He watched her walk away, wondering if it would be awkward if he followed her. After a moment he headed for the area of the simulation that looked like a kitchen.
“What’s with that girl who isn’t even dressed up?” the woman with snakes in her hair said as she poured a large gin and tonic. “I mean, who comes to the Halloween party and doesn’t wear a costume?” Her friend, who looked like a cross between an fox and a vampire, didn’t answer. “What’s the point? Hell, even if you’re out of ideas there are, like, a hundred presets to pick from. There’s just no excuse.”
“Blue t-shirt?” Isaac said, interrupting, and the gorgon nodded. “She is in costume,” he said. “You should go talk to her.”
“You figured out who she is?”
Isaac shook his head. “Nope. Whoever it is has gone in a whole different direction this year. Unlike some of us, Lauren.”
“Damn it,” she said, as the snakes uncoiled, making her hair look like it had doubled in size. “How could you tell?”
“You do something with your hair every year,” the vampire fox said, shrugging. “It’s always obvious.”
“Well, at least you can tell I’m in costume,” she said, and turned to walk back to the main room of the party, a sibilant hiss following her.
“Just because we change bodies, it doesn’t change who we are,” Foxy said, giving Isaac a toothy grin. “Right, Emil? And, yeah — great party.” Isaac felt a paw on his arm then watched as his companion dropped to all fours and walked out of the kitchen.
He shook his head. That must have been Hui. She was the best guesser of them all; every year she’d been the first to figure out who everyone was. It was so bad that years ago they just gave up on having a prize for identifying people. Now it was all about the costumes.
Alone in the kitchen, he switched to a bird’s eye view of the party. It was still early, they were all still well-behaved. Of course, their drinks were just pixels and code, but what they did in real life was up to them. And plenty of them would be taking breaks from the simulation and enjoying whatever refreshments suited. Parties were always smoother when well-lubricated, and he knew it was tough to spend a long time in a simulation. He’d taken months to get used to it, so he figured most of the rest would be popping in and out.
They were his closest friends, many of whom he’d known since before the accident. It had changed his life, confined him to this facsimile of a world, but he knew he was lucky. If it had happened only a few years earlier, this technology that allowed him to be half human, half simulation wouldn’t have been available and he’d have been trapped in his unresponsive body. He knew well enough that no one could stay sane for long in that condition. As he looked at the simulation he’d created of an apartment, furniture, a whole life he could still share with the people he loved, he felt a surge of gratitude for the wires and chips in his head.
He scanned the rooms and picked out about a dozen people he was sure he could identify, but none of them were Diego. He wondered if this was the year he’d finally skip the party. He wondered if that would be good thing. Emil knew that Diego was as shattered as he’d been by the accident, only Diego’s injuries couldn’t be fixed with technology. Seeing Diego only once a year, in the skin of another person, it was almost worse than not seeing him at all.
Emil left the party for a moment, pulling up a simulated memory file. It was from before, but the implants worked with neural memories, rendering them into the same kind of simulation that now mediated all of Emil’s experiences. Both more and less real than memories, it was like stepping back in time, into a party maybe five years previous.
It was Tyra’s house, an over-large split level on the edge of town. She’d decorated like it was going out of style, though — plastic skeletons and crêpe paper bats overrunning the place. Emil found himself dressed as a matador, hand-in-hand with a hardened Klingon warrior, bat’leth at his side. He simultaneously remembered and remembered remembering the body in the rented Star Trek costume: Diego, a skinny bookworm with perfect eyelashes who stopped Emil’s breath that summer. The summer before the accident. He exited the program and for a moment wished he could feel his face. He was sure there would be tears.
Hui’s words echoed. Changing bodies doesn’t change who we are.