The Entire History of You: Dark Age

Written as something of a follow-up to Black Mirror’s “The Entire History of You” episode, Liam Foxwell deals with the consequences of his actions during a therapy meeting: in which we learn that going “grainless” isn’t always so merciful. NSFW, but it is Black Mirror after all, so you should know better. 

Hi, my name is Liam. Liam Foxwell.

My name is Liam Foxwell. Foxwell …

Hah. Fancy, aren’t they? Worms. We’re all kind of guinea pigs here. Uncharted territory and all that. A bit of work on that volume quality control issue though, huh mates? Nah. I’m rambling. Just like I did in my bachelor days, before I met Ffion at that dive bar back in … Cardiff was it?

Heh. Yeah. Can’t very well have a re-do now, can I?

Can’t very well have a re-do …

Anyway, I’m … actually doing a lot better these days. You know, ever since I cut myself and housekeeping found me near the bloody bathroom mirror. Literally. They actually called my ex and whatever else happened between us, she got the authorities there. Been here ever since. Hell, she even visits and brings Jods. Jodie. She’s my daughter. At least, I thought …

Right. Funny how hard it is to tell a story in order without a grain. Kind of hard to, well, see your reactions too. Guess that ends any career in stand-up. But I guess that’s the point.

… without a grain … kind of hard to … see your reactions …

That damned whispering. Colleen, a friend me and my ex-wife’s, told me they’re still working on these worms. Just slithers right into your brain. But is that really different? But Colleen, I always thought she was a bit of a know-it-all, you know? Kind of stuck-up? Well, she’s a grain specialist. They’re still working on trying to fix mine. Yeah. She really stepped up after Ffion asked her. Even after everything, you know? She’s been nothing but good to me, even after what a right passive-aggressive prat I was.

But right. I was a barrister, you know? I could be pretty direct. Before I … well, gouged myself, the firm I was at said they thought of having me handle some cases. Stuff about suing parents based on the memories of their kids. I thought it was bollocks. The whole appraisal was so insincere. But barristers are, by our nature, full of bullshit. That was one thing I hated about grains. Keeping score. Dwelling in the past. Living there. I did it all the time. At work. During travel. And … at home. Seeing as I will never be able to practice, at least for a long while, you’re probably wondering.

If I hate grains so much, to the point of mutilating mine, why is Colleen trying to get mine fixed while we’re working on this worm sub?

I hate grains so much …

Well, there’s a bit of background to go over. Jonas, my ex’s friend, Jods’ … Jonas and my ex had an affair. Doesn’t excuse anything I did, mind you. Not one bit. You see, I was a mean drunk. That’s one part of my therapy here. Haven’t had a drink in ages. And you know what? I’m glad. I don’t like the person I was when I drank. I said ugly things when I got drunk. Went on about my ex’s, well, ex Dan and I stormed off for a few days. I guess you can say that’s where it all began. Alcohol’s just as bad as grains, really. My wife … my ex, got drunk with Jonas. Knob-head didn’t take advantage of her, I saw that much. They were both knackered and they had their history — especially their histories — and, well …

Grains. Heh. Here I am rambling like I’m on my fifth bourbon. No, you know what grains remind me of? The thing that keeps repeating, like the whispers of these worms in the air, in my head, is the Sandman. You know. My mam used to tell me that every night the Sandman would visit you and sprinkle some fairy dust right into your eyes. Every time you wake up, next morning, there’s that dirt in the corner of your eye. Mucus membrane. Mam called it grains of sand. Like in a glass. Like that ear-worm “Mr. Sandman, bring me a dream …”

I’ve been listening to audios. The Classics. Don’t have much to do and I have enough insurance to keep at this program. What I can say, had a good barrister and some Worker’s Comp. Nervous breakdown a hazard of the job now. Been listening up on The Aeneid. Vergil. Talks about Aeneas, the hero who makes Rome, going to the Afterlife while he’s still kicking. He finds out about Rome’s glorious future and tragedies. Like he’s remembering something that didn’t happen yet. Talk about an idea for a grain. Maybe I should patent that. Anyway, Aeneas has to leave. And he’s told about two doors. Gate of Horn and Ivory. Gate of Horn’s all about Prophecy. Truth, right? And Ivory, well, you can see what I’m getting at. It’s where dreams come from. It’s what you see when you sleep, but instead of visions, it’s all pretty much lies.

… instead of visions, it’s all … lies.  

So what does any of this have to do with anything? Well ladies, gentlemen, and other human beings of the jury, grains are supposed to be truths. Little bits of truth embedded in our necks. They keep us honest and there’s only so much you can erase until people can see the gaps in the grains. But they’re also like breadcrumbs. They pointed the way to my wife’s … indiscretion. Her lies. And here I had the perfect life, almost. I was a barrister, well-off, in a good country, with a beautiful wife, good social scene, nice house, and little charming dirty pumpkin of a baby daughter. And that was the lie. One of them.

It was all Ivory. And the grains made it. We kept living in those grains. I’d slip my cock into my wife’s pussy and we’d dream about better times, convulsing against each other, as I got one off in her. Our eyes getting into that diluted grey. Colour of spoiling milk. I used to hate talking like this, like Jonas talking about his wanking to my wife at that last dinner party, but it’s so intoxicating. You know, at first it was just a kinky thing we did. A little bit of fun. But then it was all the fun. Something to numb the arguments, and the hollowness.

I was angry at the dream. At the lie. At that feeling that I wasn’t good enough. It’d been burning for a while, long before the appraisal, or meeting Jonas, or suspecting Ffion of being with him. It all seemed so fake. So insincere. I hated it. I hated myself.

What I did to Jonas … even after all that, wasn’t acceptable. He should’ve called the cops. Like I said, I was a mean, angry drunk but before Jonas I didn’t think I could be a violent one. It was the least I deserved. I apologized to him. Part of the therapy, right? I definitely apologized to Ffion. She lied to me, but I hurt her first. Following every breadcrumb and grain of sand …

Liquor and grains. Spirits and sandmen …

It’s a work in progress. I even got to see Jods again. She’s probably not my biological daughter. Ffion didn’t have to take her here, to me. She barely even knows me. It would’ve been easier for Jodie to forget me.

… forget me …

Jonas is actually paying support for her. Helping. And Hallam. Poor girl. She was with him … when I snapped. She’s grainless too. We talk more now. I told her I was sorry. Can’t imagine what it was like, seeing me and not being able to call the police, to show them what was happening. I was a right bastard. I think, maybe, she visits out of guilt. It was that party where she talked about getting attacked and having her grain removed. She said she liked being grainless now. Maybe she thinks that’s where I got the idea, instead being the purely desperate bastard that I was. She kept her vision and me …

Well. Here I am, right?

Except, that’s not entirely true now, is it? You see, I did try to gouge out my grain. But, what I didn’t say is, I didn’t get all of it out.

Not everything that isn’t true is a lie …

I still see it. I still see Ffion the day we moved into our place. I still see us by Jodie’s crib. I keep seeing us making love. Or at that dive bar. I tried to take my grain out to make them stop: to take my re-do ability away. Like looking at old photos from your exes. But I also see me threatening Jonas’ life. I see my crashed car. I see me being an asshole to our babysitter. And that shattered look on Ffion’s face. Over and over and over again.

But somehow I still see blackness.

I can’t control them. And when I don’t see them, I hear them whispering, whispering into my brain. You’ve told me that they are just echoes, psychological trauma. Like a phantom limb. Phantom vision. It’s black and I can’t see and I know that my ex and Colleen and Hallam tell me that my eyes are still grey as all fuck: like I’m redoing, but I’m not. We’re hoping that it can be fixed and I’ll be able to turn the damn thing off. To move on. That’s what I wanted, you know? To move on with whatever this is. And the worm, in the meantime, is there to help me record information, to adapt to this as much as possible.

And then there are these therapy sessions. Just in case the fix, the process, whatever it is is in my head. I guess, all I want now, is to make these flashbacks stop. I don’t care about Aeneas’ Horn or Ivory. Dreams or lies. I just want to wake up, you know. That would be nice. To be able to see or be silent. To live again. In the present.

I just want to wake up, you know.

I just want to wake up …

Life and Identity, Eden and Hell: The Twines of a Gaming Pixie

The following will talk about–and accordingly link to–games of a graphic nature: if you will pardon the unintentional pun. Reader’s–and player’s discretion–is advised. Do not say that you have not been warned.

It was around February when I discovered Gaming Pixie. Less than a month before, in January, I finished Anna Anthropy’s Rise of the Videogame Zinesters and participated in my first–and so far only–Game Jam. After really hearing more about Twine, I began searching for more information on Anna Anthropy’s works and other Twine games.

I’m not sure how I found Gaming Pixie exactly. Perhaps it was through one of her creative YouTube video game reviews, or I found her Pixie’s Sketch Book before or after. I do remember, however, playing one of her only two Twine games at the time: specifically What’s In a Name? Seeing this really personal Choose Your Own Adventure text game really hit home for me the fact that I wanted to make something similar: something that to this very day along with everything else. Then I played her first Twine game–The Choice–and at the time I stopped playing once I got the good ending. It’s strange that I remember the second game more than the first, but even though I could relate to both of them in some way, I really felt more akin to What’s In a Name? and what I felt that Gaming Pixie was attempting to portray.

But I am getting ahead of myself here. Originally, after getting to know Gaming Pixie more, I was only going to write about her game Eden. However, I know feel compelled–in some way–to trace the development of her game-making, and its content even as both continue to evolve.

As I stated before, Gaming Pixie was best known for her own video game reviews. If you click on the above link, you will see an analytical mind that engages with the mechanics of the games she’s plays: accompanied by a sense of wry bemusement, her personal reactions to the game, how she related to it, and her liking to break the Fourth Wall a lot and interpose herself into the games. She rarely, if ever, indulges in profanity (though there are times it seems as though she is coming close, but instead settles for the tongue-in-cheek), and she has a wide assortment of costumes.

A little girl

But in addition to this past, she is also a talented artist–creating many lush and vital comics and storybook-like illustrations–as well designing a really immaculate website or two. By the time I found her, she had more or less transitioned away from reviews, planning to create some comics, then Flash animations, but ultimately choosing the medium of video games to work in: with Twine as her first tool. She had so far created two games: two very personal games.

The Choice: by Gaming Pixie

Her first Twine game, The Choice, is about suicide. You play from the second-person perspective and, after choosing which way you want to die, a part of you attempts to stop you. And that part of you is tenacious. Let me tell you. When I replayed it recently and made a determined choice to kill myself off, that embodied part of me was relentless in asking me whether or not I was sure I wanted to do this.

And playing The Choice made me also re-examine the perspective I want my games to be from and why. Because, you see, I automatically stated that the game was from my own perspective because of the second-person “you” that the narrative addresses the player from, yet it can also be an attempt to make a player see into the mind or the situation of another person. There is this fine line there. And despite the bleakness in this text-based game, there is hope in it too, and the ornate, story-book illustrative graphics complement it well.

Also, when I was searching through Gaming Pixie’s Sketch Book to get more insight into the game, I also came across a review and link to this really interesting Indie game by Daniel Benmergui called Today I Die: which according to her Sketch Book greatly inspired her to look at the issue of a game being a medium for art and emotional expression. It is a truly brilliant and beautiful game about seizing your life back from depression, and so much more. I wonder if it inspired some of The Choice, but either way I, for one, am really glad that Gaming Pixie’s entry led me there, that I played it and that it gave me a little more insight than I had before.

What's in a Name: by Gaming Pixie

By What’s In a Name? … I think this is where it all begins. While The Choice dealt with a feeling of suicide and either overcoming or giving into it–with an emphasis of the strength of life–this game is about futility. It is that second-person perspective again: except whereas you could argue that the previous game gives you more lee-way in projecting your own identity into the game, this one is very concrete and autobiographical. The character or the perspective is that of a woman who is struggling to understand her bisexual feelings and in a situation where no matter how she reacts to an issue of identity, she always loses: finding herself and her burgeoning sense of self becoming de-legitimized and trapped in a place of pervasive biphobia.

This game must have come at the height or the beginnings of what is called The Twine Revolution, or perhaps there was just a niche that formed there because both Kotaku and The Border House as well as Anna Anthropy made mention of and even reviewed this game. Please look at The Border House’s IF Game of the Day: What’s in a Name? by Gaming Pixie, Patricia Hernandez’s A Game About The Confusion And Difficulties That Come With Being Bisexual and Lana Polansky’s Nameless with regards to how she related to the game’s content for a little more information: but please consider playing the actual game first.

I will admit: when I played that last game I really, really wanted there to be a third option and a “screw you to everyone else because I will live my life the way I want to” ending. The fact is, even though the game was not about me, it touched that place in me, and I’m sure in many of us, where I remember trying to figure things out and having other people and forces tell me what was right: with changes in their treatment towards me if I didn’t comply with their spoken or unspoken views. It is a similar feeling and perhaps, one day, I will go more into it: and you can thank Gaming Pixie–at least in part–for at least reinforcing that possibility.

And then things began to really change. I’d lost track of Gaming Pixie for a while, but by the time I came back I saw that she was working on a much longer and more ambitious Twine. The Twine plot outline chart for Eden is a spider’s web of complex activity for me and I’m amazed that Gaming Pixie could keep track of all of that.

Some Twine source code for Eden. SOME.

[It makes me really think I have my own work cut out for me with my own Twine novel.]

What’s more is that this is the point when her game-making changes. Whereas What’s in a Name? is minimal in terms of graphics and both games are silent, she starts to utilize the royalty-free music of Kevin MacLeod as her soundtrack. In addition, she creates a great many more graphics: lush, colourful, finely lined and utterly beautiful pastel images. One thing I should definitely note here is that she has moved past the short and personal into something larger and far more fictional.

And yet, sexuality and gender play a great role in–and with–Eden. At the beginning of this game, you are asked to choose a name and a gender. You are also asked what your sexual preference is. Unlike The Choice, where you have one or two endings, or What’s in a Name? that is ultimately one ending no matter what you do, Eden has multiple–multiple–endings. It looks at beauty and it examines your morality and just how far you are willing to go to maintain what–and who–you believe in: an element that Soha Kareem, in her Haywire Magazine article Soha Kareem shares four more games made in Twine also points out.

What is even more interesting is that Gaming Pixie has managed to place a lot of randomizing elements into the narrative: so that upon future playthroughs the game and its text do not always react in the same exact way. There is even one ending that happens almost simply by chance.

In a lot of ways, if The Choice is choosing life and What’s in a Name? is a grim coming to terms with one’s identity I feel as though Eden was an answer to What’s in a Name?: that third option that branches out from one persona into so many other choices … so much so that if I had to answer What’s In a Name? as a question, I would reply with Eden. In fact, in one Blog post before she reveals her game, Gaming Pixie goes into further detail on the matter.

Shadow of a Soul

And now, we shift gears from a potential and fragile utopia, into–quite literally–Hell. For Halloween, Gaming Pixie decided to do something different yet again. Shadow of a Soul is a horror game in which you have to make some pretty macabre, and yet strangely erotic, and BDSM-themed choices. It starts off the same way as Eden does: asking what your name is, your gender, and your sexual preference. You can see something of a pattern here: in which your sexuality–particularly bisexuality–has an impact on how you experience both of these text games. However, it is more than that. In addition to an open-ended possibility of a third gender or something beyond binary gender, both games present bisexuality as a valid orientation: and that is a great assertive against the spirits of The Choice and What’s In a Name?

Shadow of a Soul has fewer endings and some of the randomization and knowing how many resources you have can mean all the difference between … being in different states. I will not spoil it further than that except to add that it is very hard to win this game: even when the answer stares you right in the face … or if you choose it: just for the, if you will pardon this pun too, hell of it.

It is fascinating to see someone with clear creativity undergoing the transition point between reviewer and artist, then text game-creator, and now going into the realms of programming beyond Twine. So please keep your eye on Gaming Pixie Games: which you can either click on here to view or find on my Blogroll: because Gaming Pixie can obviously explain her process far better than I can and, trust me fellow Clappers, she is one fairy that you should definitely believe in.

Pixie-art

Faster Than A Speeding Bullet? I Sure Hope Not

And now for something light-hearted, odd and potentially NSFW.

So there is this old idea that has been floating around about superheroes and their strength. To not be too crude about it, for the moment I’m just going to phrase it as the fact that some people have chosen to believe that a superhero’s strength comes into play whether they are using consciously or not. In other words, a superhero’s power manifests as not only voluntary action but also an involuntary reaction.

Some of the most cited heroes–whose powers apparently are always manifested regardless of their intention–is Superman and She-Hulk. I am sure we can also bring in some X-Men too to make it more interesting and, often with them, it is a case by case situation depending on the exact nature of their mutation. This is also similar for such heroes as the Fantastic Four: and no, I have not forgotten about The Thing either. But for the sake of making this discussion clearer, I want to look at the first two heroes that I mentioned.

Both She-Hulk and Superman are known for their strength and, at the same time, for their intelligence. They know or have learned how to hold back on most of their strength to deal with an inherently fragile world around them. The fact that Jennifer Walters became She-Hulk through a gamma-radiated blood transfusion with her cousin Bruce Banner and Superman gains his power through being exposed to Earth’s yellow sun does not change these matters too much.

However, there are memes that go around stating that these two heroes can’t really interact with other human beings in an intimate way because of their inherent natures. To be more blunt about it, basically their bodily functions would crush or kill another “lesser” human being. I mean, that is a fair enough interpretation. Indeed, Garth Ennis does not shy away from this in his comic The Pro. But I have my own disagreements on this matter. Now, just to warn you, I am not going to go into comics specific examples or name a comics issue or anything of that kind. Instead, I am going to do something even more controversial.

I am going to use common sense on superheroes.

So let’s put the Kryptonian Kamasutra jokes aside for now and get to it. First of all, Superman and She-Hulk have been portrayed having quite a few relationships in the course of their comics existences: and not only with other super-powered or alien individuals. While, as far as I know it is never stated what happens with these other people, I am going to assume that the usual things happen in their relationships with other humans that happen in relationships: you know, except for needing to save the world occasionally or defending someone against a marauding villain or a nearby apocalypse. In fact, their relationships tend to end because of the same reasons any would: needs change and people move on.

But here is the thing. Let us put aside speculations about their private intimate lives for a few moments and look at another common sensical element which their comics may or may not address.

You see the thing, and not The Thing, is both Superman and She-Hulk eat. They eat and, as a result of such, I assume they use the facilities. Now, if we go by the theory that their involuntary actions or reactions have the same strength as their voluntary ones–or more so–well, the world would ended many, many times over by now. Or if Superman even breathed wrong or burped. I know you can explain these away by stating that Superman doesn’t eat as much or uses solar energy stored in his cells, but it has been stated that he is a vegetarian and unless he absorbs nutrients very differently than humans I assume that Kryptonians–being only different due to their technology and the yellow light of the sun–are much like human beings and function as such.

And She-Hulk herself, aside from her strength, seems to function as a normal human being: if there is any such thing.

Also, with regards to Superman, let’s take something else into account. He was raised as a baby by Martha and Jonathan Kent. Now his strength might have increased over the years and there are accounts of him learning how to fly much later–with learning how to jump first–but he was still considerably powerful. And don’t you think that it would have been a little awkward, aside from dealing with his needs as an infant, if one of his hugs of affection snapped Ma Kent’s neck?

The way I see it, at least with Superman, his powers function not unlike how Alan Moore explained Miracleman’s abilities. There is a kinetic field around him and his cells that he can choose to access. Therefore any violence Superman unleashes is purely premeditated and consciously used. I would imagine this does not cover him needing to go to the restroom: unless of course you believe he uses his incredible speed to dart quickly to the Fortress of Solitude with his own specialized facilities but … really?

In the end, I think that both of these heroes and others like them–when they are not on duty–either have ways around using their powers involuntarily or they are as much as like human beings as anyone else is. So please, if Superman is getting drunk in a bar alone, chances are it’s not because he killed Lois Lane in a moment of intimacy, but because he didn’t get to a plane of orphans in time or he’s indulging on the Red Kryptonite.

I’m not sure about The Thing though. I might get back to you on that. Or not.

Synchronizations

Not Safe for Work and Possible Trigger Warnings. Reader’s Discretion is advised.

My hand circles around the exposed circuitry gaping from out of the back of her head. And she shudders. I stop as she huddles into me. Her grip is strong and I know, for a fact, that she is holding back as much as I am. Otherwise, my forearm would become instant pulp.

I rest my chin on the top of her head and cup the hole in back of it. Her body is warm and firm against my chest. I rock her back and forth: partly to soothe her into the symmetrical rhythms that her system requires in order to go into a diagnostic mode and mostly to edge myself back from my own mounting fury.

Those bastards … those xenophobic pro-organic fucks … I feel her hand take mine and place it back over the circuits in her cortex. She can sense my heart-beat and blood-pressure and she knows I’m getting angry.

Rage is replaced by shame. This isn’t about me. She was the one they found. She was the one that got assaulted. They battered her, ripped her clothes off, tore off her skin … It doesn’t matter that her flesh grew in a vat, that its nerve-endings had been artificially developed, or that it had been attached to a painstakingly crafted tiny micro-fibre skeleton in an incubator.

She grew long before I met her: developing thoughts and feelings off of the potential built into her cognitive software. She chose that dress she wore that day for herself: that same checkered dress they destroyed coming back from her job at the daycare: taking care of organic and bioloid children alike…

And I wasn’t there.

She takes my fingertips and lightly traces them through her synaptic wires. My bitterness and the guilt fade. We talked about this. I had seen her without her skin before. She showed me how to grow it and reapply to her if she ever couldn’t do it fully for her. Which, for a while, she couldn’t.

That is what led to this moment. I helped her over these past few painful months: regrowing her skin and developing its nerve-fibres. I reattached her arm and tried to turn off her pain-receptors just long enough to finish the job, but I couldn’t fully succeed. Those receptors were placed and cultivated there for a reason: to let her know where and what is wrong with her body. She whimpered as I held her: as she tried not to crush me in her arms.

Underneath her warm skin is a fine mesh of reflective quicksilver, dark-matter velvet and glittering lights: a small internal universe of stars. That first time she revealed this to me and let me touch this part of her, I remember the smoothness of her metal form and how cool it was against my own skin. At the same time, I know it is incredibly strong, but also very pliant. Sometimes we’ve made love when she is in this form and, for some time now, we’ve even been talking about circuit-play.

It is more delicate than hardware manipulation. It is literally an exploration into her head: into her very essence. And months after she was attacked, she does not want to replace the back of her head just yet.

Her other hand, strong enough to crush steel, strokes my cheek as other fingers direct mine into soothing her. It is like being taught how to play a musical instrument and it is definitely a simile that makes sense. Music operates on a similar form of logic from which mathematics is also based. It is that same sense of precision, symmetry and immaculate patterning that comforts her.

I feel her tense and relax against me as her fingers slowly drift away from mine. I follow the pattern of the wire-nerves and circuits in the cool part of her even as her warmth seeps pleasantly into my bones.

I wonder if it will feel different one day. She knows I have the resources to transfer my synapses into a newer form. The truth is I’m tired of the fatigue in this organic form: of the bowel movements and the need to sleep, the hunger and the thirst, and the mess I make by simply existing in flesh every single day. It’s an imperfect mechanism: grown by Nature from a zygote and generated by a series of genetic mutations. Whatever they say about her and however horrible the intended origins of many bioloids are, she at least is not the result of an accident.

Even as I touch her now, I know I could transcend this state at any time. And I look at her in my arms and the fact of the matter is that she will never age. Barring disgusting assaults like nine months ago, her skin and gel-organs will continue to maintain themselves. And she is more than her programming. She surpassed it long ago. She can–and will become–so much more as the years go by, as the centuries pass: unhindered by erosion and time. She is no Helen O’Loy. Without the procedure, I am going to get older and messier and, back when we first dated, I was afraid she would leave me one day.

But she wants me to wait. She tried to explain it to me. She can’t grow old, but I can. And she wants to see that happen. She thinks that I should have that experience and does not want to take that from me. She doesn’t consider my organic existence an imperfection or an aberration.

She sees me as something unique. She teases me and smiles in that way she does that she tells me that she insists on my downloads–my “illegal downloads”–until her “disk-space” is full. It almost makes up for the fact that she will inevitably clean up my messes as I age–to the point where I can’t anymore–but she does not mind this, or so she says.

She sees me as the result of a random set of genetic permutations creating the unique pheromones and body structure–shaped by a particular set of environmental circumstances–to form the details that make up my being. She tells me that neither of us are accidents. As she understands it, I am one of the universe’s gradations made skin and that just as we came from the mind of the universe; her kind came from the same All-mind as us. It’s almost incomprehensible to think that I come from the same beings that would destroy her as an object.

We will age together, she tells me, for a time. We will have a child together and then when that part of our life ends, we will start an entirely new existence: with laughter, friends, lovers and eternal exploration.

Before, as I helped her through the painful act of reconstruction, she told me that in Japanese culture, when an urn is broken and pieced back together, gold is often poured into the cracks: to accept what has happened and to emboss the beauty of its new imperfections.

She leaves her scarring as it is: not wanting me to heal it so that she can paint the cracks in her skin with golden dye so that she can walk around again and display herself–and who she is-with pride.

So now I hold her against me as I listen to the soothing hum of her core: just as she listens to the sound of my heartbeat. That is another reason she does not want me to undergo the process just yet. She likes the sound and feel of my heart. As of this moment, no one has quite replicated the rhythm of the human heart: or so she tells me.

When I ask her why she likes it, she tells me that it reminds her of a steady binary, or the universe speaking to her in old Morse-code through someone that she loves.

As for me, right now, with my healing woman in my arms I envelop myself into the deep thrum of her own heart against mine. By merely being here, her existence sings. Percussion melds into melody and after a while, I don’t know where one sound ends and the other begins.

Robot

Photo Credit: Chris Cunningham working on All is Full of Love

To Serve

Not Safe for Work and Possible Trigger Warnings. Reader’s Discretion is advised.

We find her in the Gutters.

It’s like a bad corporate dystopian film noir: the kind they used to scare us with right in the childhood. My partner’s still gawking on this … travesty in front of us as I’m already at her side.

I can tell that it’s bad. Not terminal, but bad. She’s in a plastered pink latex dress and she’s soaked. Why is it always raining in these fucking stories that are always real life? I can tell you right off that her leg is not supposed to be bending that way.

But her head. Goddammit all, they did a number on her face: it’s all tangled dark hair, blood, and metal. Either they mashed her with a chunk of stainless steel or she’s a girl that really likes her metal …

“Damn,” my partner says, kneeling beside me on the wet concrete, “Is she even–”

There’s this low whine. At first, I think it’s interference. The advert-murals in the Gutters never really work all that great to begin with and with all the hack-jobs and shattered plasta-glass around it’s probably a miracle that they give us this much light.

It takes only a moment to realize that the sound’s coming from her. My partner’s better at following orders than dealing with people. I make my decision quick.

“You,” I tell my partner, “check around for some ID. I’ll talk to her. Go.”

I’m not paying attention to him anymore. I’m placing her wrist in my hand to get a feel for her pulse, “Miss? Miss, stay awake please. Miss, I need you to tell me what happened here?”

She needs to stay conscious. I see one blue sliver open on the most battered part of her face. Its unfocused and muddled with fear. I take her hand and I squeeze it.

“Hey,” my partner calls out, “I found a purse. Credits are still there. Damned if I know why they didn’t take them. Says she’s a waitress nearby on the Docks.”

“That’s not far from the Gutters,” I mutter to myself and her: to keep her alert.

I want to ask her what in the hell she was thinking being down in the Gutters at night. Not even the cops come down here at this time: not if they knew what was good for them. I want to shout at her, but it’s not her fault. She doesn’t deserve this. And looking at the injuries and knowing no one took her credit chips, this looks very fucking personal.

And that’s enough for me.

“Call it in,” I tell my partner, still trying to see if she’s breathing or not, “Tell the Shelter we need some back-up and a forensic. And a Talker,” I add, “definitely a Talker.”

My partner groans, “A forensic’s probably not gonna help. Cheapest scanners in the world, man. Those fuckers are probably squeaky-clean and long gone by now.”

“Tell them to bring it anyway,” I still can’t find her pulse and the ground seems to be thrumming through me. There’s probably a generator nearby.

“Man, we’re just a Volunteer outfit. Neighbourhood Eye. All that, you know? That’s for the police to–”

“The only thing the City’s given us Gutter-trash is glow-in-the-dark advert night-lights,” I’m beginning to remember that I’m pissed off and that my partner’s a bit of an asshole, “The Guilds will pay for our lights, but not our security problems. Scan her ID number through if you need something useful to do.”

I’m not surprised he didn’t do that. He doesn’t think too hard. Good for the gun in his pocket–and not the non-existent one he tells the ladies about–but definitely not for the details. But if she’s not from around here, she could be in another district and out of jurisdiction. The police there might be a better help to her if we scan her number. Maybe she didn’t have time to tap that ID before …

“Um, man?”

I see it before he does. She is moaning quietly again and shifting her head.

“Miss … don’t move.. We’re … we’re getting help for you …”

“Man, the number says–”

“I know what the fucking number says, you dumb fuck!” I’m snarling at him and looking at the side of her face she just showed me, “Please, just shut up. Shut–the fuck–up for a bit.”

I’m staring at a mass of burning circuits and mangled wires underneath tatters of skin. I thought it was just the blood that made that side of her head glitter like that. Good old Heinlein would have called her an Artifact. I call this whole situation a piece of work.

I see a dark stream of waste flowing out of her mini-skirt. It smells like liquid rubber and she’s whimpering. When she speaks, her voice is all static-filled pain.

“Please …” her voice reverbs, and I wonder if it’s because her cords are crushed or if it’s that half the skin on her face is gone, “No … I won’t. I won’t …”

“Guy,” my partner’s pulling at my shoulder, “She’s a Number. Bought herself out of the Slippery Diner. Not our problem.”

“Did you call up the Shelter?” I realize the thrumming beneath me is the hum of her cardiac generator flowing power into her body. I’m taking off my jacket and putting it over her body.

“Yeah, but we don’t have time for this. She’s just a …”

“Just a what?” I’m not looking at him because I know I’m going to punch him if I look at him, “A Skin-Job? Is that it? Tell me, man, do you think you’d still look pretty if it was you without your skin?”

He says nothing. His cowardice saves him from a decking.

“Call them the fuck up again,” I say in a much quieter voice, “Tell them to bring one of those Artificers. I know we have them. So call. Now.”

He shrugs. I stare him down and he walks off. It’s almost a good thing we’re in the Gutters. There are none of them damn Registration Officers here to really cause trouble. Number-watching, my ass. Those stormtroopers make my partner look like freaking Archie Bunker.

“H-help …”

She’s looking up at me. Her one blue eye is pleading. My hand is still in hers. She’s cold to the touch. I know enough to figure that it’s a circulation problem. She might have been warm any other time but this. I grip her hand again.

“Help’s on the way, miss,” I tell her, “You’re a waitress at the Slippery?”

She makes a sound almost like a yes.

“I’ve not been there a while now,” I see the lights of the crew coming in the dark, “best sushi rolls ever.”

I might have even seen her there. She could’ve served me and I would never know it. She looked like she was somewhere else: hoping for a night on the town. I might never know what happened. And no one ever would if we hadn’t got here. She would have been just another lost Number in the Gutter trash.

“Don’t worry, miss. We’re part of the Gutter Shelter. We don’t leave anyone behind. Anyone.”

She looks up at me. The gears in the side of her face make a whirring sound. The flesh part of her face that’s not fucked up is scrunching. The metal part of her is shifting. A tear comes out of her one blue eye. I realize she’s trying to smile, or cry.

It’s breaking my fucking heart.

I realize, later, when they’ve taken her away and my fingers hurt that she’d actually been gripping my hand too.