When the Sick Hyena Laughed

So I had it done, interface and chip in a two-for one deal that Elizabeth organized after getting me security clearance. She was as ecstatic as a bot could get (“We are pleased, Peter.”), and things were looking up. Work was much easier, and faster. I was generally happier, mood automatically maintained and adjusted, and a few weeks later I got back together with Kirsten, admitting I had been wrong. She forgave me. I managed to quit smoking.

As a celebration, she took me out to The Real, a brand new club for interfacers only. When we entered the white, square building, she excused herself with a grin and ran off, a bouncing mop of blonde hair disappearing into the crowd standing around the bar to get a few drinks.

I stood alone, taking it in. The music coming from the doorway to the dance floor was good, but the club itself was bare: full of people, and everything flat, angular, minimalist. Kirsten had said this was to let people with eye lenses skin the walls with whatever they wanted to see. I wasn’t quite ready for that yet.

She had been gone a while so I scanned the crowd looking for her when a face appeared that shouldn’t have been there. The red beard was gone, but I recognised the green eyes immediately: the pastor from the bus was standing talking to Kirsten, dressed in a dark blue collared shirt that squirmed with thin, white, snakelike patterns. A thin string of fear plucked at my spine like the pull of a puppeteer as I walked over casually and stood as close as possible to listen in over the din of voices, watching them in the mirror behind the bar, hoping she wouldn’t see me.

“So you’re an actor?” Kirsten asked, puzzled.

“Sort of,” he replied, nodding. “Heh, yeah, I like that.”

“Is it popular?”

“I have a lot of blue chip companies as clients.”

“But how do you know it will work?” she asked, fascinated, her eyes blinking exaggeratedly.

“Well, I figure out their wants and desires, their fears.” He grinned. “Their passions.”

“Even me?” she giggled, taking a sip from her drink, gazing at him.

He smiled and touched her arm, playfully. “Yes, even you.”

“And then?”

“Then, I just give them what they want, even if they don’t know it yet.”

“Wicked! What’s it called again?”

“Reality advertising.”

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December 31, 2007