Author: Denise N. Ruttan

It wasn’t that Grady had an objection to the Watch, per se. She didn’t even remember the implantation procedure; she had been a baby. The procedure had left a scar, a box of raised skin on the inside of her wrist.

She’d watched film of the procedure that her mother had saved, and it was uneventful: a baby, face scrunched up in blue and purple, screaming its lungs dry like the world was ending. She had squirmed, dancing, so that the surgeon was less careful than usual. Her parents said, “How cute.” She thought “cute” was another way of saying “obnoxious.”

Grady was given the option of tattooing over the scar when she was sixteen. Most of her peers did. They chose peace signs, or butterflies, or dolphins. The hippies chose bar codes. Grady chose nothing. She didn’t mind the scar. She liked how it made her different, even if people made fun of her for it. “Your Watch is showing,” they would sneer, grabbing her wrist, kneading her skin, digging their sharp fingernails into her soft flesh. “Don’t you know that’s rude? Of course you don’t.” Then they would laugh, the laughter peeling off like dry skin, scarring Grady’s ears. Grady didn’t mind the laughter. She wanted to be different.

It was hard to be different these days. Insurance oligarchs didn’t want you to be different. Grady couldn’t say she blamed them. In the old days, before the oligarchs, people wore fitness watches that they used to track their sleep and monitor their heart rate and remind them when to exercise. They had social media pages and documented their lives with a tweet or a Facebook post. “Ate lunch at McDonald’s,” they would say, sacrificing their GPS coordinates gladly.

So insurance said, after it became an oligarch, people do this willingly, sign away their privacy for the pleasure of the group, so why not mandate it? It made sense, to Grady. It was the way an oligarch would think. It was the way they were taught in school.

At first, she tried to be different by smoking cigarettes. Smoking wasn’t outlawed, per se, but because of the Watch, virtually no one smoked anymore. The Watch reported back to the insurance oligarchs, and you got in trouble. Grady didn’t mind a little trouble. She knew a guy at school named Warble who knew black market stuff. They met behind the bleachers. He gave her a cigarette and a lighter. He smelled like cinnamon. Grady wanted to be alone.

The air froze on her skin. She smelled the cigarette. Nicotine. It was forbidden. It smelled so sweet. She held it under her nose. Then she lit the cigarette, like Warble had shown her. “It’ll hurt,” he told her. “Because of the Watch.”

She inhaled. For a moment, she was free. She was different. Then her skin burned. The scar on the inside of her wrist crawled. She dropped the cigarette. The pain radiated through her nerve endings. She curled up into a ball in the dirt and whimpered. She could take it. You can’t be different without pain. The scar on her wrist taught her that. Tears smarted her eyes. She felt weak. She didn’t like feeling weak.

Then the pain subsided. She picked up the cigarette again. It burst into flames, ash scraping her fingers. Her hand trembled.

She thought of how else she could be different. The pain was exciting. The pain numbed her skin and seized her heart. That pain could be useful. Her eyes glittered with a new resolve. The oligarchs didn’t count on that.