Dirty Little Flowers

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Chapter 8

“Are you sure you're ready for this, kiddo?” Song had a mask in one hand and a needle in the other, the hoses snaked back to the tank of anesthesia. “No going back. I mean, I can always take it out. But once I break the skin, it doesn't get unbroken, know what I mean?”

Jared looked him in the eye, looked down at his disposable paper gown and at the electronics on the table next to the scalpels. It was a small computer that could tap into local wireless. The screen and the controls were mounted underneath a seamless layer of synthetic proto-skin, the whole thing would fit onto his left forearm. Looking at it made Lane's heart pound; the first step on a journey with no clear destination.

He wasn't turning back now, though. “I'm ready, Dr. Song.” Cecilia watched them, stone faced, from the observation window. “I'm not going to change my mind about this.”

“Alright, then. Count down from ten. You'll be out before you get to one.” Jared heard the gas hiss and his eyes were very heavy.

“Destination, waste-land,” he tried to say, and he had the sense that he was falling before he felt nothing at all.

After a week the incisions were healing nicely, the bruises were fading to a festive sickly yellow and Jared's arm was gaining strength. He was starting to take less of the painkillers, and he was getting back into his regular life.

Work was slow, so he blew it off early, got two orders of lasagne and walked to Cecilia's. He let himself in the front door and climbed the stairs, unlocked the door to her room and went in without even knocking. He was disappointed to see that she wasn't there, though. Her apartment was how it always was, spartan and empty, barely lived in. He set the bag with the food in it on the table and sat back on her threadbare bedspread, stepping carefully over a stack of papers haphazardly strewn on the floor. He reached for his phone at first, but then typed a quick message into his wrist console. She hadn't been expecting him, but they spent every night together anyway. If she wasn't at home, Jared had nothing else to do but wait.

The papers were so out of place that Jared couldn't resist looking at them. They weren't anything he could really understand, but they were electrical schematics. He'd seen several others that Cecilia had designed, but he didn't have any kind of engineering or electrical background, so none of them really made any more sense than the next. This one was hardly any different. It looked a lot like the others, Cecilia's characteristic swirls and patterns, all wrapping cryptically around a heart.

A heart wasn't a symbol for any kind of electrical component Jared had ever seen. He scanned the diagram for one of the only ones he did remember from high school physics, a battery, and couldn't find any. Where he thought the battery ought to be there was another device, something he'd never seen before, well beneath the heart.

Cecilia still hadn't gotten back so he decided to try calling her. “Hey. I got off work early and thought I'd drop by your place with dinner. You're out, though. I'll wait around for you, but if you want to meet somewhere, give me a call.” It occurred to Jared, the moment he picked up his phone, that it was absurd to make calls on a separate cellphone when he had the computer attached right there on his forearm.

Deciding that he wasn't going to gain anything by letting his dinner get any colder, Jared put one of the containers into the little fridge, almost empty like the rest of the apartment. He used his terminal to read about different interface devices he could use with his implant while he ate. Some of them, he was sure, could be modified and implanted, but he really wasn't sure which ones, or what would make a piece of electronics more or less suitable for implantation. Cecilia would know, of course, and what she didn't know, she would know who to ask.

By the time he'd finished eating, Cecilia still hadn't called or shown up. Jared laid back on the bed. He started to call her again, but canceled it before he dialed. He knew it was a waste of time. Scrolling through his list of contacts, he couldn't find anyone he felt like talking to. He scanned his social networks but didn't add anything, lurking in the shadows and remaining mute on the shallow arguments and vacuous assertions of his acquaintances. He didn't know why anyone would think that their safe, mainstream religious or political choices would require any degree of courage to agree publicly with by cutting and pasting a pithy little slogan, but plenty of people seemed eager to call out their friends for not knowing all of their keyboard shortcuts.

Before too long, Lane fell into the trap of looking at old photos people had posted. With the shoe boxes of the world flung wide to the digital world, pictures never seem to die any more. Almost every memory can be backed up with a picture; every concert, every party, every perfect summer's day by the crashing surf had an album somewhere. Memories weren't allowed to fade and tint themselves rose when every painful pimple and forced smile was there to bring to mind the forgotten hurts of the past at any moment. Memories hid among the garbage, not alive, but preserved like beetles frozen in amber. Jared walked among these skeletons of his awkward adolescence and the revenants of his angry youth, seeing how his own memories overlapped with those of acquaintances and strangers. He stumbled across a collection of pictures someone had taken at a show, some shitty band and four dozen strangers crammed into a sweaty basement painted black so they could all be charged too much for flat beer and weak drinks. Jared recognized the band, though, and thought the date sounded about right, so he scanned the faces in the crowd for anyone he knew, or had noticed that night. What he found struck him.

He found himself, off to the side and partly obscured by a girl whose breast had kept falling out when she danced. He was dressed like he'd come straight from work and he was holding a plastic cup full of beer. The wet mark on his shirt where the beer had spilled when an enthusiastic dancer had bumped into him was just starting to fade. He was looking toward the photographer. Jared could barely recognize himself in the picture. It was definitely him, his face, his clothes, his memories, but the person he expected to see, the person who looked back from the mirror, wasn't there. The familiar eyes weren't right, it was as if he had been somewhere else while this picture was being taken of his body. Like he had been asleep.

Jared looked through as many pictures of himself as he could find, trying to pinpoint that moment he'd woken up, or the times he had been awake, but before long the sky was getting lighter.

The night was already gone when he finally slipped into sleep, alone.

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