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*Note* This story contains explicit sexual content.
The date was 4th June 2039 and Elise and I were about to Search. We had put a fuel cell in the old-faithful two-seater we used for the occasion, and we were standing on Charlotte Street next to the vacated student residence that we lived in. Our three other lovers were there to see us off. Neil’s tousled auburn hair and lank frame stood with Reeve’s short, blond haired, slightly awkward figure. Amber, tall and slim with dark hair, was beside them. We were empaths, so they all had hazes of effervescent perception-play where their psyches impinged on mine. Auras, if you pardon the term. Now their auras shone love.
The student residence had a battered brick and glass front which stood ugly under a turquoise sky. The sinking sun was oblique, and lit it so that some of its intact windows glinted orange. This did not make the building any prettier but the sun’s light still lit it pretty, which made me feel happy that we lived in it. This contrasted nicely with the days when it was lit ugly. I felt unhappy then, because I thought about how it was radioactive and we would die, and that was why Nu-Cath’s bastards would not bother hunting us down in Easy-weasy. Why nobody else lived here anyway. When it was lit pretty like today, I thought about how all five of us were in love, and how even when we died of radiation poisoning we would have lived as most Nu-Caths never knew. Most Nu-Caths had never loved. They thought they had, with their formal courtship rituals and marriages, but we knew better.
The reason we knew better was because of a bioengineer called Jenna Ansky. Short and dark-haired, Jenna had a knack for fitting one bit of the universe with another and an inexplicable charisma that spun men and women like a Lorenz attractor spins phase trajectories. Jenna had made us Aphrodite carriers. Aphrodite was a neuro-endosymbiont which meshed its para-nervous system with the neural circuitry of a person's limbic system, giving the host enhanced socio-sexual cognition. Their Dunbar number rose from 150 to around 3000 and the life-form also acted as a short range "emotion transceiver" which allowed a limited form of mind to mind communication. This meant that Carriers were, for all intents and purposes, in empathetic love with an indefinite number of people. Having made us, Jenna had made a prototype community to fit our psychology which we called Jenna’s City.
Jenna’s mortal enemy was the New Catholic Church, or Nu-Cath. Universal love was incomprehensible to Nu-Cath’s formal moral doctrines, and anathema to the hideous id of their miasma sexualis, which they perversely termed “romance”. In 2035 Jenna’s neuro-endosymbiont was blitzed by viruses and prion diseases as Nu-Cath tried to kill it. Jenna met them with new genetic upgrades and immuno-defence pathways for Aphrodite Carriers. With the theist’s typical knack for Darwinian logic, Nu-Cath figured that our empathy could be used to undercut us. I do not want to think about the fuckers' tactics. The 2037 dissolution of Jenna’s City had split our collective soul into tiny fragments. Jenna continuously eluded the clawing scrabble of Nu-Cath. The fragments had gone off to subsist in the cracks of the world machine. We were one of those fragments. Every night, a couple of us would leave Easy-weasy for London’s residential belt, where radioactivity was little above background. Breezing through the clubs and bars and bluffing our way through mass engagement ceremonies we would Search, questing for the tell-tale empathic flash of Aphrodite Carriers. Tonight it was me and Elise’s turn. If we found a Carrier, we would gain another lover and if we did not – well – love is a lonely business. We had been Searching for months and we had not found anyone.
Charlotte Street was deserted. Wrecked vehicles would have made it dead. But when London had been ’neutroned in the Strike of ’31, Easy-weasy’s populace had taken their vehicles with them. The Charlotte Street we had known for two years was a ghost-scape, pristine in its undeadness. A cool wind puffed across my face as the evening arced towards sundown. We were hot in our overalls and biking jackets. Elise’s reddish hair was tied back and a phone nestled over her left ear like a cyborg mod. We both had phones for secure in situ communication. They looked like normal ones but they used a quantum encoded link that would cut out if anyone tried to eavesdrop. Mine tickled on my left ear.
“Good luck for your Search,” said Neil.
“So you find Carriers to add to our numbers,” added Amber.
“Because our love is so lonely”, finished Reeve poignantly.
Flashes of hope and affection shot from their three auras, and they ran up to hug and snog each of us in turn. I was left with the lovely, strange shock of feeling touched. No matter how many times we kissed or made love, the feeling never waned.
We donned our helmets and Elise hoisted herself onto the bike with me clambering after her. I clung to her waist as we started into motion. Flashes of longing brushed my psyche from the others behind us. I felt Elise’s rising enthusiasm illuminate me like a soft dawn.
"Where shall we go?" I asked her.
"mmm Cam-den Town Joe," she sang into my phone. The time display in my helmet said 20:30 GMT. As we drove up New Cavendish Street I said, half joking, half hopeful, "maybe we will find Jenna."
Elise’ aura tinged with amusement. "Yes," she mocked through her phone, "Jenna Ansky in Camden Town – Joe that is the silliest thing you have ever said!"
"Um well – Jenna moves like the wind no?"
"Nu-Cath never find her," Elise commented, "but," she added, "they are Nu-Cath!"
I giggled as she turned onto Tottenham Court Road. She squeezed the throttle and we accelerated towards Camden Town.
"I hope we find a man," Elise said longingly. Her waxing anticipation washed through me. She flashed expectation and said, "Do you think we will?"
"I couldn't say," I told her. "Jenna Ansky infected equal numbers of men and women." A note of disappointment flitted over her aura. Then she flashed knowing amusement. “You hope for exactly the opposite,” she teased. "Because Jenna – she would make a good lover?" I flashed embarrassment-affronted-indignance and she said, “rakehell!”
"Slut," I said. Her hurt stabbed at my heart like a knife. Flinching, she filliped the motor, forcing me to grab on for dear life.
In our folly we had invoked the linguistic expression of Nu-Cath’s insidious, cloying miasma sexualis. Specifically we used two Nu-Cath terms which semantically annihilated our way of living. Women who felt love for all men were "sluts". Sluts were degraded and sexually worthless. Mathematical negatives of virgins, they were rendered unto sin, which cast them asunder from human sympathy. It followed that men who felt love for all women were “rakehells.” In their desire to use women for sex, they were indifferent to Nu-Cath’s courtship procedures; though transgressing them would cause a Madonna-Whore inversion. I was horrified at my blunder. I gushed guilt, and she emanated sympathy. “It’s so difficult to negate Nu-Cath’s lingua sexualis,” she evoked escape-negating a worldview-stepping sidewise out of a conceptual prison.
"I did not mean to imply that your love of men made you –" I flinchingly evoked Nu-Cath’s miasma. Sin, degradation, worthlessness… I drew back from the abyss and said "I'm so sorry."
"No!" Elise cut in. I felt her feeling thick and awkward. It was made worse by the dual anticipation that our double guilt was superadding. Desperately I tried to allay our slide into depression. "We play that game," I started, "where we take the piss out of Nu-Cath."
We sometimes played a game. We called it various names such as "Iron Love" and "Sodomise the Pope", whichever. Neil and Reeve and Amber and I, and less frequently Elise would gather in the big room at the bottom of the residence. I think it was a gym but I'm not entirely sure. We would drag in a big plastic table and some chairs and we would all sit round, alternating between playing heretics and Nu-Cath Inquisitors. Most often, Neil and I would pretend to be Inquisitors, though sometimes one of the girls would take the role. The Inquisitor would sit at the end of the long table while the offending couple (Neil/me and Reeve/Amber) would pretend to cower at the far end and the trial would go something like:
The Inquisitor banged his fist imperiously on the table
Inquisitor: I hereby charge you with the heinous crime of having sex with more than one man, you foul, hideous and immoral strumpet
Adulteress: but please! I love…them (giggles)
Inquistor: how DARE you love more than one man at once! You should be small and limited, like me!
Adultress: yes but what my first husband turns out to be an atheist? Surely it is OK if I commit adultery with a good Church member?
Inquisitor: u-u-u-uh… your lust makes you filthy and degraded, but we need good Nu-Cath’lites to procreate faster than atheists…
Second woman: I really LIKE good Church…members! Does that make me a sinner? (fits of giggling)
Inquisitor: shut up you slut whore harlot wench strumpet!! As I was saying, you have forfeit your right to a fair hearing by having sex with nine and three score men. You are a vile wench because I hate you…
"But Joe, you know why I was unhappy playing that game!" said Elise.
I said, "Elise I –". I felt increasing guilt and embarrassment which was combining badly with Elise’ upset hurt. I said "they are just words. You know I would never invoke the meaning behind them. We Carriers love without limit or guilt…"
"For Christ sake Joe the miasma," Elise cried "you're screwing with the miasma sexualis itself!" I felt thick. She continued, "Joe. You can't just use words and expect to negate their semantics. You know as well as I do the meaning of the word slut."
I said "yes."
"And why we can never use it –" We were now about to cross onto Hampsteed Road via the junction. To our left was the dilapidated entrance of the Warren Street “tube” station, a node in the underground rail network which had been London’s vascular system back when Easy-weasy was the centre of London. The old university hospital stood to the right. With its façade of anodised ribbing and fractured green glass, it looked like that Palace of Green Porcelain from The Time Machine. I was feeling rising nausea when Elise's aura changed abruptly. She said suddenly, "I suppose the same logic applies to me. I should not imply you malevolently…" She stopped the bike and cut the engine. Brushing across my crotch to climb off, she took off her helmet and said earnestly, "if we found Jenna, she would be a wonderful lover."
"Get off Joe."
I clambered off and then she gently lifted off my helmet. Awkward in her overalls, she came towards me and put her arms around me. Her lips were close to mine. This brought back a rather arbitrary memory of Elise, Amber and I sprawled half dressed in front of the 3V. Amber’s nightdress was half open over her underwear and Elise lay akimbo in a shirt and panties. Their arms mutually snaked around one another’s waists and their lips grazed one another’s cheeks in vivid love. Wearing blue-chequed Jean-Pierre Lacroix’s, I lay slightly away from them, feeling the wash of their mutual empathy flow through my psyche. We were watching The Thinking Nu-Cath. It involved a panel of intellectuals, mostly Cardinals but occasionally novelists and other assorted academics discussing some Great Theme. Mostly it was unspeakably dull and sometimes it was ridiculous. But often its insidious doublethink was most ineffably curdled and hideous. Such as this week… "Tell me what you're thinking," Elise breathed. I smiled and said, "remember when we were with Amber watching The Thinking Nu-Cath and they were talking about love and morality and I wanted to turn it off but you said…"
"mmch – It will test Joe."
Amber said, "Elise you are mean!"
"Test what," I cut in peevishly.
"His faith in – mmm," Elise accentuated the 'v' into a ffff, "love!"
"In us," Amber added profoundly.
"Elise, Amber, ple-ease!" I wheedled. I started up but Elise reached over and grabbed my wrist, pulling me back. I would have to sit through a Cardinal, a historian, and a novelist talking in full three-dimensionality. They were set against the backdrop of the famous Sistine Hologram which (they said) was adapted by John Simon in 2027. Because the 3V image was holographic you could see different bits of it from different angles, like when you look through a window. We happened to be watching at a skew angle which showed the Cardinal's head side-on. We could only see hell and the close-ups showed the guy who has his cock bitten by a snake.
Cardinal:…that we're having this discussion in front of God reaching out to Adam, who will take Eve as
Historian: well certainly our faith is being tested! But we know that the early 21st century was a time of crisis for the notion of love. The so-called “sexual revolution” of the 1960s had several pernicious effects: eroding key moral and religious convictions; the divorcing of sex from love and reproduction which was so incredibly damaging to women. By the end of the 20th century women found their innocence and principles almost utterly compromised and society was going down a path which was morally… very different from the right one. Now if I’m Noah II and I ask God “what’s happening?” God would say “don’t worry. Look in the Bible, mankind pulled through the flood last time”…
…now I’m not at all pardoning Jenna Ansky’s depraved and vile actions. What I’m saying is that by looking to the past and seeing what we’ve already been through – successfully – we can learn from it and derive hope.
Novelist: as a… writer I find the discussion of history with regard to love particularly interesting. Literature, through the works of the great novelists, provides us with paradigms of Love, and the Moral Relationship; and also it turns us away from immoral behaviours – like womanising, like prostitution – by providing anti-paradigms. For instance many novelists saw the loosening of morals and anticipated the loss of emotional significance in the sexual act which would accompany increased promiscuity. Aldous Huxley’s Brave New World strikingly anticipates the findings of modern theology, which show how Love is precious meaning that God gave Man a finite amount of it – correct me if I’m wrong Cardinal.
Cardinal: No no you’re spot on
Novelist: On the other hand, when you see Elizabeth Bennett slowly accept Mr Darcy in Pride and Prejudice, you’re seeing a sublime representation of the Moral Relationship, and also of love…
Cardinal: It’s interesting how we see that a meaningful union requires some sense of forbidden fruit…"
(Elise playfully squeezed Amber’s left breast and Amber mweeped happily, startled.)
"…as theology shows, sex is actually de-eroticised by display. The erotic is all about the hidden because what you can see is taken for granted and dull, whereas what you can't…"
"– Is interesting!" Elise cracked up. She slithered out of Amber’s embrace to sit next to me and the 3V sermon faded without changing volume. "So Joe," she began," according to the Cardinal this is de-erotic." She brushed my head. "This is de-erotic." Her hand slid over my bare chest and left arm. "Your legs are de-erotic." Her hands swished up my loins. "There are only two regions of you which are erotic. Your privates and your – ummm – bum!" I shook with giggles at this comment. I said intelligently, "uh… shit!" and giggled some more. "Oh no," she said in response to my anticipation, "I can't take them off! Your bum wouldn't be erotic any more. It would be rendered DEE-erotic!" Her aura backlit the words with shimmering irony; something which Amber made worse with her unrelenting psychic flood of convulsive laughter. I rolled back and forth and my sides split with laughter. Elise continued, "having established that the most erotic part of you is your bum, it follows by logic that I really want to screw you up the bum!" She beamed before explaining, "your bumhole is erotic, because it is hidden."
"Christ!" I mumbled. I asked laconically, "so what are you going to stick up my bum?"
“A Gieger counter!” said Amber, and meeeped loudly.
"I disagree – a carrot!" Elise cried.
"Elise, are you going to eat this carrot?" For a moment, my disgust and their glee at my disgust hung in superposition. Then she said "yes… and then I will kiss you!" Her mouth was close to my cheek.
"That sounds very de-erotic," I muttered. Although there was a flicker of curiosity…
"It is erotic," she affirmed with perfect logical precision, "because you can't see the regurgitated carrot crap, and what you cannot see …is erotic!" As I lay there looking like I'd seen a ghost, she rolled on top of me and suggestively hissed "carrot-mulch!" with her lips close to mine…
“Was I really that mean?” asked Elise, snapping me back to Euston Road. Her aura shone glee.
“I’m sure it was for the best,” I said unconvincingly.
"It was," she said firmly and she was sincere. I could feel her conviction. She drew back and turned towards the bike. The sky was navy blue, rendering her figure as a dark silhouette with her colours all skew and washed out. As she made to put on her helmet I said “it’s not true…” Elise’ aura shifted.
And she said, “what Nu-Cath say about…”
“Promiscuity devaluing love.”
Nu-Cath put out that promiscuity made relationships and sex suffer an effect similar to economic inflation so that the more you had, the less lovely each one got. Elise only said, “you have Aphrodite.” and “Let’s go!”
We hummed in the dark along Hampstead Road. The full moon was rising slowly on our left and the faint glow of residential London lay on the horizon. I clung to Elise like a child to a mother. My front was vividly warm with mellow-pleasant-lovely feelings while my back was cold with emptiness. I held on tighter. It was ever so lovely and this made me think of being lovely to all three women. They loved Neil and me. And I loved them back. A memory rose up. I was on the residence roof with Reeve who lay on top of me, her face in front of the sky. Her hair fell downward, brushing my cheek with an electric tingle. And sensing this effect, she precisely moved her head so her hair trailed across my cheek, brushing and brushing. The vision was vivid, like a 3V image with sonostream, holostream and empathy.
When my reverie finished, I saw that the orange glow had brightened, precipitating a bed of shifting, winking, varicoloured electric lights. Soon I could hear the distant swsssshh of a thousand vehicles trying to cross London without taking the Easy-weasy route. Even this was resolving itself. From the hollow roar of fuel cell vehicles on tarmac I could distinguish the throb of combustion and the occasional whistle of steam. We hummed past Mornington Crescent. As we drove up Easy-weasy Camden High Street, which nobody went down, Elise mused “Joe, do you think we will poison people with our radio-activity?” I snickered. We paused. Camden Town intersection was a starfish with five arms. Easy-weasy Camden High Street was effectively a dead-end, leaving only upper Camden High Street, Parkway, Kentish Town and Camden Road for all the traffic. A steam lorry lurched across the intersection with the characteristic high-pitched clatter of its engine. Small pedal powered three-wheelers, electric cars, motorcycles, and internal combustion vehicles sluiced across the intersection. Elise said, "let us see what there is Joe," and we darted into the traffic.
Cruising up Kentish Town, we found a bar called Mother Mary's. The sign under it said 'for engaged couples only', but that was okay. Our Search might reveal another pair of lovers pretending to be a pair bonded couple. We parked our bike on a nearby backstreet and Elise opened a compartment in the side, taking out a suit, a long red dress and a little box containing two matching fake engagement rings. We stripped in the dark. Then we stood for a moment and pressed our bodies together, before putting on our smart dress and activating the bike's antitheft system. We walked back down Kentish Town towards the bar. We could see smartly dressed couples filing into it and it was illuminated by a bright white strip of light. Hearts pounding, we approached the place, brushing ourselves down and we got there we linked arms and breezed in.
The room was wide and long with red and blue neon lighting. The robo-bar was shacked close to the left hand wall with men coming up for their drinks. There was a 3V at the far end and outside of its sound field, we saw it glare silently like a leering rend in space. We blinked. All the couples were dead under the lights. They had no auras so they gave no sign of having thoughts and feelings; Elise was the only person in range with an Aphrodite. For a brief instant we were thrown back to 2037. When everyone had to leave Jenna’s City and all the lovers split up. When our love-web shattered and became tinier and tinier and there were only the five of us. Elise and I felt ever so lonely and we shook our heads and I said “we’ll find someone!”
Elise said, “right”, and smoothed her dress. We would begin the Search with cocktails.
We went in and I placed an order for two Martinis. I was given a unique-coded tag, which would meep and flash when our drinks were ready. We went off to wait. Crossing into the 3V’s sound field, we were hit with the blare of a newscaster’s voice in the middle of explaining how some Cardinal wanted to institute public executions of heretics. Neither Elise nor I paid any attention to the 3V.
I am interested in women. Intensely. I think this results from being straight identified. Neil is attractive because I view him through the prisms of Elise, Reeve, and Amber’s auras. Without those prisms I tend to default. I know that Elise feels conversely, although she has a larger innate skew towards her own gender. We are like two telescope arrays on facing planets, similar enough to analyse one another, different enough to be infinitely fascinating. I watched the women milling vividly under the glow of the 3V and the neon lights. Their demure attire was redolent of the early 20th century. They were engaged. They would be screwed if they flouted conventions. I caught charming snippets of conversation:
“…love my fiancé, Paul…”
“…such a nice dress, where did you get it from…”
and really horrible snippets:
“…of course I would never marry a rake! I’m glad my fiancé divorced his slut of a wife for me…
“...she may be prettier but she has all the virtue of a whore…”
I tried to imagine the timbre of their perception-play if they had auras. If I could see them as I saw Elise, Amber and Reeve. It was almost worth dragging them into the perverse befouling depths of miasma sexualis. But I did not know how I would get them out again.
I felt Elise flash amused intellectual recognition. She had as ever been thinking analogously. For her however, the problem was converse. She was concerned that the men who she wanted to empathise with would befoul her with a miasmic taint. Like most Nu-Cath contradictions, it made people immoral for acting ethically. Elise suddenly asked “Joe, are you looking for something in women and wondering why you do not find it?”
“I do not judge women according to preset fantasies. I try to let them be themselves…”
Elise was amused and said “All religious people say that. What were you expecting, infrared vision? We are not beings from another star. Not even another species. Just a statistical variation…”
“You think our love is unfounded? Nu-Cath would…”
The effervescence of Elise's aura shifted sharply to a tone of annoyance-consternation-sadness. Beneath this perception-play was a flicker of pure terror, but she only sidled closer and said, “Kiss me Joe. I can’t initiate it would be vulgar. Kiss me. Pretend I am your wife…”
To my relief Elise was interrupted by my tag meeping and flashing. I rushed off to trade it for our two cocktails at the robo-bar. I was halfway back with the drinks when Elise’s voice came through my phone. “Joe,” she said in a measured tone, “I think there is a synsect in this bar.” I froze.
“Where?” I asked.
“Just off of the 3V’s sound field. It just bit someone. I’m going to track it at a safe distance to see where it goes.”
Nu-Cath had used synsects against Jenna’s City in 2035. They were biomimetic drones, which flew in a semi-random path and delivered their anti-Aphrodite serum like the mosquitoes they mimicked, by biting the carotid artery. The tactic had never worked very well since we could easily detect non-Carriers and re-infect them with Aphrodite. Now though…
“Joe, it is heading towards the bar.”
“Do you think it keys on…”
“It bit a non-Carrier so it must use proxy factors… shit, we must be the most radioactive people in here.”
Cutting and running would be the safest thing but it would get us noticed. I felt a rising dread as I realised there was nowhere close to put the cocktails. Elise’ aura was flickering on my psyche and my gaze found her staring intently as she stalked the synsect. There was a high-pitched whine and my eyes scanned to find the glint of its metallic body zigzagging in my vicinity. I would have to put the drinks on the floor, if nothing else. Elise’ aura was increasingly insistent in my head. I carefully crouched down and lowered the glasses… the whine was behind me; a flutter of air was on my neck; there was a searing JAB and the whine retreated, leaving me to reel. I quaffed one and a bit of the cocktails, realised I was being inconsiderate and walked trembling to Elise. She said, “it… got you!” and there were tears in her eyes. Numbly I handed her the rest of the Martini which she downed. “We have to get out!” I mumbled and we rushed out of Mother Mary's.
We got home and Elise woke the other three with shrieks and curses. On 5th June 2039, 02:00 GMT they were all standing round me looking shocked.
Neil said “a synsect! The same as the ones in 2035?”
Elise said “yes.”
Amber started with shock and Reeve cried.
I blinked. All my lovers were dead. Like the people in Mother Mary's, they had no auras, and so their words, despite their intonation, were strangely deadpan. I knew that this was a mental illusion, created by a lack of any suitable point of reference. If a woman went blind in a dark room, she would flip the switch and wonder what was wrong with the light. The love I felt for them on the 4th had nearly evaporated. I blinked again. I was… cold. Reeve flung her arms around me and when she clung to me my spirits neither rose nor fell. Everything was flat, as if I had been gazing upon the Sistine Hologram and it magically transformed into a glass photograph and I noticed because when I moved to see more there was no change in perspective… I shook my head and uttered a soft whimper. Reeve said softly, “our only hope is that Jenna still has stockpiles of Aphrodite. Then Joe could be reinfected. Nu-Cath have not caught her so far…”
Elise said firmly, “it is worth trying. I do not want to lose Joe.”
Amber warned, “he is no longer a Carrier. He has no link and no empathy.”
Neil added, “how will he treat us, and he and I are men. He may see competition…”
Elise gave a start and everyone fell silent and looked guilty. It took me a moment to realise what had happened; Elise had been upset and they reacted to her aura. Which I could not feel.
I stayed with them. 5th June 2039 arced out of the black of night towards its zenith. More cognition than I appreciated had resided in Aphrodite's para-nervous system, and now the neuro-endosymbiont was gone my mind continued to decrement. The flatness became overbearing as the Sistine Hologram passed through the Sistine Glass Photograph and became the faded Sistine Chapel. I would see my lovers reacting to feelings I could not sense and I would fail to understand signals that they thought obvious. I was slow, and stupid and heartless. At around 11:00 GMT I said to Amber, "I cannot requite your love," and asked, "is that wrong?"
Amber looked straight into my eyes and replied, "you cannot requite our love because you lost your neuro-endosymbiont to a synsect. That is why you have lost your sense of empathy. Love is a state of the brain, so we love you because our nervous and para-nervous systems combine in a certain neurophysiological configuration. Without that configuration, you must have none of our feelings. I imagine the best you can do is act as if you love us. We do not hold this against you since we understand it is not your fault. So long as you stay true to our vision, and allow us to love you. Although…" She paused, and said "you are so very dead…" She got up to leave and I stayed thinking. She said they would not blame me, but what if a substantial fraction of my personality had come from Aphrodite? I knew it made me an empath. What if being an empath made me a loving person? My native neurophysiology might not be loving. It might not be very nice at all. It would, as Amber said, be no one's fault. Yet I was my native neurophysiology so if that made me horrible, I would be horrible. I would have to face the possibility that there might be another me. A me quite unlike the one I had known since that fateful day in 2034. I tried to put my mind back to my pre-Carrier days. Nothing but dim hazy memories surfaced.
I went to the kitchen and fixed myself a whiskey. As the liquid was burning my throat, Elise came and stood in the door. She was wearing a white shirt – her brassier showing faintly underneath – and panties. It was normal for us at home to go around half dressed, undressed. We were, after all, lovers. But now I was not a lover and this made things different by an unknown factor. I was shocked to find that I was playing the biologist with her figure. I looked plainly at her breasts, and the slight curve of her waist. In common parlance I was eyeing up her curves. I had never done this before. It was novel. It was precise! It was also dimly malevolent; as far as I could see she had no mind and I was not looking at her mind. Elise asked if I was okay and I said yes while fixing my gaze between her legs. I twisted sharply away and cried "Elise, you need to leave!" She looked shocked before sliding out of view. I stared at the wall and saw a residual image of Elise's thighs. Presently, this was replaced by another image; Elise was lying prone with her legs apart. My hypothalamus vacillated over how much blood it should put into my cock. This triggered an image of Elise giving me a blowjob. I was… fantasising. There was nothing lovely about it, I was feeling purely physiological sexual attraction. I remembered the Cardinal on that 3V show, sex is actually de-eroticised by display and what you can see is taken for granted and dull. I… I would not do that! The alcohol was going to my head; not doing that took moral effort and mine was flagging at the moment. I poured another whiskey and downed it. I lent back against the counter and let myself go. In my head was an image of Elise, with her thighs high and wide, her vagina hairless like in an old-style porno movie. My cock was weirdly tingling, like my hypothalamus wanted me to use it for… fucking her. Screwing her like a whore. My cock rose to full psi. What did it mean to screw your lover like a whore? On the one hand, it meant nothing, it was just a rather unpleasant way of thinking about having sex and it would either cause pleasure or it would not. This rationalist answer negated the miasma sexualis. It was, however, too trivial to be persuasive. According to the rationalist, all the love we had ever known was so much neurophysiology and that was just too bad, because nothing had any significance. The other way was by far the more powerful. The miasma sexualis would ensure that when Elise was fucked like a whore, she would become one. I understood logically that wilfully doing this was unethical, but that no one would stop me if I did do it, and my conscience was at its wits end. I thought that without Aphrodite I had no direct evidence of her mind. And what she has, I am cut out of. Why give her the benefit of the doubt?
Elise was back, "please," she said softly, "come and sit with me. I want your company, even though I do not have…"
"Elise I can't. I mustn't."
She looked funny and waited before mumbling "oh, no empathy … Tell me what's wrong Joe. Please!"
"Elise!" I burst out, "I would make you…" I automatically tried to evince the miasma before I remembered myself. My non-Carrier self.
Elise asked "Make me what Joe?"
I had not the heart to tell her that now I had become dead I would rake her to hell.
As I followed her out of the kitchen I was toying with an equivalence between the malevolent, un-empathetic sexual attraction I felt for Elise and the much fabled lust. As I walked after Elise, my visual register was locked onto her behind, and my hand moved in those vague, restless starts that men are understood to effect when they impulsively love a woman. I did not love Elise. In common parlance, I was itching to get in her pants. We entered the common room and Elise motioned me to sit next to her. The press of her flesh increased my sexual arousal and I felt a weird itch flare through my loins. Your mind is shot Joe, but you can still fuck, said a voice in my head. You fucking evolved to fuck. It’s the first thing, and now it’s the last. The dull embers of lust burned in the base of my brain. Above this was an ashen vacuum and I clacked in the vacuum like a Babbage Engine. I really could do nothing but fuck Elise. She’s a Carrier. This doesn’t take Einstein. I gave her a crooked smile and said “I want to try something. Lie down, all sprawled like you’re watching 3V.” I stood up, with her looking at me oddly and a felt a sense of power. Not only could I fuck Elise, I could fuck Amber and Reeve as well. And what’s wrong with that asked the voice. Nothing. People liked sex. There was some fallacy in this chain of reasoning but I could not state what.
I ran a hand between Elise’s breasts. Neil might try to stop me but fuck Neil, Elise is yours. I traced to the bottom of her shirt and gently shifted it up her stomach to hitch it over her black-fabric brassier cups. (Full psi is kind of painful!) I paused to pull my trousers down, and then I carefully manhandled her legs into a 'V', with Elise saying “Joe, this is new!” Then Elise cried, “um!” and her puzzled tone was streaked with fright. Because a dead guy is about to fuck her. But you don’t know she’s really frightened because you’re not a Carrier. For your purposes she’s dead. I held her legs steady and stuck my (big) cock through her panties and into her vagina. A surge of power washed through me as I started to fuck… She brought her legs together and struck my temples with her knees. I staggered back, and buckled onto the floor. I was half stung and half thankful. Elise’ presence was above me. She said over me quietly "I've seen that once before, back in '33 when I was helping Jenna infect people. I had sex with a very… man. He did me like that, to assert… You were trying to make me a slut. With the miasma. I suppose you tried to tell me."
"I –" I said thickly. "I wanted to fuck you!" I heard footsteps entering the room, and worried questions directed at Elise. I heard Neil, and for some reason his voice filled me with a faint sense of dread. Elise said "I'm fine Neil. He was just very… strange. Joe, you should stand up," and she helped me to stand, with my trousers halfway down my legs. Neil had a strange expression on his face. He was haggard, and his auburn hair was dishevelled, but there was something else. He said "how…!" and "you…!" and he would screw his face up, presumably to evince a rage I could not feel. He started towards me and Elise cried "Neil! This is simply the result of Aphrodite being burned out. He is kaput. Do not judge him." The others remained silent. An Aphrodite mediated battle of wills must have been going on around me; Neil's rage would be carrying everyone else like a current. He must have swayed Elise for she said, "although he did try to…" Neil moved behind me and his arm caught my neck, twisting me to face Elise. Suddenly I was reminded with laser-flash starkness of that time when Neil was necking me and facing us was Elise, naked, being necked by Amber. At the time I had a vision of men and women looking across space at each other. I thought how wonderful it was we could psychically jump the sex barrier with Aphrodite. Now I felt faintly nauseous at the memory. Neil growled "we love Elise, but you use her out of pathetic jealousy." His grip slacked and tightened, slacked and tightened as the other’s auras damped his murderous urges. Neil is a survival fucking machine and so are you, said a voice in my head, take what's his or he'll take what's yours. Neil loosened his grip and I hastily pulled up my trousers. Looking up, I saw him and Elise hugging. Suddenly filled with jealousy, I said "you can take what’s left of their honour rakehell." Neil gave a start. Then he looked at me and said sadly, "he has forgotten already."
Elise said, "it is just his circuitry talking."
"God dammit!" I cried, "you talk airily of circuitry as if you have real brains. Neil you son of a bitch, you think you're somehow above male-male competition. You think you can win a fight with good old-fashioned Man by schmoozing with women and you rig the outcome of The Game by loading the players with neuro-endosymbionts. You fucker they're mine…!" Neil's as well surely? Symmetry Joe symmetry. There were certain pitfalls to viewing women as sexual property. On an empathetic signal, Neil disengaged from Elise and left the room. I knew that outside, he would still be closer to her than I was. Amber followed him, whispering something. Elise said quietly "You were so nice and reasonable with Aphrodite" Her words stopped me cold. You were so nice and reasonable with Aphrodite. That 'you' had para-nervous circuitry. That 'you' was an emotion transceiver. I before 2034, and I now, was my native neurophysiology. You are the miasma Joe, said the voice. The unadulterated lust of miasma sexualis.
Elise said "you broke all our rules. We will have to… make you understand somehow. If not…"
"Are you going to kill me?" I asked the women.
"We will find Jenna and have you back," Reeve said.
"In the meantime…" said Elise. Amber and Neil returned. Amber was carrying a large pail of water. Neil was carrying a kitchen knife and coil of rope.
"Just lie down," said Elise softly and I stretched out on the floor, figuring that if I refused Neil would stab me. Neil tied up my legs while Elise dealt with my arms. I lay there as Amber walked up to my prone body and stood over me. She tilted the pail and a stream of freezing water sloshed over my legs, front and face. "I do not understand, tell me Joe," she said quietly, "why would you have sex with someone you did not love." I was speechless. "How can you? It's not logically possible! Though I suppose it is biologically possible…"
I stammered, "I just… saw Elise sexually, there was no love…"
"You can have sex without orgasm, sex without pleasure. But no one seriously thinks you can have sex without those things! So, why?"
"I – please – I wanted to fuck her! It was a brute urge."
Amber’s expression twisted. "A 'brute urge'," she mocked, sluicing more water over my face and chest. "How very Nu-Cath Joe. The 'brutes' include higher mammals, which feel empathy and love. Even when they have sex. You have less feeling than the brutes," she said trembling, "you are a dead man. Tell us what goes on in the head of a dead man…"
"For Christ sake," I cried, "it's hard to explain! I can't find words but I'll try to be more precise. I had…" The fear of the concept made me hesitate, "lost all sense of empathy but I still felt sexually attracted to Elise. You might call it lust, or libido; but I needed to screw, like you need to eat when hungry, or sleep when tired."
Everyone stepped back, horrified at my words. Amber said, "but sex is an expression of love!" She sluiced water over my face; I spluttered and gasped as she continued "it is our primary mode of intimacy…
Everyone stood trembling for 30 seconds. Then Reeve said "he must be viewing us like that right now. Like meat."
There was a pause while Amber gnashed her teeth. Then she burst out, "you cannot decrement sex to a purely physiological drive; it is not like hunger or sleep do you understand…?" She froze suddenly.
Elise said hesitantly "is that what you feel about us? Because you said to Neil… About a game, and that we were yours. You must have wanted to use us…"
My mouth hung open and there were tears in my eyes. I said "please… I don't think…"
Amber said "as his food supply – or should I say 'sex supply' – which Neil is disrupting." She paused and said "well shall we try the experiment?" She put down the pail of water, and took off her shirt while sauntering over to Neil. He frowned but Amber continued, backing against him and making to swoosh up and down his front. "Joe if I said 'aaahh yeeah fuck me Neil' I would be making myself a slut for the wrong person." She continued to gyrate. "It would initiate a fight flight response…"
"Amber!" I cried, "for God's sake."
She continued "and if Reeve and Elise said 'aaah yeah fuck us Neil', you would have nothing, and what would you do then? You would act with the desperation of a dying man. Evolution and all that."
Elise looked at me and said to Amber, "I think you should stop now. You know his native circuitry won't take…"
"His 'native circuitry' could not take the first shock." She turned to snog Neil, "mmm – this is useless anyway – mm shmmch-mmm – he has no aura so we cannot verify his fight-flight response." She turned back. "Joe you fool, there IS no 'male-male competition.' The only thing you could compete for is love, which is either indefinite – in which case there is no competition – or null because you are unable to empathise. You act like Aphrodite does not exist because you do not have it. You lose the élan that connects us, you think that we are taken from you so you try to rake us with ill executed sub-slut fucks. You dumb wretch! Have you forgotten what love is, after only a day! Have you forsaken your reason-to-be, just because you are not connected to the reason? The sun has not stopped shining. You are just blind. For a moment…" She stood trembling as she said "I had to… I'm sorry!" in a cracked voice. I waited as she fumbled with her shirt. Then she came over to sit beside me. She stroked my wet hair and said "we love you. You know that we love you?"
I said, "I know. I am dead, not you." I smiled crookedly.
She said "being dead is not a sin," and I snorted. Everyone laughed in synchrony. She reached back and untied my arms, Elise moved to my legs and did the same. Amber's expression became serious. "If we find Jenna," she said, "we can put you right. But you will have to hold out in the meantime. We may have to do this again, if you can't hold…"
I said, "yes I understand." I stretched my arms and moved them to my sides, hauling myself to a sitting position. "Oh," said Amber shyly, "you're all wet and…" A conversation of expressions flickered quickly between her and Elise, ending in a tinkling laugh. From behind, she reached round my neck to take off my sodden jacket. She undid the first two buttons of my shirt and then paused. "Seeing as I chucked a bucket of water over you I should get you undressed. But you have no sense of empathy so you would probably find it de-erotic and unlovely." She undid the third button.
I said, "oh, well… no it’s very thoughtful." Even without Aphrodite, it was embarrassing, but kind of the better for it. I know I fancy someone when I feel embarrassed, but kind of the better for it.
Raymond Coulombe, Michael Gallant, Timothy O. Goyette
Timothy O. Goyette