single dose.”
I snort. “That sounds like a terrible exchange. And I’ve already tried Beast, and it did not deliver.”
The man shakes his head. “You tried a pale imitation. Stimulants and hallucinogens and nootropics. It did nothing.”
“Then how did I–”
“Absurd luck, as I already said. Dumb luck. Random chance went your way for one night and you decided you were omniscient.”
“Beast isn’t supposed to make you omniscient,” I say, but I can hear the hesitation in my voice. This man knows things he shouldn’t know. Maybe he works security for the Libretto and he’s studied the footage of me and my friends so he can sucker me out of my money. But then how would he know that I was looking for Beast?
“No. It isn’t. It doesn’t. It lets you see your own time line, and what you observe, you can change. If you had actually had Beast, you could have accomplished what you had the other night.” He sighs, his eyes focused on something far away from me, his expression sad and pensive, a man coming to terms with something he had desperately hoped he would not have to. “Limited omniscience looks the same as blind idiot luck when everything’s said and done. Or perhaps blind idiot luck is just as useful as limited omniscience.”
I chuckle at that. “I’ve always said, ‘Better lucky than good.’”
The man’s eyes lock on me, a sneer of disgust twisting his face into something ugly. “Oh, good. You’re just as insufferable in this timeline as you are in the ones I’ve explored more thoroughly. How wonderful.”
I push myself away from the rail. “Well. That’s enough for me, thanks. I’m done being insulted. Have a pleasant life and try not to get stabbed for being a prick. Good luck!”
The man puts his hand on my shoulder as I turn to leave, and I wheel around, fist clenched and raised and stinging where I broke the bone. I’m ready to drive it into his face, pain be damned, but he’s holding up a glass vial and in it is something black and viscous. A glass full of tar. I’m confused enough that I don’t smash the man’s face in, but then the tar moves. A pseudopod climbs up the wall, detaches, wiggles aimlessly, collapses in on itself. The black stuff flows around and over it, pulls it in, devours itself.
“What the fuck is that?” I say, my voice somewhere between a croak and a whisper.
“Beast. Real Beast. It will solve all your problems. It will be yours. You will take it and you will use it and you will be whole.”