Sub was Epi’s Under. Sub was Epi’s lover. Sub fidgeted restlessly, defended from the sunshine that made Epi glow.

If it’s so beautiful, why does Epi keep hiding it from me?

“It’s to protect you, Sub,” he said, looking immensely radiant and charming. He would talk to her of the beautiful world called Outside and all the things that comprised it. He would say they were dangerous, but Sub always imagined they were beautiful.

There were also moments when he could be cold.

There was once when Sub’s Unders were injured. Epi had been indifferent. “I am too large to worry about such minutiae,” he said.  His smooth vast being did not reflect any sign of the turmoil of the Unders.

Well, I’m the one who holds him in place, seethed the upset Sub. I’ll show him who really controls this relationship.

Sub saw her opportunity when Epi was about to stretch. On impulse, she let go.

Epi ruptured. A large metal intruder penetrated Epi and let Sub glimpse the blinding white of Outside. It was so amazing, that Sub retracted hastily, feeling the burning rays of the world beyond Epi.

“I hope you’re happy, Sub,” wept the wounded Epi.

His scars were eventually healed and he was granted a new face. But he never forgave Sub.

“I’m tired of you controlling me!”

“I am created to control my Unders,” said Epi, coldly.  Sub stayed silent.

What more could a subdermal tissue have to say to the epidermis?

Cyberpunk Logs #04: Skin II

Phaela woke up in terror of the ceiling falling above her fragile body. She tentatively opened one partially reflective eye, trying to focus on the weird bulge on the ceiling. The oddly shaped depression was beginning to peel the plaster at it’s outer boundaries where its structural integrity had been stretched to its maximum. It reminded Phaela of the old mutations that used to happen to her as a child.  She used to be terrified that her skin would explode with the rapidly growing tumors, much like how her ceiling stretched out now.  She forced herself out of her bed with latent alarm. Phaela’s bed was a humble old cot clumsily held together by rickety legs which had stopped aspiring to be a bed in the prime of its youth, much like its owner.

Phaela jumped over to a large dirty fragment of a mirror which had been scrubbed clean with all the strength of  her undernourished arms so that some of its reflective power would validate her existence. At any given moment, the fragment could only show her torso, which satisfied Phaela’s needs. She had long since given up on the indignity of seeking her own face in the mirror. The face was a mirror of the mind, people had told her. But ever since she had consigned herself to this life, she didn’t want to think of what went on in her mind. The mirror was like the bed, like the rest of the modest room, like Phaela herself. Dysfunctional but functional enough. Living out its utility day by day.

“Save your skin” had been the original slogan. By the time she grew up, it was too late to get out of the system. So she had to create other lies to preserve her sanity in a world that was obviously not what she thought it to be. Until she had decided that sanity was too inconvenient to hold on to. The lies mercifully stopped. But the truth didn’t. Sometimes, when Phaela closed her eyes she could picture and see the bright advertisements blaring in the cheap, toxic neon.

The campaign had originated in the sub-terranean colonies as a beauty product. History laughs at the vanity of the surviving humans after the near-total destruction of the surface of the Earth. It was a dermatological repair technique that would correct mutated skin cells from the high levels of exposure. It was surprising how such a product sprang out onto the market without any sort of credible research behind it. Nevertheless, it became ragingly popular and if any citizen in those colonies ever suspected that he or she was about to grow a third arm or another head, they sought to apply industrial size packaging of the product. It didn’t stop the radiation however, and as the populations began to dwindle, desperate measures were sought to acquire more of the product. Trained cyborgs replaced human crews at the production facilities. Prices sky-rocketed as did the people’s demand. Within a few years, a humble product had now jumped to a socio-political statement.  The organization that produced the cream had now acquired enough investment and power to monopolize the healthcare market as well.

Phaela had jumped onto the bandwagon a little too eagerly, giving in to the intellectual need of being different. But now it was ironic that her body dictated what her mission would be.  Ever since she had decided to be a recruit, she knew that her biorhythms and her skin texture would soon transmit the same message going out to a million other, perhaps equally mediocre faces or bodies in the population. For about two decades now, her body skin had been conditioned to process the ink with which the messages were transferred. This turned her skin even paler and she was more susceptible to strong light. The treatment had been the cause of the layers of reflective pallor in her eyes, which made her look diseased in the daylight and made her eyes glow in the dark.

When the side-effects were first discovered, the sub-terranean colonies of the product’s humble origins had died out. It took at least seven years for the effects to show, by which time the original users had already been augmented into half-machines and so didn’t have the skin to show for it. Hideous accidents began to happen, but they were hushed up. Governments could not, or perhaps would not, stop the onslaught as the product infected the market like a weed, driving out whatever little good medication could sustain full-fleshed human beings.

From a user to a market-manager to a survivor, Phaela had graduated to the levels of which she could be a living testament of the product. Any day she knew, any day, her skin would fail her and she would be replaced by someone younger with healthier skin and with more money to waste than to hold.  Phaela often wished the pathetic ceiling would perhaps collapse on the excuse of a self-constructed life, shatter the mirror, demolish the bed, conquer her fears and allow her to run away. She was now formally called the Propaganda Manager of the sub-colony. This meant that she had more people to lie to and convince them to use the product. Often, she would give in to a burst of radicalism and lead rallies through the partially constructed streets, interrupting the neat lines of industrial cyborgs prepared to go to work. From the LCD-coated skyscrapers, the advertisements had gotten a lot more individual and personal.

The campaign had taken a turn towards a fanatical cult, and it was now Phaela’s mandate to force the product on everyone. Either through the charms of advertising or through secretly stealing their identities and forcing their health care providers to make the product necessary for their well-being. Of all the identities that she stole, she knew that she could never ever adopt one of them. Some cruel merger of years of drifting without purpose, and the need to be important had now forced her to accept life as something that could only be mediocre. She knew that she would never be something remarkably fascinating, but she could definitely serve as the invisible catalyst for the multitude.

Phaela was now all too familiar with the other lies that went on. Sometimes, they would manipulate the daily radiation reports to frighten the masses into buying their product. Sometimes, they would lie about casualty reports. All the time, they lied about the “benefits” of their product, which was more a result of scientific lottery than consistency. Phaela had stopped accepting a salary for the last five years, as her skin grew to take on even worrying shades of white. Whatever salary she had, she sustained a meal, a broken bed, a broken mirror and millions of broken dreams.

Phaela’s skin began to prickle. It was on her left hip this time and it spread upwards on her stomach like a radioactive tumor. It was a tattoo of the logo. A perfect way to brand the users.  Phaela calculated her odds of surviving another day. It stopped growing after a while and Phaela could finally pull her over-exposed clothes over her head.  She was surprised by how parasitic the prospect of death made her. It wasn’t about money any more. It was about the terrifying prospect that she would not be alone in her death, no matter how painful. Every single new recruit to the campaign was someday going to be just like her, and it was small comfort that she wasn’t alone. She had stopped caring about how vicious it could make her seem, aggressively bringing new victims to the noble cause.

She emerged into the day, her eyes adjusting to the sunlight. She waited for the adjustment to complete before the neighborhood patrol strolled by. The scrawny neighborhood patrol always assumed she was crying as she left home. He even dared to fancy her somewhat, imagining that the large frightened eyes of such a small, faded person would definitely view an authority like him to be a savior by default. “Everything all right, ma’am? ” he boomed as he strolled over, projecting his ego on her. She smiled wanly, feeling strange sympathy for this poor creature that she thought needed just as much validation of his existence as she did. She hurried away as soon as she could and the figure she left behind imagined that the wind carried her frail being along.

“You’ve very pretty skin, ma’am,” he echoed in the empty lane after her. That’s exactly what you would wish for, wouldn’t you? Skin like mine. Phaela didn’t know whether to laugh or cry at the admiring eyes of the people appraised her skin. In the world surrounded by blaring media and people, she had just become another ghost with a company logo.

Cyberpunk Logs #03: Skins

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.

Naked Gossip

Our society judges women for what they wear. Especially back home, girls do feel threatened by the fact that people will evaluate them and critique them for what they choose to wear. This short story, presented entirely in dialog form shows a different perspective. It also tries to bring out one of my least favorite modes of transmission of information: word of mouth. The dialog shapes the character of the central person entirely.

Modesty and other crafted opinions Image Credits: by Melzika on dA

Modesty and other crafted opinions
Image Credits: by Melzika on dA

“Have you seen that girl?”

“The snobby one?”

“Yeah…. Is she new to school? ”

“No. No. She used to be that little mouse at the back of the class. The quiet one, remember? ”

“REALLY?! Is that her?!”

“Yeah!  Did you see how she came to school today?”

“I did. You have no idea how surprised I was to actually find her wearing clothes! ”

“I know, right?  What does she think of herself?”

“Why would she even do something so outrageous?”

“It’s like she’s pretending that her body is so unique that she’s got something to hide.”

“You should have seen the way all the boys in class were staring at her.They were all murmuring about why she needs to cover her body, especially with something as opaque as fabric.”

“I bet that’s why she did it, that attention seeker.”

“But still, you know, wearing clothes is pretty ghastly.”

“She must be really desperate if she wants boys to look at her when she’s clothed.”

“Thank goodness we don’t need to deprive ourselves of natural sunlight just to have friends.”

“Apparently, one of the teachers reported her.”

“I heard. I am not surprised. Wearing clothes? Come on. That kind of thing ages our skin. Imagine having it chafe across your body every time you move.”

“Ew. I wonder how she deals with it.”

“I guess maybe the attention makes up for it.”

“But it’s such a pretty pathetic plea, you know?  Oh, please look at me because I’m depriving myself of natural nutrients and unnecessarily irritating my skin. I’m such a martyr. Please like me.”

“That’s disgusting.”

“Anyway, so one of the teachers pulled her aside and asked her why she was being so inappropriate.”

“And then?”

“And she was all, oh, this is my body. I live in a free world, so I can do whatever I want to my body and so on.”

“Rubbish. She just wants people to notice her. And talk about her.”

“Oh my goodness, yes!  Some of the junior school kids were running away from her.”

“You know that other shy kid, who used to sit next to her and we all assumed he liked her? ”

“What about him?”

“Yeah, so he was so stunned by her “clothed” look…”

“Honestly, nobody in the world could have imagined her capable of such a thing. But go on.”

“He was so stunned that he actually tied a wristband to show off to her that he wasn’t afraid of wearing fabric.”

“I’m don’t know whether that’s funny, ridiculous, weird or all three! ”

“Freaks, the entire lot. You know what happened next?”

“No. Tell me.”

“So, he tried to approach her when she was clothed, and she just turned around and said, ‘Oh you think you’re cool just by copying my style?’ ”

“What?! Nobody in the world would want to copy her style!”

“I thought he didn’t either. He apparently threw the fabric away, shortly after. I don’t think he has spoken to her since.”

“Well, I mean, you approach a lunatic who wears clothes, you probably deserve to be snubbed. At least now he can go befriend normal people.”

“It was pretty mean of her, though. Treating him like that. I mean just because you wear clothes doesn’t give you the right to treat everyone else like filth, especially since he was one of the few who talked to her even when she didn’t wear them.”
“I guess his company wasn’t enough, so she had to go all out and do something completely bold.”

“Ugh. Then she becomes a snob, as if being an outcast is the coolest thing that happened to her.”

“Given her life, it probably is.”

“Can you imagine her sleeping with them on? ”

“No way. I’m pretty sure she takes them off once she’s back home. Her skin would itch terribly. Besides, I’m sure her family wouldn’t be okay with it.”

“I heard her boasting that she didn’t even take them off when she went back home.”

“Lies. As if her family would let her.”

“They apparently don’t care.”

“I’m pretty sure that’s just tall talk. She comes from a pretty conservative family, you know?  The last thing they’d want to discover is their daughter wearing clothes.”

“Clothes? Really?! I mean they look so ugly. They hide the natural beauty of her shape.”

“You’re assuming she had any to begin with.”

“True that . If she did, she wouldn’t need to hide it with clothes.”

“Can we please avoid her, the next time we see her?”

“Absolutely. I don’t want to talk to desperate people.”

“Me neither. Especially not those who need to seem appealing by covering themselves up.”

I’m being judged by people for clothing myself, and yet is the skin in itself not a fabric of it’s own right? Can the soul be prevented from wearing what the heart adorns it with?