A full shift later, Nathan and Shin followed their less-than-ebullient guide back through the lift and out the service entry. It left them in the alley, returning inside after commenting on how happy it would be to endure their company next shift as well.
Next shift, Nathan realized, he’d need a new partner. He and Shin stood amongst the other unwanted garbage of Carapace and swung their tired limbs in the early premeal air.
“Gotta get back to Chomsy,” Shin said, after a bit. He smiled ruefully. “I need that last load if I don’t wanna walk back to The Virginias.” They started back through a shadowy cityscape, their path lit by building glows and occasional autoads.
*Low on load? Fastcred’s here to help* crooned a male voice of exactly the right tone and timber. Nathan couldn’t help but feel reassurance, almost a calming, as he walked through the visual and heard its words. He stopped just past the autoad’s glow. Confused, Shin halted beside him.
“Shin,” Nathan began. “Have you tried -” He stopped himself. Suddenly aware, suddenly suspicious, he scowled at the embedded adsensor they’d just activated.
“Ayight?” his friend asked. Nathan did not respond. “N? Nathaniel?”
“That was different,” Nathan finally answered.
“Oh?” Shin sounded curious, but wary. “Let’s keep walking -a bit guttery.” Nathan glanced up; they shared a look. Together, they continued down the citypath, intentionally walking nearly in the deserted street.
“So?” Shin prompted. His slipshods barely gripped the walkedge; he exaggerated the effort required to balance.
Nathan smiled at his friend’s antics, but could not be moved to full-out laughter. He felt deeply shaken, even violated. “I think,” he said, and could not find the right words. “I think that wasn’t sensory.”
Spinning, Shin tried his balancing trick backwards. His flailing arms and waving legs did not match his serious expression. He raised an eyebrow; queried, “Then what was it?”
Nathan slipped a bit on the edge. Regaining the path, he mumbled, “It influenced me.”
Shin took a misstep and stumbled dangerously close to an autodrive strip. Recovering, he climbed back out of the street and next to his preoccupied friend. Another autoad flickered to life and they jumped aside as if burned.
*Drink your meals the natural way.* Symphonic music swelled and a grassy, beast-less Outlands scene played. The projection became encapsulated in a virtual bottle, which poured into a virtual glass. *LIVE has everything you need, for a charge that’s hard to believe.*
Nathan and Shin uncharacteristically watched the ad to completion. It flickered off, returning two sobered expressions to building-light darkness. Shin turned to Nathan. “Might be a good thing to die in a cave after all.”
Continued from Skinwalkers, XX.
Read to Skinwalkers, XXII.