I never went in for this religion stuff. Certainly not Scientology. Living with Audrey acquainted me intimately enough with the consequences of being raised in that crowd that I never bothered taking a closer look at what it’s all about.
I always figured that if the biggest religion on Earth wasn’t for me, then neither were any of the others. To be fair that’s assuming too much, they’re not identical or anything, it just seems improbable to me that one of them would have real answers if none of the others do.
I don’t pretend to be an expert on this stuff. In fact I’m probably more ignorant of spiritual matters than the average mug. But from where I’m sitting, it sure seems an awful lot like the God of the Bible is just a big scary puppet they use to terrify everybody who believes it’s real into behaving the way they think society ought to be. Then again, at least it’s not Scientology. That’s not saying much, but it counts for something.
My thoughts begin to blend together, and the room starts slowly spinning around me. That’ll be the drugs I assume, the only part of surgery I look forward to. For funsies I try counting backwards. I only make it to triangle.
The next thing I knew, I was struck by a flood of nostalgic sensations. The feeling of cool air against my skin, all the little hairs standing on end. Itches. Back pain. Even sleep crust in the corners of my eyes as the lids parted, permitting the harsh overhead lighting onto my retinas.
Yet as familiar as it all felt, there were also differences. Your first body is like your first car. The seat slowly molds into the shape of your ass, back and shoulders until it fits you so perfectly that it feels weird and wrong to drive somebody else’s.
These aren’t my arms. Despite Alejandro’s protestation, I wave them about, just to test the quality of the connection. This isn’t my chest. Those aren’t my legs, and...Sweet baby L. Ron, that penis! That’s not my fucking penis, I didn’t think about this going in.
It’s one thing to drive around some meatloaf’s body. I don’t have to get attached, it’s just a mobility appliance. But having some other dude’s jizz blaster swinging between my legs is a different animal entirely. Didn’t sit right with me, so I asked Alejandro about my options.
“You don’t want to go crazy with transplants. It’s like plastic surgery, you can’t do much of it before scar tissue build up and shit start to fall off your body, or you forget how to add.” Whatever. It’s not like I can’t get an exocortex plugin for math.
I press the matter, but he reminds me this is the only body fitting my criteria he has on hand, and that I have to let my brain heal for at least six months before I could safely have it transplanted again. I sigh, look in the mirror and pat my new body’s conspicuous beer belly. “Looks like I’m stuck with you for a while. You better not have any STDs I don’t know about.”
It isn’t just the sensations which differ. I can feel a distinct, immediate change in how people look at me. Before they either admired me from afar, or made a point to steer clear. Now all I get are momentary glances, followed by indifference or the occasional sneer.
Fine by me. Hidden in plain sight, every borged up lowlife unwittingly doing me a favor by turning their attention elsewhere as I saunter past. On my way through the lobby, various small fish swimming past the curved windows, I soaked in the obnoxiously ever-present ads.
Most of ’em are for aquatic implants like the ones I jacked the data center with. Chest cavity O2 tanks. Bloodstream CO2 scrubbers. Prosthetic mermaid tails, hands with octopus style suckers on them, and a dizzying variety of underwater weaponry.
One of the ads, a lenticular thin film poster that ran up the side of the cylindrical metal module onto the ceiling, promoted some sort of race. That caught my attention. How I’d like to be racing again! But instead of motorcycles, they appeared to be...torpedoes?
No, not quite. Rocket powered, and with a cockpit. “Supercav Grand Prix.” The sleek, menacing submersible craft then began to animate as the ad detected my eyes looking at it. Bubbles formed around each sub, from tiny gas jets around the nose.
They sped frantically through the sunlit waters of the continental shelf, diving, rolling, ducking under coral arches. Dad came up behind me, perhaps noticing how wistful I looked, and put a hand on my shoulder. “You’ll be back in the saddle before you know it.”
I wanted to believe him, but I’ve never been this broke before. Another borged up mermaid appeared in the ad, swinging the checkered flag and then winking. That’s the other thing that’s everywhere in all these fucking ads.
Tits. Ass. Abs. Legs, lips, eyes. The composition never focusing on the complete person, but framing them as a collection of marketable body parts. Which I suppose most of us technically are these days, but still.
Everywhere I looked, even on ads for mundane shit like chewing gum or implant crust remover, there would be some titties just hanging out in the corner or whatever. They don’t even try to have it make contextual sense for a woman to be in the shot. My dick’s not complaining, but my brain feels somewhat patronized.
The men don’t bother me as much, but then I don’t process images of men the way somebody attracted to them does. If I pay attention, they’re nearly as well represented as women, washboard abs inexplicably the background for an algae paste promotion.
In another, a man’s tanned biceps and shoulders support a tray bearing all manner of cosmetics. I remember when I was a kid, there was a big push to remove stuff like this from ads because it was sexist. Instead they just sexed everything up equally for men and women alike. Profit always wins.
A haggard looking man nursing a cigarette sits slumped over in one of the wall mounted chairs just outside the brothel. Through the entrance I glimpse some sort of eight-limbed human cocktopus, each of its arms a prosthetic penis, whirling about as lusty bitches tuck money into its various jiggling folds.
“I think I’ve seen enough. You ready to go topside?” Dad turned this way and that. “What’s wrong?” I asked. “I haven’t been down here in awhile” he confessed. “I think I got us a little turned around.” Somewhat worried about the prospect, I asked if he meant we were lost.
He took umbrage to that. “Lost? That’s rich, I know this tub like the back of my own hand!” He held out his shiny red hand for effect, seemingly newer and in better shape than most of his other parts. He then stared at it and picked at a loose bolt. “Wait, what the fuck is this? I don’t remember it being that way.”
I smirked, once again capable of facial expressions and somewhat pleased with that. The busted up dude outside the brothel was watching us closely now. I tried to scan his face and compare it against the footage of those gawkers from topside only to realize I could only do that with my old body.
Little by little the changes were piling up and becoming real for me. A few of them pleasant pangs of nostalgia. The rest unwelcome shortcomings which made me realize why I’d been so eager to go fullmetal in the first place.
The aches in particular. In the spot where the prosthetic leg attaches to bone. At the elbow of my prosthetic arm, where skin meets metal. I can feel every vertebra in my spine, every rib in my ribcage moving as I turn or bend my torso.
I grimaced, mentally working out an estimate of how long it would probably take me to raise the RMB I needed for a fullmetal body once I’m set up in Shenzen. This temporary return to the warmth and softness of biological frailty had already outlived its novelty, and overstayed its welcome.
After brief argument, Dad and I agreed to follow one wall until we made it out. The seafloor complex is larger than the stead above it, but still only equivalent to a few city blocks. The problem is the convoluted layout. Even so, we soon wound up at the docking terminal, and within a few minutes were once again boarding the makeshift aquatic elevator.
I chose a seat at the far end with my back to the hull, so nobody could get the drop on us and I could scope out everybody else who entered. I was expecting thugs. Instead, a muscular looking woman with angry eyes and a mess of black, curly hair stormed in.
“You think you slick? You think you sneak by me? Come here for brothel like always, bastard!” I looked at Dad, also baffled by the unfolding spectacle. “You pay child support! Three months no pay! You think I no find you? I know you come here for whore! Always with the whores, I tell parole officer!”
I slowly got up, holding my hands out in front of me in a futile bid to calm the furious hurricane of a woman. “Listen, I think you have me confused for someone else. If you settle down and explain to me what you-” She slapped me hard, surprising me more than anything as I instinctively expected her to injure her hand on a metal faceplate which is no longer present.
“Three months! No child support! Trash barge! Pig man!” I protested that I was transplanted into this body less than an hour ago, and the man she wanted is probably long gone. “I not fall for that again! You try that last time! Pay child support! Dongmei starting school! You pay for clothes! You pay for meals!”
My ocular implants auto-scanned her face and brought up all relevant search results, revealing that she’d once starred in a couple of VR pornos. I judiciously decided that now would be a bad time for a boner, and closed out of the search.
The entire time I was doing that, she just kept screaming insults and hitting me. I winced, the closed-in acoustics of the submersible hull amplifying her every shriek. I asked Dad if Alejandro gave him anything like a receipt. Of course he didn’t, not wanting a paper trail proving he’d worked on me. I didn’t want one either up until now.
I kept protesting that she had me confused with whoever’s body this was before. She wasn’t having it, so instead I started to play along. “That’s right! I came down here for whores! Is that what you want to hear?” She stared at me in shock, so I carried on.
“There’s nothing left for child support! I spent all my savings on a mountain of oiled up whores! Then I buried myself in it like a pile of freshly raked autumn leaves! It was like a cozy fort in there. I think the ones at the bottom of the pile may have suffocated, but they knew the risks!”
Her scowl slowly morphed into an expression of confusion, then placid sobriety. “You really not him, are you.” I held my hands out to my sides in earnest surrender. She sighed. “Didn’t think so, he would deny forever. Sorry for making scene. Now I never find that bastard.”
I offered her a DNA sample. She declined, explaining that he’d already left plenty of DNA all over her residorm through the years. That was the end of it. I’d have wished her well but she was so done with everything that she cleared out of the sub before I could say another word.
The ruckus deterred anybody else from boarding, so we had the sub all to ourselves on the way up. The same tedious docking process now played out in reverse. The inner hatch swung shut, locked tightly against the rubber o-ring.
Then the unseen outer door shut, signified by the dull thud I could both hear and feel through my seat. Brief, audible whooshing as the space between the closed doors equalized with the ocean and flooded with seawater.
Then at last, the now-familiar lurch as the sub pulled away from the docking collar. What an elaborate mating dance it is, all to keep us small soft humans insulated from the monstrous weight of the ocean.
I then heard and felt the ballast tanks purging, and the sub began to rise. I looked to Dad for explanation. “The cables mostly just keep the vertical path of ascent and descent aligned with the habitat. The ballast tanks still do most of the work of raising and lowering the sub.”
I expected the currents to become stronger as we approached the surface, on account of the storm. Instead the moon pool was perfectly calm when we surfaced through it. It didn’t make sense until Dad and I emerged from the stairwell into the sunshine.
“Where’s the storm?” Dad laughed and slapped my back. “That’s what I said the first time, too. The habitat is deep enough that it’s totally insulated from storm currents. Like two different worlds. No day or night down there, no indication at all of whatever’s happening topside.”
I wondered aloud why anybody would choose to live down there full time. “It’s peaceful” Dad objected. “I can absolutely understand the appeal, even if it’s not for me. The subsea crowd and the topsiders mostly keep to their own, like oil and water. Very different mindsets.”
I suppose there’s no better way to really get away from it all. I never really considered the option before...but then again, even in a place like this I managed to get noticed.
Dad made a few thinly veiled pleas for me to stay longer, as if I didn’t desperately want to. But he saw the same goons I did. He knows it has to be this way. I couldn’t very well get halfway around the world by air taxi, and so wound up taking a speedboat to a floating airport.
When I voiced my nervous feelings about the only recently abated storm, the captain of the sleek orange vessel assured me that trips were timed to avoid storm activity and gas ‘burps’ from the sea bed.
I had no reason not to believe him. Presumably this little gig is how he pays the bills, and he looks to be in one piece. Still, the man looked as ragged as a carnie, head engulfed by a ratty beard which at some point in his life had graduated to a full blown mane.
He and everyone else on the little boat wore torn, faded tank tops, swim trunks and flip flops. Something told me I would be too if I knew conshelf life better. Each also wore what looked like a soda can sized air tank with integrated regulator on a lanyard around their necks.
When I asked about that, the captain became visibly annoyed by the distraction but answered over his shoulder that anybody out here who knows their ass from their elbow carries at least a modest air supply on their person.
I sheepishly sunk into my seat somewhat and resolved to keep my trap shut for the remainder of the journey. I was now getting the occasional curious stare from other passengers who must’ve assumed by my appearance that I was an old salt, only to then hear me asking tourist grade questions.
Not even an hour away from Dad’s seastead and already I was attracting more unwanted attention. I learn quickly though, and resolved not to open my mouth going forward unless my immediate goals required it.
The silence gave me a chance to savor the feeling of salty ocean wind rushing through my hair. Of all the considerations when I had my fullmetal surgery, it somehow never occurred to me that I’d miss having hair.
Soon, the airport loomed into view over the horizon. A stunning sight, curvilinear white structural elements mounted to cylindrical concrete ocean spars swooping this way and that, coming together to support the tremendous flat deck which planes landed on and took off from.
As if arranged for our arrival, a plane eased into a soft landing at the far end of the platform. It abruptly slowed, presumably by the same type of capture harness I knew were used aboard aircraft carriers.
I heard nothing like the cacophony of jet engines. Nor had I seen the usual drum shaped protuberances slung beneath its wings. Thinking back to the electrically levitated air taxi, I realized yet again the extent of what can happen in six years and set about ordering a ticket through my ocular interface.
It spewed ads at me for all manner of foul, skinner box style freemium games in the process. My ad blocker killed most of them but I had to manually shut down the rest, including an obnoxious flashy pop-under for something called Speed Foam.
“Speed Foam! Yeah! It’s like Velocity Valerie, classic Speed Foam Mascot always says: “I’m Velocity Valerie, the classic Speed Foam Mascot”. YEAH! SPEEDFOAM!”
I was curious enough about what “speed foam” could possibly be for that I nearly ordered some just to find out. Does it make whatever you put it on faster, foamier, or both? But as yet, I had no permanent address and distressingly little coin to my name.
Under that was a tiresome wizard porn ad. Like these aren’t a dime a dozen. Like anybody pays for porn either. But they must, surely? Otherwise how would sites like this turn a profit?
The looping 3D video showed two lean, muscular old men dressed in elaborate wizard costumes rubbing their bushy white beards against one another. Underneath in blinking text it said “Beard-on-beard closeups! You can see every individual hair! Authentic wizard clothing!”
Authentic? Do they think wizards really existed at some point? Even I know better, and I slept through most of my education. Cheating my way past tests, “smart not hard” yada yada. As soon as I began running into professional barriers because of it, I just got a brain implant that fetched whatever I wanted to know from a whitelist of sites I trust.
Whenever I’ve asked Dad what the point of traditional education is when such implants exist, he can never seem to give a satisfactory answer. Something about blood, sweat, tears, elbow grease and various other fluids.
When he told me that he had to memorize the multiplication table even though calculators existed back then, I was like “Why though?” and just got more of that “satisfaction of learning” crap from him.
“Wizard Fantasy HDX is the premiere adult entertainment platform! Literally!” Sure enough, actual floating platforms appeared, on which various sex acts were being performed by wizards upon other wizards...or in some cases mythical beasts like manticores and gryffons.
That’s when I realized the audio was playing externally. I frantically closed the window and peered around to find the nearest passengers once again staring at me, if anything more intently than before. Except for one of them, who nodded slowly and smiled knowingly at me.
I angrily searched my body for any sort of speaker, unclear on why the asshole whose body I’m driving around now would even want such a feature installed. Maybe the type that imagines his taste in music is so sublime, it demands to be shared with everybody around him.
As unbelievably huge as the structure had appeared on the horizon, it just continued growing on approach, defying my understanding of what’s even possible to build on the sea with every passing minute.
We did not dock to the side as I’d assumed when studying the structure from a distance, but instead pulled in underneath it. There was a modest breakwater around the spars which provided reliably calm surface conditions for boarding and unboarding, a detail I appreciated as I followed the rest of the passengers off the boat and into the first stage of airport security.
“Hello sir” a laughably fake looking injection molded gynoid dressed as a stewardess said, in a voice sounding something like a drive-thru intercom. These things were more convincing six years ago. How could they have gotten worse in that time?
Then again most of the conshelf territories are considered one big backwater. Dad’s stead was one of the nicer ones, and even there the tech was a decade or more out of date. They just don’t care about staying current, and don’t throw anything away.
“Please disrobe for stage one weapons check.” Come again? I was directed to enter a cramped privacy booth nearby and take my clothes off. Well, whatever. It’s not even my junk, I don’t care who sees it.
Once the door shut, the booth immediately began to fill with some sort of thin, cold vapor. In a panic I pounded on the door, and was reprimanded by the indifferent scratchy voice of the gynoid not to damage airport property.
“You are simply being disinfected so that you do not transport on your body any of the known species of parasite unique to offshore populations.” Oh, well. If that’s all.
She then asked me if I am now or ever have been affiliated with any cetacean separatist groups. I laughed. “Dolphins? Really? Dolphins are blowing up planes now?”
I was urged to answer seriously, so I gave my honest opinion of dolphins and was then issued a .009 fedcoin citation for hate speech. I tucked it between my butt cheeks for lack of any pockets to put it in.
A quick and honestly somewhat refreshing anal cavity search later, I was dressed and set loose into the terminal. I’ve always liked airports. They remind me of cohab interiors with all the little shops, capsule hotels and restaurants.
Shame I couldn’t afford to eat here. After the cost of the plane ticket I’ll be lucky not to sleep on the streets my first night in Shenzen. If I begged Dad for some money I’m sure he’d come through.
He’d lecture me first about the satisfaction of spending your own hard earned money, personal responsibility, financial planning and whatever else he felt I ought to hear, but then he’d open up his wallet. That’s just kinda how he rolls, like a grouchy Santa. He always helps, but also makes it such a headache that I’ll only ask again when I really need to.
That’s such a stereotypically Dadly thing to do as well. I’d probably have morphed into him completely by now if I’d ever made the mistake of knocking anybody up. What is that shit about, anyway? The man who thought bringing a child into this world was a good idea, lecturing me about fiscal responsibility?
I took my seat among the throngs of weary, disinterested travelers. Mostly conshelfers judging by their clothes but also a few that looked to be here on business, and some wealthy tourists.
Then there was a dolphin. The security gynoid’s question suddenly made a good deal more sense. It was strapped to some sort of motorized gurney with misters periodically spraying little puffs of water vapor onto its body at various points.
A little tongue operated joystick just beneath its beak made sense of how it could move about. What didn’t make sense is why a dolphin would need to fly anywhere when swimming is free.
Everybody was zoned out, staring into space. Playing games or watching films on their interfaces, like I did on the way here. It made for a comical scene I imagined Dad would make some snarky, disparaging “Back in my day” comment about.
Nothing wrong with escapism in a place like this. I followed their lead, leaned back and engaged my own interface. First order of business was to update my ad blocker. The next level of service required a subscription fee though, so I put that on the back burner for the time being.
This body turned out to already have recurring subscriptions to a bunch of Chinese services unfamiliar to me, so I laboriously went through them one by one to cancel. They don’t make it easy.
I kept a few of the free apps though. Including “Ultimate Redneck Battle Gaiden”, some sort of Chinese online game based on their impression of everyday American life. The prior owner of this body was evidently a level 28 “Donald Ray Johnson Jr.”.
I started it up looking to jump into some pvp. Instead I was confronted with a splash screen notifying me that new DLC was available. Three new free-for-all maps: “Wal-Mart Parking Lot”, “Cracker Barrel” and “Church.”
I clicked past it and set about customizing my character to my own liking. He’d really gone to town, buying lots of expensive vanity items. I scrolled through a surprisingly large selection of mullets before choosing the one I thought looked trashiest.
The match started, and immediately I was ganged up on by two Jimmy Dee Williamses sporting bigger, flashier mullets than I ever thought could exist in this game. One had a two by four, the other a shitty replica sword like the ones you see idiot teenagers buy in malls so they can pretend to be vampire hunters or whatever.
We were soon joined by a level 54 Rufus T. Jackson who began picking away at the health of the duo attacking me with long ranged hunting rifle shots. He used his duck call, and suddenly the sun was blacked out by a flock of murderous ducks which swarmed the Jimmy Dee Williamses.
One rage quit, the other wasn’t fast enough and died, dropping a wealth of mid tier loot. I took a pound of meth from his body, a crack pipe, a King James Bible, two shivs and the tattered card of a local strip club, “Titty City”, where I could evidently replenish my arousal meter.
My what? Sure enough, there it was in the corner of my vision. Somehow it had escaped my notice along with the warning message that since I had an ingame wife, visiting the club’s champagne room would deplete my marital fidelity meter...and I only have one free divorce remaining. This game has the deepest lore.
I thanked the Rufus for intervening and offered him half the loot. “Rufus don’t fight for loot” he replied. “Rufus fight for the glory of battle, and love of the game.” He then climbed on one of those three wheeled motorcycles with a few missing body panels and a fading “Rufus T. Jackson’s All-You-Can-Eat Waffle House and Discount Abortionarium” promotional sticker on the hood, whereupon he rode off into the sunset.
I ducked out of the match, convinced now that I’d need to do some grinding before attempting pvp again. A notification popped up, alerting me that my complimentary implant recharge had completed.
The coil must be built into the seat or something? Schwank. Do all the seats in the terminal have this? What about the seats on the plane? Probably too much to hope for in economy class.
Upon dicking around with the amenities menu, I discovered there was more built into the seat than just a charging coil. “Comfort options”, when selected, revealed a drop-down menu from which I could activate massage motors.
The massage zones were broken down by muscle group. Apparently my left buttcheek is 89% relaxed, while my right buttcheek’s only 62% relaxed, for an averaged ButtComfort™ rating of 75%. I selected the right cheek on the diagram and shifted around until positioned just right.
Vibrating motors did very little to make up for the narrow little seat, but at least prevented me from cramping up. I closed out of the amenities menu, then switched over to the news app. It wasn’t terribly encouraging, but then it never is. “Everything is fine” doesn’t pull in the ratings.
“The global manhunt continues for climate fugitives. A pocket of six were discovered working for Sky Disney using forged public profile identification data.” A grey haired overweight man in a Sky Disney staff uniform is shown being cuffed and led to a waiting police aircraft. He spits at the camera, and launches into a tirade.
“How was I supposed to know it would actually happen? Nobody knew for sure! It was all just Jewish Communist propaganda! It still is! Prove to me gas storms aren’t just a natural cyclical phenomena! It happened before in the Permian era, didn’t it? What about the medieval warm period, it was even warmer then!”
Cut back to the reporter. “Unfortunately for them, that defense is a popular but rarely effective one among surviving opponents of climate action. Seventy eight of the eighty two caught over the last five years were convicted on the grounds that there existed overwhelming credible scientific support for man made climate change which they ignored for partisan reasons in favor of disinformation propagated by fossil fuel industry lobbyists, think tanks, religious media figures and a few corrupted scientists.”
A series of mugshots scrolled by behind her as she spoke, with excerpts from their voting record and comment history stretching back decades that were used to secure their convictions. Underneath her in the portion of the broadcast set aside for real time audience commentary, I spotted “So-called global warming wrongly assumes that the Earth is a globe” followed by hundreds of people roasting the commenter responsible in a dozen different languages.
Out of curiosity I copied that user’s handle and searched it. I found nine years worth of vrlogs. Turned out to be a fairly attractive woman in her early thirties wearing a cap with “Flat Earth Truth” embroidered into it.