A haggard salaryman wipes his forehead with the sleeve of his ultra-velour suit. Sears. Last year’s fall line. I can see his party making its way from the karaoke den across the street toward the stuttering automatic doors of the Takahashi Systems Lounge. It’s 23:00. The syncopated thunder of the Xenith Audio Deck’s bassline spills out into the street as the group stumbles inside. I take another sip of my Yebisu as the glowing holomodel on the ConsumerPlus display regurgitates an unheeded welcome to the suits. Tess still isn’t here yet. I glance at my watch - an antique digital - and catch one of them out of the corner of my eye. He sidles up to me at the counter. I can see the company tag on his neck. Malcolm Financial. His credit’s good anywhere. He commandeers the AutoHost and clears his throat.
The faceless bartender’s synthetic voice recites the latest advert for New Coke as it mechanically pours his beverage. The man’s sweat is visible on his cuff. 23:07. No Tess. My eyes drift to the ConsumerPlus, now streaming a video ad for the salaryman’s drink. It’s not even midnight and the automated club mix has already begun its onslaught of programmed AR-POP trash. Along the walls glimmering holomodels present their products, smiling for no one. The dance floor is empty. Compensating, the house’s AI dims the club windows and holographic floor-fillers flicker to life; an embodied mass of light. Ghostly dancers. I see a flash of fluorescent white sneakers shuffling against the grimy floor. Tess. My barstool screeches behind me as I stumble into the electronic phantasmagoria. All around me faces blur, warp and dissolve as crippled old projectors struggle to chase my retinas. My stomach churns like I just got off a bad stim. The sneakers. A woman’s back. I reach out from the mass. She turns around as my hand passes through her shoulder. The holomodel stares right through me as the club dances with itself.