HostBods

6
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Art by David Motutu

By Tendai Huchu

09:45

Arrows in front of my eyes tell me where to go ↑ along a busy market street lined with immigrants selling cheap wares from makeshift stalls. It’s awash with colour, purple and blue saris and Kashmiri scarfs, red apples, green grapes, and the smells of freshly caught fish, cooked corn, herbs and spices – paprika, cumin, ground chilli – sold by the pound. Loud voices call out random prices and bargains as I (and I am still I) turn → into a narrow alleyway with puddles of water from last night’s rain, full up trash cans and cardboard stacks from the shops inside.

←. Sat-homing means I see where I’m going, feel the experience, but it’s more of a sleepwalk. It’s like doing something by instinct, the same way your leg kicks out when the doctor taps your knee with a plexor. My muscles move, I feel the ground beneath my feet, taste the salty air from the sea close by, and feel the chilly wind; I’m here and not here. ↑.

10:00

Destination Reached

Deactivate Sat-homing

Status Green: Y/N – Y

Prepare For Symbiosis

5, 4, 3, 2, 1

A ton of force presses down the top of my head, crushing me. Everything from the top of my cranium moves down like my skull is travelling down my neck into my oesophagus. It feels like I’m eating my own head, swallowing it down to my gut, can’t breathe, a wave of nausea overcomes me and I’d gag if  a big lump wasn’t obstructing my throat. It’s like being ripped out of your skin and having everything shredded and crushed, leaving only that, the largest organ in your body, hollow, while a new skeleton ent…

i’m at the beach again, look at it, so beautiful. If only the sky wasn’t covered by those grey clouds. Never mind. Best birthday present ever! Is that? – no, it can’t be.

‘Hey dad, you in there?’ Holy crap.

‘Joe, is it really you?’ i ask. ‘i can’t believe it.’

‘We’re all here for you,’ he replies and sweeps his hand to show the rest of the family behind him.

my sister Ethel’s in a blue frock, covered up with a cardigan. Her hair is so grey, all those wrinkles on her face, the moustache on her lip. i hug her tightly, haven’t seen that face in over ten years; not since my eyes gave out. Joe’s wife, Natalie, holds a big box with bright pink ribbons on it, the smile on her face warms me up. We embrace, just like we did on their wedding day. Happiest day of my life. The grandkids, the tall one must be Darren and the little one, blonde hair, Craig. On the beach with my family again, it’s a miracle.

‘That’s not Grandpa,’ says Craig, taking a step back behind his brother.

‘Craig, what did I tell you? Don’t spoil this for everyone,’ Joe replies curtly.

‘It’s me, don’t be afraid. It really is me.’ i go over to the boy, pick him up and tickle his belly like i used to, he squirms and pulls away.

‘You’re not Grandpa,’ he says, and walks off towards the white pier in the distance. i make to follow, but Joe grabs my arm.

‘Let him go, we’ve only got an hour. He’ll be alright.’

A woman in a yellow mini walks past with her dog and i feel a yearning inside me i haven’t felt for years. This isn’t the time. It’s family time. There are strollers in beach shorts, a couple having breakfast on a towel near the changing rooms, sanitation workers taking away litter from the car park up ahead. And the wind is just glorious, i close my eyes and try to inhale every atom of air i can.

i hit Darren on the shoulder – ‘Tag you’re it’ – and begin to run on the beach. That’s right, I’m running, the sand underneath me, giving way and crunching as I go, seaweed washed ashore, and, boy, am i running like a pro-athlete. i slow down to allow Darren to tag me and off i go after him. My grandson can run like a gazelle, but it only takes a few strides, i catch up, grab him by the waist and lift him high in the air. Joe and Natalie laugh, Ethel laughs, we’re all so happy. Best birthday ever.

We walk on the sand, checking out sailing boats in the distance. A few folks stare at us for a bit, but i suppose that’s normal given the circumstances. i’ve not felt this strong in years. Even as we walk, i’m holding back because i just want to run. It was on this very beach that i proposed to Lenore fifty years ago. Wish she was still here with us to hear the seagulls circling above, squawking.

Joe calls Craig over and we sit round a table. It’s a bit nippy, but we order ice-cream anyway. The taste of it is just divine, so sweet, so sharp, like every nerve ending in my body is awake and it’s every bit as great as I remember from the rations during the war. Vivid flavours explode in my mouth.

5 Mins

i feel an overwhelming sense of sorrow and loss at the thought of leaving all this behind. It’s like being given the power of a god for a day and having it taken away the same way Phaethon was hurled off Apollo’s chariot by Zeus’ thunderbolt.

‘i suppose it’s time for me to say goodbye again,’ i mumble.

‘I’m sorry, if we’d had more money, we could have bought more time,’ Natalie says, her eyes welling up. ‘Maybe we could…I’ve heard of charities that buy time for people in special circumstances.’

‘Don’t bother yourself; you have kids to look after. i’ll remember this day forever. It’s been wonderful.’

1 min

i get up to hug them, each in turn, and this time Craig lets me. He feels like dough in my arms, soft, yeasty, full of goodness and potential, young and invincible, as though I’m touching the future right now. There’s a joy in my heart that can’t be compared to…

Prepare To Disengage From HostBod

SyncCorp Hopes You Had A Pleasant Experience

Please Come Again

5, 4, 3, 2, 1

*

11:30

I arrive at a warehouse in Mullhill, the east side of the city, near the industrial zone. There’s no sign on the diamond fence around the perimeter. HGV trucks laden with goods from the factories around run up and down the road towards the city and beyond. The noise of the mills is a sonnet to the plumes of smoke that pour from the coal powered station in the centre of the perfect grid of intersecting streets. The air is acrid and full of unknowable particulates. Men in overalls and hard hats walk in rows carrying little backpacks to their various factories.

There’s no guard as I walk past the boom gate into a desolate car park. I take a deep breath and follow the arrows. I have no choice. Some bods have been used in criminal enterprises before and it’s a growing problem. But not with SyncCorp, the leading bod provider in the western hemisphere.

A HostBod walks towards me. Hard sculpted cheeks, fair lips, flat east Baltic head, another immigrant. His blue t-shirt tells me he’s from RentaBod, cheap eastern European bods usually. He’s in Sat-homing and manages to turn his head a fraction to acknowledge me with his dead blue eyes. I blink, a moment of brotherhood that lasts a microsecond.

I walk into the bare warehouse and my Sat-homing is deactivated. I’m in loiter mode until the uplink command is sent. The warehouse is a bare shell, high windows, floors caked in pigeon droppings. At the far end is a red door which I walk through, into a waiting area in which two other bods sit in injection moulded chairs.

‘What’s this about?’ I say taking the seat nearest the exit.

‘I don’t know,’ replies the bod opposite me in a South American, maybe Brazilian accent. He’s caramel skinned and bald headed. Every bod has their head shaved for the implants.

‘Some kind of test,’ says the other one sitting nearest the second door.

Their yellow t-shirts tell me they are both assets from PleasureBodInc, usually procured for the M2M industry. The florescent light above makes a slight humming noise. It flickers at intervals. The room seems to have been set up recently, with new fixtures that smell of plastic.

‘How long have you been in business?’ the Brazilian asks.

‘Four years, nine months,’ I reply.

‘Wow, without a burnout? Amazing! I’ve only been here six months.’

‘Good luck,’ is all I can say. And that’s what this game is, Russian roulette, you spin the barrel until you don’t hear the empty click of the chamber anymore.

He’s called in by a curly haired man wearing a white coat and holding a notepad. The scent of disinfectant wafts into the waiting room. The Brazilian follows him in and the door shuts behind him.

Half an hour later, the Brazilian walks out and I’m called in before the other PleasureBodInc bod. I get up and walk into the next room. The man in a white coat asks me to sit on what looks like a pink dentist’s plinth. I comply.

Status Green: Y/N – Y

Prepare For Symbiosis

5, 4, 3, 2, 1

*

‘What do you think of this one, Doctor Cranmer?’

‘Near the end of service which means it’s stable. It’s the oldest one we’ve got. As you know, they usually break down around the twenty-four month mark. Only a special few last this long.’

‘i don’t know. The features…’

‘Will take some getting used to, I admit. But race is the least of your worries, sir. Stability is all important.’

‘Let’s take it through its paces, shall we?’

I’m not supposed to be here, to see or hear any of this. It’s as if I’m a child hiding in a dark closet, looking into a room through a keyhole. HostBods are not supposed to be conscious during symbiosis and the Corp would reconfigure me if they knew. But I’ve been in this closet, hiding away for two years. The doctor instructs me/him to open my/his mouth, shines a light down my/his throat. Then he draws some blood, runs me/him through an x-ray machine – Doctor Cranmer can’t use the MRI because of the electrodes – but he takes my/his blood pressure, resting pulse and performs lung function tests. He puts me/him on a treadmill at high speed for three minutes and then repeats the test. I/he is moved to a large hanger where I/he does something that resembles a football fitness test, some sort of biomechanical assessment looking at endurance, speed, strength, agility and power. I watch it all from my closet, not daring to breathe or move.

1 Min

‘How old is he, doc?’

‘Just coming up to 21. Prime specimen right here.’

‘I’m not sure about this.’

‘Look at these stats, he’s 99.25% compatible, that’s 5 percentage points over anything else we’ve got. He’s perfect.’

‘I need time to think it over.’

‘We’ve got a few more to look at, so don’t worry, but the sooner we make a move the better.’

Prepare To Disengage From HostBod

SyncCorp Hopes You Had A Pleasant Experience

Please Come Again

5, 4, 3, 2, 1

15:15

↑ ↑ → ←↑ ↑ ↑ ↓ ↑ ↑ ↑ ↑ → ↑

15:45

Destination Reached

Deactivate Sat-homing

Status Green: Y/N – Y

Prepare For Symbiosis

5, 4, 3, 2, 1

*

No rest for the fucking wicked. Stan calls me up, wants me to raise 40 mill for some shit-arsed indie flick. Who watches that crap? Must be shagging the director, that’s what. Still, who’s gonna pony up 40 mill for some piece of cunt? Okay, relax, chill out. Only get this shit one day a week. 40 mill. Forget it. Forget about work for two minutes. It’s her. Is this shit even legal?

There she is, look at that, fucking curves on that. Phwoar, even forget she nearly sixteen sometimes. Check out those blonde locks, how they bounce around on her head and those tits, dear God, those motherfucking tits. i ain’t doing badly for an old fart. i mean how many blokes my age actually get the balls to hit it with their daughter’s best mate, hehe. Pure fantasy shit. That’s why i gotta cover me tracks. Put her arse in a HostBod and shit’s supposedly legal – at least that’s what me lawyer tells me. Grey area, he calls it.

‘Ello darling, come ere to daddy.’

Feel those tits pressing against me chest as i hug her.

‘How’s school and everything?’ Gotta seem like the caring, reasonable old man, hehe.

‘It’s alright. I missed you,’ she says. Hear that – if me missus only said it once or twice a month i wouldn’t be up to no good. Swear it on me mother’s fucking grave.

‘i missed you too, darling. Give daddy a lil kiss.’

Feel those sweet teenage lips, wow. Wouldn’t be able to handle this sort of action if i was in me own body. Check out me lump, proper Mandingo going on here.

i push her back a mo just so I can check out the view, see the curves. i like that lil shade of brown pub that lingers just above them lil panties. Wow, wow, what the fuck? Who’s this? Fucking Chinese woman appears in front of me outta nowhere.

‘What’s wrong, daddy?’

‘You, you’ve fucking turned Chinese!’

‘What?’

‘You’re Chinese, honest to God. Look at you, all bald with some metal wire shit all over your head, the skin, everything. Oh, my fucking God!’

‘I think it’s like the visuals that’s gone bust on your bod, coz I can see you just fine.’

‘What the fuck am i supposed to do?’

“Call the company and have them fix it.’

And that’s how i spend the one afternoon of peace i get a week, down the phone speaking to some call centre trying to get this drone to remote patch me visuals. Little girl’s sitting on the bed, staring at me out of her fifty-something year old chinky fucking eyes. Total mindfuck coz she’s talking like her out of this bod and it’s doing me head in.

‘Don’t tell me you’ve fixed the fucking visuals because all i can see in front of me is a fucking Chinese bird, alright? i pay top dollar for this shit, i expect service. You even know what that word means?’ i’m screaming down the fucking phone, would have had a heart attack by now if i was in me own body. ‘Fine, i’ll take a full refund and a free session next week, sounds freaking fine by me. i should be suing your incompetent arses.’

i hang up and turn back to the girl:

‘Looks like this week’s fucked. We’ll hook up next time, okay love? Come here, give daddy a kiss… on second thoughts, don’t.’

16:30

I’m back in Sat-homing mode. I’m not supposed to know the last assignment was a complete dud, that I’m, in effect, malfunctioning. Visuals need to get reset. I’ve been sent back to base early, my next assignments have been cancelled. So I’m free – sort of.

Funny thing happens when I sync up, I seem to store some of their memories in me. This isn’t supposed to happen, none of the other bods report anything similar, but it’s like I know stuff I’m not even supposed to know.

Passing by City Square, the giant advertorial screens above, the Coke-red next to the Pepsi-blue, the giant golden arc, Papa Chicks, Massa Space outfits, people walking around, bodies pressed against each other, sub 20Hz speakers blaring out subliminal advertising, shops spraying lab manufactured pheromones to lure consumers. I adjust my hoodie, doing my best to cover my temples even though this is one of the safer parts of the city for a bod to pass. The poorer and rougher western neighbourhoods like Westlea and Pilmerton are a different matter altogether. I walk by The Stock Xchange. When I first came here I didn’t understand any of it, the arrows going up and down, the numbers sprinting across the top and bottom of the screen. But a few sessions synced with Brad Madison, and I know it all as well as any broker. Viviset stocks have been fluctuating, but they’re still overpriced, best time to sell and get out before it comes crashing down. I’d buy Tanganda now and sell it next week. ↑ Can’t stop to look at the rest in this mode, but I’ll check out the markets online when I get back to base.

Silver space blanket puffs seem to be the fashion of the week for ladies under 30. Then again, when you’ve been synced with a famous fashion designer… Wish they’d get me on the underground for the journey back. My feet are killing me. That’s the problem with Corp, they’ll squeeze every penny in savings if they can. Truth be told, knowing what I know now, that’s the same thing I’d do especially when staff turnover isn’t a factor.

Base is a huge building which used to be a budget hotel in the east side, near the space&airport. You can see planes and shuttles taking off and landing, going to exotic destinations around the world or to orbit. It’s noisy as hell, but it’s home. Our conditions here, I hear, are much better than the dormitory set-up other bods get elsewhere. Retinal scanner lets me in.

Deactivate Sat-homing

Art by David Motutu
Art by David Motutu

‘You’re home early 4401,’ says Marlon on the security desk.

‘Malfunction,’ I reply.

‘You’ll be seeing Dr Song then,’ he replies. ‘Go up to your room. I’ll call you when it’s time.’

‘Thanks Marlon,’ I say and then I remember, ‘hey, is it okay for me to call home?’

‘I’ll give you access. ten minutes max per day.’

‘Come on Marlon,’ I say in my best whinny voice.

‘Fifteen, and that’s the best I can do. Now get outta here before I change my mind.’

‘You’re a legend,’ I say and give him the thumbs up.

The door to my room is unlocked. We have a toilet cubicle to the left, a bunk bed on either side of the wall, and a desk with a small computer/TV at the far wall. There are no mirrors in any of the rooms. Raj6623 is asleep or in hibernation mode. He usually starts up at 22:00 and returns the next afternoon. He’s a fightbod and gets a full eight hours’ sleep plus practice time. For most bods it’s 20 hours work with four hours sleep as standard.

‘4401 authorised call to rec-number Harare,’ I say to the computer.

It kicks up with a whirr and then I hear a dial tone. Half a minute later mama’s face appears on screen. A sad smile cracks on her mouth like a running fissure when she sees me. At the right angle, all she can see is my face, bald head and the two electrodes implanted through my temples into my frontal lobe. They’re titanium and shiny, but at least she can’t see the full device. The other implants are at the back of my skull and are drilled into the amygdala, so the sync takes place in the oldest and newest brain, the primitive and the conscious part for full immersiveness. We talk about home, my little brother with Westhuizen’s Syndrome, which is the reason I’m here. The money I make goes straight towards his medication. I’ll get a bonus after completion and after that, I’ll have to either sign up again – no one’s ever done that – or find a new way to make money for his drugs. Either way, this job is the only thing keeping him alive. He pops up on screen, nine years old, handsome as a teddy bear, braces in his mouth, and smiles. I wave. He tells me about school, his friends, games, all the things any nine year old should be doing. This makes it worthwhile. Mama’s just sitting there, slightly off screen, watching her boys. I’m sure she’s proud. I get a beep, time’s nearly up, say, ‘Good-bye, I love you guys so much,’ blow a kiss and log off.

I’ve just slid into my lower bunk when Marlon buzzes via the computer and tells me to go see the doc. I get up and leave Raj6623 snoozing, go into the corridor and squirt some alcohol gel on my hands and round my temples. The corridor is bare, just blue vinyl flooring, perfect white walls, directional signs every couple of meters and a purple strip that runs in the middle of the wall as a sort of decoration. I go round a few turns and into the infirmary, just in time to see a new bod leave. I nod my head and stroll in.

Doctor Song is a small Korean man, barely reaches my chest even with the Cuban heels he wears to give himself an extra inch or so. He’s typing notes into his computer and points to a chair. The keys go tap, tap, tap under his furious little fingers.

‘4401, why you tell Marlon you have malfunction? How did you know?’ he says. I should have known better.

‘My assignment ended early, you called me home and cancelled the rest of my day, that can only mean one thing,’ I reply coolly.

‘You doctor now?’

‘You’re the doctor, Doctor Song.’

‘You waking?’

‘Never.’

‘Uplink scan has been showing spikes in your wave function post sync.’ I blink like I don’t understand what he’s saying. Doc likes that sort of thing, but I know what he’s going to say next before he even says it. ‘Don’t worry it’s not the most reliable instrument anyway.’

That’s code for I’mtoolazytofollowupandyourcontract’snearlydonesoIdon’tcare. I nod along like an ignoramus.

‘You’ve been taking your antibiotics?’ he asks.

‘On time, every time,’ I reply. We have to take long term, prophylactic, broad-spectrum antibiotics because of the risk of infection at the insertion points. You don’t wanna mess with meningitis or encephalitis.

‘Corp has new job for you. Contract nearly over so easy work. You go Hillside in North, single user for last three months. Congratulations,’ he says, looking at me for once.

‘Thanks Doctor Song,’ I reply with a smile, though every instinct in my body is screaming out, alarm bells ringing, spider senses tingling.

‘Good. Go into next room. I test and remodulate vis configuration,’ he says and grabs a white helmet with flashing green and blue lights at the fore. It’s the user’s uplink device. It works by reading the wearers brainwaves and transmitting low level radiation to tune the user into the HostBod. Nowhere near as invasive as the electrodes bods must wear because their own consciousness must be suppressed in sync, which can only be done surgically. The electrodes not only transmit electric impulses but also carry neurotransmitters direct into the brain structure. I got this off syncing with Doctor Song himself and he doesn’t even know that.

We can’t be in the same room during sync because of the infinity loop problem which tech has failed to overcome. That’s why, for safety reasons, user and HostBod only interface via remote transmission.  He marches me back and forth, I squat, pinch myself, stick my tongue out, and do a dozen other psychomotor and spatial awareness exercises before he signs me off.

I walk back to my room and find Raj6623 standing at the door.

‘They came to get your gear. Looks like you’re shipping out,’ he says. The scar that runs across his face moves as he speaks.

‘I got lucky,’ I say.

‘Stay alive,’ he replies and crushes me with a bear hug. 12 months we’ve been here together and this is the most intimate we’ve been.

‘Say bye to the others for me,’ I say, knowing full well he won’t bother.

*

A woman with vibrant red hair, the sort that can only come from a bottle, stands at the reception desk next to a guy in a chauffer’s outfit with a bag at his side. She has milky white skin, almost matching the shade of the walls, and from a distance all I see is hair, eyebrows and blood red lipstick where her mouth is. She wears a retro ivory silk slip covering one shoulder, revealing a large ruby choker around her neck. It’s like she’s ephemeral, a wisp of an image from another dimension.

‘So this is father’s new toy,’ she purrs.

‘That’s him, Ms Stubbs,’ says Marlon ingratiatingly. ‘Here’s your papers, 4401. Follow this lady and the gentleman. Good luck.’

I shake his hand and follow my new employer into a black limousine waiting in the car park. The chauffer opens the door, she walks in. I wait to be invited. She beckons me with her index finger. The chauffer closes the door as I sit with my back to the driver, facing her. The cabin smells of freshly polished leather. She pours a glass of champagne for herself and a finger of whisky in another, which she slowly hands to me.

‘We’re not allowed,’ I say.

‘Don’t be a pussy, drink it,’ she replies, rolling her eyes melodramatically. I take the drink and hold it. ‘What’s your name?’

‘4401.’

‘Your real name, idiot.’

‘Simon.’

‘That’s what I thought. I saw you in those hospital garments you call clothes and said to myself, there’s a Simon alright.’ The lady is a little tipsy, but not drunk, the intoxication of someone who’s used to consuming a lot of alcohol all hours of the day.

The Limo cruises onto the 105 which takes us past Marlborough and Bury, skirting round the rough neighbourhoods. We go past gleaming skyscrapers, the glass reflecting the orange glow of the setting sun, images of clouds cast on windows, the city glistening like a thousand orange diamonds. She says nothing to me for the rest of the journey, only eyeing me like a predator stalking her prey. A lump sits at the top of my throat; I swallow hard.

20:00

Initiating Protocol Transfer To

Username: Howard J Stubbs

SyncCorp Wishes You A Happy And

Prosperous Symbiosis

0% – – – – – – – – – – – – 100%

*

That’s me wired up to the Stubbs’ MF now, which means they own me, which means I wasn’t hired but they bought out the rest of my contract. It happens from time to time, bods get passed around between different companies, usually traded down. Stubbs must be pretty loaded to afford this. No shit, Sherlock, is that your deduction or it’s the 200 year old southern plantation style mansion in front you? Kind of looks like a wanna be White House, only bigger. The wheels of the limo crunch on the gravel driveway. A Roman style fountain with mirthful nymphs squirts water high into the air. So much woodland around; it feels like we’re in the country. Light pouring out of every window in the mansion illuminates the lawn as we park near the front door.

‘Come on, I’m sure Father is just dying to meet you,’ she says, dragging out the word dying.

‘We don’t usually meet users.’

‘Things are different here,’ she replies as we walk into the mansion.

There’s a vulgar mix of paintings lining the walls. Expensive paintings: a Picasso here, a Van Gogh there, Pollock next to Gauguin with a Palin underneath. It’s clear that this is a nouveau riche acquisition with little acquiescence to aesthetics. I find this somewhat disturbing as I walk on the dark hardwood flooring polished to within an inch of its life.

Ms Stubbs leads me up a winding staircase to the bedrooms. An oak drawer along the wall has a Chinese vase (I reckon Qing but can’t be sure) on top with geometric patterns in bright shades of blue and a bunch of chrysanthemums set inside. I can’t help but smile behind her back. We enter a large bedroom in the centre of which is a poster bed. An old man sits underneath layers of quilts with his back propped up by a bunch of pillows. The oxygen tank on his left hisses away.

‘Go to him,’ says Ms Stubbs.

I walk over and kneel beside the old man. From this close I can smell his decrepitude, malodours churning under the quilts and from the catheter that dangles at the bedside. I notice he has an electrode transference device just like mine, complete with implants boring through his skull into his brain. I’ve never heard of a user having to go through this before. The device looks like a giant tarantula resting on top of his skull. ‘Hello,’ I say. He reaches out with his left hand and touches my face. It feels bony and rough against my forehead and cheeks. He takes a deep breath and whispers in a raspy voice:

‘Make yourself at home, boy.’

21:00

I’m in my room in loiter mode. The chauffer left my bag with my few clothes and possessions which I unpack into the drawers. The window gives me a view down the hill past the silhouette of trees to the brightly lit city in the distance.

I go over to the bed, slide into the soft cotton sheets and for the first time in a year, I’m allowed to sleep for more than four hours even though the dreams I have are still not my own.

08:00

I wake up feeling refreshed and rejuvenated. Can’t believe I slept for so long. The sun pours into my room because I forgot to close the curtains. It’s been too long since I had a window in my room. I wash my face in the basin in the corner and spray alcohol gel around my implants. There are real clothes in the closet, just my size too, so I wear those instead of the Corp crap. I grab a red hoodie to cover my head in case I’m taken outside. I walk past Mr Stubbs bedroom and down the stairs into one of the rooms where a breakfast buffet is laid out. It smells great.

Ms Stubbs is at the opposite end of the table, listening to the news and eating toast. The day’s barely started and she looks stunning in a crimson gown, an eye mask on her forehead.

‘Morning,’ I say.

‘You can have anything you like,’ she replies.

‘Thanks.’

I bring out my feeding pack of Soylent and pour myself a glass of water. This is how bods start the day, you can’t fill yourself up because a lot of users like to go out for meals, so it’s important to keep the stomach as empty as possible. I drink from my pack, it tastes like dough with grainy bits in it. After a while, you get used to it.

‘Can I call home?’ I ask.

‘Nope,’ she replies without even raising her head to look at me.

‘We had 30 minute privileges per day at Corp,’ I say.

‘Firstly, it was ten minutes and, secondly, this ain’t Corp.’

Status Green: Y/N – Y

Prepare For Symbiosis

5, 4, 3, 2, 1

*

‘Morning Lesley,’ i say. What is that weird taste in my mouth? Quick, grab a coffee to rinse it out.

‘Morning Father. You started the day early. Who was that?’ she replies, nonchalant. i wonder what she’s scheming.

‘Just the lawyer first thing before dawn and Doctor Cranmer should be here any minute now. Justin makes the finest coffee. He deserves a raise.’

‘What did you want with the lawyer?’

‘A bit of business, nothing you should worry your pretty little head about. i’m not a cabbage up there you know.’ i point to the second floor where the bedrooms are. She raises a single eyebrow and gets back to her food.

i leave her to it. So much to do, so little time. i could get used to this, yes. Stop beside the mirror, look at the face: bold, square jaw, angular, very manly. Yes, i could definitely get used to this. Cranmer is in the foyer already.

‘Good morning, doctor,’ i sound a little too jovial.

‘Mr Stubbs?’

‘It’s too nice a day to talk indoors. Shall we go out into the grounds for a walk?’

‘I need to see the… the other body.’

‘You can do that later, come, let’s go outside.’ i take him by the elbow and lead him out. Sweet sunshine hits my face. ‘Nothing like the scent of freshly mowed grass.’

‘I came to check if you wanted to see this thing through. You must understand the tech is experimental. I’ve only done one other procedure so we don’t yet know what the long term effects are,’ Doctor Cranmer says.

‘Run it by me one more time.’

‘When user and bod are comparable, you can put them in sync and then transfer consciousness through the process of quantum entanglement. Essentially we are just reversing the quantum states in the brain, no matter is moved between A and B, so theoretically there’s a zero chance of post-op rejection. It’s not a brain transplant, it’s a consciousness transfer. Post-procedure we isolate the bod, who is now the user, to prevent attempts at reacquisition. That’s the long and short of it.’

‘Okay, first thing tomorrow morning. i have nothing to lose, but i only have one proviso, doctor.’ i stop near the gazebo and look him in the eye. ‘If the procedure fails, the bod dies too.’

‘That can be arranged.’

20:00

Loiter mode. Fuck me royally. I need to get out of here right now. Only getting out doesn’t solve the problem because I can be Sat-homed back easily. Gotta find the mainframe, disable it, no, destroy it completely. I’ll look around the house, nah, that’s crazy, who keeps a fucking mainframe in the family home? Swear to God, I’m going insane. This ain’t what I signed up for.

I need to call mama, my little brother. Won’t even get a chance to say good bye. Okay, think, for a minute, just think.

I once saw a bod who committed suicide in the most spectacular fashion. It was my first year with Corp and I was passing through the main reception area. This guy just stood cold staring at the guards. And then he casually brought his hands up to his electrodes and just started pulling. The guards were screaming ‘stop’ or something like that but this guy just goes on pulling and blood squirts out. Out came these grey chunks of brain matter. He just pulls the tarantula off the top of his head and leaks water, blood, brainy goo down his sides. He stood there for a minute or two before he keeled over. It was horrific.

I could fight my way out. Face it, the law frowns on bods anyway. A rich guy like Stubbs, forget it. I need to think.

03:00

I’m terrified, can’t sleep all night, my mind racing through different options, adrenalin and cortisol coursing through my blood stream at toxic levels. That drink from the limo would have come in handy right about now.

The door opens, she walks in like a ghost floating through. Her white nightdress hangs off her frame and swoops as it follows her graceful movements. ‘Shhh.’ Her finger is on her lips as she crawls into my bed.

She moves like a python, slow, seductive, and sensuous, as if she hasn’t a single bone in her body. Her skin feels warm against mine. She straddles me, pulls my pants down with one hand and then all I feel is her wetness and heat on me. It’s the most exquisite feeling in the world.

‘Your dad’s going to kill me,’ I say.

‘Shhh.’

This moment, I’m in her, it feels as though nothing else matters as she carries me like a leaf in the ocean and takes me to places I never knew…

Prepare For Symbiosis

 *

‘Get off, your dad’s syncing with me,’ I call out in panic.

‘Oh, what a spoil sport,’ she says, pulling off and gliding out of the room

5, 4, 3, 2, 1

*

Well, this feels a bit strange. i couldn’t sleep, can’t wait for the morning so i thought i’d sync up. Get up, out of bed, my bottom half naked and walk out of the bedroom. Lesley is in the corridor.

‘Have you been playing with my toy, Lesley?’

‘Hello Father, isn’t it a little too late for your old ass to be out and about?’ she replies. Has the same stubborn, bitchy traits her mum had. She’s up to something and must be stopped. You don’t get to where i got in life without the instincts of a croc. i grab her by the shoulders.

‘i think we should lock you in your room for a little while,’ i say. ‘For your own good.’

She struggles and squirms. The little bitch is strong, but i’m stronger. She breaks my grip and runs towards my bedroom. Now i know what she’s up to. Got to stop her.

‘Don’t be pathetic. You really think you can stop me, Lesley? Come here!’ i sprint after her. The floor is polished and slippery but in this bod i can do anything. i grab her flailing nightdress, pull her and slam her against the wall. ‘i’m not your enemy, i’m your father.’

She scratches my face, i slap her with the back of my hand which fells her to the floor. i bend over, pick her up and lift her in the air, feet dangling, her mouth wide open, a scream caught in her throat. i put her back down and slap her again. ‘You’re going to bed, young lady.’ i see a quick movement, a leg twitch, then i’m on the floor, both hands cupping my balls, they are on fire. It winds me for a moment and she runs into my room. Got to stop her. Ignore the pain in my groin and stagger after her. i burst into the room.

‘Stop it, Lesley.’

She’s covering my face with a pillow. The oxygen mask is on the floor, hissing away. i run to her, grab her around the neck, put her in a choke hold. i’m gonna kill this bitch. i lift her up, her head against my chest and squeeze. She gags, coughs, splatters, kicks, but I’m too strong. And then I look at me looking at me

me looking at me looking at me looking at me looking at me looking at me looking at me looking at me looking at me looking at me looking at me looking at me looking at me looking at me looking at me looking at me looking at me looking at me looking at

Only takes a second to realise i’m trapped in an infinity loop. i should have stopped her before she came in here. my head feels like it’s cracking. The pain is blistering hot. i scream and grab my head in both hands to stop it from exploding. The scream is magnified and bounces around like a million echoes in the loop. Everything in here is a cave of infinity mirrors, reflecting everything back to itself. Only i am the image and the mirror and each iteration of both. Subject and object. i fall to the floor. Oh, the pain. As i convulse on the floor, i see, through the corner of my eye, Lesley cover my face with a pillow.

White hot supernova, synapses breaking, an explosion, the universe tearing apart.

08:00

I wake up and she’s beside me in bed, we’re both naked. My head feels like I have the mother of all hangovers, as if I drank all the tequilas in the world. She rests her head on my chest.

‘Did you sleep well?’ she asks as if nothing happened.

‘Have you got any Vicodin?’ I sit up and the world is spinning around me.

‘Get dressed and follow me.’

The world shatters into tiny pieces floating around my bed. I shake my head and tiny fractals swim in and out of focus. It takes a minute or two before the pictures coalesce into one coherent world. It feels good to be back. I’m so thirsty and I drink straight from the pitcher beside me.

I find her in the corridor and follow her to her father’s room. I can barely stay upright. Doctor Cranmer sits on the bed, a stethoscope around his neck. There’s a shiny aluminium suitcase on the floor before him. He looks at Ms Stubbs.

‘Morning doctor,’ she says.

‘It’s not a very good morning. It appears your father is dead,’ he replies in an even voice.

‘What a pity,’ she says with a shrug. ‘Old people, hey.’

‘I find it rather curious that his oxygen mask is on the floor.’

The doctor stands up and walks towards Ms Stubbs. He looks at her then at me. I pretend as though I don’t remember him from our first encounter. I act like a good little bod.

‘I suppose my services are no longer needed here,’ says Doctor Cranmer.

‘You served my father well. I don’t see any reason this association should end. Because of my gratitude, as his sole heir I will double your monthly retainer for life and hope to keep your services,’ she says, her face neutral and cold.

‘It is always a pleasure to serve the Stubbs. If you will excuse me, I have to record this death by natural causes.’ He bows slightly and walks to the door, dragging his aluminium case behind.

We’re left staring at her father’s body on the bed. His eyes are wide open in shock.

‘One more thing, doctor, since you work for me now,’ she says.

‘Anything,’ he replies.

‘This.’ She points to the electrode transference device on my head.

‘I can remove it straight away,’ Doctor Cranmer says, stepping back into the room.

‘On second thoughts, I think I’ll keep it. It looks rather nice, don’t you agree, Simon?’

The doctor sighs and turns to leave once more. It’s at this moment I realise that she owns me now. Certain secrets will come out, like how the old man changed his will yesterday to include HostBod4401 as the sole heir and beneficiary to his estate. Lesley doesn’t know it yet, but there’s going to be a battle for that money. For now, all I have to do is to stay alive.

Tendai Huchu is the author of The Hairdresser of Harare. His short fiction and nonfiction have appeared in The Manchester Review, Ellery Queen’s Mystery Magazine, Gutter, AfroSF, Wasafiri, Warscapes, The Africa Report, The Zimbabwean, Kwani? and numerous other publications. His next novel will be The Maestro, The Magistrate, & The Mathematician.
Tendai Huchu is the author of The Hairdresser of Harare. His short fiction and nonfiction have appeared in The Manchester Review, Ellery Queen’s Mystery Magazine, Gutter, AfroSF, Wasafiri, Warscapes, The Africa Report, The Zimbabwean, Kwani? and numerous other publications. His next novel will be The Maestro, The Magistrate, & The Mathematician.

6 COMMENTS

  1. Aren’t these stories supposed to be for Africans by Africans? Why are most, if not all, of the secondary characters non Black? That’s the norm in published speculative fiction. I read this e-zine with the idea that underrepresented groups, people of African descent especiall, will be much more in the forefront. I didn’t finish reading this story because the norm was very much on display.

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