Prologue

Luca Fitzgerald knew he was dreaming. He couldn't care less. Everything was soft, warm, and quiet. A Peaches 'n Cream –orangey fog surrounded him while he carelessly drifted along, idly humming a familiar and comforting tune to himself. Here, he didn't have to care about his college level Accounting classes, or the fact that his class's e-book, College Accounting: Auditing your Enemies, had set him back a good eight hundred bucks and was written by his tenured professor. He didn't have to care about the looming debt of over four-hundred thousand dollars he'd be paying off the moment he graduates. He didn't have to care that the roommate he's had all year pays for his tuition by subjecting himself to weekly medical tests that involve popping nano-bot filled pills every week. He didn't have to care that ninety-nine percent of the time these Adikia Pharmaceuticals patented nano pills would backfire on his roommate. He didn't have to care that one time a pill that was given to Eli caused him to scream uncontrollably the names of unknown Lovecraftian Elder Gods in his sleep, or another time when a pill gave Eli an immeasurably strong urge to paint a moustache on everything in their dorm.

Nope, none of that mattered in Luca's deep sleep dream world. Everything was cozy, soothing, and best of all, quiet. Well, at least it was quiet until—

"FUCK. LUCA. FUCK. FUCK. FUCK. FEEEEE-YUHHHHHCK." hacked up Eli in a heavily agitated voice. He was squirming on the poorly carpeted floor next to Luca's futon. It took Luca a few seconds to realize that, no, he wasn't still asleep, and yes, it looked like Eli was writhing in pain on the floor. It was still dark out. Half-asleep, he casually surveyed Eli.

"What did they plug you with this time?"

It was Monday morning. Had to be. Every Sunday, Eli goes to the Adikia labs, takes a quick physical and blood test, and then they plug him with a nano pill. They have something like a turkey baster with an opening large enough for a Tylenol that they shove down his throat in order to "properly" medicate him. By Sunday night, the effects set in. If he's lucky, the product works as intended.

Eli doesn't carry around a four-leafed clover or a horseshoe. He doesn't do any type of superstitious daily ritual. He washes his clothes regularly. Case in point, Eli Page is not, and has only rarely been, lucky.

"FUCK. Supposed to— FUCK. Supposed to be— FUCK. FUCK. FUCK. A Tourette's vaccine."

Nano pills worked by sending thousands of miniature robots through your body, targeting your nervous system and rewiring it in an attempt to cure the mental disease it was intended for. Apparently, this week they had a cure for Tourette's worked out. Since Eli didn't suffer from the disease already, they had to use a nano pill to "infect" him with it first. In some ways, this process worked like a vaccine.

"I see." sarcastically remarked Luca, "and it's working just as fine as the last vaccine for Tourette's you took, hmm?"

...

Checking his alarm clock, it was only three in the morning. He still had a couple hours of sleep left before class. Sometimes, Luca really hated his roommate. Lazily, he grouped together his pillow and bed sheet, and hauled himself into the hallway. It wasn't the first time he's had to do this, and his neighbors wouldn't be surprised to find a bunched up Luca obstructing their path through the hall.

...

In the depths of his dreams, Luca began to feel pressure around his mouth and cheeks.

"I really hope there's not a penis in my face when I wake up." dreamed Luca. Opening his eyes, Luca was relieved to find a shoe gently prodding his face. The shoe belonged to his neighbor.

"Fitzgerald, I've been yelling your name for the past ten minutes!" the accent in the voice was prominent and easily distinguishable, "Wake the hell up!"

"Alesh, leave me alone," mumbled Luca. "it's still early."

"Fitz, what time do you think it is?"

He wouldn't be asking this if the time wasn't either really early or really late.

"I'm late for class, aren't I?" sighed Luca. He still hadn't opened his eyes yet, but he suspected he'd be flat out sprinting in a few seconds.

"You've already missed it." said Alesh calmly. Alesh was a good guy. Luca could usually count on him to cover for him. "I told Carter you were vomiting from bad chicken."

"Thanks, man. Do you think he fell for it?"

These days, meat no longer carried diseases or went bad, mainly due to the fact that it wasn't really meat. Completely one-hundred percent synthesized in a lab, no longer was there the need to kill animals for meat. Pretty sure the nutjobs at PETA were ecstatic that they finally did something right for once.

Professor Carter was a bit older. Born at the turn of the millennium, he had a good fifty years of bloodied meat before the world switched to synth. At the worst, Alesh's bullshit would've brought some nostalgia to Carter. At the best, Carter wouldn't even notice the flaw in the logic and just mark Luca down as sick. There was something else about Carter, though, that could prove to be problematic. Carter, in sixty-six point eighty-eight percent of the definition, is an arrogant prick. Not showing up to class would mean that Carter wouldn't be able to show off his "incredible" number crunching skills and bean counting prowess to a full audience. That would mean trouble for Luca in the form of after class presentations, during which his derelict snob of a professor would detail every surmountable feat in accounting he performed in his life. This included, but was not limited to: Auditing his parents at the age of seven, doing his own taxes since he was ten (which most people are pretty damn sure isn't possible), and being able to pick up chicks with his vast, superior knowledge of their assets and how much they would get on their return (which probably involved stalking these poor women to some degree).

"Probably not. That old drone would never pass up a chance to show off." replied Alesh. Luca had to sigh. It was one thing to have been forced to become an accountant like his father. It was worse still to have to sit through three hour classes of his most dreaded subject with the most brain-retching teacher the school could have possibly have hired.

"Hey, Alesh, if I killed myself, do you think you could write my funeral off as a school expense on my taxes?"

For as nice of a guy as Alesh is, he's still willingly going to Jobs University to study accounting. Ask him anything about taxes, and he'll take it seriously to a point that starts sounding like a nicely refined satire.

"Not sure. It depends on if your suicide was school-related and if it furthered your learning experience."

Satisfied with Alesh's typical answer, Luca lunged himself forward and got back on his feet. He swiped his student ID through the door's e-lock and opened up his dorm room. Panning across the room, bedsheets and clothes were strewn about, twisted up from Eli's tornado of Tourette's. If he hadn't known better, Luca would've suspected some wild, one man orgy had occurred here. The prime centerpiece of this exhibit was, of course, Eli. He had somehow managed to fall asleep on his bed upside down. His neck was holding up all of his weight, forcing his head into his chest, and his legs were sitting crossed in the air. Luca had to hand it to him; he was impressed.