The laser lights and dry ice mist seemed to melt into each other, a soupy neon glow that she could almost taste. Priss breathed in hard, her chest tightening as she drank in the rush from the audience, the glowstick trails that left lemon-cherry-tangerine slashes across her vision. In this moment she was invulnerable.
She held it for as long as she could, that swell before the first note, the anticipation that turned her heart to a ticking bomb. Then she grabbed the mike, metallic taste in her mouth, lunging in to meet the roar of the crowd. A warm wave of applause broke over her, stomping and whistling, glowsticks spinning, something mechanical screeching, squealing...
Her eyes scanned the crowd. What was that? Already jittery, she felt her heart start to claw at the insides of her chest, her body bowstring taut. Boomer? She lost the thread of the song as her eyes darted from one face to another, trying to pick out the impostor. A blue smear here, a red flash there; too easy for them to hide in this crowd, among the lights that were stinging her eyes. But she was sure they were there, more sure with each passing moment as the surging crowd rearranged itself into a tangle of vast, armoured limbs, tearing their way free of once-human bodies, lunging for the stage...
"Boomers!" She tossed the mike and fled the stage, pausing only to look back at her bandmates, who were staring, frozen in fear. "Evacuate! Everybody out!" The others continued to stare at her as if she'd lost her mind; the tidal wave of arms crashed over the stage, splintering the cheap wood, and before she could shout the whole thing gave way and her bandmates were swallowed up, lost in the stampede.
Shit, shit, shit... She ran for the dressing room, flung open drawers, rifling through with shaking hands for the thing she sought. She mashed the button on the comm link several times before remembering: she wasn't in the Knight Sabers any more. Sylia had put her on "indefinite leave" when things had started going to shit, which was Sylia's fake-polite-bullshit way of saying "you're fired". Fucking asshole, she growled under her breath as she grabbed her phone and hit Sylia on speed-dial.
The phone rang for what felt like days as carnage raged outside. The flimsy door separating her from the stage would cave in a moment if they tried to break through, and the sounds were getting closer.
The line went live. "Sylia," she managed, suddenly breathless. All she'd done was sprint backstage, but her chest felt like it was on fire. "Boomer attack. I'm-- I'm at the club."
Sylia's reply took longer than expected; she could hear Mackie's voice in the background, but she couldn't make out words. "Now, dammit!"
"We're on our way," Sylia finally spoke. "Keep calm. Don't do anything rash."
"Rash? There's an army of f-fucking B-Boomers out there and you want me to--" The line went dead. "Fuck you!" The phone flew across the room and landed in a trash can with a hollow ring. Priss rubbed her face with her hands.
If they hadn't cut me off, if I had my suit, I could fight... The walls shook with something like club bass, something like pounding hands. I'm not going to die in this shithole alone! She scanned the room, searching for anything she could use as a weapon. The trash can, a lamp cord... you can't strangle a Boomer, she thought, but one could strangle you, and at that thought she smelt the stench of oil and felt cold hands around her throat. She kicked and scrabbled against her attacker, trying to pry off the icy grip, but her fingers were failing, numb, her boots squeaking uselessly against the floor. Something wet and warm trickled from her ear, and the ground rose up to greet her, in a grey wave that made no sound.
"--ss? Priss, wake up. You have to get up now."
She groaned at the noise and the rough shaking, struggling to open eyelids sticky with blood. She managed, partway, and the slight crack was enough to let in light that she winced against.
"...gah! Bright!" she hissed, screwing them shut again. Light...? What time...? Where...? Also, something was making noise. Annoying noise. Alarm clock...? She flailed and tried to smack it, and instead, her hand hit something fleshy. She lifted her head-- fuck that hurt-- and squinted, confused.
A woman was looking down at her, calmly peeling Priss' fingers from her face. It took her a moment to register that it was Sylia. Sylia... Boomers. She pushed herself to her knees, sloppily smacking Sylia again in the process; the urge to vomit hit her, and she doubled over, panting. "Boomers... what happened?" Her mouth felt as dry as old cigarette butts, and tasted about the same. "Did you bring... hardsuit?" If they were still out there... if she had to fight...
"There were no Boomers, Priss," said Sylia, in that same cool tone she used for everything. "You were hallucinating again." Priss felt her rage simmer again just hearing it. What right did she have to be so calm? She wasn't the one who'd almost been killed-- she wasn't the one who... Before she knew it, her hands were making fists, and then Sylia was shoving a lamp in her face, which was confusing enough that she forgot what she'd been angry about.
"Were you trying to kill yourself this time? What is this?"
Priss blinked at the change of topic. Her brain still felt like warmed-over dog shit, and this was hardly making it easier to think. "Th'hell are you talking about? There was an attack, you--"
Sylia dangled the lamp cord. "Then why do I come in here to find you lying here, half-dead, with this"-- she made the cord swing --"wrapped around your neck, and no signs that anyone broke in?"
A click, and Sylia was now flashing a compact mirror at her. Time seemed to keep snapping into place like this, she thought, these disjointed stop-starts, like someone was timing her with a stopwatch: click, click. Or taking her photograph. One moment no longer bled into another, as it had on the stage, but felt too precisely, mechanically arranged. Maybe Sylia was really a Boomer in disguise. Maybe the Boomers had got into her head. She shook her head to try to clear it, and finally caught sight of her face.
Clammy, blotchy and streaked with blood, her makeup a sad mess of panda eyes and rouge smears: she looked worse than shit. But something else caught her attention, her hand going automatically to the welts on her neck. Thin, red welts: not the kind fingers would make at all. The kind an electrical cord would make.
"But-- but-- s, someone was here!" she slurred, clenching her fists again. "Why the fuck would I do this to myself?"
A hand grabbed her wrist, gently but firmly, twisted her arm until she was staring at her own track-marked inner elbow.
"Believe me, Priss," said Sylia, with a note in her voice that stood out to her as odd. "I would love it if you could answer that question."