Author: Mahaila Smith

The casting call was very specific. No bodymods, no one over 6 ft. No medical conditions.

She taped her audition in an office tech supply store in front of a tall, tubular black camera-droid. She introduced herself, Jordan Wreath, age 24, from Greater Toronto region 4. She turned around and turned back. She stepped closer and held up her hands, showing both sides. She stepped even closer and bared her teeth. The tape compressed and she typed the username of the production company into the keypad at the front of the droid. She accepted the charge to send and felt the credit chip in her thumb heat up against the payment sensor. An animation of an eye winking on the machine’s small screen let her know that the tape had been sent.

She had forgotten about the audition a year later when a spherical drone arrived. She learned she had been accepted. The drone’s camera lens dilated, cataloging her reaction and broadcasting it to millions of eyes. This sphere would begin following her, now.

She packed quickly. Stowing essential clothes, toiletries, and her pillow. She hoped she would be able to sleep.

She took a bullet train to the address the company had sent to her GPS app.

She arrived at the film company’s skyscraper. She followed a hospitality droid from the lobby to a boardroom where she met with the show’s writer. Unlike the actors in the show, he had received many body modifications. Brightly coloured freckles dotted his nose and copper spurs protruded between his dark curls. He was uncomfortably touchy.

The company put her up in a fancy, downtown hotel, where she would stay for six months. Every day she went to the lab and the spherical camera followed her. She learned to sprout the embryonic packages that would speed-grow potatoes and pumpkins, beans, and corn. Enough to sustain them for three months. She practiced attaching medi-patch implants on pieces of surrogate flesh.

She had not met any of her co-contestants. When she tried to watch promo footage, her sight clouded over. Her cortical implant had been overridden so as not to let her see any of the contestants, the spacecraft, or their destination. She heard the script. 13 Young, Hot, Singles Battle to survive and terraform a new Earth in 90 days. With One Condition. Contestants MUST become romantically involved with another contestant before the cycle is up. Every couple of weeks a pod would arrive to take away anyone who wasn’t coupled up, and brought replacement contestants to the settlement. Jordan was never certain what the purpose was. Maybe it was to inspire the watchers to settle on the freshly terraformed land.

The day before their rocket was scheduled to launch, Jordan felt intensely anxious.

She did not drink. And she did not know anyone who lived downtown. She found a small pub near her hotel. She stepped up to the bar and ordered a rye and citrus. She sat down on the body-conforming barstool. She looked around the bar and saw couples with entwining their fingers or tentacles or vines. An older masc sat with an automated companion.

She saw a cloudy figure step through the door. Her forehead pulsed and ached. The figure walked to the bar and ordered a drink. She couldn’t hear what they said, but she saw the bartender place a rocks glass of lime green liquid with a blue-crystal rim on the bar in front of them. The figure sat, leaning close to her and she felt them take her hand.