They’ve left the biomic behind and slipped back into routinespun daymass, where the otaku gathered look to her like watchers, Shenmuezens lured here by secret signal to check out what she’s up to. The dregs are fading into lowmid lux, dying with last coughs of stray vagrants and food stall paved over with chain matter. The local feed is an influx of stuff from other areas. Statdates on which shows are on-trend, which ones accrue you culture death.
She’s reading this transmission from a world lost to her when Seriana nudges her. “We shouldn’t stay in one place,” the girlroid says, eyes of violet faded pale in the neon fire that now strafes them, auras breaking rainbow bursts like splashes of flame across their backdrop. Bled in with the feeds are the ad copy, the holowaif or hus algo-picked to align with your mood hue. You would watch them, she thinks, and the one you zenpressed for would be in it for a sliver of time and space. They drift within the throngs and glitch into Seriana’s prometh field, which catches them, caught midshift between characters in monster trip splicings, an instant before they see they’re made and blip off to find otaku more in the mood.
Then there’s the merch ads, showing up even this low to the dregs. These dissemble pixel by pixel, collapse into clouds of butterflies, take wing and swarm as holofauna somewhere else.
So she’d had to chill for a second to focus on a single thing. To stay with it past the patterns all meshing, coalescing and disintegrating before her.
“Where are we going?” Elise says.
“We have friends,” Seriana says, some patience lost in her voice to the chatter massed around them. The animé way, no one a stranger, each lent a twist of fate, all meetings synchronous. So what she says sounds too sweet, too forced, loud just to be heard.
Better to move than stay, though where she goes now she leaves a trail, sticky with spore, with black glob. Across pathways and plazas, where paths intersect and the grid chases them into squared lattices of neon where breaks for lower levels remain like sinkholes. Centring them within electric walls. So that people step into the globs she’s left and she knows she’s spreading the Mold, that this is what Osa meant. Working into clothes, into skin.
“What did you see in LORELEI?” Seriana says as they walk.
“I saw my aspect,” Elise says, “my sickness.” She frowns. Hard to move both her lips and her feet at once. “I talked straight to its face.”
“And,” Seriana says, glancing at her, her chin tucked against her neck for a second.
“It didn’t listen.” Elise says, and stops talking, letting the echoes of other words fill the space. In this cloistered light she has to keep her eyes level and lidded, let the haze do the rest. The field still catching the odd hybrid animéform, eyes always caught severe, tsundere-narrow with a smirk of contempt. Then they flicker away, but the look stays, as if traced beneath the film of her eyes.
Demons, she thinks, moreso than the kappa.
But it has sated itself asleep, which now is it all it wants. The churn of her guts is gone, and her heartnest beats toned and metred a steady song. Unheard except by imprint against her chestplate that she has to strain to detect. She thinks it matters to stay tethered to it, keep it as a beacon to follow in the darkness and noise.
She thinks Seriana will say that there’s a reason, and she doesn’t want to hear it. Because, she thinks, it comes down to Osa, and his reasons. So to cut that off, she says, “like who? Who’re your friends?” Now she stops again, in the kanji glow diffused over her skin in ribbons like obverse shadows, streaks of paling light. “No one tells me what they want, here. In this place.” Still keeping her grip on the tether to her heartbeat, so her words slip unmangled from her teeth to the girlroid. Her teeth would be black to the molar by now.
The otaku, to be among so many of them… After so long kept away a safety had crept into her. It’s gone now, and the psychic hum of their wired brains shines through in their body language, in the tone of the words they say. Their pupils black holes when she looks at them, and their eyes catch hers every time. So that most times her eyes are slipping away lest they spend too long drinking in the glaze.
When her eyes do catch, Seriana is there to pull her away. Not a jealousy, not in a girlroid, but an intent to her grip on her arm, five points pressing fire through her elbow. So every time she follows, set away again by the girlroid pulling her.
This time Seriana doesn’t draw her on. “Kaye’s say-so freed me from a life of service. You ever lived one of those?”
Elise thinks of the pilgrims to the Womb of the Shrike. Back then it had been faithless because others were there to have faith for her. Shut up in her Womb while others had brought her food. She’s silent.
“She can get you out of this. We can get you out of this.”
“And?” Elise says.
“You need a home, you’ll find one,” Seriana says. “That’s it.” Still the words without affect, because, Elise thinks, she’s talking all this over with the Mobile-Angel. She’s thought about what she’d say.
“You’ll want me to do something,” Elise says, “eventually.” She chews the next words over, her teeth scraping her tongue. “I’m sick of this cosmic stuff.”
Nothing would work against that fate quite like a final spot in the ghost halls, and she swears inside, at herself for letting that chance go.
Around her the chatter is fading low. Silence ends every statement, and fragments the statements themselves, spiking into phonetic gaps. Stretching the words out and they sound sullen. Voices break and drag over words. Eyes half-spark with Onii, half muted by creep of glaze.
“We should move,” Seriana says, the violet haloes around her pupils shrinking, widening. The light that scatters and daggers across them both popping her focus and Elise watches her eyes as the violet blooms again.
Then it is the grip on her elbow, all caz like the old animé ways, hypeness to go somewhere, be somewhere.