if [tribe] =
Bridge had asked Angela to come with him to the showing as a date, but she had refused. She made tons of excuses: she was working on some serious upgrades to Ars-Perthinia, there were jobs in the hopper she wanted to finish, and she didn’t have anything good to wear. Bridge knew the truth, though. Months of deep running on the GlobalNet had left her skin morbidly pale, her eyes sunken and dark, and her figure dangerously thin. While the crèche provided the nutritional equivalent of three square meals, it was not an adequate substitute for real food. She couldn’t starve, but she had still lost a noticeable bit of weight, and she had been skinny to begin with. The few hours she spent outside the crèche had just reminded her how much of a toll the marathon sessions on the GlobalNet were taking. Bridge knew that her terrible self-image had taken too much of a beating from casual glimpses in the mirror for her to venture into a situation with a crowd of strangers.
Instead, Bridge had gotten Mu to cast a spell that connected them via a two-way GlobalNet link. What would normally have been little more immersive than a phone call had become a two-way sensory experience. Angela could see, smell, hear and feel everything that Bridge could in the physical world as well as talk directly to him. He would hear the voice in his head and could respond without speaking by thinking about the words. She had become the perfect eavesdropper, and could experience the show viscerally without anyone else’s knowledge. Bridge could experience what she was up to in the GlobalNet as well if he chose, but he decided against it. The sensation of being jacked in would tempt him back to the crèche and he had sworn that off almost two years ago, except in the direst circumstances.
Bridge could see an illusion of Angela’s body projected into the space. She stood in full lich queen glory, her death-white skin a pale contrast to the jet-black hair that flowed over her shoulders. Her crown was a spiked monstrosity, splattered in blood and viscera. Clad in a gorgeous black full-length gown that highlighted her augmented breasts with enticing directness, she was an apparition of terrifying beauty. “Don’t you ever just shut up and enjoy yourself?”
Bridge grinned. “Tell you what. You come out here and stand head high to a bum’s balls and we’ll see how much you bitch.”
“No thanks. I have more important things to do than count the hairs on a corpse’s knuckles.” Bridge peered at the slumped figure’s hands.
“No, he’s not dead. He’s just resting. See, his chest is moving. He’s breathing.” Noticing the ragged nature of the rising and falling chest, he added, “He’s not breathing well, but he’s still breathing.”
“It’s a pretty powerful message,” Angela commented.
Bridge jumped as a person sidled up next to him and added an opinion. “Striking. Engrossing!” The speaker was an impeccably dressed corporate type, a man at least twice Bridge’s age with a silvery beard. He rubbed his chin while tossing out more vague adjectives.
Angela began to mock the man. “FRIGHTENING! SPELLBINDING!” she screamed in Bridge’s ear. He barely controlled the giggles until she added, “I believe we’re slated for a journey up the poor soul’s rectum for the finale. I can hardly wait!” Bridge lost it then, letting loose a loud guffaw before slapping a hand over his mouth with an embarrassed flush.
Bridge spent the next half hour mingling, while trying to ignore the snide comments Angela made about the guests. It was a pained study in immaculate self-control, and by the time the artificial sunlight dimmed to extinction, he was relieved for the peace. The crowd filed out of the abandoned building self-consciously aware of the likely crime they were committing by intruding on the space.