Normal, Like Source Code Chic

Short story for the A P P A R E L project
31 Jan 2016
JAN 2016
A P P A R E L v1.0


A word of advice about Tru­dent (811;327;142).
	Don't lis­ten to the ones who claim it is the most enjoy­able locale to vis­it. "If anything's hap­pen­ing in the Cul­ture, it's hap­pen­ing right HERE,” they say. Stu­pid fren­ztalk, as mis­in­formed as it gets. I swear, the place is just a trap for the weak-mind­ed with its game of style scal­ing dri­ving every­one insane — Top Twen­ty-Four and all that non­sense. A tem­ple to the glo­ry of style, AR cos­met­ics, one-task-won­ders, and the fash­ion intel­li­gentsia.
	Pic­ture a cubi­cal cave for giants, with build­ings on the left, build­ings on the right, build­ings on top of you, build­ings under you, so dense no sun­light ever shines through. The place you'd nev­er build a home in unless it got you a gajil­lion free likes. Now make it all grey. Neu­tral grey. Here, you got it. Well, almost… You'd have to add a sti­fling smokey atmos­phere, and flu­o­res­cent light beams sprout­ing upwards, rever­ber­at­ing on unhealthy-look­ing micro­scop­ic par­ti­cles of plas­tic dust.
	First thing that strikes you when you get there — and you won't — is the place could real­ly use a more nat­ur­al tem­per­a­ture of col­or. And more actu­al air to breathe.
	The only glitch, or so to speak, in this bor­ing cityscape is the Strip: towards the cen­ter of the locale, the floor curves up to form an oval­oïd and bright white run­way where the Top Twen­ty-Four come to show­case their lat­est fash­ion tem­plates to admir­ing ple­beians reck­less­ly seek­ing an answer to the eter­nal ques­tion: "how does one become cool?”
	In Tru­dent, the answer lies with­in the unques­tion­ably rea­son­able aSHaNßaßUsU8RA|-|man — µ5†aƒalli©a scale, orig­i­nal­ly cod­ed by… well… aSHaNßaßUsU8RA|-|man and µ5†aƒalli©a. Behind this unpro­nounce­able name, com­mon­ly short­ened as "A.M. scale," lies just anoth­er rank­ing of the city's most styl­ish gen­tle­men and gen­tle­women, based on a dai­ly vote.
	Updat­ed con­stant­ly!
	New com­bi­na­tions every day!
	While in the morn­ing, the place is a motion­less desert — only the most zeal­ous come here ear­ly — the actu­al show starts around noon, as frenz begin flow­ing in the streets of Tru­dent, hasti­ly run­ning towards the run­way as soon as they get off the per­pet­u­al­ly jammed mag.
	And each day the fash­ion gods elect­ed by the A.M. scale march on the sacro­sanct Strip, from num­ber twen­ty-four to num­ber one. Arti­fi­cial lights adapt, fol­low­ing com­plex scripts and music rang­ing from deep bass and loud muf­fled puls­es to ear-pierc­ing, high-pitched, sense­less sequences of notes. Some frenz push towards the Strip, oth­ers beg the push­ers to stop push­ing, and ded­i­cat­ed review­ers broad­cast their ever-chang­ing opin­ions all over the Stream, adding more noise to the noise. All in cel­e­bra­tion of some guilty plea­sure game between will­ing spec­ta­tors stuck in envy, and demo­c­ra­t­i­cal­ly elect­ed celes­tial enti­ties parad­ing on the Strip as if cho­sen by a divine algo­rithm.
	Peo­ple love this. They seem to parade, too, wear­ing unre­strained aug­ment­ed out­fits of all sorts seem­ing­ly mix­ing up into one big pud­dle of tes­se­lat­ed mud, while the air around them, rife with adap­tive per­fumes clum­si­ly cov­er­ing body odors, grad­u­al­ly turns into a thick mias­ma as unbreath­able as it is inde­scrib­able… Wait­ing for Num­ber Three, Num­ber Two and — oh my! — Num­ber One to show up amidst cos­met­ics work­shops and on-the-spot orgies, peo­ple stay in Tru­dent until com­plete exhaus­tion, sedat­ed by excite­ment. Typ­i­cal. Drunk frenz, mass hys­te­ria, sweat and spec­ta­cle, shows and deca­dence. The par­ty must go on.
	Hum-tiss, hum-tiss… 


"Isn't that 3plus3make5 over there?" Abdl­cro­co asks his friend Duall, who is cur­rent­ly busy fix­ing a lack of response in his new­ly cod­ed tem­plate, set to print ready-to-eat scoops of hedge­hog-shaped, hue-shift­ing bub­bly sweets.
	"Huh? Yeah… Could be…"
	Abdl­cro­co adjusts his jack­et, rough­ly pulling the lapel down to straight­en it. With his out­ra­geous­ly long v‑neck and spher­i­cal aug­men­ta­tions all around his arms, legs, tor­so, and head, Abdl­cro­co looks all mod­ern Apol­lo com­pared to Duall, stuffed in his habit­u­al pen­i­tent gowns lav­ished by dig­i­tal embroi­deries loop­ing along­side his body, like sweat or tears, strug­gling with sim­u­lat­ed grav­i­ty. Six­ty-five per­cent trans­par­ent.
	Duall still believes in see-through.
	"Pret­ty sure it's her. She's num­ber what… six, now?"
	The typ­i­cal Tru­dent addict, Abdlcroco’s main occu­pa­tion — besides hatch­ing schemes to get back in the Top Twen­ty-Four — con­sists in fol­low­ing every pass­ing fad while still stand­ing out of the mass. Mean­ing he spends all of his time and mate­ria pol­ish­ing his self-pro­claimed “Avant-garde Looks,” in some quest for the right para­me­ters to twitch. And this is no easy task; being such a trend­set­ter requires some good taste, of course, but, more than any­thing, pro­cliv­i­ties to be wear­ing the right thing at the right time, in front of the right peo­ple.
	"I think she's down to num­ber sev­en…”
	Dual belongs to the oth­er kind of frenz haunt­ing Tru­dent. He is not here because he cares — Duall doesn’t care about any­thing — but because he's got noth­ing bet­ter to do. He likes to think of him­self as a free spir­it, but doesn’t real­ly appear to have a will of his own. He sticks to Abdl­cro­co like a par­a­site, and goes unno­ticed enough for his only-there­fore-best friend to over­look his pres­ence. He even proved him­self help­ful, once or twice.
	Point is, Duall is one of those frenz who are "just there."
	"And what's that stuff on her head?" Abdl­cro­co fish­es for info on the Stream. The stuff on her head is called a Tan­gen­tial Tiara, fine dig­i­tal lace­work, but still frac­tal jew­el­ry.
	"Man, that's so passé… It's a no-no… So-no-no… Total fail…" Abdl­cro­co enjoys repeat­ing things, a con­stant para­phrase of him­self he thinks makes him sound like a lyri­cal con­nois­seur.
	"I like it," Duall absent­ly com­ments, vicious­ly ogling at 3plus3make5 on stage, fol­low­ing every tor­sion of her body with dement­ed eyes and orgas­mi­cal­ly shriek­ing as her out­fit turns into curlicues of blink­ing hearts, lips, sil­ly cat faces, and oth­er lit­er­al sym­bols for cute­ness.
	"That was so unnec­es­sary," Abdl­cro­co com­ments, insist­ing on the "so," most­ly try­ing to get his friend out of his trip, but no, Duall’s eyes keep mov­ing like motion sen­sors, watch­ing her dance, slen­der and grace­ful on top of her irra­tional­ly high heels. Occa­sion­al­ly, she paus­es on the edge of the Strip to blow kiss­es at the audi­ence, doing cute-kit­ty moves, sur­round­ed by con­fet­ti scream­ing "I LIKE TO SPARKLE.” Abdlcroco's eyes roll back. He pulls Duall by his arm and into the crowd.
	"Dude, stop that, I want to see her," Duall protests.
	"I shouldn't have brought you here."
	"I'll total­ly vote for her."
	Abdl­cro­co slaps his friend's head with the back of his hand.
	"Right, right, I'm just kid­ding," Duall try­ing to apol­o­gize. "Here, I'll vote for you right now. See?"
	He doesn't. Abdl­cro­co shakes his head and looks towards the Strip again. 3plus3make5 is gone, so he re-focus­es his atten­tion on a girl from the audi­ence aug­ment­ed with bro­ken black and white lines, twist­ed like gaunt trees. He saves her pro­file to his favorites. Her name is LunaSe­le­ni­um and she likes air-dol­phins, gen­er­a­tive music, and mag-rac­ing. He sends her a PIM, read­ing noth­ing but “we should hang out some time."
	"Check that old timer over there…" Duall says, point­ing at the Strip.
	It takes Abdl­cro­co a while to rec­og­nize B00GGI0I000I. Car­toony char­ac­ters sur­round her small and round body, gri­mac­ing faces and cute mon­sters fol­low­ing unpre­dictable tra­jec­to­ries, resiz­ing at each step. Words like "Taco," "Awe­some sauce," "Swaggg," in gooey type­faces pump to the rhythm of her per­son­al musi­cal score — graph­ic whim­sies of long-for­got­ten cre­ators, mak­ing no con­tem­po­rary sense at all.
	"Seri­ous­ly? I thought she was dead…" Abdl­cro­co com­plains.
	He stops pay­ing atten­tion to the Strip. See­ing her there while he remains out of the Top Twen­ty-Four feels like a dis­grace.
	"She's an anom­aly," Abdl­cro­co sum­mon­ing a print­er to make him­self a drink.
	"What do you mean?"
	"I mean she wouldn't be here if she hadn't been at the cen­ter of everyone's PIMs with that bull­shit scan­dal." Duall doesn't look like he knows of the event. "Oh, come on!" Abdl­cro­co selects a drink from the most-recent list with­out pay­ing much atten­tion.
	For a moment, he los­es track of Duall, only to find him a few min­utes lat­er, proud­ly wear­ing a repli­ca of 3plus3make5's Tan­gen­tial Tiara.
	"You think this looks good on me?"
	"Looks like shit," Abdl­cro­co says, more seri­ous than intend­ed, gulp­ing on his entire bev­er­age. LunaSe­le­ni­um final­ly replies with a short PIM. "Sure, why not? Like your out­fit, btw." Abdl­cro­co smiles absent­ly, engages a remote con­ver­sa­tion with her. Duall is busy cus­tomiz­ing his tiara while nib­bling on his hedge­hog sweets. Num­ber four leaves the Strip, makes way for Num­ber Three, Tal­en­tis­to, wear­ing her clas­sic high-waist­ed pants up to her breasts with a giant belt to sup­port them, and cov­ered in all kinds of dig­i­tal cos­met­ics and jew­el­ry loose­ly tracked to her body, blink­ing every sec­ond in tacky pix­e­lat­ed lens flares. The sound­track is an orches­tra of chimes ring­ing jerk­i­ly.
	"Tal­en­tis­to? Num­ber three, seri­ous­ly? Num­ber the-reeee?“
	The crowd is going crazy, which feels quite unfair to Abdl­cro­co, so he spends Talentisto's whole seg­ment PIM­ming all kinds of stuff about the vote being rigged.
	Talentisto’s intense dis­play of kinet­ic wear­a­bil­i­ty now slow­ly drifts to porno-chic, zap­ping through sequences of singing coral pink and orange tones to thick tex­tures thread­ing bands of rain­bow-hued rib­bons to com­plete bond­ed fab­rics with blis­tered and fur­ry tex­tures.
	“Next one's my favorite," LunaSe­le­ni­um writes. "He's hilar­i­ous."
	Abdl­cro­co feels some­what offend­ed. He hates fun­ny con­tes­tants — jok­ing feels like cheat­ing. Those guys are being loved for their wits, so much so peo­ple for­get to judge their actu­al looks: they're not styl­ish, they're just enter­tain­ing. Worst part is they some­times stay on the Strip for days before the crowd gets tired of them.
	"Man­gel! Man­gel! Man­gel!"
	Num­ber two. More than a thou­sand points on the A‑M Scale. The audi­ence is hys­ter­i­cal. Man­gel, illus­tri­ous icon-manip­u­la­tor, is on dis­play, wear­ing all sol­id red, green, and blue, fad­ing to white around his chest. For­mer num­ber one, his leader spot has been stolen by an out­sider, a tat’-covered-built-like-a-machine vanil­la guy called MrSafire­Boy, cir­ca twelve hun­dred points. Every mem­ber of the Top Twen­ty-Four has to have some kind of idio­syn­crat­ic trick. A gim­mick, like 3plus3make5's kiss-blow­ing pose. Mangel's is imper­son­ation: he picks some­one from the audi­ence, dis­plays a copy of his or her style around him, and just impro­vis­es series of mean jokes. He begins his lit­tle show with an impres­sion of some ran­dom girl’s pyra­mi­dal dress.
	"Hon­est­ly, hon­ey, it's a mir­a­cle the Machine even remem­bers this tem­plate…" Man­gel yells with a sar­cas­tic smile, before mak­ing a heart shape between his thumbs and index fin­gers.
	The girl blush­es, embar­rassed. Man­gel switch­es to the next vic­tim. His aug­men­ta­tions shift to huge bub­bles, and he starts walk­ing like a crip­pled fat ani­mal, mak­ing pom-podom-podom sounds. Every­one laughs, and Abdl­cro­co laughs too, until he real­izes it's his own out­fit Man­gel is now par­o­dy­ing. Duall gig­gles too, and Abdl­cro­co gives him a kick in the leg that bounces off his com­bo.
	"Dude… I'm sor­ry… But… it's real­ly fun­ny…" Duall wip­ing tears from his eyes.
	"Hey, screw you! That's… that's not fair! Y'hear me MANGEL? That's NOT FAIR!" Abdl­cro­co shouts, aggres­sive­ly push­ing frenz who are immor­tal­iz­ing the moment on their ‘i’ to make his way through the thick mob.
	"Ooooohh­h­hh…. That's not faaaaaaaai­ir­rrrr…." Man­gel insists.
	"FUCK YOU ALL!" squawks Abdl­cro­co, get­ting fur­ther and fur­ther away from the Strip.
	Uncon­cerned, Man­gel con­cludes his act with an imper­son­ation of MrSafire­Boy: he turns off all of his aug­men­ta­tions and monves on to draw­ing child­ish doo­dles all over his body.
	The audience's con­stant cack­ling echoes in Abdlcroco's ears. On the way he acci­den­tal­ly walks by LunaSe­le­ni­um and smiles to her, seek­ing some com­fort, but in return she sim­ply laughs at him, mim­ic­k­ing Mangel’s imper­son­ation like a fresh-born meme.
	Enough. Time for Abdl­cro­co to leave Tru­dent.
	The ride on the mag calms him down a lit­tle, but back at his place the scene starts play­ing again, in a loop, in front of his eyes. His head between his hands, he looks at his vote counter, going down, and down, and down.
	He fil­ters out the A‑M Scale cir­cle.
	Lying on his bed, flus­tered by the embar­rass­ment and anger he felt ear­li­er, he dream­i­ly begins con­ceiv­ing plans for his revenge. Mulling over today’s humil­i­a­tion, he feels he has to chal­lenge Man­gel. A look-off. A direct con­test, a style duel­lo, a fash­ion bat­tle in the most respectable tra­di­tion. No scale, noth­ing. Just a spon­ta­neous bat­tle. He is already pic­tur­ing him­self step­ping proud­ly onto the Strip…
	Unable to sleep, anx­ious and sweaty, he spends the entire night elab­o­rat­ing a com­plex chore­og­ra­phy, mix­ing that thing he had done back when he was num­ber thir­teen, and some new moves he makes up offhand­ed­ly.
	He feels creative.


Eight or ten hours of craft­ing — and a life well spent in aggro mod — lat­er, he feels sat­is­fied with his con­struc­tion of hatred, his war dance, his provo­ca­tion, one sin­gle, long, relent­less hate string start­ing with threat mes­sages float­ing around his chest and head, accom­pa­nied by a fren­zied arm dance, and then… then a syn­co­pat­ed leg-plus-arm-plus-head out­burst aug­ment­ed by a slo-mo ver­sion of itself, with polyg­o­nal hem­lines sharp as razor­blades reveal­ing all hid­den threat signs in his dance… with lots of mid­dle fin­ger ges­tures…
	He leaves for Tru­dent, and spends the rest of the morn­ing stand­ing still, star­ing at Mangel’s dig­i­tal effi­gy crowned with a rotat­ing Num­ber One award, most­ly day­dream­ing about his ineluctable vic­to­ry. Duall meets up with him in the after­noon.
	“Ssup?" he asks.
	“He's num­ber one now…"
	Tru­dent is already packed with frenz. Num­ber 11 is on the Strip, wrapped in out­dat­ed pyrotech­nic effects and stomp­ing angri­ly on the ground in rhythm with a monot­o­nous bass line, strum­ming on intan­gi­ble keys to unleash AR 'splo­sions, sup­posed to make him appear all drea­ry and threat­en­ing. Too old-school to be exhil­a­rat­ing.
	"We got­ta get close to the Strip…“ Adel­cro­co whis­pers to him­self.
	"Dude, look at this crowd… we'll nev­er get through," says Duall, a print­er in hand, still fab­bing his hedge­hog can­dies.
	"Come here…"
	Abdl­cro­co doesn’t care. Look­ing for the opti­mal tra­jec­to­ry, assist­ed by his sophis­ti­cat­ed and near­ly cus­tom-made nav­i­ga­tion inter­face, he spots a slit through the sol­id-look­ing lay­ers of frenz sep­a­rat­ing him from the Strip.
	"Wow, chill out, dude… You look real­ly pissed. That's bad for your heart…" Duall says, in an odd moth­er­ly tone.
	"Not as bad as that shit you keep eat­ing…"
	"They taste a‑amazing, you should try. And they're not that unhealthy… Secret is: always split the remain­ing sug­ar by two. That way you nev­er reach your dai­ly quo­ta, and you can eat those all day long."
	“Lis­ten, I don’t have time for that,” Abdl­cro­co ignor­ing Duall's math­e­mat­i­cal know-how. “I need to con­front that Man­gel…”
	“He’s gonna feel sor­ry for mock­ing me…”
	“I’ll just wait for you here," Duall says, exhaust­ed by this wild rush.
	"Yeah, just eat your… what­ev­er it's called."
	"Fun­Bal­lz. They're called Fun­Bal­lz. With a "z." Cause they're shaped like a ball and…"
	But Abdl­cro­co is already turn­ing his back to him and dis­ap­pear­ing into the crowd.
	"… they're fun?"
	Abdl­cro­co now march­es slow­ly against the thwart­ing horde of peo­ple sep­a­rat­ing him from his neme­sis.
	"Sor­ry… sor­ry… 'scuse me… I'm just…No… Get out the way… Yeah, you…"
	Pierc­ing through peo­ple, dri­ven by the bit­ter­sweet taste of vengeance, his anger builds up all through num­ber six's show, num­ber five’s…
	Num­ber four’s…
	Apoplec­tic, Abdl­cro­co PIMs away his rage, flood­ing the AM scale cir­cle with shouts and rants and crazy-sound­ing announce­ments. It eas­es his impa­tience for a while.
	Num­ber three…
	Hands tight­ly grasp­ing the edge of the Strip, Abdlcroco's face is red now, his hair stuck to his fore­head. He feels damp in his com­bo, despite the nosweat-mod. Every sin­gle face in sight seems to morph into Mangel's grin­ning smile. The whole world quiv­er­ing in sol­id R, G, and B.
	Num­ber two… MrSafire­Boy…
	Num­ber one…
	The sur­round­ing audi­ence is cheer­ing for Man­gel. Abdl­cro­co gazes at the run­way, his eyes blurred by sweat and anguish, his hair mess­i­ly stuck to his fore­head. In his mind, he is rehears­ing all the moves he chore­o­graphed in the morn­ing. It was all so clear back in his lit­tle room, but now he feels like he’s los­ing it. Does he have to raise his arm before kneel­ing down to trig­ger the blast of star par­ti­cles? And what is he sup­posed to do after that, again?
	Peo­ple are still shout­ing Mangel’s name, wait­ing for him. Their pre­cious num­ber one. Abdl­cro­co knows it’s high time he got onto the run­way. He almost trips climb­ing the edge.
	"Come on, Man­gel… I'm wait­ing for you… I CHALLENGE YOU!" he yells, mov­ing clum­si­ly in front of the audi­ence, back and forth.
	No answer. Good. If Man­gel doesn’t show up, it means easy vic­to­ry for him.
	Pay­ing no atten­tion to the hol­ler­ing crowd, Abdl­cro­co begins his dance, tongue out and eyes round, wide-open. Which could have been threat­en­ing, had Man­gel been here.
	"Come on, Man­gel! Are you scared?"
	The crowd goes sud­den­ly silent, and his words res­onate against the plas­tic walls of the locale, his voice break­ing.
	Peo­ple are boo­ing him now. He’s shak­ing. He keeps danc­ing in silence for a while, before a few frenz climb onto the Strip beg­ging him to stop.
	Actives are pulling him off the Strip. He tries to protest, to resist, but he’s quick­ly out­num­bered. Even his com­bo isn't pro­tect­ing him.
	The Machine itself must be want­i­ng him off the stage.
	"REMEMBER ME, FRENZ! I'M Abdl­cro­co!"
	They take him away. His yells fade out in the dis­tance.
	"Abdl­cro­co! HAHA! I'm…"


Stand­ing back­stage with Man­gel: today’s Top twen­ty-four — twen­ty-four divas swarm­ing around, mak­ing last-minute fix­es to their styles, con­temp­tu­ous­ly order­ing around a horde of actives act­ing as assis­tants for them out of pure love and/​or fas­ci­na­tion and/​or lack of a bet­ter thing to do. The per­for­mance will begin soon.
	Man­gel works alone. Fac­ing a real-time holo­graph­ic ver­sion of him­self, focused and con­fi­dent, he is tak­ing notes for his act.
	“I’m gonna take a walk,” he says to some guy he bare­ly knows, stand­ing next to him.
	“Can I come along?”
	He gets out through the back exit, climbs up a few stairs to end up on the bal­cony. Great panora­ma of Tru­dent: folks are already gath­ered around the Strip, and new frenz keep flow­ing into the locale. Man­gel takes a deep breath. Focused. Con­fi­dent. Some­one is walk­ing towards him: 6in6erN1nj4h, cur­rent num­ber sev­en­teen, a tall brunette look­ing all gothy enclosed in her inex­tri­ca­ble dig­i­tal super­struc­tures of sin­u­ous lines unin­ten­tion­al­ly form­ing some kind of encrypt­ed insignia. She’s sur­round­ed by groupies, six or sev­en homun­culi look­ing like cheap down­sized copies of her. She leans against the rail, close enough to Man­gel to make him feel uncom­fort­able.
	“Con­grats for yes­ter­day,” she purrs, gen­tly putting her hand on his arm.
	“There’s a lot of peo­ple here today,” 6in6erN1nj4h hav­ing trou­ble ini­ti­at­ing a con­ver­sa­tion with Man­gel, as usu­al, “com­ing to see you, I mean.”
	Man­gel snig­gers. Mes­sages of love wrap Man­gel and 6in6erN1nj4h, an over­load of affec­tion marks only inter­rupt­ed by the occa­sion­al trolls. Ignore.
	“Right, good luck,” 6in6erN1nj4h tired of wait­ing for a reac­tion.
	She’s leav­ing the bal­cony, now, and Man­gel is insis­tent­ly star­ing at her back­side.
	Sends a like.
	The show has begun. Still around num­ber 20 some­thing. Man­gel smiles at the idea that being num­ber one has only one dis­ad­van­tage: your turn comes last. He’s seri­ous­ly con­sid­er­ing tak­ing a walk in the crowd. They’re all so focused on the con­tes­tants they might not notice him. And even if they do? Who cares?
	Walk­ing back down­stairs, he strides through over-excit­ed con­tes­tants yelling at each oth­er. He sees a new guy with cap­il­lary aug­men­ta­tions, and takes anoth­er men­tal note: easy tar­get for his imper­son­ation act. He likes to harass new­com­ers. Icons should be put down as soon as they’re born.
	Yes, Man­gel thinks of him­self as an icon­o­clast.
	He’s out­side, his AR lay­er turned off, and the crowd doesn’t seem to pay much atten­tion to him. With­out his act, with­out the stage itself, with­out the com­pe­ti­tion, with­out his cos­tume, he’s just a face amidst oth­er faces. It’s been a long time since he has enjoyed the dis­trict as a spec­ta­tor. But now every­thing seems so arti­fi­cial to him. A clown­ish act he would be hap­py to get out of, but dis­ap­pear­ance is not what you would call an easy achieve­ment.
	For hours Man­gel wan­ders around the dis­trict, his back turned to the Strip, look­ing at com­mon folks. Their tran­quil­ly pleased faces turned to their idols. He hates them just as much as the Top Twen­ty-Four.
	“Man­gel?” some guy inter­rupt­ing his mis­an­throp­ic endeav­ors.
	“Mind your own busi­ness.”
	3plus3make5 is march­ing on the Strip. Same act as yes­ter­day, it’s already get­ting old. Man­gel sits close to a print­er, fabs him­self a soft drink. He would get com­plete­ly drunk if he didn’t have to go onto that ground-damned run­way. Next to him, a weird char­ac­ter in a see-through robe glut­to­nous­ly devours scoops of gooey hedge­hog-shaped stuff.
	It amus­es him. Come to think about it, it’s the funnest thing he’s seen all day. He grabs a cap­ture and saves it to his favorites.
	“What’s that you’re eat­ing?” Man­gel asks the guy.
	“Fun­bal­lz. They’re called Fun­bal­lz. With a "z." Cause they're shaped like a ball and they’re fun.
	“What’s the “z” for, then?”
	“Dun­no. Makes it sound nice?”
	Man­gel chuck­les.
	“What’s so fun­ny?”
	“Noth­ing. Just that you’re the only guy who doesn’t seem to be inter­est­ed in what’s going on on stage.”
	“You don’t seem to care much either,” hand­ing a scoop to Man­gel. “Want some?”
	Man­gel declines.
	“I’m Duall.”
	“Nice to meet you, Duall.”
	Warn­ings are bleep­ing on Mangel’s inter­face. He ignores them. He turns around and glances quick­ly at the Strip. MrSafire­Boy is on. Which means he’s next.
	“I’m just here for my friend, Abdl­cro­co,” Duall still chew­ing, “he’s gonna go up there. He says he wants to chal­lenge num­ber one.”
	“Oh yeah?”
	“Dun­no what got into him. Guess it’s ‘cause the guy made fun of him yes­ter­day.”
	“And he didn’t think it was fun­ny?”
	“Dude, he took it so per­son­al­ly! I — thought it was pret­ty fun­ny.”
	Man­gel smiles.
	“Well, thank you Duall. I have to leave now… so… see you around, eh?”
	Duall waves at him, and goes back to his hedge­hogs.
	Man­gel now hasti­ly walks back towards the Strip, deter­mined. MrSafire­Boy has left, and he has to see that guy make a fool of him­self. All around, blink­ing texts announce the next con­tes­tant in cap­i­tal let­ters.
	He gets to the sec­ond or third row just in time to see the end of Abdlcroco’s ridicu­lous dance, his face all sweat and rage, yelling around. Man­gel can’t hold his hilar­i­ty.
	“What a moron,” some­one close to him says.
	“Are you kid­ding?” Man­gel smiles. “He’s a fuck­ing genius.”
	A bunch of frenz pull Abdl­cro­co off the Strip. They drag him back into the crowd, his mad cries fad­ing in the dis­tance. The boo­ing stops.
	"REMEMBER ME, FRENZ! I'M Abdl­cro­co!"
	Tru­dent is silent again. Peo­ple stand still, look­ing at each oth­er, won­der­ing what to do. And then Man­gel steps onto the Strip.
	Stand­ing in front of the sur­prised audi­ence, he bows to them.
	A wave of cheers and applaus­es fades in, as Mangel's out­fit turns into Abdlcroco's once again.
	“Missed me, Trudent?”