Sable and Jordan have an odd relationship.
Jordan is slightly older, laconic, and always hooded. From the whispers that travel underground, Jordan’s family were victims of the Halogen Cleansing, the series of attacks which was designed to eradicate the poor. Jordan survived with almost nothing left of his skin, severe internal hemorrhage and is forever trapped in the bubble of gases that are slowly, potently decomposing his chemically volatile body into dead stable forms.
Sable is young and wild and fierce and stereotypical of everything that a rich teenager must represent in her society. Sable does not know enough about the ways of the world to know what it’s like to live without a skin and inhale semi-toxic air that hurts the lungs for it is as laden with metal as though gears are rumbling through the human anatomy in every single breath. She lives in the rare colonies where expensive clean air is pumped through.
Jordan speaks through a nuclear hazards mask, one which he inherited from his grandfather. Even though he lives in areas where the air has only toxic metal, he insists on wearing this unnecessary bulky mask to cover his face. Perhaps Jordan needs a mask only to filter the excess chlorine still trapped in his body. Perhaps Jordan needs to mask to prove how tough he is without protection. Perhaps it is an adolescent expression of another rebellion.
Ever since Jordan has taken her to visit the underground colonies, Sable has taken to wearing a half-mask too. Healthy nutritious skin is an obvious sign of wealth waiting to be stolen from. Half-masks scream aloud of narcotics addicts. Sable talks a lot of uncultured trash behind her mask, which makes her dialect sound foreign, muffled and trying too hard to belong to a ghetto culture which is born from her wealth. She has learned to interpret Jordan’s silences long enough to know when he disapproves, but she is too headstrong and too aware of the economic disparity between them to let his disapproval affect her.
Sable and Jordan are not friends. They are not even trapped in that naive hormonal attachment that claim the youth and mimics itself to be a real relationship in disguise. When a significant portion of human emotions has been replaced with pseudo-mechanized circuitry, love is hard to define. Sable is very proud of her capability to interact with the citizens of the underground. But she is far more proud of her wealth. It is not her fault. It is only human to relish the things that are given to us by nature, complete and untarnished: like the human body and the human mind. Sure, Sable has a few prosthetic augmentations, but they are so clean and small and expensively crafted that they do not override most of her natural body. Sable wonders if Jordan’s clothes are the physical skeleton providing structure to his devastated body. She does not care to find out.
Sable claims that she is not naive, and will therefore choose to experience the ways of the world by tasting narcotics. As a spoiled client, she will have only the best and it was this wish of hers that brought her to meet Jordan. Even today in the underground colonies, there are whispers of how efficient and reliable he is. Jordan has no ethical or moral objections to his choice of a career. After all, this is the way of life in the underground colonies and he is a survivor, he has no choice but to make the best of his opportunities. Their alliance, if such an awkward relation can be called such, was formalized when Sable used her money to purchase Jordan’s services for the entirety of his lifetime. It surprised no one that Jordan agreed. Why should he complain when he can be dependent on a source of wealth for the rest of his life?
Now years have passed, and Jordan has learned to differentiate his client’s interests. Sable is impatient. She is easily bored. She is not afraid to bargain for what she thinks is right, even if it means contact with some of the filthiest half-metal cyborgs that live in the underground. Jordan does not care to stop her habit, because the commission he earns on the side is enough to keep his body together from day to day. Jordan knows that Sable is inexperienced in the matter, so he is largely responsible for defining her addictions. Sable thinks Jordan is stupid for being so loyal. If they were swapped, she thinks she would have already swindled her client. Perhaps that is just untamed bragging that comes from the half-mask. Jordan is sure that Sable is not capable of betraying him. After all, there are dealers in the underground who are quick to pounce upon foreign accents within their dialects and who would not be so forthright in their dealings.
There was one momentary glitch in their now alliance of three years, which changed everything.
It is one of the rare instances in which Jordan has sampled the product and he and Sable are both intoxicated. Jordan has done something quite unprecedented of his shadow-like personality. He has touched Sable’s exposed face. Sable is perhaps too chemically driven to the point where she does not remember her exact response, but she is very surprised that Jordan’s finger registered to her natural human skin as a valid touch. She always assumed he didn’t have any fingers. Perhaps the narcotics have even ruined the self-control he had over his vocalizer, because Jordan casually mentions through his mostly silent mask that she has a beautiful face.
Sable noticed the sudden growth of intimacy and her chemically-fueled mind dares to contemplate a sexual liaison. But maybe not. After all, he didn’t even have a face and he was her slave. She, a healthy jaded rich young girl had several other options available to her. Nevertheless, she is surprised. She reaches out to touch his hand, unaware that he has a second dose hidden up his sleeve. When Sable’s fragile white fingers began to tinge green, Jordan realizes that she was already on two doses and his stealth third dose was about to kill her. His task is made easier than he once thought and the years he has spent in biding his time might climax to this very moment. Not for the first time, Sable is completely vulnerable. Yet for the first time, Jordan is about to break protocol.
She is gasping for breath rather helplessly, and like the traditional romantic hero of the ancient worlds, Jordan picks up his helpless charge and brings her to an underground facility nearby. Sable is still conscious of her tactile sensations and she remarks that Jordan was far more corporal than she realized. Sable remarks that she will double his pay and the services offered to him if he can save her life. Jordan, perhaps on whom the chemical is wearing off, reverts back to his silence and says nothing. Sable thinks that he is carefully lifting off the half-mask because he wants to be able to hear her better.
Sable is unconscious when Jordan gets her to an underground facility familiar to him. He enlists the aid of a doctor who had once saved his life. For the first time since he survived the Halogen Cleansing, he can feel the remains of his body coursing through with chlorine-contaminated adrenaline. He is a survivor. He has to make do with the opportunities provided to him. Sable is someone whom he has been cultivating for years. He has been consistent with his behavior to her throughout until this moment. But now it is time for her to prove her worth. She is now an addict of her own choices and Jordan will not let such a healthy body go to waste at the expense of amusing a jaded mind.
Jordan is patient. Sable is naive. Jordan is still alive. Sable is nearing death, for reasons that may or may not be her own fault. The doctor doesn’t ask very many questions. He knows that narcotics cannot affect a person who is so chemically volatile that he risks contaminating his own blood every day. Sable has passed out, still grasping for hope that this is the last time she will take an overdose, and perhaps she will find enough wealth to cover up the consequences of her mistakes. But the doctor, as per Jordan’s orders, does nothing. He is patient just like Jordan. He is waiting for the same thing that Jordan is.
He is waiting for Sable to die.
Jordan is immediately prepared for surgery, and the preparations are not exquisite. Perhaps they are not even safe, but they are immediate and efficient because that is how an underground of a dystopia learns to operate. Sable has stopped breathing now, but her body is still healthy enough to be cultivated. Jordan is bound to the next table. All of his masks are coming off now.
“Are you ready for this Jordan?” asks the doctor customarily. It is an unnecessary question because Jordan has been ready since the first time he has laid eyes on Sable. Jordan does not remember the next few hours or so. He is roused by the doctor after the surgery is complete and injected with enough pain-suppressants to combat the volatile fusion of his body. The doctor hands him a mirror to view his own handiwork.
Sable’s face smiles into the mirror as Jordan is pleased. He is even amazed at his fingers, which are delicate and fragile. He is too taken with the power to express himself to listen to the doctor’s feats of extracting the existing implants in Sable’s body for re-use. He has finally rewarded his ruined body.
Jordan finally feels like he has found his own skin.