Dirty Little Flowers

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Chapter 3

A few days later Lane saw her in the record shop.

That was out of the ordinary. She's followed him there a couple of times. This time she seemed to be there on her own, though. She stood stock still in the listening corner with her eyes closed and her hands against the headphones. She hadn't even taken her hood down to listen.

Lane froze when he saw her, but she took no notice. There was no way she could have known he was going there, he had caught her completely unawares. For the first time in months he actually had the advantage.

Lane thought for a moment. He really had no idea how to stalk someone and at most a minute before the song was over. With no idea of where to hide, or what to watch for, or anything, really, he decided that the best thing was to be direct. He stood in front of her, waiting for her to open her eyes. It seemed like the best icebreaker. It also meant that he was able to get a good look at her for the first time.

At first glance there wasn't anything exceptional about her. She was plain looking, her skin translucently pale, and she had the sallow, wan look of someone who doesn't eat regularly. Her clothes were dirty and her hair looked unwashed, but she didn't smell like it had been more than a couple of days since she'd showered. She was very small and birdlike, and Lane caught a glimpse of her ribs through a hole in her hoodie. He couldn't decide if he was surprised or not that she was wearing his shoes, the ones that James had seen her pull out of the trash. The only striking, or even interesting, thing about her, apart from her general unkempt aspect was the tattoos. All of her exposed skin was covered with them. They traced strange, pencil thin, mostly symmetrical, lines all over her face and hands in shades of red and gold, barely visible against her skin.

He had barely stepped in front of her, though, when her eyes snapped open, pinning him in place.

“Hello.”

“Hi, there.” He was taken aback. “I'm Jared Lane. I think we'd better talk.”

“I'd like that, Jared.” She paused and stared at him. Her eyes bulged a little and she had a permanent look that approached fright and confusion about her. “Do you want to get coffee across the street? I'm Cecilia.”

Later, they would tell people that they had first met in the record shop.


Lane crumpled the sandwich wrapper and tossed it in the trash. It had been warm all week, they'd had lunch outside the day before too. They'd decided to go to the park today. The leaves were just starting to unfurl, new stems poking up from the ground.

“So,” he began, “I have to get back to work soon. Before I go, though, I keep meaning to ask, what's up with the tattoos?”

“Tattoos?”

“Yeah. Don't get me wrong, I've got no problem with tattoos, and I think they look great on you. I can't even imagine you without them, but ...”

“Jared, what are you talking about? You haven't seen any of my tattoos yet.”

“Umm.” Lane didn't know how to answer that. “They're all over your face. You see them every time you look in a mirror.”

“My face?” A thin, fragile hand fluttered out of the ragged brown sleeve and lit on her cheek. Her eyes sparkled when the pieces fit. “Oh, of course! Jared, they're not tattoos, and they're not just on my face. They're everywhere.”

“They're not tattoos?”

“Jared, I'm a Johnny.”

“What? You're not really answering any of my questions, you know.”

Cecilia laughed, but Lane was starting to feel a little concerned. “It's a long story and you have to go back to work. Tonight, we'll get a pizza and all will be explained.” She put her hand on his arm and smiled her beatifically carefree smile. He was not put at ease, though. A lot of things seemed to roll right off of Cecilia, didn't bother or concern her at all, even things that Lane felt she should be concerned about. This particular thing stayed at the forefront of his mind all afternoon.


That evening they sat on her bed and ate pizza. Cecilia's place wasn't much more than two rooms, and one of them had a toilet and a shower in it. The starkness of it was a little strange to Lane. She had made no attempt to decorate, the only furniture was a plain, utilitarian mattress and a small chest of drawers with a TV on it. Everything was clean, but it was old and worn. There was none of the clutter that accumulates where someone lives, no dirty clothes on the floor, no decorations on the wall, no candy wrappers in the trash can, no pile of unopened mail.

“It's not much,” she offered, “but I'm barely here. It's all I need. There's no where to sit but the bed, I hope that's okay.” She kicked off her shoes, his shoes, and sat down. “There's not really anything we can do about it without leaving, so you'll just have to control yourself.”

“Fine with me.” Lane sat across from her and put the pizza between them. “Do you have plates or anything?”

“No.” She flipped the box open and grabbed a slice with her bare hands.

“So, not tattoos?”

“Right, well,” she chewed the end of her slice thoughtfully, “there's no simple way to explain it. I'll just jump right in. I'm a Johnny. Johnnies are people who, for whatever reason, choose to enhance their bodies in ways that go beyond aesthetics and fitness. A lot of people go in for tattoos and piercings too, but that alone doesn't make you a Johnny, doesn't make you like me. Johnnies have cybernetic implants.”

“Why are you called Johnnies?”

“It's from some old science fiction story. I don't know much about it.”

“So, you've got a computer in you?”

“Be patient. Now, a few years ago, a guy sewed a magnet into his finger. With it he could suddenly sense magnetic fields. They're everywhere, and suddenly he could feel them. It blew his mind and changed how he felt about the world. He couldn't really see very much, though. Even with a few magnets in his hands, he was only able to vaguely feel things. It was enough to be very interesting, though.

“Down the road people experiment with different things, and they find ways to increase sensitivity, raise this magnetic sense to something approaching sight. Once you have enough of them in you, you start to feel shapes, and differences in the fields.”

Cecilia dropped the half eaten slice back into he box and got up from the bed. Turning to face Lane, she unzipped the hoodie and pushed it off of her shoulders. She let her pants slide to the floor. The lines on her face that he had mistaken for tattoos extended down her neck, along her shoulders, down her arms. As she slowly turned Lane could see where the lines swept up and down her back like wings, cupped her breasts and wrapped around her nipples, traced arcane patterns across her ribs and stomach, lost themselves in the tangle of her pubic hair, and raced the length of her legs. It was symmetrical, like a copper colored butterfly traced onto her pale skin.

“May I?” Lane reached out his hand to touch her. Cecilia took it by the wrist and traced a line with his fingertip. He couldn't feel a thing. “That's a magnet?”

“No. Those are wires. They connect electromagnets, like this one.” She indicated a spot where several lines came together and made a thicker nexus before splitting off to rejoin the pattern. Lane couldn't feel that one either. “I can turn them on, or off when I don't want to feel the fields, or I can turn them up when I want to feel more with the controller, here on my side.” She indicated a series of small lumps. “They'll probably make something better in a few years. I'll have to upgrade.”

“Jesus. Is this thing safe? Doesn't it hurt?”

“It's all covered in silicone. It's as safe as a breast implant. It doesn't hurt any more.”

“But, how does it let you move?”

Cecilia stretched her arms wide apart, and then put her hands on Lane's shoulders. “The wires are really light. They stretch a little and bend as much as the need too.” She kissed him, the first time they'd kissed, before pushing him down onto the bed. Lane didn't resist at all. “They don't interfere with anything.”


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