Occasionally, I participate on a message board dedicated to writing prompts. They’re just little vignettes, you know, but it’s fun. I don’t often share my writing with folks under my own name because I write some really weird shit and I want to keep my friends. This particular prompt resulted in something fairly normal though, so I thought I’d put it up here.
“Physical contact is now illegal, but there are hug dealers and shady hand-holders in the dead of night.”
The prompt was probably supposed to be funny, but I just love angst too damn much, guys. Thirty minutes later I had the following written:
Emily hesitated at first, slender fingers trembling – uncertain, clumsy – but the man’s own fingers flexed and entwined with hers. His skin was so very warm against hers, so unlike the impersonal and unyielding metal of the medic androids when she was ill, so unlike the glass screen of her tablet at work, or food, or makeup or — anything else she could remember touching, really. She and her fellow humans were filthy, Emily was well aware of that; humans spread disease and hurt each other and used each other. It was better if they had as little contact with one another as possible. After all, they were among the most vicious of the planet’s animals, were they not? It is a measure we take to protect you, the Collective’s metallic voices said as they poured from speakers at every street corner.
The draw was too great for many, though.
Good men and women did as the Collective told them. They did not make more eye contact than they had to. They did not talk more than they had to. And of course they most certainly never, ever touched. If two humans brushed up against each other accidentally, then punishment was light – reduced rations at times, extra work at others. The Collective was very generous and understood that humans were fallible beings who often made mistakes, and so these types of punishments were meant as more of a gentle reminder, like teaching a wayward child.
(Emily had no first-hand experience with children, of course – no one did – but she’d come across the analogy in an old book once and thought it might suit the situation well.)
However, when humans dared to openly defy the Collective, intentionally making physical contact with each other – whether it was holding hands, hugging, or even sexual intercourse (the idea of the latter confused and repulsed Emily, who thought it sounded unhygienic in the extreme)- why, they were killed outright if they were lucky. No one knew what the other punishments might be, but there had been numerous reports of humans missing, not killed, after raids. Labor camps, maybe. Experiments. Food.
The thought of the danger Emily had so recklessly put herself in sent a shock through her system and her hand jumped. The man – Emily did not know his name – smiled down at her and gave her fingers a quick squeeze.
“It’s okay, you know. Everyone’s nervous when they haven’t done this before.”
Emily blinked up at him. His manner was so easy, considering the inherent risk he was in – the smiling, even. No one smiled. It was unnecessary. And it had initially unnerved Emily, but she found herself smiling back at him now, rarely-used muscles twitching to life at the corners of her mouth.
“No, it’s lovely,” she said, rubbing her thumb across his palm. She still marveled at the softness of his flesh against her own. She knew her own skin must have felt close to the same but touching it did not send a surge of warmth through her body. “Honestly. I’m just nervous about the Collective. How often do you come to these parties?”
The man lifted his head then and cast a quick glance around at the other people scattered throughout the dimly-lit warehouse, hugging or holding hands or talking with each other in halting, timid voices – taking tentative steps into learning how to socialize after the Collective had taken all these aspects of humanity away from them.
He turned to back to Emily and smiled again. “I’ve been coming here for the last year and a half. No raids so far. And if you keep on worrying about that, you’re not going to enjoy your time here.”
As he finished speaking, the man grabbed her other hand and placed it against his chest so she could feel his heart beat underneath his shirt. Emily’s eyes widened. Another heart, beating beneath another ribcage mirroring her own – both such fragile, mortal tangles of muscle and bone, but something the droids in the Collective would never have. Spite and triumph twisted Emily’s mouth into a little secret smile. She had spent so long never questioning the Collective, even being grateful for their leadership, but now — humans, though filthy and vile they may have been, were suddenly so much more real to her. So much more than automatons crafted with steel and code, but no warmth and no heartbeat to keep them truly alive.