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It’s a hundred years after war has destroyed the United States and reduced the population by, let’s just say—a lot. Somehow, Las Vegas survived. And the City of Sin is as sinful as ever. In a world left trying to recreate the media obsessed past, there’s one young woman named Einstein who wishes this version of the future was better. She rides a Mad-Maxed motorcycle, is frequently hungover, and can invent anything if she just has the tools. But when a powerful politician wants to use Einstein’s latest holographic invention for nefarious purpose, Einstein is about to find out that in order to protect her future, she might need to give up her past.

 

The First Holographic Psychotherapy Lounge

By Valerie Brook

Copyright © 2017 Valerie Brook. All rights reserved.

Published by Kickit Press/kickitpress.com

Cover and Layout Copyright © 2017 by Kickit Press

Cover Art: Shy Sol/Pexels.com

This is a work of fiction. Name, characters, places, and incidents are either the product of the author’s imagination or are used fictitiously, and any resemblance to actual events or locals or persons, living or dead, is entirely coincidental. All rights reserved, including the right of reproduction, in whole or in part in any form.

____________________

Las Vegas, Nevada

August, 2216

IT WAS ONE FINE DAY to kill myself, but somebody had to do it. Sometimes you just can’t count your luck.

And I had a blistering headache, too. 

The kind where any amount of daylight stabs the back of your pupils like a hypodermic needle injecting nitric acid into your eyeballs. 

You know, the kind of headache that you bought in the bottle the night before. 

And makes your mouth taste like fermented sawdust.

I was a red-eyed mess this morning, my long black hair medusaed out in snaky waves of badness, undoubtedly gelled with a little bit of last night’s drool. 

A pair of law enforcement mirrored sunglasses and my Vega Phantom motorcycle helmet took care of the visual hygiene problem.

For body odor, I find that a spritz of grapefruit hydrosol is remarkably neutralizing a few seconds after a misty full body application. 

And one more tip. Black leather motorcycle pants don’t wrinkle when you accidentally wear them as pajamas on the spare couch in your granddad’s laboratory, too. 

Just sayin’.

Traffic on a downtown Monday was horrific as I revved the engine of my Mad-Maxed Ducati. This motorcycle’s got real off-road tires for superior ground feel, steel reinforced side cases, and tons of secret compartments. I’ve got it all tricked out for survival anywhere. Burrum burrum. 

I love the lion’s purr. 

I could listen to the twist of the throttle all day. 

We all know it’s totally unnecessary to rev an engine like that, but it’s annoying and anti-social, and that makes the car driving folks nervous enough to check the rearview screen. 

And that’s the point.

Keeping the cager’s aware of their surroundings keeps the streets safe when I blast around them illegally at the speed of fireball lightning—well, it reduces the chance of vehicular collision, anyway.

The glittery glass skyscrapers winked a multitude of square eyes at me in the chilly winter sun. The casinos were aerial-blasting their porch-swing holograms over Fremont Street traffic. (I call them porch-swing—my term for elderly technology. You know, it’s like when you’re outdated and you just want to sit your tired bones down on the front porch and park it). 

The pedestrian tourists were oohing and awing because you don’t get this kind of show in a decent and moral city, like San Francisco. (So I’ve heard. It’s the only other city left after the wars, but what would I know, I’ve never left Las Vegas.)

I guessed the porch-swing holos had a new galactic theme this morning when a metallic spaceship zoomed by my helmet, cat-and-mousing with a freakish centipede alien, yellow lasers exploding into puffs of nothingness all around.

That always unnerves me when I’m riding my motorcycle, the street-grams. 

Illusions are distracting.

And who can tell what’s real or not anymore these days since holo tech has became the rage? I don’t believe in aliens or anything, but what if real aliens did land? They could walk the streets of Vegas all day with their centipede heads, but no one would believe they were really there.

That’s just wrong. What you see should be what you get.

But new technology is booming now, anyway. 

There was a slight interruption for, oh—let’s say more than a century. But I’ll explain that later.

Of course, in keeping with the vices of Sin City, new technology is only legal as long as it can do something illegal. And I should know because even though I’m barely legal at twenty-one, I’ve invented a lot of it.

The new tech, I mean.

The stuff I’ve been willing to share, I mean.

But it all still unnerves me, everything going on in this city. Any prodigy inventor gets wary of her inventions, right? I think I don’t want to admit my own inventions sometimes unnerve me. (Like the liquid mirror suit I created, which was super cool until I figured out that it makes other people nauseous when I wear it. Some kind of optical vertigo.)

Anyway, back to what made traffic worse today was that one of the Burlesque showgirls—those feather headdress statues on the SlotZilla zip-line—had fallen over. 

Those girls are antiques. 

Maybe she was pushed, who knows, right? 

Not everybody is into the antiques.

But those statuesque tons of steel and glitz had smashed a lime colored Green Bullet hover taxi. People were yelling, fisted hands waving.

Police hovers and an ambulance clotted the main artery of Fremont Street like clumps of red-and-blue blood spatter. 

I wanted to hop the sidewalk on my motorcycle and buzz-cut the yellow police tape wrapped around the scene with my badass wheels. 

However, my granddad, the mad scientist Antony Antony Lightyear (yes, I know his first and middle repeat)—president of Lightyear Holographic Lab Works And Renaissance Costumes and the only scientist in this city whom I trust—had invented the first working force field last year. 

The law enforcement folks licensed that patent real quick, and I’m talking an exclusive license, and bam the plastic yellow police tape of yesteryear can no longer be cut with scissors.

Or a motorcycle.

In fact, the police tape still looks exactly as it did on the bicentennial TV reruns of Cagney and Lacey (what an historic oldie but goodie)—but on penetration it rebounds your ass onto the pavement, or a zebra-striped Quick-Charge Recharge battery box, or whatever is behind you, including the dumbass Mayor Hershey herself, with her personal vendetta against me, if you happen to be so unlucky.

But I’m not political or anything.

I zipped through the side streets, and good thing I know ‘em like the back of my leather wrapped hands because I think I had my blurry eyes shut most of the time.

That’s what I had forgotten to take before leaving home—the Ibuprofen chew. Who forgets pain relief? Geezus Christ.

I’m an idiot.

The bombed-out portions of Las Vegas still look like ruins on another planet. 

There was a interstate here long ago, and now it’s just concrete rubble and red dirt that’s blown into giant sneezy dunes. Rusted steel pilings reaching up to the sky like sandblasted Martian dinosaur bones.

I’ve heard rumors that other metropolitan cities in the United States have rebuilt since the wars, despite the vast tracks of uninhabitable land in between. The maglev train line connects Las Vegas to San Francisco—they got that up and running—but that line’s not connected to anybody else.

If there really is anybody else left.

Because no one lives in the boonies.

You might wonder how Las Vegas survived, being in a desert and all. But somehow we did. The Colorado river is full-up with fresh water now, and the damage to the aqueducts and underground pipelines was the very first thing that got repaired. 

But the wind out here is still eerie, it blows past your ears with a haunted sound. Like all the people who died turned into restless ghosts, trying to remind us that shrinking the population of the country by a lot had been a stupid idea.

Depending on who you knew at the time, I guess.

I knocked the kickstand out and parked my custom ride on the last portion of the super-slab before the desert swallowed up all eight lanes. The white lines in the center of the road just vanish under the earth and it almost feels like the edge of the whole world.

The concrete world, at least.

I wondered what’s out there in the sand? I wondered why I’d never wondered that before—

Behind me, Las Vegas rose out of the dirt, high-tech geometric angles of chrome and glass still winking a thousand unseeing eyes in the cold winter sun.

If the flat plane of a desert could sprout metallic acne, Las Vegas was a huge eyesore.

I removed my helmet (careful not to destabilize my dark mirrored sunglasses), flicked a custom fitted ballistic nylon jacket over my ride to protect the painted face of the Mad-Maxed movie star Charlize Theron on the gas tank from blowing sand, and then activated the alarm with my key fob. 

You never know the powers of a simple key fob in the hands of an inventor. Just remember I said that.

I’m sure someone will try to steal my prize; but like I’ve heretofore mentioned, a zero-point force field will knock you on your butt.

I fished the golden business card out of my back pocket. 

It proclaimed The First Holographic Psychotherapy Lounge in Las Vegas in glittering calligraphy that travelled right to left in a marquee across the flat strip of plastic in my fingers. 

I almost had to shield my eyes from the flashy bright, and exuberantly happy, announcement—even though my eyes were already shielded.

Then the wind swooped down and whirl winded my messy hair, pelting my cheeks with scratchy sand, and I achieved full annoyance. My morning medusa hairdo now probably looked like a few squirrels lived in it, too.

I flipped the invitation over to the back side. In a stranger’s handwriting it read: Parking is North by Northwest at the 100. 

(Another bicentennial historic reference tickled my mind, but even after taking a few seconds to recall my high school lessons from my old Old America: Film And Cinematography Classics class, nothing came to mind).

Anyway, here I was, according to the compass on my wristwatch, which I double-checked. The furthermost north by northwest that one can get on concrete in my known world. And standing by a round sign that read one hundred in black-and-white paint.

The handwritten message continued: Ms. Lightyear, You Are Humbly Invited To An All-Expense Paid Full Session.

I hate being addressed that way—my friends just call me Einstein. 

So, long story short, it couldn’t have been a friend who’d slipped this impersonal invite under my laboratory door two days ago.

Not to mention, I had really tried to ignore the invite. What is a psychotherapy lounge, anyway? Do I guzzle cocktails while I confess to my diary? There aren’t very many do-gooders in this town but they’re all bad news.

I had even tossed the invite into the trash.

Well, somebody had broken into the lab last night and fished this self-same invite out of my trash, stuck it with multiple lashes of masking tape to my palm while I was passed out, and in general made the point that I could not ignore it anymore. 

I woke up to find the robotics lab wrecked, drafting papers sliced into confetti, my latest project stolen, and a full coat rack of renaissance costumes slumped onto the floor.

I’m not going to discuss how I could have slept through the ruckus.

I’m only pointing out that this mysterious business card was my only clue to the whereabouts of my stolen invention. And I had a bad feeling in the pit of my stomach that wasn’t from pickling my liver with whiskey just hours before.

I scanned out across the boonies—this aching expanse of copper-blasted desert where the wind erases everything with sand.

Any minute now, someone could let me know why I was here.

A Green Bullet taxi shot out of the dune five hundred yards to my left, a whirlwind of sand and lime-green paint, growing larger and larger.

My heart knocked out of my chest with a painful stab.

A holographic dune that’s not really there is annoying. 

Skidding to a stop right at the scuffed toes of my silver-buckled black leather riding boots, the Green Bullet hovered unstably two feet off the ground. 

The taxi did really have that bullet shape, had a solid sloping nose just like a full metal jacket. The two huge windshields in the front of the nose looked like poltergeist eyes—you know, bug-eyed and square and panic black.

I’d never considered how stupid these taxis actually look. 

If they were alive they would be naturally psychotic, I’m sure.

The side door whisked open. I glanced back at my cherished survivalist bike, but a rotten cauliflower burp came up and I decided I’d just go ahead and let someone else do the driving for a second.

The hover car tilted sickeningly when I stepped in, then righted itself when I sat on the red velvet bench seat with golden buttons. No one was inside but a gum-smacking, top-hat wearing driver. He didn’t speak. 

Just doing the job.

I only saw the back of his head as we zoomed off straight back into that sand dune and poof we were actually inside a drab, old concrete underground parking garage. There were like fifty hover cars parked in here, and that annoyed me, too. 

Familiars to this new joint. 

When my taxi stopped at the service elevator the plaque over the doors said Welcome To The New, Healthier You.

That confirmed how much I did not want to be here.

I got out and stumbled into the box, the elevator doors shut, and I pushed the solitary button going down. It had a plaque that read Choose Your Confidant And Unburden Your Soul. Privacy Guaranteed. 

Have you ever felt like you’d just arrived in middle of the conversation? Everyone stops talking and stares at you, but you have no idea what’s going on.

The elevator descended, the doors dinged open into a small, oval foyer which cornered to the left. The walls were the same red velvet with golden dimpled buttons as the taxi. In the dim lighting, with my headache, the black ceiling made me feel more and more squished as I took a few booted steps forward.

Murmurs, soothing music, and quiet glasslike chinks carried from the unseen happenings in the lounge around the corner.

Sitting on a red velvet stool before a solid iron podium was the hostess, a girl with spiked fuchsia hair and a porcelain face. A warm spotlight shone on her shoulders. Her mascaraed eyes widened at the sight of me. 

Then I remembered my crazy medusa hair.

I tried to pat it down but it kinda felt as stiff as the iron rods of her podium.

The clothing fashion that’s in right now is called Fusion. It’s like—you try represent every historic era that’s ever existed in the past all in one outfit, from boots to panties. This girl was wearing green army camouflage over a black cyber-goth shirt, a blue corporate business skirt over orange spandex yoga tights—you know what I’m saying?

I like my black leathers.

“I already saw you arrive,” the hostess said almost accidentally, as if her personal thoughts had been verbalized without her own permission.

This was troublesome, but not wholly unsuspected. I had figured at some point I would run into my stolen invention. “When was that?”

“An hour ago,” she said in a more guarded tone.

“But here I am again,” I countered.

“But I didn’t see you leave the first time,” she countered back.

“That’s because I’ve digitally cloned my personality and invented the first solid state holographic sphere that will revolutionize the way haptic feedback is utilized.”

She considered the possibility, her eyes glancing up to the left, probably thinking stranger things had happened. Then, she looked at me again and uncurled her hand with glittery polished nails to reveal an empty, expectant palm.

I guessed she didn’t want her fortune read, so I handed her the marquee card. 

She held it under a scanner of some type and then appeared pleased at the result. “My most sincere apologies, Ms. Lightyear. Mayor Hershey is waiting for you, may I lead the way?”

This revelation produced another cauliflower burp in me. Things were getting worse by the minute. Much worse.

“I can walk myself,” I said. What I really wanted to say was don’t call me Ms. Lightyear you freak, but then I noticed a red buzzer that looked like it could be responsible for the final phase of a nuclear launch and I didn’t want to give her any reason to smack it.

Surely there was security all over this hideout if this was a Hershey joint. It was just expertly hidden. 

Including the x-ray scan that had probably analyzed me for weapons in ways I chose not to imagine. 

I had a simple policy in life: Never carry a usual weapon. Why didn’t people in the era of movies ever think of this? Guns are so obvious.

I dragged my index finger along the fuzzy wall as I turned the corner. My first impression of the lounge was that it smelled earthy and vegetal, like oven baked root vegetables, and was dark as a blind man’s vision in a cave.

But then I removed my mirrored police sunglasses. 

I stood transfixed.

My weight had triggered a pressure sensitive glass floor, my own footprints sparkling in a beautiful white trail behind me, slowly fading. I had the sudden feeling I should do a few tap dance moves—clickity, click-clack. 

But who am I kidding, I can’t tap dance. 

Volcanic-stone lamps dotted the expansive lounge like ancient fungi blooming in a dim, psychedelic forest. They sat on handcrafted live-edge wooden tables, illuminating the mahogany grain.

The mood lighting was intentionally anonymous, like a dream world, and so were the faces of folks until you came right up on someone. 

People sat hunched on bar stools or encased in egg chairs, leaned back in luxurious couches or sinking into bottom feeding Chesterfields that consumed the body from chest to knee. 

In the distance I saw a white flash of boxed teeth. Wait, was that Jack Nicholson? Then I realized I was freaking out a little too much in this place for my own good.

I heard a high-powered blender whir off to my right like a twilling bird seeking a mate in the tree-branched canopy of the night. Oh geez, the ceiling even looked like an ocean of silhouetted leaves fluttering, beyond which winked a creamy white galaxy of stars. 

My head felt like it was lifting off my neck as I looked up. 

One neck vertebra even popped.

But it’s still a lounge, right? I’d get a cocktail and nurse my headache for a second before I went off in search of my stolen invention and the mayor who had robbed me of it.

I made my way through the maze of tables and headed for the silver landing strip that must be the bar. It gleamed like polished sheet metal in the dreamy lighting. 

One of the slobber gelled spikes in my hair poked a random woman in the eye as I walked by her. I thought about turning back and apologizing, but that might take out her other eye.

Reaching my destination I laid my warm hands on the cool metal counter and hoisted myself onto a stool with a pshhhh from the overly compassionate cushion. 

Instead of liquor bottles, the mirrored shelving that lined the wall behind the bar was filled with cross-stitched wicker baskets brimming full of a healthy cornucopia of fruits and vegetables. I counted twenty-two different types of apples, all nicely labeled—really, there’s an apple called Arkansas Black?

Well, that’s cool.

Carrots bunched with springy tops, turnips clustered with pale moonlit faces, and an entire section of verdant leafy greens made the far end of my digestive track pinch tight.

Space age blenders that looked like they might blast off right through the galaxy ceiling were practically idling next to a giant cutting board.

I imagined they wanted to twist their own engine throttles. Burrum, burrum. We’re going to make you a smoothie.

Yeah, this was not the bar I wanted.

The bartender, a smiling young Asian dude with Ziggy Marley-ish dreadlocks and a pink ballet dress and a pinstripe business tie (wow, that’s good Fusion) folded a beet juice stained rag and lifted his thinly bearded chin at me, like he was saying, what can I get you?

Nothing.

I swiveled my hips to disengage from the suction of the stool and that’s when I realized I was sitting next to Oprah Winfrey—that bicentennial media proprietor and talk show host (another oldie but goodie).

Her kind, knowing eyes regarded me. I was struck by awe for a second, reruns running through my head. I felt like she could see through my soul. Like she was seeing into the future and reaching out to me right here, right now. Giving me a message, affirming my destiny—like her very next words would be prophecy. 

Then Oprah said ah-ha like she was having that moment.

And I realized she really could see through me, because porch-swing holograms have unseeing eyes. 

It’s a show—you can slice your hand through the holo like air.

And then, oh my God, I understood at last why I was here, why my new invention was missing, and that I needed to put an end to this whole shenanigan right now or what was left of Las Vegas would eventually be the epicenter of the full and final end of the world.

Okay, that’s too dramatic. 

It’s not going to be the end of the world again, yet.

I just needed to get my invention back.

I jumped up, my head spinning. The psychedelic mushrooms throbbed on their forested tables. I was dizzy, out of place, too hungover to think straight. 

I spun around to the bar, leaned across the cold metal slab and shouted down the length of it to the bartender who’s back was turned as he plucked a purple head of broccoli from a bin. “Something—so I can think straight.” 

He gave me the slow, knowing nod that only a wizened bartender can give. I was immediately calmer. Supercharged? he asked me. I didn’t know what that meant, so I said yes.

In short order I heard a blender squeal gleefully. Then a frothing mug with a mass of green gunk slid my way. 

I raised it to my lips and prayed as it went down.

There had to have been a whole field of ginger vaporized in that drink. My eyes watered to prove it. I felt worse but my vision was clearer.

I couldn’t believe what I’d missed in my haze. Those private tables with only two chairs—one for the client, and one for the hologram—those psychedelic mushroom lamps were an optomechanical delivery system.

I leapt forward to investigate an empty table. 

My footprints followed behind me like a shimmery tattle-tale. 

The glass table surface had a touch screen and a neon blue menu. It was a choose-your-own superstar therapist menu. A bicentennial menu because all us survivors—all we could fantasize about was recreating the past.

And if I knew Mayor Hershey, which I did because she was my aunt—then I knew these conversations were being recorded. And if I knew my family, there was a professional eavesdropping team behind the scenes. This was not just a holographic show with a faux-health theme. This was a blackmail operation in its infancy if I’d ever seen blackmail at work.

And I had. 

Oh, I had.

Maybe all Oprah could say was ah-ha because she was just an automated prop, but these other private holograms at the mushroom tables, the ones you could choose—they would be controlled by real people giving personal responses. 

People with one assignment: To get you to talk.

Empathic words, insightful guidance from your favorite movie-star-turned-therapist. A great way to get manipulated into revealing too much about yourself, and be secretly recorded doing it.

I tilted my head up to the galaxy above me—shiny, blinking stars and all. 

Hello you bastards, I thought. 

A cold, steely hand gripped my shoulder. “Come on, Einstein.” The man steered me from behind like he was not taking no for an answer—and I didn’t resist.

I scanned faces in the lounge as we moved through it, my unchaste eyes popping the anonymity barrier. It was hard to be sure in the dim light, but that had to be Martin Luther King, and Jesus Christ, and wait—was that Lacey?

I wondered briefly who I would order up to talk to (seriously, I was leaning toward Chewbacca) just as I was shoved up a dark flight of stairs. Dirty yellow reflective strips glowed on the lip of each level. The stale air smelled of moldy walnuts. 

No, for sure I would talk to Cagney. She had the drinking problem.

I always thought that was cool. The whole alcohol thing.

The whole trying to escape your problems thing without having to actually escape them. Because actually escaping was way more work.

Winding up and around and around to the seventh floor my heavy handed deliverer pushed me up to a reinforced metal door which scanned his eye with an infrared light. 

Then buzzed it open like a prison cell.

The giant room had a slab of floor like a pitch black night sky, hypnotic and inky and endless, a free fall to a painful death. Polished granite does that. It has a power of its own. And it’s not like stepping across the heavenly sky because my family is not into heavenly things.

Mayor Hershey sat on a distant black leather couch across the huge, black, nearly barren room; except for the wall in front of her that was a gigantic movie screen. Hershey did the black barren room thing well. But I always laughed to myself that it meant she was the Empress of Nothing.

I was not laughing now.

Hershey sat next to my holographic invention (we look exactly the same except she’s beautiful). I could only see the backs of their silhouetted heads and shoulders, and the rectangular back of the couch. 

The gigantic movie screen played a classic Julia Roberts movie. I couldn’t remember the title.

It was muted.

The only sound I heard was my blood pumping in my ears.

Julia was in a white dress getting married; her beautiful, enigmatic smile. You almost didn’t need any sound because you could feel her emotions. Feel her joy. When the actress had filmed this movie over a hundred years ago, did she know that Hollywood would burn? That LA would burn? 

That it would all burn and burn and burn?

The bodyguard propelled me. My boots clomped across the granite and the man behind me, his steps were silent as a snake. He pulled me to a stop when he had me on cue—maybe about twenty feet behind the black leather couch—where my aunt had told him to prop me, I’m sure.

“You stole my invention.” My voice fell hard onto the granite floor. I noticed my holographic twin didn’t respond to my arrival. Maybe she’d been threatened, too. That bothered me, even though she was just a digital copy, so to speak. She was intelligent, responsive—but I had certainly failed with programming her defenses. “How did you know I’ve been experimenting with holographic surrogacy?” I asked.

“Your grandfather told me,” my aunt said. “I made it worth his while to keep me up to date with what you were doing.” Her mayoral voice had that staunch simplicity. That political deliverance, that I know best deliverance.

“If you thought he gave you a place to stay in his lab,” she continued. “It was more that I wanted to see what you would do, when you thought you were alone there.”

My lips pulled apart. I felt the delicate tug of skin. That was all I felt—just my lips separating and cold air over my teeth.

Granddad hadn’t set me up, had he? No, he wouldn’t do that. My aunt just wanted to manipulate me.

“Nepotism has its benefits,” she said.  

I sealed my lips back up like they’d never split.

“Einstein, I’ve offered you a job again and again,” she continued.

“I won’t work for you, I’d rather die.” I said that too fast and then wished I could take back the part about dying.

Julia was laughing hysterically in the silent movie now, her head larger than life. Wasn’t that part of what made Old Hollywood so special, being larger than life?

“You built this joint out here in the boonies, in a hidden location,” I said. “Only one reason, and it’s because you’re targeting locals. Not the tourists from our sister city.”

“They always said you were astute, didn’t they.”

I exhaled through my mouth and a cloud of ginger vapor engulfed me. It cleared my head. “Why do you need to blackmail local people?”

“Blackmail.” She laughed, just like Julia but ugly instead. “Is that what you thought? I see where your mind goes.”

“My mind doesn’t—never mind,” I said. “If it’s not just blackmail, what are you doing out here?”

“Hunting.”

“For who?”

“We’ve discovered infiltrators from the sands, Einstein. Barbarians who survived out in the boonies. They’re sneaking into our city limits, pretending to be like us, recruiting others. They don’t want the past to live on, Einstein—they want Las Vegas to fall.”

That sent a chill down my spine. 

I had never even imagined anyone out there in the desolate sands. A new group of survivors? “But no one survived out there.”

“They’re a threat to our way of life. This holographic lounge—it’s a curiosity, it draws them in. It’s a meeting place, the perfect meeting place. They dress like us, but they’re not like us. We’re tracking them.”

This peaked my curiosity.

An enemy to my family would be a friend of mine. Especially if Hershey called them barbarians. That must mean they were super cool.

“Fine,” I said. “There’s finally a group of people who want something different than rebuilding the past that destroyed itself. Maybe they’re actually sane. So give me back my invention and leave me alone.” 

The bodyguard’s rough hand on my shoulder never faltered its vise grip.

“So you can drink yourself to death?”

“So I can be happy.” I said that too fast. Because I knew nothing in stupid Las Vegas could ever actually make me happy. 

“We could be an amazing team,” Hershey said. “We could rebuild it all.”

“In your own ugly image,” I said. “No thanks. So I’ll just be going home now with the both of me.”

The bodyguard hand clamped to my shoulder had another, quite stationary idea. I felt certain I was getting a handprint bruise. “Tell your bodyguard to let go of me, and release my double from whatever you threatened her with.”

On the giant muted movie screen, Julia was climbing up a flight of stairs. She looked sad. Her silver purse slipped off her shoulder. All this movie silence was driving me mad. “Every time you try to bully me, you just waste your time,” I said. “I’m not bent back like you.”

The silence in the room. 

My aunt reached her arm out and stroked my double’s cheek with her knuckles. In the darkness, and in front of the giant bright TV, they were master and puppeteer silhouettes. 

It looked a little freaky.

My aunt said, “You’ve made a touchable hologram. You’ve invented the first solid state holographic sphere. Her skin feels so real. It’s marvelous, Einstein, utterly marvelous. Can you imagine what we can do?”

I’d known that was coming, hadn’t I. 

And for all my genius, I was a complete idiot—just because you can invent something, doesn’t mean you should.

I closed my eyes. I thought about the bottles of whiskey I kept hidden in granddad’s laboratory. And that I wanted to drink them all.

But I slowly started reaching for the key fob in my leather pants pocket; very slow so the man behind me wouldn’t stop me.

“You think I’d let you steal it, the real one?” I said.

(Well, it’s not that I’d let her steal anything, it’s that I’d been drunk. And, in fact, it was my real holographic clone.)

A bloom of doubt pushed across the room. It was palpable—my aunt’s sudden onset of uncertainty. 

But she was a politician, so she said—“I’m sure we can come to an arrangement, Einstein. The first touchable holograms will revolutionize our city. We can make you famous.”

On the TV, Julia jumped for joy and a man swept her up in his arms.

“You’ll never use my tech, you pathetic claptrap.” I couldn’t believe I’d actually said claptrap.

Though it’s a really cool word.

“Wait—wait, wait,” my aunt was saying as I pulled out my key fob. Just two simple buttons can hold an infinite number of programmable binary codes—if you can remember them. Which I can. 

I punched out the kill sequence before the bodyguard gripped my hand. Any good inventor has a kill switch. In this case, it sucked to kill myself but sometimes you gotta do it.

The air reverberated with a tiny smack like indoor thunder. My ‘other me’ exploded into spectacular fragments of blueish-black light with wild orange tips.

I had spent an agonizing amount of time on the color and the firework effect. I figured if I had to kill myself, it should be a first rate performance. My second choice had been realistic blood spatter, but in prototype it got really disturbing. 

My aunt actually stood up and turned to look at me. She has the same square jaw that I have, but she’s shorter and more petite. 

In the Julia Robert’s movie the credits were scrolling—it was the end. 

A scowl of frustration painted my aunt’s lips into a tight line. She bent down, her hand swiping the couch cushion, and picked up the dead metal orb. Then she threw it at my face like a windup baseball pitcher.

I caught it like an outfielder. 

“You’ll build me another one,” she said. “By tomorrow morning.”

The bodyguard released me. I turned and walked out. 

“This isn’t over,” my aunt called after me.

All I kept thinking was I’m done playing this stupid game. And I need to quit drinking or this same exact scene is going to keep happening again and again.

On a whim, I ordered another ginger smoothie downstairs. 

With extra ginger.

I didn’t know exactly who the barbarians were, but you know what? I wanted to find out. I needed bigger friends in this city. Forget the booze back in the lab. Where better to dry up than out in the desert?

Time to hop on my motorcycle and leave Las Vegas. I had everything I needed to survive on my Mad-Maxed bike. And if things worked out, then I’d probably come back and open The Second Holographic Psychotherapy Lounge. (But without the psychotherapy).

I’ll let you know when I’m back in town.

Copyright © 2017 Valerie Brook. All rights reserved.

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