Author's note: I am so tired I can't think of how to properly phrase this sentence.
I reached the apartment a full minute before Jamie. I shouted “Tam!” as I cut through the living room and went straight to his room. I don’t know what I was thinking. Was I going to “tell” on Jamie? Beg for protection? Somehow, even through my lingering trepidation I was able to think clearly enough to know, on some level, that he didn’t mean me harm. Then again, I was basing that judgment on who he was when I met him, and not this… whatever it was he had become since then. Alternate personality? Was I living with a clinically insane person? Would I wake up thirsty in the middle of the night, walk to the kitchen for a plastic cup of water and find him standing there with a knife, or perhaps some other evil intent? I was only assuming that the meek, pathetic person who walked in the door was the real Jamie… but then, wouldn’t the present personality make more sense? He was a giant fucking wolf, for fuck’s sake. How bad can your self esteem issues be if you can eat anyone who makes you feel uncomfortable?
“Tamlin! Come on, man, open up.” I banged on the door, stopping after a few seconds to make sure the outer door hadn’t opened, that there were no creaking footsteps on the stairs. Tamlin’s room was maddeningly silent. I didn’t really expect him to be there anyway. He rarely spends nights here. I don’t know where he goes, but….
I opened his door (it was locked, but it was the kind you can undo with a paperclip) and locked it behind me. I kept my back pressed against it as the front door opened and closed, and heavy footsteps thudded through the living room. To my utter horror they stopped before the door, but it didn’t buckle under a sudden onslaught. Instead, all I heard was a muted “I’m sorry,” almost inaudible even in the deathly silent apartment. Then the footsteps continued to room at the far end of the hall. The door shut. I left my post and fell onto Tamlin’s pristine bed—he must not have slept here in weeks—and curled into a little ball.
I avoid thinking where I can, because every moment is one I wish I could do over.
I think she hates me now.
Fuck you, James. Fuck him, I am done with him for good. He has ever brought me little more than promises: the promise of a better life, a more comfortable existence in which I am not the common bitch. I want to be aggressive. I want to take the things that I want. I want people to give them to me voluntarily.
I have my first user-related incident on Saturday. It’s my first day at my new job.
I arrive in the morning, the only thing in my pocket a half empty tasp bottle. I will run out soon. I should find someone who synthesizes or sells locally. I will do this after work. I should also obtain an apartment key.
I am reluctant to ask Corey. Perhaps I should just hope that the door is unlocked.
I arrive early to make a good impression. Or to repair the impression I already made. The two blocks pass in a tasp-induced haze. The drug, the tasp, was at one point a different thing. People had bio mesh grown in their brains, like human petri dishes. The mesh interfaced with an electrode. The electrode and mesh activated the pleasure receptors—simulated dopamine. The user experienced pleasure in a pure form, undiluted by thought. Imagine the thing that makes you happier than anything else. Now imagine the happiness you feel from that. Now imagine feeling that happy without doing the thing that makes you happy. Now multiply that by as much as your brain can handle.
People died. They failed to eat, sleep, or excrete. They died in their homes. Dangerous drugs were nothing new, but this drug was like Ebola. The effects were magnificent, but the transmission rate was low. Those on the tasp did not tell their friends how good it was. They really did not talk much at all. Then they died, usually without spreading the good word.
So the makers refined it. Which in this case means they cut it. Instead of electrocuting the brain, it became a gel that insinuated itself among your thoughts. The effects were muted, and other thoughts were allowed to flow through. It became more like other drugs: an enhancement rather than an escape.
As I walk I hear and see patterns, things that make me comfortable. Patterns imply history. I like history. Not the pedantic history taught in school, but the history of cement squares in the sidewalk, permanently caked with dirt, cracked by stress of the hot and cold seasons and decades of foot traffic, marked with stenciled letters; and storm drains, and trees punching slowly and inexorably through the sidewalk grates, and the missing gargoyle on the building across the street, and the—
I step into the shop still overflowing with observations and the calmness they provide. These things have been here for a while. They are not transient.
I have become uncomfortably transient lately.
Rian greets me with a smile and a handshake. I put on my most personable face, which feels to me like little more than a grimace. He shows me where to stand and how to work the register. Then he says if they have any questions to direct them to him. Then he leaves me so he can go to the bathroom.
I face a dilemma. It is a practical one. Rian hired James. But I do not think of myself that way. I am Jamie, not James. Will Rian be disappointed when he realizes that the person he hired has turned into a pathetic excuse for a person? Will I be forced to choose between my job and my identity?
I think my thinking is too dramatic.