[ A Point of Reflection ]
( Cover Art by: Ahad )
His lips were damp and warm against my neck. A bead of sweat tickled my scalp as it glided downwards between my tangled hairs. I grabbed the edge of my resting pod instinctively to counter the rhythmic upward thrust that made my every breath quiver. Did I manage to finish my washing before the Cut?
“Damn those…” (Inhale)
“…symbiont freaks…” (Exhale)
“…and all those selfish corporation bastards…” (Inhale)
“…I’m sick of suffering in the middle of all this…” (Exhale)
It was not the first time a customer has complained about the struggles of this new age between breaths while trying to enjoy my service. I for one was grateful that this system brought about a huge influx of customers during these unforeseen Cuts. There was only so much one could do when the entire electrical grid was shut down for a week worldwide.
It was confirmed this morning that the international marble company Kronos triggered this Cut. Illegal mining in protected zones was classified as a Grade 1 offense according to the regulations laid out by the Symbiont Association for the Protection of Gaia (S.A.P.G.). In this new epoch, the human race was divided into Syms and Pre-syms. Syms were symbionts that have been biologically paired with a species in order to protect and live as one with them. Most Syms have been genetically modified in order to experience the world through the senses of their critter partners, thus morphing their way of life to be fully in-tune with the ecological balance of Gaia. Syms and Pre-syms lived strictly in separation, while notions of racism and sexism gave way to speciesism. Since the Syms gained significant political power decades ago, they have tried various tactics to change the way we Pre-syms treated and related to nature for the better. Tapping directly into our main electrical power source has proven to be the most effective strategy thus far – immobilizing our machines and systems kept our greed for extracting natural resources at bay.
Click. I blinked lazily as neon lights came to life amidst clouds of scented mist, flooding the room with a blur of colors and the familiar hum of electricity. I loosened my grip as I felt his skin peel away from mine. He kissed my cheek hastily and reached for his shirt and a half-lit cigarette. A wave of frustration and relief welled up inside me as I turned sideways, just in time to catch a final glimpse of the back of another satisfied customer. After working in the Premium Pod for almost three years, I should have gotten used to these wordless goodbyes by now, but who could blame a woman for hoping for more with another man after these week-long Cut sessions.
Bzzzz. “Hello Nicki! Bet you missed hearing my voice through this damn machine again eh? Listen love, I know you just got off a shift, but there was a customer that dropped by in person a few days ago. He asked for a 3-day Premium session starting tonight. Let me know if you’re up for it.”
I stared blankly at my husky ceiling as I reached out for the control panel dangling over the edge of my resting pod. A gentle tap on the cold glass screen turned off all the neon lights and drew open my double-layered blackout curtains. The evening sun stretched across my bedroom floor, painting the polished shell tiles with hues of peach and crimson. I squinted as I fixed my gaze upon the view of the cityscape below through delicate silk screens. Egg-shaped structures of timber, bone and steel punctured the canopy of the forest, forming community trees that grew organically as families expanded. Networks of bioluminescent fungi glowed and pulsated like veins as they sprawled upwards around massive tree trunks, lighting up stone walkways and public gathering dens. The forest trails below showed signs of life as trading and entertainment pods opened up again in full bloom after the Cut. Living among the biggest community of Pre-syms in a Premium Pod at the emergent layer, this job turned out to be both a blessing and a curse.
Bzzzz. “Hey Miles, its Nicki here. I’ll take the job. Lucky me for having a customer during the after-Cut dip huh? Send him up in an hour. Thanks.”
I reached for the control panel instinctively but stopped myself as I examined the room. The previous customer was a neat one and I knew I could tidy up the room in time without the automated controls. Some part of me actually preferred life during Cuts, when everything seemed more purposeful and people smiled more with their eyes. I retrieved my old cleaning supplies from a locked cupboard and got to work. A warm shower after this would be enough to freshen me up for the next job.
Bzzzz. “Hello love, the customer is in the waiting pod. I’m sending him up in five. Have fun tonight!”
Lighting up the last few candles by the door, I shoved the cleaning supplies back into the cupboard with my free hand. Dashing past the mirror, I slipped into a butterfly-wing night gown and put on my favorite choker necklace. The first encounter was undoubtedly the most nerve-wracking part of the job.
The elevator door slid open, leading directly into the living room. From the moment our eyes met to the way he moved towards me, I could tell he was a first-timer. He was cloaked in black from the chin down and his arms hung awkwardly from his shoulders when he walked. His eyes darted nervously from me to every other detail inside the dimly-lit room, yet he held his jaw tight and straight. Standing a few feet away from me, he paused and rested his gaze on the candles behind me as though it comforted him.
“The city blossomed back to life tonight after the Cut. You sure you would rather spend your time with me? Mr…”
“Call me Kayden.”
He moved again, this time heading directly towards the windows. He drew open the curtains slowly as if in fear, and for a while he stood there admiring the view of the city below us in silence. His silhouette relaxed slightly as he let out a sigh of revelation that sounded almost painful.
I glided across the room towards him as gracefully as possible to not break the solemnity of the atmosphere. He jumped slightly as I trailed my fingers along his back and embraced his tense figure. His black cloak felt warm against my cheek and smelled faintly of sunshine.
“Hey Kayden. I’m guessing… you haven’t seen a woman naked before?”
He shook his head slightly.
“Why don’t we do it together? And don’t worry, being high up within the emergent means no one will be able to see us.”
He hesitated briefly, then nodded once.
I took a step backwards and pushed the thin straps of my night gown off the edge of my shoulders, allowing it to slide onto the floor. With his back still towards me, he undid his cloak in one swift motion, removed his shirt, and dropped them to the side. I bit my lip unconsciously while admiring his fair skin and toned physique, secretly hoping he would continue to undress himself.
The winds howled and whisked away masses of thick clouds. Moonlight flooded into the room, highlighting his every outline. Suddenly, I noticed traces of teal dotted along the edge of his shoulder blades, emitting a soft ethereal glow as he turned to face me. A thin strip of reflective scales flowed along his collar bone, and a few visible scars cut across the sides of his neck.
“Are… Are you a Sym? Did you…”
I held my breath in shock as he traced the full length of my body with his gentle gaze.
“Your city is beautiful Nicki, and you are truly stunning…”
Kayden was a former member of the S.A.P.G., and by the scars on his neck, he was one of the few who tried to forego his genetic modifications to become a Pre-sym. The procedure has yet to be perfected, and being brought up within the Sym community of luna moths meant bearing traces of reflective scales on parts of his body which must remain hidden.
“The S.A.P.G. is slowly being infiltrated by greedy scumbags. Trust me Nicki, it’s all turning into a show. They have been trying to capitalize on Pre-sym technology and resources for the past few years. These Cuts are just the perfect way for them to put the blame on you and cripple your forces, while they carry out their business backstage. Meanwhile, the public Sym community is gradually being brainwashed to reject and stay well away from all of you. I left the S.A.P.G. for good after I found out about their plans to frame Kronos. I couldn’t stand another day being myself or with my community any longer. The change of energy is suffocating. Some of our Elders with pure intentions started feeling it as well, but struggle to figure out why. How could Gaia tolerate us for so long…? There must be a way to break down these fabricated walls between Syms and Pre-syms. There must be another way to help you sense and respect the energy of Gaia, and for all of us to truly live as one. I had to know more about you… I had to see it with my own eyes… I had to feel…”
He collapsed on to my resting pod, every breath still shaking with rage. Shifting clouds shrouded the moon and disguised him as a Pre-sym once again. Fighting back tears, I climbed in next to him and ran my fingers through his hair to calm him down. He stared at me intently, suddenly aware of my unexpectedly calm demeanour that followed his outburst. I fixed my gaze upon his and unclasped my choker necklace to reveal deep scars that mirrored his own. A hidden button behind the pendant triggered a small hologram of my late parents – a family portrait of a Sym and a Pre-sym holding an infant in their arms.
That night, we embraced each other tenderly as the city and forest below us drifted into silence. We came to realise that true symbiotic balance between man and nature could only be achieved if we learn to overcome the imbalance within the nature of our own species. Filled with hate, love, greed and gratitude, we were exposed. We were vulnerable. We were human.