Author: Jaryd Porter
“Good afternoon,” Xiu said. The smile on her face fought with her tired crimson eyes.
People modified their bodies as subtle as a new eye color, hair color, and sharper teeth, but others would get augmented with extra limbs, exoskeletal implants, treads-for-legs, thermal sensors behind their eyeballs, and more. I didn’t modify myself much. Even if I’d wanted to, my boyfriend’s state deterred me a bit.
“Good afternoon,” I said. I did my best little bow towards Xiu. I did my best to smile, too.
“You appear to be tired, Ms. Ruilin. Should I prepare you a refreshment?” Xiu offered.
“That won’t be necessary,” I said. As exhausted as I was, I couldn’t keep Shang waiting. I took the elevator up. Xiu and I shared smiles and candied waves before the elevator door closed shut. My smile melted when she disappeared.
I scanned my Civil ID Card to get into the apartment. With a quick green light, the door slid open abruptly.
Inside, Shang knelt over a pile of empty syringes and cans of Morphium–a soft drink/painkiller. He had his back to me when I came in. The lights were out. The lights were automatic and activated by movement, so they weren’t off–they were dead. Shang had killed the lights.
“Hello, little piggy,” Shang uttered. His voice echoed, as if several people spoke at once.
“Don’t call me that. Are you drunk?” I asked. I pulled my blazer around my admittedly rounded stomach.
“The pain. Is gone,” Shang said. The last few surgeries he’d gotten left him a mess. Metal, mechanized appendages emerged from his back, attached to a neural exoskeleton. He wanted to be able to lift a car, scale the wall of a building, nestle into dark corners–the drugs did that to his mind. The augmentations did this to his body: his arms hung spindly and limply, while the sixteen arms emerging from the rise in his spinal column manipulated empty bottles, futilely bringing them to his lips before discarding the empty containers.
“No. I promise it’s not just gone. You need to see a real doctor, Shang,” I said.
“I’m becoming an angel. A righteous angel,” Shang said. He began to rise, dragging his legs and standing on eight of his implanted arms. His eyes stared on, unblinking. His long face hung, mouth ajar and cheeks hollowed. He hadn’t eaten real food in weeks.
I backed out of the doorway. My heels clicked against the false tile. The sound told me that I was running from him, before it could register. I’d have to race for the elevator. The first few steps winded my sedentary, tired body, and the stomping of his metal palms against the floor–the clicking of his bony knees banging the tile–he closed in on me as I ducked into the elevator.
I fell against the far wall, while he filled the doorway. His body slumped and hung limp and naked. His first set of arms reached after me, inches from my stomach.
“Your flesh…is forfeit,” Shang said.
A siren sounded. The door slammed shut, Shang barely let out a soft yelp. I closed my eyes when I heard the squishy ripping of his body and the snap of bending steel. The elevator descended rapidly, while blaring an alarm. “Emergency Returnal. Emergency Returnal…” the automated voice repeated.
The elevator door opened. I stared straight ahead at Xiu when I reached the lobby. Her eyes were completely hidden behind the glare of her square-framed glasses.
“There’s been an unfortunate accident. Perhaps we’ll shut down this elevator for the evening. Good afternoon, Ruilin,” Xiu said.