“Hands of Glass Upon Her Onyx Flesh”
by Eric Del Carlo
The teleprez psychoanalyst turned to pixelated vapor, leaving Iona alone in her ‘down with the reassuring words: It is safe to go outside.
No doubt this assertion was being repeated around the globe, by millions of other therapy programs. Humankind had survived the Great Pest. Immunity could now be resequenced into the genome. Iona had received her treatment via medical drone. Her taut sculpted body was now impervious to the virus.
The tangerine walls of her lockdown soothed her. Her furnishings were all soft angles and elegant lines. She had a food regenerator, a deep marble recyclo-tub, all her preferred workout equipment, a streaming screen.
The Great Pest had been the culmination of the many secondary plagues which had repeatedly gotten loose in the world. Research into a cure had carried on. Iona had contributed, studying and testing a tiny portion of the genetic map, submitting her findings while in lockdown–
Lockdown. The computerized therapist discouraged the term. She no longer lived in a ‘down. This was simply her home now. A unit in a building, that building on a street, the street connected to a surrounding city. And all those people…they were emerging. She had watched the footage. Dazed blinking faces. The tentative smiles, the mousy movements. And then–then, the spontaneous celebrations! The embraces! The kisses!
And soon the pawing and tussling, the pent-up happy grappling. Clusters of bodies, the clothing shed in the streets! Society had grown far less prudish. News drones didn’t hesitate to broadcast the orgiastic images. Iona watched them avidly.
Desire came on her in a rush. A shivering was in her belly. With steps light and floating she went into her bedroom. Undoing the clasp at her nape, her single gossamer garment fell away. The air caressed her bare skin.
Iona wasn’t interested in the caress of air. Swiftly she donned her micro-sheath, slipping fingers eagerly into the attached gloves. Lastly she lowered on the headgear.
The Interface. This, above all, had saved her, had kept her sane throughout the global quarantine. Supposedly it was proprietary military tech, but when morale had fallen catastrophically, the suits had been issued and the Interface activated.
Iona by then had been a bundle of shrieking nerve endings, hollowed out by desolate lust. Masturbation had become a stopgap; it wasn’t going to sustain her, no matter how inventive she had gotten with it.
The crackle of power excited her, as the sheath’s miniature impulse nodes tickled her flesh. The orgy imagery still flashed in her brain–such desire on literally naked display! And yet…as arousing as it was, some part of her was repulsed. Outside? In the free air?
The menu of neon lozenges hung before her goggled eyes. Setting? She eye-clicked on a ballroom and bedecked herself in a voluminous gown. In an instant she was twirling among a crowd of fancily dressed personages, with chamber music filling the air. She felt the silk of her undergarments, heard the swish of lace and ruffles everywhere. Handsome men. Gorgeous ladies. The hall was cavernous.
She whirled giddily a moment, savoring the space and sensation. Then she locked gazes with a smoldering male with richly toned skin and fine lines not quite concealed by his long coat, his flounced shirt.
Iona fairly lunged at him, seizing him in mid-step and rocking with him through the motions of the dance. Her feet moved instinctively. He grinned fiercely. She jammed herself against him. He thrust his groin, and she felt his welcome hardness–or its approximation through the Interface. It wasn’t a perfect system.
They left the ballroom, went into a convenient alcove where a broad cushioned couch awaited in dim lavender light.
It was a struggle to disrobe–a glorious, inflaming struggle. Iona tore his trouser buttons; he rended her bodice. Fabric tore. At last the final scrap of computer-generated clothing was gone, and they leapt together onto the cushions.
His body was firm, his cock a twitching spike. She grasped it, and he cried out, very convincingly. Yet there was a disconnect, an artificiality. Excitement churned in her nonetheless. They scrabbled upon each other, hands moving. Their mouths melded, tongue meeting tongue. Here the Great Pest had never come. Here all was permissible.
She dropped her mouth on his cock and sucked him to his balls. Her head bobbed eagerly. She had his taste on her tongue, a synthesized version of it anyway.
When they switched positions, she mewled as he lapped her. His tongue tip teased her clit. It was lovely–but also a gauzy sort of sensation, distantly false.
Finally they were joined, she astride him, riding him fervently, bucking madly, crying obscenities as sweat coursed down her body. She forced herself into climax, and he erupted in sympathy.
She lay atop, panting.
“That was lovely,” he said. “Could I see you…out in the real world?”
Iona scrambled off him, startled. She had thought him part of the program. But he must have chosen the ballroom too. Dumb luck had paired her with a fellow Interfacer.
She blushed mightily. “How”–she bit her lip–“how did you know I’m real?”
He smiled warmly. “Nothing computerized fucks like that.”
She couldn’t keep back a laugh. They might be thousands of miles apart, each inhabiting a micro-sheath.
“I…I don’t know if I’m ready to come out,” she murmured.
He nodded. “I wasn’t either. Until I met you.” He put out his hand. It trembled a little, but he didn’t drop it.
To know his true flesh. No proxies, no Interface. But also to risk going outside…even though there was no risk anymore. It tore her.
Iona dropped her hand into his. And that touch was a promise, a pledge, for the true contact to come.
Eric Del Carlo’s fiction has appeared in Asimov’s, Analog, Clarkesworld and many other venues. He has been appearing in Circlet Press publications since the 1990s and is delighted to be back once again with his alma mater.