The Privilege of Flesh by Pete Warner

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SUMMARY: Original entry for the April flash fiction contest, theme "Forbidden"

You know that feeling when you've just driven for hours but can't remember paying even the slightest attention? It's like you were on auto-pilot. As if another's hands had gripped the wheel, freeing your conscious mind to think about things less immediate. About your job perhaps, or vacations. About your team's lack of form. Your wife's sister. Like while you're thinking about other things, whatever they may be, someone else is driving.

That someone else is me. Me, or one of my kin.

Technically, we're related, you and I. Way back, there was a schism, and the path of the species bifurcated. You evolved from those that took one path, those who continued to accept the constraints of nature. Mortality coiled and ready to spring, if I may abuse the bard. The other group - my kindred and I - we all lie down in a circle one day, thousands of us, and chose the other path. A permanent existence across transient forms. The original nomads.

Presently I'm staring out of a thirty-six year old financial advisor called Ryan who's worrying alot. In the last three minutes, he's worried about his body-mass-index, whether his youngest son is dyslexic, and whether the IT department can trace his browsing habits at work. Moments ago, I was a bum on the street, my face stuck to the pavement and vomit drying in my beard, watching London's arteries hemorrhage commuters. I picked Ryan because his aura told me he was pliable, and because he was fighting against the flow, fighting his way down into the tube station, where I needed to go.

I'm careful. Entirely passive, except for the occasional nudge. When he thinks he's reading that advertisement on the tunnel wall about mouthwash, it's because I wanted him to look that way. And now he's sneaking a look at the legs of a woman with a dangerously short skirt, conveniently allowing me to scan the opposite direction. I'm hunting, you see. We've got our rules and they're not to be broken.

The aura's here are all pulled in tight, like coats against a chill wind. That happens in places like this, where people are packed in tight against each other, recoiling against sweat and skin, bad breath and grinding groins. Against the endless filth. Makes it difficult to find what you're looking for, even while it makes it easy to hop around. I like parks in summertime, and pubs, and sports grounds, where I have the proximity I need and people's auras unfurl like party banners. I once travelled the entire way around a stadium in Boston on the puerile joy of a Mexican Wave. Down here is for perverts and pick-pockets, and I mark them all. The perverts have stunted, glistening silver penumbras, and the thieves are dirty brown smears. I leave Ryan and his tedious concerns and ride down the platform, an elbow to a rib to an elbow to a shoulder to a shoulder to a belly to a cock to a hip to a nose to a hair.... I've covered half the platform in seconds, an invisible, synaptic shock-wave pulsing through the massed throng. A hand to an arm to an elbow to a stomach to...

There she is.

The woman in the short skirt, the one I had Ryan check out earlier.

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