“Ibiza,” Jaden said, holding the glowing pink rod in front of him and stepping into the wall of the tanker.
The world shimmered and glitter rained down on him.
“Welcome to Joy Island!” called a chorus of unseen voices. A boisterous girl with pink hair and a plastic dress pulled him into the largest group of bobbing, weaving, dancing teens and twentysomethings he’d ever seen.
The strident, repetitive beat of the music drowned out almost everything else. The air reeked of sweat and alcohol as a fine mist of fog filtered down from above him—a playground for refracting lasers.
The spectacle of thousands of carousing neon-clad teens was nothing compared to the more powerful assault on his senses. Every last person in the tanker was an addict, and the swirling colors of their addictions pummeled him from every side.
Confounded by what he was seeing, Jaden reeled. He couldn’t understand it. He wasn’t jacked in to any of them, yet he saw each addict’s obsession as lucidly as if it were his own. It had to have something to do with the music. The pounding, repetitive beat reverberated in his skull, and the images that floated before him seemed to pulse with the rhythm.
He blinked, trying to relax, but the rave continued to assail his senses. Even when he closed his eyes, he saw the throbbing mass of addicts before him. He had to get out of there. “Bathroom!” he yelled to the girl with the pink bob. She pointed at a dingy door off to the side. Jaden charged inside and crumpled against the paper towel dispenser, trying to force the images from his brain.
A dozen addicts in neon garb crowded the sinks and three stalls. One bent over a sink counting out pale orange pills from a plastic bag. Her mind swirled verdant with gold spheres and pink cubes. He’d have recognized the addict by those cues alone, but the blueberry-colored pigtails confirmed it.
“Ally!” he cried.
Ally didn’t look up. She had finally extricated a pill from the plastic bag and held it between her thumb and forefinger.
“Stop it!” Jaden shouted, lurching over to slap the pills from her hand. They scattered across the filthy floor between high heels and sneakers of the other ravers.
Ally scurried after the pills. “Gotta get my groove back,” she mumbled. “Gotta dance, gotta move. Gotta get my groove back.”
Jaden lifted her up by the shoulders. “What have you done?” he asked her.
“She’s high as a kite!”
“Yeah . . . ” the peeing raver agreed wistfully. “Too bad it’s only for a couple of hours, huh?”
“Yo, Ally,” Jaden said, dragging Ally toward the door. “We’re getting outta here.”
“Will you dance with me?” she asked, wrapping her arms languidly around his neck and leaning into him.
He loved the closeness of their bodies, the scent of her sweat-misted skin, the way the tips of her fingers brushed the back of his neck. Struggling to maintain his equanimity, he disentangled himself from her, afraid his palpitating heart would reveal his true feelings. “I can’t do that, Ally.”
“Then I’m not going with you,” she said, folding her arms. Her lower lip protruded in a stubborn pout, and he felt something give way inside of him.
He couldn’t resist her.
“All right, all right . . . we’ll dance then. Let’s just get out of this bathroom.”
Jaden took a deep breath, squeezed Ally’s hand and plunged out of the restroom. The tumbling images of the addicts’ obsessions bombarded him all over again. The exit—he had to find the exit.
The rave was arranged like a huge wheel with the dance floor in the center and assorted archways radiating out around the circumference like spokes. One of those had to be the way out.
Ally undulated to the trippy beats, and Jaden stared at her, fascinated. Finally, he tore his gaze away and looked around. He had to find a way out, and concentrating on that would be a lot tougher if he let himself take in just how appealing she was right now.
They passed through the nearest archway and found themselves in an ornate casino, complete with every virtual and physical gambling racket imaginable. Wheels spun, cronies hunched over their chips, and cool operators gazed placidly over their cards. How on earth had they gotten everything in here without the police noticing? Jaden traced the perimeter of the casino, Ally in tow. No exit.
Jaden pulled Ally into the next archway. This one was a bar with drinks that were obviously not of the milk-and-cookies kind. A handful of couples swayed on the bar’s dance floor, but mostly they just drank.
The next archway contained corpulent gourmands gorging themselves at a lavish buffet unlike any Jaden had ever seen. It wasn’t the normal chopped and processed overcooked foods. The buffet brimmed with crab legs, steaks, and other viands of the highest quality. The wafting odor made Jaden forget the addicts for just a moment. His stomach growled, and a good chunk of him wanted to join in on the gluttony.
The next archway led them to an ostentatious bordello. Scantily clad men and women lounged across chairs and benches with their best wanton “come hither” looks adorning their comely faces. Several eyebrows raised at the sight of Jaden, and more than one addict sought to catch his eye.
Ally seemed oblivious to all the addictions. As long as she could hear the music, she tuned everything else out. Jaden pulled her back to the main dance floor, leaving the debauchery behind. Was there no way out?
Off to one side, the cheer of “Welcome to Joy Island!” rose momentarily above the commotion. If there was a way in, there had to be a way out. He tried to ignore everything else and listen only for the welcome salutation to Joy Island!
There it was again! Jaden dragged Ally in the direction of the cheer and waited as Ally cavorted, spraying glitter and sweat with every movement.
A third cheer erupted, this time close enough for Jaden to see the raver enter. He kept his eyes locked on the spot along the wall and pulled Ally along with him. He clasped the glow stick Squeeze had given him and wrapped Ally’s hands around it as well.
“One way!” a raver shouted. “Over there, man!” The raver pushed the pair toward a different segment of wall. Surprised and off-balance, Jaden tumbled through what he thought was solid steel.
He and Ally landed on their stomachs on the dirty wharf.
Ally’s experience was clearly just the opposite.
“Where’s the music?” she cried. “I have to have my music!” She jumped to her feet and charged toward the tanker.
Jaden let her go, but there was nowhere for her to go to anymore. He was getting a bit weary of having to babysit a seventeen-year-old. He put his hand on her arm and tried to turn her toward him.
She jerked her arm away. “Not again, you monster,” she said, cowering. Her eyes had the same haunted, tortured look as when she fled the bungalow. “A person comes to you for help, and you turn into Narcenstein or something.”
Jaden’s hands dropped. “Ally, wait. I’m sorry about that. I shouldn’t have done it. That’s why I came after you—to tell you I’m sorry. But seeing you taking some drug on top of raving . . . well, how do you expect me to react?”
“It’s not ‘some drug.’ It’s Joy.”
Jaden winced. “I know you like it, but you’re not in your right mind,” he pleaded.
“That’s where you’re wrong. It’s only when I’m on Joy that I am in my right mind. If it hadn’t been for Tymur popping by with a little hit when I got back from T.D.C., I’d have never even remembered that I wasn’t in my right mind.”
“So the name of the drug you’re taking—it’s Joy?”
“Uh-huh,” she said, nodding. “It makes me whole again.” Ally yawned. “I’m sleepy.” Her eyes drooped.
Jaden looked around. Nothing of any use, just some rusted junk and discarded crates. This wasn’t a safe place to sleep.
“I need a nap,” she said, intent on repose regardless of her surroundings. She crumpled where she stood.
Jaden helped her to a crate near the edge of Tampa Bay. Open on two sides, it provided protection from the elements and a clear view of any potential interlopers. Jaden helped her down and she fell asleep. Jaden took off his jacket and covered her, wrapping his arms around her for warmth and security.
Even asleep she was beautiful. Actually, he noticed it more than ever now that she was so still, so tranquil. He brushed a stray hair from her forehead. What was going on in that head of hers? What made her so susceptible to addiction? Did he have the same thing inside of him? A summons to a latent obsession?
He wanted so badly to reach into her mind, to see what the drug Joy was really doing to her. It would be so easy. He had his satchel with the portable splitter equipment. With her sleeping, he wouldn’t even need to immobilize her. He’d be able to slip right in and out again, and she’d never have a clue.
No. He couldn’t. He wouldn’t. He had to regain Ally’s trust after what he did to her, and penetrating her mind while she was asleep was not the place to start.
Still, he wondered about Joy, wondered what it did, precisely, in a person’s body. It was clear now that the drug was responsible for exploding the walls that splitters built around people’s addictions. But where did something like that come from? Who would have created it without The Corporation knowing? Nothing got done without the knowledge and approval of The Corporation. It just didn’t happen. To create a drug like this, they’d need significant scientific resources and copious amounts of cash, neither of which most people had. Not even Senior Management types.
And it wasn’t just the drug. Who could have put together such a large, virtually invisible black market for it? There had always been a black market for addictions. That’s how he had made his livelihood back in the old days, dealing drugs and booze to the low-life scum on Nebraska Avenue. That was before music and other addictions that weren’t Corporation-approved became illegal. Now there must be this huge black market machine peddling Joy to rekindle people’s addictions and then selling them the vice of their choice. How had that happened, and when? It had to be recently or else Ally wouldn’t have been his first repeat patient. But it was obviously propagating quickly, since after seeing Ally his waiting room had been packed with repeat patients yesterday. How could something like this go unnoticed?
He should divulge it all to somebody, someone in charge. Senior Management would know what to do.
Ally sighed and turned in his arms slightly, snuggling closer against his chest.
Jaden shuddered. Telling Senior Management about Joy would mean he’d have to tell them about Ally, too, and then she really would be pink-slipped. He’d gone through too much to let that happen to her.
Jaden held Ally tight throughout the cool tropical evening, keeping an eye out for revved-up ravers who might be in the market for a quick score. The night passed peacefully, and the sun rose early, casting a warm glow across Tampa Bay.
Ally’s eyes fluttered open. She gazed up at him and her eyes grew wide when she realized whose arms she was in, but she didn’t pull away. “Pretty sunrise,” she said.
“Uh-huh,” Jaden said, stroking her hair with no intention of diverting his gaze from her to the sunrise.
In silence she watched the sun gild the horizon.
“Thank you for watching over me,” Ally said softly. She arched her back and slid up his lap, turning slightly to face him.
Jaden felt each breath that escaped her warm, full lips. His heart caught in his chest as he looked at her, a rush of emotion swirling through him.
Ally slipped her hand around his neck, her nails lingering just beneath his earlobe. He tingled at her touch. She lifted up and gently pressed the nape of his neck.
Jaden leaned in, and as Ally’s eyelashes trembled shut, their lips met.
He let out a soft groan, the sensation of kissing Ally shutting out everything else. He drifted his arms around her waist just as he felt her pull back.
“I knew you’d take care of me,” she murmured.
“What if I hadn’t?”
Ally turned and nestled down into his arms. “But you did. You were my knight in shining dreadlocks.”
“But what if I hadn’t ridden up on my white horse, Ally? Seriously bad things could have happened to you.” He couldn’t believe how heedless she was of the real danger she had put herself in last night.
She wiggled in his lap, her eyes still closed. “Knights always rescue the damsel in distress.”
Jaden frowned. This was an act—the same servile vulnerability she had put on for her father the night he caught them sneaking in after curfew—all bouncy and accommodating to keep from getting in trouble.
Was he being played? Had he been all night long?
“If I hadn’t come along tonight you just would have gone off with some other guy.”
She flinched. “Oh, come on now, Jaden. Tell me what you really think.”
Every part of him was telling him to stop, but he couldn’t seem to hold the vicious words in. “As high as you were, I could have been anyone, any welcoming two arms to hold you.”
“No, that’s crazy. Jaden, I knew it was you all along. I wouldn’t have gone with anyone else.”
“You almost didn’t go with me,” Jaden said. “I had to drag you out.”
“That’s because the first thing they teach you about Joy is to never leave the rave high. Everyone is safe at the rave.”
“All those strangers make you safe?”
“That’s not the point. The rave is a contained environment. The drug wears off in a few hours and the walls around the addiction go back up, mostly. There’s just enough of a little hole, a crack really, that lets the craving seep through. You crave your addiction, sure, but you crave Joy more. You want that tiny little fissure to become a gully and let the pleasure wash over you. You want to feed the need.”
He paused, her words sinking in. “But when I split you at the Detention Center, there wasn’t anything but a tiny bit of your addiction wall left.”
“Because I was high. You split me when I was still coming down. That’s probably why it didn’t work.”
“And you let me do it anyhow?”
“Yeah, sure. I mean, what could it hurt? Even if it had worked, another hit of Joy and the wall would have been down again.”
“So if Joy brings the wall down, why did you want me to split you?”
“Hey, I’m not always high. When you come down off of Joy, you come really down. I was despondent. Wanted it all to end, I guess.”
“So the entire time I’m freaking out thinking I’m losing my powers, you’ve known exactly what’s wrong?”
“What made you think you were losing your powers?”
“You did! I couldn’t treat you. I couldn’t fix you, no matter what I did. You let me think I was a failure.”
“Nobody could ever think you were a failure, Jaden. You’re my knight.”
“Well you can go find yourself another one, you little raver-girl,” Jaden said, turning his back on her, getting up, and strutting purposefully in the direction of what he hoped was his car.
Ally ran after him and grabbed his arm. “Don’t be like that, Jaden. I never—”
Jaden pulled his arm away. “Get away from me, Ally. I’m warning you. Friends don’t do what you did to me. I don’t want to see you anymore.”
Marching forward, he left Ally Fayre quietly crying in his wake— he hoped for good.