Chapter 17
I woke up knowing today is speech day. Shit I hate that. I can already feel a can of worms gnawing away in my stomach. I scratched my head as I stumbled over to the window. I could see the green semicircle of Macrohard's headquarters stretching out two miles toward the grey zone. From my viewpoint I could see three rotating shifts of gardeners at work on the lawns like the second hands on a clock.

I felt the gristle of my morning beard. I wonder if it's true Will shaves three times a day. Wouldn't surprise me in the least. I better try to make myself pretty. Wouldn't want to disappoint the National Association of Intellectual Property Rights Advocate folks. Shit! Why am I so fuckin' nervous? I'd rather go sweep mines for the day than give a speech. It's true--I really would. Here I am, a grown man for Chrissakes. I'm not a wimp. I've done my duty, served my country. No way around it, I'm just gonna have to grunt my way through it

As I sucked deep into my tobacco tube, I force fit my thoughts toward optimism. Hell, I've got to at least look confident; what kind of a leader am I anyway? My heart beat bounced to the rhythm of tobacco milligrams. Thank goodness for the CDR4000, that's all I have to say.

I got dressed and my chauffeur picked me up to take me to the auditorium. As we pulled up I could see the Association's banner spread out over the enormous entryway displaying their famous logo: the face of a pirate sticking out from under a guillotine.

As I walked up to the podium, the crowd rose to its feet. They were clapping from every corner of the room. The 100 foot screen behind the stage was fully lit, a giant mirror of my motions which made me feel a little like I didn't belong there--an irritating person walking in the front row of a theater just as a movie's starting. As I stood under the hydrogen lamps, I could feel the dampness of my own sweat refusing to evaporate through my new synthetic suit. I was cooking in my own juices. Damn public speaking!

I gazed out at the crowd, 10,000 or so faces. They were all looking at me. I couldn't keep looking out at them: all those faces, all those eyes, rubbing against every inch of my body. My hands slipped onto the control panel of the podium as I activated the CDR4000 circuitry. I rubbed my fingers on the pad of Topical Valium 5 and immediately felt the calming effect of its soothing molecules merging with my own. The hologram jumped up in front of my face. I could now see a mirror image of myself standing before me. They couldn't see it, but I could now concentrate on how I looked. CDR4000 would take care of the rest. I felt my arms being pulled up into a broad expansive gesture of openness, like a prizefighter walking into a ring. My lips, my arms, my face were all under the biomagnetic control of CDR4000 now. I stood and watched myself give the beginning of a glorious speech. It was as if my soul had been transported into the body of a magnificent stage actor. My arms moved up and down in rhythm with my voice which bellowed out deep sonorous tones--sometimes slowly and sometimes at a feverish pitch of excitement. I could hear the audience as they laughed at only the right moments. They sighed when they were supposed to sigh. They were completely absorbed in my speech. For a moment, I almost felt relaxed. I was on automatic pilot; all of my motions were completely programmed to give the best performance possible. I could feel myself smile and laugh when it wasn't my idea to do so. I was possessed.

Without warning, the hologram disappeared. Maybe it was too much bioelectricity running through my system--I'm not sure. But, all I could see was I seemed to be in a giant boxing ring. The crowd was screaming, and the lights were dumping all their resonance onto the spongy white mat beneath my feet. I was in the match, swaying from side to side blocking punches from some unknown source. I squinted my eyes and saw a pair of shoes moving on the floor in front of me. It was the invisible boxer again, coming at me, hurling his punches from all directions. I tried to defend myself from the barrage, but it was impossible. One of his invisible fists slammed into my nose, knocking me to the floor. I tried to get up, but I kept falling back. I could see a referee standing above me making the final count down. Alongside him the pair of shoes continued their independent hopping from left to right. I pulled myself to my knees as I heard the crowd screaming even louder. I wiped my face with my glove and realized my nose was bleeding profusely. As I saw the blood on my gloves glistening in the lights, I was filled with rage. I looked over at the dancing shoes and dived downward tackling my opponent. I had his legs locked in my grip. He continued to pound my back, but I had him on the ground. Maybe I couldn't see this son of a bitch, but I could sure feel him. And then I could see. The blood from my gloves had rubbed off on his legs, and I could see them. I locked onto him with every ounce of strength I had. We rolled from one side of the mat to the other like two pit bulls. Every few seconds one of his punches would pop through, but they only increased my determination to find out who this guy was.

Finally, I had him. I sat on his chest, pinning him to the ground with my knees. I rubbed my bloody gloves over his face like a little boy in a graveyard scratching a pencil on a piece of tracing paper over an old tombstone. Bit by bit his face started to appear. He was growling and squirming like a bear in a bag, but I held him down anyway and rubbed as much blood on his face as I could. Holy shit! Then the shock hit me. It was Will! I lost control. My hands lurched around his neck and I squeezed as tightly as I could. There were bodyguards all around me pounding at my ears with their fists, but every ounce of my attention was focused on the urgency to squeeze this greasy neck into oblivion. All that mattered was to end this evil. I could hear my own bones cracking as the bodyguards smashed my ribs. I gasped as I felt my fingers slipping off his tuna fish of a neck. The guards tore me away and pulled me to the side of the ring. I looked into the eyes of one of the bodyguards as he was swinging his arm back to give me a blow to the face. I saw a shower of meteors pouring from my head as his fist hammered into my face, sending me into an echoed silence of black.

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