Science Fiction aliens

Voyeur

By Marlee Jane Ward
Sep 27, 2020 · 2,606 words · 10 minutes

Photo by Christian L via Unsplash.

From the author: I think, when it comes to my writing, that there will be this dividing line between my ‘bleak’ phase and something else. I feel like I’m straddling that line right now: with no clear idea where to go from here, but with a distinct feeling that I need to make something less… sad. Can I write hope? Can I imagine something better than what I think we’re in for? I don’t know. Let’s see. Anyway, this is not that. This is from my bleak period. Enjoy!


The crowd comes to watch in the night. Do they sleep? Do they need to sleep?

            It started with one, though Amy isn't sure which one because they are hard to distinguish from each other. But now there are more. Lots. They take their places silently and stand like trees, what she thinks of as their leaves rippling, like in a breeze. There's no breeze, just the soft pump of air from the vent by her head. There's a glimmer of movement. Is it anticipation? Do they feel that, or is she just projecting?

            Amy's cell is small. One clear wall like glass, but not glass. It's her display case. Three walls and a floor all white and smooth, like enamel, but not enamel.

            She doesn't close her eyes. She has to watch. Like they have to watch her.

            Whatever she does, they simply wave, wave, gently.

            Are they eyes Amy feels on her? Do they see like she does? It seems like they watch. Why else would they gather like this, that certain aspect of their form trained in her direction? Her eyes search their diamond facets, the smooth, hard surfaces that comprise them, seeking some kind of opening or screen or sensory input. There is nothing. Still, they watch her. She gives them a thing to watch.

            These moments are as much about her studying them as them studying her. It is the only time she feels like she really sees them, though she feels their cognizance all the time, like they have cameras trained on her, or an equivalent. But maybe this is the only time they really see her.

            It’s performance art. One-part dancing, one part masturbation, one part pain ritual. Amy coils and twists, enters herself, voids, rips, tears. Sometimes it’s all dance, sometimes all pain. It depends on how she feels. Come or blood, dance or self-flagellation, singing or howling until she coughs up red-speckled phlegm.

            She wants to lay herself open, like maybe if they can see all the parts that make her up, deep into her then maybe they will know her. If they know her, maybe they won't be able to bear to keep her imprisoned here as much as she can't bear to be here. Do they work like that? If they run empathy through their systems, is there some kind of translation for it?

            She's done. They waft away now they can see she's spent. Shapes form out of the walls. One twig-like protrusion scans her every limb carefully. This one, she thinks, is making sure she hasn't done any damage. Another, flatter growth sprays her with water or something like water. It's warm. When she's clean, and her enclosure too, the roof sinks down to her and jets warm air across her until every drop is dried. A valve grows out of the floor, halfway between a spigot and a teat, and she crawls to it, suckles the sweet substance that flows through it.

            She likes this part the best.

            The bit where they take care of her after.

            “Why do you have to do that?” Peter says. His voice is slow and low, like it is an effort to form the words. He slumps against the glass-but-not-glass just across the way, his left cheek flat against the surface, sick-white in contrast with the golden brown of his skin. He still has a tan.

            “I don't know,” Amy replies. “What else is there to do?” She thinks about it for a minute. “I guess I like the attention.”

            “I knew girls like you back home,” Peter says. His voice is muffled through the glass, but still clear enough. “Walking around in scraps of outfits, drinking too much at the frats, desperate for the guys to notice them. So performative.”

            Amy isn't wearing a scrap of an outfit here. They keep them naked. She still has the traces of a tan on her arms too, relic of summer and sunshine and things she might never see again. In amongst the golden skin are bruises and wounds, scabbed and healing. Those are newer.

            “Fuck you,” she says. “What's so wrong with wanting attention?”

            Peter spits, thick and white, against the glass and they both watch it move slowly down the slick surface until they fall asleep.

            Amy's display case is about the same size as one of the private booths at the club she sometimes danced at, or the size of the bathroom in the tiny apartment that she sometimes wrote in, or the size of the storeroom at the cafe she sometimes served coffee in.

            “I'm interning at Goldman Sachs,” Peter tells everyone in the cases all around them, as often as he can.

            “No, you're not,” Amy says. “You're here.”

            “I had a 4.0 GPA,” he says, but his voice kind of fades out at the end.

            “I don't even know what that means,” says Amy, who is Australian and doesn't.

            Kasan, who is in the case beside her say, “It's bullshit that dinna mean nothin', Amy. What did that getcha, Petey?”

            Amy has never seen Kasan, but Irma, who is next to him, says he has kind eyes and a white beard and moustache. “Naked in a fucking glass cage, innit?”

            Irma sleeps or feigns sleep and pretends it doesn't happen, like she doesn't approve of Amy’s performances but doesn't want to hurt her feelings by saying so. Kasan always asks her afterwards if she is okay, like how Amy imagines a Dad might be. She feels like he understands. Peter watches, craning to see past their forms, his eyes half-lust, half-hate. She knows that look from the club too, and from the street and the classroom and all the places she's been.

             She doesn't get that from them. Maybe judgement is a human thing.

            “You've internalised years of male objectification,” says Suzy, who’s new. She's next to Peter on the left and taught feminist theory at a small college in Stockholm. “This is the continuation of that. You should read Dworkin.”

            Irma snorted. “Yeah, we can order it from Amazon, they've got interstellar shipping now, don't they?”

            “Maybe I'm like a dog left home alone in the house all day,” Amy says, thinking out loud because the display case is like an extension of her brain anyway. Her body too. “One of those working dogs, like a Kelpie or something. When they don't have a job, they give themselves one, like collecting soft toys or destroying the walls. I've just given myself something to do, that's all.”

            “You're disgusting,” says Peter.

            “If she's so disgusting, why yer watch her with your tongue hanging out?” asks Kasan.

            Peter just snorts and says nothing.

            “I don't know why I do it.” Amy says. “I obviously like it, or I wouldn't, right? Even though it's wrong.”

            “What's wrong? Wrong is bein' kept in here, am I right? Maybe you're just reactin' to it by doin' somefin that makes you feel alive,” says Kasan. She feels like he's ruffling her hair like a father would and she loves him a little, even though in her mind he's just a pair of kind eyes and a white moustache and beard.

            “I wonder where we are,” says Suzy, who has spent the last night sobbing gently to herself. Quiet crying is the standard night time sound, like gentle throat-music, midnight white-noise.

            “Don't matter,” says Irma, lying on her side. Her heavy brown breasts slump and the left one puddles on the floor. “What use would it be to know?”

            Irma used to deny the whole thing, thought that this was God testing her faith. Wouldn't let them say the 'A' word. But she hasn't mentioned Jesus in a long time.

            “It's funny,” says Amy. “I used to think about the universe all the time when I was at home. I'd write stories about generation ships and lunar elevators and mining asteroids. I was sad I'd never get the chance to go into space.”

            “Ha!” says Irma. “And lookit here. Is it what you thought it would be?”

            “Sort of,” Amy says.

            #

           Amy tears at herself with her long fingernails, bites herself open, forces her hands inside herself, her throat and cunt opening to let her fingers in. She wants her hands to meet in the middle, fingers brushing like strangers passing, while everything pulses around her. She wants to grab something inside there, pull it out for them to see.

          What is this? Why does she do this? The attention feeds something in her but it's something that never fills up. It's a vast hole, black and sucking and it wouldn't matter if she had all the attention and love and comfort in the world.

            It would never be enough.

            They watch. They wave, gently.

            Amy screams.

            This is not usual.

            They are silent.

            Amy screams.

            Across the way, Suzy starts to cry.

            “Shut up!” Peter bellows. “Shut up, you miserable bitches!”

            Irma folds deeper into herself, facing away, the ridge of her spine curving.

            “You okay, Amy?” Kasan asks, voice all care and concern.

            They are silent.

            Waving.

            “Let me out,” says Amy, collapsing over herself. She can feel observance over her like a blanket, weighty, gripping. When she looks up they are gone, all gone but one.

            It ripples, softly.

            “Let me out,” Amy says and there's a sound she's not heard before, a 'shick' sound and the glass wall is gone as if it never was. She can feel the air rushing out, replaced with something else. She draws in deep breaths before it goes and crawls out into the hall. She makes it to her feet and takes off down the hall, her path a mad ricochet against glass doors. She takes quick glances at the forms inside each cell. Kasan's eyes bulge as she thumps into his glass. They are kind.

            Her lungs scream, and the atmosphere lightly sucks against her and it's fucking useless. Where is she going to go? Amy thinks she'll make it most of the way up the hallway before she needs to take a breath and she's sure that whatever is around her won't be compatible with her lungs.

            Maybe she could make it all the way, though, and see what's there. She thinks that might be worth dying for. Just to see.

             Stars burst and collapse in Amy's vision. She looks back at her cell and takes a moment to think about spending the rest of her life alone in there and wonders how much more painful and long it will be than spending the rest of her life in the hallway. Amy marvels a little at how hard it is to make a decision when both choices are bullshit.

            Her heart pumping is a klaxon in her ears.

            Amy's always had this weird self-preservation instinct.

            She looks up the hallway with longing but turns back, the thin passage swaying and darkening as her lungs shriek for air. Every surge of them cries 'live'. It's always easier to act than to not. It's why she keeps going, and she realises it's part of the reason why she performs, why she dances and loves and fucks and hurts herself in equal measure. It's easier than not.

            It hurts to think of living like this for who knows how long. But it hurts more to think of dying, choking here on the enamel-but-not-enamel floor. She can't think of a better way to make her mind up than following the pull in her guts.

            Her passage back toward her cell is a chaos-stumble. She careens against glass-but-not-glass and looks deep and quick into the eyes of all the strangers, the ones out of her earshot, who watch her pass with fascination.

            It is still there.

            She knocks into it, but it is unmoving, rooted deep like a tree or a boulder or a mountain. She scrabbles around its roots. The thing doesn't move, and she pulls herself up on it, grips its wafting 'leaves'. It feels like crystal and gelatine and rubber but none of those things as well and it doesn't move as she gnashes against it, pulls with her teeth and claws with her fingers. Bits of it come off in her hands. It tastes like glass and metal and lemons.

            It is silent.

            But she can feel it asking her, feel it not in her ears or her mind but inside all of the parts of her. The question pulls at her veins and makes her cells dance: Return alone? Or together?

            Amy looks to Peter. His hatred of her always concealed his desperation.

            “Please,” he says. His cock lifts and his eyes sprout tears.

            She looks to Kasan.

            “Whatever you want, Aims,” he says.

            She smiles at him and she hopes her eyes are as kind as his are.

            She looks to Irma, who's turned away from her, but whose body shakes with sobs and fingers grip at her smooth flesh.

            Suzy shakes her head. “I don't think it would work out, Amy. I like my space. I've lived alone for such a long time, I'm not sure I could ever have someone that close.”

            Me too? thinks Amy. Is that me too?

            The red from her face spreads down her neck and across her chest. Amy's lungs pull at her closed mouth. Soon she won't be able to resist sucking in a lungful of whatever the beings exist within. She doesn't think they breathe. They don't seem to have any openings. Amy falls to the ground and pulls herself past Kasan, past Suzy. Her heart is a full-bodied thud that must be deafening in the white-halled hush. She closes her eyes and pulls herself along, hand over hand until the black behind her eyes fills with stars and white sparks, collapsing quasars. She rolls over onto her back and thumps the glass to her right.

            Here, she thinks, with the last gleam of energy she has. I'll take whatever's here, she sends to it and the glass pulls up, air sucking out in a soft, breezy rush and a startled cry comes from within. Then Amy is in, she's safe, the glass closed tight and warm air filling her lungs in great draughts. Warm hands grip her and she looks up to see deep black eyes, charcoal skin.

           “Comment est-ce que possible? T'es qui?”

The girl hugs Amy to her chest, desperately tight. Her small breast presses against Amy's eyelid.

            “You okay, Aims?” comes Kasan's voice from down the hall.

            “I'm okay, Dad,” she says, and coughs. Her throat aches. “I'm safe,” she tells him.

            There's a sob, then silence.

            Amy and Haoua perform nightly. Sometimes they mesh their bodies together, probe and fondle and kiss and explore. More often, they dance, a stifled kind of tight-room dancing, though every day, their cell expands a little, leaving them more space to contort their bodies. They whisper in pidgin French and English and the figures watch, in ever-increasing numbers.

            Amy and Haoua link hands and twist, turn.

            The figures take their places silently and stand like trees, their leaves rippling, like in a breeze.

             They wave, wave, gently.


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Marlee Jane Ward

Marlee Jane Ward writes speculative fiction and dreams of the future.