One year. 100 articles. So we're having a Reader's Party. Come along to Upsidecrown.
2 April 2001
It had been loose in the box, a delicate metal sphere with the tell-tale glint of tiny lenses tracing a circumference. I knew which it was instinctively, the only imagiser not slotted neatly into the velvet-lined album my sister had bought me, and without thinking I balanced its indiscernible weight in my palm, the search for a working power cell suspended. I stared at the innocent-looking globe for a few moments then nochalantly flipped both switches with my thumb and took my hand away as the familiar snapshot of Paolo, looking over his shoulder with a half-smile of surprise, unfolded through three dimensions.
I reached into the centre of the image and began to turn the dial, expanding the projection, but then I's struck by the memory of when I'd first taken it, before I'd dared hope we'd become lovers, when I used to blow it up till he was almost life-size and I spun it back down to its default proportions. Five years was it now? Two since I'd so much as seen him. I reached out a trembling finger but it passed through his cheek and I felt nothing.
I'd first been suggested ETs by my on-line therapist as a means of getting over the guilt when my father died but I'd not taken its suggestion and so it was with a certain trepidation that I let the stairs carry me up to Dr. Gulikson's offices. I couldn't avoid noticing a certain degree of embarrassment, also, at the obviousness of my destination, twitching every time I met the gaze of any other occupants of the cases criss-crossing the atrium, longing for an enclosed elevator, almost as if I was accessing a pleasure parlour. ETs were, after all, closely related to the technologies which provided release from sexual inhibitions, hastily removed from the market after their commercial availability was swiftly followed by a spate of deaths, but still widely obtainable from back-street neurologists.
The implacable chrome of Dr. Gulikson's door, etched with her name and a string of letters, her masters of science, her doctorate in neurological alteration, slid back and the sharp-featured vision of Dr. Gulikson herself rose to greet me.
"Good afternoon, Mr. Ridley." Her dark hair was tied tightly back in a pony-tail and she met my gaze through entirely cosmetic pince-nez. "Please have a seat. Now why is it you feel you need emotive technologies?"
I started to panic. What was it that had brought me here? How could I express it? The quiet despair of numbness, the gradual realisation that the memory of how his hands had felt on my body had faded without me noticing, that all the sex had blurred into one, my recollection of the whole relationship had been reduced to a handful of totemic incidents and the love that was supposed to last for ever had gone, like a wilful cat that slips quietly out into the night and nobody registers is missing for a week. I felt dirty and empty and Dr. Gulikson was waiting for her reply.
"There's no need to be embarrassed, Mr. Ridley," she instructed as I flushed and stammered. "It's not at all unusual for a man of your" (she glanced at the screen in front of her) "Intellect to require our services. Forty-five per cent of our clients are Grade 2 workers."
"Sorry, I guess I'm just apprehensive about something that kinda amounts to chemically changing my personality."
"It's not about changing you, Mr. Ridley," she replied with a faint whiff of irritation, "Simply restoring a balance. You've allowed the passage of time to dim the intensity of the moment and your rational faculty to devalue what is no longer integral to your life. This is all about unblocking those channels."
"But didn't the STs make people do things they'd never have dreamed of, in normal circumstances?"
Dr. Gulikson's even tone was laced with severity. "I think you'll find that most people have a very plastic sexuality," the hint of a raised eyebrow, "Given the right conditions." I handed over my credit card.
Back in the apartment I fingered the port at the nape of my neck: Paolo hadn't had one, a memorial to his upbringing in the Third Corporation where they still inoculated with hypodermics. Dr. Gulikson had warned me that an ET needed to be used at an appropriate juncture, shortly before driving had produced some particularly unconstructive results; I smiled at the irony that contemplating the means of administration had brought such an instance about and carefully inserted and discharged the shot.
Paolo used to trace the port in fascination. He'd come without a word whilst I's reading, lie beside me and trace round its subcutaneous rim, gently, with his finger, with his tongue. To begin with it was a kind of distant fear, stirring in the pit of my stomach: butterflies, mere anticipation, perhaps? Then the floodgate burst and, the sudden rush almost overwhelming me, I felt it all, like the day he walked out, the anguish and the yearning, no longer formulaic, easily distracted but sharp and real; my organs tore themselves apart, my mind floundered vainly to latch onto a single, coherent thought and in misery, pain and sheer sheer joy, I wept.