First Monday: A peek at TOUCH

Because I like trying new things, I’m starting a new feature. On the first Monday of every month, I’ll post a couple paragraphs of whatever I’m working on, whether I’m drafting or revising.

I completed the first draft of Touch a year ago. Set sometime in the future, society has retreated from in person contact, believing skin to skin touch was the harbinger of violence, the plague that ripped humanity apart. They live in cells, separated physically from one another, interacting through holograms, video communications, and virtual reality machines that come so close to mimicking physical sensations no one knows what they’re missing.

In this scene, Alexis meets Drew for the first time – and she’s in for a shock.

I am not alone.

    The stars don’t cast enough light for me to see in the dark. But I’m not alone. There’s a lump in the middle of the room, standing silent. The AI is always silent. Brij’s class must have done a bigger number on me than I’d thought, if the AI came calling in the middle of the night. With a soft grunt, I roll onto my side, gasping as the muscles of my torso clench and release. Oh yeah, the human body is not meant to be used in the way Brij thinks it should be. Next time, Bee and I were walking away. Or at least, I was.

    The AI doesn’t move closer. I should say something, acknowledge its presence. Let it know I’m fine. Damn monitoring system. I swallow the last of my fatigue. “‘S okay. I’ll call for another sports drink or something. I’m good.”

    The blurry outline doesn’t respond.

    Whimpering, I sit up and fumble with a switch. Enough light fills the space that I can see the lump is a person. Specifically, a man.

    And he’s staring.

    Holos aren’t uncommon, but I was under the impression the VRM and the other tech in my cell powered down when I slid to night mode. The holograph in the center of the room shouldn’t be there. I yawn. “I thought the machine was off.”

    “It is.”

    His voice wraps around me, rich and smooth, lighting a spark in my chest. An odd feeling. It reminds me off the tiny protests. Everything is muddled. Riddles aren’t my strong suit, even when I’m in possession of a fully functioning brain.

    The sheets rustle around my waist as I shift on the bed, the climate control keeping goosebumps from my bare skin. He can’t keep his eyes on my face. They keep drifting over me, my neck, my shoulders, my breasts. Lower. My legs, my belly, back up again.

    I’ve been naked in front of people before, in the Realms, or when holos came to visit. It’s natural. No one cares. It’s never caused them to stare in awe and wonder.

    It’s never caused heat to travel from my core outward.

    Warmth spreads over my skin, my cheeks flaming with it, a ball of heat growing in my chest, waiting to break apart. The holo finally drops his gaze to the floor, his exhalation shaky.

    Suddenly I’m no longer certain he’s a holo. Is he here? In my cell? Flesh, blood, bone, hair. The machines are off. He said so.

    No one can get into the cells. No one wants to. No one’s tried. We live together apart, together in the Realms, apart in our cells, our havens. It keeps us sane. In the Troubles, violence and hatred and rage ripped humanity apart. It’s what drove the Government to create the Realms, to create the cells. And with the disappearance of skin to skin contact came freedom. We no longer worried about walking down the street and getting mugged, or worse. War’s a thing of the past. When we retreated to the cells, and the Realms, we discovered what we’d needed all along: solitude, in carefully measured doses.

    Pushing at the covers, I lower my feet to the floor and stand, swaying with the effort. He doesn’t move. He needs a name. “If you’re going to show up unannounced in my cell, don’t you think you should tell me your name?” I’m unsteady on my feet. It’s the muscle fatigue. Not the strange roiling in my blood from his gaze.

    He’s so much taller than me. The top of my head would fit so neatly beneath his chin.

    “Andrew. Drew. Everyone calls me Drew.” Up close, his eyes are blue, so clear, hiding untold depths. His hair is darker than mine, one lock inching close to his forehead, waiting to drop. My hand twitches. It would connect with nothing. Air.

    “Yours?”

    My hand rises anyway, beyond my control, itching to sink into that imagined softness. “Alexis,” I whisper. Close. I am close, his breath is on my cheek.

    “Alexis,” he whispers back. “I didn’t know eyes could be that color.”

    Such pretty words, and I smile, gasping as my hand comes into contact with his hair. It’s warm, and silky, like mine and unlike mine. The sensation spirals down my arm and into my chest, down into my gut before streaking to my knees, weakening them. All from a simple touch, and I want to collapse the way I did after the trail class. The floor is so very far away, and yet getting closer by the second.

    Synapses snap and pop and fizzle out as my heart skitters against my ribs, and at the touch of his hands on my hips, my bare skin, the heat from his skin brands me and black rushes up and conquers my overloaded senses.

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