The Beast, Pt. 85 (Chapter 20d)

My options are severely limited at this point. Turns out giving away all your money isn’t a good way to keep a plethora of options and opportunities for going to bars and restaurants available. I’ve got less than a hundred credits on my person, and frankly I’m shocked I even have that much. A hundred creds doesn’t go far in the Meadows. Not very far at all.

Thankfully, the preponderance of bars here means I don’t have to go very far at all. I pick the nearest one and wander in through the doors. The name is lost on me, but I can tell it caters to a marginally younger crowd. Men and women fresh out of college and clad in tight clothes, flexing and posturing and laughing and dancing, and I feel ten years older for every minute I spend in this place. If I don’t get an overpriced macrobrew and get out quickly, I’ll shrivel up into dust and blow away in a gust of testosterone.

I push my way up to the counter, drawing a few angry glares, but I pay them no mind. With one hand on my wallet and the other on the vial of Beast, all feels right in the world. Or if not right, at least secure. I feel grounded. Stable. I have a purpose, a mantra I can repeat over and over. Get a beer, get out. Get a beer, get out.

The bartender snaps his fingers and points at me with languid ease. “What can I get you?”

“Beer. Whatever’s cheapest.”

He disappears with a nod and comes back a few moments later with an aluminum bottle, sleek and cool and light enough to ensure no real damage can be done with it. I slip him enough creds to cover it plus a small tip, and my finances are literally decimated for it.

The music in this place is oppressively loud, repetitive electronic beats with the occasional vocal accompaniment. Usually an exhortation of some sort, or else a statement that plays at being deep while really being meaningless. “Everybody shake your asses now” contrasted with “Love will light the way.” Still, absurd as it all is, it’s effective. The clientele of this place are out there shaking their asses, out there letting love light the way. They dance, they drink, they spend their money, they have a good time, they convince themselves it all means something.

I glance around the crowd, sniff, turn my focus back to my drink. It’s half-empty when someone nudges me from behind. Being touched is inevitable in a crowded place like this, so pay it no mind.

And then the person does it again. Harder, more deliberate. I bobble my drink and spill some of it in myself, watching stupidly as it soaks into my pants and my shoes.

But numb stupidity gives way to irritation and anger. I spin around, ready to put my clumsy assailant in their place. Instead I come face to face with a human sneer, arms crossed and teeth unnaturally white, body flanked by two more just like it.

“Hey, fucker,” he says. “Remember me?”

The kid’s in his late teens or early twenties, has got that look to him that says “rich and pampered and entitled.” He’s got fair skin and hair somewhere between blonde and brown, the kind of body that says he’s never met a bench press he didn’t like or a squat rack that he did, and two buddies standing behind him trying to look tough.

I squint. I lean forward. I sip my beer. I make a big show of it. “I think so. You’re the guy that’s an asshole, right?”

The kid draws back, blinks like he’s just been slapped. Whatever he was expecting, I didn’t oblige him. But his lost cool only lasts for a moment before he sets his face into a scowl of aggression once more. “I’m the guy that’s going to kick your fucking ass!”

I tilt my head to the side, look him up and down, smile. “Are you sure? I think you might be mistaken. I’m pretty sure you’re the asshole guy.”

“Oh, you’re fucking dead, man,” one of his friends says. The other two look almost identical to the one up in my face. It takes me a moment to convince myself that I’m not seeing triple. Or hallucinating.

“Fuck him up, man.”

The one in front stands up straighter, invigorated by the bravado and encouragement of his companions.

I know the feeling.

“You took my Voov, man, and I want to know what you’re going to do about it.”

I laugh. I shake my head. I sip my beer. “Get out of my face, kid. I’ve had a shitty day and I’m really not in the mood.”

His arm moves faster than I can follow. His hand snaps out like a snake, finds purchase on my shirt, balls up, pulls us together. “You. Owe me. Champagne.”

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