I caught a pod to Lowtown that night and lingered in the space between two crumbling buildings, just outside the wire mesh fence that surrounded the platform. I was wearing my dark uni-mold again, and a black body sheet—not a very Lowtown outfit, but I expected it to keep me unnoticed, and therefore out of trouble.
Distant sounds reached me—barking or shouting, I couldn’t tell. The air was caustic and almost visible with smoke and rot. I hung back in the shadows of the alley, trying not to breathe too deeply. The wildlife was loud, but not immediate; the tamer Lowtowners were presumably trying to bed down for the night, and the wilder ones didn’t like the lights around the platform.
I kept my ears open as I waited.
At the party on Broxton I had immediately been roped into earnest and trivial smalltalk by Allysia. She had recently had her ear redone; it was a graceful scallop-shell shape laid back against the side of her head, with ribs of reinforced ceramic and a lattice of gold thread connecting them like a spider’s web. For all of her Edge affectations, Allysia was the ultimate bore, like a relic of old California that didn’t follow it into the Pacific.
“But, really, how could they?” she was burbling, swinging her arms for expression as if she had forgotten the drink in her hand. “I’ll allow, the Consortium has its problems, but for anyone to just up and secede, well…” She trailed away in a titter that she probably thought sounded superior; I heh-heh-heh-ed out of politeness and looked for somewhere to go.
Ronald, the host, sauntered by from the conversation he had just left, looking like he was open for another one. I flicked my eyes toward the door; in response Allysia automatically turned to see who was coming in (very nearly spilling her drink), and I scuttled off to Ronald’s side.
“Ah, Hale,” said he, as he saw from whom I was scuttling. She had turned back, seen I was gone, and immediately inserted herself into a nearby three-way conversation already in progress. “I see you’ve escaped her clutches.”
“Just barely. Throb?”
We made our way through the clots of giggling, dancing, arguing people. As we skirted between hundreds of bodies to the throb table in the middle of the atrium, I watched the great kaleidoscope of the rich and Edge as they separated and rejoined into their many overlapping mini-cliques.
“Ah,” Ronald said by way of announcement as we reached the table. I picked up a capsule and pressed it against my wrist, felt the slight pop, and then leaned against the table as full synesthesia gripped me for a split second. I could smell the pink light streaming through my head. Everything smelled, tasted, felt, sounded pink. My heartbeat looped back through my ears, reverberating in my sinuses.
I opened my eyes, not remembering that I’d closed them, and saw the familiar pink border around my vision. The rhythm in my head toned down enough that I could hear the party sounds around me again. The music was throb also, with full subsonics thrumming along with the tone in my head. I dropped the empty capsule into a dish with several others…