"She faked her orgasms, you know," said the little horned monkey on the empty seat beside him. "You can't trust anyone that demonstrative. What do you think she used to do when she vanished into the bathroom right afterwards? To do for herself what you couldn't do for her, that's what. You never satisfied her; that's one of the reasons she left you. Not the most important reason though."
The man's grip tightened on his drink glass. He tried to ignore the simian's jibes. Just hallucinating is all; the monkey would even agree with that. Agree? He'd insist on it.
Some woman's voice:
So this edge-boy über-tech worked up an electric arc rigged glove that could flash burn a pinhole in a metal can and inject the microcaps. Or so I heard. Dosed them up with Sunburn, Itchanol, and Tickleu, pretty tame stuff for such a fancy rig. I bet he just got off on the notion of people writhing around, ripping off their clothes...
His hearing had become overly acute as well, snatches of conversation sloshing onto him. It made the waiting go even more slowly. Come on, dammit! Where are you? You were supposed to be here already.
The monkey sneered. "Oh, come on! Don't be naïve. You think The Man's gonna bust his hump for a burned out Tranquility junkie like you? Especially one so far gone into Tranq lies that he lets his stash run low, thinking that it's all okay, his world's just fine, he don't need no evil drugs to cope, no synthetic boost to his self-deceiver. Ha! He's gonna let you stew for a least another hour."
"Shut up," he mutters without much conviction.
"Watch it, pal. You're starting to talk to yourself. I'm just a projection, remember?" The monkey grins all the way up to his horns.
"Sir and Madame? Here we are: Black Meat Supreme, the specialty of the house."
The couple cast brief furtive glances around the room as they swished the primer, then spit it out, the primer being quite lethal if ingested. No one took notice of their furtive feeding. Not here in a nameless suburb of Edge City. The Black Meat is illegal, but hell, what isn't nowadays?
The TV set over the bar had sound turned way down, but his hyperacute ears could make it out. Or was it just imagination? Liquor just intensified the Tranquility crash, but he ordered another drink.
# Welcome to the Future! The Newsmag of the videoretina. (Theme song: "I Want a New Drug"). #
Got a hot one just off the streets for all you gangs of ganglia. It's a nifty neurophilic tabbed 'Tall Tail'. It claims to activate the vestigial portion of the brain that controlled the tail 'way back up in the evolutionary tree when we were all lemurs. Now I'm not going to tell you if my phantom limb is bushy or if yours will be cute and piggly, only you will know it's there, but...
"Going to try for a maudlin drunk?" the furry devil smirked. "A bit late for that, isn't it? Too much disillusionment stored up. Say a career turns out to be just a job, love turns out to be just a joke, life starts showing self-destruct in big block letters with bar code, but what can you do? Distract yourself with mindless partying, pseudo-amusements, synthetic entertainment, group gropes, ‘relationships,’ you really lack imagination, you know that? Hell, just look at me; one jot less imagination and I'd be hanging from your back."
He tries to look away, out the window, second floor, down the street, anywhere but those shiny anthropoid eyes. It's a mistake. The sudden movement of his eyes triggers a nightblack daydream.
Outside the street crowds swirl, twilight near Christmas, people caught in consumer gimme-gimme frenzy. He suddenly imagines he's been dosed with telepathine, legendary drug that let's you have other peoples' hallucinations. Sound track goes hollow, CalBerk Sprawl Plaza bang jam, old gratched Brian Eno, laughing gas waka waka, dentist drill on super slo- mo, it's a jangle out there.
At all levels crisscross bridges, cat-walks, hanging vines, cable cars, Spanish moss, freeway interchanges. The latter are good for spook voodoo mysterioso fortune telling according to Poisson distribution of cars strumming the off-ramp vibes, traffic leaving, t-leafing, casting the auto tarot. Silent radios blaring, static cutting in and out, bad digital conversion alias, fender bender Thai sticking up on the Nimitz, 580's been cleared of the earlier stall, but it's still slow going into the Maze, and Hospital Curve is blocked, but elsewhere it's at the limit.
At the limit...
Crowds now boil in a feeding frenzy; someone has passed rumor of half price sale on hair dryers, diazepams, and domestic slaves. Greed-crazed consumers clash with sightless denizens of the sewers, brought to the surface by acid reigning black marketeers of the Third World Wars, addicts of drugs unknown to all but rumor, Tourette's afflicted barkers, elephantine priapic organ grinders, tailed by kinesthetic ghosts, temporally lobotomized servers of fragmentary warrants issued by former officials of nascent police states.
"See what I mean about lacking imagination? I've seen better deco-dances on golden oldie music videos. That may be your only survival trait: insufficient imagination."
The interruption pulls him back from the brink. Now the monkey's mocking eyes seem almost friendly.
"You know what I think, pal? I think The Man had better get here soon or it's going to be too late."
The couple doing the Black Meat ordered another round, with discreet glances toward the back, where nestled the vomitorium. Once you start on Black Meat, it's so hard to stop, and the primer modifies your taste buds so it tastes delish both going in and coming out.
Well, you know, life's a bitch and then you die.
Ripple of non-glances toward the door and it's Dr. Drugs! Your Man is here. Your sigh of relief is guarded, because you see that he is on Edge. You know this because you hallucinate him as six foot tall crocodile with flickering snake tongue. His movements are reptile quick, with the pauses between movements motionless as stuffed lizard.
"Iss thiss sseat taken?" The forked tongue flickers with the inquiry. Your wave him to sit, trying to act cool, but he can only see your outline and it's getting mighty jagged.
INTERLOG - WELCOME TO THE FUTURE - Edge City
The neurophysiology of the street drug "Edge City" is still in doubt and its illegality makes further investigation difficult. It has no close relative in either the licit or illicit pharmacopoeia, which suggest that its original synthesis was accidental, a product of the neurotransmitter-receptor "shotgun" approach used by many outlaw biochemists.
The general effect of the drug is to greatly enhance the perception of change. Its impact on vision, for example, is to acutely intensify the perceptibility of moving objects, or, if the field of vision is static, visual gradients. At high doses, only outlines and edges remain visible, hence the name of the drug.
To the Edge user, the world becomes sharp, almost digitized, and electronic. Sounds become grating, as if heard through a high-pass filter. Textures feel rough to the skin. By way of contrast, the movements of the user become more fluid, but with a speed that sometimes makes them seem snake-like or reptilian.
Many theories have been advanced to explain why Edge is the drug of choice among youth gangs, drug dealers, and other violence-prone delinquents. There is no question but that the drug does amplify violent tendencies and other outlaw behavior in its users. The physiological effects alone go far toward explanation. The drug lowers the annoyance threshold and enhances aggressiveness. In addition, the perceptual changes and quickened physical reactions make the user in every way a dangerous antagonist.
Theories concerning the drug's popularity range from the purely behavioristic, involving invocations of the reticular activating system, to the more philosophical, which suggest that the Edge user achieves a homeostatic matching between internal and external reality states...
So the croc slides over and his tongue flickers.
"Sso, how are thingss?" He does not bother to wait for the reply, just motions for a drink.
"I'm having a sspecial ssale," the reptile continues, seemingly speaking to the horned monkey. "A new 'veng drug, just the thing for office rivalss, petty functionariess and ex-loverss. No name for it yet, even; we're a test market. It producess four hourss of intense nausea, but it kills the vomit reflex."
"He's not really into anger, you know," the monkey tells the crocodile. "I think he needs a few more passes through the wringer, guilty secrets, broken dreams. Something nasty to cover up, to pretend away. He'll have to start doing something other than this Tranq junk, too."
One of the Meat eaters shyly makes for the back room, but midway is accosted by a small oriental, begging opium. When refused, the little guy pulls a knife and morphs into Fu Manchu, but dissolves into thick black smoke before completion of the homicidal act. The television begins to sprout eyes, old CBS logo gone animate, hypnotic. Our boy tears his eyes away.
"Look," he whispers to the smiling crocodile. "Can we do this deal now, please?"
Reptile eyes look right through him, then there is a shimmered ripple, like bad black-and-white TV dream dissolve, and the croc turns into a gray-faced man with thick glasses so strong that the fronts of them are flat. The monkey is reflected twice-fold in those lenses, mouthing the words that the Man is saying.
"I know another Tranquility addict," he says, Edge dreamy and sandpaper smooth. "One of my other customers, used to be a gene cutter, specialized in phytoplankton, algae, yeah? You know it's rough when even green slime betrays you.
"The lab he worked for was doing basic research into photosynthetic reactions. The primo green used by regular plants splits water into hydrogen and oxygen, but the H gets used immediatemente, dig? The research boys tried making hydrogen direct, but they also futzed around with other stuff, splitting different salts, growing the plants in high pressure ammonia and methane, real sci-fi material.
"One of the bio-mods worked in just regular salt water, maybe somebody had the notion to try for bulk production of hydrogen chloride, but midway through they got one that gave off straight chlorine gas, just like an electrolytic cell. They were real proud of that one they were.
"Then one night our boy remembered a phrase from a college lecture or maybe it was an article in a popular mag: 'We are all the survivors of numerous genocides.' He woke up in a sweat. It seems that about a billion years ago, the first green plants filled the environment with a powerful chemical, oxygen, and thereby killed off most of their anaerobic kin with chemical warfare. Not really polite, but we wouldn't be here otherwise.
"So the gene tech realizes that this new chlorine producer could do the same thing all over again, only to us this time. He hot foots it back to the lab, only to discover...."
The crocodile face is back, weeping gently, gazing into the monkey's eyes. "Must I continue?"
"Dumped, huh?" says the monkey.
"Illegally," says the croc. "Sewer, bay, ocean. When he takes Tranquility, he knows it died. Other times he's not so sure. So he takes a lot of Tranq."
"How long to know for sure?" asks the furry creature.
"Like cancer of the lung, years to know, then it's too late. Likely as not we die first. But our children...Do you have children?" Alien eyes stare into his.
But he can't answer. The Fear is on him now, so intense he dares not move.
"Oh hell," say the eyes behind the glass. "Take your damn pills." He rolls a bottle across the table. Only an Edged up pusher skating the razor in an Edge City bar would be so blatant. "It's a double-Edged sword, yes sir," as the monkey manqué would say.
He fumbles for the caps and gulps them dry.
Somebody sighs. Perhaps it's the monkey, the one who is never on his back, oh no.
The Tranquility wave begins and the world shifts on its axis. Life, love, job, hell, it'll all work out. He looks over at the simian, who is beginning to fade already.
The furred face grins. His voice has become inaudible, but he says his last in a sign language made understandable by the rush of Tranq plunging into a bottomless need.
"So long, it's been real. I'll be back, you know; there's no way out except the obvious." He looks at his watch. "Not much time left, so before I forget:
"Welcome to the future, pal. Now that you've arrived, where do you go from here?"