Resurrecting the Beast
Subject: The Osiris Account
We haven’t heard from you in a few weeks and it’s got us a little bit worried. When you first contacted us, we were ecstatic. There’s so much more we can do for you now that we aren’t managing your account through proxy, but your assertion that you aren’t Osiris is perplexing. At your request, we dug into your background only to find that everything lines up with what we already knew about you. So I’m wondering why you came forward in the first place or are you now having second thoughts?
Either way, you said you could prove you aren’t who you seem and then I stopped hearing from you, so I wanted to know what’s going on. You should know that I field queries about you and your work on a daily basis. People want to know who Osiris is, and that information isn’t exactly hard to find. As you say, someone has already tracked you down once. It’s bound to happen again and when it does, the art world is going to explode.
With that in mind, it’d be better if you go public on your own terms – with our representation, of course. That’s why we think now is the best time to start planning a retrospective of your considerable body of work. I’ve already begun contacting collectors and making the necessary arrangements, but I want your input on the pieces you think must be included.
On a related note, there’s a gallery in UpTown claiming to have an Osiris original. It’s a piece they didn’t acquire through us and as far as I can tell it doesn’t match any of the schematics you’ve filed with us over the years. We need you to go verify whether or not the piece is yours so we can decide if legal action is required. You’ll find all the details below,
P.S. I know the retrospective is big, but you’ve got a few months to get used to the idea, so don’t freak out!
Fan-fucking-tastic. Wasn’t that the perfect way to start the day? I’d only just dragged my sorry ass out of my cozy nest of blankets and laundry to learn that the art career I’d been saddled with was trucking along whether I wanted it to or not. Checking my inbox was supposed to distract me from how awful I was feeling, not make it worse. This hangover was unfathomable. What was it about the Nuns and Guns SubDub extravaganza that always induced me to get so wrecked? It was like being possessed by a party animal that could only be excised with more dancing and designer drugs. Now I felt like I was being sucked out of existence, cell by rebellious cell. My whole body had turned into a gelatinous pile of goop — crystallized joints and burning muscles coated in itchy, raw skin. And all of that paled in comparison to what was going on with my head. Any second now, the pressure would rupture my skull. Pink mist and oozing grey matter all over this irreplaceable green armchair. There lay the corpse of Lilith the Lame. She died as she lived; unwashed and pant-less, sitting in front of her screens regretting her life decisions.
Ugh. Why oh why did I even get out of bed? I was in no condition to process this news. The thought of going public as Oz made my stomach churn and my throat tighten. The man was a social terrorist and if I could go back in time I’d punch myself in the face for ever responding to his ad for a roommate. And I was still trying to wrap my head around how anyone believed we were the same person. We were complete opposites. When Oz spoke, people listened because he had something to say. He was like a force of nature. It wasn’t hard to understand how he built up such a devoted following with his Prophet persona. Everything Oz did had purpose, even if it was only clear to him. And he saw the world in a way no one else could. I still couldn’t wrap my head around how Oz could look at this room full of garbage technology and see giant multimedia structures. Then there was me, the college drop out with zero marketable skills. Oh god, what if Alpheba wanted me to make more sculptures? I knew jack about making art…
Something had to be done about Paradox and Alpheba because there was no way I could keep up with this sham. When I’d emailed Paradox, it was only to inform them that people were confusing me for an artist they represented, not to come forward as Osiris. My disastrous experience at Encom had shown me that the last thing I wanted was to step into Oz’s shoes. And yet, there seemed to be no way to avoid it.
I tried to bring her proof, but Oz had scrubbed his computer of any PII long before I was aware of his method for covering his tracks. He’d even somehow managed to remove the messages we’d exchanged and photos I’d taken of him from my cloud accounts, which I didn’t know was possible. They never let you delete anything from those accounts so they can strip mine it fun and profit.
Thinking about this was making my skin crawl. Who knew how many other weirdos were out there looking for me – or rather Osiris. So many creeps in ThisCity obsessed with Oz’s work… Like those Disciples that thought they could track down the Prophet through hidden messages in Osiris’s sculptures. Being the face behind the art was going to get me killed one of these days, I just knew it.
And now Alpheba was telling me I had to be the face and voice for this mad man’s art. Maybe it was because I felt like microwaved dirt, but it seemed like I was in over my head. My life was enough of a clusterfuck without a following of art fanatics tracking me down.
This was too much. Time for me to go back to bed. Better close down the inbox before any more bad news gremlins popped out at me. Just needed to work up the energy… The bedroom was only ten feet away, but felt like it was in another galaxy. It was still full of Oz’s stuff and smelled strongly of jasmine for some reason, but that bed… Oh man, was it ever comfy. Curling up in it was like escaping into the warm embrace of a friendly Sasquatch. And it was huge, for me at any rate. Oz’s feet used to hang off the end for the floor monsters to eat. Yeah, I could totally lie there forever, caccooned from the world and its puny mortal problems. That sounded like the best plan…
A klaxon of human wailing and shrieking erupted from the speakers all around the computer at such volume that it felt like my heart had shattered out of my chest cavity. I jumped so violently that I knocked a mug of very fuzzy looking coffee off the table. That was Oz’s default alert sound, which he’d set “loud enough to wake the dead” and I still hadn’t figured out how to change it. I was going to vomit. Why was I still in the living room? Had I fallen asleep? Everything fucking hurt.
The computer was still making that demonic noise. Was I supposed to do something about it? I switched on the display and there was Liam’s rudy face in such crisp high def that I could have counted his freckles if I were inclined to. He looked worried. The way he was tugging on his badly dyed black hair told me this wasn’t a social call. And it was most likely going to be involved…
But like, what if I just didn’t answer? It was the asshole thing to do, but where was I going to get the energy to manage today’s crisis. I loved the kid, really I did. He didn’t have a mean bone in his body, and his intentions were always in the right place, but everything was always an emergency. It got exhausting after a while. But… he never once turned me down when I needed something.
I pressed accept and the alarm cut off mid screech, to my everlasting relief.
“Hi, Liam.” My ears were still ringing.
“I didn’t think you were home! Did you get my messages? I’ve been trying to reach you all morning, but you haven’t gotten back to me. I don’t know what I was going to do if you hadn’t answered. Do you realize you’re kinda hard to get a hold of? We don’t have any mutuals so there no one else I can reach you through-”
“Okay, okay. Calm down, Liam. You’ve got me on the line now. What do you need?” Wow. Somebody hit the go-juice a little hard today. I only understood maybe half of that.
“Hey, are you all right? You look like shit,” Liam said, abruptly switching gears.
“Thanks. That’s just what I love to hear…”
“Oh god, sorry!” Liam’s hand flew up to cover his mouth as his eyes widened. “I shouldn’t have said that!”
“You’re probably right. I haven’t looked in the mirror yet.” I managed a weak grin.
“If you’re not feeling good, I can call back…”
“No, it’s fine. You’ve obviously got something important on your mind.”
“Are you sure?”
“It’s just a hangover. So lay it on me.”
“I think it’s finally happened, Lilith. My event horizon. The magic’s gone.” As he said it, his lip trembled and tears started to well up in his eyes, making them glassy as they bulged out just a little.
“Oh man…” Definitely was not feeling up to handling this crisis.
Liam didn’t really look like anything special, but he had the most peculiar talent I’d ever run across — it was more of a gift, really. Liam could find anything, and not in the “oh I’ve lost my keys — did you check you pocket?” kind of way. This kid could find the things that were just gone, lost to the sands of time gone. No clue how he did it. He didn’t even know how he did it, but I’d seen it in action. When Liam was looking for something, it was like the whole universe rearranged itself to present the thing at his feet. He made his living relying on one uncanny series of coincidences after another, so freaking out was pretty warranted.
“Liam, you say that every time and then a few hours, or days later you’ve got the thing in your hands. This is just part of your process.” Hey, I wasn’t going to tell him he was right…
“No. This is different. It’s been three weeks and I still don’t know where to be looking. The client keeps calling me. They expect their item this week and I can’t even point them in the right direction. It’s a complete blank.”
“So what are you going to do?”
“I don’t know. That’s why I’ve been trying to reach you. You know all that stuff about dead tech so maybe you could tell me where to look…”
“Dude, I know barely anything…”
“That’s more than I do.”
Oh, he was so screwed.
“Better start from the beginning then.”
“But I told you everything in the messages I sent you,” Liam said, looking almost annoyed.
“Dude, I’m gonna be honest. I flagged all your messages as spam after the two-hundredth life request for templebirdycrush.” A sudden wave of nausea made that come out a lot harsher than I meant.
“That wasn’t me, I swear! And my cousin promised me he’d stop.” He looked down from the cam and his mouth twitched into a frown. Well, crown me Queen of the Assholes.
“Trust me, he hasn’t.”
“That explains so much…”
“Liam. You’re client?” I prompted, clearing my throat.
“Sorry. The client is a pair of art collectors that I guess specialize in animatronics and mechanized sculptures or something. I don’t really know, it’s all weird antique shit I’ve never heard of. Anyway, they just acquired a new piece and it’s broken or whatever so they need a replacement component.”
“There aren’t many people who collect that kind of stuff.” I knew that because of my research into Oz’s work. A lot of those niche collectors had been attracted to his stuff since his work relied on transforming dead tech.
“Yeah. Anyway, they gave me a model number and a month to find it. Oh, they also sent me this.” Liam flashed what looked like the first page of an old instruction manual wrapped in clear plastic sheeting.
“Do you have the rest of that manual?”
“If I had that I wouldn’t be in such deep shit…”
“And you have no idea what the thing is supposed to do? Your client never said?”
“Sorry…” I mumbled. That was a stupid question. I needed caffeine or electrolytes, or something if I was going to be useful to Liam. He took a steadying breath.
“Look, they did tell me that the sculpture was meant to produce high quality holographic environments. That doesn’t tell me anything, though. I don’t know how holograms work…”
“What makes you think that I do, Liam?” I snapped. Being surrounded by Oz’s junk constantly mocking me, I’d become keenly aware of how little I knew about anything. Liam was depending on my help when I could barely keep my head above water. I was just going to let him down.
“Didn’t you tell me that with most of the stuff you’re working with, all you have to go on is like the serial and model numbers and maybe a logo or something?”
“Uh yeah, but…” Damn. My brain didn’t boot properly or what. I leaned back and took in all the racks crammed with Oz’s techno treasure hoard. Liam was right, that was exactly what I did all day — solve the puzzle for each mystery item.
“Let me see that page again. I’m not making any promises, though. It usually takes me weeks of hunting to narrow things down and the brain’s a little short on horse power at the moment.”
Liam typed something on his keyboard and the manual page popped up on my screen. The scan was crisp enough that I could read all the fine print, but the ink had faded over time so it was mostly unintelligible.
“I tried enhancing it, but no luck.”
“That may not matter. I recognize that logo.” That blobby squiggle that was supposed to be an abstraction of a sound wave or something was stamped on a whole swath of Oz’s LED riddled puzzle boxes.
“Seriously?” Liam’s voice cracked like the barely pubescent boy that he was.
“Hold on a sec,” I said, getting up.
“Where are you going?”
“Just give me a minute.” I leaned back in to give Liam a reassuring smile. It wasn’t affective.
“I guess I’ll wait right here then…”
My legs were noodles as I walked around the oversized desk and over to one of the many sagging metal shelves. It was hard to distinguish one thing from the next the way it was all packed in. If Oz had any kind of organizational system, I had yet to figure it out. There was no easy way of extracting anything other than pulling things out and hoping nothing landed on my feet. And I had no way of knowing what I was looking for until I saw it. Man, I wish that set of specs hadn’t been smashed to bits. It would make picking through all this so much easier.
“What are you doing?” Liam asked as things got a little noisy. The shelves creaked a whole lot whenever I moved anything on them. It wigged me out. One of these days, the whole thing was going to topple over and crush me. I was kind of surprised that it hadn’t happened already.
“You really have no patience, do you?” I said, wrestling with a heap of cable that had fallen on top of me.
There was a large black panel that had to be what I’d been searching for on a shelf level with my chest. It was easy enough to get to, but piled on top were several more bundles of cable, a stack of ancient motherboards and some other unidentified odds and sods. The smart thing to do would have been to clear it all off, but who had time for that? It didn’t look like a lynch pin or anything. So what was the harm? Grabbing hold of the two protruding corners, I gave it a yank, which I regretted immediately as my whole body protested the strenuous effort.
And damn that sucker was heavy. It didn’t even budge, but the whole shelf was swaying too and fro. It sounded like I was wrestling with a horny robot bear or something. Surprisingly, the neighbours had never complained despite this kind of ruckus happened fairly often. Bracing the shelf with my foot, I gave it another good yank. This time, the panel slid out a few inches. There was no indication of a landslide starting so I tugged on the panel again and that was all it took. The sudden shift in weight knocked me flat on my ass. Of course, the void where the panel had been didn’t last long. Within seconds, the piles on either side shifted and collapsed. Like a beast that’d been gutted, it all fell to the ground in a fluid, messy pile.
“Mother fucker!” I exclaimed, diving clear of it. That was going to be a bitch to clean up…
“What was that? Lilith, are you okay?” Liam sounded so panicked that I laughed. This was far from the worst avalanche this apartment had seen.
“Just a friendly reminder of how gravity works,” I said, dumping the panel on my desk. Liam jumped.
“You’re bleeding,” he said, pointing.
“What? Oh, it’s fine.” I looked down to see a descent gash on my arm. When did that happen? Now that I’d noticed it, the scrape started to smart.
“So what’s with the box?” He asked, leaning forward to get a better look. I turned it around so he could see the logo and brand name stamped on it.
“You’re looking for something made by Sinusoid. They made audio equipment like twenty years ago before going bust.”
“That’s fantastic! I can definitely work with that!” He said, excitedly attacking his keyboard.
“Glad I could help…” That was a lot easier than I expected. Last time he needed help, it involved going to flea markets all over ThisCity and sifting through way too many bins of mouldering junk. I stared wistfully at the Sinusoid panel when a thought occured to me. Liam’s scan was still up on the screen…
“No fucking way.”
“What’s wrong?” Liam’s head snapped up and the typing stopped.
“Yeah, that’s what I’m looking for.”
“No, that’s the model number of this thing,” I said, pushing it away from me.
“What?” He stared, slack-jawed.
“I’m fucking holding it. Looks like your finder voodoo isn’t lost after all.” Nervous laughter peeled out of me. For a brief moment I was aware of the machinations of the universe working around me and how incredibly, intensely small I truly was. Liam still stared, dumbfounded.
“So, uh, how much do you want for it?” He asked when he was able to speak again.
“Umm…” I was still recovering from the moment of extreme existential awareness. “Nothing? You can just have it.”
“Come on, I have to give you something. You’re totally saving my ass here. And my client is shelling out some serious bank.”
“I don’t know that it’s worth anything…”
“How did you even end up with it in your house?”
“It’s a long story.” I said with a shrug. “Why don’t we worry about how I’m going to get this to you and figure the rest of later?”
“Don’t worry about that. I’ll come pick it up.”
“No, no, no!” I said way too fast. “Don’t do that. My place is such a long way from you.”
“Are you sure? You’re not feeling well.” He gave me a real funny look.
“I’ll meet you half way. How about that?”
I still wasn’t comfortable bringing people back to my place. I’d made the decision the second day living here because no one should be exposed to Oz unnecessarily. Now that he’d disappeared, and I had all his stuff, it was more a matter of paranoia. I’d never been good at knowing who to trust. Look where trusting Oz got me…
“Aw, I don’t want you to go to any more trouble.”
“Nah, the fresh air will probably do me some good. We’ll meet at that retro arcade you took me to that one time –” Liam blushes at the reminder of our one and only date. “– In like an hour and a half. I gotta shower and junk before running out of here.”
“And put pants on,” he said, giggling as I stood up.
“What? Shut up.” I hung up on him. Nobody laughed at my underoos.
Before I lost momentum, I stomped down the hall and into the bathroom. I knew this burst of energy was only temporary. If I stopped for the tiniest second, I’d never make it out of the house. I let the water run as I disrobed in the vain hope that it would be vaguely warm when I hopped in. It was not. The whole building heard that shriek. One day, I’d be patient enough to wait for the hot water. In the meantime, I was just going to think warm thoughts as I scraped the filth from my body — and you know, hope for the best.
Thankfully, there was one thing that was never in short supply, and that was soap. For some reason Oz had an industrial quantity of rose scented organic soap. Don’t ask me why. This wouldn’t be the first time I took advantage of it in lathering myself up with an obscene amount of it to try and loosen the oh so appetizing layer of crust I had developed.
Bath time was over when the water spiked to flesh-peeling temperatures as it tended to do. The overly affectionate shower curtain nearly strangled me as I scrambled out of the tub. I was trying hard not to think about where the threadbare towel I wrapped around myself had been as I exited the swampy room to find that the Ice Age had resumed in my apartment. Why did that always happen? It was like hell freezing over. (Insert joke about my hygiene here.) More importantly, I felt less like Blob Lord Five and more like a human being, putting me one step closer to heading out into the world.
Only, how the hell was I going to lug that seriously heavy panel all the way to NewGate. Somewhere in this shambles of a living room was one of those over-the-shoulder parcel bags that was perfect for carrying seven kilos of electronics. And we were back to this again… If a person’s living space was supposed to be a reflection of their mind then Oz must have been certifiable..
There it was! The clunky strap buckle dangled off the very top shelf on the rack in the far corner, next to the clearing where Oz’s final project used to live. Did I do the sensible thing and get the step ladder from the white room, or just yank it down and quit wasting time? I pretended to ponder my options before grasping the strap. Yes, we were making this mistake again. How bad could it be? I mean, it was the top shelf. There couldn’t be that much on it. Yet it was just as disastrous coming down. Another cascade of detritus rained down on me. The parcel bag wasn’t empty, either. The shock of it swinging into my gut nearly made me chunder. The contents were neither leaky nor hazardous, so I upended the bag onto the considerable pile on my floor. That was tomorrow’s problem. Future me was going to be so pissed. Too late now. I dumped the bag onto the desk, next to the panel. And we were on to the next problem: pants.
Bang! Bang! Bang! The door nearly rattled off its hinges. I jumped and yelped with all the grace of a drunken golden retriever. The pounding continued.
“You goddamned bastard I know you’re in there! Open up you festering shit monkey!” A very angry male voice shouted through that solid wooden door. What was I supposed to do? I was but one diminutive young woman against a rabbidly mad stranger.
“Come out and face me! What’s the matter? Too scared? You remember what happened last time, don’t you?”
Oh holy fuckballs. What the hell did Oz do to this guy? More importantly, what set him off now? Oz hadn’t set foot in this apartment in eight months. And I was still in my towel. Should I wait and let him blow himself out? What if he busted the door down? I was so not prepared for any of Oz’s friends to come visit.
So I crept up to the door. How else was I supposed to assess the situation than by getting a look at the guy? Standing on my tippy toes, I peered through the peep hole at the crazed animal — and it was the guy who lived downstairs. His name was Arnault — I think, and he was not the personable sort. Hell, he’d never said two words to me, but I’d heard lots of stories from the other neighbours. Why did this have to happen now? I had places to be.
Arnault continued to pace outside my door as I debated what to do. I had to be out of here in twenty minutes or I’d be late, so I’d have to face him eventually. My face was still pressed against the door when he kicked off another volley of banging. I gasped and cursed as tears sprung to my eyes. That door was hard.
“I heard that, you fucker!” Arnault laughed triumphantly. “Open the door. I just want to have a friendly chat.”
“What do you want?” I yelled back to test the waters.
“I just want to have a friendly chat between neighbours, that’s all,” he said in that pretend calm tone people who’d gone off their rockers always used.
“Now’s really not a good time for me. Why don’t you give me your apartment number and I’ll come by later?” Please just go away.
“Don’t bullshit me,” Arnault growled, slapping the door. “I’m not going anywhere.”
This was probably a terrible mistake, but I unlocked the dead bolts and cracked the door to look the man in the eye.
“Look, I don’t know what your problem is, or what I could possibly have done to upset you, but now is really not the best time. So can you please stop yelling and leave me alone? You’re gonna disturb the whole building.”
“That’s rich. Did he tell you to say that? I’m not going anywhere until I have it out with him, so where is he?” Arnault leaned against the door, straining the security chain. I tried to push back, but my feet were wet and I slipped.
“Sending your little pet to talk to me isn’t going to work, you buffoon!” He yelled over my head.
Holy crap, what was I supposed to do? Other than completely freak out? Arnault pushed against the door and I could see the chain lock starting to come out of the wall. I pushed back with all my weight, not that it’d do much good. He had to have at least forty kilos on me. My towel was slipping off, too. Any second I’d be as naked as the day I was born. Without thinking I grabbed it and pulled it up to where it should be. In that split second, Arnault won the tug-of-war. The chain came flying off the wall and the door swung open, knocking me to the floor. I lost my towel completely, but Arnault didn’t even notice.
“You can’t hide from me now, you mangy lunatic!” I scrambled after him with indignation and fury blending into the panic. Who the fuck was this guy?
“What the hell do you think you’re doing?” I demanded like I was ten feet tall.
“Where is he?” Arnault rounded on me when his crazed search turned up nothing.
“Who are you talking about? There’s no one here, but me,” I said between clenched teeth.
“No, all that noise… he’s here. For years I’ve had to put up with the banging and crashing, the ungodly sounds and loud music. All those parties and fires — don’t even talk to me about the fires. I’ve had enough! I’m not putting up with any more of it. So that – that animal had better show his face. Right. Now.” Arnault enunciated every crisp syllable as he glared at me. He wasn’t going to get it. There was nothing I can say to make him understand that Oz didn’t fucking live here!
“Hey Lilith? Is everything okay? I thought I heard yelling,” Gary called from the entrance. He was like the Super Caretaker, always around right when a problem with the building cropped up and I’d never been more relieved to hear his voice.
“Get this lunatic out of my house!” I shouted at the top of my lungs. Arnault made a noise like he wanted to strangle me, but it was too late, Gary was already in the living room with us.
“Arnault, what is wrong with you? You can’t barge in on people like this. Look at her! She’s not even dressed for crying out loud!” Gary was all red in the face and I feared violence would ensue. I didn’t have time for violence.
“He started up with the banging and the booming –”
“He who? Lilith lives alone.”
“How am I supposed to get any work done with a stampede over my head all the time?” Arnault’s demeanour changed from righteous indignation to pouting child.
“Maybe if you weren’t two months behind on your rent, I’d take your grievances seriously,” Gary said coldly. “So are you going to leave, or do I need to call Izzie’s boys to come remove you?”
“This isn’t fair,” Arnault said, stomping his foot, but he walked out on his own. I didn’t blame him. Izzie’s boys were walking tanks. Nobody enjoyed a visit from them.
“Did he hurt you?” Gary asked, turning back to me with a grave look on his face.
“No. He, uh, did break the chain lock, though.”
“I’ll take care of it. And Arnault, too. He’ll leave you alone from now on.”
“Thanks,” I said and meant it. He gave my arm a reassuring squeeze and saw himself out. My heart pulsed in stuttering fits, making me woozy. All I wanted was to crawl into bed and sleep for a year, but I didn’t have time to sit and settle my nerves. Liam was probably halfway there by now. Dude was always running early. Why did I have to get out of bed today?
When I was a kid, my aunt loved taking the SkyTrain. For her, they still held a certain magic and mystery. I mean, she grew up while the city states along the East coast were still merging into the monstrosity we now called ThisCity. Back then, there was no way to get to the further extremities of the burgeoning supercity without hours and hours of travel. Now you could do it in half an hour, tops. So I kind of got it. That didn’t stop me from hating every minute of the experience.
My natural habitat was all grungy concrete, flashing holo avatars and endless seas of people herded like cattle through the tubes and streets. The SkyTrain was the antithesis of that. It was all frosted glass and polished steel, discrete ad-free holo and space to breathe. The first time my aunt took me to UpTown, I had a panic attack, it was so alien to me. I was an inner-city kid and I prayed to the unholy printer gremlins that never changed. There wasn’t really anything in UpTown except fancy corporate subsidized residencies and the usual luxuries I couldn’t afford. Aunt Thelma always wished I’d aspire to that kind of life, but let’s be real. I didn’t have any skills that meritted corporate sponsorship. Maybe Liam did — he was unique enough, even if he was always doubting himself.
So why was I riding this screaming fart tube on an express trip to UpTown? Liam’s freaky coincidence machine was still working at full tilt, it seemed. When I’d reached Cyberdelia, sweaty and looking like a schlub in the only clean clothes I could find – ill-fitting jeans and one of Oz’s obscure band t-shirts – Liam was waiting for me with a can of go-juice that literally had my name on it. While I tried my best not to turn into a useless puddle of sweat from the exertion of lugging the Sinusoid panel all the way to the retro arcade, Liam explained to me how his clients were just as interested in how he found the item as they were in finally hearing that it’d been located. When he’d mentioned my name, they immediately insisted on meeting me. Today. With the current state of my hangover I had zero intention of going with him, until he mentioned the address. Of all the places in ThisCity, it was the same place Alpheba had asked me to check out just this morning. Freaky
Sitting next to Liam, it occurred to me that I wasn’t nauseous. Normally, I’d have been spewing chunks by now. The disequilibrium of moving so fast while not moving at all always messed with my innards, but right now my body was so overloaded it didn’t know what to do with itself and I was busy obsessing over what I might find at the gallery. Oz didn’t exactly keep a detailed list of all his projects and I hadn’t had a good experience with the couple I’d encountered. God, why was it so hot on the train? I thought these cars all had climate control. I was all sweaty and I couldn’t stop my leg from twitching. Maybe it was the hadron I took at the party still metabolizing. If this gallery turned out to have one of Oz’s sculptures and it hurt Liam, I’d never forgive myself.
Liam was hunched over the window sill. The usual nervous twitching and chatter that constantly spewed out of him was conspicuously absent. How zoned out was I not to have noticed before now? He had to be up to something. I gave him a nudge.
“What? Are we there already?” His head bobbed up and his palms spread to cover something. I shot him a frown. He moved his hand to reveal the words “found and lost” carved deeply into the metal sill with a homemade heated etching tool. He had a shit-eating grin on his face and in that moment, I knew exactly why I’d befriended him.
UpTown was not a place designed with the existence pedestrians in mind. And yet we walked. My mood didn’t improve upon leaving that hermetically sealed death tube. I was still jittery and sweaty – and now stuck in this place. This was what Purgatory felt like, wasn’t it? All these corporate residences had the same cookie cutter veneer. Not an ounce of variety, no landmarks — no character. On second thought, this was more like my own personal hell. How were you supposed to tell if you were walking around in circles or not? There wasn’t much in the way of public transportation out this way, either, unless you wanted to wait around for at least an hour. None of the cabs accepted real money, just corporate credit. Liam kept saying it wasn’t much further. I didn’t believe him, but he was the one lugging the Sinusoid panel so I couldn’t complain. I mean I shouldn’t have been complaining, but you know me…
“Holy crap! Where even is this place?” I said for like the seventh time. Liam groaned and then checked his map again.
“Seriously, Lilith, it’s right around the corner.”
“Sure it is.”
He rolled his eyes and walked faster. I had to jog to catch up. By the time I did, he’d rounded the corner and stopped so abruptly that I rammed right into him.
“That’s the place.” He pointed at a narrow building painted entirely white. Well, not actually. The facade was false. The appearance of an early twentieth century townhouse was generated by a sophisticated energy field. Based on what Liam had told me, I was expecting something a little more off-the-wall or bizarre. Like the clockwork house or something. He smoothed his wayward, frizzy hair and readjusted the parcel bag before marching up to the front door and punching the buzzer.
“Hello?” A throaty voice answered after a beat.
“Uh… It’s Liam. I’m expected.” The door buzzed and unlatched. Liam pushed it open before it could lock again and held it for me. The first thing we were greeted with was half a flight of glowing white stairs. What the hell kind of look were they going for anyhow? I fought the urge to laugh because it was nearly silent in the place, but who were they kidding? Were we boarding the mothership? Even though Liam had never been here before, he marched up those stairs like a champ. I followed with a little more ambivalence. Knowing that I was potentially about to have a face-to-face with another one of Oz’s artworks left me with this eerie sense of déjà vu and sinking feeling in the grumbly part of my gut that I couldn’t shake.
The main area was set up with different pieces mounted on pedestals or the walls. All of the animatronics were dormant, but they could spring to life in an instant. A cruel person would have rigged them up to motion sensors. Someone like Oz. Thankfully the gallery owners were only weirdos and not saddists, too.
I’d only tentatively begun to look around when an exceedingly well dressed couple appeared from some unknown recess of the gallery. They were both tall and thin, with matching black hairdos stolen from the last century. Even their bespoke suits matched. Like were they a creepy set of twins out of a horror movie or what? Looking at them made my skin crawl. If Liam led me to fucking UpTown to be murdered by serial killing twins I was going to be so mad…
“Liam! You’ve done well,” the man said in a quiet, but certain voice.
“Oh. Uh… thank you.”
“And look, he’s brought us the Artist.” The woman said this and sharp chills prickle through my body. Couldn’t she just call me by my name?
“The what? Lilith, what is she talking about?” Liam asked. I turned to face him, the blood drained from my cheeks and stared at him gape-mouthed. “Lilith.” The woman repeated my name, her throaty voice echoing in the high ceilinged room. “It’s a great honour to finally meet the person behind such fascinating art work. I’m Aster, this is my partner, Felix.”
Partner. Riiight. Felix nodded at me before turning back to Liam.
“The item, if you please.”
“Oh right. Right!” Liam remembered himself and hastily undid the strap buckle, removing the parcel bag, and handed it to Felix.
“Excellent. Your fee has already been transferred to your account.” Felix gripped the bag with unnaturally glowing eyes and moves over to a table at the centre of the space to get a look at the panel.
“Lilith, why don’t you come see out latest acquisition? I think you’ll be impressed by our restoration of the piece,” Aster said with a serene smile. She led me by the elbow over to a small enclosure and I really wished she wasn’t fucking touching me. Liam’s shuffling footsteps followed behind.
The enclosure had two long white benches set up in front of a white curtain as a makeshift viewing room for the new piece. Aster pulled a cord and the silken curtain dropped to the floor with a faint whisper. Before us stood three meters of new and dead tech fused together. The bare circuits, colourful wires and blinking LEDs made it look like a prop from some retro-futuristic holofilm. The whole thing had an organic, sinister feel as if the lights were eyes peering at us, watching us. If I’d had any doubts about being capable of identifying Oz’s work, they evaporated the moment I laid eyes on this “sculpture”. This piece in particular, I had a very intimate knowledge of.
“Where did you get this?” I turned on Aster who still had that stupid serene grin on her face. Liam jumped at the viciousness of my words.
“What do you think of it? Did we get it right?”
“This thing is supposed to be locked up in an AdMin Evidence Storage Facility. How did you get your hands on it?”
“Apparently it was too expensive to store, so City AdMin dismantled it and sold the parts off at auction since case was never going to make it to trial. We got it for a steal.” She was smug and exultant as she basked in the glow of the machine. I, on the other hand, wanted very desperately to take a sledge hammer to it. This was the machine that redefined the term “mind fuck”. The genesis of psycho-terrorism.
“You can’t be serious.”
“Hold on, I’m lost. What exactly am I looking at?” Poor Liam looked from me to Aster.
“The Beast,” I hissed, still glaring at it.
“You must have seen it on the news, Liam,” Aster said warmly. “The Prophet’s disastrous return? At Club Ascension?”
“The augment club?” Liam said as a light bulb turned on in his head.
“Precisely,” said Felix as he entered the enclosure. “And thanks to you and your friend, we can finally get it working again.”
“You’re going to turn it on? You people are fucking insane!”
“Of course. Why wouldn’t we turn it on?” Felix looked at me like I’d sprouted horns and a tail.
“Because you have no idea what it will do, you shit-for-brains!”
“Lilith, what’s the big deal?” Liam asked, frowning.
“You don’t understand! You haven’t seen the Beast in action. It was built by a mad man. Nothing good will ever come of it.”
“You were there?” Liam looked at me quizzically.
“Of course she was,” Felix said with a grin that matched his partner’s.
“Lilith. Why did they call you the Artist when we first came in?” Liam asked. His usually open face was clouded with a mix of emotion I’d never seen there before as he backed away from me.
“Didn’t she tell you? Your friend is Osiris, multimedia artist and one of very few people to work directly with the Prophet. She built this beautiful machine,” Aster said so innocently, so sweetly, like she wasn’t divulging the one thing I most desperately wanted to keep secret.
“Wait, but the Prophet is a terrorist and a cult leader – and you worked with him? You helped him hurt all those people?” Liam recoiled from me. “That’s why you wouldn’t let me come to your place. You’ve got a wanted fugitive hiding out with you!”
“No! It’s not like that. I don’t care what these people say. I’m not Osiris. I didn’t build this machine, I swear!” I was on the brink of tears. This was so stupid. No one ever believed me.
“Yeah, right.” Condemnation. That was what I saw in him, and it came off him in waves. He was never going to talk to me again. I should never have gotten out of bed. What a train wreck of a day.
I stared back at Liam wordlessly. What could I possibly say to him now? He was convinced I helped Oz hurt all those people. And I guess I did — I didn’t stop him.
“I should go,” I said quietly. Any louder and I wouldn’t have been able to contain myself. I needed to make it at least a few blocks away before turning into a blubbering disaster.
“Won’t you stay for a test run?” Aster said, straightening up from where she was bent over watching Felix install the missing component, completely oblivious to the end of my friendship with Liam.
“No, thank you.”
“Let me walk you to the SkyTrain, so you don’t get lost,” Liam said numbly, not looking me in the eyes.
“No. It’s fine. Enjoy your doomsday device.” I was done, completely emotionally and physically exhausted. The last thing I could handle in that moment was Liam’s judgment. Of all the people who could’ve found out, he was the last person I’d want knowing. I only hoped that he kept this to himself…
“Okay.” He didn’t bother argueing with me. Normally he’d have insisted. Guess the creepy twins seemed like way better company than a terrorist’s accomplice. Couldn’t fault him for that.
Subject: Re: The Osiris Account
Yo, I went to that gallery like you told me to, and yeah, they’ve got an Osiris original, alright. You need to get it back ASAP, and bury it when you do. It was never meant for public display. Personally, I’d like to see the whole thing melted down. It was a mistake.
And I’m not sold on this retrospective business, either. The world is better off forgetting the name Osiris.