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"Science Fiction" means—to us—everything found in the science fiction section of a bookstore, or at a science fiction convention, or amongst the winners of the Hugo awards given by the World Science Fiction Society. This includes the genres of science fiction (or sci-fi), fantasy, slipstream, alternative history, and even stories with lighter speculative elements. We hope you enjoy the broad range that SF has to offer.

Something Deep

Tamoha Sengupta lives in Siliguri,India, but is happy to have visited many places on Earth and beyond at the expense of words. Although a fresh graduate, she adamantly refuses to grow up until she receives her Hogwarts letter. She wishes she could spend each second reading and writing stories or watching anime. Her works have appeared in Acidic Fiction and T.Gene Davis's Speculative Blog. This is her first pro sale. She tweets @sengupta_tamoha.

Lust is the first emotion Rhea knows.
She feels their touch, as they inspect her skin, trying to verify whether it is as smooth as it looks. She was made for this and so she stands still. They finally give a satisfied grunt, and move into the shop to buy the pills that will make their skin identical to hers.
She hears her maker tell them the usual details. How the skins that will be created on them will shed every season, just like hers, to adapt to the climate, how they will prevent any skin disease from destroying that smooth texture. Another lot of customers comes to the shop, leers at her, and touches her hands again.
She cringes inside, but outside she smiles.
She wishes her maker had not given her a heart to keep her alive. She wouldn't have had to feel the touches, then. She knows that her body needs to be biologically alive, to shed the skin, and only by shedding her skin will she lose the memories of these selfish touches. But that knowledge does not bring relief to her.
She knows that they are all the same, even if she forgets. They are all interested in that snakelike layer that clothes her. None of them spare a glance at her.
And then one day, a boy rushing by collides with her. He grabs on to her to steady himself, then steps back, a sheepish smile on his face.
"Sorry, I was busy feeling the wind. I wasn't paying attention." He says. He looks at her shoulder as he says it, and it is only after he departs that she realizes he cannot see.
As spring fades and she sheds her skin, her memories of all the touches fade as usual. Except one.
The memory is a revelation, a thin thread that connects her to who she was.
She longs for him to come again. But he doesn't. She knows that he loves to feel the wind on his face, that he can mouth a sincere apology. She remembers his eyes, blind, yet so deep. She knows that someone like him doesn't need smooth skin to look beautiful.
Yet she waits for him.
But soon the war starts and she wonders whether the waiting is futile.
She doesn't know what the war is about. The reason doesn't matter anyway. Same things happen in every war. Her maker's business goes on, though she senses a change. There are fewer touches on her body as fewer customers come. Business starts to trickle towards extinction.
The first time the bombs fall in the city, the world around explodes. So does the shop. She is thrown from where she is kept standing, and dust and cement and glass falls on her skin and bounces off. There are no cuts on her skin. It is as flawless as ever.
She gets up, shaking, and is aware that she can move. The machine inside the shop that kept her immobile must have been destroyed, too.
The thought of freedom both exalts and terrifies her.
She begins to run.
She runs through the city, seeing it for the first time, mostly in ruins. Cries and smoke fill the air, frighten her. She runs through the destruction till she is far away from the crumbled civilization.
She stops, panting, wondering what she will do. She sits down, leaning against a broken fence. Exhaustion takes her to sleep.
A touch awakens her. The familiarity of it surprises her and sets her heart pounding. She remembers that touch. She glances up at that dirt-streaked face, those deep-set eyes, and is thankful for the first time that she is alive.
"I sensed someone here," he is saying, a smile on his face. "Are you all right?"
"I'm fine." Her voice is rusty as she speaks. She has almost forgotten that she had been given the power of speech.
He is still smiling. "It isn't safe to be out in the open in this war. You should go home."
She shakes her head, and then realizes he won't be able to see it. "I've got none." She says, trembling as she gets up. He cannot see, and yet he is the first person who really notices her.
Her heart sings with the thought.
He straightens up too. "No home? That makes two of us, then." He tugs at her hand. "Come with me."
She lets him lead her. He knows the way with remarkable precision. He tells her his name is Abheek. It means fearless, he says. She wonders what her name means as he keeps talking without break, diverting her mind from the wreckage around. Bodies and metal pieces, bloodied cloth and bombshells lie all around the path through which he takes her. War, to her, seems inhuman.
She wonders why humans take part in it.
He leads her straight to the ocean. The waves roar as they rise and fall, lapping at the shore, withdrawing, but always coming back again. Her breath almost stops. She has never seen anything so powerful and calming.
He pulls her down on the sandy beach.
"It is beautiful," she breathes, and he nods.
"The war seems so far away here."
But his words are wrong. The sound of sirens fills the air, and though she doesn't know what it means, dread rises in her chest.
"What's happening?" she says, her fingers tightening around his. She begins to shiver, but it's from fear this time.
Explosions in the distance reach her ears. She scampers closer to him, a scream rising in her. Even the ocean cannot drown out the noise.
The bombs explode near them and she feels she will become deaf. Overhead, the stars have vanished, replaced by planes and fire. Moisture on her cheeks makes her aware for the first time that she is crying.
"There, there, it'll be all right." he says, his voice calm.
She feels his warm hands engulf her in a hug, feels the peace his heartbeat brings to her. In that bomb-shattered world, he makes her feel at home.
The bombs rain down, and just before one hits them, she sees her reflection in his eyes.
Love is the last emotion she feels, and for that, she is glad.
The End
This story was first published on Tuesday, December 29th, 2015

Author Comments

I always wondered what would happen if human skin could be shed like snake skin. What would be the outcome if our memories were linked to that skin? Would we forget? Or would we realize that things that make us really feel never fade, but stay with us forever and make life worth living. I explored this concept in a war setting and this story emerged--as though it was always meant to exist.

- Tamoha Sengupta
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