Author : Carter Lee

Everyone can see me. I can’t see them, of course, but I can tell by the way that they shy away from me on the street and in stores. Their grey, featureless forms flinch, and drift away from me. No matter how crowded the area might be, I always have room to breathe.

I live in a world where the space between the ground and sky is composed of bare outlines. I subscribe to almost nothing, and so the world of men gives me only the smallest amount needed to make my way through it.

I wear my shield, of course, but I don’t sell the skin for display, unlike everyone else. I don’t sell my display, and I don’t buy anyone else’s.

I used to, of course. When I walked down the streets, the garish colors of the displays crawling and throbbing from the shield-skins of every building filled my eyes. What are now nebulous shapes would show the fantastic corporate creatures of the companies that had bought their personal displays.

One day, in a restaurant, I walked into a room full of people, each one looking like the mascot of the Deltoid Gymnasium Company. Almost 200 people, all with the same face, smile, and body. My eye had caught the words on my own retinal scrawl. Current Display: Deltoid Jim, paid for by DGC.

I was dumbstruck. I wondered for the first time who these people might be, under the picture of the blond god each was displaying. And I knew I’d never find out, that I could never find out. People showed their un-displayed forms only to those they knew very well. Some never showed their true self to anyone.

I’d disabled all of my subscriptions that evening, and declined to renew my contract with my display broker when it came up the next week. The only display anyone gets from me is me. If they want my deep background, I won’t transmit it. They have to ask me.

I lost a good number of friends over this. Many people seem to find my lack of any kind of barrier to the world as something indecent. It makes them uncomfortable to be around someone who isn’t masked in any way.

I was delighted to find that the libraries and museums in my city either don’t have fees, or only charge a small amount for upkeep, and rarely display commercials. I use old-style wall displays for information and entertainment.

I told myself that I would not pay for any more viewing subscriptions, and for the most part, I’ve stayed true to that. The one subscription I’m saving for, though, will let me look at buildings directly. I became interested in architecture a while back, after I found that the first buildings covered with shields had had them installed to protect their beauty, not to cover them with come-ons for foot powder and the like. There are pictures of the lovely structures in my city, but I’d like to see them in real life. I’d like to walk the streets and study the beauty humanity has wrought in stone and steel.

The ghosts steer themselves away from me, the stranger they can see clearly. How wonderful.

Discuss the Future: The 365 Tomorrows Forums
The 365 Tomorrows Free Podcast: Voices of Tomorrow
This is your future: Submit your stories to 365 Tomorrows