The Chemistry of Codes
Glenn was surprised at how clean the power strip was. From the outside, the building looked as though it would be condemned at any second, but once he stepped inside, the grime and the decay vanished, replaced by slick surfaces and all the latest tech. The lack of any discernible smell unnerved him, and the flashing images that danced throughout the main lobby made him dizzy. A well-dressed man with some modest facial implants approached him, inviting him to the lobby floor.
The man didn’t ask Glenn’s name nor did he offer his own. Names didn’t matter here, only desires. The man asked Glenn about his preferences: age, orientation, gender, implants, augs, limbs, etc. The list overwhelmed Glenn.
The man sensed that Glenn was uncomfortable, so he offered a different approach. Glenn could meet a few of the sockets, and then narrow his choice from there. Glenn nodded half-heartedly as he looked around the main floor. A few soldiers were perched at the bar trading war stories while a half-dozen sockets vied for their attention. A young man, probably no older than eighteen, excitedly pawed through a menu screen. A group of women, probably a bachelorette party, cheered as some plugs strode onto the dance floor.
The man returned and invited Glenn to one of the private rooms, but Glenn hesitated. He said that he couldn’t afford anything too expensive. The man assured Glenn that he could find something affordable and enticing, so Glenn followed the man down a long hallway to one of the many rooms.
Inside the room, a dozen sockets waited in a neat line, completely nude. Aside from the retro models, they were perfect human replicas. The man explained that this room was one of several that could be tailored to his every whim. Perhaps he wanted to be a Roman emperor or a lost astronaut on an alien planet. Anything was possible.
As Glenn stared at the smiling sockets, he felt a sudden urge to leave. The man tried to stop him, even offering a free session, but Glenn couldn’t stay a moment longer. He stepped out of the power strip into the bleak Baltimore night. This was no way to spend a Monday evening.
The next day, Glenn recognized a familiar face on the subway. A socket from the power strip sat a few seats over, but she looked almost unrecognizable in casual clothing. She spotted Glenn, walked over, and asked if the seat next to him was taken. Glenn thought about lying, but he was a terrible liar.
The socket sat down next to him and asked him his name. Glenn noticed the disapproving looks from nearby passengers and scooted a few inches away from the socket. He then whispered that he didn’t have any money. The socket looked offended for a second, but she didn’t say anything else. After a few minutes, the socket stood to leave, but Glenn felt guilty so he told her his name. She smiled before stepping off the subway.
When the socket sat beside Glenn on Wednesday, he considered moving somewhere else on the subway car. He was a polite person, but how polite did one need to be with a socket? Nevertheless, Glenn didn’t have to endure her presence for very long. She left at the same stop as before, saying a quick goodbye before leaving the subway.
On Thursday, Glenn considered taking a different line or going into work later, but both prospects terrified him. He was a punctual man that enjoyed his routine, and this socket disrupted his routine. She never said anything while she was on the subway, but her mere presence was enough to distract him. He stole glances at her when she wasn’t looking, but he didn’t know why. She had short black hair that was cropped in the back, dark skin, and eyes that were blue as sapphires. By any conventional standard, she was attractive, but that’s not why Glenn found himself distracted.
On Friday, Glenn had the good sense to find a spot between two real human beings. Of course, this was almost as unpleasant as sitting next to a socket. They made all sorts of noises, motions, and gestures that irritated him to no end. If Glenn had his way, he would wear his enviro-suit everywhere he went, but the company obviously wouldn’t allow for that.
When the socket boarded the subway at the same spot as always, she eyed Glenn, then found a seat beside a young business man. The man quietly stood and found another seat, far from the socket.
The socket was designed to be a perfect human replica, but she had been made too perfect. She didn’t bear any radiation scars. She didn’t wheeze and sputter like the rest of the people that called this city home. She was clean, a bright spot in this cesspool called humanity.
As Glenn watched the socket, the man beside him coughed, mucus splattering the ground. Glenn would rather take his chances with the socket so he walked over and asked her if the seat was taken. She smiled and said that it was not. Then, he asked the socket for her name. She said it was Vivia. Glenn thought it an odd name for a socket.
Vivia asked Glenn what he did for a living. Glenn was a maintenance worker for the city, specifically working in waste management. She seemed fascinated by the topic and asked him several more questions about his work. As far as Glenn knew, sockets didn’t produce any waste, but he was happy to share the details of his work with someone. When Vivia stood to leave, she thanked Glenn for a pleasant conversation.
Over the weekend, Glenn found himself thinking about Vivia, wondering if she was working at the power strip. Sex had always repulsed Glenn, but he somehow managed to convince himself that sockets were different. They wouldn’t need any emotional connection, and unlike a human counterpart, they wouldn’t be weak, feeble, decaying. Of course, when the time had come, Glenn couldn’t bring himself to do…it. He realized that he didn’t want sex, he wanted something else, something that he couldn’t quite define. Something that he saw in Vivia.
When Vivia greeted Glenn on the Monday morning subway, she carried two cups of coffee with her: one was full caf and the other decaf. She asked Glenn which he preferred, and he said that he was more of a tea drinker. Nonetheless, Glenn thanked her for the thoughtful offer, and invited Viva to sit beside him. She gave the coffee cups to a nearby couple who threw them in the trash when she wasn’t looking.
Over the course of the next few weeks, Glenn and Vivia had more time than ever to discuss all the complexities of managing a waste management system for a city of millions. Glenn explained to her that without the air and water filtration systems, the city would be uninhabitable within weeks. Vivia seemed interested in all the human impurities, maybe because she had none. She had no need for food, water, or air, but she pretended to need all those things.
Then, Vivia inquired about the recycling plants at the edge of the city. Glenn had never visited the plants, but he had spent some time researching them. It was incredible how much could be re-used from defunct machinery and dead androids. When humans died, they put them in the ground to rot. When androids ceased to function, they were reborn, sometimes with the same personality. This reincarnation fascinated Glenn, but it frightened Vivia.
One day, Glenn noticed that Vivia hadn’t left at her usual stop. Vivia told Glenn that she had a new client. Glenn felt curiosity tug at him, but he didn’t want to be rude. Vivia never talked much about herself, probably for good reason. Glenn couldn’t imagine what life must be like as a socket, but he imagined it must be lonely.
A month passed, and Glenn started looking forward to their morning conversations, even wishing that they could last longer. Eventually, Vivia suggested that they should get together for tea some time, but Glenn didn’t think that was a good idea. She told Glenn that her new client wouldn’t keep her around forever. Glenn told her that he could always visit her at the power strip, but she didn’t like that idea at all.
Undeterred, Vivia kept suggesting things that they could do together, and Glenn kept shooting them down. He always had an excuse at the ready: movie complexes were too dark, concerts were too loud, restaurants were overpriced, etc. She even offered to pay for all the proposed activities, but Glenn was adamant: the only two places for him were the labyrinthine tunnels beneath the city and his comfortable, subterranean apartment. Vivia finally proposed that she could come over to his place, and Glenn fell silent.
In the ensuing silence, Vivia stared at him with her sapphire eyes—it frightened Glenn how life-like they were. He even imagined tears rimming her eyelids, but sockets couldn’t cry. She was pretending to be upset so that he would take pity on her again, but this time he knew better. She didn’t want to be his friend; she wanted to be his customer.
Glenn thanked her for the offer, but he told her that he was not interested. She told him that she understood, and they sat together in silence until the next stop where she left without saying goodbye.
When Vivia was missing the next day on the subway, Glenn assumed that he had offended her. When she was missing for the rest of the week, he started to worry. The week after that, he started to suspect that something terrible had happened. That Friday night, he decided to return to the power strip to find Vivia. When he stepped in, the same man greeted him, asking if he had reconsidered his free offer. Glenn said that he had and he was interested in speaking with Vivia.
The man seemed confused as there was no socket by that name in the establishment so Glenn leafed through a menu until he found her. The man nodded and said he would find her right away. When Vivia appeared, Glenn nearly burst with excitement. He asked the man for the free session and the two found a private room. When Vivia started to disrobe, Glenn stopped her. She seemed confused, but Glenn was even more confused. He asked her why she hadn’t met him on the subway.
Glenn started to apologize when Vivia continued disrobing, ignoring his every word. Shocked, Glenn burst out of the room, nearly running into the well-groomed man. The man asked how the session was, but Glenn demanded answers. What had happened to Vivia?
The well-groomed man sighed and invited Glenn back to his office. The man explained that sockets and plugs had no possessions and earned nothing for themselves as they weren’t individuals. Apparently, Vivia confessed to stealing money from the power strip so they had her wiped. Glenn said that didn’t make sense; she had a private client. Why would she need to steal money?
The man explained that Vivia’s last private client was a month ago. She had only stolen a few dollars, but the company’s policies were strict. Glenn felt hot tears stream down his face as the man apologized for any inconvenience.
When the man offered another free session on the house, Glenn asked what happened to Vivia’s mind, her personality. The man explained that it was uploaded to a database owned by the manufacturer. Her memories and personality would be used to inform newer models. Glenn asked the man where he could find the manufacturer, and the man told him that information was confidential.
Before Glenn left, the man once again offered a free session, apologizing for any discomfort that he might have experienced. Glenn declined and started to leave when the man asked what she was like. Glenn didn’t understand, so the man repeated himself.
“What was she like? Vivia?”
Glenn had to think for a moment before replying.
“Perfect,” said Glenn. “Too perfect.”
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