QohelethPost-Self book I

RJ Brewster — 2112

AwDae sat up in bed and slid to the edge of the mattress. Stretched languidly, let fur bristle from ear to tail, the latter bottle-brushing out. Ey shook emself to settle eir fur back down and yawned widely, slender pink tongue curling just shy of sharp incisors. All formalities, to be sure, or perhaps wordless mnemonics to finish the context-shift. The final step in a ritual.

All those phantom realities clicking into place.

Brushing eir fur down, the fennec stood and padded to the dresser in the corner of the room, pulling out a thin white cotton shirt with laces up the front and a simple navy sarong, which ey tied around eir waist. Countless hours examining some of the highest fashions out there on the ‘net, and ey’d come to the conclusion that, in these times of excess, the understated said the most.

It also interfered with the fur least, worked well with a tail — a simple slit cut down the length of the sarong let that slip free — and it was cheap. There was no shortage of ways to spend money, and AwDae had better things to buy with what was left after London rent.

Better to perfect the form, to make it fit more precisely eir self-image. A handful of silver paltry exchange for building the you you are meant to be rather than the you you are.

Ey swiped eir paw from left to right atop the dresser, revealing a dimly glowing arsenal of personal belongings. It’d be a simple night out, so ey tucked a few vcards and a limited credit chip into a shoulder bag and hauled the strap over eir head, vulpine ears laying flat and out of the way.

From there, claws clacked against the glossy surface of the tport pad. Gauche as it was to pop in and out of existence where folks could see, ey kept eirs in a corner of the studio apartment rather than an alcove. The feeling of exposure and the jarring change of scenery was titillating, racy.

Ey stood straight on the pad and gestured a paw left to right, bringing up a list of recently used commands. Had ey left fingerprints online, there’d be a clear smudge over the entry: ey rarely did anything else on work nights.

tport: The Crown Pub

Tapped, and the obligatory click that went along with the change of scenery brought em to an alcove paneled in oak, lit by green-glass-shaded lights hanging pendulous from a cord directly above em.

Ey blinked to adjust to the comparatively dim light. The pub sim, largely following the circadian rhythm of the British isles, was just as dark as it was for RJ, back in London-as-it-was, but eir personal sim lived in a perpetual eleven AM springtime.

Ey turned and stepped away from the pad, narrowly avoiding a slender weasel stumbling towards the alcove.

“See ya, Debarre,” AwDae said, though it came out more like ‘Shee-a, Debaw’ coming from the fox’s narrow muzzle. Ey got a curt grunt from the weasel done up all in black.

The fox shrugged and headed into the pub proper, nose twitching. The scents of the room told em more of those present than simply scanning the crowd. One or two gawking entities with no scent property set — tourists — and the usual crowd of aromas. Friends, mostly. Acquaintances all.

Whiskers bristled at the distinct whiff of dandelions, a memory leftover from youth, and ey made a beeline towards one of the window tables, where the scent originated, skirting around bodies of diverse shape.

Shacha.

“Come on, fox, loosen your filters, won’t you?” Sasha laughed, scooting her chair back to stand up and lean in for a quick hug. AwDae slipped eir arms around the skunk’s waist in turn and gave a squeeze, tail aswish.

“Lame,” ey drawled, but dialed back the output filters on eir speech, letting something more closely resembling English pass. “How you been, skunk?”

“Oh, you know, same old, same old.” Sasha settled back into her chair and fiddled with a stack of vcards on the table, giving an outsized shrug. “Been kind of boring in here over the last few days, so it’s good to see you.”

The fox nodded, tugging eir shirt straight and moving over to the chair opposite the skunk, sliding into it easily and resting against the back.

“It’s late there, isn’t it?”

“Not too late. One something. Made good time home at least. Rehearsal ran late.”

Sasha grinned. “You know, every time you talk about rehearsal and such, I just think back to school. You hunched over the sound booth, you know? It’s hard for me to picture you as having grown up and taken that up as a job.”

AwDae adopted a look of mock-despair. “Isn’t it? I went to uni just for it and everything. But hey, London ain’t bad, I can’t complain any. Besides, not like you left it either.”

The skunk rolled her eyes and leaned forward onto her elbows, muzzle resting on obsidian paws. “Tell me about it. You’re missing out big time here in the ‘burbs, dear. You could be teaching high school theater in any town along the central corridor, doing the same plays once every five years so no students repeat them. Truly a life of glamour.” Sasha laughed when AwDae buried eir face in eir paws and groaned. “Seriously though, you just remind me a lot of school. Maybe it’s ‘cause of all of the ways you haven’t grown up.”

“Please, Sasha.” AwDae poked eir tongue out. “If you bring up dating…”

“Hey, sorry, just looking out for you, fox.”

“I’m plenty happy on my own, I can promise you that,” ey countered.

“No, I get that.” Sasha lowered her gaze. “Not all it’s turned out to be. Just got me thinking, is all.”

“Oh no, struck out again?”

Sasha shrugged, nodded, shrugged once more, fiddled with a vcard. No eye contact.

AwDae reached out to take one of her paws in eir own, black fur on tan mismatched and complementary. Both had opted for mostly hand-like paws, but differences were evident on contact. Where Sasha’s fur was an even, silky black marked by white stripes that were a little too sharp, a little too exact, AwDae had labored to construct a version of emself as a fennec fox to exacting detail, down to the point where eir muzzle couldn’t even form the two letters that made up eir name offline.

Exacting, minus perhaps the two-legged-ness, the hands, the humanity around the eyes. Even then, ey had an av free of humanity stashed away somewhere.

Thoughts of honing versus forging blurred surroundings. AwDae had honed emself to a finer and finder point while everyone else forged ahead. Always a way to be a better tech. Always a chance to become more vulpine online. Always a way to become better at what one already was. To become more the AwDae AwDae felt ey was.

Still running sound. Still honing that skill.

Ey shook eir head to dislodge the rumination.

“I’m sorry, Sasha.”

Sasha shrugged again, as though she might be able to drop the very idea of bad break-ups like an overloaded backpack. She gave the fox’s paws a squeeze in her own. “Men are dicks. I’d take a fox like you over some dickhead guy any day.”

AwDae smiled faintly, returned the squeeze. “Sasha, you know it wouldn’t–”

“No, I know. I just wish there were more guys out there like you.” When AwDae stiffened in eir seat and looked away towards the window, Sasha splayed her ears and added quickly, “Sorry dear. I keep putting my foot in it, don’t I?”

“Sorry, no, you’re fine.” AwDae grinned apologetically. “I should get a thicker skin, maybe. Stand up for myself. I spend night after night hiding in here, and even then, can’t seem to assert myself any. I appreciate you trying, though.”

Sasha smiled cautiously and nodded. “You came out like fifteen years ago, AwDae. I should still be doing better.”

AwDae’s turn to shrug. “It’s hard to ask for that, is all. Always has been.”

“I think that’s what I meant earlier, that you haven’t changed, despite all the ways you have. You haven’t done like all the rest and grown up, gotten married, all that crap. You’re still doing what you loved to do in school. Don’t get me wrong, I miss it too. Actual theater, not the school stuff. Seeing crazy shows with you on the weekends. Hell, doing crazy shows in uni. Doesn’t pay the bills, though.”

“You should come see us sometime. It’d be good to see you again, too.”

“You know I want to.” Sasha grinned. It didn’t last. “But yeah. You seem kind of frozen, kind of stuck — in a few ways, even, though you’re succeeding in others.”

AwDae nodded, rumination hanging in a cloud around em. So many ways the world had moved on without em. After a moment, though, ey sat up straighter. “Oh, speaking of frozen.”

“Debarre?”

The fox nodded.

“No news, yet. He’s been trying to get in touch with the clinic or whatever that’s taking care of Cicero, but the family’s been getting in the way. They’re fielding everything. They always sort of supported the relationship on the surface, you know, but never actually approved of it. Of them being together, I mean.”

“What? Really?” The fox shook eir head, poking a claw at the table, before rubbing the spot with a paw pad. The sim was hardly immersive enough to waste cycles on letting claw dent tabletop. “That’s unfortunate. Not all that surprising, I guess, given what Cice said about them. They at least confirmed that’s what happened, though?”

“That’s what these are,” Sasha said, slipping the stack of vcards over to em. “There’s contact info for the family, and a few centers around there that work on implants, some hospitals. We’re thinking that those might be the types of places where he wound up. There’s also a card detailing his laston information.”

AwDae twisted the stack of cards around in front of em, leafing through slowly and taking in a few of the details that slid across eir fingertips. “Mind if I make a copy?”

“Go ahead. It’s a deck Debarre and I have been working on. Not complete, but I’ll give you ACLs.”

“Mm. Debarre looked crushed. Is he doing alright?”

Sasha hesitated for a moment, caught in the middle of a gesture to grant copy rights on the cards. She shook her head, to which AwDae could only frown. She finished the gesture, and another set of vcards shuffled itself out from the original stack. Crisp black embossed on the creamy cotton-paper that AwDae preferred.

“I’ll take a look, too. I can’t do too much right now, I’ve got a–”

“I know, you’ve got a show coming up,” Sasha laughed. “Don’t worry about it, dear. Debarre’s working on it, I’m taking a look when I can, and I’m sure the weasel’s got others helping him out besides us. No reason not to, either. We all liked Cicero.”

The two sat in silence. AwDae slid Sasha’s deck back and fanned eirs in front of emself before shuffling them back into a stack and swiping above them, instructing eir rig to make a local copy of the deck.

Ey lifted eir snout away from the silence to scan the scents in the room once more. Now that it was starting to get on in the evening even in the Americas, the scentscape was changing. Some familiar scents, some unfamiliar, but most of them at least detailed, which told AwDae that the owners had put some thought into them. None, however, really jumped out at em.

More rumination. Rumination edging into drowsiness.

“Hey, Sasha, I gotta get going. I know I just got here, but I’m starting to crash hard.”

The skunk nodded, tail drooping. “No, it’s alright. It’s late there, and I know you’ve been in rehearsals for a while. Go get some sleep.”

Both stood up and exchanged another hug, AwDae reveling in that dandelion scent of eir friend. Memories of school, drowsy, dreamlike. Dandelions in the lawn. An impromptu picnic. Rubbing one of the flowers on the back of eir hand, leaving a yellow stain. Sasha explaining that the smell always reminded her of muffins.

“I’ll see you later, skunk, yeah?”

“Take care of yourself, okay? No working too hard, slaving over a hot rig…”

AwDae laughed and shook eir head. Gave the skunk one last squeeze before making eir way back through the crowd toward the alcove, already swiping eir command palette into view to head home.