She regained consciousness slowly. It was an uncomfortable process. At first, it was just a sense of light but then the light grew piercing and painful. She groaned. Gravity, weight and something else all appeared, pinning her naked form down. The seam of a velvet carpet was cutting into her back and her mouth tasted like death.
She breathed deeply and sat up, instantly regretting it as her brain pounded against her skull and her stomach turned.
Bodies lay strewn around her. A few were real biologicals but most were just rented out bio-similars for rich people to webcast into from wherever they lived. It was a common occurrence on the Party Planets. These bio-similars had all the similar tactile senses as a human body with three added benefits–no consequences, no identities and no hangover. All that happened was you woke up the next day back home in your biological body, your Conduit having severed the connection with the Web.
It sounded wonderful, she thought, having never tried it herself.
She shoved a female bio-similar arm off her naked leg. It was still warm and soft to the touch, just like a real human arm. A lot of things were like the real thing around here, but not quite. Trying not to throw-up and willing the room to stop spinning, she slowly stood up. Glancing around the room, she wondered where her clothes had been thrown?
One of the other biologicals was waking up. His appearance was a clean-cut, dark-haired man and she immediately remembered how intimately she had been involved with him last night. Him and the bio-similar next to her, or whoever had been inhabiting it at the time.
She shivered involuntarily.
He looked up and their eyes locked for a moment. His eyes were blue.
She thought about asking him his name or emailing him hers. He smiled slightly–maybe thinking the same thing–and then turned and walked out of the room. Maybe it was the hangover or maybe the room just felt empty now, but she stared at the place where he had been standing for a moment her thoughts wandering.
Then she stepped over the vacant female bio-similar by her and looked around. Despite all the bodies around her and the warmth of the aircon, she shivered again. Contrary to last night, this space now felt devoid of life and love.
Or, at least, she reminded herself, it was devoid of the illusion of life and love. Neither had actually been present here last night. A lot of things were like the real thing around here, but not quite.
A sudden movement from another corner startled her. Another biological had awakened and was slowly getting up.
She did not wait to see who and fled the room filled with intimate strangers.
The harsh neon lights burning around him did little to illuminate the street. Their cold glare merely emphasized the darkness pooled in odd corners and lurking between buildings. A dirty rain touched everything but was drowned out by the background wail of the city, which was, in turn, drowned out by the loud, angry music playing in his ears.
Outside of the club, bars, restaurants, cafe’s and illicit Web dens, the Party Planets were basically an urban desert inhabited by the lost souls paid to keep the party going.
He pulled his umbrella lower down on him and dug his free hand deeper into his pocket as he stomped down the street.
Far above him, twin constellations twinkled as an intergalactic starship tore through the night sky. It was carrying tourists, rich enough to travel but too poor to use bio-similars. It reached a sonic boom amidst a blue, static flame while it punctured the planet’s atmosphere. They were leaving but others would be arriving soon.
None of this he noticed because it would have involved looking, and looking would involve seeing.
And there were few things in his life that he wanted to see.
His hangover still lingered but his thoughts had moved on from it. The lady with the green eyes lingered on the fringes of his memory but he pushed it down and away. What was the point? The Party Planets were a teaming mess of fringe habits smashing against the shore of a rotten society. He would probably never see that biological again and, if he did, it would be under different circumstances.
This was a big city in a big galaxy with big, dark corners. It was a place filled with lights and tourists, entertainment and escapism huddled together against the vast, nothingness that civilisation occupied.
He lit a smoke and coughed. The cancer was back. He would have to do a couple more of these gigs to save up for the cure again.
He took a big drag, sighed as he exhaled, and pulled his umbrella ever lower down on himself. He dug his free hand even deeper into his pocket as he carried on stomping down that crowded, hollow street, music blaring from his Conduit straight into his mind.
And he continued not seeing…
He was mentally checking newsfeeds, social media and chatrooms. He returned notifications, liked photos, commenting on statuses–lol, omg, wtf!–and pinged lives all over the universe and across the galaxy in a savage consumption of communication aimed at solving the single problem that it actually amplified.
“Good morning, Sir,” the soothing voice of the AI whispered in his ears, and he groaned and rolled over, the silk sheets gently caressing his grand form, “You asked me to wake you an hour before the Ambassador dialled-in. It is now an hour before the Ambassador’s call.”
He sighed, opened his eyes and pushed his girth into a seated position in his bed, in his bedroom, in his mansion on his estate in the ultimate lap of luxury.
He stretched and yawned, checking his notifications. The orgy was fun last night and he saw a couple of memories filed away for later in his feed. He had had fun with three biologicals at there. Two of them–the man and the woman–had had such striking eyes that, even now, he could feel his thoughts slipping back to them…
“Sir, do you wish for the usual?” a floating dot of beautiful light that was his smart-mansion’s AI pulsed gently out to him and to which he casually nodded. Moments later a cappuccino made from the finest intergalactic coffee topped with gentle, vitamin-enriched Luma-cow cream appeared beside his bed.
He casually sipped the beverage, smacking his lips loudly, and stood his vast form up to waddle over to the window. His gigantic estate stretched over most of the surface of this Inner Circle planet and a number of the nearby ones too. He owned countless others in lower value galaxies too. His fingers touched billions of lives and his wealth would last more generations than his species. There were few luxuries that were out of reach and few laws that applied to people like him.
But he could not stop thinking of that man and woman. They were so real and so close. There was something so infinitely real about each of them, something that resonated with him.
People like him did not marry, for long. People like him did not get close to anyone or anything. He had had his wife murdered as it was cheaper than a divorce. He had vowed to never marry again. His children were scattered through the cosmos as he did not trust them; they stood to gain too much from his death. The rest of his family were kept at bay and his closest friends were his executives running each part of his empire.
But, still, he found his thoughts drifting back to the passionate throws amidst the man and the woman. The soft and hard curves, the way the three of them breathed and moaned, how deeply they kissed, how he felt as their eyes locked and their souls connected…
“Sir, shall I run the bath?” the ethereal AI pulsed from its pinprick of light. Outside a flock of flamingos took flight over his private lake as robotic AI worked the great fields stretching out beyond the horizon. There was not a human being in sight nor any others on this planet for his security. Every single AI on this planet was loyal as only an AI can be, built with the best security and firewalls that money could buy–better than even the military. Even his executives were rarely allowed here in person, most opting to merely hologram-in for his monthly management reports.
He sighed. His AI could almost do anything for him here and he could almost travel anywhere and buy anything. So why did this not make him happy anymore? What could he buy or own that would make him feel good again?
Why did he feel like this these days?
“Yes,” he mumbled, downing his cappuccino and flicking the cup and saucer off to the side–the smart-mansion’s telekinetic units caught it before it hit the floor and the dirty items disappeared as quickly as they had appeared, “Yes, Watson, run the bath. What else am I doing today?”
The AI began to list all the important people calling him, hologramming into his mansion or other such virtual meetings; coming to grovel before him and try to win his favour. Most of them disliked him, if not outright loathed him. He did not like meeting them either. Maybe he had once when he was younger and hungrier but not anymore.
No, but that was the game that he had to keep playing.
When he had won the game, he had thought he could stop playing it. He had naively thought that that was how the game worked. Later in life, he had conceded to the fact that the only winner in the game was the game itself.
He no longer owned his vast fortune. Rather, his fortune now owned him.
Such thoughts wandered through his mind as he leaned back in the low-gravity, golden bathtub, with mineral water floating over him as bubbles of infinite colour softly caressed his skin.
He sighed and accessed the memory banks in his Conduit. He thought of the man and the woman, and scanned through the memories of them till he found one that he liked. Both were staring at him in ecstasy, vulnerable and entirely human. God, he wished there was someone who would look at him like that in real-life! He uploaded it to his mansion’s AI, which beamed it out as a hologram above him lying in the golden bathtub.
With the hungry world gnawing at his door, in his bath, in his bedroom, in his mansion on his estate in the ultimate lap of luxury with the world at his fingertips, he realized as he had realized many times before: he was completely, entirely and inconsolably lonely.
He wished that life felt as real as it did on those vibrant Party Planets. Everyone always seemed so happy there and he wished he could feel what he felt last night in real-life. He wished he could reach out and touch that man and that woman, not with a bio-similar hand, but a real hand. His hand. The bio-similar was–as was the memory and the entire experience–similar but not quite the same.