3 PARK AVE
“Magazine cogs,” Fraction megaphoned from the bullpen. “You may now rotate your faces such that they face my face! The word gods demand tribute, and we are bound by a covenant to sate their hunger. The time has come for the 3pm Rat Sacrifice!”
The 3pm Rat Sacrifice had entered into its third week and the guys were starting to get unsolicited suggestions; they had a hard time turning down Nancy Grace’s wig and its host organism Nancy Grace. They’d begun with a full slate of candidates, each fully deserving of their scorn. Tomi Lahren. Michael Moore. Brian Williams. Joe Rogan. Dana Loesch. Bad actors, all, each in line for bespoke torture.
“Dude,” Rob yelled from across the room, “It’s 1:52.”
“I have used my own willful ignorance and self-delusion to master the space-time continuum, Rob. Dispense with your paltry timekeeping devices and accept the truth of how I tell you to feel. For today– we revisit one of the darkest stains on the business of letters: Judith Miller.
“Many of you are too young to remember Miller’s trespasses against the nation. While you selfishly neglected your civic responsibilities by ‘being children’ in the early aughts, Miller was busy helping to sell a bullshit war.
“Fresh off her anthrax-scare sympathy tour, Miller began laundering bogus intel about WMDs in Iraq for the Bush administration on the front page of the Times. After being proven to be demonstrably wrong, Miller would claim to have been proven right about a related story, which was, of course, also complete horseshit.
“It’s not Miller’s utter shamelessness and obfuscation that’s at issue, though. She paved the way for an illegal war that cost the lives of over seven thousand servicepeople. That’s why this morning, she will awake to find her lawn strewn with flag-draped coffins, each filled with– WHAT IN THE ACTUAL FUCK?”
A few steps away, Walker pointed to a bullpen TV playing cable news. The lower-third headline of Riley Thomas’s show read “SUBVERTISER HOAX? INSIDERS CLAIM ‘HIJACKING’ A PUBLICITY STUNT.”
In the conference room, Fraction and Walker were a cloud of profanity. Ash, Watts, Nate, and Ana sat waiting for them to tire out or remember they weren’t the only ones in the room. Ten minutes in, it became apparent that the perpetual asshole machine would not be bound by the laws of physics.
“And of fucking course Thomas runs the story without even asking for comment,” Walker steamed. “Another graduate of The Glenn Beck School of Just Asking Questions.“
“He probably had someone dangle that shit in front of them like a Daytime Emmy made out of benzos. The perfect way to tank our credibility without leaving any fingerprints,” Fraction said.
“And not for nothing, but using a question for a headline is like throwing someone a cold hunk of meat on the floor and yelling bon appetit.”
“This kneecaps issue two. The piece we paid Evan to run is gonna hit this week, and we’re going to bounce off it without a sound. And now we own Brooklyn real estate for no goddamn reason at–“
“Hey,” Ash shouted. “Everybody in this room would appreciate it if you’d explain what just happened.”
“Yeah,” Nate chimed in cautiously, “I’m actually not sure what I’m here for?”
“You’re here because you solved our last problem,” Walker said. “And we’ll need someone to blame if we can’t solve this one.”
“What just happened,” Fraction started, hands clasped over his face, “is that somebody who doesn’t much like us just came up with a very smart way to de-fang the magazine.”
“And we don’t have a lot of moves, here,” Walker said. “There’s not a lot we can do that doesn’t sound like us doth protesting too much.”
“Who?” Ash said.
“Who what?” Fraction said, searching for his smokes.
“Who did this?”
The guys gave each other a look. Ash rolled her eyes.
“This routine. Jesus.”
“Hey, did any of you see this piece on ScienceDaily?” Watts said, having long since checked out of the guys’ meltdown. “Says there’s ‘proof of the human soul’.”
“Wait, seriously?” Nate said, leaning over to see Watts’s phone.
“I mean it reads like total junk science, but people are going to eat this up.”
Fraction’s eyes went wide. Walker fell into a chair and lowered his head to the conference table.
“Wait, let me see that?” Ash said, hovering behind them. “Oh my god, ‘the study suggests that each person emits a unique signature similar to cosmic background radiation?’ Watts, we need to buy a million Geiger counters and start selling them as soul detectors. We’ll be rich by next week.”
Watts burst out laughing. With zenlike calm, Fraction removed and folded his jacket.
“Seriously,” Ash said. “I’m calling whoever buys ads for Tucker Carlson. They can squeeze us in between catheter commercials.”
“I could use the money. I’m trying to finance a documentary about people dumb enough to buy a soul detector,” Watts said.
“I want in,” Ana said. “I’m dead serious. Nobody gets to design that packaging but me.”
“I’m just picturing an assembly line where an old man with a loupe paints a little cross over the brand name,” Nate said.
“What’s that Clarke line?” Watts said. “Any sufficiently advanced technology can be sold to idiots as magic? I think it was his third law of infomerc–“
Fraction’s jacket muffled a long, uninterrupted scream. Walker didn’t flinch.
“Dude, are you okay?” Ash said.
“No!” Fraction yelled into the jacket.
“What is it?”
“Why do you care about the article?”
“BECAUSE WE PAID FOR IT,” Walker informed the tabletop.
“Can I ask why you planted a fake article on a science site?” Nate said tentatively.
“Think about it,” Fraction said, putting the jacket back on. “What’s on the cover of issue two?”
Fraction cocked his head. Get it?
“We have, like, eleven days to reincriminate ourselves,” Walker said. “We need to do something so spectacularly illegal, antisocial, and subversive that hijacking a magazine looks quaint.”
“Something public, disruptive, loud–” Fraction stopped short. “Oh. Oh, dude.”
Walker turned to him.
“No. Come on, NYPD would shut us down in five minutes flat.”
“You can get a permit up to ten days in advance, and I believe in our ability to bribe our way to one if we can’t. All the materials are just sitting in that weird warehouse in Secaucus. We could staff this in a week.”
“We do it, we lose a solid Hail Mary,” Walker cautioned.
“Counterpoint: if we do this, we get to do this.”
Walker’s eyes lit up.
“Ash,” he said, gathering his things, “You’re in charge. We’ll be gone for a week tops.”
“Watts can handle editorial. Kid, you’re on dog duty,” Fraction said, grabbing his cigarettes and following Walker out the door.
“Wait. What?” Ash shouted. She shot up and chased them to the elevator.
“Okay, no. No, no, no. I’m not running the magazine. One, I don’t know how to, and two, where the hell are you two going?”
“Just use our best judgement, you’ll be fine,” Walker said.
“You hired a barista with no publishing experience and now you’re leaving her in charge of a magazine! Your best judgement is terrible!”
“We hired a talented journalism dropout who has more than a little exposure to the business,” Fraction said. “You’ll be okay, just call us if anything comes up or something interesting happens with the Death Cola machine.”
“I switched majors, I didn’t drop– guys, for real, what are you doing?”
Fraction leaned against the back of the elevator, a grin betraying every terrible thought racing through his head.
“Refilling a prescription,” Walker said as the doors collapsed into the symmetry of his face.
3 PARK AVE
A mass of sketches spread across the studio wall like tissue growth. Ana had gone through dozens of concepts for the cover, each spawning is own variants. Fraction’s “human meat market” idea had gotten the axe early, proving too visceral for most. A concept involving several hundred taxidermied sheep made it to preproduction before all parties involved realized it was a terrible cliché. There had been some talk about an image that amounted to the most macabre game of Operation ever conceived of, but nobody could agree on the right way to credit a nightmare in the byline. Art and editorial finally agreed on a concept, leaving Ana to build an enormous double helix and shop online for children.
“What about that one?” Ash asked, pointing to one of twenty headshots populating Ana’s monitor.
“Mmm, too haunted,” she said.
“Not haunted enough.”
Ash snorted out a laugh, and Ana scrolled through the casting agency’s site. The cover of issue two still wasn’t locked, and deadline loomed.
The actual submarine door that served as a studio entrance gave a chirp and the handle rotated with a clatter.
“We find a spooky kid yet?” Watts said, dropping her laptop bag as she breezed into the studio.
“Got a few candidates, but nobody’s really screaming ‘I’m a crime against God but I love Paw Patrol’,” Ana said.
“I never know how to handle the–” Watts paused, looking back at the door. “I guess the handle on that thing.”
“The dog,” Ana corrected.
“Who’s on first?” Ash said, mischievously.
“The wheel that opens the hatch,” Ana halfway-shouted. “It’s called a dog. And hard evidence that sea-madness is real. Can we get back to our demon child problem?”
“Right. I know you don’t love fixing things in post, but it might be kinda perfect if it’s fake,” Ash said.
Ana leaned back in her chair and turned to Watts. It was her story.
“She’s got a point. We’re talking about something artificial with the kid to begin with. It almost makes more sense to have the one on the cover be semi-real. We’ve got the sculpture built, can we just comp in the kid?”
“It’s a question of how well it holds up to scrutiny,” Ana said, working the problem aloud. “I can do it, but I wonder about depth-of-field.”
Under different circumstances, a tumbleweed would have blown through.
“It could look fake. So, the kid’s between the two helix sculptures, right? If it’s shot so everything’s in focus to match the stock photo kid, it looks flat. If we shoot the sculptures with a shallow focus like we wanted, the kid needs to match that focus.”
“You can’t do that?” Ash said, dubious.
Barely perceptible, Ana’s right eyebrow shifted.
“Nik, pick a haunted child,” she said, locking eyes with Ash.
“Two kids to the left of your cursor.”
Ana looked back at the monitor.
“Sold. I can work with what’s on the site. MacRae, you’re a manipulative harlot, and I mean that as a compliment. Now both of you get out or I’ll start talking about typefaces.”
The hatch sealed behind them, flush to the wall. Ana would have art to studio by the end of the day, and a small child would be spared the trauma of visiting the office.
“For my next trick, I will sell a lumbermill its own sawdust,” Ash said, pulling the door tight.
“You’re starting to sound like them, you know. Uh, dog?” Watts said.
“Oh, screw that,” Ash said, looking down at her phone, “I’m boycotting anything nautical until the gorilla takes off that stupid hat.”
“No, Ash,” she said, waving her hand over the phone and pointing to the dog wandering the bullpen.
“Oh! Well that’s a dog.”
The Black Irish Setter spotted Ash and sauntered over, his tail wagging one way and his ID badge another. She kneeled down, assaulted by a slobbering tongue.
“Randy here’s a new hire,” Ash said, grimacing as the dog took inventory of her face. “The guys thought we might have a diversity problem, species-wise.”
Randy was already on his back. It was an inexcusable, shameless ploy for belly rubs, and Ash fell for it instantly. Watts caved and joined them at ground level.
“How’re you feeling about being out in front of this thing?” Ash said.
Watts smiled a little while trying to avoid a face-slurping.
“I had to do a lot of press when the Copeland story came out. It didn’t change a whole lot about my life. Your Wikipedia entry gets a little longer, your DMs get a little stranger. But, you know, I still went home to the same crap apartment, ordered Thai, and watched Seinfeld reruns.
“Nobody’s Woodward and Bernstein. Not even Woodward the second time around. And I don’t want that kind of career. I want to be Jane Mayer, not Geraldo.”
“I mean, that’s kind of a stretch for you. He’s a clown.”
“And before that he was a lawyer, and a Peabody-winning journalist. The man put the Zapruder film on TV for the first time, worked with John Lennon, and brought up AIDS on network TV before anybody else would touch it. Three years later he’s on camera making an ass of himself with an empty vault.”
Ash had to sit with that a moment.
“Geraldo Rivera has a Peabody Award?”
“He keeps it in his mustache.”
Ash laughed, and Randy got the better of Watts, only to discover that foundation wasn’t the delicacy he’d expected.
“I don’t know Jane that well, but I know she’s about the work. And her work is incredible. I’d like to think you can write a story like this without turning into some self-obsessed talking head.”
“Nik,” Ash said.
“Nobody’s ever written a story like this.”
Walker held a fabric sample in his hands. It was a dull white, coarse and glazed, more like a tarp than a shirt. Then it began to glow.
“The real problem is mapping images,” said a man with a thick Québécois accent. “You just don’t have the time you would need. Solid color is an option, but of course that really doesn’t say anything.”
The man was with Fraction and Walker in a large space being renovated in real time, one of several buildings linked together by underground pathways. The material was a digital fabric screen mirroring a nearby laptop. The news scrolled across it, rolling over the topography of Walker’s fingers as he twisted and folded it without incident.
“Roy, we hired the world’s first canine executive the other day,” Fraction said, inexplicably attempting to twirl a baton as he strutted around, “and that’s still the coolest thing I’ve seen all week.”
Fraction spun the baton into the air, only to lodge it in the ceiling like a pencil.
“Huh. Hey, could you use my phone for input on this?”
“Oui, unlock it?” Roy said, holding out a hand. “Shouldn’t take long.”
There was a knock on an open door. A nineteen-year-old sheepishly hovered, a cardboard tube in hand. The press was up and running, working out the kinks ahead of issue two with reprints of issue one. With art finally locked, interns ferried a steady stream of test prints through the tunnels for the guys to approve.
“Ah, Mr. Walker? Ms. Haas asked me to bring this to you. She said this was ‘the money melon’, and that you’d know what that means.”
“Excellent. Hang out for a second while I think of an equally obscure reply,” Walker said, popping the tube open. “What’s your name?”
“Quinn, you’re all NDA’d up, right?”
“You want to see the future a few days early?”
Walker waved him over, unrolled a long sheet of paper, and taped down the edges. Fraction abandoned mission: ceiling baton to review the cover for issue two.
“I don’t– I’m not sure I understand,” Quinn said. “Is this about what would happen if–“
“No,” Fraction said, “this has very much happened.”
“We don’t pay Ana enough. This is immaculate,” Walker said. “Quinn, go tell Ms. Carmona-Haas that when she gets home tonight there’s gonna be another story on her house.”
The intern left, no less confused than when he arrived.
“Ethan,” Roy prompted, tossing the phone back. “You want an app called VTether.”
Fraction gestured for Roy to hold up the fabric and dug around for a tripod in his gear.
“What’s that rat’s nest of a brain thinking?” Walker said.
Fraction screwed the phone atop a short tripod and planted it in front of the screen, filling the frame.It was a feedback loop. A copy of a copy of a copy, interrupted only by the screen’s texture and the pursuant glitches.
“I’m thinking,” Fraction said, his face lit with noise, “the medium is the message.”
3 PARK AVE
Well past 5pm, Nate was drying out a highlighter. A pile of books had been delivered to his desk that week, part of a Fraction-prescribed reading list. Public Opinion by Lippmann, Technopoly by Postman, and Negative Dialectics by Adorno capped a skyline of academia. Six months prior he was paying an ungodly tuition to Ohio State for the privilege of setting foot in their library. Now he was collecting a salary for doing the same reading.
The overheads were off, leaving just the set of scattered, dim bulbs that hung from the ceiling. The result was something between mood and emergency-lighting. It occurred to him that his bosses might consider “emergency” a mood all its own.
All week Nate had been parsing what Fraction said to him. Think about it. What’s on the cover of issue two? By planting the one story, the disparity amplified the other. If Nate was right, there were two possible explanations for the connection Fraction was making. The first was that those stories were links on a larger chain, vertices on a long path of casual relationships. Were that the case, his work as an academic had gone from theoretical to theory. Not only was there a narrative ecosystem, but those actively manipulating it. The other possibility was essentially the same, save for one marked difference: those stories weren’t links on a chain, but rather the handles on a bolt cutter.
“Why are you still here?” Ash said, palming the top of Nate’s head from behind.
“Hm? M’reading,” he said. As if his behavior weren’t actionably nerdy. As if the familiarity didn’t matter.
“You’ve spent the entire week sitting there reading.”
“Hey, I did some writing. And this guy’s pretty comfortable where he is,” he said, feeding a treat to Randy under his desk.
“You’re going to give yourself brain damage cramming all that into your head.”
“But books are good for my brain.”
“Do you know what Fraction does every morning?”
“He told me he eats vat-grown meat that’s made to taste like human.”
“He pays three teams– who do not know about each other– to scour the web, regular and dark, for information about all the weird shit he’s into. All that gets funnelled to a small production team who cut it into the hour-long video package he watches from a treadmill. He has curated information for breakfast.”
Briefcase in hand, Sprinkles passed by in a suit jacket and tipped his fedora to them.
“Do you really want to be the guy who pays a gorilla with a gun to protect him?” she said.
A couple yards out, the briefcase hit the floor. Sprinkles slowly turned his head. He didn’t say anything, but the dead eye sockets in his mask were a portal to fury.
Ash rolled her eyes. Without turning, she said “You are a valued member of the team, an accomplished sailor, and you look very nice in a jacket.”
Sprinkles ground out a nod, collected his briefcase, and left.
“You know, I don’t even know who’s in that suit,” she said. “Seriously. I make out a check every month to the name Sprinkles, and it gets cashed.”
“I’m dying to know what’s in that briefcase.”
“I checked. Loose bananas and a boudoir photo of a lady gorilla.”
Nate laughed. Then he realized she wasn’t kidding.
“How was your first week ruling with an iron fist?” he said.
“Oof,” Ash said, lifting herself onto the desk. “Honestly, the same, just fewer headaches. How’s it been with this guy?”
“I kinda don’t want to give him back,” Nate admitted.
“It may end up being a shared custody situation. Fraction’s life is way too chaotic to be a full-time dog dad. So, enjoy the weekend with him, he’s mine come Monday.”
“You’re this company’s vice-president, buddy, pull rank,” Nate said, rubbing behind Randy’s ears.
“That’s true,” Ash said, hopping down to join the dog on the floor, “but I’ve got better snacks.”
Randy’s front legs braced against the floor as Ash produced a cookie.
“And like any executive,” she said, luring him out from under the desk, “he can be bought.”
“You little traitor. I let you sleep on my bed,” Nate said, joining them on the floor.
“So guess who’s going to be on TV next Thursday?”
“You, dummy! A booker at NBC reached out to the guys. You’re on Seth Meyers next Thursday.”
Nate shook his head. He looked like he was being fed into a furnace. Ash just nodded back.
“Fraction said I could duck this stuff!”
Holding up a finger, Ash pulled out her phone, tapped a few buttons, and pointed the front at Nate. Onscreen was a warehouse space filled with people in full bodysuits, half blue, half red, fighting each other. A moment later, Fraction walked into frame.
“Now, I know what you’re thinking, which means the chip in your head is working. I told you to brush off the dumpster fire in your inbox and go about your business. That was before we were in damage control mode over this tasteless, wholly unprovoked attack from Riley Thomas.
“Listen, you’ll be doing us a favor. It’s five minutes in the show’s D-block. Meyers is a sharp guy, and good people. He’ll have real questions, and he’ll make room for substantive answers.
“Okay,” he said, rubbing his hands together, “back to work. Hey! Red 9! I need you choking Blue 6 like you mean it! I thought you said you went to fucking Juliard!”
The video cut out. Ash allowed Nate a moment, petting Randy and feigning interest in her messages.
It was catching up to Nate that he’d reached escape velocity. Financially independent, valued for his work, and wholly removed from everything he’d known, he owed no explanations for his choices. For the first time, his decisions weren’t informed by fear.
He looked to Ash in the dim light as she fed Randy another treat, struck by a feeling of presence. He should have been back in Ohio, barely scraping together rent from a TA job. Instead someone had torn off the ceiling he’d mistaken for the sky. That the aspect ratio of his world had been pried open explained why the those first few months had felt so surreal and impermanent. In the moment, that sense of dissonance was atomized by a realization: no one was coming to take this away from him.
“You know,” he said with a knowing smile, “I think I’m free that day.”
“Huh. I honestly thought that was going to be a harder sell. Sidenote, I will be coming with you— I want to meet Wally the cue card guy.”
Nate was perplexed.
“What?” she said, offering a guilty shrug. “I watch the show.”
Fraction woke up from a nap with the following observations:
- The doorbell sounds weird.
- It’s dark out.
- I appear to be several hundred feet above the ground.
After his brownstone was attacked by weapons of mass construction, Walker and Alice talked Fraction into moving. The new place was 8 Spruce Street, a 76-story building encased in warped, wavy metal; a crooked house for a crooked man, as Fraction put it.
The high ceilings, hardwood floors, and white walls made the space feel at once elegant and sterile. With most of his things still packed up, Fraction felt like he was looking at a clinical deconstruction of his life; autopsy as performed by Ikea catalog. That said, he couldn’t complain about the view. Floor-to-ceiling windows opened up to a clear view of Midtown. Trenches of cars and streetlights cut through the dark, finally arriving at LED spires cutting into the sky. The topography of night.
The doorbell reiterated itself. Reaching an armistice with gravity, Fraction ambled over to the door. Impatient, his visitor began blasting “E-Pro” on her phone from the hallway. There he found Ash, eyes shut and dancing along to the track.
“Christ on a two-by-four, turn it off,” he said, rubbing his head.
“What?” Ash said, “you love this song!”
Fraction stood still, concentrating as she muted the phone and let herself in.
“Shit. I honestly thought I had the power to leave my body on command.”
“No, just the office and all your responsibilities,” Ash said. “Hey, how was your week, by the way?”
“You did great. Ana and Watts are singing your praises.”
“What did you two do all week?” Ash said, helping herself to the fridge.
“We put together the world’s most acrid, subversive ██████, and on Monday night it’s going to ████ ████ ███ and return us to our status as dangerous, unemployable pariahs.”
Ash set a glass of water aside and pulled a beer out of the fridge. She turned back to Fraction, who couldn’t stop grinning like an idiot.
“So I got in some one-on-one time with Esra,” Ash said, relocating his grin to her own face.
Fraction went quiet. Until then, Ash didn’t think he had nerves exposed enough to hit.
“What happened there?” Ash said.
Fraction pulled a beer out of the fridge and searched the kitchen for a bottle opener.
“We had very different positions on men in gorilla suits,” Fraction replied.
“Hey,” Ash shot back. “Don’t do that.”
“What?” Fraction said,
“Don’t talk to me like I’m one of them when I’m one of us.”
Ash stared him down. She meant it. Fraction shut his eyes and nodded; a concession. She had decided early on she’d speak to him and Walker without fear, and he respected that.
Fraction popped the bottle open a, then set it aside.
“I sabotaged it,” Fraction said. “I was very young when I learned to expect pain as a matter of course. That something fundamentally wrong with me would exhaust and disgust anyone who got close. Intellectually I know that’s not true. But no one’s smarter than their emotions.”
“Does she know that about you?”
Fraction looked up.
He gave her a look. That concludes this portion of tonight’s program.
“To be fair, you did have it right. Like any sensible person, she absolutely hates that gorilla.”
“Listen,” Fraction said, perking back up, “the gorilla and the very stupid things we pay him to do have a practical, functional purpose. Explaining it would not only endanger our personal security, but even worse, it would make the joke slightly less funny.”
“You’re an idiot. What are we watching?” Ash said, picking up her drink and relocating to the hangar that was the living area.
“Your options are: a quasi-sci-fi Aaronofsky movie about eternal life and grief, a movie where DeNiro and Hoffman invent a fake war to distract from a presidential scandal, or an Alex Gibney documentary about how much of an asshat Steve Jobs was. What do you want on your pizza?” Fraction said, struggling with a delivery app.
“How is it ‘fake war’ is the most fun thing on that list? And whatever boring-ass topping you’ve already decided on.”
“Well, it’s less a war than a pageant, to be fair,” Fraction said, collapsing onto the opposite side of the couch. “And since we’re asking tactless, invasive questions, can you explain to me why a single 24-year-old woman in New York is yet again hanging out at her boss’s place on a Saturday night? I bet there’s some bright, nerdy kid from a flyover state who’d just as soon tolerate your company.”
“On the advice of counsel, I invoke my Fifth Amendment privilege against self-incrimination and respectfully decline to answer your question.”
“Who’s your lawy–“
Fraction cut himself off, reached for the remote and started the movie.
The sun set on a barren Fifth Avenue. NYPD had herded traffic off the street, leaving the tourists to gawk at a more literal nothing than usual. Pedestrians asked the police, each other, and the surrounding oxygen for an explanation, and came up empty. There had been nothing in the news about an event, no standout injustice du jour to protest. Soon enough the news networks dispatched correspondents to do what they did best: report on a non-event with the utmost urgency.
It was the oil drums everyone heard first. A bizarre, 7/8 time signature echoed through Midtown, pounded out on metal barrels refit with snares, toms, and cymbals. A troupe of men and women in battle-damaged military fatigues rounded 42nd, led by a man in an outfit that could have belonged to Muammar Gaddafi’s post-goth cousin. Pinned opposite a cluster of medals from failed states, a metal name badge read Grand Marshall Fraction.
Raising his baton, Fraction brought the drummers to a halt. The 7/8 beat gave way to a slow build of a 4/4, matching a song piped in by unseen speakers. With an eruption of power chords and squealing feedback, he pointed the baton and led the procession forward.
The first parade float was a study in light and chaos. A woman dressed head-to-toe in luminous material preened and posed for a hydra of cameras. The array of lenses formed a semicircle before her, blooming from anemic, angled metal stems tracing back to a single point. The bodysuit itself was a screen, feeding and echoing the dozens of surrounding displays. It was an infinite feedback loop, the 4K detritus of a snake eating its own tail.
Language intermittently flashed across the screens, long enough to be read, and brief enough one couldn’t be sure they had. Celebrity is a human right. Everyone is imaginary except you. Like and subscribe. Shame is a relic of the 20th century. Content > Reality. The revolution will be monetized.
Adding insult to injury, a dozen people in Romero-grade zombie makeup trailed the float. Some awkwardly stabbed fingers at phone screens, others pushed shopping carts or growled for cryptocurrency. Subtlety, unfortunately, was out of their price range.
The second float rounded the corner, a glass room flush to the platform’s dimensions. Trapped inside were two teams dressed in full bodysuits, half blue, half red, each trying to beat the other to death. Spectators gasped as Technicolor bodies were hurled and shoved against the glass, each impact confirming it was by no means bulletproof. Atop the cage match, a man dressed head-to-toe in Armani sat in a high-backed leather chair, surrounded by shrinkwrapped skyscrapers of cash. Save for the occasional glance at the deathmatch below, he seemed content sipping champagne and counting up the only color that matters.
By the time the eighth and final float appeared, the crowds had witnessed an auction of elected officials, the planet in a dunk tank, and a scarring procession of paper mâché Mark Zuckerberg heads. They’d also walked away with handouts explaining the psychology of conspiracism, the primary beneficiaries of political polarization, and how best to disrupt live cable news broadcasts. Bringing up the rear of the float was a cadre of men in identical gorilla suits handing out one last gift to the crowds, an advance copy of the magazine’s second issue.