KindleCoverEverything is equal.

Everyone shares.

Social Security has been replaced by Social Media

and

emotions, now monetized, make people glow.

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(The following text is two of the first four chapters of Neonatomy. The whole story alternates between different protagonists’ perspective.)

Thomas Paige

 1

          “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 a few steps 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 it’s 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 and I didn’t want a problem so green I glowed; heartbeat quickened, eyes widened and brows slanted upwards. “I read today that the Isaac store two blocks away has a secret sale going on.” The man went dark, ran from the store without another word.

I stepped up and saw business card size advertisements that 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, “I never get why people want to make things 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’re ignorant to what actually goes on.”

“Yeah they’re idiots for sure.” The charge cleared, I knew because the notification for a confirmation email appeared in the top right corner of my vision. 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, the beauty, equity of mass-production at work.

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

My G.P.S dinged to remind me to take the left necessary to reach my building; I’d never owned a car, walked everywhere, was glad I didn’t have to deal with the bother of remembering where I was on the road in addition to where I was headed. 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 a woman unnecessarily brushing her blinding white teeth.

Automatic doors slid shut behind me, I went to nod at my building’s security guard but he was distracted, hands twitching and head lolled to the side; I entered the elevator already on Social Media typing a message: ‘Good job.’ After which I inserted a winking smiley face sticking its tongue out then sent the message his way; he read it without replying.

I exited onto my floor, made my way to a door that clicked open when I got there; the building’s cameras had facial recognition software integrated with its security system, visitors had to have approval by a resident before accessing any floor other than the ground level; my door shut behind me.

The air inside was warm, filled with a trash smell like an alley on a summer Sunday; I’d left the door to my disposal chute propped open, its vent led into the building’s incinerator. Only first-floor apartments had windows that opened, the rest, like mine, came equipped with a smell dispensary; the device’s remote menu appeared in my vision, and with a swipe of my pointer finger I exchanged a tenth of my day’s earnings for my area to be filled with the scent of freshly-baked bread. I’d never smelled the real thing but the fragrance had always been available, a favorite at that.

Aside from the machines my living space came fully furnished with a holographic default layout; 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 properly placed at tax-deductible rates. I had better things to spend my credits on.

I sat where cushions should’ve been and the hologram 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 ballooned 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 two-more-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, plain, straight 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 electronically created music.

Miles sprinted past Journey and I, directly into the throng of people all back and forthing together; he was easily located by a fist pumping above the sea of choreographed dance moves. Journey and I looked at each other, laughed, then shoved our way to the bar that glowed a different color every minute.

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; my eyes jerked to the robot appendage above the bar that unfolded itself, dispensed the drinks into shot glasses raised from the counter.

She lifted her’s to her lips, said cheers with a wiggle of her perfectly illustrated eyebrows then tilted the purple and green liquid down her throat; I watched it illuminate her esophagus then sit, shining, in stomach. “Now my outfit doesn’t match.”

I finished my own; she’d ordered shots, 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, and bit her bottom lip to ensure I knew she meant it.

I did.

Then 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 swear. “Time for what we talked about earlier.”

Miles heard the start of a new beat, creased his brow, 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 my question. “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 challenge now demanded constant attention to maintain. “Hacks?” I repeated myself.

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

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. Then 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, a tell-tale sign that he’d screenshotted his view. “One second.” My heartrate 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, touched his face, who stood over a woman behind a desk computer. A crab claw transaction machine stood to the side, connected to the computer by eight different colored wires.

The man was breathing heavy.  “Who’s paying?” He asked then resumed making everyone in the room uncomfortable with his breaths; 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 asked impatiently; I wasn’t sure who he was talking to, 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, a smorgasbord of emotions 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 followed suit.

The world shone in a way I never thought possible, was 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, easily the climax of the night. 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, slept.

Thomas Page

2

            I’d been awake for a minute; there’d been a loud pop, not loud enough, however, for me to open my eyes to the harsh morning sunlight, investigate through unpleasantness. 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 and I thought of the surprise Journey had talked about 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 from the night before; 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 as I read ‘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; it was at that moment in time I realized her right forearm was no longer attached to her body.

I spazzed, splashed onto the floor with the blankets but they were ruined, soaked in her blood; a look over my body told me I wasn’t any different. 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. Someone else may even know what to do, that seemed to be the case for everything before.

I formed a ‘C’ with my pointer fingers and thumb of my clean 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 I’d laid in 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 electronic din.

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

I found myself at the door, palms against fiber.  “Who is it?” 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 colored 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 all over me, 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 on him 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 was that of a pedestrian casually strolling a 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 and 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…”

“Yeah 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 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. Available Here.

 

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