“Sorry, we’re all out.”

“I’m disgusted,” Said the man in front of me as his flesh turned blue, the color of veins beneath skin, “You don’t have any happiness?” The counter was no more than two feet from his face; he stomped in place for emphasis.

The employee, with skin switching between a focused green, red, and flashes of purple, shrunk back though the barrier protected him. “GleamInc and the generics, but you said you wouldn’t settle.” His glow went away, composure returned to normal, hands went onto the counter. “I’m not saying they’re all the same but c’mon, you know you gotta be here days ago.”

“I been busy with my kid.” The man whined.

I tapped his shoulder, he turned to face me, skin already iron grey; I didn’t want a problem so green I glowed, my heartbeat quickened, eyes widened and brows slanted upwards. “I read today that the Isaac store has a flash sale going on.” The man returned to normal color, ran from the store without another word.

I stepped up; business card size advertisements bounced around and off each other, superimposed on top of the counter. Muscle-memory took my hand to the scanner. An ad for Isaac grew over all the others: ‘The world is not black & white.’ I frowned; usually advertisements were better suited to my interests.

“Thanks for that.” The can of pop I’d ordered slid out of the counter’s vending slot. I picked it up, met the clerk’s eyes. “There’s never a reason to make things so unpleasant; is there anything else I can help you with?”

“A week’s course of GleamInc emotions, please.” The thought sent the last of the orange I’d saved throughout my body.

“I’m a gleamer too,” We exchanged superiority induced smiles, “How’d you know about an Isaac sale?”

“Made it up.” I removed my hand from the silver crab-claw shaped scanner. “Isaac people are so worried about brands that they miss what actually goes on.”

“Idiots. For sure. Can you imagine how much better the world would be if Isaac didn’t have sole manufacturing rights of the chips?”

“Uh-huh.” I didn’t care about manufacturing, the tech industry; a confirmation email appeared in the top right corner of my vision, the charge had cleared. I squeezed my fingers together to delete it, cracked my drink, exited the store.

It felt good to be back in the street, the thick of things, pedestrian traffic in Bridge City had a magma slow-crawl but looked a rainbow. No matter the color I chose for my veins I’d be able to find another like-minded individual immersed in a similar shine.

I passed cinderblock prism after prism, several stories to each, flat end facing the street; if a strong enough wind ever blew the buildings would go across, squash people instead of hitting one another into a domino tumble. Each was government owned, had blank-space auctioned in portions to the highest bidders; their eternal switching between different companies, pictures, slogans, campaigns left night no more than a concept.

My G.P.S dinged; I was at the left necessary to reach my building. I’d never had the need for a car, I could walk to everything and I was glad. That meant I didn’t have to deal with anything other than where I was headed, could scroll Social Media without a care in the world. I hadn’t seen street- signs since I was a child, halfway remembered a petition declaring them a safety hazard to C & C system users browsing the Internet.

I crossed the street under the glow of an ad for toothpaste. Every purchase came with a download code for sterling white, a color so intense it was supposed to spread to the hard to brush teeth; a woman coated her toothbrush in paste over and over again next to the promotion though her teeth were already bright.

Automatic doors slid shut behind me, I went to nod at my building’s security guard but his hands were twitching, head lolled to the side. I entered the elevator already on Social Media typing a message: ‘Good job.’ I threw in a winking smiley face with its tongue out so he’d know I was joking; he read it without replying.

I exited onto my floor, made my way to a door that clicked open when I got there and shut behind me.

The air inside was warm, filled with a trash smell like an alley on a summer day; I’d left the door to my disposal chute propped open, its vent led into the building’s incinerator. I hadn’t opened my windows the entire time I’d lived there, preferred to keep them shut, blinds down, to have better viewing points for my contacts. If the mood ever struck I could pick whatever landscape, picture, I desired to stare at all day; it hadn’t.

Aside from essential living machines my living space had come with holographic furniture; light-blue outlines were projected from somewhere I could never find in their most efficient positioning, couch, chairs, potted plant in the corner, all able to be ordered and placed after a one time, non-negotiable fee. I had better things to spend my credits on.

I sat where cushions should’ve been and the couch disappeared; my mind was on the night to come, head lolled to the side, eyes half-open reading the posted thoughts of my friends while my fingers twitched the way through.

***

Journey, Miles, and I approached the front of the club together, stopped, formed a single file line to accommodate the bouncer. “Welcome to Glo’ Up.” Miles was first, offered his forearm that fell out from balloon of a bicep to be scanned; Journey went next but I watched her ass instead of interactions. Even if I hadn’t already known what it looked like exposed, her outfit would’ve helped me make an educated guess; there were a million me and Miles of either gender in the club but only one her, Journey’s translucent dress, like every outfit she wore, set her apart.

“You accept the cover charge?” I nodded, scanned my hand then watched three-tenths of my day’s earnings drain from my account. My friends were in the building’s sensor area so the doors remained open; I turned a joyous orange, so did they, and we went, me behind their guiding light.

Volume increased as we made our way through the dim hallway to the dancefloor; I thought of how people always insist they see a light at the end of a dark tunnel; theirs couldn’t have been more beautiful than the million colors flashing where I was headed. I stepped through hotter than normal air and the constant underlying thrum of bass was suddenly accompanied by the screeches, whines, skips and beats of electronic music.

Miles sprinted past Journey and I, directly into the throng of people all back and forthing together; he could always be located by a fist pumping above the sea of choreographed dance moves. Journey and I looked at each other, laughed, made our way to the bar that switched between colors as the minutes went by.

The bar featured a touch interface; I tapped for two Purple Slugs. Journey’s fingers twitched, she was either posting on, or scrolling through her newsfeed but she’d frozen in a beautiful position, a photographer’s model; a robot appendage unfolded itself, dispensed the drinks into shot glasses raised from the counter.

She lifted her’s to lips, wiggled her perfectly illustrated eyebrows then threw her head back; the purple and green liquid illuminated its drop down her esophagus then sat, shining, in her stomach. “Now my outfit doesn’t match.”

I finished my own; she’d ordered too, clear liquid in shot glasses was in front of us, we drank: vodka. “That ain’t gonna fix your glow.” I coughed out.

“I have a plan for that.” She ran her long fingernails atop my forearm, left goosebumps in her wake.

Blood warmed my cheeks. “You won’t have to match if you aren’t wearing anything.”

“No, that’s tonight.” Journey said, then bit her bottom lip to ensure I knew she meant it.

I did.

She grabbed, dragged me to the dance-floor; we breathed on each other for one, maybe two songs, hard to be sure with EDM, until we ended up near Miles. His violent rhythm, facial expressions, and iridescent tattoos kept all but the bravest, and most oblivious, from within five feet of him. Journey tapped him when he’d stopped to wipe away sweat. “Time for what we talked about.”

Miles creased his brow, a new beat had started, he resumed jumping around. “I’m good. Techie friend I asked said hacking can’t be good for a chip.”

I hadn’t been made aware of the arrangements. “Hack?”

Journey ignored me. “Don’t be such a baby, we’re here basically every night; how else you planning on keeping it fun?”

“I’m doing alright.” Miles grabbed a nearby female from the crowd, turned her around then bounced what made her buxom off his pelvis.

Journey’s hand closed around mine, dragged, then we were back at the bar. The club had filled significantly since our entry, space once held without a problem now demanded constant shoves to maintain. “Hack?” I repeated myself.

“From what I’ve heard…” Journey was the type of person who knew a lot of people, lucky too, because it almost always did her good. She leaned in closer, “Someone at GleamInc managed to crack encryption on the chips.”

“That is generally what hack means.” My left palm reflexively covered the small surgical scar on my right. “Does your insurance cover user-caused malfunctions?”

Journey rolled her eyes. “As much as yours’ does.”

I felt bad. “I’ll do it.” I also still wanted to be the first person she saw in the morning.

She smiled wide; her flesh turned the same whiteness as her teeth. We sliced through the crowd to the building’s back corner, were in front of a door with a bouncer bigger than the man outside. “We’re here for it.” Kat said without hesitation.

The guy opened then closed his fist; he’d screenshotted his view. “One second.” My heart rate increased but I hadn’t activated any emotions. Journey somehow sensed my displeasure, grabbed my hand, massaged the pressure point on the webbing between my thumb and forefinger; he opened the door, shut us on the other side.

We’d entered a small room with two others in it: a guy that sniffed his nails when he wasn’t touching his face or playing with his mustache, standing over a woman, both behind a desk computer. A transaction machine stood to the side, connected to the computer by eight different colored wires.

The man was a heavy breather.  “Who’s paying?” He asked then resumed making everyone in the room uncomfortable with his mannerisms; the answer to that question had to be me, I raised my hand and he nodded at the transaction machine. I winced as the remainder of my day’s earnings, and some of my emergency fund, disappeared for the expenditure. “Ready?” The guy snapped at me; he must’ve twirled the stache wrong. I stuck my hand between the grips of the machine.

“Sure.” His female counterpart said in a way that didn’t leave me confident; if Journey hadn’t been there the look of uncertainty under the unknown woman’s straight bangs would’ve been enough to make me turn around.

She pressed a button and I felt my chip heat up; ALL the emotions, colors bled from it at once though I hadn’t urged one to do so; my flesh turned to a rainbow, and after a couple of seconds, my vision kaleidoscopic.

Existing was better than I thought possible, absolute beauty.

Journey had her turn with the machine, awe-struck reaction, then we ran to join the rest of the people flailing their night away. Miles had to admit we looked cool.

Journey and I fucked at my place, but with the wonder of the hack it was a toss up as to what the true climax of the night was. When I was on the edge of sleep she whispered, “There’ll be a surprise waiting for you in the morning.” I exhaled, smiled, yanked her closer, and thought maybe the best had yet to come.

***

I’d been awake for a minute; there’d been a loud pop, not loud enough, though, to force me to open my eyes to the harsh morning sunlight. Instead I scrolled through Social Media on the back of my eyelids; I’d only checked once every hour throughout the night, there was a lot for me to catch up on.

Warmth trickled down my anatomy like sweat from the night before; I thought of the surprise Journey had mentioned before we’d said goodnight. I could’ve asked, but had one of her knees under the side of my stomach and the other on top, we were still in the fuck pretzel cuddle; there was no point in waking her up until I’d cleared my notifications. She was probably doing the same. The request icon, one silhouette in front of another, flashed in and out.

I opened the inbox with a pinch of my fingers, had difficulty pulling them back apart but the strange circumstance fled from my mind: ‘Journey Cost says you two are in a relationship; accept or decline?’

Accept. Smile. Course of sunlight orange, joy, was me. I opened my eyes, turned to face my girlfriend; there was a wrong, shallow-pool squelch as I moved, Journey’s mouth was lolled and I could tell her eyes faced two different directions though a grey film blocked the irises of both.

There was no beneath the skin luminescence, and also, her right forearm was no longer attached to her body; nowhere in sight.

I spazzed, splashed onto the floor with the blankets but they were ruined, soaked in her blood; my body hadn’t been spared. Covered. “Journey?” I don’t know what I expected, but the silence seemed proper.

A notification appeared, an escape that I clicked into without hesitation; Miles was responsible. ‘This took WAY too long. Orange at the thought.’

Still, his comment left me stranded on the floor, my girlfriend’s corpse in the bed.

But not isolated. Still connected to the Internet, everyone else; even though they weren’t there, hadn’t seen what happened, I still had to justify my innocence to them. I figured someone else may even know what to do since that’d been the case for everything before.

I formed a ‘C’ with the pointer fingers and thumb of my cleaner hand, used the formation to pry, keep an eye open, then stood and looked over Journey; I jumped, not at the absence of her arm, but because I’d noticed a portion of elbow-bone sticking out of what remained. The pool of blood had gone all the way through my blankets, sheets, mattress, could be heard dripping onto my hardwood floor; her skin was whiter than milk. Her last action had been to trust me.

My fist clenched, view screenshotted; I attached the image to a status. My hand twitched out the message ‘Woke up to this…WTF happened? R.I.P to my beautiful girlfriend.’

Notification dings came in numerous, quick, left no room for anything else, or so I’d thought; a knock on my door had no problem asserting itself over the chaos.

“Journey Cost?” Asked an unfamiliar man’s voice.

I found myself at the door, palms against fiber.  “Who’s that?” Neither my hands or voice was steady.

Thirteen more chimes, all at once. “I’m with Triple-C.”

In the empty dark of my mind, a pair of shut eyes materialized, then opened to grey nothingness. “Huh?”

“Chip and Contact Caretakers?” I stopped my fingers from digging under the dried blood on my skin to think, then quickly set back to it. “You know our slogan, ‘The sunshine after rain’? Speediest repair company in the world.

Journey is a subscriber of the E-x-express package, there was an anomaly detected in her diagnostics; I’m here to fix whatever is wrong.” I knew he had no clue what he’d promised yet the words still inspired confidence in me; I stopped the pointless picking at the dried red, opened the door. “Never seen a glow like that before,” He stepped past me, smiled, shut the door. “That color has got to be limited release.”

I looked at the blood he’d mistaken for a Glowmotion, decided to outsource the explanation. “In there.”

“Yeah yeah. What company are you using?” I answered him with a point to my bedroom; he scoffed. “There’s no use being secretive, I’ll just look it up you know.” He grumbled, shuffled to where I’d directed him. A scream came out but the man didn’t.

I looked in, he was in the middle of walking around the bed, opening then closing his fist to save pictures. His skin was eggplant purple, fear filled, but his face could’ve belonged to someone strolling the street. He raised an eyebrow at me. “You could’ve just said it was blood, my hopes were up for a new release.” His purple went red, blue, red again, stayed that way. “Aren’t you heartbroken?”

I stepped forward. “It isn’t your place- HEY!” His fist had started the type twitch.

“C.C.C. requires documentation of every case,” He rolled his wrist to send the message then met my eyes. “Seen her chip anywhere?”

It was a ridiculous question, I knew he had to, but somehow sticking to the C.C.C. sanctioned reality kept the situation, and me, from getting any crazier. “She was right handed so…”

“It says that in her records. I just had to ask.”

Notifications had been chiming in through the entirety of our conversation, I’d been able to focus on his words instead, but now that he seemed unwilling to talk I had to do something; I went into my chip settings, checked off the notification sound then dove into my newsfeed, scrolled, immediately came upon a picture of Journey in my bed, skin and bone exposed from a different angle than I’d posted.

I recognized the name responsible as the same as what was on the employee’s identification badge; the parts of my skin visible went elephant gray, I exited Social Media, stomped towards him, “WHERE DO YOU G-“

The employee stood his ground. “Why do you get to be the only one to get shares from this? You only started dating today.”

I intensified the grey but kept my hands at my sides. “How did you know that?”

“I’ve been friends with her for years, and you months.” He went ‘here I am on a heat map’ red, strode past me. “I’m the one who’s insulted, and you went GREY?” He stopped, turned to look at me, “That’s never the way. Especially not when dealing with a friend.” Then left.

 

END

 

NEONATOMY—COMING JULY 28TH

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