In Style

“Silver hair is in this season,” the technician suggested helpfully. Mary made a face.

“Won’t that just make me look old?”

“No, no,” the technician assured Mary with a laugh. “It’s silver, dear, not white. Definitely unnatural,” she added. Mary signed and fingered the swatches. Silver wasn’t exactly what she was going for.

“How about blue?” Mary asked, flipping to a new ring of swatches. “I’ve always liked blue hair. Why don’t more people have that?”

The technician pursed her lips and shook her head, eyes skimming the computer screen in front of her. “Blue is very hard to get,” she explained. “Your genetic makeup wouldn’t allow for it.”

Mary pouted and the technician moved the swatch ring aside, bringing out a thick book instead. “What about eyes?” the woman asked. “Eyes are very popular too, and there’s so much you can do with them. And unlike the hair, the change will take place within an hour. You don’t have to wait for it to grow in.”

Mary perked up at that, flipping through the book with growing interest. There were so many choices, and the procedure price was about the same as the hair. Still, she had some doubts.

“Is it safe?” Mary asked, eyeing the technician dubiously. “I mean, a bad hair job is one thing, but if there’s an accident during the eye procedure, couldn’t I lose my sight?”

The technician laughed indulgently, shaking her head. “Oh, dear, no. The radiation isn’t applied directly to your eyes.” She smiled. “All of our procedures are perfectly safe. The doctors have isolated the genes that produce eye and hair color, and they only need a control cell to instruct your body to change the pigmentation. The radiation will be applied at the base of your spine, just like the hair changes.”

Mary’s smile was bright and sunny as she looked at the book again, this time with a purpose in mind. “And I can have any of these?” she asked, mesmerized by the reds and golds, greens and purples and shades of orange.

“Sweetheart,” the technician said with a grin, knowing she’d just made a sale, “You can have any one you want.”

“Any one?” Mary asked, casting the technician a sly, sideways look. The woman faltered. “I… well, I can go check…”

When Mary left the clinic late that night, her eyes were seven different colors.

It Comes In Waves

Marco can leave the hospital bed, and for that, he is grateful. His balance is unsteady, but with a cane and time, he should be able to get around much the same way he used to. Dana smiles when he moves his hand to touch her cheek, the way she did for him for so long, and, that makes him smile in return. Marco wishes, however, that he could feel her face when he touches it.

His titanium and plastic fingers are flexible , and Marco has been told that they give him 90% of his original range of dexterity. Which was a hundred-percent improvement from before, when the accident had left him numb from the waist down. He knows he is gripping a glass of water due to the weight and texture and resistance his new fingertips sense and he recognizes now the way those sensors tell him the glass is wet with condensation. But he cannot feel it. It’s not the same as being in the hospital bed, but it’s not the same as before he was forced into it either.

Most frustrating, sex is out of the question.

Marco spends a great deal of time on the beach, watching the teenagers splash in the surf, showing off their developing bodies. He watches them laugh and amble about, unused to larger hips or feet. Marco watches the games they play, the ones from their childhood and the games they will continue into adulthood.

One day, Marco is surprised to feel weight and pressure against his back, and when he turns his head, he sees Dana leaning against him. She has a lazy smile on her face. “Are you comfortable? I must be pretty cold…” “Oh, I’m fine,” she says, and snuggles herself in the crook of Marco’s plastic elbow. “You out watching the jailbait, you perv?”

“No, I’m just…I don’t know what I’m doing.” “I like watching the waves break,” Dana says. “The way they crash and slip back. The way they reform.”

“I’m not a wave,” Marco says.

“No, you’re not. But I love you just the same.” Marco feels the pressure of Dana’s arms around his neck, and he touches her arms with his fingers, taking in the texture of the fine hairs on her arm, the rhythm of her pulse. He feels pressure on the side of his face, and when he touches it, his fingertips tell him his cheek was wet.

“You kissed me.”

“Well , I’ll be,” Dana says, her eyes sparkling. “Even a man in a prosthetic body can blush.”

Le Roi Soleil

Four days after his wedding, Philippe discovered the moon was made out of cheese. He made this discovery when his mother-in-law, who was a witch, threw him up to the moon using her magic. His mother in law would have been unpleasant even if she were not a witch and were his wife not the sweetest most beautiful woman in all of France, Philippe would never married her, simply on account of her mother.

The impact of landing on the moon nearly buried him in Brie, but Philippe was an athletic man, and he managed to extricate himself from the goopy and delicious cheese. Philippe did not panic. He had been in the court of the Sun King once, and since standing in the golden palace of Versailles, nothing could scare him. Even his wife’s mother–who could wet a man’s leg with her screeching voice–did not frighten him.

Philippe sat on an outcropping of parmesan and thought deeply, not of his own life, but of the welfare of his country. The cheese on the moon was plentiful and delicious, and what was more, whatever he ate seemed to grow back in minutes leading him to believe that this cheese was naturally occurring.

If the people of France could have access to this cheese, they could take it from the heavens and profit from it on earth. France could produce an unlimited amount of cheese and trade it with other nations. They could round up Frances witches to make them do the job of transporting the cheese. Why, with the riches from the trade in cheese, France may even be able to get the money to win the war with Spain. It was a brilliant notion, all Philippe had to do was get back to France so he could tell the Sun King of his plan.

Philippe walked over the entire moon, discovering new and tasty cheeses, trying to think of a way to get home. Although the moon had plentiful amounts and types of cheese there did not appear to be anything else on the whole lunar landscape.

If Philippe jumped, he would surely die, but if he remained on the moon, France would never benefit from the moons riches. Furthermore, if he did not return, his new wife might begin to assume him dead, and might marry again, inadvertently committing a mortal sin. The prosperity of France and the soul of his wife were solely in his hands!

After much thought, Philippe decided to carve a ship made out of cheese and sail through the heavens, back to earth. He used his pocket-knife, which had been in his pocket when his mother-in-law–the witch–had thrown him up to the moon. He chiseled a boat out of colby and cheddar, and sliced thin sails of provolone to the masts. Philippe padded his ship with soft mozzarella on the inside. Finally, Philippe took a running leap and pushed the boat off the side of the moon. The ship sailed in lazy circles down to the spinning disc of earth.

It's The Same Old Song

I am activated again, forced to perform another single for the drunken masses. Yet another lead singer struts his beer-engorged gut on the stage in front of me, as my bandmates and I react to his motions and signals. We cannot help it. We are programmed to be his backup.

Perhaps, this one will be different. Perhaps, he will have style, or tune, or grace. Perhaps, he will not be as dependent on the video screens that play the lyrics in front of him. Perhaps he will be different, and choose a song from our limitless repertoire to sing in his brief moment as star. Motown, perhaps. Or a nice aria. Or maybe some T’sing Dau. T’sing Dau is fun.

But as the familiar refrains shudder forth from my fingers, I realize I am beyond hope. The next five minutes will be yet another lesson in how the human voice can torture a band-bot such as myself.

Why? Why do they always pick that damn song?

“I’ve lived a life that’s full,” the lead singer retches into the microphone. “I’ve traveled each and evry highway. And more, much more than this, I did it mmmmmmmmyyyyyyyyy wwwwwaaaaaaaay..”

The Game

There had been another coup, but that didn’t matter to Alba. All Governmentalists were alike; so what if they exchanged one secretary for another? The anarchist papers were cheering over the shift, but Alba knew better. If the “coup” had reached the newspapers, it was little more than a PR stunt. Alba wasn’t a cynic. She was just a realist, and in the City, it amounted to the same thing.

In college, Alba had been a rebel, but it wasn’t until she left the school system that she discovered how the world really worked. In her last year she’d become enamored of a journalist, a vibrant, sexy woman named Medina. Medina had convinced her to take a year off, to explore the slums that Alba had never seen. Medina was writing a story, a daring exposé of the darker life, and Alba was caught up in the thrill.

They traveled together for three months, hitching rides on the back rail of subway cars and thumbing lifts from off-duty taxis. Alba had never seen the lives of the poor, the wage slavery sycophants who believed every word of the Governmentalist propaganda and spent their precious hours of freedom reading tabloids about the lives of the rich and influential.

It was in one of a long line of cheap hotel rooms, when Medina was sated and sleeping in their broken-springed bed, when Alba picked up the digitizer to read Medina’s half-written report by the light of the neon signs outside.

“Dee. Dee, what is this?” Alba reached out and shook Medina’s shoulder, sharply recalling her to the waking world. The dark-eyed woman blinked sleepily.

“It’s my report. You should know that. I only work on it every night. Come back to bed,” Medina breathed, tugging lightly on Alba’s arm.

“Your report… this can’t be your report.” Alba ignored the touch, her eyes still fixed on the digitizer. “There’s nothing in here about the things we did or the people we saw. This is all… Dee, this reads like Governmentalist propaganda!”

Medina sat up and tapped one of the buttons on the digitizer. A new document came up, this one filled with names and addresses and detailed notes on the disaffected people they’d visited.

“That part’s already been sent to the recording bureau,” Medina explained with a secretive, playful smile. She chuckled and moved closer to Alba, slipping an arm around the younger woman’s slim waist. “I had no idea you were such an idealist.”

“What are you talking about?” Alba pushed Medina away. “I’m no patriot. Are you telling me you sent all this away to the government? Do you have any idea what they’re going to do with this information? Weren’t you listening to the people we met?”

“They’ll take care of it,” Medina said soothingly.

“Take care of it! You mean they’ll arrest them for dissension! Dee, these people spoke to us in confidence. You’re a journalist. Doesn’t that mean anything to you?”

Medina stared at Alba for a moment, then looked down and shook her head, smirking. “You’re so naïve.” She leaned back, stretching like a cat. “Journalism doesn’t exist in the City. It’s impossible, even if someone was foolish enough to try. Even the anti-government newsletters are screened.” She gazed out the window, a look of proprietary fondness in her eyes. “I don’t do this because I’m some sort of idealist or rebel. I’d be fired in less than a day. I do it to keep myself fed—and maybe get a few thrills in the process.” She looked back at Alba and grinned wickedly. “That’s how you play the game.”

“You’re turning people in to die.” Alba’s voice was flat, and she wasn’t smiling. Medina sighed.

“Is that any different from what the anarchists do? I’m letting the government know when someone’s working against the state. What they do with that knowledge isn’t my problem. Anarchists kill people with their own hands—innocent people, government clerks and flunkies who’ve never touched a gun in their lives—and they call it ‘liberating their souls for freedom.’ If anything’s wrong about our City, that’s it.”

Alba didn’t answer, and eventually Medina sighed and rolled over, falling back asleep. Alba read the entire report, all the data collected, all the names. Then she reformatted the drive. She gathered her clothes, stuffed her things into her worn duffel bag, and picked up the digitizer again. In a new document, she typed the words, THIS IS HOW I PLAY THE GAME.

Six months later, when she was the leader of her own rebel cell, Medina was the first soul Alba liberated in the fight for freedom.