Antinomy was still getting used to himself.
He knew, intellectually, that he was a new entity, created only a brief while ago, but his memories were those of a man who had lived a long life. His mind thought that his body should be weak and plagued with pains, that his eyes should be failing and his senses dulled. It was strange to walk the streets of Neo Domino and feel his muscles responding so easily, his joints bending without pain. If there had been fewer people on the streets with him, he would have broken into a run, just for the feeling of motion. There was a time when he never would have believed that there could be more joy in darting about on his own two feet than there could be in racing a D-Wheel, but now he could barely restrain himself from breaking into a sprint.
Mind on business, he told himself. He had work to do tonight. Somewhere in this city was Fudo Yusei, and he had a difficult lesson to start learning. Antinomy had orders to teach him. Nothing else could get in the way of that.
Antinomy stood on a street corner and looked up at a clock that hung in the square. According to his briefing, the group he was supposed to be watching would be at a party tonight. The party hadn't started yet; it would be a waste of time to look for them now. Better to wait until they were in a place he was sure he could find them. According to his best guess, that meant he had an hour or two to kill before his mission could be carried out.
Which raised the question: what should he do?
For a while, he simply walked, familiarizing himself with the city. It was a strange feeling, to be so surrounded by people. They they were everywhere - talking, laughing, bickering, or simply hurrying to one place or another. He was glad of his reflective glasses, which made it difficult for anyone to realize that he was staring at them, drinking in the sight of faces other than the three he had been looking at for so many years. He gazed at the city lights, at the cars rushing by; he turned his head to catch every sound of music, people laughing, children playing. There was so much energy and life around him that he was almost dizzy with it.
How, he wondered, had he survived for so long? By rights, he should have gone stark raving mad. In the world after the disaster, there had been nothing worth living for. Laughter had been a thing of the past - there had been less to laugh about with every passing day. Music had likewise perished. Who had the leisure for it? Even humming under your breath while you worked felt so irreverent as to be blasphemous. There had been very little color in the final world, and little light within the fortress humanity's last remnants had built for themselves. The only scents were smoke and dust and blood and decay. In the early days, they had survived by looting buildings for canned goods, but those couldn't last forever. Even before the supplies ran out altogether, they had become old and tasteless, and had frequently left the men who tried to eat them feeling ill afterwards. When that gave out, Z-one had found some way of producing something edible - a paste of nutrients that could sustain life, but could hardly be considered food, and which had been so bland that it had begun to stick in Antinomy's throat after only a few days of eating it. There had been times when he had willingly borne hunger rather than face another meal of that insipid stuff. Z-one could have probably found a way to make it taste better, but that would have taken precious time - time they could ill afford to spend, because once their four lives ran out, there would be no more life.
That is why I had to live. If I didn't survive, then who would?
Still, it was hard to believe that he could have slogged through all those interminable years when he had all this to compare them to. For a fleeing moment, he was tempted just to forget his mission and simply stay here in the past, enjoying everything life had to offer. He could live and die here in all this luxury and let someone else worry about the future. He deserved it, didn't he? He had devoted an entire lifetime to trying to find a way to fix what had gone wrong, and he'd died with nothing to show for it. But of course, that was impossible. He couldn't have gone through all that just to give up at the end and say the others could take it from there.
I am only alive now because Z-one chose to make it so. Whatever I have to do, even if I have to sacrifice this life I have, so be it.
His attention was suddenly drawn to a much more earthly matter. A delightful scent had just blown past him, and he stopped, breathing deeply. How long had it been since he had smelled food cooking? Real food, with actual taste? He had a vague notion that his last hot, fresh meal had been a fast-food sandwich that he had bolted down without paying any particular attention to it, blithely assuming that there would be another meal coming later. If he had known that the person who served the food to him would be dead within a few hours, would he have savored it more? Would he have at least remembered what it had been?
Antinomy was on a mission to preserve the future. He was not supposed to draw attention to himself. He was not supposed to deviate from his plan. He knew that, but his stomach wasn't listening, and his mouth was already watering in anticipation of his first true meal in decades.
I will definitely call attention to myself, he told himself, if people see me standing outside a restaurant and drooling.
He made the decision in an instant. He walked through the restaurant door without so much as looking to see what kind of restaurant it actually was, and let a young woman seat him at a table and give him a menu.
Just a light snack, he told himself firmly. Enough to sustain me for this mission, that's all. He had a bit of local currency, by way of a bank account that Z-one had set up for his servants' use, but there was no point in wasting it on frivolities.
Then he opened the menu.
Antinomy knew full well that he was only narrowly what anyone might call "human". He'd been put together out of an improbable blend of computer technology and biological engineering. When all was said and done, he was a computer, a jumble of data uploaded into a conveniently human-shaped package and programmed to perform a certain task. He was at best a reasonable facsimile of a dead man. But that didn't mean that he didn't feel that man's memories keenly, and he remembered being hungry. A body could live without music, without sight, without the touch of a lover or the sound of a voice, but those years of having nothing remotely resembling food to eat had taken a toll on him. He had dreamed and dreamed of all the things he couldn't have: fast food bacon cheeseburgers dripping with grease and french fries that coated his fingers with salt; chargrilled steaks and baked potatoes slathered with butter and sour cream; ice cream cones on hot days and hot chocolate with marshmallows in the cold; fried chicken with his family on Christmas eve and boxes of chocolate from his devoted fans on Valentine's day; pizza and beer with his friends and wine and caviar at victory parties. Being alive meant needing to eat, but being human meant wanting to eat well.
"Excuse me, sir?" asked a waitress. "Are you ready to order, or do you need a few more minutes?"
"Um... yes," he said, jerking himself back to reality. "I want... this and this and this."
The waitress gave him a quizzical look. Hesitantly, she asked, "Is someone else joining you?"
"No, it's just me."
"And you're sure this is what you want?"
Antinomy nodded a firm agreement. The waitress dutifully wrote down his order and darted away - possibly to tell the rest of the staff about the insane man sitting in the corner who had just ordered enough food to feed three or four people, and on top of that had asked for cola and tea and juice and hot chocolate all at once, but he didn't care. She was up to her elbows in food all day long; she could hardly be expected to understand what was driving him.
Within a few minutes his meal - or several meals - arrived, and he tried not to let his avidity show as he politely thanked the waitress. Fortunately, it was late enough in the evening that other diners were scarce, so there weren't many people around to see him making an unashamed glutton of himself. He seized on an item at random - a plate of chicken wings - and took a bite. It was steaming hot, but he didn't care - it was perfect, the most delicious thing he'd ever tasted, a divine creation of crisp batter and tender meat and tangy sauce. He closed his eyes with a soft moan, letting the juice dribble down his chin.
For a few blissful minutes, Antinomy provided a source of fascination to the restaurant staff as he engulfed what seemed to be an impossible amount of food for a man of his size. He couldn't finish it all, of course, but he managed to put an impressive dent in it all before reluctantly pushing his plates away. He promised himself there would be other opportunities - after all, he was going to be here for a while, and he did have to eat to survive...
Well, experience had proven that he could get by without it, but there was more to life than just surviving.
"Would you... like a to-go box?" the waitress asked. She was eyeing him a bit warily, as if worried he might explode, or possibly try to take a bite out of her to see how she'd taste.
"No, thank you," he said politely. "I won't be going home for a while."
He left the poor woman a fifty percent tip, partly because he felt like being generous and partly because he couldn't remember what a reasonable tip would have been at this point in history, and then he stood and left. He felt wonderfully revitalized, as if more than just his body had been fed. It was a funny thing to think. What else was there to him? Wasn't he just a machine, something someone had put together on a work table? But if that was all there was to him, why would he feel the need to do something so irrational as binging on fast food?
Ah, well. It didn't matter. Right now, the clock was telling him that it was time to move on to his next task, that of finding Fudo Yusei and putting him on the track towards the Accel Synchro technique. That was more than enough to worry about without getting metaphysical.
But at least he wouldn't have to worry about it on an empty stomach.