The moonbeams, like butterflies made of light, flickered in through the half-open shutters and settled on the pale back of STAR, who lay prone on her bed, face buried between two pillows, images beaming through the mask attached to her face directly into her retinas. Her body vibrated rhythmically, as if physically processing the pumping stream of images; her platinum hair levitated, radiating as if by electricity; her cybernetic implants flashed vivid colors.
Saul was downstairs at the time, glancing at a broadcast on the TV screen. There was a commercial with a woman in a white dress walking down a winding path through a towering forest. As she walked further into the forest's darkness, the image faded to black and then cut to a scene of the same woman standing on a floating island in the sky. There were palm trees arrayed in idyllic rings all over the island. She was standing in a circle of other women in a grassy field, who were dressed in all the colors of the rainbow as the sun shone on them. A sultry female voice spoke, and Saul noticed that all of the women looked like supermodels and were perfect in an uncanny way, and even for a beauty commercial, artificial.
"Ever find yourself lost on the path to paradise? Try Pandora's Vase dream powder foundation for perfectly smooth skin, allowing you to pierce the eyes of people with powerful perfection. Other foundations may profane your purity, but dream powder will penetrate the ply of paradise. Pass beyond the threshold of perfection into a profound state of personal peace, and feel pleasure while doing so. Try Pandora's Vase dream powder foundation, part of the Passion and Purity collection."
Even though Saul knew it was just a makeup commercial, for some reason after he had been drawn to look at the screen, his gaze stuck. Perhaps it was because the women looked so beautiful and immaculate. The mesmerizing way they moved across the screen, and the almost hypnotic way they moved their arms when standing in the circle on that floating island in the sky. There was something inhuman about it all, the motions, and the way the sun shone through their radiant hair. And really, Saul wondered if they even used real women anymore for those commercials, or if they were the product of some advanced computer simulation. Or maybe they were cybernetically enhanced humans, like STAR. Saul didn't know, but the commercial, even though he knew it was only a silly commercial, moved something in him.
As the commercial ended Saul felt something in his stomach sink. It was one of those odd feelings where although he knew that it was an extremely fake commercial with fake models and obviously trying to manipulate the audience into buying cheap foundation makeup, he felt there was something profound embedded within the imagery. As though the ad agency had commissioned a director who had some sort of knowledge that was far beyond the scope of the product. He tried to shake the feeling and focused on going upstairs, as he had planned to speak to STAR that night. Multiple nervous breakdowns of hers had prevented them from talking much over the past few days.
Saul wanted to rectify that, and let her know that he cared about her and the predicament that she found herself in. It was only fair, because he knew that the situation she was in was incredibly unfair. She was only a victim of circumstances, after all. Nobody could have convinced her to not volunteer to be cybernetically implanted. And could she possibly have resisted the prospect of absorbing the sum of the universe's knowledge into her brain through a sleek and, frankly, fashionable device? To transcend plain human consciousness and to touch something that seemed at the time to be truly cosmic? To not give in would have been unthinkable. And to put blame on her for the situation would be really quite ignorant.
He always had to reassure himself that the blame did not lay with her, or with any specific person, but with the social, political, and economic infrastructure that allowed the large corporations who created the technology to proliferate them. But that was a lot more difficult to point at, wasn't it. Really, it made Saul so angry sometimes. Why was it so difficult for people to grasp the abstract nature of it all? He let out a deep breath as he prepared himself to walk up the spiral staircase, but he stopped when he heard the upstairs door creak open.
Shortly after, the steps on the spiral staircase creaked under her delicate footsteps. It was clear that she had not eaten in days. In addition to the smeared caked-on makeup there were dark bags under her eyes and her ribs poked out through her thin gray top. Her demeanor portrayed a hint of contempt for her own flesh, reinforcing her wish to escape it.
"Vicky! You know it's your incubation period. You have to stay in your room and on your bed, what are you doing out here?"
"I know, but…”
Vicky looked down and shadows moved over her face.
“They want to kill me!"
"Who wants to kill you, Vicky?"
"The images want to kill me."