You could hear the noise from the Android Sisters' New Year's Eve Party as soon as the elevator doors opened on the fourth floor of their apartment building.
Each year, the Android Sisters held exactly one party, and it was always big. Last year it had been a Halloween party. This year they'd selected New Year's Eve.
The apartment was crowded. The Androids had given out an open invitation, and practically everyone had accepted it.
All of the Asylum inmates were there. Suzanne and Lynda had both brought their current boyfriends, and Torrence had of course brought Maria. Jim and Pauline, however, had come stag. Although Pauline didn't care, this bothered Jim a great deal. It had been years since he'd been alone on New Year's Eve.
Also in attendance was Wanda, the new inmate of the Asylum. She had just finished moving into Bill's old room in the basement. She was short and thin, with curly brown hair. Her main creative output was T-shirts; she did custom screening as well as all manner of tie-dyed shirts.
And even Bill was there, though he only stayed a few minutes. He popped in, chatted with a few specific people, and then disappeared.
Needless to say, the Four were there, and they had dressed for the occasion.
Bert was dressed as the outgoing old year: he wore a ridiculous long white beard, and carried a big sickle. Over his long white robe he had draped a Miss America style banner with the old year imprinted on it. He made a big show of hobbling slowly around, and leaning on his sickle for support.
Peter was dressed as the incoming new year. A huge white diaper and a banner bearing the new year's date were his sole adornments. Sometimes he crawled around on the floor, but other times, feeling ridiculous, he stood up and acted like a normal, albeit oddly dressed, person.
Paul was dressed as the new year as it would be a couple of months hence: an obnoxious, pimply youth. He wore ripped up jeans and a dirty T-shirt under his date emblazoned banner. He had a sling shot in his back pocket and a skateboard under his arm. He teased the girls, cracked his bubble gum loudly and frequently, and fidgeted constantly.
Dave was dressed as the new year in the prime of its life, about nine months in the future. He wore a smart looking business suit under the obligatory year banner and carried a briefcase in one hand and a copy of the Wall Street Journal in the other. He talked seriously about the stock market and other business matters.
And along with these were gathered many other people, a wide assortment: close friends, distant friends, friends of friends, and even a couple of complete strangers. Music blared and conversations droned. Refreshments were consumed.
The Android Sisters, as the hostesses, looked stunning in their matching, shimmering white evening gowns. Since the party was being catered, they were able to spend all of their time socializing with their guests.
At ten o'clock, the Martian Princess quietly slipped through the door. She located Dave and silently stood behind him until he noticed her.
When he did, he kissed her and said "Hi!"
"Hello," she whispered.
"I see you found the place," said Dave. "Check out our costumes, aren't they great!"
The Princess gazed around, but didn't say anything.
"There are refreshments and stuff over there," said Dave, pointing at a table.
The Princess wandered off in the indicated direction, and poured herself a glass of punch. She then sat down on the floor in the corner, near where Mr. Bean, the manager of the Saturn Cafe, stood talking to his small wife.
Jim also sat nearby. He was in a melancholy mood. At times during the party, he'd put on his best face and act social, trying to get some kind of conversation going with one or another of the women he didn't know; but at other times, he just sat quietly, drinking punch from a clear plastic cup and feeling sorry for himself.
At ten twenty five, Dave knelt down next to the Princess, who had not stirred from the spot in the corner. He looked at her seriously. "Are you OK?"
The Princess shrugged. "I'm just in an anti-social mood."
Dave sagged. "Do you want to leave? We could go somewhere else."
The Princess said, "I don't want to drag you away if you're having fun."
"No, it's OK, I can leave. Do you want to go?"
The Princess shrugged, but then nodded.
"OK," said Dave, "Let's get out of here." With that, they headed for the door, and disappeared into the chilly winter night.
Bert noticed their departure, and seethed. He told the others. They felt hurt and angry, and stood together in a huddle, whispering to each other.
"It doesn't really matter," said Peter, "his costume was the least interesting one."
"It does matter," insisted Paul. "Without his costume, mine's not as good. The baby and the old man are standards, but the adolescent doesn't really work without the grown up."
"Is this the way it's going to be?" asked Bert. "We've been seeing less and less of Dave. He never has time for us anymore, because of his 'Princess.' Soon they're gonna start calling us 'The Three.' "
They felt glum. But after a bit, they resumed their antics and more or less forgot about Dave.
At eleven thirty, Jim managed to get a conversation going with an attractive woman named Jill. They chatted, and the chemistry seemed to be working OK. He asked if she wanted something to drink, and then went off to get two cups of punch. He returned, and they sat down on the edge of a couch to drink punch and talk.
At eleven fifty three, someone turned on the television and the crowd became aware of the approaching moment of celebration.
At eleven fifty seven, Jill said "Oop! It's almost midnight!" She finished off her punch in one big swallow, stood up and walked off, calling back over her shoulder "I'll be back!"
Jim sat waiting impatiently. He'd become very agitated by Jill's departure, and longed for her timely return. As their conversation had progressed, he'd been hopeful that something might grow out of it. He desperately wanted to be with Jill at midnight, since at that special moment, everyone is supposed to kiss the one they love. Although they barely knew each other, Jim imagined that their inhibitions might drop away in the spirit of the moment, and that he and Jill might join lips, thus starting off a relationship in a wonderful, magic way.
At eleven fifty nine and forty seconds, Jim could wait no longer, and went off to find Jill. He pushed through the crowd, which was beginning to chant the seconds as they ticked away.
At eleven fifty nine and fifty five seconds, Jim found Jill. She was standing in the kitchen, laughing, with her arms around a tall blond man.
At midnight, the crowd erupted. They hugged and shouted and cheered and kissed and laughed and screamed and frolicked. Paul, as the baby new year, put on a big show of chasing Bert, the old man, out of the apartment. Jill and her tall blond man engaged in a long, passionate kiss.
And Jim stood alone, still and silent, in the doorway of the kitchen.
At ten minutes after midnight, Jim quietly left the party.
He walked out into the cold winter night, and on into the Empty
City. The noise of the party echoed in his brain.