Just One Byte

The bright neon reminds me of sunlight, though it hums like an angered locust swarm. I haven’t seen the sun in ages. Standing in the pink and blue glow of business lights, no one seems to mind my pallor — despite the blood pumping in their veins, they are just as sick as the dead.

​It is an age of human wonder and inhuman despair. I have lived more lives than any of these people and can only roll my eyes at their search for eternal life. Their society has sold them the lie that the machine will make them more than mortal whenall I see is making themselves less. I have survived numerous pandemics, wars, and even the age of wide-eyed would-be slayers, so I feel entitled to a little of my grumbling. When I was sired, things seemed much simpler and nature’s cycle much, much clearer.

​The cities of the dead are typically built underground, where we might be caressed by the earth’s roots and return to crude matter. Now their edifices reach ever higher, like my cold fingers crawling from the dirt of the grave. Coffins were oncebig enough for a whole person and lined with red silks. We were buried with only our most precious belongings and personal effects. Now, I see them putting the virtual nothings of their whole beings into small, rectangular caskets in the palms of their hands. Their worth attached to file sizes and the approval of their digital peers. But I cannot sup on holograms.

​Speaking of which, I will admit that noodle shops like this do entice me, with their plastic effigies of food lining the blue-electric front window that betrays the dingy interior. We sit at these bar stools, and I wonder what it would be to savor the worm-like things swimming in their murky soup. As I do not breathe, I cannot taste. It spares me from the rank city air, but I envy the mindless looks of joy on the faces of the men and women who come to sit at this counter beneath the buzzing lamps above. Blood does not drink like broth, though similarly warm.

​They say the smog might choke the sun one day, meaning those like myself might be free to walk the daytime hours. But there aren’t many like myself left – as I said, humans are changing so drastically it is becoming harder and harder to find food in this city. In this increasingly technological world, their blood is cut and mixed with motor oils like poison. Sinews restrung with fiber optic cables. Faster, better, stronger. In fact, there are even machines that walk the streets in the skin of people, and they dare to think me the monster? This is the era of the posthuman as they write themselves into obsolescence.

​Could you believe that last week I even cracked a fang on one of those godforsaken fake ones? She looked so real, so tender, and I attributed any odd behaviors to intoxication. We were, after all, at one of the underground dance venues where I tend to find most of my meals, and anyone would mistake the thrumming of the bassline for a genuine heartbeat. She was flirtatious and what little I could hear of our conversation was amiable. I led her out into the nearby alley and when she didn’t protest, I mistakenly believed it would be an easy feeding. She turned out to be one of those Sinthos, preprogrammed for sexual acts. Not a drop of red blood in her. I might have torn her apart had I not been so embarrassed after I bit into that cold, metal neck. She – or it – disengaged and returned to the club, I’m sure to find some other poor soul yearning for connection. With a machine – hah!

​However, I do find that the pain was not an unwelcome sensation. It served as a nice reminder that some of us can still feel.

​Thankfully, in a city of tattoo artists, drug dealers, and cybernetic doctors, it was not difficult for me to find a body mod shop to fix the fang. The technician, or specialist, or hobbyist was young, with half of their thick, blonde hair shaved away to reveal an inked dragon with flames and other nonsense decorating the side of their skull. And on the left cheek, they sported a gauge that hauntingly revealed the private inner contents of their own mouth.

​“Cool bite. Running with a street team?” the shop kid asked as their overly manicured fingers probed my gums. I could see their tongue even when their lips were closed.

​“I do not know what any of that means. Just fix the tooth.”

​“Sure thing. You need data encrypt or RFID chip?”

​This persisted through several rounds of techno-chatter. Apparently simple enamel is not advanced enough an ask these days. They nearly installed a silver core, for something they called the aesthetic, but I said that I was not in the mood to kill myself just yet. That turned our subject to life after, and the technician explained to me the ways in which humans may transmute themselves after death. To nurture the roots of a tree (as if any real trees still grow), to be turned into a gemstone (ah, how something as useless as ash might still be of value to their society), or even still, to be blended with ink and put back into the skin of another like an ever-living parasite. This continued some time until the repair was finished, and I paid the modder and left.

I marvel at the ways they are so close to and yet always on the run from the simple act of dying. But I will confess thatgiven the choice, I might have preferred to become something more beautiful in death, had I known what everlasting afterlife would become.

​But it is what we do with our limited life that makes it most meaningful. The mortals sleep encased in metal and screens that speak lies to them for better health, better sex, perpetual youth – constant reminders that they are not truly living. But I think that is the thing, that none of us does it correctly, but we must do it wrong to do it at all.

​All this melancholy from a bite off a sexbot. Perhaps beneath my hard cynicism I have a softer interior, or perhaps I am wondering why it is I keep trying to sustain myself in a world that only sees it fit to take and take from us.

Maybe it is for all the noodles I haven’t tasted, or my hopes to walk in daylight again. When it comes down to it, broken teeth or not, I haven’t offed myself yet because I want to see if humanity will starve themselves to death before I do.

Amy Chase is a comics and prose writer from Southern California specializing in tales of the fantastic, terrifying, and supernatural for anthologies from Avery Hill, Daily Drunk Magazine, Cloudscape Comics, and more. She has horror in her blood, since her grandfather was a zombie in Return of the Living Dead Part II.

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