by Chris Oxer
She threw her coldsak unerringly at a couch, not particularly mindful of the contents at this stage of the day. They had kept her over an hour past optimal and her mind felt like an overfried egg, kept projecting that image too: running burned yellow yolk breaking through the cloture of a charred white that had fissured like the surface of a brain. She'd had eggs for breakfast and it was the little things that came back to haunt you via association.
The house welcomed her home, as it always did. It told her that there had been an incursion attempt at 16:02:19 that had only required primary systems engagement. The incursor had been reported but had escaped detection. It offered a 0.24% variance that the incursion attempt was a random only. It also told her that the internal atmospherics were set to temperature and humidity conditions as she had specified. There were forty-one communications with two flagged as medium priority awaiting her attention.
"Slats open," Sophie said wearily at the end of the litany.
The long windows deopaqued in strips, creating a louvered effect of light and dark. Outside, the threatened amniotic rain had become a reality and thick, viscous droplets like rancid milk hissed as they struck the glassteel barrier, smearing. An Informative glided past, near-on her apartment level, neon display flashing dire warnings about getting undercover. There were still some stupid people. Amniotic rain generated strange and violent cellular mutations, not all of them benign, though to the alKhelmical population the risks were considered worth it. The windows were soundproofed, so she would not hear gunfire if any came. alKhemicals were not tolerated in upwardly mobile Alpha, not unless they had been ordered in as escorts or otherwise been given temporary status.
Beyond the rainfall, the skies were turning purple and orange with the coming of black dusk.
Sophie walked into the bathroom and eyed the dirty black residue that clotted her nostrils silently.
An hour over optimal.
She hoped they were fucking happy.
She had bathed, eaten, revitalized somewhat. The shower offered sonic and neurofret massage as well as fluidic variables. She had used just about all combinations except the narcoanalgesics, since the only pain was in her skull and even hydroxymedicants couldn't work inside her head. Her dinner was minimalist, retro noveau, chased down with a marble of Peaceful for the skull-splitting headache. A whole marble had probably been too much, but then so was the pain and at least that was gone. Verbally, she had triggered house address and dealt with what correspondence there was, mostly via deletion.
Mostly. One of the mediumFlags was vocational and potentially lucrative. She actuated a query and had time to open a slim bottle of brownmarket eth before it came back. Most people didn't drink wines anymore, but she found them acceptable, if not as sensorial as the marbles.
House address inquired of her as to how she would like to receive the response to her query. Her head was no longer killing her, and as there was lucrative potential she elected to take it there. Sophie laid back on the couch, limbs loose and relaxed, and closed her eyes. Within the delicate flesh of her eyelid an indicator pulsed green, green, green.
We are the accredited Interface of Chalice Red / Pleasure Symmetry / Combine 41 /
Directory details are available / waking neuropaths 117334AD1 through 117335ZY0 //
"Shunt," whispered Sophie with her lips and her mind. A part of her languid consciousness freed itself like a droplet and encapsulated the directive path, studying it independently. If there were any anomalies it would recombine and silence the communiqué.
You are a / rating One / Sensumer / confirmed vocDirectory datum zero:now /
Chalice Red requires / requests / the services of a / rating One / Sensumer / for theoretic testing of / Liquidity Imprimatur 90144 //
"Specify," she murmured, a lick of saliva escaping the corner of her mouth and glinting down her cheek.
The Interface changed, melting back into her mind from the intricate dimensional construct it had affected to a visual-non-tactile product description. The information was very detailed indeed.
Sophie broke the Interface after twenty minutes, requesting time to consider the offer. When her eyes flickered open and the apartment solidified around her once more, she touched her face. It felt tender, and her fingers came away thready with blood. Shit. Overloaded.
She rose, feeling the dull wires of a fresh headache sinking into the meat of her mind, and went back to the bathroom to wash the blood away once more.
The headache remained, soft, stroking the inside of her skull.
Today she had tested a minor Imprimatur, more of a wetware add-on than anything new. High-density liquid information epidurally mingled with her cerebrospinal fluid and optic humours. The product was essentially flawed, and it had taken her only an hour to come to that conclusion, but the producers were unsatisfied and the vocational contract allowed them to ask for retesting under variant conditions. She had eventually called a halt to it, an hour past the optimal time within a Liquidity State, when she had started empathizing with the electrochemical flaw in the Imprimatur package, fantasizing about mutating within the original product's design. That way led schizophrenia. The producers were not happy, but then they never were when told a product was inherently unstable. She had done more than the contract required and they, at the last, knew it.
One of them had been a man. He, at least, had been charming about it. In these times, a rarity, and maybe that was why she had kept going for longer than was ordinarily required, had not asserted herself when she reasonably could have done earlier. Maybe.
Whilst her body processed and expelled liquid information sixty times faster and more efficiently than the most talented nonSensumer, she still fancied she could feel echoes of the minor Imprimatur ghosting within the folds and valleys of her cerebellum somewhere, optosensory fallout flickering heartbeat visions translucent into her memory centres when she least expected them. Oh yes, that product had been definitely, definitively flawed, she knew that for a fact: the remnant pieces would eventually be isolated and destroyed by her body but until then she could still feel the random viral constructs unwittingly multiplied within the original fluid form.
Because of that, tonight was not the night for any further theoretic testing, particularly of something of an unknown quantity and quality. She needed to be fresh.
Sophie sighed, closed her eyes. In her head, the Interface opened its own, chrome slits like mirrors, reflecting an augmented multiplicity of flatterSimulacra back at her, as they were wont to do; self-image adherency, or light, non-pervasive quasilegal stimulation of the pleasure and ego centres of the brain. As a Sensumer she was used to being sensorially flattered and a part of her consciousness removed that capacity from the Interface as a simple matter of course, leaving it matte and stripped, awaiting.
"Tomorrow," she said, letting the word reverberate as a concrete thoughtform and allowing a trace of memory seepage to illustrate the why to the Chalice Red communiqué. "Here. Acceptable?"
She opened her eyes.
Outside, the amniotic rain had dissipated and Informatives flashed past the windows with glaring multihued all-clears flashing like psychotic strobes for the faint of intelligence. Sophie lay naked amidst the towering silk of her cradle and stretched, the headache finally put to rest. She was tired yet restless, insomnia a real possibility. It often was for Sensumers.
Her body ran slick with sweat.
She reached out slowly, eventually, and the goblet floated on invisible impellers to her hand, its lidshield smoothly flowering open. Six different marbles within, static energies preventing them from touching one another and adulterating the contents beneath the spherical liquid skins. Different colours, modulating like trapped novas. They had varying properties but tonight she was not in the mood for literary conceits or challenging philosotheoretical conundrums. The orb she extracted was purpled and rich, giving slightly beneath the lightest pressure of her fingertips. She put it to her lips, hesitating.
Took it away.
Her legs parted softly. Fingertips probed, played. They scarcely needed to: wet, glistening, slippery already. Delicately she slid the marble into her vagina and felt it burst.
Closed her eyes.
"My name is Alianna."
Firm grip, cool slice of smile, dark dark eyes. The proRep from Combine 41 was precisely on time, slim coldsak, slim body and a stark-sensuous way of walking that fascinated Sophie's eyes a little more than propriety allowed for. It seemed not to bother Alianna though: most likely she was versed with the mindset of Sensumers, the augmentation of sensual input and emotive processes. As Sophie gestured her within her home, "Chalice Red/Pleasure Symmetry in Combine is honoured to have obtained the expertise of a rating One. If there is anything we can do to further facilitate your comfort during the testing phase, do not hesitate to indicate. I¾ " pause for effect, unusual "¾ and my Combine are under your instruction."
Sophie, coolly, perhaps not quite coolly enough, "Thank you." They sat down and Sophie measured the other woman with her eye, same height though the intricacies of the tribal-bound blonde-red hair added a handslength to the overall, the inherent slenderness an augmentation but a very good one, not alKhemical. Probably had problems with her weight, a measured Liquidity infusion to the correct receptors in her cortex, something like that. If they shared themselves Sophie would know instantly. The augmentation was obvious, but only to a Sensumer who saw intrinsically deviations from the neurochemical norm. She let her eyes wander over Alianna's body, taking in the severity of the expensively-tailored shadowmesh suit (repression masc-submissive slavish hierarch), the bustline (fem-calculated hope wistful), the long legs (aggressor-athletic yearning?). Fluid flickers of meaning, of psychoanalysis from first impressions. She knew she could be wrong, knew also that she seldom was. It didn't matter. Everyone had secrets. Except in the Liquidity.
To a Sensumer.
"Before we begin, I am required to ask whether you have inFluided within the past six hours and if so, what manner." Alianna smiled impersonally. "Understand that I am not attempting to personally infringe you, but that this particular Imprimatur may be affected by residuals which would, of course, invalidate the test."
"I'm not offended," Sophie replied levelly. She paused, and then detailed her consumption of the night before. "A Peaceful for a headache, recommended dosage. A Sensual for relaxation and insomnia, taken internally."
"Vaginally?" The other woman raised an eyebrow politely.
"I applaud your recuperative powers. Most are prostrated for days, but then they are not Sensumers, are they. Me?" and she smiled again, a trace more humanly, "I never quite had the nerve. Ironic really."
Sophie returned the smile evenly. "Why?"
"Because of the nature of this product. You took the design specifics and overview last night?" It was phrased as a question, but Sophie knew the proRep was well aware of what information had been filtered through the Interface last night, and the query was for politeness' form only. Thus, she ignored it and got to business.
"How will the Imprimatur be administered?"
"Orally." Alianna's coldsak split open with a cool blueish puff of cryOx. The interior was ribbed, coldfoam niches limned with chromed electronics. The marbles were contained in a cyberOrg sphere for security's sake. Sophie had seen many similar such antisanction devices, possessed of a rudimentary cellular intelligence and capable of defending themselves to a considerable extent in ways she did not choose to think of too deeply. At the last, they would crush their protected contents and sterilize the Liquidity within by ducting catastrophic acidic enzymes into the fluid remains. They were extremely effective, slightly unsettling devices.
Alianna caught Sophie looking at the cyberOrg and divined something from the Sensumer's expression. "You don't like them?"
"I like them fine. Just not so close to me."
"You have had an... experience with a cyberOrg? A malfunction?" Alianna said carefully.
"Yes," Sophie said curtly, and no more.
"I assure you that this system is secure. You have the responsibility of the Combine on that." Not lightly given, making Sophie feel slightly better, but still she would be happier when the biomechanical released the as-yet invisible marble within and she could examine the Liquidity Imprimatur firsthand. She fiddled nervously with the fashion-ragged hem of her skinrobe, little tweaks of static electricity stippling the whorls of her fingerprints. Nodding acquiescence was an effort she was surprised into.
"How will you be monitoring?"
"Externally via dreamCatcher. I am given to understand that is standard op with Sensumer sessions."
"May I see your 'Catcher?"
Alianna stroked the interior of the coldsak along one of the foamformed perforations, the joins of her fingers moving awkwardly in what was undoubtedly a coded sequence. It looked painfully but not impossible to duplicate, and Sophie mentally ran over the sequence of bends and flexes in the area of her subconscious where she had nurtured eidetic ability. A Sensumer was required to be attuned to her environment: another way of looking at that was to see and intake all. Information, no matter how trivial, was always relevant. The coldfoam rustled open, the colder machine revealed. dreamCatchers have a standard design, but this one was more compact, more streamlined than most, looked peculiarly martial. Combine 41 obviously had considerable technocratic resources. "You do not wish to come in?" she asked abruptly.
The proRep shook her head. It was difficult to get a sense of her all of a sudden. "Again, it would invalidate the test."
Sophie eyed her noncommittally.
"Set it up."
The most comfortable location in the apartment. Sophie in her cradle, respiring lightly, atmohumidity set to slow-perceptible raisure. She had arranged a chair for Alianna to sit next to the freefloating bed and impellers kept the dreamCatcher and other equipment steady. The cyberOrg had released its marble without undue hesitation and Sophie had requested to hold it. At this, the Chalice Red proRep had balked slightly, protesting of the delicacy of the experimental Imprimatur, balked but broken under Sophie's cool-eyed insistence. She was the Sensumer after all.
The pliant globule glistened between her fingers. Sophie had long learned the art of holding a marble so that her skin did not break the surface tension. She overrode her autonomous functions a moment before she touched it, reducing the acidity of her skin to neutral levels as an added precaution. In touch, she felt the faintest liquescent susurrus from the marble, detected no imperfections or gel-spasming that might have occurred from enzyme contamination.
She smiled. "Are you ready?"
Alianna was caught slightly off-guard. Hastily she checked the settings on the dreamCatcher and dipped her fingers in the symbiotic solution, rubbing the moistened digits lightly over her irises, wincing. The eyes teared immediately: she was obviously unused to touching them, which raised the thought that she had not done this often. Carefully she nuzzled the dreamCatcher against Sophie's left tearduct and activated it.
There was no pain as the millipore filament entered the ocular tract, but there was the usual sensation of engorgement. Sophie blinked once, deliberately, and the duct filled with saline. All the relevant glows on the machine turned green.
The marble pulsed darkly as she placed it on her tongue, closed her mouth, her eyes.
Liquidity Imprimatur 90144
Initiate: Neuropsionic Cascade
Found: Neurocartographic Overlay
Initiate: Axogenome Sequences X144/Y144/Z100
Searching: Z100 [wait]
Completed: Axogenome Sequences X144/Y144/Z100
Sophie, in a red red room that pulsed like the beat of a heart, slow and rhythmic, soothing and arousing. The walls translucent, suggestions of shapes moving behind, stylized, dancing maybe, maybe coital. Blur and meld and break away again.
Arousal and she looks down at herself, arousal and her skin is flushed delicately pink and soft-shining, arousal and slowly she cups one of her breasts and strokes the hard puckered throb of the nipple and she
Is lying down legs apart muscles in her thighs jumping and quivering and perspective
Altered she can see herself touching herself her vagina open glistening beneath her languorously exploring fingers slick wet depths flushed red and lucent she can see this as she can see the room's
Fingers move faster, not inside, the upper centre the target and the clitoris rises and hardens from its slick wet nest peeling back and darkening and
Not right but
Right she hard
Harder than it's supposed to be
The clitoris is the analogue of the penis
It grows from her monstrous unimaginable shuddering its roots spreading into her vagina slick wet welcome and filling her up and
Licking her lips and in doing so she is somehow in simultaneity lapping at her vulva and its
Tasting herself her erection her arousal her lubriciousness her hardness her
The penis has grown out from above her vagina, glistening wet with its birth caul, curving and she can see the way the veins pulse pale blue and the foreskin sliding back and the sheen on it as it pokes down towards her navel which is
New lips inner lips
Slick red tunnel and the head of the
Spreading her open and sliding inside
Writhing in the red room and the walls are slippery and viscid and luminous and the figures/shapes/thoughts/emotions beyond come together ever more violently and beneath her
Altering between her legs
Spreading thickening tautening moistening
Still it worms itself into her new
Her wetness pooling on her stomach and her ribs flaring and subsiding, flaring and subsiding faster faster faster
But not a word a thick glottal mucoid grunt instead her tongue
New. Flesh. Augmentation.
Erecting from her
Mouth to ejaculate
Hot as it
Becomes two two heads drooling white eyes and her own eyes now are now are
Red labial folds weeping optic lubricity
Waiting to be
Open and ready
More and more
Error: Axogenome Sequence Z100 [attempting correction]
Error: Axog00001111011110111101111011101111101 [break]
Initiate: Neuropsionic Cascade
Error: Axogenome Rejection
Error: Core Rejection
Error: Cascade Abolition
"What is it?"
Alianna screamed. Blood burst from her nostrils, bubbled dark and red and hot from beneath her eyes as capillaries ruptured without warning. Sophie was on hands and knees, her own face ice-white beneath the livid crimson tears, her teeth slick-polished rubies in a warped and rictal snarl of pain and humiliation and fury. The dreamCatcher was somewhere amidst the tangle of silk sheets, still actuated, and Alianna was paying the penalty for this. Sophie had regained control of her usurped imagination centres and the nerve-shredding agony she was projecting was made all the more exquisite by the disciplined complexity of a Sensumer's prodigious mental control. In her skull she now had Alianna nailed to the bone walls, her feet gone and charred spikes of bone painted in acid, her eyes coming out slowly to fall bloody on her cheeks and see her abdomen rent and bulging by invisible, inviolable talons. She battered the proRep's psyche, warping it, raping it.
"WHAT WAS IT?"
The symbiotic solution Alianna had dabbed onto her eyeballs prevented her from ripping free of the Sensumer's mind. If she could have found the dreamCatcher she could have directed a pulse that might override Sophie, even make her somnolent, but at present her faculties were not her own. She fell from the chair spasming and howling, bowels loosening and bladder emptying, vomiting helplessly. Blood from eardrums ruptured by banshee sounds that were all in her head coiled down her cheeks. Pain was everywhere in her body as inside her head she was mutilated, tortured, ripped apart and put together and begun upon again. Shrieking, she scrabbled at the wall, breaking her fingernails, gouging the soft material and¾
Sophie withdrew. Almost completely.
Alianna shuddered, weeping. Her eyes were bloodfilled and everything she saw was red-tinged and pulsing. The terrible mindshriek of anguish and agony was gone, but her body still remembered, still ached brutally. Through bloodcaked nostrils she became aware of scents, or rather stenches: her own shit, piss, where she had voided herself, the reek of vomitus down her front.
Sophie started to cry.
Shoved past the woman on the floor and ran for the bathroom.
Not looking back.
"It's part Sensual, part Epiphanic."
Alianna was curled in a corner, her body wracked with tremors. Speech came only with difficulty, even though she had seen the Sensumer find and deactivate the dreamCatcher. Sophie had a One rating which meant that not only did she have the strongest and most disciplined neuropsychology available to modern science, but she was also in control of mental abilities most people could only dream about. If she wanted to assail the proRep again, even without the dreamCatcher, well, after she had already been into her head in feedback and mirrored it, she wouldn't need any external assistance. Alianna knew this, and Sophie knew this. Positions were clear.
So, reeking and pained and shuddering, she was trying to explain.
"It's a... a protoInvert - transEnGendering. Basal design to remove the limitations of gender from the... the human psyche. Sexual in-in-invert reduction. T-To reinput the masculine factor...
"You - you know the situation. The Emasculation. Em... Embryonics are down to one in eight now and they're projecting falls to one in two hundred in sixteen months. The - the masculine sequence is extinct.
"The Imprimatur wyrmed. Self-consumptive. It couldn't... couldn't quite form the distinction - we didn't give you enough infor¾ "
Sophie threw a towel at her.
"Get up. Get clean. Get out."
Alianna's eyes were red, wet. "I¾ "
The merest brush of torture in her head.
She shut her mouth, did as she was asked.
When the apartment's secure enclave irised and glassealed behind her, she started to run.
Sophie stared out of the windows, mimic-lengthened floor to ceiling now, the city beyond a blur of neon and lightning, fire and rain. She could not see the lettering or glyphs on the Informatives that periodically flashed by, but the house had advised her anyway that the precipitation that scrawled and whispered against the transparent barrier was yet another harmful: one of the haemorrhagic patterns. Amniotic rain, haemorrhagic rain - it seldom poured ordinary water anymore. alKhemistry had done that.
alKhemistry had sterilized the world.
Liquidity side-effects, before the process was properly refined, controlled. Liquidity gone into the ecosystem and becoming mutative. Now called the alKhemical Effect. They were working on that too.
The Emasculation had come near ninety years gone, the result of a recombinant genome project designed to give human beings longer lives, ironically part of the same project that had eventually created the standard neurobiological receptors that accessed Liquidity Imprimaturs and, indirectly, Sensumers. In its original goal it had succeeded: certain human types now lived hundreds of years past their original biological span, with no immediate prospect of failure.
Certain human types being those with double-X chromosomes.
The Y chromosomes failed.
It took forty years after the original, rigorously tested project had been administered wholeheartedly to a populace obsessed with youth and beauty for this to become known. By then, it was too late. Every year there were fewer and fewer male zygotes, and less than twelve percent of those that got to that stage proceeded to embryo. Recorded births, both natural and enhancile, of males were now rare events indeed, and getting rarer. Technology, a flawed understanding of the DNA sequences, had created population sterility via the removal of one half of the elements required to continue. The women thrived, and produced girl babies.
The men did not thrive.
Sophie sighed, pressed her hands flat against the temperature-controlled wall, watched little trickles of perspiration seep down the faux glass.
Liquidity was another technology, created by the genome-manipulators in their efforts to void themselves from the trap of species stagnation. It had only been a matter of time anyway, after the DNA molecule had been fully mapped out, that the ways of stimulating different patterns within the recombinant system had been experimented with and, temperamentally, mastered. Gene manipulation was done on the liquid level, microscopically. Soon enough it was possible to autostimulate via liquid mediums and cultures, via gene-enhanced glands and neural clusters and synapses and axons and stems, to create any sensation, any articulation. Beyond that, technology advented the imprinting of information on fluid molecules that could be directly absorbed by the neurons as an interface. It revolutionized communications, scientific and medical practices but it could not functionally alter gender. In the earliest times, when the Seepage ran undetected and Liquidity entered the ecosystem, there had been schools of thought that it might - after all, it created the mutagenic amniotic rains and their derivatives as a biochemical side effect.
But, with the dawning of the Liquidity came the first Sensumers, people with high psionic ratings and mental discipline who used the earliest of the Imprimaturs to augment their neurological capabilities in order to study, hone and extrapolate from the original materials. They developed the ability over generations to control, within their minds and bodies, the reactions of specific Imprimaturs, to testbed them and operate through any potential variables, even to experiment beyond those variables.
They were exclusively female.
Sophie was a tenth generation Sensumer.
She turned around, leaning against the wall, letting her eyelashes flutter closed.
After the Emasculation... so long after.
It was why she had been willing to try.
Liquidity mechanics was a fiendishly complex technological feat. To design an Imprimatur calculated to stimulate the female mind to transEnGender itself was a path fraught with so many incalculable difficulties and variables as to be almost nonviable.
But the men were disappearing, and the population was sterilizing. Soon it would start turning backwards.
A Sensumer uses almost all of her mental capacity - a nonSensumer, even augmented with Liquidity glanding, uses barely fifteen percent. The human body contains the genetic mapping for all possible permutations of physiological mutation, of which the masculine gender, being a secondary cellular product, can reasonably be so called. But the complications and recombining molecular shifts are so infinitely variant as to be mathematically and technologically unmappable.
So think laterally.
Give a Sensumer a masc-analogue mindset. Give the Imprimatur imperative of a male-dominant driven to reproduce. Emplace it within a mind in near-total control of the body it occupies and¾
Sophie reached down between her legs.
Just a clitoris.
Her fingers came away wet, and a little sticky, but the residue was clear.
Combine 41 would be frantically simulating their data now, over and over again. They would be trying to find out why the process had wyrmed, gone into endless, hideously malformed self-replications of both the male and the female. Knowing that they had, for a brief moment, encapsulated Sophie's mind with the male mindset, for a brief moment had actually succeeded, at least neurologically. The masculine patterns, the overtones of domination, yes, even of rape, were there, had been there, strong and irresistible for a time. And though that was not what they wanted, it was nonetheless evidentiary. Elements had come through. Basal elements.
But better than nothing.
She shuddered. How much better, though? To bring that back, that way? Unrefined?
She went to bed.
Two Peacefuls, both administered orally and way over the recommended dose even for a Sensumer of her rating, had put Sophie out thoroughly. Now she slept, still and soft, her breath the faintest of whispers, sibilant and dreamless.
Outside, the sound of the guns. It could not penetrate to her apartment. She would not hear them. In the night some of the alKhemicals had surged into Alpha populace, driven by imperatives at the genome level they did not understand. They may have wanted to stand vigil but they did not get far.
Inside, in the darkness, her thighs fell open, one of her hands moving autonomically, independently of thought or control. It touched her vagina, found it slippery and warm and aroused, and tickled its way higher.
The clitoris was hard, plump.
When the fingers came away, they were coated with a wet, gluey smear.
A white smear.
The fingertips probed the vagina, entered, rubbed, deposited.
Sophie rolled over.
In the darkest part of her mind, a wyrm.
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