He liked the feeling of her small, firm ass in his lap. It made him wish they had found a table in a darker corner. His pants tightened. He grinned to himself and grabbed her breast to the roaring laughter of his partners.
Her blue hair smelled like flowers. He didn’t know what kind. He tried to think of what kind of flower, and he tried to remember her name. Chugging another glass to distract himself, he laughed with the rest of his partners. One of them filled his glass. Another passed him a fresh plate of food. Securing a contract with Lucian Ackermann ranked up there with marriage and the birth of his first child. He grinned at the smiling analog in his lap and relished the celebration. He felt powerful and wealthy beyond anything he had ever imagined for himself, like a king.
The laughter around him faltered. He looked up from the analog’s breasts. A young man in a rumpled gray jumpsuit stood next to their table, staring at them with Somatic gray eyes and the rough look of an Earth walker. The king raised his eyebrows and shrugged at his partners.
“Think he wants in on the action,” said one of the younger partners.
A partner to his right, a woman in a dark business suit, alcohol on her breath, threw a rind of food at the Somatic and stifled her laughter. The rind bounced off his chest and landed back on the table, causing some of the partners to dissolve into fits of giggles. The Somatic didn’t move and after a few moments the laughter faltered again, and this time anger colored the silence.
“What do you want?” asked the king, frustration leaking out of his voice. He wanted to enjoy his drink and his analog, his food and his friends. They fell silent at his tone and stared at the Somatic with hot or cold eyes.
In the hostile silence, the Somatic spoke in a soft voice. “Don’t do that,” he said.
The tension at the table increased. Some of the partners shifted uncomfortably. The king felt the warm buzz of rage behind his eyes. “What?” he said, spitting the word.
The Somatic tilted his head, a frown growing between his eyes. “Don’t touch her like that. She,” he said, nodding at the analog on the king’s lap, “doesn’t like it.”
The king’s gaze snapped to the analog’s. Her gaze, fixed on the Somatic, dappled with shadows of expressions. When the king’s eyes met hers, her face reddened and she looked away. The king’s jaw tightened. He stood, throwing her off his lap and onto the table. The partners gasped, bobbling their drinks and food.
“She likes it,” said the king. She had to.
“No,” said the Somatic, shaking his head.
The king took a step towards the Somatic and raised his fist. The Somatic’s eyes widened, and a grin ripped across the king’s face, but his opponent avoided his drunken fist easily. The Somatic grabbed and gripped the king’s outstretched arm and slapped something onto it.
The king pulled his arm back and stared at the small white medical patch on his skin. He looked back up at the Somatic, but the man in the gray jumpsuit was gone, along with the bar, his partners, the analog, the food, Helioset, space, Earth.
His awareness skittered from the blank nothingness of his new reality. Beneath the blankness, a swirling mass of knowing flowed like a river. Within the knowing, frequencies danced like delicate strings their patterns unpredictable and too fast. He couldn’t catch the strings, so he reached for the knowing, desperate for anything to stave off the blankness.
It washed over him, overwhelming and comforting at once. Helioset, Earth, everything still existed, but he couldn’t ignore the other things. People swirled around him in a kaleidoscope of impressions he could barely comprehend.
From the swirl, he gleaned that the Somatic spoke the truth. She did not like it. Their smells reeked so strongly they cracked through his mind. Rage and sadness, scents that felt rather than smelled, the king had to see it. He had to know it. He feared the blank alternative more than the slobbering knowledge. He welcomed the rush as it began to sweep him away, scour him with its too muchness.
He blinked at the ceiling of the bar, his vision fuzzy and dim. His gaze flitted left and right. The partners had pinned him near their table. One of them had swiped the patch off his arm. His face felt wet, tears and spittle. He could smell the vestiges of fear, his own fear, his own piss. They moved their mouths but he could barely hear.
And then their voices and the light rushed back to full intensity, so loud and so bright he could only clench his teeth and close his eyes.
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