I had no idea where I was, but I had explored enough chemicals, enough times, for a sense of dislocation to become a comforting blanket. I was not under a comforting blanket, though – I was covered and surrounded by the stained, crumpled sheets of a particularly hard bed, which was itself surrounded by a froth of threadbare clothes. Three grey, chipped walls and a pair of heavy maroon drapes stared down at me. Wrapped around my right was a slight, yellow-skinned girl, only three-quarters my height. Her explosion of red dreadlocks splattered my chest.
Rhythmic fucking noises were coming from the room next door. I closed my eyes again to let the dreamy waves of an expensive comedown wash over me. The heat of the girl’s skin against mine became the memory of soft, ripe breasts and ... and when I opened my eyes again, she was gone.
At that point I recalled where I was. I was in my own room. Shit. I also remembered who the girl had been. I reached over the side of the bed for the slacks I’d been wearing and emptied their pockets into my lap: a key, some crumbs, lint, a chewy sweet, a ruptor, a popper, a blob of something unrecognisable, and two baggies; one holding a tiny bit of blue quartz and the other a decent amount of fuel. I sprinkled some of the fuel into the ruptor, inhaled, dressed, and headed downstairs.
Mokey’s room had the fake depth of a 3D flick. The music smelled like the slightly damp, meaty air of a butcher’s storeroom. Epher Dance was effortlessly flipping around, like trash caught in a breeze. Flip Zide was in the corner, exhaling chilled clouds of music - a miniature maestro crouched behind his system. Mokey and Cloche were motionless, slumped in the far corner on a stack of cushions. Cloche was face-down.
I got a quick snap of Epher’s grinning maw as it flicked by, ‘Napalm, you are an evil genius,’ he said. ‘Do you even know this, man?’
‘I am? Why?’
‘The tickets,’ Mokey coughed.
The word flapped around the inside of my skull, looking for a purchase. Tickets. Did I have some tickets? Tickets. Was I supposed to buy some? Were we going somewhere? Tickets...
I waded through the flood of cushions that filled Mokey’s room, avoiding Epher, to the hole in the wall facing the street. Two weeks earlier, the window frame there had crumbled and fallen away. I could smell the life outside sliming by.
I’d been manufacturing a drug, fused with tech, to take us all to the next level. But they weren’t working. Not yet. Something was missing.
‘I need food, water.’
Did I say that?
‘I am on the case, man.’
Seconds later, Epher burst out the block’s door below, slid straight through a streetfight, and then launched himself off a puking drunk’s back onto a blinking streetlamp. From there he pounced to the mantle of the brothel’s door, which gave him clearance over the perma-crowd of drinkers between Horhey’s and The Salty Monk, and off down the curve of the tunnel he went.
‘Show house,’ Mokey said, behind me.
The words were a ticking bomb.
Show house, show house, show house, Boom!
‘Napalm, look, I don’t want to make you angry, but ...’
I meant to vault the cushions between us and land deftly next to her, but as I launched myself I caught Cloche in the thigh, provoking a muffled objection, then flailed, stumbled to my knees in front of Mokey, and finally collapsed over her legs.
‘Fucking watch it, will you?’
‘Oops.’ I flipped over and back-crawled to her side.
‘Share some empathy with me.’
Acutely aware of the fact that I hadn’t looked in her eyes yet, I bravely moved to do so, but Mokey was already sat up - a mass of blood-red backcombed tentacles with two thin, yellow legs sticking out, toenail’s all thick and curled. An arm extended from the hair to pass me a popper, which I reluctantly took, clicked and licked. Empathy. Not a drug I enjoyed. It felt like cheating.
Flip Zide warmed up the music, melodic flames the air. I passed the popper back to Mokey and she withdrew her arm, and then parted her locks so she could turn to look me in the eye. I met her crystal blue stare as the empathy grabbed me and dragged me backwards, crashing through the layers; pretence, ego, belief. Until, set-back inside myself, naked, I became elemental. I didn’t like the feeling, but saying shit and hearing shit was always easier like this.
‘We did it again, didn’t we?’ I started.
‘But I didn’t want to,’ she said.
No spark of emotion on her face. Absent eyes.
‘So why did we do it?’ I asked.
‘It just happened.’
‘It happens a lot.’
The empathy, it seemed, was not very good quality.
‘It’s got to stop.’
‘When you take empathy, do you feel sort of ... ’
‘Oh fucking shut up, Napalm.’
I wondered how far inside herself she felt.
‘I don’t want complicated.’
‘Don’t worry. You’re not really the girlfriend type.’
‘Sustenance, dudes,’ Epher announced, as he landed in the room.
He sized up the situation, bells in his hair tinkling as he flicked his head.
‘Okay ... I am out of here, man.’
Epher dropped the two small bags he was holding, and then back-flipped out of the room.
'I honestly don’t want to,’ Mokey continued, ‘so why do I keep ...’
I tried to force an expression onto my face, but drew a blank.
‘Why do I keep ...’
‘Maybe ... maybe because it’s fucking great and you just don’t want to admit that to yourself?’
I pushed hard and fast against the empathy and spat out, ‘How’s your brother doing?’
I’d caught her off guard.
‘Better. He’s up and about now. Anyway, I didn’t waste my money on this to talk crap. I want to talk about the show house.’
The bomb again. Bitch.
When it exploded into my memory, its force seemed to pass out through me, vibrating the room in its wake. But then I realised the room was shaking. Defeated, I directed my body to stand and move to the window-hole again. Mokey groaned disapproval at my retreat. I looked outside and up, to another hole, this one in the tunnel’s ceiling. Three rusty rails, supported by reclaimed timber scaffolding, ran through our tunnel and out of another hole in the alley opposite.
The vibrations grew in intensity. Creaking and groaning mudded the air. Flip Zide pumped up the volume, encasing the racket with percussive loops and sub-bass lines. A fist-sized chunk fell from our window-hole, narrowly missing a pair of feet being dragged into an apartment below.
‘I can’t remember the last time I saw a race, someone is minted,’ I said, but my words were lost to the din.
When the shakes were so strong it felt like they’d flatten everything, the three mechanical bulls ripped through the hole and steamed down the rails into the tunnel. They were almost neck and neck, their riders hurling abuse at each other. And then they were gone.
‘I want to talk about the show house,’ Mokey continued, as if nothing had happened.
I let my body fall back into the cushions, near Cloche, who was still face-down. I reached out a foot to nudge him. No response.
‘We are ready to open the show house, Napalm,’ almost staccato, her voice was developing tone.
‘Just about,’ I agreed.
‘The tickets are ready.’
‘We need to let outsiders in.’
‘Start charging them.’
‘Yes. Have you had a chat with the business application?’
‘Have you spoken to your folks?’
‘La, la, la ...’
We were both clearly beating up the empathy. It was over as far as I was concerned.
‘You’re too strong for empathy,’ I concluded, gearing my frame into a stance, ‘and in my opinion, it wasn’t the right shit to get you what you wanted, anyway. I cost more than that crap.’
I lumbered out of her room, ignoring her come-back, and headed back upstairs to lie down while I recovered. The action was still going being filmed in Liquid’s room; I could hear the muffled groans and gasps. I banged my arm on the wall.
‘If that’s Lush in there with you, Xerxes, she better have the fucking krupt she owes me!’