Later that night, I went back on SSL to do more digging. There had to be significance to the acronym, or a connection between the phrase “several samples later” and internet encryption. The more I dug, the less I understood. The site had entire threads in other languages, most of which was in even more cryptic code when translated. I started to realize the only way I’d ever get workable information out of the site was to follow up with Winthrop. She’d given me an address and time to meet her, along with strict dress code instructions. She said the party was an unveiling of a new technology created by the Perfect People. The way she talked about them made me slightly skeptical. Not that she was lying, but that the information she was relaying to me seemed more ideological than informational. I couldn’t imagine what she meant by “new technology” and I certainly didn’t think it could be anything as substantial as she made it seem. There wasn’t much to convince me that she was a part of some cutting edge tech think tank or private product launch. Besides, it didn’t connect in my mind how a Tor message board could be the site of some clandestine tech development space. And what did it have to do with research chemicals? I decided to stop researching after the avalanche of questions began to paralyze my mind. I could only think of her crooked, almost goofy smile at the mention of the P-3 party. Who gets that excited about technology?
After work on Friday, I decided to go out and get some of the clothes I’d need in order to meet Sally Winthrop’s dress code. She told me it was a “Launch Party” themed get-together and I’d need a black turtleneck and blue jeans, presumably to look like Steve Jobs. She said to stay within the parameters, but to “make it mine”. I never paid much attention to what I bought in the way of clothes, so my instructions to the sales associate at the menswear store to give me clothes that looked like “Steve Jobs, but my Steve Jobs,” felt just as bizarre for me to say as it was for her to hear.
“We have a nice collection of turtlenecks, but a lot of them are wool or even heavier fabric. It is a little hot for that, right?” she said to me as I looked at their collection of sweaters.
“If it’s black and it’s a turtleneck, I’ll take it.” I replied.
The party was scheduled to last from 12:00am to 6 in the morning. I couldn’t imagine myself staying for that long, but then again, I couldn’t imagine what the party would actually be like when I got there. I spotted Winthrop shortly after I got out of the subway station. She was standing next to a large derelict warehouse on an unusually unpopulated street on the lower east side. She was also wearing a black turtleneck; however hers was more feminine cut, with exposed shoulders. Her jeans had also been customized to those stylish, high wasted shorts. She saw me coming up the street and walked up to me smiling.
“You’re right on time.” She said, giving me a polite embrace.
“I’m excited,” I commented, noticing her rather friendly disposition towards me. For someone who I’d met only a few days ago and had lied my way into a meeting with, she was being remarkably familiar. We walked to the other side of the warehouse which revealed a long line of people dressed in similar outfits that stretched much of the length of the vacant parking lot. She actually held my hand and walked me up near the front of the line. There was a bouncer at the front who was wearing a white doctor’s lab coat. The man took a look at my expression and looked to Winthrop.
“Who’s he?” he asked her without looking back at me.
“A very imperfect friend of mine.”
“You’ve been bringing too many friends, you know our rule.” He replied.
“I already talked to Cliff about him,”
The man’s demeanor changed slightly and he smiled at me. “Why didn’t you just say that? Get in here.” He opened up a heavy-looking metal door and Sally and I entered the warehouse.
Inside, it resembled a makeshift tech show. There were booths near the front with names like “Happiness OS4” and “Productivity: Lite”. Sally walked up to, “Life of the Party OS5”, and the female clerk at the booth stood up to give Sally a hug.
“Jessa! I’m so glad you’re here,” the woman said. She was wearing small, presumably fake glasses, a Bluetooth and a black tight-fitting turtleneck. When she finished embracing Winthrop she turned to me and said, “You’re a new face. Where’s Darren?”
“Oh, I haven’t spoken with Darren since Miami. This is another writer,” Winthrop introduced me.
I stuck out a hand shared a light handshake with the blond, female version of Steve Jobs. “Jeb Swift, nice to meet you.”
“We only do real names here,” the woman replied flatly.
“I know it sounds fake, but that’s my real name.”
“You’re real name is Jebidah Swift?” the woman raised an eyebrow and looked at Winthrop, who nodded a confirmation. “Well Jeb, I’m Caroline, a developer here.”
“Where exactly is ‘here’?” I asked.
Caroline looked at Winthrop and they both shared the same goofy, excited smile. “You haven’t told him anything have you?” She turned back to me, “We develop treatments here. Mostly enhancements and therapies for people who have extra-ordinary expectations placed on them.”
“Enhancements? So drugs?”
“Yes, Jeb, if that will help you better categorize this, then yes.”
“It’s pretty exclusive,” I said, noticing a few of the people filing in from the line were faces I’d seen on television. A few Knicks players and a group of vaguely recognizable actors walked by the booth. “This is a designer drug expo.” I said watching the procession of high end clientele walking past me.
“The first of its kind.” Caroline replied proudly. “Has he met Cliff?”
“I wanted to introduce him after the unveiling,” Winthrop replied.
“Has he tried anything?”
“You can just ask me,” I said to Caroline, “and no, I haven’t.”
Winthrop sifted through a small purse that had been on her side and she took out a small green pill, about the size of an asprin. “Here, you’ll want this, you don’t have to take it now, but you should have it.”
“I don’t do MDMA,” I said, attempting to convey politeness in my voice.
The two women erupted in laughter and then Sally took my hand, opened my palm, and put the pill in my hand. “This is what MDMA wishes it was.”
“What is it?”
Caroline pointed to the poster above the booth, “That was last year’s LoP”
“L-O-P?” I repeated back to her.
“Life of the Party, OS 4.” Sally Winthrop said. “You’ll want to work your way up before you try this year’s version.”
Before I could respond, stage lights suddenly beamed down on the large platform in the back of the warehouse. I noticed people immediately starting to form a crowd at the front. Sally motioned for me to follow her, so we began walking to the illuminated stage with Caroline close behind me. We sifted through the crowd of slightly famous, very attractive versions of Steve Jobs before we found a comfortable place to stand near the barrier. I was a couple of bodies away from a very tall bouncer wearing a doctor’s lab coat and a stethoscope around his neck. A brief light show shot streams of red and blue lasers into the crowd and onto the stage. The music playing was some kind of purposely-generic techno. I looked at Sally, who was totally transfixed on the stage, presumably waiting for someone’s grand entrance. Caroline put her hand on my shoulder, “you should take what Jessa gave you,” she said.
“I think I’m going to wait,” I replied, still looking up at the stage. A few smoke machines turned on and a tall silhouette began walking towards the crowd greeted by a growing applause. Sally Winthrop was clapping furiously, and when I squinted to try to get a good look at the figure, I almost started believing it was Steve Jobs resurrected from the dead. I was close enough to make out that the tall man standing on stage was wearing a thick layer of makeup and a bald cap painted to his off-pale skin color. He had the most intricate Steve Jobs outfit of them all. I gently pushed my way closer to the stage to get a good look at him. I turned around and witnessed the jubilation of the crowd and the level of celebrity this room of celebrities had granted to the nameless man. Soon the light show ended and the music stopped. The crowd began to quiet down and the man walked to the edge of the stage.
“I’m happy to see everyone here,” he spoke through a small microphone that was clipped onto his ear like a Bluetooth. “You’re all here because you believe in our founding principles. At P-2, we’re confident in our outlook that within each of us is the tools and willpower to become our perfect selves. Our products only make it easier to see that as a fact. We’re all already perfect, it’s just about making sure we truly believe it.”
The crowd gave him a brief applause, with a few groups of people even repeating his last sentence as he said it. “For those of you that are attending your first P-3, I’m Cliff Grabes, and P-2 was my brainchild. In the past few years we’ve engineered a line of enhancement medication that has saved lives, increased productivity, and furthered the excellence of our diverse clientele.”
“You saved my life Cliff!” a woman in the crowd screamed out.
Cliff Grabes smiled at her, “I’m happy to hear that.” The crowd laughed and then subsided courteously. “I’m always happy to know people who have been touched by our products. But today, we have something special for our clients. We’ve already distributed our new product to all of our regular booths this evening. So if you’ve taken anything here, you’ve tried our new technology.”
People in the crowd started looking at each other with confusion. I took out the small green pill Sally had placed in my hand and inspected it. Other people were doing the same, but with vials of liquid and other colored pills.
“Many of you might be confused. How could all of these different products be the same thing? Our developers at P-2 Labs have created the answer. Ladies and gentlemen, introducing the iLove.” A black curtain fell and out of a new blast of smoke appeared a clear glass orb with a bluish liquid that had filled the orb completely. Grabes picked up the orb and brought it closer to the audience. “In this container is a solution containing all of the best co-mingling compounds that we have extracted from a range of substances. These compounds work differently at different doses to achieve a range of effects. At small doses, you get the focus and concentration of a high end stimulant without the crash, at mid-to higher range doses, you get the total euphoria of MDMA without the serotonin depletion, and at a very high range of doses, you become as enlightened as Siddhartha himself. Folks, this is the first of its kind. Welcome to the age of the smart drug, the iLove is here!”
With a flash of light and more smoke a giant projection flashed the text “iLove v1” and the crowd erupted into frenzied clapping and shouting. I looked at Sally who was yelling so loud her face had turned a complete red. Caroline was looking right back at me and motioned for me to come closer back to them. I sifted through the crowd again and yelled to Caroline over the deafening crowd, “I want to meet him.”
“I know,” she said to me. As the crowd began to disperse and Deep House started playing I began walking with Sally and Caroline off of the dance floor and towards the booths. Sally looked like she’d just come from a night-long rave. She was already sweating and her hair was out of place for the first time I’d ever seen. Caroline looked at her and smiled, “you really love him, don’t you?”
“I can’t talk right now, I’m going to go dance. Jeb, will you be fine on your own?”
“We were actually about to go meet him,” Caroline said, “if you can handle it, I’d tell you to come along.”
“My problem is that I cannot handle it Caroline. I’d probably die if I met him in person. You go, I’m going to dance.” Sally Winthrop walked back into the crowd of celebrity ravers.
Caroline turned to me and shrugged, “At least she knows her limits. C’mon.” she started walking and then stopped abruptly and turned around. “Actually, I’m not going to take you.”
“Take that fucking pill Jeb Swift.”
“I told you, I don’t roll, I don’t do drugs really at all.”
“And I told you, if you want to meet Cliff Grabes then you’ll take that pill.”
I looked at the pill in my hand for a moment and then tossed it down my throat. “I feel like I should’ve taken half.” I said immediately after I swallowed.
“It wouldn’t be as important of an experience if you were careful.” Caroline said and walked me towards a tent near the very back of the warehouse. There were about a dozen or so bouncers dressed as doctors guarding the large tent. I walked into a space that was brightly lit by a few tungsten lights that were pitched in the corner. The lights made the tent significantly hotter than the warehouse. Caroline showed her ID to a bouncer that was standing right at the entrance of the tent. He glanced at us for a moment, and then quickly stepped aside. In the middle of the room was a very tall man standing at a mirror and carefully taking off makeup. His bald cap sat ruffled on the dresser next to him, revealing his oily black hair. Through the mirror I saw him peeling off false skin.
“You see me almost drop that orb? It slipped for like a second and I swore I’d shat the bed.” He turned around and walked over to Caroline and I. He stuck out a hand, “You’re a new face. I’m Cliff Grabes.”
Editor’s Note: If you enjoy Adam’s writing, be sure to check out his previously featured works with Big Easy Magazine here! Also, be sure to read some of our other short fiction. This includes works from Nolan Storey, Margaret Marley, Camille Goering, and Fritz Westenberger!