Waves crashing, and a distant, coughing machine, that he recognised at last as his own lungs. He dragged himself out of the water and saw, he didn't know what he saw, but it loomed over him, and funny, but the first thing that he thought was: predatory indigene.
The second: Well, that's it, I'm dead.
He'd been thinking that a lot lately.
Only he wasn't.
He'd been sailing, touring the archipelago when the plague surfaced. And that was the best way to describe it, it had bubbled out of his flesh, like the Mantacorns he seen lift out of the water.
Plague, God alone knew how. He'd had all the injections. Captain Quinn had assured him, after taking a little of his blood, that appropriate measures were being taken. They'd stripped his bed, burnt the linen, then thrown him overboard. Appropriate measures.
People were always making dust, and dust was always being converted. Thinking matter continued now much longer than it ever had: no more the slow rise from dumb to smart (by way of absorption into co-operative cellular masses, sentient and scheming) then back again. A flake of dandruff could become a soldier, grow tiny legs, burn tiny engines lay waste to tiny kingdoms. The employment opportunities for retired matter were nearly endless. From dust to dust was never truer.
Walking back to his rooms, sore and smiling. Jack ran into a rogue advertisement. It mumbled at him. Suggested brands long forgotten by all but the most nostalgic.
He ignored it. And its cries grew more plaintive. It grabbed at him with desperate rubber-coated fingers, hard where the rubber had worn away. He pushed the hands from him.
"Mondo Tethys Gum is the best. Chew it. Chew it. Please."
The air filled with a dry sweet smell, more sickening than enticement.
Why did advertisers never switch these things off? He knew the answer to that. When companies fell in Iron Temple, they fell hard.
Its cries drew more advertisements. Slice of life mechanicals, Endorsers, Placardinators. They followed him down the streets, crying, reaching out, sharing, giving in confidence information. Jack could have shot them. There was no law against that. In some suburbs of the city, they were hunted for sport in great advertorial culls. Still he couldn't. He felt sorry for them.
Jack wondered what it was like to wander endlessly, chased by the closing Outage, and never selling a thing.
He started into a jog. By the next street corner, all but the most tenacious advertisements had fallen away. A few more streets and it was just him.
He slowed to a walk, not far from his room. The street empty again, though he knew things watched him. Dust motes curious.
Behind him gunshots sounded. A cull had begun. Final sales put to rest. Whatever happiness a night of fucking had given him fled.