Day 77

Shooting would wrap soon. Within the week. I wanted to host the party before anyone left.

Almost three months of tips had been enough to pay for one of the better local hard rock bands and a popular DJ. I'd added some of my income from the pod concept for decorations, but the remodeling was courtesy of the Center.

Two stages were sited outside the bar area. Outside the pod, behind large windows, so that partygoers could see and even interact with the performers, through an intercom and indoor tip buckets. Amplifiers were inside the pod. Invited media members could join the party from the outside.

It had taken me a lot of effort to coordinate, but the crew was worth it. I'd be tending bar while my girlfriend would be MC, which was the main reason there was press interest. Her recent casting as an assassin on the run in a major upcoming movie was generating plenty of buzz for the series.

My biggest fear had been the weather. We had a backup plan, but I hadn't ever seen it as likely to succeed. As the day grew closer, the forecast grew more positive, and I breathed a huge sigh of relief.

Alysson would introduce the band, who would play two sets, ending at nine-thirty, and the DJ would mix until the wee hours.


Ali wore the burgundy outfit she'd worn at our first date. Her hair had grown out a little since we'd first met, and she looked incredible. I still found it hard to understand why she wanted to be with me, but I believed it because she believed it, and made it clear to me every day.

This party wasn't about us, though, or even about her. This was for the entire crew, and after Ali had thanked everyone for attending and introduced the band, I yelled, "Ladies and Gentlemen, the bar is open," to applause almost as loud as Alysson's speech had drawn.


The Dive Mommas had been a huge success, judging by the weight of the tip jar that I handed through a window to their manager. N. Muhammad had made a great start, and was probably on his way to a good evening, too. The effects team had produced a nicely psychedelic lighting effect which fit the DJ's style perfectly.

Scents of unusual smoking substances occasionally drifted from side rooms. On most evenings, senior production staff would police such activities, since any word to outside authorities could upset the pod integrity. But tonight, it seemed, they were turning a blind eye. And judging from some of the over-affectionate embraces on the dance floor, there may be some E making its way through the dancers.

Alysson had told me that most of the staff had come to see my party as a replacement for the wrap party. Since no one would be able to rejoin the pod once they'd left, a few of them probably wouldn't be able to be at the wrap party. It would still happen, but it would be smaller than usual. My party - intended to show my appreciation for the crew, but also co-opted by the Center for the same purpose - would be the last big event before people started drifting out of the pod.

So I was surprised when Jen strode through the dance floor about an hour before midnight, the two series directors in tow. She moved to the mike stand that Alysson had used earlier, and the DJ faded into a pause. I could see him grinning behind his deck on the other side of the window. Someone had arranged this with him. I felt a twinge of annoyance, since this was my party, and I was the one who should be making all the arrangements.

They were dressed more formally than most of the partygoers; Jen and the female director I'd met on the first day in long dresses, and the male director who alternated with her in a dark suit. They were probably spending most of their time in video calls with the press.

"I just need a moment," Jen said to the mike, which squealed once. One of the effects techs adjusted a knob, and she smiled thanks. "While you all are still here, I want to give you some news. We're scheduled for release next month, as you all know, and we won't get word on renewal until ratings are in. But what we're hearing is that it's going to happen. Not only does everyone love the prelims, but with so many productions being delayed, we're going to have more visibility. So expect to be back next year!"

There was a huge cheer at that. At least, from those who were listening. A few couples had barely noticed that the music had stopped, including my friend Jack, whom I'd noticed in a corner seriously violating mask protocols with a girl from makeup.

"Mr. Garcia, please, join me," Jen said.

I blinked in surprise, then told the small group of people waiting at the bar that I'd be right back, and marched over to stand before her.

"I think you all know that tonight's party is Nate Garcia's baby, intended as a thank you to us all for being a pleasure to work with. No surprise, because you all know that I'm a pleasure to work with." There was some laughter at that. Good natured, but nervous. "So I want to give everyone a chance to thank him, too."

Some cheering started, but Jen held up a hand, and it stopped instantly. "What you may not know - and what I've only just discovered - and I've confirmed this with my contacts at the Center - is that Mr. Nate Garcia is the reason we're all here. The pod is his idea. Without it, we wouldn't have a show."

She paused a beat before continuing. "Nate's an outsider, but that situation is already in jeopardy."

Jen gave a pointed look to my right. I had no idea why there was laughter until I turned my head to see that Alysson had moved up behind me, a smile on her face. Ryan, beside her, grinned at me.

"I suspect that young Mr. Garcia's life is about to change," Jen said, "and if for any reason" - she glared at Alysson again - "he ever needs to relocate, I'm planning to offer him a job. We can use someone with his imagination. Until then, let's thank him for the options he's given us in this year that has been so dreadful for the world and for the industry."

This time the two directors led the cheering, and Jen didn't interrupt it. She turned her arm for an elbow bump, and I felt a number of slaps on my back. Alysson's hand threaded inside my right arm, and Ryan's inside my left. I grinned happily.

"Could I say something?" I asked Jen.

"Sure," she agreed.

I leaned close to the mike and said, "I'll be back at the bar in a moment. DJ Muhammad has agreed to stay as late as you all want him, and I'm planning to do the same. If I don't survive until morning, those are the perils of dating an assassin."

There was polite laughter at that. Someone must have signalled the DJ, because trance music flowed back into the room as I walked back to the bar, Alysson and Ryan still holding my arms.

At the bar I hugged Ryan, then turned to hold my girlfriend close, pressing my forehead to hers in lieu of a kiss, before returning to my work.