With reluctance: “I’m listening.”
I’ll show you. You’ll love it.
“Okay,” Lian said after a while. She swiped with her tongue against the roof of her mouth and selected the heart emoticon that pulsed inside her SmartLenses.
The things we do for love, her implant whispered. Both where suddenly overcome with a certain giddiness. Lian tried to fight it. She closed her eyes and tried to remember what it had been like before Genuine Emotions™.
Spent and sweaty, the women had kicked off the bed sheet and lay facing each other. Their breathing was evening out.
“Are you okay, hon?” Lian asked and stroked Natanya’s cheek with her thumb. Due to the dim light inside the bedroom, she could see the bright pop-up inside Natanya’s cornea.
“We’ll launch today,” Natanya said.
“I know you’re anxious, but nothing will go wrong. Try MellowMelody to tide you over.”
Natanya let out a sigh and stretched out her limbs and relaxed.
“You always know what I need to take so I stop worrying.”
“You don’t need to worry. It’s a big day but you’re ready. Everyone I know has been talking about what EmotiCorp will come up with next,” Lian said and stroked Natanya’s thigh.
Her girlfriend, sworn to secrecy and with a mental block inside her stem-chip, hadn’t told her anything about EmotiCorp’s new project. Speculation was off the charts all over social media. Lian was sure they were about to add another extension to the EmotiCorp dial. She and her coworkers at marketing had been working non-stop on a new brand logo that would inspire the masses. It was all very hush, hush. A new chapter in EmotiCorp’s existence meant a new era for the whole colony.
Realizing that she was losing focus, she fixed her gaze back on Natanya and dialed up the AfterBliZZ Emotion™ inside her lenses. Her spine popped as she stretched out on the mattress and Lian let out a huff. EmotiCorp was the raddest thing humanity had invented since sliced bread.
Breakfast was quiet. Ordinary. Natanya kissed her goodbye and left for work. Lian went into her studio to work on her latest 3D models for the new EmotiCorp logo. She was set on a floating anatomical heart that was surrounded by a sundial of EmotiCorp’s best Genuine Emotions™.
An hour later her implant pinged, and she received a message from Natanya: “They’re giving Dev-Team a discount & head start. Gonna try it ASAP. So excited I could die. Love u! xoxo”
Lian texted back with a smile and returned to work. Natanya was cute when she used Genuine Emotions™ to excite herself.
EmotiCorp owned the Colony Two Moon Base they lived in. Like all couples on the colony, Lian and Natanya had been paired off by EmotiCorp’s dating app, a mandatory procedure. Their algorithms had been fateful and so had been their hearts. Shortly after their matching they’d moved into a couples’ housing complex.
A countdown appeared inside Lian’s eyes. While Natanya was already using the new Emotion™, everyone outside of the Dev’s department had to wait two more hours until launch. Red and pink hearts began to attack her vision. Lian blinked in surprise.
Feel the luuuuuuve, a sultry voice said inside her head before Lian could close the pop-up. She swiped with her tongue until only a few throbbing hearts remained. It left enough space for her to see her monitor and the EmotiCorp logo. She’d voted against using the voice and the tacky pink comical hearts, even when she hadn’t officially known what EmotiCorp would use their work for. Her designs would never be taken seriously by the public if the marketing department reverted to the comical.
“Back to work, Lian—chop, chop,” her boss chimed in over the implant inside her ear.
Lian let out a groan and added a few details to the anatomical heart logo that floated in front of her.
Natanya kissed her crown and massaged her shoulders in greeting. Lian leaned her back into her but kept her focus on the design before her. Lian was in the zone, the sweet spot she’d found after long years of continued work as an artist. Didn’t even need EmotiCorp to help her concentrate when she got like this.
“Did you get the new Emotion™ yet?” Natanya asked and started to nibble at Lian’s earlobe.
“I’ve got to work, hon. But I can’t say the constant heart barrage isn’t annoying.”
Natanya let out a gasp: “Don’t say that. I think they’re sweet. Like those little Valentine’s cards and candies that were all the rage when our grandparents were young.” Her voice was too loud, and her cheeks were flushed.
“Did you tap into EmoJiTTers again? Tanya, I told you it’s bad for you. You get all—”
“Don’t tell me what to tune into. You have no idea about the hardship EmotiCorp went through. The crunch! This rollout is wonderful. We got ahead of our competitors so fast. We rule the synth-emotion market now.”
Natanya fist pumped, and Lian had to slide her chair to the side to not get punched in the shoulder accidentally. Lian tried to look past the pink hearts inside her vision to discern the expression on Natanya’s face. It wasn’t anything she’d seen before. The familiar was absent. It was like looking at a badly animated face, very close, but missing enough data to let your instincts interject. Uncanny. The glint inside Natanya’s dark eyes was manic.
“I love working at EmotiCorp.” Natanya’s voice was almost shrill.
Lian rolled further back in her chair to take in her girlfriend. She took her hands into hers. Natanya’s skin was feverish.
“Are you sure you’re okay?” Lian asked and reached up to feel her forehead. Natanya fought off her hands.
“I’m fine. I had to rent out more headspace, but it’s worth it. I’ve never—” Natanya bit her lip and froze, “Is that the new ad?”
She gripped Lian’s desk tight and leaned close to the screen. Lian saw how she shivered.
“I never really appreciated before how EmotiCorp uses neon lettering. Such a nice contrast. That’s so sexy of them.”
Natanya leaned over Lian’s desk on her tiptoes until her hips dug into the desktop.
“Just look,” Natanya said, and her hand dipped under her waistband. Her eyes never left the screen as her fingers ventured south and her head arched back.
“Tanya?” Lian asked and something cold and slimy unfurled inside her stomach. This was very wrong.
“Don’t you just adore how they use color in their compositions?” Natanya fondled her chest with her free hand while she still touched herself with the other. Her hips bucked.
“It’s my composition. I—”
“No, it’s not,” Natanya said between labored breaths. “You just work with the scraps you’re given, but EmotiCorp as a whole,” she let out a small moan normally reserved for their bedroom, “their ads are perfect.”
Lian stumbled back when the EmotiCorp countdown finished and a whole cacophony of hearts and lustful moans erupted from her lenses and ear implants.
Download our newest Emotion™ now and experience—
Lian swiped her vision clean and tried to hear her own words over her thrumming heartbeat: “I think I’m gonna call for an ambulance.”
Natanya let out a louder moan and her hips jerked against the table.
Lian called for an ambulance, but no one picked up, not even an automated program. She hung up after her third try. “Fuck.”
Natanya collapsed onto her desk in a shivering heap. Pearls of laughter filled the room.
Natanya sing-songed: “Stop being jealous, there’s enough EmotiCorp for all of us. We better celebrate.”
Lian caught Natanya by the shoulders: “What did they give you? What’s the new Emotion™ called?”
“PureLuve, as in ‘I love you.’” Natanya swayed, blew a kiss at Lian, and giggled. She could see the moisture of Natanya’s desire where she’d smeared some onto her lips.
Dread settled into her center like the moon colony had doubled its gravitational pull. This wasn’t some horny-jail meme, not another awkward attempt from Natanya to flirt. Her girlfriend had just finger banged herself over a new ad for their home-corp. Some serious wires had been crossed inside Natanya’s brain when she’d clicked through the terms and conditions and downloaded the new Emotion™.
“And who do you love?” Lian asked with trepidation.
“EmotiCorp, of course. Don’t be silly.” Natanya wasn’t even looking at Lian. Instead, she had reached out to the screen and was stroking over the ad Lian had worked on.
Lian let go of Natanya and fell back into her chair. What did an AI and a handful of developers know about love? Was this how EmotiCorp had distilled and defined the most elusive of all human emotions? Lian buried her head in her hands, felt how hot tears pushed up, were about to spill over. Her folks had warned her. Only a tool put a tool inside their head and let it wire first with their brain stem and then the rest of their being.
“You need to end your subscription now. I can’t reach anyone. I’m going to head to the hospital and ask for help. You can’t be the only one experiencing side effects.”
Lian grabbed for Natanya’s hand, who twisted around in her grip. Lian’s hand came to rest against her side, useless and limp.
“You’re right, we should leave. I should head back to work. I could use the extra hours. I just want to be my best self for EmotiCorp. They deserve it.”
Natanya walked out of Lian’s office and back into the living area where she got her coat.
“You should finish your design.” Natanya cocked her head in that adorable way that meant she was listening to her ear implant. “Your presentation has moved up. You’re up tomorrow at 10 a.m. We can’t wait to share your work with everyone at HQ. I’m already ecstatic, Lian. So ecstatic.” And with that, she walked out.
Lian stared at the closed door to their shared home, numb and dumbfounded. Her parents, old school and still living under a dome in central Europe, had warned her when she had signed her contract and left for Colony Two. She should’ve stayed on Earth, unemployed, lonely, and penned in. It was better than losing the woman she loved. The stem-chip and EmotiCorp subscription had been mandatory—had been a mistake.
A flutter of hearts began to swarm her vision anew.
The syrupy voice started up again: Are you ready for the love of your life? Do you want to experience love for the very first time? Do you crave connection? Sign up now for PureLuve and become part of the—
“Fuck off,” Lian said and swiped her vision clean.
Alas, have you taken care not to worry your parasite with thoughts like these?
The house didn’t let Lian leave. She screamed and banged her fists against door and windows, but everything stayed locked.
Feel the PureLuve and subscribe now!
Natanya didn’t come home that night, or the morning after. Lian saw that her messages were received. When she tried to call, Natanya didn’t pick up.
No one can do it for you like EmotiCorp can.
Lian couldn’t stop crying. The pink heart attack hadn’t stopped. Neither had the unwelcome voice inside her head and the infinite pop-ups. Her head hurt; her throat was raw. She missed Natanya’s warm body and how she could find a silver lining no matter how dire the situation.
Cure any heartache now with PureLuve! No side effects when used accordingly.
The house hadn’t tuned up its daylight settings. Lian had tried to tune into the local news broadcast but only the old EmotiCorp logo greeted her on all Lunar channels. She couldn’t receive off-moon communications either.
She’d heard commotion on the streets. At night it had only been a few strangers walking by, voices raised with P@rty!Flair. Now it had turned into the rhythm of a protest or march. Station Two hadn’t been hit by asteroids or experienced a technical fallout. The air quality was great, gravity was on. It just seemed the house, the news, and normal life had taken the day off.
A new wave of pink and red hearts rained over her retina. She closed her eyes. The hearts remained, glowed against her lids.
“Enough self-pity,” Lian mumbled and wiped her face with her pillow.
That’s the spirit.
Lian froze. She couldn’t find a notification window or a mute button inside her vision. Her stem-chip must have received an update when she’d dozed off for a bit.
She pulled on her jacket, got her backpack for emergencies, and faltered at the door. Natanya was out there. Lian didn’t have time for fear. She’d say yes to anything EmotiCorp put in front of her to get to Natanya.
Lian, are you there?
The front door clicked open the instant her download of PureLuve was finished.
“You’re not at work.”
“Neither are you.”
Their lips locked; teeth clicked against teeth. Who had moved first? No matter. She’d found Natanya and she’d take her home and—
Natanya isn’t important. EmotiCorp needs you.
The kiss ended when Lian froze and Natanya gasped for air. Lian tried to resist and found her throat clogged up. Her heart ached, broke a little bit with the strain it was under until EmotiCorp plastered itself over the cracks.
Love me instead. No hurt. No pain. Only pleasure by dialing the newest Genuine Emotion™.
“We shouldn’t, not on corporate time.” Natanya didn’t sound like herself.
See, she never loved you, not like EmotiCorp can love you. Our love is pure, our love is real. We’re devoted petitioner at your bodily shrine. Your neurons make us believe in the impossible. Together we can—
Lian’s hands went to her head. The world was too loud, too vibrant, and her head was filled to the brim with conflicting desires.
“Hon, everything we do is on corpo time,” a stranger said as they bumped into Lian’s shoulder.
“Hey Lian, I’ve authorized your design to be displayed. Everyone is so excited to see something new,” her boss said over her implant.
“We’re going to market square. There’s gonna be an announcement,” Natanya said.
Lian pulled Natanya by the elbow, “I don’t think that’s a good idea.”
“Leave now!” The people around her spoke in unison with Natanya and the voice of EmotiCorp inside her head. Lian’s feet jerked. She stumbled forward.
“It’s so beautiful.”
“I worked on this,” Lian heard herself say. Her mouth was far away, moved on its own like the rest of her body. Pride was absent. Excitement to show her work on the billboards surrounding the crowd was absent. She should dial something up. Her fingers twitched but her tongue didn’t navigate her interface.
“You did? Lian, you never told me. Did you hear that? My girlfriend designed this. Look at her bleeding heart. Have you ever seen a work of art that’s as perfect? Or as beautiful?”
Lian was pushed into the middle of the marketplace. A murmur went through the crowd, a gentle swaying of the amassed hive.
“I love you,” a man cried out.
“Let me—” Natanya began but was pushed aside by another stranger when she tried to grab Lian’s hand.
“You gave EmotiCorp a face,” the woman that had pushed Natanya said reverently. She reached out and cradled Lian’s face in her hands.
Eventually, the everlasting PureLuve flared up in Lian’s belly in a novel wave. Sweet and boiling. She’d been so close to EmotiCorp all this time and hadn’t realized what a privilege it had been. She’d been chosen to give their corp a face and what better face than the symbol of love.
“Together we’ll bring love to the people,” Lian’s boss chimed in.
“We’ll get everyone to subscribe to PureLuve,” the woman in front of Lian said and let out a moan.
“It’ll be divine,” Natanya kissed her shoulder.
“It’ll be perfect,” Lian whispered.
The woman leaned in and slipped her tongue into Lian’s mouth.
Embrace the new flesh! Be worshiped, be loved by your parasite. Sway them, flirt with them. Expand, penetrate, fill them to the brim with your devotion.
They clawed at her clothes. Lian heard fabric rip and bite into her forearm as the sleeve tore. She fell to her knees, brought Natanya down with her—to fuck, or to shelter her body. PureLuve propelled her forward. Love, true love, meant you abandoned the self, became one with the object of your desire. Pressing closer and closer to EmotiCorp, to be consumed, to be adored.
Teeth pushed down between neck and shoulder. Pain blossomed and swept over her skin. Her body writhed, danced. She understood the meaning behind the word: copulated.
Bodies, skin, and limbs that blacked out the sky. No room to breathe, but she was close—close to madness, close to coming asunder.
Lian’s head hit the ground. It was a solid crack against the base of her skull, where at the center of her being and under a layer of scar tissue, her stem-chip’s electrical net came to a stuttering halt.
Lian remembered she was more than a body, more than rented brain space and a stem-chip. She tried to reach out for Natanya. Her girlfriend’s body was bloody and bruised, her arm stuck at an angle that meant it was broken. Lian pushed and kicked, scratched, and bit. Her fingertips brushed Natanya’s thigh before the bodies around Lian carried her off. Over the cries, sighs, and moans, she didn’t know whether she was screaming or silent in her terror.
Lian got up from the ground. Liquid ran down her thighs. A mass of naked bodies moved languidly. They’d reached the finish line, needed to recuperate before they started it up again.
Lian’s body was hot, sweaty, and fizzing with nerves. She had been in the midst of doing something important before she’d been consumed by shared desire. Was there someone in particular she had been looking for?
Lian frowned, couldn’t remember. Butterflies filled her stomach. She had to laugh a little over herself and her antics. There was no reason to be anxious. She was young and in love, almost weightless. There was no better feeling in the whole damn galaxy.
And there was somewhere she needed to be.
Have you told your parasite where they come from? The oldest breeding stock were the first to journey into the old world and then the other colonies. Astronauts make excellent companions.
Lian didn’t look back when she boarded the public shuttle headed for Earth. She had so much love to give.
Copyright © 2023 G. D. Angier