“It was me.” I find myself saying.
“What?” K is standing in front of me in line. He is indulging me with this half-hearted prompt for clarification but his eyes are hypnotized and unfocused, locked on the line of women dancing behind the plexi a few meters away. The Pleasuredome, is that what you call it?
“It was always me: in the yellow car, the junkyard, the bot in the house.”
“I don’t know what you’re talking about.”
It’s like a futuristic mall, this glass walled area of pleasure dome. We’re lined up for a small ticket booth, like at a public fair, except that instead of a carny with a hat and handlebar mustache the ticket seller is a flat slab of silicon sensor-scanner. The multiple queues for the booths are splayed this way and that like roadkilled snake, made up glazed people, some with dead eyes, some bored or entertaining hedonistic thoughts as they peer up at the front of the queue. At the front of the line someone steps towards the sensor-scanner and is charged for a private room. Above on the next level there is a glass floor and people dancing. The women all wear skirts so you can watch the flesh of their thighs move and sway to the music from underneath.
I know some of them are bots. In here it seems indistinguishable who is bots and who isn’t anymore. Maybe the bots are programmed to perceive themselves as human. Maybe humans are so advanced into android it doesn’t matter anymore anyways. More lines, upstairs, the people/bots lining up to get drinks, talking with each other. The lines of women and men along the edges behind the plexi are for sale. Everything is for sale here. Some in here have more credit, some less, the song sings: I’m gonna live my life / I’m got credit / Im gonna spend my money. We dont leave the pleasure dome, there is no outside. The music stops, then another vacuous anthem breaks through the speakers, and you hear the blast of screaming crowd through the glass floor. Down here they play sleazy music at a low level so you just feel the constant pump of slow dirty bass through your loins, keeping you in a constant state of irritable semi-excitement.
I’m trying to remember how long I’ve been here now. We came here after work. We always come here, K and the others always come here every weekend.
“K, I figured it out, in the house – I was electrocuted, it was a cat.. under the counter, there was the cat…” I remember my death as if remembering a dream. How could it be? It wasn’t an attack, it was control of our programming.
He looked at me like I was crazy. The people in front gave us a quick glance too, and I could tell they were listening to our conversation while pretending to talk.
“Just quiet down.” K was feeling self-conscious. Then: “Dayum! Look at that …”
Two girls were walking down the tile corridor toward the lifts in tiny latex shorts, licking ice cream cones. “ Think they’re real?”
“No! That’s what I’m saying.” I’m getting upset, and raising my voice. “Nothing here is real.”
He was trying to ignore me, leering at the girls again. I could see something under the surface, some sign of knowing that he ignored.
But now for some reason I remembered it – bits of it.
I watch myself move, like a smoothly controlled marionette, to the now still and smouldering bot in the center of the room. I pick up the pistol laying nearby, place the barrel in my mouth. I straddles the luscious hips of the smoking carcass, grinding and riding until I pull the trigger …
I was that bot; we were; and now where were we?
I jump my car over a pile into a hole in the junk, into a hollowed out area underlying the rubble that could have been an old tanker truck or freight carrier. I leap out of the car and start shimmying up the side of the tangled metal slope to peer over the edge. There is nothing, silence, the clicking of the car engine releasing heat. A sound of searing air, and my hand is severed at the mid forearm cleanly yet violently by a laser blast.
I double up and wretch, emptying the contents of my stomach onto the polished fake granite of the dome floor. Now everyone is looking at me.
Where were our memories?
“I can’t take this anymore” I’m saying to K, but I know it doesn’t matter, K is fake, everything is fake. I don’t care about the people staring at me, pointing at me. Some security rushing towards me. I don’t care now, because none of it is real.
I’m becoming more lucid, and now I control the scene, I control the security. They stop, and wander off to some other non-existent task. The people around us, girls in latex shorts, guys in tracks and suits, stop, they freeze in place. K is looking at me, upset now that I ruined the fun.
“Quit worrying so much, Shyguy, why don’t you just enjoy the local scenery. We got it made here.” He’s looking at me intently now, the slight move and shift of his body apparent against the surrounding slowed to a paralyzing stillness, fading in places, losing detail, losing definition.
“Look around you” I say “look there, at that girl – she’s a bot, not even a bot. Just the suggestion of a bot – look at the details, the logo on the shorts, its supposed to be the Teksand logo, but it’s not even the right colors. Look at my shoes, for Christ sake, they’re not mine, just the same colors, and the details are fuzzy, there’s not even any stitching. This is somebodies imitation of what my world is supposed to look like, do you get it? It actually had me convinced. Where are my memories, where is my body? Why are you trying to fool me? Who is doing this?
Now K leans over and looks me directly in the eye. He speaks in a voice that is not his own: “Don’t ask questions you don’t want to know the answers to.”
So I freeze him too. I am calm now, lucid. I control this place, but someone has been fooling me. Distracting me, keeping me locked in this dream. I know you, I can feel you. My controller, my maker. I see you, I am coming for you.
The hologram K does a final mad hatter’s trick of turning, twisting swirling like a desert whirlwind and disappearing into thin air. The scene and people around jump and jolt sickeningly like bad tracking on an old television, and I hear a voice penetrate my skull and whisper a psychotic challenge inside my brain:
Come then. I’m waiting for you.
I storm out of The Pleasuredome to meet my creator.