NEW FICTION: WORLD IN PROGRESS by Lori Ann White

Paul Raven @ 01-12-2010

Well, here we are: the last piece of Futurismic fiction for a while. But talk about ending on a high note! When Chris sent across Lori Ann White‘s “World In Progress” for me to look at, it felt as if she’d been carefully following the stuff I blog about here day after day, picking out some of my favourite riffs, memes and ideas, and rendering them down into one wonderful – and very human – story. It’s a super piece, and I’m proud to be publishing it; scroll down, read on, and find out why. :)

World In Progress

by Lori Ann White

And in The Far Corner, Wearing a
Too-Tight Jock Strap and a Crown of Thorns–

CLOSE UP on a face.  Calm, pale, waves of black hair brushed back from a broad forehead.  Retro Guy.  Grade A, 100% Pure Professional Athlete.  No drugs, no mods, no tweaks, no prods.  Just like the old farts ordered.

He’s staring at the wall above the mirror through eyes blue as an Artic bay.  Pan to the wall, to the framed honest-to-god newsprint, photo of a thick-necked thug in too-tight jacket.  He’s small, like Retro Guy, like they all used to be, but the smug grin and his squinty eyes radiate “big guy” waves.  He’s got one arm around a sad brunette.

The caption: “Bruisin’ Brawler Gene O’Connor: ‘No God-Damned Upgrades!  My Boy Will be a Real Boxer, Just Like His Old Man.’”

The camera pans back to Retro Guy’s face.

“Hey, Old Man,” he whispers.  “This fight’s for you.”

Bar Fight

The foyer door swings open and Retro Guy pops through, pale and frail in the crush of muscle mods, beauty mods, fetish mods.  No mods at all, no armor, no taller than two meters, with pale face and plain white shirt glowing in the UVs, but he’s a solid little motherfucker pushing through, headed for the bar.

He bumps a tank, a bouncer–Angel McCay, says the nametag–and squeezes past, moving faster, time running out, because sure as snot, law and order is now in hot pursuit.

He’s pushing, shoving, doesn’t give a shit who he pisses off, so he does–a Muscle mod dressed in armored cod piece over chain mail boxers and mood tats from waist to chin, who swats at him like he’s some gnat.

Retro Guy swats back.

The bar mood-shifts fast, patrons twigging trouble.  He feels it.  Muscle Boy laughs down at him, surrounded by buddies equally amused, none taking his bared teeth and hard glare seriously. A small space opens up and Retro Guy works it, fists up, light on his feet.

Muscle Boy stands there, flat-footed and grinning.

So Retro Guy dances in, plants a needle-sharp jab on the tip of his nose, dances out.

Muscle Boy roars in pain, his mood tats flaring hot red, and his boyz unzombie.  Retro Boy ducks and dodges flailing fists to make a beeline for the bar.

He vaults effortlessly to the smooth countertop and turns to the sea of faces.  It’s soapbox time, ready to rant, but he spots a wake in the sea, Bouncer Babe tossing patrons aside, closing fast.  He slaps at his waist, and feedback screams through the club.  Everyone, including the bouncer, just–stops.  Silence.  Except for Muscle Boy still pissing and moaning, mood tats strobing between red and a bilious yellow-green.

“I’m Clean Gene O’Connor,” Retro Guy blasts, “the heavy-weight champion of the world.  Any of you bio-blobs of fake physical perfection think you’re human enough to take me?”

The pocket amp gives a last squeal of feedback as O’Connor switches off.  He glares at the sea of stunned faces, and it’s Muscle Boy who answers, howling and surging forward, his boyz fanning out behind.  Tumblers, bottles, inhalers sail through the air, jetting intoxicants that the dance-floor lasers refract into a million stabbing lances like some vomiting rainbow.  Retro Boy feels a spatter of droplets, inhales the sweet stench of booze, and dances among silicon missiles like a fighter jet through chaff.  Patrons duck and run, the bartender cowers to stab at panic buttons, and a few fools dare snatch at his ankles, hoping to play spoiler, only to get their pinkies stomped.

Then Retro Guy stops, smiling at his fate as Muscle Boy tosses two last impediments aside to confront him.

Too late he sees Bouncer Babe bellyflop onto the bar, skidding toward him like one big cocktail on the rocks, bowling him down for the K-fucking-O.

Voyeur Poll: So What’s Gene’s Problem, Anyway?

Deal With the Devil

O’Connor wakes to a scram-cam floating overhead.  “Not heaven,” he mutters.  He squints at it and hears a faint whine as it focuses.  Shit.  He’s not even dead.  Doesn’t mean he’s not in hell.

Wherever he is, he’s alone, he’s hurting and he wants that damned camera out of his face. He blinks at it, trying to clear his vision enough to make out a logo, but after staring at it so long that the pounding in his head threatens to pop out his eyeballs, he closes his eyes in defeat.

The nausea is real and it surprises him.  A concussion–an honest-to-god concussion.  He hasn’t been KOed like this since his days training with the Old Man.  He manages to stiff-arm his way up without his elbows giving, the camera whirring faintly as it gains altitude.  O’Connor looks around.

Tiny apartment, bare-bones.  The only obvious bit of ostentation is a top-of-the-line wallscreen opposite the couch he’s been dumped on.  For ornamentation, there’s a set of body armor in a nook that might once have held bookshelves.  That’s it.  The couch, the wall screen, the armor–and probably a hidden cache of peripherals and a house AI.  Who the hell lives here, anyway?

And why is he here?

“He’s awake, Miss Angel, and sitting up,” says the default voice of the same base House AI O’Connor owns in calm, genderless tones.

“Oh!”  The voice comes from another room.  Not bland, not default.  Pleasantly husky.  Angel?  O’Connor didn’t even have time to get himself killed at the bar.  How did he manage to pick up some girl?  The shower shuts off–he didn’t recognize it as such until it stops.  Rattling rings.  A shower curtain?  How quaint.  Then he sits up straighter as Angel steps into the room.  Wrapped in a towel and dripping on the hardwood floor, she’s built like a refrigerator with tits.

“My name is Angel,” she says, appearing as uncomfortable as he is.

She’s got a mass of hair like exploding fireworks, startling green eyes, and the ugliest face he has ever seen.  And just like that, he knows her.  The bouncer from the bar.

A soft chime, and the AI says calmly, “Miss Angel, two people are at the door.  One identifies herself as Renata Steinhardt, and her biometrics check.”

O’Connor’s head throbs worse.  Just what he needs, to deal with his manager right now.

“Hey, litt–um–Mr. O’Connor?  You up to meeting people, or should I tell them to get lost?”

O’Connor watches her speak, fascinated by the interplay of facial muscles with mouth.  Her diction is clear, but her face looks so odd while she’s doing it that he has trouble understanding her.  Then he cradles his head.  “Might as well get it over with.”

“Okay.”  She hesitates.  “Uh, if you could get the door, I’ll throw some clothes on and be right back.”

Stumbling to the door, he sees an old-fashioned door knob that House has kindly illuminated.  I remember those, he thinks.  With some reluctance he turns it and pulls the door open.

“Gene,” Renata says with a smile, her blonde hair flipped just so, her expression a model of concern, her conservative charcoal gray suit looking even more sprayed on than usual.  She flows through the door and lays cool, dry palms against his cheeks, which leaves her shiny, pointy, blood-red fingernails uncomfortably close to his eyes.  “Gene, how are you?  You took quite a hit.  If I’m not mistaken, Angel left something for your head in the kitchen–”

“Who’s that?” O’Connor interrupts her, looking beyond.  The man is tall and slender, but tall is always in and slender doesn’t necessarily require a mod, so that tells O’Connor nothing.  What’s more informative–or frightening–is that he’s studying O’Connor with an odd mix of appraisal and barely-repressed excitement, like a black lab that sells insurance.

“This,” says Renata, ushering him forward, “is Ethan Barlow, from Voyeuristics.”  She smiles, the one that says, “My shit tastes like sugar and honey, you are going to like it.”  Suddenly O’Connor’s head hurts a lot more.

“Well,” he says with feigned cordiality, “Renata and Ethan Barlow from Voyeuristics.  Please come in and have a seat.  The lady of the house–”

“Would like to know what you want.”  Angel has reappeared from the back of the apartment.  She’s wearing something shapeless that de-emphasizes the muscles and the tits, but unfortunately accentuates her features.  She deposits two ratty canvas camp chairs on the floor and then drops onto the couch.  Angel is apparently unaccustomed to guests.

Renata and Barlow exchange a glance and gingerly seat themselves.  The chairs are old enough to have been built for a shorter populace; Barlow’s knees nearly bump his chin.

O’Connor decides to stand.

“Well,” says Renata, tapping a perfect dagger of a nail once against her knee.  She turns to Gene.  “You’ve probably noticed by now that you’re not dead.  But don’t think of it as a botched suicide.  Think of it as an opportunity.”  She pauses and leans forward, her hair falling fetchingly over one eye.  Once upon a time O’Connor had thought to offer his services for brushing it back–among other things–but Renata has her own mods, and it all gets sublimated to the Big O of the Deal.

“An opportunity to do what?”

Her smile locks in place and his gut tightens.  “I got us a WIP.”

“A what?”

Barlow unleashes his inner labrador.  “A WIP, Gene–you don’t mind if I call you Gene, do you?  A World in Progress, hosted by the top producers in the business–Voyeuristics.  We see a lot of potential in you two.  You working out your suicidal angst with your sweet Angel’s tender care.  And assistance from an audience of helpful Voyeurs, of course.  We’ve got the initial installment ready to upload.  All you need to do is eyeball the Yes box and we’ll bring in the rest of the scram cams– ”

Maybe it’s time to sit.  O’Connor wobbles to the couch and sinks down beside Angel.  “Back up.  A World in Progress?”

“They want to turn our lives into virtual reality-based programming,” explains Angel, less than thrilled.

O’Connor turns to her, realizes he can handle the eyes without too much trouble, nods.  He turns back to Barlow.  “How can you have the first installment?  All you’ve got is a little bit of scram cam footage.”

“No, we’ve got some great security footage from Mod World,” says Barlow.  “And believe me, our editors are top-notch–”

“Security footage?  That’s illegal.”

Metaphorically speaking, Barlow retreats to the corner and slaps Renata’s palm.  “Don’t be ridiculous.  It’s perfectly legal.  We all have a right to personal surveillance that isn’t being used in a criminal or a terrorist case.”

“Yes, we.  Me.  Angel and I.”

“No, Gene.  You, or your properly authorized representative.  Me.  Angel, or the establishment by which she is employed.  Mod World.  We’ve got some kick-ass footage.”

“No.”

“You don’t have a choice, Gene.”  Renata keeps smiling, but her voice is cold.

“The hell I don’t.”

“You didn’t make it to hell, Gene.  You’re still in my world.”

Barlow and Angel both look like somewhere else would be a damned fine place to be.

“Mod World,” says Renata.  “Eleven million dollars damage.  Fifteen patrons and workers of same hospitalized, their bills racking up.  Twenty-two separate lawsuits filed, asking over three hundred million in punitive–”

“Do I give a shit?  You’re my executor.  I’ll just finish what I started and you pay them off.”  If he can’t, Renata can book another fight.  His current notoriety should pull in enough viewers to make it worthwhile.

“Not with claims against the estate.  Your permit is hereby suspended.”

“Permit?” says Angel.  “Wait–”

“It’s not just you the club is after,” Renata continues.  There’s Angel.  She hauled your ass out of there.  That’s aiding and abetting, good for some jail time.”  Her voice has gone shrill and she stops, sucks in a breath.  “Really, Gene, you’re both in a very untenable position right now.  It would be best for you and Angel to sign.”

O’Connor wouldn’t have minded dragging Muscle Boy into the soup, but–he’s surprised to discover–not Angel.  Damn.  First time Renata’s ever nailed him on a moral issue.  “If I sign–”  He jerks a thumb at Angel.  “–she’s okay?”

Renata nods.  “Everything goes away.  Just so long as you hold up your end of the deal.”

He nods, eyeballs the contract, hears the ping as his ID is confirmed, leans back, blinking.

Angel grabs his arm and pulls him around.  She’s very strong, her fingertips digging into his biceps.  She studies him, and he forces himself to meet her eyes.  “You had a permit?”

O’Connor nods.

“What happens to you if I don’t sign?”

O’Connor shrugs.

“You bastard.  Give me that.”  She eyeballs the contract, then holds it out for Renata to take, only she doesn’t let go.  “This WIP of yours will not drag on forever.”

“Don’t worry.  Tastes are fickle.” Renata’s wry smile broadens dramatically when Angel lets go.

Barlow claps his hands.  “Excellent.  We need to get you two prepped for the first Shared Scene™–”

“What language is he speaking?”

Renata laughs.  She’s relaxed now, playful.  “There’s a reason this is called ‘virtual’ reality programming.  The Shared Scenes™ are scenarios you and Angel act out while Voyeuristics techs do some mo- and emo-capture.  That way your devoted Voyeurs can share in the experience.”

“Are we going to be doing that all the time?”

Barlow shakes his head.  “Too expensive.  We also offer Real Life™–”

“Basic footage of you and Angel.  Appropriately edited of course,” says Renata.

Angel’s been quiet since she signed, but now she clears her throat.  “There’s already a scenario?”

Renata grins.  “You two are going to bond over a common interest.  Gene is going to teach you to box.”

Almost–almost–O’Connor reaches for the contract, or, failing that, Renata’s throat.  But really, what else does he have to offer?  What else does he have?  “Fuck bonding,” he mutters.  “They just want to see a fight.”

“Well, sparring is uniquely suited to Shared Scenes™,” says Barlow.  “A lot of sensory input.  It’s as good as food.  Or sex,” he adds thoughtfully.

There’s an agonized silence.

“Then we’ll give them a fight,” says Angel.  All three turn to look at her.  She’s blushing a furious red, but her smile is fierce.

Bouncer Babe vs. Boxing Bomber

“Why’d you sign?  You know you don’t want to be here.”

O’Connor, and every voyeur on the O’Connor channel, steps back and sighs.  We are stripped to the waist and covered with sweat, our hands encased in thick focus pads.  His lips move, and through the magic of Shared Scenes™ we each say, “Fuck this shit,” we feel the blocky pads immobilizing our hands, we’re maddened by the itch of sweat. We look at Angel, who is also stripped down, but not to the waist.  That wild flame-red mane hangs limp in a sweat-soaked pony-tail, sweat highlights the exquisite balance of her musculature, sweat drips into her blazing green eyes, sweat puddles and pools in the misshapen lumps of her pudding-bowl face.  “No, I don’t want to be here.”

Angel flushes, and we Angels feel our cheeks burn.  “Don’t tell me you’re doing it for me.”

O’Connor shrugs.  “Do you want to lose everything?”

“Don’t you?”

Our O’Connor eyes narrow.  “Again. Keep your guard up this time.  Cover your face.”

A choir of Angels stand flat-footed on the gym floor (workout space courtesy of Technical Knock Out, Silicon Valley’s premier boxing gym), hands, encased in bulky bag gloves, dead at our sides. We began this session in a buoyant mood, but O’Connor’s incessant pounding, his small cruelties, his anger have taken their toll.  “I know how to fight.  It’s my job.”

“You don’t know how to box,” O’Connor snaps.  He whips up the focus pads and smacks them together.  The slap rings through the gym.  Angel’s head jerks as though he hit her with a cattle prod, while we members of her hovering flock need no subsonics or needle stims to feel the shock.  “Hands up.  Hands up!  Chin down, shoulders down, elbows in.  You must erect an impenetrable defense for your most important weapon–your mind.”  He smacks the pads together again and pulls the left one away.  The right stays up in front of his face.  Angel jabs at it half-heartedly.

“Faster,” O’Connor says.  Smack–left pad up.  Angel jabs.  Smack–right pad angled down.  Angel pivots into an uppercut.  “Waist, waist,” says O’Connor.  “Power comes from the waist.”  Smack–left pad angled down.  Angel shifts weight and punches again.  “On your toes.  Pivot on your toes.  Relax your shoulders.  Drop your elbows.  Keep moving.  Keep moving.”

Smack–punch, smack–punch, and O’Connor circles around, making Angel follow.  Her breath comes hoarse and harsh, her guard slowly drops, the punches come slower, but he doesn’t let up.  We Angels feel a hint of breathlessness, a tiny thread of fire in our arms, our chests, but this is a WIP™ and the Shared Scene™ has been edited for all fitness levels.  There’s just enough pain for us to convince ourselves we share it, while leaving us smug–we’d be stronger, we’d be faster, we’d last longer.  Poor Angel.  We can sympathize.  How dare O’Connor treat her like this?  Maybe Muscle Boy deserves another shot….

Until we switch to O’Connor.  He’s modless, remember?  He doesn’t have Angel’s effortless muscles, Angel’s bottomless lungs.  He’s hurting, too, but he’s not letting on.  There might be something to this Pro Athlete stuff after all.  We can afford O’Connor grudging respect.

Then he reaches out over Angel’s dropped guard and slaps her with the focus pad.  The pain of the slap is a sweet shock and our heads rock with it.  “Guard up,” he barks.  She stumbles back two steps, shakes her head, and comes at him again.  Only now her punches aren’t aimed at the focus pads.  They’re snapping out towards O’Connor’s face and we Angels are digging it, thinking, closer, closer.  He drops his hands and O’Connors the world over laugh at her, bobbing, weaving, face never quite at the point of her fist.

“You say you can fight,” he jeers at her.  “Jesus, how can you fight when you’re so damned slow?”  A wild swing leaves her open and he slaps her with the pad again.  “Keep your guard up.  Gotta protect that pretty face–your mama must have loved you soooo much to give you such a pretty face–”

Angel covers the ground between them with a wicked-fast back step and launches a side thrust kick straight at O’Connor’s mid-section that the editors don’t even try to leave in and we O’Connors are left to watch as he staggers back, struggles to suck in air.  Slowly he straightens, his eyes–our eyes–fixed on Angel’s red face, and there’s no need to feed us his rage.

Even as he’s stripping off the pads O’Connor’s eyes are on Angel’s face.  He doesn’t see or doesn’t want to see her look of horror, he can’t feel the cold that’s seized her and her choir; he throws the pads to the floor and stalks towards her, hands coming up, weight going forward, and then he’s shuffling, he’s dancing, he’s raining a flurry of bare-fisted punches that Angel doesn’t return until finally she drops to her knees with her arms over her head and huddles there, and only her Angels know she’s crying.

O’Connor backs off.  The blank face of O’Connor the boxer turns slack and his eyes grow wide and wild. He turns away, hands on his hips, blowing out quick breaths, not looking.

Angel’s ragged gasps fade into sniffles and hiccups, then coughs and silence.  Then a cleared throat.  “I guess we gave them their fight,” she whispers.  At her words, all the Angels, all the O’Connors–we’re suddenly ourselves, and some of us are peeved.  What poor form.

Finally, O’Connor looks around.  Angel is climbing slowly, stiffly to her feet.  “Why did you?” he asks hoarsely.

“What?  Sign the contract?”

“Why did you have to fucking interfere?”

Angel’s fists, trapped in blocky gloves, flap helplessly before her.  “I didn’t want you to–you were so graceful, standing there.  Up on the bar.  You were so beautiful–”  She stops.  We’re back with them as Angel lifts her chin and looks O’Connor square in the face. “Yes, my mama did love me,” she says, and countless Angel hearts break, countless O’Connors look away in shame.

O’Connor goes to her, pulls her gloves down, forces her chin up, studies her face.  Stops when he reaches her eyes, tries to look away, can’t.  “I’m sure she did,” he says, and means it.

It’s time to Have Your Say!  Is Gene just a big meanie?  Does he deserve a rematch with Muscle Boy?  Or should Angel get the chance to go a few rounds with Gene’s demons?

Vote now for a chance to win the latest in VR ModWare.  Tired of clunky earbuds and itchy PodPatches?  Get a PodPlant and vocalize!  Don’t just listen to the music!  Be the music….

#

Just what does Angel see in a modless mini-male?  And why does Clean Gene want to leave the scene? Watch close for clues!

Where do you want to go?

Does She or Doesn’t She?

A Voyeuristics security detail whisks O’Connor and Angel from the gym and into a waiting limo.  The muscle’s been chosen for height as well as breadth and completely encloses the pair in a ring of armor; the limo’s shielded.  The curious who want to see our sullen stars must ante up.  Those of us with chips in the pot wait in breathless anticipation.

Angel throws herself into the back seat and plasters herself against the door, as far from O’Connor as she can manage.  She stares at the shiny black window and comes face to face with her own reflection.  She closes her eyes.

O’Connor, ill at ease, steals glances at Angel.  “Stop looking at me,” says Angel.

O’Connor pauses to consider his words, and bets flash through the fiber.  What was your mother thinking? is odds-on favorite; few credit O’Connor with the tact not to say it.  You have a wonderful personality is a far distant second.

“I’ll bet a lot of that could be fixed.”

Silent appreciation from voyeurs everywhere; silence from Angel.  She doesn’t move, but her reflection shows her eyes snap open.  “At least I can be fixed,” she says.  “I don’t think the mods exist that could fix you.”

“There’s nothing left to fix,” he mutters.

“Give me a break.”  Angel snorts in derision.  “Explain to me why you can’t have mods.”

“Aside from some fifty-year-old laws still on the books and a sadistic old man who wanted me to be a rerun of his own life, there’s nothing to explain.”

“Then get some tinkering done after you retire,” she says, but it’s not the same, and they both know it.

As if on cue, the limo pulls over and coasts to a stop.  The doors slide open, letting in harsh sunlight.  The two climb out of the limo and into their cage of muscle with its roof of cameras, ducking their heads and hunching their shoulders against the sun’s onslaught.  The city truly comes alive at night; no matter what the season, only at night is the air cool enough for the mostly muscle-bound club-crawling throngs to radiate away the heat they generate themselves.

But someone else is out.  Someone waits for them at the security entrance to Angel’s shabby, genteel apartment complex.  Two scram-cams shoot forward to claim better angles.  The muscle at the front peels off to the side, while the rest urge O’Connor and Angel up the steps.  And there he stands, no armor but a lot of attitude.

Muscle Boy.

O’Connor and Angel stop and squint upward.  Muscle Boy glares down at them, his two-and-a-half meters made taller by his vantage point at the top of the stairs.  His arms are crossed, showing off biceps and triceps, and his skin-tight short-shorts display his quads to best advantage.  His sheer, sleeveless tank reveals the mood tats roiling across his stomach and chest.  He also sports two black eyes–the mark of a broken nose.  O’Connor smiles.

“Give him to me, Angel,” growls Muscle Boy.

O’Connor starts past Angel, fist clenched.  “Sure, give me to him,” he says.

Angel nearly clotheslines the boxer with a casually-outthrust arm.  “What are you talking about–you’re Mark, aren’t you?  You’re a regular.”

Muscle Boy’s tats shift to a delicate, blushing pink and he squirms.  “Not any more.  Got it legally changed to Muscle Boy.”

“Working a few deals on the side?”  Angel smiles.  “Be happy with those, Mark.”

“No.  The Voyeuristics geek said I had to ask you, but I’m telling you.  Give him to me.”

“No.”

Muscle Boy drops his arms to his sides, fists like rocks at the end of thick chain, but the Voyeuristics goons are right there.  Scram-cams whirl and hum.  “He registered intent.  I’ll just help him along.”

“I don’t care.”

“You don’t care what he did?  You saw it!”

Angel’s outstretched arm folds into an elbow in O’Connor’s chest and he staggers back two steps while Angel climbs.  “Yes, Mark, I saw what he did.  He used you.  Just like Voyeuristics is using you now.  Go home.  I like you too much to say yes.”

“You’re officially on my shit list with this, Angel.”

Angel shrugs.  The Voyeuristics goons crowd Muscle Boy back as Angel and O’Connor ascend the stairs and Angel peers into the lock.  The door snicks open.  Angel turns that wide green eye on O’Connor.  “Besides, I just got my hands on you myself.”

#

O’Connor moves into Angel’s apartment.  He protests; it’s too small.  Angel should move into his house.

No self-respecting voyeur would allow that.  O’Connor’s house is so big that Angel and O’Connor might never see each other.  “That’s the point,” mutters O’Connor.  Oh, say the voyeurs with their vote, but it’s not.

#

Angel likes to read.  Books.  O’Connor doesn’t even know where she gets them.

#

O’Connor surprises everyone, including himself, with a talent for cooking.  Angel tells him that when the WIP is over maybe he can take lessons.  O’Connor refuses to speak for the rest of the day.

#

Angel lets slip that she remembers her grandfather watching O’Connor’s father box.  O’Connor refuses to speak for the rest of the day.

#

O’Connor jokingly asks Angel if she has a sister.  Angel refuses to speak for the rest of the day.

#

“A call from Ms. Steinhardt,” House announces, as Renata’s face pops up on the big wall screen.  O’Connor’s manager has a new gig: she is Voyeuristic’s main mama, the go-to gal for keeping O’Connor and his lady-friend in line.  She gives them the news, the views, and their next assignments.  O’Connor looks forward to her calls; official WIP business stays off the grid.  For the short time Renata’s on-screen, the cameras vanish.

Renata seems to like the job too much.  ”How are my favorite kids?” she coos.

“Just waiting to get our chains yanked,” says O’Connor.

“Hah.  Well, first of all, you both need to stop looking at the scram-cams, and don’t refer to your voyeurs in the third person.  Throws them out of the scene.  That said, the numbers for the boxing match were great and the forum buzz was even better.  Gene, I’d advise you to keep acting like an asshole.”

O’Connor snorts.

“Has the next scenario been chosen?” asks Angel.  She sounds nervous and O’Connor can’t really blame her.

“As a matter of fact, yes.  You’re being rewarded for putting up with the asshole, Angel.  Gene is going to take you dancing at Mod World.  You’ll get to see all your friends.”

Whatever Angel expected to hear, that wasn’t it.  She flushes and starts to babble.  “I–I don’t really dance–I’m just a bouncer, and they’re not really my friends–”

“Oh, it’ll be fun,” says Renata, waving off her protests.  “At least, it’d better be.  Thirty-four million voyeurs are expecting it to be fun.”

The flush drains from Angel’s face.

“But no body armor.  Everyone wants a good look at their Beauty and their Beast.”  She looks at their blank faces, and her lips peel back from her teeth.  O’Connor half-expects to see blood, and not hers.  “Oh, that’s right.  You don’t have net access.  Beauty and the Beast is the name of the WIP.  But don’t worry, Gene.”  Renata’s smile fills the screen.  “You’re not the Beast.”  The screen goes blank.

Red lights blossom on the scram-cams in time to catch Angel sagging to the couch, O’Connor with her.  He waits for her, for whatever she gives him–anger, hurt, denial.  He just waits.  In a way, it feels good.

Finally she looks up from under her brows at the scram-cams and says, in a voice so quiet he has to strain to hear, “Do you think they understand we’re real people?”

O’Connor’s arm goes around her and she rests her head on his shoulder.  “I don’t know,” he says.  “Are we?”

Voyeur Poll: What Makes an Angel Do the Things She Does?

Party Time!

The doorman opens the passenger door of the limo and offers a hand to bouncer and boxer alike.  We are ushered past a gauntlet of the mod-aly correct.  Some of us see friends, and not a few mods in the crowd get that fuzzy-eyed look that signals a message coming in.  The rest wave and babble, hailing Angel, eyeing O’Connor.  She ducks her head shyly (look up, look up!), but O’Connor eyes them right back.  He’s used to this.  It’s like making the long walk from the locker room to the ring.  He might not be strutting, but we are. This has to be the biggest Shared Scene™ ever captured.  Usually the producers want to keep a tight lid on the number of variables, but this night has possible permutations out the wazoo.

O’Connor grips the door handle and most of us flash back to the scram-cam footage of that first night.  Déjà vu all over again.  We usher Angel through the door, so polite, and she pauses on the threshold, peering in.  The Angels in our midst peer with her, hearts pounding, mouths dry.

Voyeuristics editors are toning down her emo-feed, but we can tell she’s miserable and we don’t know why.  She looks as good as we can make her; after beating back a last minute bid by some of the more psych-trippy among us to dress her in current baby mod fashions, we picked a pretty darned slash bit of fetish wear if we do say so ourselves: a black latex bodysuit that makes her muscles sleek instead of chunky, enough sharp, silvery, pointy objects to draw attention from her face, and barbed wire in her hair.  We see her people waiting for her, waving to her, ready to pull her into the noise, the heat, the bouncing bods.  She should be thrilled, but–she’s not.  A solid percentage of Angels get fed up with the freak-out and transfer to O’Connor.

Who is not thrilling, but neither is he freaking.  We slip into the club next to Angel and take her elbow.  Angels say “Oww.”  O’Connors don’t notice, just scan the club.

Which has been cleaned up, but major fixes are still on the way.  Most of the holo projectors got taken out and several of the antique mirrored balls are missing a few squares of glass.  Black angular shapes mar the sparkling orbs spinning overhead, like the anti-Tetris descending.  But management has improvised.  A cocktail waitress rushes up with two fiber-web tunics, and Angels and boxers note that many of the patrons are wearing them, spinning in the laser mini-spots scattered around the room, torsos sparkling like jewel dust.  A sudden intake of breath from Angel and her mood lightens.

“Thank you, Casey,” Angel yells at the cocktail waitress as she takes the offered drink.  O’Connor ignores them both and all the Angels shrug.  Guys are universal.

O’Connor is still scanning, still emo-free, and we O’Connors are starting to understand.  He’s looking for Muscle Boy.  And if Muscle Boy isn’t here, the next Muscle Boy in line will do.  Now that we know what to look for, we see muscle mods of all sexes and stripes eyeing us right back.  They wouldn’t mind a piece of what the original M.B. got, and they know how to get their own.  Anticipation grips us.  Fiber flashes; bets are placed. We start to enjoy the ride.

Casey the cocktail waitress is helping Angel with the sparkly tunic, but it keeps getting caught in the barbed wire and spikes.  They finally get it tugged down, and Casey ducks in to kiss Angel on the cheek.  Her lips are soft, and she smells like booze and hot bodies and excitement.  “We’ve missed you,” she says in Angel’s ear, and squeezes her hand.  We Angels feel it, feel how much Angel wants to keep hold.  Then Casey scoots for the bar.  Marty the bartender waves.

Angel rubs her cheek.  Angel is astonished.  We don’t even see O’Connor leave our side.  And when waving hands and laughter beckon from the dance floor, no one is there to hold us back.

O’Connors head for the bar.  He orders club soda (disappointing millions) and Marty eyes us as he slides the drink over the scratched surface.  O’Connor shrugs and shows his hands, palms up, as though to say, “What?  Li’l ole me?”  Then he turns and we resume scan mode.  The biggest bet burning the fiber: is O’Connor looking to stay out of trouble, or looking to start it?

The Angels are having a wonderful time.  We’re strutting our stuff, bubbly and breathless, and who would have thought the ugly girl could dance?

A tall woman, all wiry grace, joins us at the bar.  She’s an eclectic mix of mods; body and beauty, faddish and fetish.  She’s dressed in tats and a loincloth and heavy boots that end at the knee; across her face floats a butterfly tat all done in biolume ink.  The antennae are feathery implants replacing her eyebrows.

We check her out, but then O’Connor goes back to scanning the crowd.  Most of us want him to scan her some more.  She’s a hottie.  “You know those are more like moth antennae,” he says.

“Artistic license.”

He glances sideways and we see her smile.

“Looking for Muscle Boy?  He’s not here tonight.  Asking price was too high.”  Instead of yelling, she leans down to speak into his ear.  We can feel her breath tickle.

“Are you all extras?” he asks.

“Depends on what you mean by ‘extra.’”  She turns to the bartender.  “Marty, double Blood on the Wire, no ice.”  She turns back to scan the crowd with us.  “Not in our own lives.  Are you an extra?”

O’Connor laughs at that, full and hearty.  “Finally, somebody understands me.”

“Anyway, for what it’s worth, we extras have our orders.  You will not be molested tonight.”

O’Connor finally turns to look her full in the face.  Our eyes meet.  Hers are a vivid orange-gold, to match her hair.  Is that a hitch in O’Connor’s breathing?  “Unless I want to be molested, is that it?”

Just let him stay dead to the Butterfly Woman’s slow smile.

O’Connor nods.  Wait.  Is that anger he’s starting to bleed out into his emo-feed?  “So you can’t kill me, but you can fuck me.  Think that’ll get you as good a deal as Muscle Boy’s?”

Nooooooooo…….

Butterfly Woman’s smile remains.  “Maybe.  If I give a good performance.”  She leans closer.  “So, what do you say?  Shall we leave your little troll here to dance the night away?  We can just do it in the limo.  It’s gotta be wired, right?”

Yesyesyesyesyesyes–

A scream cuts towards us from the dance floor.

We Angels have been dancing, dancing, finally trying out all those moves she’s only watched for so long, and if we’re in a crowd instead of with that special someone, well, that’s okay.  We’re pretty good.  We’re surprised, but Angel’s not.  She probably practices at home.  Alone.  In the dark.  With a teddy bear.

But now all these friends we didn’t know she had are swinging us, twirling us, laughing, pushing drinks into our hand that we just spill onto the floor.  We’re dizzy and giddy and the music is thumping deep in our chest, and when we look up at the DJ, Sneeky Pete tonight, he waves.  Casey says they missed us.  Angel dances, Angel sparkles, Angel shines.

Hands spin Angel one more time and then stop us, hold us steady to face someone across the suddenly clear floor.  We look about, confused, uncertain, but the hands won’t let go until we look across the dance floor again.  The someone is a woman–tall, blonde, impossibly beautiful.  She waves.

Fear pours into us, and Angel screams.  Hands push her forward and she–we–fight and flail, struggling to bulldoze our way through the wall of hard bodies behind us.  The fear is so sudden, so complete, that some of us really flail.  There will be bruises when we come out of this, from chairs and tables and walls.  There will be bruises and civil suits that Voyeuristics has probably already budgeted for.

“Angel!  What’s wrong?  Let her go–let her go.”  O’Connor has somehow fought his way through the crowd.  Angel clings to his voice, and the blessed relief that pours into us is a heady brew.  She reaches for him but stops, huddled into herself in the widening space on the dance floor.  The fear has been washed away to leave shame.  Not many Angels stay with her now.

But O’Connor joins Angel in the center of quiet circle and we study the crowd, cold fury barely suppressed.  “What did you do to her?  Answer me.”

“Shit, it’s just Katrina in some temp mods,” says an Anger Junkie in the back.  “Tell her to stop over-reacting.  Ruins it for everybody.  Pisses me off.”

“My mommy makes me fweak,” lisps a Baby Doll to general laughter.  “Now I need changing!”

O’Connor studies Angel in surprise.  “Angel?”

“Home,” says Angel.  She’s shivering.  Too soon, too soon! “I want to go home.”

O’Connor hesitates.  His eyes find the woman with the butterfly face, but then he takes Angel’s hand.  As we escort her through the crowd, Butterfly Woman slides up to us and bends down.  “Ask your Voyeuristics bitch,” she breathes in our ear.  O’Connor looks up, startled.  We nod grudgingly.  “Look me up when you’re out,” says the woman, and slides back into the crowd.

It’s time to Have Your Say!  Both our kids have family issues aplenty, don’t they?  Clean Gene forced into the Old Man’s mold, and Angel–well, Angel’s mold broke itself, shall we say.  Maybe being more like Mama would do her good.  What do you think?

Vote now and win an image capture session with Alternate Dimensions, Imagers to the stars!  Screw inner beauty!  Let them appreciate your outer beauty with a full portfolio of professional images…

#

We’ve seen a few tantalizing teasers about the whys and the wherefores of our kids.  But does past mean future?  Let’s find out!

Where do you want to go?

Will She or Won’t She?

“No.” O’Connor shakes his head.  His fists are clenched and he consciously relaxes them.  “I will not help you do this to her.”

“Oh, come on,” says Renata.  “I let your little girlfriend leave Mod World early, didn’t I?”  She’s had something done to her eyes and they look all pupil, with highlights like shiny glass windows over bottomless pits.  “That stunt cost us a lot of money.”

“You let us leave.  That’s rich.  And she’s not my little girlfriend.”  Thank god Angel has taken to vanishing into her room whenever Renata calls.

“Oh, right.  You’ve got Madame Butterfly waiting for you.  But first, I figure you owe me.”

“You owe her.”

Renata sighs.  “We need drama, Gene.  We need emotion.  Nicey-nice not good for numbers.”

“But torturing a kid is?”

“Christ.”  Renata closes those strange eyes.  “The whole ‘wounded bird’ gig is fine so far as it goes, but her voyeurs want Angel to be happy.  They want her to move on.  And, to be honest, they’re tired of looking at that face.  It’s time for her to get it fixed.”

A sharp cry rings out from the back of the apartment.  “No.  Take it off the list.  Take it off the list now.”  Her voice is getting louder.

“Convince her, Gene,” says Renata.  “The vote’s tonight and we don’t want any trouble.”  The screen goes dark just as Angel storms into the room.

“How the fuck did you know–”  He stops.  Poor, pathetic, modless male.  Just because he needs the screen doesn’t mean Angel does.  “Do you always eavesdrop?”

Angel glares at him.  Yes, she always eavesdrops, and Renata knows she does.  “She’s not my little girlfriend–”

His face burns.

She stops in front of him, shaking with anger.  She looks exhausted, her eyes shadowed, their hectic glitter caused by unshed tears.  “I will not get my face ‘fixed.’”

He takes a deep breath.  Maybe it’s time for a little bit of truth, after all.  “Angel, that’s stupid.”

He’s learned to read her face well enough to watch it dissolve from anger into anguish.  “Don’t you think I know what I look like?”

“Then change it.  For god’s sake, get something out of this farce.”

All her fire and fury doused, Angel wavers like smoke.  She looks around, at the empty room, the bare walls, and manages an ugly laugh.  “I love this.  Life lessons from a guy who wants to kill himself.”

“Don’t tell me you can’t use ‘em.  How long have you been living like you’re already dead?”

Angel sucks in a shallow breath.

“You don’t have to keep it,” says O’Connor.

“What?”

“After this is over, you could have your old face put back on.  I would pay for that, you know.  If that’s what you really want.”

Angel looks away.  She’s obviously never considered the possibility before.  The words frighten.  The words fascinate.  “I–I’ll have to think about it.”

He nods.

“They may not even vote for it, anyway.”

He nods again.

She stands motionless, still tense but no longer shaking with anger.  “Gene?”

“What?”

“Would I have to be beautiful?”

He doesn’t know whether to laugh or cry.  “Well–no.  You could just look a little more–normal.”

Angel nods.  “Okay,” she says, as if tasting the word, savoring O’Connor’s expression as he hears it.  “Okay.”

Voyeur Poll Results: So What’s Gene’s Problem, Anyway?

  • Some chick blew him off  – 6%
  • Succumbed to existential despair  – 3%
  • Thought he could win - 2%
  • This is all a publicity stunt  – 13%
  • What else is there for a modless has-been? - 76%

Skin Deep

It’s been a rough few weeks with no Real Life™, no Shared Scenes™, but we’re all here now with Angel and O’Connor, waiting to see the new face.  The process has been grueling; laser sculpting and bone grafts, sheets of vat-grown muscle and subcutaneous actuators, cartilage and collagen and gene-therapied skin.

We Angels sit rigid in a straight-backed chair, concentrating on the feel of bandages swathing our faces, the feel of O’Connor’s hand in ours.  We don’t want to concentrate on the pounding of our heart, our strangled breathing.  More than one Angel gets booted from the Shared Scene™, in danger of hyperventilating.

O’Connor is no fun, either.  He hasn’t been sleeping, he hasn’t been eating, we feel heavy and slow, yet at the same time hollow.  One arm is wrapped across our stomach because we could swear some rat is gnawing its way through our guts.

Right now we wish we could be Dr. Roberto Perez of the Bod Bodega.  Perez has performed all the major procedures himself and personally supervised Angel’s care.  He knows that Angel represents some of the best work he’s ever done and we’re all going to see it, we’re all going to be it.  We can see his pride in his cocky strut and in the way he unwraps Angel with care and precision, but with many a theatrical flourish.  We wouldn’t mind getting ourselves some of that.

What we don’t want is Angel or O’Connor right now.  Angel is about to pass out and O’Connor is about to throw up and this is not that kind of WIP, thank you very much.  All of us–every single last one of us–pull out and simply tap the scram cam feed.

As Perez snips away the last growth-hormone and anti-inflammatory-infused wrapping, we just about bust a gut.

Angel.  Is.  Gorgeous.

Not flashy, trashy, syntho-gorgeous, not artsy-fartsy, not Tribal or Retro or Analog–in fact, not like any style at all.  Just the Angel that we could all imagine was meant to be, with high cheekbones, a graceful chin, and pale skin as smooth and soft as a baby’s cheek.  In fact, if she wasn’t so perfect she would look unmod.  But somehow we know that if she looked too mod she would not look Angel.

The nurses and the orderlies and the physical therapist and the aesthetician and the esthetician and the cosmetologist and the hairdresser and the clothing designer (who of course has to see her face before he can even begin to design for her) all spontaneously applaud, and we do too, in our homes and our cars, our corners and cubes, wherever we’ve plugged in.  Perez does the honors, slowly lifting a mirror up to Angel, and we wait–we wait.  We wait for the tremulous smile, the look of gratitude cast toward her darling doctor, the meaningful gaze shared with O’Connor.  We wait for the joy, the wonder.  We wait.

For nothing.  Angel pushes the mirror away and sits silent.  Finally she looks up at O’Connor, who is staring at her with an expression that might be horror.  Or might be shame.

“You bastard,” she says.  And that’s all.

It’s time to Have Your Say!  Mysteries wrapped in enigmas–that’s our curious couple.  We try to help them, yes, we do.  Still, they’re never happy, never satisfied.  Should we try again?

Vote now for your chance to win your own new face, courtesy of The Bod Bodega, voted Best Resurfacing Shop in Silicon Valley for six years in a row….

#

With a beautiful Angel and an angry Muscle Boy both on the menu, no telling what exciting developments we’ve got for you. Remember: it all depends on what you voted for!

Where do you want to go?

Should She or Shouldn’t She?

Angel spends all her time locked in her room.

#

Renata chooses her words carefully.  “Actually, the numbers are fine,” she says.  “Better than ever, in some ways.”

“Then what are you complaining about?”

“It’s the pattern that worries us.  Our analysis shows that the voyeurs can’t comprehend Angel’s response.  She’s gorgeous.  For free!  And she hates it.  New ones plug in to see her bizarre behavior for themselves and die-hards plug in to see if she’s still acting like an idiot.  But they don’t stay, and repeat visits are farther and farther apart.”

“Give her a break.  That face wasn’t her choice.”  O’Connor can picture quite clearly the face Angel designed with Perez.  Not ugly, no.  Nice, in fact.  Rather pretty.  Not jaw-droppingly, heart-stoppingly gorgeous.  No, the voyeurs chose that one.

But on some level O’Connor has to agree.  Angel’s still built like a refrigerator with tits, but not only is her new face beautiful, it’s beautiful in a way that suits her–so well that O’Connor can no longer picture the old one.

Which doesn’t change the essential fact.  O’Connor sighs.  “Why can’t you just have Perez give her what she wants?”

Even with those eyes, Renata’s “are you nuts?” look is unmistakable.  “Not gonna happen.  Perez donated the face to the City of San Jose as a piece of public art. Any body shop that touches it would be nailed for defacing public property.”

“Renata, it’s her face.”

“Not according to Perez.  He owns his designs but signs away individual faces, and he says he never did that for Angel.”

A fuck-up with the contracts is Renata’s bailiwick.  He studies her and she stares back with those black marble eyes.  “Why should I help you?  When the numbers tank I’m outta here.”

Renata leans forward, blank black eyes fixed on O’Connor.  “Because this WIP is my baby and if you fuck it up you will regret it,” she says.  “Both you and Angel will regret it.  Trust me on that.”

Now he knows what those eyes remind him of. “You gonna have Perez do your gills?”

Renata smiles.

Voyeur Poll Results: What Makes an Angel Do the Things She Does?

  • Thinks O’Connor’s hot  – 32%
  • Identifies with O’Connor’s position as shunned outsider  – 5%
  • Got that Girl Scout oath to think about  – 7%
  • This is all a publicity stunt - 12%
  • How else is she ever gonna get some? - 44%

Tender Moments

The v-sphere is buzzing tonight at the news of another ground-breaking Shared Scene™.  Angel and O’Connor just think she’s supposed to ‘fess up about why she hates the pretty, but Voyeuristics plans to pump a shitload of Phero-Moans into her apartment and let nature take its course.  That’s what we voted for.

The fibers burn with this one.  Polls, chats, boards, blogs are filled with it.  Eeeeeuuuuwwww, ick! is a big theme, but there are other voices.  Angel and O’Connor are both lonely.  They like each other.  Maybe we’re doing them a favor.

Besides, if it works, it could be fun.

Angel sits on the couch with something clutched in her hand, something small and rectangular that we can feel against her palm but that she picked up before we plugged in.  We don’t know what it is, but we know how it makes her feel to hold it–scared and sad and–resigned, somehow.

O’Connor sits in front of her in one of the ratty camp chairs, holding her other hand.  Angels and O’Connors are friends again–he told her he didn’t know Voyeuristics would swap faces on her and she believed him.  She trusts him.  She has no one else to trust.  With deep, shaky breaths we Angels feel bathe our fluttery hearts, she peels her fingers off the object on her palm, like the petals of a flower unfolding.

It’s a picture.  An old-fashioned photo, tiny, in a sweet little silver frame.  We recognize the woman instantly; every self-respecting voyeur has visited the site.  But O’Connor doesn’t know.  We rush to be him, to discover her again.

“Angel?”  We squeeze her free hand before taking the picture, before drawing in breath, before swallowing hard.  Even from such a tiny photo, certain aspects of Mama’s design work on him.  On us.  Or maybe it’s the Phero-Moans.

“It’s Mama,” Angel whispers.

“She’s beautiful.”

“I know.”  Such sadness sweeps through the choir of Angels.  We wish to pine away, and we don’t even know what the words mean.  “She was made that way.  When the first complete packages of mods were coming online, she got the Barbie package.”

We O’Connors wince.  We know what happened to the Barbies–the harassment, the rapes.  We look at Angel, our Angel, sweet Angel with downcast eyes.  Poor child!  No wonder she didn’t want to let go of her mother’s blessing, her mother’s curse.

Angels wait in silence for O’Connors to speak.  We feel breathless, a little dizzy, and very conscious of our beautiful boxer sitting so close.

“Where is she now?”

Ah, the question we hoped would not come.  Angel straightens, and Angels vow to be brave.  “She–is on permanent display at the Tech Museum.”

“What?”  O’Connor’s shock jolts us out of our subtle sense of excitement.  Damn.  Somebody should have told him before.

Angel cringes, her attraction overruled by fear.  Tears start.  Angels are astonished.  This is only the second time we’ve felt Angel cry.  Angel takes a deep breath and pushes back the tears.  Such a brave Angel!  “She left herself to the plasticizers.  She gave orders that she be displayed.  So she’ll always be a doll.”

Angel finally breaks down and collapses into O’Connor’s arms.  We hold and are held, cry and are comforted.  We wonder if anything more is even necessary.  “I can’t have this face,” Angel sobs.  “How will I know if I’m human?”

“Sweetheart, you are the most human person I know,” says O’Connor, brushing her hair back from her face.  So soft, O’Connors think.  So gentle, Angels think.  We gaze into each others’ eyes and then our own eyes slowly close….

Until a sudden start and a burst of rage floods from O’Connor.  “What the hell is going on here?” he cries.

In the instant before we are all forcibly unplugged, we Angels feel only a swift and bitter sorrow.

It’s time to Have Your Say!  In her room she sits, anguished, alone.  Like the story of the Greek sculptor who made his own marble Mod Girl come to life, only Angel has awakened to find her sculptor does not love her.

Is it time to shake things up?  What do you think?

Vote now for your chance to win–

#

There’s only one place to go.

Real Life™: Gotta Pay to Play

It’s after midnight when the Voyeuristics goons grab Angel.  They have to pull her from her room, but after her initial anger she goes quietly enough.

O’Connor is not quiet.  Two goons grip his arms–not gently–as three more escort Angel toward the door.  She smiles at him with that sweet, lovely face while he thunders and booms.

“Gene,” she says, “it’s all right.  I didn’t want this face anyway.”

He stops struggling.  He feels too sick to move.  The goons back away from him toward the door.  The last thing he sees is her calm, pale face floating in a cloud of scram-cams.

Count to five and he’s on the door, rattling the knob, shaking it, pounding, pounding, pounding.  One solitary scram cam buzzes behind him and he flails back at it, nearly connects.  “House,” he yells.  “Let me out!”

“I’m sorry, Mr. O’Connor.  I can’t do that.”

“Get Renata.”

The wall screen buzzes to life.  “What is it, Gene?  I’m busy.  We’ve got a Real Life™ to capture.”

“Let me out of here.”

She sighs.  “That’s not the way the vote went.”

“I don’t give a shit about the vote.  That’s a human being you’re sending off to get slaughtered.”

“Now, you don’t know that.”  She grimaces at him.  “Angel is a big girl, she can take care of herself.  In fact, I think that’s why the vote went the way it did.  Our voyeurs want to see a fight, and they don’t think you’d last long enough to give it to them.”
“Angel won’t fight him,” O’Connor mutters.  He sinks down on the couch, wondering how he knows this, but he does.

“What?”

“Please, Renata.  Let me out of here.”

She finally smiles, but it’s very cold.  “You are determined to piss away an opportunity that other people would kill for and you want me to help you.  You don’t know me very well, do you, Gene.”

“About as well as you know me.”  But eyeing Renata’s empty eyes and alien smile, O’Connor knows he’s wrong.  He no longer knows this woman–if he ever did.

The wall screen goes dark.

“Fuck.”  O’Connor bounces up, slams into the door, slams again.  The door doesn’t give, but his shoulder almost does.  He pictures Angel’s fierce kicks in his mind and lashes out.  The door shudders, but holds.

Wait.  Wait.  He’s made his way with his body, such as it is, for all his life.  This time he needs to think.

He prowls the apartment, searching for something he could use to break out.  Angel’s body armor–too big.  Angel’s boots and gauntlets–too small.  Nothing is just right.

O’Connor ends up in the back, in Angel’s bedroom, a territory that, until now, has been strictly off limits.

It’s very–utilitarian, which strikes him as sad.  If he had to guess, he’d say a robot sleeps here.  The only mark of her presence is the tiny photo of her mother on the nightstand.  O’Connor can see the golden yellow of her mother’s hair from the doorway.  And on the bedroom wall screen–

The wall screen in Angel’s bedroom shows the couch where O’Connor sleeps.

The scram cam is buzzing in his ears–O’Connor lunges for it, has its vibrating disk in his hands.  The buzz ratchets to a whine.

He peers into the lens.  “I know some of you assholes are still watching,” he says, his voice low and urgent.  “You may be so fucking plugged in you can convince yourselves you’re me, but you’re not.  You’re on the other side of that door.  And somewhere out there, one of you can use your fibers or wires or whatever the hell you have for guts to let me out.”

While he rants O’Connor navigates through the tiny apartment until he’s facing the door, all the while giving the lens the evil eye.  One hand snakes for the knob, rattles it–still locked.  He flings the scram cam hard enough to overpower its stabilizers and it slams into the far wall.  “Open the door, damn you.  Give-me-back-my-choice.”

The words ring, then drop into silence.

Into that silence, a faint click. “Sir, security breach–”

O’Connor is already out, the scram-cam wobbling after.

Mods own the streets at night.  O’Connor ignores the muggy, gritty heat, ignores the stench of urine and sweat and Phero-Moans and booze, but he can’t ignore them.  He looks straight forward instead of up into their eyes, ignores the gibes, the pats on the head, bounces off blocky arms that suddenly appear in his path, because he can’t be stopped.

Until he is.

A Mod plants himself right in O’Connor’s path.  Shuffle to the left, shuffle to the right, like a zombie pas de deux.  O’Connor has no choice.  He looks up.

Boar tusks and bristles, but not much else.  Not much else besides an evil grin, that is.  Two girls with fiber optic hair flank him.  They’re very pretty.  “You’re that O’Connor guy, aren’t you?” says Boar Tusk.

Not much point in denying it.  “Yeah, that’s me.  How’d you guess?”

If Boar Tusk hears the sarcasm, he doesn’t respond.  “News travels fast.”

“You going to rescue Angel?” asks Fiber Optics Girl on the Right in a breathless voice.

Boar Tusk laughs and O’Connor bristles.  Unbidden, the thought comes–Who needs Muscle Boy when I could piss off tusks like that?

He shakes himself and then meets their eyes, one mod at a time.  “Yeah, I’m going to rescue her.  Now if you’ll please step aside–”

Boar Tusk stops laughing when both girls tug on his arms.

“He’s smaller in person,” says one.

“I think it’s sweet,” says the other.

“Let him go,” they say in unison.

Boar Tusk looks at both girls and shrugs.  He steps aside with a flourish.  “After you.”

O’Connor eyes them for a moment, then nods once and hurries on.  When he realizes that Boar Tusk and the girls are running interference, he breaks into a run.

The front of Mod World is packed.  After all, tonight it’s the place to be, the place to see, the place to be seen.   Scram-cams after local color buzz the crowd, which buzzes back.  O’Connor pulls up, blowing.  He scans the façade.  How in the hell is he going to get in there?

He slowly begins to realize that he’s collected quite an entourage.  Butterfly Woman now stands beside Boar Tusk.  She leans down.  “Hi, again,” she says.

O’Connor pulls back.  “Still got a thing for freaks?”

She eyes him for a moment, as though considering his words.  “No, actually I’ve kinda got a thing for nice guys.”

O’Connor stares at her, speechless.  She laughs and grabs Boar Tusk, and the two mods break a path toward the door.  The Fiber Optics Twins take O’Connor’s elbows and hustle after.

Boar Tusk and Butterfly are arguing with the Mod World doorman as O’Connor arrives.  The brow ridge looks familiar and O’Connor squints at the nametag.  Rigo.  Rigo, who let him in the first night.  O’Connor grins.  Things are moving a bit fast for him, but in the right direction for once, and he feels like he’s riding a wave.  “I thought they’d fire you,” he says.

Rigo grins back and gestures at the crowd.  “It all worked out okay,” he says.  “She’s in there, you know.  So’s he.”

There’s a sudden rustle and outcry, and O’Connor looks over his shoulder.  Voyeuristics muscle is trying to cut through the crowd, but for some reason the crowd is no longer content to watch.  “Are you going to let me in this time?”

“Why should I?”

He looks over his shoulder at the goons, looks past Rigo at the door, pictures Angel in there facing Muscle Boy alone.

“She’s only human,” he says.

Rigo nods and steps aside as the Fiber Optics Twins cheer.  “Don’t know what difference you think you’re going to make.  You’re only human too.”

O’Connor smiles as he pushes past.  “You’ve got that right.”  He pulls open the door.

###

Lori Ann WhiteLori Ann White is a SF Bay Area writer who recently escaped from technical writing as a day job and is now giddily exploring the SLAC National Accelerator Lab as a science writer.  Why, yes, that is a cool place to work, thank you.

Her work has appeared in Asimov’s, Analog, Polyphony, and other excellent periodicals, and is quite pleased to add Futurismic to that list.

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