The synth didn’t hit until later that night.

Curtis became aware of it in stages as foreign threads in his biochip popped off, executed some quantum change to his mood, and then expired. Over and over, like pop rocks sizzling at the back of his throat. Only this time, the sensation was far more intense than a little tickle behind his nostrils; the synth code ran on his biochip, and the biochip had grow-wire around every major nerve in his body.

The first sense to heighten was his hearing, and he suspected the synth—of which he could no longer remember the name—had a note of synesthesia in it. The music pouring down from the main stage stalked like wild beasts through the crowd, playful and menacing all at once. They ran past him, brushing up against his bare legs, skirting his torso as they leapt through the air. Each contact, however brief, birthed music deep in his brain, as if he alone were the instrument.

Next, the registers in his touch receptors rearranged themselves such that every movement of his clothes across his body poured buckets of sweet prose through his imagination. He didn’t just visualize his shirt brushing his stomach; he was the words silken caresses teasing the pale skin float through the air, written out in cursive as if by a spectral hand. These sentences, with their blue neon letters, bounced about, pinging off people in the crowd, intersecting with other phrases from elsewhere on his body.

Damp skin bonding to damp skin. Rivulets of sweat dripping from clenched fingers.

Curtis looked to his right. Lasers danced on the face of an MX socialite name Eliana Vasquez, a minor celebrity who Curtis had known of but never in a million years thought he’d ever meet. And yet she’d been there in that tent, fate had thrown them together, and now…

“It’s coming on, isn’t it?” asked Eliana. Though the daughter of an MX synthetics magnate, she had been raised mostly in America, had attended college at Columba, and as such, had no trace of an accent. She had classic MX features—dark skin, dark hair, high cheekbones—but what caught Curtis’ attention were her psuedo-green eyes. The shone with a light that spoke to augmentation, but with a natural hue that dared anyone to call her on it.

“Yeah,” said Curtis, though he wasn’t sure whether the words left his lips at all.

Smooth nails biting into flesh. A welcome sting, a pleasurable bite.

“It’s intense, like… a heavy blanket or something.” She leaned against him, placed her head against his shoulder for a minute. “You wanna find some place to sit down? They have those lounge tents by the dining court.”

“Sure,” said Curtis, hearing the deep hissing of a snake in his ears. He followed Eliana through the crowd, past the swirling faces and corporeal scents of the young and lustful. Neon danced on exposed flesh; limbs intertwined and released with the beat of the music.