Kate F


Mercedes, if asked to describe themselves, was the type of person who would live in Southern California. She would drive a pink Mercedes that was herself; it was impossible to conceptually distinguish her from the vehicle she drove, and so they shared a name. She would put a cassette in her stereo, something fresh. The Talking Heads, probably, her all-time favorite. She might hurtle down State Route 1 with her volume all the way up and her windows all the way down, headed to Los Angeles to catch The Go-Go’s live. Her Farrah-Fawcett blonde hair would stay miraculously intact despite the speed at which she traveled. It would balloon and taper out her window perfectly as if animated, each cel a hand-drawn masterpiece worthy of the walls of MoMA.

Mercedes would also describe herself as extraordinarily opinionated. She had convictions about nearly every aspect of vintage music and culture, and damn if she wasn’t going to express them. And that’s why, nearly daily, she found herself embroiled in arguments in the New Wave Dream. Sure, she liked other genres, but there was no other Dream where she could enjoy such a satisfactory a brawl about why Remain in Light has nothing on Speaking in Tongues.1


1. Remain in Light is obviously the artistically-superior work, but arguing the value of an album based on “art”ness is missing the point, in Mercedes' opinion. Once in a Lifetime, for sure, would be a standout to any listener from any era. But for listening experience, nothing could match the groove of Speaking in Tongues. A consistent funk with each track, and a synth sound that’ll knock you out. This Must be the Place (Naive Melody) was a bit sappy lyrically, but still a sonic powerhouse. And opening with Burning Down the House? My god, an unmistakable masterpiece. This argument had gotten Mercedes kicked out of the Talking Heads Dream, but she was content with her new base of operations.




The Dream took the form of a club at some early hour of the morning. The band must have gone home but the stage was still lit with gels, a fluorescent blue coming from the left and a cool magenta from the right. The space smelled comfortably of stale alcohol — with none of the trademark vomit stench — and it was beautifully empty except for a few occupants crowded near the stage, a mix of melancholy and bliss. Mercedes had parked her car in the pit and its candy paint glittered in the split lighting as she reclined on the hood, a deliberate show for her onlookers.

“I mean, you can like A-ha all you want, but they’re just a one-hit-wonder unless you’re a Norwegian.” She wagged her legs over the front bumper of the car while delivering this hot take. This wasn’t the exact hill she’d want to die on, but she got too much enjoyment from the pained look on Annie’s face. “How can you say that to me?” Annie’s thin eyebrows furrowed and her cheeks scrunched as if she had been burned by one of the stage lights. Mercedes tried to maintain her indifference, remaining undisturbed on the hood. Still, a light smile and the glint in her eyes probably betrayed her intention to a few onlookers. “Even if I buy that it’s their only hit, Take on Me is an undeniable classic, influential beyond belief.

Please, It’s not even the best one of the decade. Fuckin Tommy Tutone? Bow Wow Wow? Face it, you’ve got bad opinions.” The crowd snorted in response, but Mercedes didn’t give a shit. She passed over several handsome people with impossibly big hair and loud neon clothes to focus on her opponent.2 Annie crossed her arms over a squeaky black pleather jacket, fastened only halfway up, and stood her ground.

“No, you’re just being a bitch. That synth solo irrevocably altered the path of humanity."

Mercedes popped off the hood of the car to deliver the finishing blow. “Weezer did it bette-”

“ERM, EXCUSE ME.” A shrill voice filled the space, and Mercedes found herself unable to speak. her vocal cords held taut by an unseen force. “Topics must stay on music recorded and released between January 1st 1973 to December 31st 1988, thank you very much. Any discussion of 2010s media should be taken to any other applicable Dream. You can find a list of our sister communities on our communal notice board. I will not hesitate to ban you if you continue to violate the rules of this space.” As Mercedes’s voice was re-enabled, she glared at Murphy. His half-man/half-robot avatar yielded no reaction except for a smug aura of superiority, as was his default. The fuck kinda cop-wannabe hangs around a space like this?3

“Man, it’s a cover of an 80s song. Cut me some slack!” Mercedes leaned against the Mercedes, attempting to emit icy-coolness and an air of indifference.

“BY a 90s band RECORDED in 2019. If you keep pushing the point, you’re gonna get the banhammer.” Murphy flexed his steel/beefy hands subconsciously (or more likely in a manner carefully designed to look subconscious), but the machismo of his form was undercut by the voice that came out of it. A milquetoast whine, one Mercedes pictured belonging to a measly basement dweller. “I’ve given you plenty of warnings, Mercedes. Next time you do something stupid, I’ll be watching.” The group was silent as Murphy blipped out as quickly as he had blipped in.

“Man, fuck that guy.” Annie flipped off the now-empty spot where he had stood.

“Yeah, real power-trip sorta freak,” Mercedes mumbled. She was sure it was an empty threat but hated looking weak in front of Annie.

As the group dispersed, Annie hung back. “Hey, don’t let that get you down. Mods are always assholes like that.” Annie hoisted herself up onto the car hood and Mercedes felt something strange, disguising her expression with a quick cough. “But, and this isn’t me telling you what to do, you should stop being such a combative prick. You’re gonna get in trouble, and honestly? You kinda deserve it. Coming from a place of love, you know.”

Mercedes huffed a bit, but said nothing. She wondered if Annie would understand her dissatisfaction with… whatever it was she was dissatisfied with.4

A small jolt echoed through Mercedes' brain, like the electric shock she got the last time she had tried to repair her Walkman. “Oh shit. I gotta go.”

“Ah, already?” Annie looked a bit disappointed, sliding off the car.

“Got some errands today. Sorry, man. I’ll be on later tonight.”

Annie flashed a smile at Mercedes before the empty club faded. It was as if the room existed in some space beyond her comprehension; the stage, Annie’s body, the walls and the lights appeared to revolve around her while somehow staying still, pieces fading in and out of sight. Reality subtly throbbed around her like blood pulsing through an artery. Mercedes felt herself and the car began to do the same in response, as if they were stretched along some kind of dimensional rift they could not perceive. Sensation stripped away until there was only a half-existence, only a quarter-existence. A single point existing in an indeterminate space.

And then Mercedes woke up.


2. Though this dream was dominated by the aesthetics of the historical Club Scene, there were no true rules dictating user appearance. In keeping with this, a variety of figures stood in this crowd. Most had visages directly ripped from MTV (Was that Thriller-Era Michael Jackson standing by the bar?). Others took the appearance of movie characters; Jason Voorhees stood adjacent to MJ in a flashy pair of patterned flare pants. And of course, as in nearly every available Dream, there were a non-zero number of folks with furry avatars. In keeping with the theme of this Dream most displayed a traditional design, their animal avatars reflecting zine/punk rock culture and styles rather than 2010s anime-esque features. Mercedes had limited tolerance for any of these aesthetics, as they were not “authentic,” an argument which she found harder and harder to explain to those around her.

3. The answer to this rhetorical question is “the kind of cop-wannabe who sorely misinterpreted the Anti-War, Anti-Reagan, Anti-Capitalist nature of the film RoboCop.” Murphy was very good at uncritical analysis, looking past both subtext and regular text in favor of cool, macho aesthetics. Murphy used several other avatars, including a Tyler Durden lookalike, to engage in non-moderator activities in other communities like the Cinephile Dream. Of course, he preferred to moderate as much as possible, because exerting control over virtual people was a great way to make up for the power Murphy lacked in his day job of atmospheric carbon analysis, where he checked computer-generated spreadsheets for unneeded zeros and noteworthy logic errors, the RoboCop a subordinate to the RoboCivilEngineer.

4. The dissatisfaction was hard to place, but Annie probably could have worded it better than Mercedes, in certain circumstances. Despite having dogshit opinions, Annie was very smart. She listened to art pop and math rock and understood the theory. She often said stuff about Warhol and Nico and Pop Art and Post-Modernism and Culture Jamming and Plunderphonics, and Mercedes would listen and nod as if they had originally been her ideas and she was listening to a star pupil recite facts. In reality, Mercedes struggled to grasp a lot of this stuff, more able to understand the primal beat of a drum machine than what Kate Bush had to say about Charlotte Bronte’s characters or what Stevie Wonder’s use of sampling in Journey Through The Secret Life of Plants said about authorship in the 20th century. But that didn’t mean she didn’t like and respect what Annie had to say about these things; if anything it only drew them closer and made their arguments all the sweeter. If Annie were to comment on Mercedes' dissatisfaction at this moment in time, she would probably pull up several manifestos (Avant-Pop, Communist, Unabomber, etc) and would begin to elucidate exactly what parts of the human condition led Mercedes to her current state. Mercedes would try to hear these words but instead find herself staring into Annie’s stark blue eyes, thinking about something else entirely.




It took a few seconds to get reoriented to regular reality. After being compressed down to a single dimension, it’s a struggle to figure out three. They rolled over on the floor mattress, triggering a chain reaction that tugged a grimy fitted sheet loose and sprung the elastic into their face. As sensation trickled back into their nerves, they noticed crumbs underneath their shifting body, a Princess and the Pea moment familiar to those who snack in bed.

Why did I wake up again?

Shit, errands. Mercedes heaved themselves up to head to the bathroom. Sonuvabitch. Errands. 5

They tried to avoid looking in the mirror as they washed their hands and rubbed down matted body hair with a damp cloth. They had deliberately left the lights off. Though becoming presentable felt like a futile task, they knew the Doctor and Tony would be displeased if they showed up smelling biological, like some long-extinct musty animal.

They kept their eyes pointed down, staring holes into the aluminum sink, but that just made them cringe at the sight of their actual body rather than its reflection. Even a glimpse of fleshy phalanges (could they really be called fingers at this point? They were much too long with not enough differentiation between each digit: an aquatic mammal's webbing between vestigial bones) filled them with a pressing shame, pounding the back of their skull with a dull heat.

Mercedes reluctantly raised their eyes to the face in the mirror. What they saw was clearly not a human. It had been at one point, historically-speaking. When going through the stages of fetal development, had Mercedes at one point looked like a human embryo before further developing into a mature form? They found some small comfort in this hypothetical.6

Gazing back at Mercedes were hollow black specks sitting as far back in their sockets as possible, having long ago become dispensable to their owner’s survival. After making eye contact, the ritual searching of the face was unavoidable. Mercedes stared at drooping flesh where they anticipated perky cheeks. A horrifically wide head with no separation from torso dashed their fantasies of a heart-shaped face. Their body looked equally atrophied and obese, nobbly with unexpected fat deposits dangling at unflattering locations. Mechanical implants - integrated into the body shortly after birth - made up for weak points but chafed against their flesh and made for a near-constant case of contact dermatitis.

Fuuuuck. Mercedes quickly turned away from the mirror to prevent clearer, more depressing thoughts from forming. It was too early in the day to detour into either self-loathing or avoidance. Deliberately unfocusing their eyes, they hurried out of the bathroom. They slammed a meaty shoulder hard against the doorframe in their rush, but held their breath and pretended not to notice the dull pain reverberating throughout the arm.

Reentering the main studio was a relief. The room was brighter and had no threatening reflective surfaces. Mercedes preferred a limited amount of light. A murky filter coated the windows— a rare glimpse to the outside in a fully indoor world – tinging the morning light as if the sun was covered by a gigantic pair of Raybans.7 Mercedes deftly climbed over abandoned boxes and other detritus, thanks not to any notable agility but rather to the ingrained map in their head of what shit was where. If the floor of the studio was cleaned the emptiness of the space would surely drive them insane, maddened by their ability to move freely through their environment.

Mercedes found a comfortable spot on an obnoxiously designed leather couch, a brown Chesterfield manufactured countless years after the style had been trendy. The leather squeaked against their uncovered flesh and would undoubtedly stick when they next attempted to stand. They gazed at the opposing wall, populated with a decent collection of music memorabilia. Most of it was reproduction, but it was still an impressive array in this century. A sick stringless left-handed Stratocaster that Mercedes could never hope to play, an ABBA tour shirt that was barely a scrap of fabric with some red text and figures, a poster of The Boss’s jeans-covered ass. They reached for the crown jewel of their collection, currently jammed between couch cushions. Their authentic, works-almost-as-well-as-the-day-it-was-made Sony Walkman. Popping the headphones over their too-big head, they fumbled their fingers over the big play button. The artist formerly known as The Artist Formerly Known as Prince began singing a stark little song about sad birds, and Mercedes began to zone out.

They wondered what Annie was like outside of the Dream. Logically, they knew. A gross little creature like themselves who they felt nothing for. Or alternatively, dead. Had they passed on the street before and not even noticed? Brushed past her obituary on PD News? But that couldn’t be right. Annie had bright orange hair, a buzzcut. She had almond eyes with visible whites, and cheeks that smiled when she was happy and flushed when she was annoyed. When they pictured Annie it was human Annie, in Mercedes’ passenger seat singing along to some god-awful track that they would argue about for the next hour. They wondered if Annie pictured Human Mercedes and Car Mercedes when she thought about them. 8

Mercedes turned their attention to the coffee table in front of them, spotted with a remarkable number of mostly-consumed boba drinks. Mercedes loved milk tea, an ancient delicacy, but found themselves overwhelmed by the quantity of boba the delivery service would put into each drink. A number of pearls would inevitably be abandoned at the bottom of the plastic cup which would soon be joined by more and more unfinished drinks, hoarded until the room was intolerable with the smell of sugary rotting lactose. Mercedes picked a cup up and held it to the light. The little black spheres appeared to have lost some of their moisture, hardening and congealing into a semi-solid mass. Mercedes flipped the cup upside-down–as they had seen in a vintage commercial for an ice cream chain–and the mass of tapioca clung unmoving to the base of the cup like the least appetizing Blizzard ever produced.

Breakfast? Mercedes thought in mock-horror. It wouldn’t be pleasant, but their evolved digestive system could certainly handle a little bit of food poisoning. They began to poke at some pearls with a straw, prying them loose one by one and popping them into their gaping mouth.


5. Mercedes also probably should have thought about going to their job today. They were a notoriously bad employee, so their absence was expected and their presence unmissed. Mercedes worked as a sweeper, clearing hallways of debris and litter. It was a job that should have easily been automatized but it wasn’t, and Mercedes was a warm body to do it. (The advantage of having a flesh body perform this task was a slightly superior ability to recognize trash as opposed to valuable objects; flesh bodies had more magpie-instincts to look for glittering and shiny things to pocket. Unfortunately, their pockets would typically be searched before heading home.) Mercedes was indifferent to all of this, preferring to find a nice secluded space to sweep - repeatedly - and listen to their Walkman until the shift was over. While an efficient employee would manage to clean 10 corridors by the end of a 8 hour shift, Mercedes might complete 1.5. Still, a minimal paycheck was sent at the end of every 14-day period, and the funds would immediately be pumped into memorabilia and snacks.

6.Evolution is a hell of a drug, particularly for humans. It doesn’t happen drastically overnight, but is a gradual process that accumulates, often taking thousands of years to have notable effects. The transformations that produced Mercedes and their contemporaries started first with great threats, a drastically changing atmosphere and environment forcing “survival of the fittest” in a new and exciting manner. The next hurdle became technology, which developed in a fashion incompatible with bodies too weak to interface with hyper-reality in a convincing or fulfilling fashion. Folks around Mercedes spoke as if the current form of humans was standard, ultimate, and unimprovable. Though it was hard to argue on a matter Mercedes knew so little about, they imagined that most creatures capable of "thinking" thought that they were optimally formed, for lack of experience with any superior configurations. If observed by an impartial outsider, would humans be the most evolutionarily refined creature? Maybe the judgmental alien would take one look at a little clump of algae and instantly recognize it as the highest state of being, having got things all sorted out a billion years ago.

7. The outside world was difficult for Mercedes to look at. The blue-white of the sky was much brighter than anything they encountered in daily life. Still, they found themselves looking at it too often, perhaps a distant form of self-harm. The sun should feel warm on their skin, right? They would like to experience that. The green world outside flourished from its illumination, the biosphere having been repaired after years of separation from human interaction. It was not California, as Mercedes pictured it in their mind. It was somewhere inland, with rolling prairie and distant hills. Mercedes would have fleeting thoughts of going outside before they recalled that the light would invariably destroy their skin and the air would poison their histamine-rich lungs.

8. Annie did. Annie had several things she would have liked to do with Mercedes the Blonde and Mercedes the Car. Unfortunately, on the several occasions when Annie began making moves towards various ‘Auto’-erotic activities, Mercedes quickly backed out in in a panic, saying she had to go to work or run errands or something. Annie (rationally) interpreted this as rejection, but Mercedes did not intend it this way. Whenever things got too exciting between the two of them, Mercedes would have unshakable visions of her flesh body, responding with arousal to the events in the Dream. This was an instant and powerful turn-off, and Mercedes would immediately have to go wash off. They would curse themselves – wishing to retreat into a world where they never had to be seen, never humiliated in such a fashion – while Annie would curse herself in turn, acutely aware of her least-desirable traits for the remainder of the week.




Mercedes’ doctor worked in an office in the adjacent unit, about a 20 minute walk if things went right. But it was a challenge to navigate that far through the oblique pathways of the megabuilding,9 never quite sure if you were going the correct direction or wandering hopelessly into oblivion until you had no choice but to consult a directory terminal. Mercedes had too much pride to seek help, particularly from an artificial intelligence; though its dialogue procedures did not allow for rudeness, they could not help but pick up a subtle sense of superiority from the way it advised them to take the next 42 right turns as if that was something any normal consciousness could figure out.

With headphones still firmly clamped around their head, Mercedes looked down and tried to avoid eye contact. Creatures who looked the same as them wandered past, also refusing to meet any errant gazes. Truthfully, Mercedes struggled to tell real people apart. Some said that you could distinguish folks by facial features (a bigger mound of nasal cartilage, mouth shape, a different ratio of head to neck), but Mercedes couldn’t make out any distinction between flesh bodies that existed outside of a simulation. Everyone they saw blended together, then blended into Mercedes’ concept of their own body. It seemed impossible for their self-image to decline anymore, but with a misanthropic jackhammer rock-bottom could quickly become a pit to the center of the earth.

They held an image in their head as they walked, of the pink Mercedes and the blonde driver. They imagined what it would feel like to have an engine; a hot combustion chamber would feel like drinking a cup of fresh tea, warming from within. They pictured her belching black clouds off in the desert. They tried to change their legs into wheels, envisioning the process of walking as a revolution around a central axis. And they imagined being the blonde driver simultaneously, the raw power of woman and machine combined. Unstoppable, headed off into the sunset at the end of a perfectly-mediocre film. But the image seemed cheap, false. They felt a meaty foot slap against the ground, and the illusion was shattered. They should cut off their legs sometime.

Unable to instantly auto-amputate, they turned their focus to both the concrete ground and Carly Simon’s account of how much Warren Beatty and various other men sucked. After a few more tracks, Mercedes caught a reflection of bright lights in a puddle of nondescript fluid. Looking up, they saw they had made it to the financial unit.

It was a horizontally-cramped space, but more than compensated with verticality. The presumed ceiling was impossible to make out, blocked by recursive buildings-within-a-building. The megabuilding had been an architectural feat for the century, but businesses would always vie for square footage no matter how much the infrastructure changed. And these inception-buildings hosted advertisements like you wouldn’t believe. Every square inch covered by a hologram trying to get you to go onto the Dream. Not that anybody wasn't on it, but the ads sure made a convincing case.

Images flashed by of avatars for sale: big-chested goth girls, giant-eyed Japanese cartoons (with massive tits), anthropomorphic animals sporting species-inaccurate huge bazonkas, and murderous cyborgs whose bra sizes you could make a very educated guess about. Mercedes thought smugly of their own avatars, custom designs that they had worked on themselves. Vintage cars (without the presence of boobs) might not be massively marketable these days, but they prided themselves in rejecting the mainstream.

One of the holograms transitioned to the company’s logo: Plato’s Dream: Go to Heaven Before you Die! The name’s a bit on the nose, sure. Going beyond the metaphor for your software to straight up invoking philosophic parables.10 Mercedes knew a bit more about human antiquity than most folks these days–not much, but enough to know that Plato would have personally wrestled the programmers of PD into submission for so deliberately misinterpreting his allegory.

What Plato-the-philosopher failed to recognize, though, was that shadow puppets are cooler than any stupid reality that exists outside of the cave. You can make puppets of any shape and size, shattering the limitations of the real world with technicolor visions and blinding lights. You can block all the puppets that are freaks and assholes, and build any type of stage from any time period, real, imagined, whatever. You can make a puppet to act out your own role, better than you in every conceivable way. And with a powerful enough Sensory Processing Unit embedded in your parietal lobe, you can make a shadow puppet that is realer than reality ever can be, that satisfies your basest instincts and desires like a gummy candy with more sugar than the sweetest strawberry ever bioengineered.

Mercedes wished they were back in the Dream with Annie.


9. Megabuildings were a very useful architectural innovation for a species unable to exist in the outdoors. They were large hempcrete fortresses, made many years ago and poorly maintained in a deliberate, cost-saving manner. They would extend for miles, containing all the assets a city would require to function. Commerce, food production, power generation, waste disposal, you name it. One could be born in a megabuilding and die a few hundred years later in the next room over. The problem with Megabuildings would begin to arise in the event of some sort of accident. An explosion, an act of terrorism, etc. Fortunately, a carefully regulated populace rarely has outbursts like that, so there was little critique of these over-engineered monstrosities.

10.Were the programmers of Plato’s Dreams supervillains, deliberately subverting a classic thought experiment about the nature of reality and human subjugation for the sole purpose of narrative power and rubbing it in the face of a public too stupid to recognize how concerning this name should be? Possibly. You should never put it past a tech monopoly to deliberately enslave a population while making cute puns about it. Somebody named a meal substitute Soylent, and people drink that shit up like they haven’t even seen the movie. It’s also possible that the programmers were dumbasses and thought this name would have great search engine optimization. The point is, the names of both tech start-ups and supervillain schemes are basically indistinguishable at this moment in history.




Dr. Jones's office was the most boring part of the financial unit. At least other parts had pretty lights and weird proportions that made Mercedes dizzy. The office was just white. No features, nothing cool to look at, no smells, just an empty space. Mercedes shut their eyes and tried to stay absorbed in the cassette b-side until their name was called.

“How have you been, Mercedes?” asked Dr. Jones in a manner that did not suggest any true interest.

“Oh, I’ve been.” Mercedes reluctantly pulled the headphones down and followed the Doctor to another white room, where they were instructed to take a seat on a raised table. The ritual poking and prodding pissed them off to no end, but if they just behaved it should be over soon.

The doctor gave a perfunctory “Hold still” as he bound a tourniquet to their arm. Mercedes looked away as a needle was jabbed into their vein and tried not to squirm. This was always the worst part.

“All right. This should give us a better idea of what’s going on. I’ll be back in a few.” With little ceremony, Dr. Jones stepped out of the examination room. Mercedes stared at the door and thought about how cars didn’t have to put up with this shit. Fuck, their Walkman didn’t have to put up with this shit either. Just a nice belt change and oiling every once and a while, and she was good to go. Mercedes absently wished someone would take care of them as well as they took care of the Walkman.

Dr. Jones’ face was hard to read as he reentered the examination room. Granted, Mercedes always struggled to read real-life expressions, never able to make enough eye contact or pick up on the twitches near the mouth that might indicate joy or disgust or whatever. But they thought Dr. Jones was particularly inscrutable. They wondered if he had a life outside of being a doctor. Did he get on PD and go to - I don’t know - the SurgeonSimulator2500 Dream and think about medicine all night? Maybe one of those“wet” Dreams, where he engaged in strange role play scenarios that Mercedes refrained from imagining in too great detail.11

How much was he even like them? They struggled to imagine him having an inner life. He existed in the same space as the directory terminals in their head: inscrutable, but superior in every way. Maybe he was one of them, so filled with technological implants that human impulses had faded from his mind and he was nothing more than a medical automaton. As he began reading off a small hologram, Mercedes doubted he was even speaking the same language as them while phrases faded in and out of their understanding.

“----- test results ----- but positive for ---------------- high levels of ----------------- organ failure.”

“Do what?”

Dr. Jones looked at them like they were an idiot (so he COULD show emotion!) and rephrased the results in a more consumer-accessible manner.

“You’re dying, ma’am.”

“Oh! Gotcha.”


11. Mercedes was correct in guessing that Dr. Jones participated in a gaming-based Dream, but was off-the-mark in assuming his whole reality revolved around his job. Did Mercedes spend all their time on the Hallway Sweeping Dream? In fact, Dr. Jones had a secret obsession with virtual pets, particularly of the Nintendogs Variety, and spent most of his time in the associated Dream showing off photos of his prize winning datadogs. When he stepped out into the hallway, it had been partly to run a test on Mercedes blood, but that really only took a second or two. More importantly, he popped open his crusty old DS, on only 25% battery, and gently prodded at his pixely Shiba Inu ‘Sasuke.’ Sasuke gave a delighted bark in response, and ran around the screen. Dr. Jones tucked the device in his lab coat pocket and his eyespots welled with affectionate tears for a moment, before noticing the blood test results and huffily returning to his job.




Getting to Tony’s was a difficult task now–encumbered as they were with Dr. Jones’ equipment. Cords and headgear and a strange box spilled out of Mercedes arms as they used a foot to kick at Tony’s door in place of a knock.

Silence. Tony was always a dick like this. Mercedes shouted “It’s me, dude” and gave another kick.

A figure opened the door as far as the chain lock would allow, and held an eyespot up to the crack. “Ah, Mercedes!” The door shut, and after a few metallic clinks, swung open again. He quickly muttered some greetings, a loose gold chain dangling down his bare doughy chest and an unbuttoned blazer squeezing his fat little arms. “I’ve been expecting you.”

If Mercedes’ studio apartment looked like a temple to borrowed nostalgia, then Tony’s hideout was the Vatican, overflowing with obsolete tech and media formats, some in good condition and others woefully broken. Somewhere in the room, a VHS of Married to The Mob was playing unattended, around the 47 minute mark. The unmistakable buzz of his shitty CRT permeated every square foot of the apartment. A pile of scratched laserdiscs reflected shattered rainbows at Mercedes as they followed him further and further into the hoarding situation.

“When I - ah - acquired this piece, I instantly thought of you.” Tony shoved his way past a precarious stack of Blobject computers in various hues of translucent acrylic, which threateningly rocked as Mercedes attempted to squeeze through.12 The smell of plastic was overpowering. “Cause, you know. You’re so into that Walkman.”

Mercedes grunted affirmatively. “Although I suppose I don’t have much use for it now.”

Tony turned back and glanced at the hardware in their arms. “Ah, I see. You’re doing the big shift?”

“Yep. Doctor said it’s just a matter of time before my body quits, so I better get on uploading all this.” Mercedes attempted to gesture to their head, but their occupied hands reduced the motion to a pathetic little shimmy. “Already messaged my boss about it. Might be nice to retire, I suppose.”

Tony squinted a bit. “You don’t seem convinced.”

“Yeah, I don’t know.” It was hard for them to articulate what they were thinking. None of it seemed terribly rational, but then nothing else seemed rational either. “Don’t get me wrong. I like the Dream. It’s the only way I can be myself.”

“Then what’s the hold-up?” Tony had his back to Mercedes, rifling through a cardboard box. The two stood in silence, with only the sounds of plastic clacking against itself.

After a minute, Mercedes had a response. “Isn’t it, like, inauthentic?”

“Inauthentic.”13 Tony repeated, more echolalia than a coherent response.

“Like, sure. Dying and staying on Plato’s Dream forever. That’s what Mercedes-the-meatsack should do. Based on, like, everything everywhere. But my Mercedes, the woman and car who I am. They wouldn’t do that.”

“You’re a car?”

Mercedes ignored the very-reasonable question. “Like, if Mercedes were dying, she wouldn’t do what her fucking doctor told her. She’d live her last few days tearing up the highway with Mercedes and die on her own accord, you know? One last trip to see the ocean, catch some concerts, feel the world on her skin. One last day of rubber burning on the asphalt. And then maybe driving over a cliff or something with a cool explosion. You know what I’m saying? It’s not authentic otherwise.”

“You’re saying you want to die?” Tony spoke through utter incomprehension, continuing and failing to search through the box.

“I want to be a human, and a car. And dying’s part of that I think.”

He turned around. “I love ya Mercedes, but you’re on some shit right now. Trust me, I get nostalgia. I’d give up my whole collection if it meant I got to experience the epic highs and lows of the 20th century. A shoot-out in a Speakeasy. Beheading horses and making concrete shoes. If I could just get a taste of some premium Colombian cocaine…” Tony trailed off before remembering his original argument.14 “But those guys lived like 120 years max, and sucked at everything. Couldn’t even perceive the world we live in now. You’re romanticizing so hard it’s not even funny. ”

“I don’t care if I’m romanticizing. A comforting lie is better than whatever the hell I am right now.” Mercedes summoned all of her pretentious energy for that last sentence.

“No it’s not. You’re the ultimate lifeform, asshole. We all are.”

The two stood in surly silence as Tony kept fiddling with the cardboard box. After far too long, he produced a tape recorder in an even-dingier cardboard box. Mercedes had been lusting after one for months as the record function was woefully underpowered on their own Walkman. Mercedes shuffled around for the promised cash, but Tony held up a hand.

“My advice to you? Go home, have some fun fucking around with your tech, and then do what the doctor says. Don’t do something stupid.”

Mercedes nodded as they took the box.

“And when you’re online, maybe I can come grab your collection?”


12. Blobject tech was, in Tony’s aesthetic estimation, the best computers had ever looked, a point he would repeatedly try to argue with Mercedes. They weren’t in keeping with his general style choices, but he found something captivating in their rounded, not-quite-graceful forms. They had a weight that contemporary tech lacked (now being the pure essence of light and all) but a sophistication and retro-futuristic vibe that Mercedes’ preferred tech lacked. Tony thought about humans using them to get onto the early, unsophisticated internet and pirate movies (while downloading a few incidental viruses). A golden era of media consumption never matched before or after.

13. If someone were to truly ask Mercedes to elaborate on what authenticity meant, they would probably try (and fail) to explain the importance of physicality. Not of their body, obviously; they hated it. Rather, the physicality of Things, and their ability to touch those Things. It was why they had formed their collection to begin with. Objects, to Mercedes, had history. Time had enacted something on those things, whether it was ripping the ABBA shirt to shreds, or gradually liquefying the plastic of an old junk computer. The things in Plato’s Dream seemed real, felt excruciatingly real in her hands. But when she looked at them, they were perfect. They did not deteriorate, unless she went into the code and programmed the edges of a piece of a newspaper to crumple, to appear dirty and stained. Programmed a shirt to become threadbare and worn from use. Mercedes, more than anything, wanted to touch and be touched. The second thing she most wanted was for that touch to do something transformative, something un-undoable. She would not have ever admitted this to anyone, even if they threatened to drop her Walkman into a puddle.

14. On some level, Tony might agree with Mercedes. He would not have spent years amassing his tech hoard otherwise. But he could never live so fully in the past as Mercedes attempted to. Tony’s beloved Laserdiscs held a dark secret; the behind-the-scenes extras included for some movies. No matter how much Tony wanted to believe in the realities he watched unfold on his CRT, he could not unsee the clips of actors putting on prosthetics, of makeup and hair being carefully maintained between shots, of practical effects turning into cgi to create the Death Star and Statue of Liberty and death scenes and other iconic moments. His most beloved memories were manufactured, and, unlike Mercedes, he was willing to come to terms with that. Tony had given up on a knowable, objective reality, and was content to enjoy the things he liked, not pretending they were real (or any more real than the things he didn’t like) but knowing that reality truly did not factor into his equation during this moment in time.




“What does inauthentic mean? I mean, in this context” asked a bewildered Annie.

Mercedes had hopped up onto the stage, her hair still perfect despite an unhinged look in her eyes. “I don’t know Annie. Does any of this seem authentic to you?”

“Yes!” Annie’s scrawny, androgynous body attempted to follow Mercedes, but she struggled to hook her leg over the ledge. “I mean, what is ‘authentic’? Living a life based on people who died forever ago? Doing things just because it’s “paleo” or whatever? You realize how self-destructive you sound?”

“Annie, you should get this.” Mercedes shook her head. “You live this stuff. You breathe this stuff. You’re like me!”


“Don’t give me that, man. I’ll let you ride shotgun. We’ll Thelma and Louise this shit.”

“We don’t have to do that!” Annie’s voice grew more desperate with each new sentence. “We… we have every Dream available to us. We could live in any reality you want!15 How can you possibly see this as a better option? D-dying?” She was careful not to be heard.

“It’s fucking authentic.” Mercedes kicked at the ground, and the car revved her engine. Why did this hurt so bad? She didn’t want to hear it. She didn’t want any of this. Annie didn’t want any of this, she knew. When they had argued about music, even when Annie insisted on some godawful stance like ‘Bowie would have been nothing without Brian Eno’, Mercedes knew they were ultimately on the same page. Their fights arose from a shared passion. So why was this such a sticking point? Annie looked at Mercedes like she was speaking in tongues. Handling snakes. Eating flesh and drinking blood. It was pissing her off, majorly.

“What have you got against DYING, Annie?” Mercedes shouted, projecting her voice to the balcony.

“Oh shutthefuckup, I’m serious.” Annie hissed, trying to put a hand over Mercedes’ mouth.

“Lots of great people have DIED. My favorites, in fact. All the best people DIE. David Byrne, RIVERS CUOMO, Poly Styrene, SCOTT JOPLIN. All RETURNED to the LOAM of the earth.” Mercedes racked her brain trying to come up with more blacklisted words. “EUGENE LEVY. 420. BALD. ANIMAL ABUSE. SELFIE.”16 Annie pulled at her buzzed hair in horror.

“Are you kidding me?” A familiar nasal voice came from behind Mercedes. She gave a smug smile and turned around to face robo-mod.

“Hey Murphy, just having a great time abiding by this community's rules and regulations.”

“Murphy, please.” Annie butted in. “I know she’s being an asshole but Mercedes is losing it.”

“Apologies m’lady. But I’ve counted twelve infractions in the last minute and a half. We can’t tolerate this kind of behavior in our Dream any longer.”

“Go kill yourself Murphy.”


“Murphy, she’s not well.” Annie pleaded as he prepared the banhammer. It was a stupid name given to the weapon by an idiot, but it sure was an impressive piece of equipment. A remarkably beautiful piece of virtual blacksmithing, it shone dully in the Dream’s light and reeked of electrical fires.

The last thing Mercedes saw was Annie screaming her name as Murphy wound up the hammer like a batter at the plate. She would have commented on his terrible form, if her world wasn’t shattering into tiny little pieces. It felt like little grains of glass embedded in her every surface, the kind that skin would eventually grow over and incorporate into the body as foreign objects. Mercedes sat up with a jolt, disoriented and overcome with a sense of detachment so deep that they could not fathom a single person in the world except for themselves. A profound, aching solipsism that they would never repair.


15. Several Dreams immediately popped into Annie’s head. The Vaporwave Dream (a bit influenced by 2000s aesthetics, but with comparable music taste) the Car Show Dream (If Mercedes could get over the indignity of being around Tesla bros, it could be a very fulfilling experience), The Riot Grrl Dream (Annie struggled to get Mercedes terribly on-board with woman-dominated genres, weirdly. But the punk scene did have inherent appeal to her so she should have been able to get over whatever her hang-ups were pretty fast). Or they could have just founded their own Dream together. Moderate it themselves, allow whatever content they want. The Attractive Women and Automobiles Listening to Groovy Beats Dream. Perhaps the name needed more workshopping, but that was something to figure out while not in immediate crisis.

16. Terms banned during the Tumblr Tag Banning Crisis of 2021. Though criticized at the time for pandering to a corporate audience and outdated morals, critics later found that the restriction of these terms drastically decreased general ne'er-do-well attitudes within most social media platforms, and these bans were gradually rolled out for every platform, even restricting cable programming and newspaper copywriting before both media formats crumbled under the weight of their own hubris.




Mercedes had an idea. Nobody else would like this idea. But there was no other idea to be had. Every path their brain went down, every possible option that could be considered, led back to this obvious conclusion. And so they rummaged about their studio, looking for every cable from every era they had, from aux cords to HDMI cables to USB-Z. And they began making connections. Jamming males into females, males into males, an absolute orgy of plugs. And then it was done.

Mercedes looked down at their unholy appliance. A Tower of Babel constructed out of adaptors and incompatible devices linked together in a lumpy awkward chain. On one end, the doctor’s headpiece. On the other end, Tony’s tape recorder. They had to act fast, before anyone came to collect their body and ensure it was disposed of properly.

This was a remarkably good idea, Mercedes insisted. If pressed for reasons by some third party, they probably would have said something about finally having a real-life body that didn’t make them wanna throw up. Something about leaving a corpse behind when they died. The authenticity of analog technology. Mixtapes and interpersonal connection. The rhythm of the belt spinning. Someone, anyone listening to the cassette after they were gone. A fantasy of being loaded into a car stereo, becoming the voice of that car, and taking a long road trip, stopping at weird tourist traps and beautiful vistas and all that shit. But there was no one around to ask for a reason, and Mercedes felt no obligation to provide one.

They tightened the headpiece around their cranium, and pressed record.

the belt began to spin, Mercedes sat completely still, eyespots wide open but unseeing. To an outsider, they would have appeared to be absorbed in thought. In fact, Mercedes was experiencing the whole of imaginable time compressed into a 30 minute magnetic eon. They felt emotions that they didn’t know were possible, probably every emotion that Mercedes could be capable of feeling. It was great, it was terrible, it was the most important thing they had ever done, it was the stupidest thing imaginable. It was everything, at least to Mercedes.17


“-wuh? Oh right.” Mercedes popped out the cassette, flipped it over, and began a second 30 minute eon.18

When the hour was up, the tape clicked to a stop. Mercedes smoothly pulled the headpiece off, and just sat on the Chesterfield for some time.

“Okay, cool.”

Having said all that was left to be said, Mercedes removed herself from the recorder and tucked her into a case after evicting the previous occupant, which they inserted into their preferred player. They and the Walkman left the apartment, and silently made their way towards the megabuilding exit.


17. This is not an experience Mercedes would not know exactly how to put into words. Or, rather, a concise number of words that could be read in a solitary lifetime. The best way to describe it was as a Mixtape. It likely took that format because of everything about Mercedes. For someone else, it might have been a book on tape or a newscast or an incredibly long game of Dungeons and Dragons. Mercedes moved through song after song as they occurred to her, simultaneously singing along and being sung by the songs themselves, whatever that may mean. She did not, in life, have a good voice, but here it did not matter as she felt every last line of Video Killed the Radio Star reverberate through her metaphysical spine. She sobbed out Pink Floyd’s Wish You Were Here, and spat Black Sabbath’s Paranoid. Every single emotion was so unbearably intense, she imagined it would kill her mind, render her unable to think anything else ever again.

18. But from the chaos of Mercedes’ eclectic tracks rose a single song that stuck with her throughout. Heaven by the Talking Heads. It always went back to the Talking Heads, to David Byrne. At first it was a viciously bitter version, infuriated at the mere notion of heaven, an afterlife, intrinsic meaning to the universe. An ironic embrace of nihilism. Then, it turned sad. Aching loneliness and distance from everyone she had ever known. Each relationship failing around her and crumbling to dust, stagnant and unchanging, devoid and undeserving of real connection. The state she existed in was both an inevitability and all her fault. Finally, on the 8.8 × 1026th replay, it became hopeful. Peaceful and loving. The monotony, the predictability, the warm comfort and sweet sounds wrapped around Mercedes, and she felt indescribably different. If she had had a face in this state, tears would have rolled down her cheeks, unashamed as she knew she was finally in the place where nothing ever happened. The song repeated infinitely, gradually feeling like an experimental ambient synth solo with no beginning or end as she felt herself spiral into nothingness (or perhaps everythingness, depending on how she chose to interpret the spiritual implications of her experience). The droning track faded out and she was finally, exhaustively, content.




Nine days later, Mercedes was found in what was once called the Shawnee National Forest, slumped over a few yards away from an old road running along a river bluff. For a brief moment after finding them, the search-and-recover robot assigned to this quadrant of the Mississippi River Valley watched the sun set over the long-flooded river basin. It noticed the blue shadows cast by the abandoned timberlands, the soft orange shifting on the water fading into the cool eigengrau of night, barely lit by constellations that had only slightly shifted from their positions observed in human antiquity. It also saw the Walkman at Mercedes’ side. Fear of Music had long since finished its final track, and the carefully-oiled belt of the player was still. This was deemed inessential information by the swarm intelligence under which its AI operated, so after 5 more seconds of consideration, the robot lifted the bloated body and began transit back to civilization.

The next day, there was a new headline on the homepage of PD NEWS. For those who still kept up with current events, it was a surprise. Not a massive surprise, but jarring in a way that hung in the back of maybe a dozen folks’ minds for the next few days, eventually supplanted by more pressing thoughts and fading into the white noise of their consciousnesses.











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