Author : Suzanne Borchers

Xoman yearned for the vast world outside the gates of her private hell. Her life was: follow the regulations or face the consequences, eyes in the back of your head, and sour-faced guards. She rubbed her temples where each day electrons purred positive messages into her brain and shocked negative waves of disobedience.

She had stolen, on a dare, a pair of antique pink panties from the museum that she never got to model before she was placed in the Reclamation Redemption Center.

Purr. Zap!

The day she was finally released, she was shown her image in a mirror. She was no longer herself. The long, straight fiery red hair was buzz cut and white, the athletic figure was rolls of fat, and her skin lay in folds. Xoman turned to the force field and waited for the scowling guard to cut the juice, allowing her to exit. She hesitated until the sullen guard pushed her out the door.

Xoman looked around.

The world outside had changed. Where were the blue skies, songbirds, trees, grass? Hell, there wasn’t even a gray ugly pigeon waddling on the sidewalk. Where were her friends waiting to greet her? She had sent the messages. Where was her world?

Xoman shivered in the dry heat that rose up from the concrete. She stuffed her hand in the plastic pocket of her out-of-prison suit, to feel the hardness of plastic tokens. A plastic map showed her new rooming house, new life.

Xoman trudged the 12 blocks full of gray buildings and vacant lots of concrete to her new home. She stopped in front of the graystone. She climbed the broken steps, knocked on the metal door, and was shown her space.

She recognized the dull colorless bed. The covers, pillow, and sagging mattress had been hers for years. Faded floral patterns peeled in strips from the bare walls. One dangling light glowed faintly in the windowless room. A mouse or rat skittered across the floor and out the door.

“Don’t blame you,” muttered Xoman. Purr.

She sat on the bed to bend over, propping her head in her hands. “I can’t live here,” she murmured. “I can’t.” Purr.

She thought about leaving the city. Sure, she could trade a ride for favors. She looked at herself and sighed. “I wonder if I can make it out of this town,” she muttered before she felt the zap. “Ow!”

Xoman looked at the map showing a plastic factory. “I don’t want to work an assembly line.” Purr.

“Damn it, I’ll use these tokens to buy a rope and hang myself.” Zap! The headache made her lie down moaning. She slept.

Early the next morning she reached a decision. She had pictured each sullen, scowling, sour-faced guard. “No wonder,” she sighed. “Of course.” Purr.

Xoman marched the 12 blocks to the Reclamation Redemption Center. Before she could ring the bell a frowning guard opened the gate. “You’ll find your uniform in Room 714, Seventh Floor South. You are responsible for watching the inmates’ chow lines. Be tough and don’t let them see you smile.”

And then a smile tickled the guard’s mouth. “Welcome home.”

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