Science Fiction
He was doused in the hum of electric dreams. The ebb and flow of raw data dripped from buzzing synapses; visions of brightness seared into the backs of his eyelids. In the distance he could feel the ads pulsing in the Infonet. A sigh of contentment fell from his lips, rippling the data it touched. The energy reacted to his breath, crackling and morphing to echo his mood. The opalescent color swirled around his imagined body. Here in the Overload, he was the simulacrum of a man with vaguely recognized muscles and a face like a fuzzy memory. Everyone drifted around looking unrecognizably beautiful.
A message streamed across his vision: Hey Shade, you gonna join us on the run?
It was from Viral, head of the Circuit Breakers, a guild he’d joined to play one of the thousands of shooter sims that lived in the top layer of the net. He was about to reply, about to dive into the gritty vision of bullets and spattered brains, perfectly rendered by his own imaginings, when she pulled the plug.
“Fuck! Fuck!” He was screaming. The silence of the room was death compared to the light of the Overload.
Jules didn’t say anything, just stared at him. The gold flecked green of chipboards flickered under the surface of her gaze.
“You can’t just rip me out like that.”
“Ferris, I can do whatever the hell I want. I’m your moderator.” She smiled in her cryptic way. He never understood how she could look like she felt everything and nothing all at once. His personal opinion was that the rest of her insides were as cold as the gear in her eyes.
“You’re supposed to check on me, not fry my brain.”
She gestured at the flashing tech that slid under the flesh of his hands. It was his personal IV drip of electric paradise. “Last I checked that didn’t flow food. You look like shit Ferris.” She wrinkled her nose. “Smell like it too.”
He didn’t really give a fuck what he looked like. His wrists were skinny, maybe even skeletal, and his skin looked like paper floating above blue marble. He had a nose that was too big and a chin that was almost nonexistent. Even bathed and fed he still looked pathetic, and since the only one here was Jules he didn’t really care about looking clean. He had something better than flesh.
“Come on, get up,” she said. He glared at her. She knew he couldn’t.
“Fine, fuck, unhook me and get my chair.”
Ferris’ apartment was almost spotless. Jules and the maid that came to clean around him while he lived in the Overload were his only visitors. Jules liked to tell him it was the most soulless home she’d ever been in. Everything was mass-made, higher class mass made, but peeled from a mold nonetheless.
It was in the closet, filled with boxes of unopened and outdated electronics, that Jules found the chair. She pulled it out and unfolded it. It was one of the least complicated pieces of equipment Ferris owned. Every month it was the same, but he never really got used to it.
There was distaste in Ferris’ eyes. “I can get around the apartment in the pod.” 
His pod and all the gadgets attached to it made life worth living. It made everything in the apartment accessible; the kitchen was a button press away. There just wasn’t any real reason to eat, not unless he was literally starving. He ran his fingers over the smooth touch screen that sat beneath them. Leaving the pod was leaving the strongest part of his body behind. It was as if Jules had asked him to strip down in front of her.
“You know damn well why you need to get in the chair. We aren’t staying in the apartment.”
Outside. Away from his world. He remembered the first time Jules had come to his apartment, hired by his parents to keep him alive. She was wearing a tight bodysuit, almost identical to the one she was wearing now. It showed off every curve, every twitch of her butt and sway of her hips. It had been the way she’d first looked at him, her pin-straight black hair tucked behind her ears, darkly penciled eyes ripping through him, which had made him agree. That was before he discovered that Jules was really a first-class bitch who took all the pleasure out of business. Her sexuality was a deception, he knew that now, but even still he couldn’t refuse her.
“I should just fire you now.”
The green in her eyes flickered. “And say goodbye to the only tits and ass you see in the flesh? You won’t do it.”
She bent down to unhook him, taking care to expose the shadowed line of her breasts. The flowery scent of perfume came off her in waves. She was always gone just long enough for him to forget that smell. Her fingers brushed against his wrists, twisting out all the plugs and circuits that couldn’t follow him out of the room. She looked up at him when she was done, her purple-painted lips inches away from his bloodless paper ones. 
Ferris swallowed. Tingling crept up his arms, the solid closeness of her skin foreign. In the Overload keeping company didn’t slip under his flesh, nipping at all of the places he’d prefer to forget. He watched the slope of her mouth, afraid of what would pull taught inside him if he met her eyes while they were so close to his own. She slipped away, placing herself behind the wheelchair, but his nerves still hummed with her presence.
She curled her index finger at him. Her nails were long and lacquered blue. “Now come on over.”
The distance to the wheelchair was too far. There was no way he could get up and make it all the way. His fingers dug into the side of the pod; this was going to be humiliating.
“You can do it.” She was facing him, her body draped over the back of the chair. Her legs were parted and her hips were thrust upwards. “I’m waiting for you Ferris.” She winked.
He’d changed his mind. She didn’t take all the pleasure out of business—she just made her business pleasurable while he squirmed. There was no way she would come over and help him. He could tell her to fuck off and log back into the Overload but she might actually leave.
He stared down at his atrophied legs, shaky and weak under his stained sweatpants. “I don’t want to go out like this.”
“Then change your damn pants and walk out of here. There’s nothing wrong with your fucking legs.”
He could feel something close to tears stinging the backs of his eyes. His body was a worn-out husk but his mind was stronger than that, he had to control it. Jules would only laugh if he actually started crying. He swallowed down the suffocating feeling in his throat and moved. Arms trembling, he tried to support his own meager weight while he slid out of the pod. His feet touched the floor. Triumphant he stood, body shaking with the effort.
“Fuck you, Jules.”
He took a defiant step towards her, staring straight ahead at the woman who taunted him so mercilessly. He knew he was going to fall, but he tried to finish the step anyway. His knees crumbled beneath him; but before he could end up splayed on the floor Jules was there, her arm wrapped around his back, giving support. The scent of flowers was all around him again, radiating from her cold flesh. She helped him the rest of the distance, lowering him gently into the chair.
They were making their way through the city before she spoke again. “I’m sorry; I shouldn’t have pushed you that hard.”
Ferris didn’t respond. He stared up, looking at the choked-out sky. Bits of light rained down through the piping that hung up above them. The city was layered, buildings stacked upon buildings. Farther below even the flecks of light that bled through were absent, swathing the poor in the artificial glow of the advert streams that peppered the walls. Walkways hung suspended, linking the layers to one another for the few people who preferred to walk their way to the surface instead of taking the lifts.
The streets were filled with emptiness, only the lights keeping them company on the ascent. Once, a couple passed them and a heavy ball churned in Ferris’ stomach. The man was middle-aged and balding; face slack and staring off into a digital world only he could see. A constant stream of muttering dripped off of him like sweat, his arm wrapped around a woman far too perfect to belong to him. For a cold moment she looked over at Ferris and he felt ice chips cut at the insides of his veins. Then he saw the familiar processing flicker in her eyes and relaxed—another moderator.
The park on the top level was empty, like it always was. It was one of the few places left that was naturally green, though it was absent of the life that should have come with it. No birds rustled in the trees, no beetles crawled on the dew-tipped pieces of grass; there was nothing living here except for Ferris. The silence was worse than the electric buzz that droned on through the rest of the city.
“I hate people like you,” Jules said.
“And why the fuck is that?” Ferris snapped back. They’d just arrived and she’d gone on the attack again. This wasn’t what he wanted.
“Because you’re idiots, all of you. I’m your moderator. It’s my job to make sure assholes like you don’t starve to death while they drool over some piece of make-believe. All I have is a premade body and a dynamic personality core and I’m more alive than you are.”
“I could get you wiped for half the shit you do. Maybe your next dynamic personality won’t be such a bitch.”
Jules snorted. “I’m sure it’s happened before.”
She was facing straight ahead, her expression unchanged. He knew her well enough to know that meant she was angry. Her personality wasn’t exactly charming, but without it, she’d be like every other moderator who had come before. There had been a countless wave of them hired by his parents, each one failing to gain anything close to his notice. Jules was different, the very fact that she could get him angry proved it.
“I wouldn’t really report you.”
Jules stood behind him in that small bubble of silent nature. Her hand slipped down from the wheelchair handle and rested upon his shoulder. Her curled blue nails glinted in the sunlight.
“What if I told you I was never supposed to do this?” she said.
“Do what?”
“Force you outside. It’d be enough to wipe me clean.”
She leaned down and bent her body around the side of the chair, hand still resting on his shoulder. Her hair fell forward in a perfect sheet, obscuring the look on her face. Her purple-glossed lips were pressed in a firm line.
The faint scent of cut grass and soil was all around them, and it mingled with the perfume of Jules’ skin. Her lips were so close again; an overwhelming urge to pull her forward filled him. Maybe he could get a kiss if he acted fast enough. The look of disgust on her face that danced in his mind’s eye stopped him. Someone like Jules could never be held by bones as brittle as his.
“This place is kinda nice,” Ferris said.
Her mouth curled upward. “You think so? I like it too.”
The longer they sat there the more aware he became of the body he was in, of how weak and powerless he was. The pressure of her hand was comforting. Even as pathetic as he was, she still cared enough to touch him. That had to be worth something.
“Maybe someday we can walk through this place together,” he said.  His legs were nothing more than husks of what they could be, but that didn’t mean they had to stay that way forever.
She pushed her hair back behind her ears. She looked as if she had swallowed something bitter. “I’d like that.” Her fingers tightened on his shoulder. “Why don’t we do it now?”
“I’ll help you. To the tree.”
Seeing the short distance made his legs ache; there was no way he could walk that, even with support. Jules would end up carrying him.
Ferris looked out at the park, the unfitting silence of it all around them. It was just like Jules, artificial but more real than anything he could ever touch. The light of the sun was warm, but he still felt cold inside. It was too much, trying to be someone worth her. He tried to paint the image of them walking side by side into the green stillness but nothing appeared. If this were the Overload, he would have been able to see it perfectly— within his digital skin, he could render every bit of his fantasy into truth. In there he could be the sort of man Jules deserved.
“I’m done here, Jules. I want to go home.”
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