“I am never going to get laid with this plumage.” said Gruick, picking at his feathers. “It’s so dull, people are going to think I’m a girl.”
“Oh Gruick, you’re not brown, you’re just a deep maroon.” said Jason, scratching his goatee and leaning back against the violet Lurilura tree.
“What would a human know about grooming?” asked Gruick in his lilting contralto.
Jason shrugged. “Not much, which is the reason I came here to study your people.”
Gruick fixed one black beady eye on the anthropologist. “You humans have it all reversed, with your females in bright colors and your males as dull as sand. Humans always do things downwind, advertising your fertility with manufactured coverings rather than your natural colors. You are always manipulating your environment, something that has lead you again and again into trouble.”
Jason thought about the recording device in his head and the synthetic boots that were protecting his feet from the biting insects of the forest floor. “Maybe, but it’s given us benefits too.”
“Oh yes. I know. Your whole species is just so proud of its opposable thumbs.”
Jason chuckled. “You are just cranky because it’s mating season and you aren’t getting laid. Aren’t Greeb worms supposed to help your feathers change into a brighter color?”
Gruick ruffled his feathers in frustration. “I have eaten enough Greeb worms to make myself sick in the hope of turning scarlet, but it hasn’t worked.” Gruick folded his slender legs under his downy belly and trilled a sigh. “I’m just naturally brown, and I’m never going to attract a girl. All of them are so shallow, they would never even approach a dull male.” He stuck his head under one of his four wings.
“What if you used a dye?” asked Jason.
“A dye?” croaked Gruick, his voice muffled by his feathers. “What is that?”
“It’s a coloring that humans use to make their clothes different colors. I bet I could order some dye and we could color your feathers.”
Gruick pulled his head out from under his wing. “You could do that?”
Jason shrugged. “Sure. I bet the opposable thumbs might even come in handy for applying the dye.”
Translucent eyelids batted over Gruicks beady eyes. “Wait. Do you think the girls might be able to tell if I dyed my feathers?”
“Maybe.” said Jason “But by the time they get close, I’m sure they will be utterly seduced by your charming personality.”
“That’s a good point. Fine, we will try it the human way. Order your dye and we’ll see what your little thumbs can do.”
He’d offered him some lemonade because he assumed he would like it. After all, Lupert himself liked lemonade, so it only made sense. With a shaky hand, he set the glass down on the table next to the man decked out in military regalia that Lupert had never seen before. Lupert watched a lot of army movies.
“So, what you’re saying is that you want me to do this military stuff for you?” Lupert nervously inquired.
The man sitting before Lupert might have been a military general, a skilled soldier, and possibly a murderer. To Lupert however, he was himself. The man was Lupert, and Lupert was staring into a nightmarish mirror where things had gone horribly wrong.
“I mean money is nice and everything butâ€¦ my job won’t understand. I work for this big law firm andâ€¦”
The military man, the other Lupert, interrupted. “Then fuck the money. I’ll offer you weapons, weapons this world has never seen. Look I justâ€¦” The hardened militant’s posture slumped. Lupert the lawyer had already begun to sit at the other end of the table.
“I need a vacation. My job, while rewarding, is just not cutting it for me. I need to know what life is like outside of that. Please, man, I meanâ€¦ you’re me. You have to understand.”
Sighing, Lupert considered the request. Rubbing his chin, he watched his double beg with battle-hardened eyes. “Okay, I’ll do it. But you have to promise me three months only, okay? I can only dodge bullets from Rkaâ€¦Rukaâ€¦”
“Rashilka. Nasty little bastards. You’ll know their kind when you see them. Thanks, Lupert, this really means a lot to me.” He handed him a wrapped up military outfit and gave him a small handheld trinket.
“What’s this?” The lawyer-turned-military leader asked.
“It’s the transponder for the dimensional locater and a uniform. You’ll need both.”
Nodding slowly, he rose to his feet and walked through the same door his double had come through earlier. He turned around and waved while military leader Lupert saluted his dimensional twin. Lupert went outside and fiddled around with the device for a bit until he vanished in a flash of blue light.
Militant leader Lupert sighed, then the face melted away into gills and grayish-greenish skin. Three eyes topped the head in a yellow glow, glancing around in simultaneous directions. He sat back down in the kitchen chair, kicked three suction-cup bottomed feet onto the table and exposed three rows of pointy teeth with a broad grin. “Hssssssssssssâ€¦sucker.”
“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. “Iâ€¦ well, I can go checkâ€¦”
When Mary left the clinic late that night, her eyes were seven different colors.
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.”
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 wifeâ€™s mother–who could wet a manâ€™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.
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..”