“My dad is not a very nice person,” I explain to my therapist. “Maybe it’s because he never expected to have a child after number ten. Maybe because he was 96 when I was born. Maybe because he’s an asshole.”
My therapist signals that I should go on, “When I was born my oldest brother had just been married, my youngest,” Here I gesture with my fingers on my glass. “Well the one closest to me, was starting High School. He didn’t have time for me.”
My therapist refills my glass, and I tip it to her when I take another drink. I lean in close, “Everyone at the company—dad’s company, Sector & Sector, all my siblings, they all have jobs. Dad likes saying he’s 89% legal, well that 89% is all them. I’m the extra bit. He calls me Eleven.” I stand up and put my jacket on. The bar is empty, and the bartender is staring at me. She’s leaning up against the back wall with all four of her arms crossed. It’s imposing.
I throw her some money, really don’t know how much, and pick up the bottle. “I’m taking the bottle home with me,” I tell her.
The bartender rolls her eyes at the guy who just spent the night whispering to a bottle of Therapist (90 proof), and waves me out the door.
The streets here are horrible. Concrete instead of ferrocrete or permacrete. Stained with ash from the mags of the cars. They’re being rained on.
The rain is horrible. Sweet and nauseating, never enough to get you wet, only damp and sticky.
The planet is horrible. I’ve been on Wigo for three weeks, on the peninsula of…also Wigo. The city is 300 years old, and has seen a lot of wear and tear. It’s my kind of place, and I hate that, while I’m drunk like this. The buildings are sprawling and messy and cramped into, and on top of, one another. It looks like a Lego master’s nightmare.
There are garish lights everywhere, advertising everything from soft drinks to sluts, both kinds of ads feature sluts drinking soft drinks. It’s a great place to get stabbed, but they have one of the best trauma centers in the galaxy, so it’s a really great place to get stabbed.
I stagger down a catwalk, as cars cruise past in the air next to me, and I begin to realize that I am too drunk to make it back to, wherever I’m going. My house, probably. Well, a house.
There’s a storefront with a little concrete bench in front of the window. I decide it’s a nice place to get drunker and sit down on it. I almost miss the first try, but I’m down, and drunk kind of comfortable.
I don’t even notice I’m drinking now. Just like breathing.
“You look like lonely,” A streetwalker propositions me.
I do my best to focus on her under the haze of the storelight and the alcohol that’s filling up my vision. Green skin, pretty color, long dark hair, two legs. “She” is dressed like any hooker. Leather with holes in it, things packed too tight and popping out. Nice things. She’s human, just died skin, I’m almost positive.
“Female?” It sounds rude to check, it’s not. Streetwalkers here, and everywhere, cater to exotic tastes, and the only way to know what flavor they are is to ask. I learned from a few experiments that my pendulum only swings in one direction.
The street walker pulls her skirt up and I can see that she’s nothing on but her pussy underneath. It’s highlighted with some arousing garters. I begin to think that what I’ve been feeling all this time is loneliness. Then I remember that I am actually very unhappy, and this hooker isn’t going to change that. Sex probably wouldn’t hurt anything.
I give a nod, and hand the hooker my bottle of Therapist. There’s a good four fingers left but she knocks it back like it’s Coca-cola. I was actually just trying to get her to help me up, and when I put out my hand again she tosses the bottle into the gutter and hauls me to my feet. She’s strong, which doesn’t surprise me. She smells nice, which does.
“Were’re we headed, slim?” She asks, once I’ve got my feet under me. I look around the street, for landmarks. There’s a street sign, but they put those everywhere. It could mean anything. I look around under the sticky rain, in the light of the smallest green moon, “Your place?”
“I don’t think so.”
“Nothing around here does hourly.”
I’m sure it does, but she’s classy like that. And she’s gunning for a nice place to spend the night. I don’t know what time it is, but even prostitutes need sleep at some point. “That’s okay,” I try to put my arm around her shoulder and nearly succeed. “I think I’m going to be lonely till checkout.”
My handset vibrates on the table. I have the ear piece set to silent, I’m the only one who can hear it when it wakes me up.
That does not go well. The light from the window is knives in my brain. It is physically painful to keep my eyes open. The clock on the table blinks 12:00 because no one know how to make a working hotel clock. The hooker is tangled up in the covers still asleep. But I know I have to answer because it’s my father calling.
Actually it’s my father’s secretary, Susan. She is…depressingly polite. This is hilarious to me, knowing that my father unable to talk without issuing a slew of profanity. I assumed that was how everyone’s father talked for the longest time. Until I went to school, and called my teacher “a sweet fucking cunt”.
My language cleaned up shortly after that. My father’s beatings never worked on him.
So Susan gives my father’s orders in a cheerful California accent, and only stumbles a few times as she censors his notes. It took awhile to find a place for me at the company. I never got a trust fund to clown around with, or backpack across Europe. I work for my money, I’m okay with that. I’ve met enough rich douche bags to know just how long you live with that kind of life. Old enough to die in a drug overdose, or get a job you hate.
I got the job that I hate that I love, and still hate. Sector has a hefty arms devision. I could have run it, but my sister does that, so I get to run the guns instead. Decent pilot, know the ropes. Name a system with life and social upheaval, I’ve helped upheave it.
So the call is pretty standard. There’s a job, meet the contact here, get off the planet, end.
“Oh, and…Eleven?” Susan doesn’t use my name anymore. I don’t know if it’s because she feels sorry for me, or because she’s afraid of my father.
No, I know she’s afraid. But I have to answer her question, “Yeah?”
“You’re…you’re gonna have to get a new body.”
I give a little chuckle. I have no idea what she’s talking about.
“The planet…where you are going…the pressure is 3 atmospheres. You need a Generation-Beta.”
She hangs up, and I can see the details on my screen.
Thats it. No question about what I want to do. Maybe I don’t want a new body. Maybe I like my body the way it is.
Nope. Eleven is going to get to be a butterfly and there’s nothing he can do about it.
I wake up the hooker and contract her for the rest of the morning. At least the money I make is going back into the system. I’m a job creator.
Any schoolchild can tell you, there are about 100,000 habitable planets in our galaxy. And any slightly older schoolchild can tell you that “habitable” is variable. There’s a ten to twenty percent difference in anything that can impact an organism’s survival. Ten to twenty percent difference in heat tolerance, breathing requirements, atmospheric pressure, and light and audio perception. When it comes to what’s poisonous and what isn’t, the deviation is more like 90%. Humans have one of the best tolerances to potassium, and one of the worst to arsenic. We’re special like that.
So the species segregate. Oxys hang out with oxys. 20 - 20khz range all hang out together. See red to violet? Best make some friends that can read your signs.
But people aren’t about to let an opportunity to trade go by simply because we can’t handle a three percent difference in nitrogen in the air. A half century back, a hundred different science coalitions started working on the first Generation-Beta bodies.
There’s no other way around it. You want to survive the whole universe, you have to build a body that can do it.
The process is simple enough. Butterflies. Well any insect with a staged life. Anything that goes into a cocoon. You’d think that when a caterpillar becomes a butterfly and spins it’s little chrysalis, it transforms the way you put on clothes. One day it works on legs, the next wings, until it’s a butterfly inside. Then it pops out like a new insect.
But that’s not how it works. The caterpillar goes into its cocoon and turns into caterpillar soup. Just a body of liquid that used to be a body. The brain and some of the nervous system sit suspended around a beating heart, and the butterfly grows out of that. Just like a second birth. Old personality. New…everything else.
And that’s going to happen to me.
I have dinner at a noodle cart in the best part of the worst part of the city. We’re on the ground level here, and the rain only penetrates in little bursts and patches that catch the sunlight. It’s always so hot here that the water is just another way to cool off, and the people just wear whatever they want, and get wet. Waterproof cloth cartridges and clothes get stocked in the shops in reams. Everyone looks a little shiny, and there’s a lot of hats.
Most of the hookers don’t wear hats, and I’ve almost become immune to the sexiness of we hair.
Susan sits beside me at the cart to give the briefing. Down here she shouldn’t need a disguise, but it would be devastating if she were recognized with me. She’s dressed like a punk, cargo pants and piercings. She’s got an elaborate tattoo on her left shoulder and she died her hair pink. She’s only the bag man on the big jobs. Usually dad sends a street urchin. They don’t ask questions when you pay them in drugs.
But they can’t answer questions either. Susan hands me a tablet and orders “Noodles and Meat no.1”.
I’m not sure why the proprietor bothered to number his only menu option.
I open the folder and start scanning the contents. It’s a six month trip. Pretty easy. I’m running silent for the last week as I near the planet. Going in the long way.
The weapons are going to Chinochkan. That’s the English spelling of their name. Once I’m a butterfly, I’ll actually be able to pronounce it correctly.
“Chinochkan is in the midst of a civil war,” Susan tells me. “Maybe a gender war is a better description. Chokon have three genders. The females are fed up with being treated like second class citizens. They’re demanding equal rights.”
Intergalactic terminology kids: the child bearing gender is referred to as the female, because human shapes don’t usually apply. In gendered language all the female pronouns are applied. If both genders can carry a child, the female is used until she bears the child. Then she gets to be a man. It’s like Ms and Mrs
“The females are normally kept in their own private continent,” Susan slurps noodles and wrinkles her nose. She adds a huge heap of soy sauce and tries again. It’s clear she’d much rather have a nice salad, but she keeps up appearances. “They’re purchased by male couples who want a child, and the money goes to pay for the rest of the woman’s life.”
“Sounds cushy,” I say with a mouth full of noodles. I think the meat is some kind of amphibian. It’s good.
Susan rolls her eyes, “They have no rights, can’t hold vote or hold office, and can’t attend school. Rape is the universal greeting on the planet.”
“I feel certain owning guns is against the law then.” Not that I care about giving guns to people who aren’t supposed to have guns. That’s kind of my job.
“What you’re shipping is concealable ordinance.”
I swipe the page and look at some very interesting diagrams.
“The resistance is trying to get the women who have been bought a way to defend themselves.”
I shrug, stow the tablet, and dump the last of my noodle broth on the street. I like drinking the broth, but here it’s seen as bad luck.
“There’s a reason you are going, Eleven,” Susan says as she dumps her noodles. She puts her bowl back on the counter and turns to me as she starts to leave. “They find human women irresistible.”
Yeah, lucky me.
I don’t like this doctor. He’s let himself age, or maybe he likes his own prescriptions. He looks like he’s showered, today at least; but something about him seams…oily.
I sit on the stupid table and a stupid bot takes my vitals while he dicks around on the computer for a second. I’m pretty sure he’s updating a quick-fuck app. That I’m okay with, only maybe don’t do it while I’m sitting her with my ass hanging out of my hospital gown?
They take lots of panels. The scanner arm reads the inside of my elbow for a full half-hour while I stare at the walls, and Doctor Oily asks invasive questions about my medical history. He looks at the tablet for a long while, then saves it, stows it, and leaves without saying anything.
A nurse comes in to tell me it’s time for a brain scan, and leads me down a hallway. This is the first part of a four day process. I get into a RIS, which looks like a giant robot vagina. They let me listen to music. It’s cold. I’m naked. I try to lie still and not think about the racket the machines is making.
After four of five hours they let me out, but I’m not allowed to sleep until I start seeing things. They won’t give me medication to make that happen, not even coffee. I watch netflix with wires attached to my skull.
When I report small hallucinations, I get to sleep. I’ve got an IV and they pump some melatonin in me, and keep the wires on while I sleep for twelve hours.
One of the nurses is young, and calls me honey. I call her “doll,” and wonder if it would violate medical ethics to pay her for some company. I notice she has a ring, when she holds my hand. She does it because they’re putting me under anesthesia for some electroshock. That isn’t the most wonderful experience, but her hand is nice.
More wires, and they stick me in a room full of pornography and a sex-bot and tell me to have a couple of orgasms. Partly they’re seeing how my basal ganglia react to stimulation. Partly they’re storing up a swimming team in case I want it later.
Obviously, ethically, my new body will be sterile. Jokes on them, I insured that a long time ago.
They pull the chips in my ear and my thumb. If I have them when I go into the tank, best case scenario, they end up lodged in my lungs. I have to remember to carry a lot of cash on me for this trip, because I can’t get a new ID chip for a year at least. My ear bleeds a ton, before one of the nurses notices blood dripping onto my neck and stops it up.
I’m gonna miss my sleeves. I’ve been working for years to cover my arms, and now all my tattoos will go away. Sloughed like my dissolving body. Whatever. Half the fun is getting them done anyway. Everyone has a tattoo they regret, so I have some great new regrets to look forward to.
They show me the body I’m going to grow. Same face. I could look better, but I’ve gotten used to my ugly mug in the mirror.
I’ll have bigger eyes. They’ll see into the IR and UV spectrum. Not a lot, but enough to pick up some weird shit. The human eye can distinguish color difference down to 1 nanometer. I’ll get down to 0.1 nanometers. Ten times the colors. Picking out new curtains will be a snap.
Different ears. Ones that can hear higher frequencies. Ones that won’t cop out when the going gets over 120 decibels.
Type A muscles, better for living in a higher gravity; denser packed, building mass five times as fast, losing it ten times as slow.
They comb over my genes, turns out I have a strong risk of skin cancer. That’s gone. So is prostate cancer. Butterflies don’t get polyps, so there’s no colonoscopies in my imminent future.
I ask if I can be better hung. Everyone laughs at that. You don’t have the money they say. Hilarious. They ask if I’m Jewish and want to be born circumcised. I try not to be terrified at the thought.
After four days I finally get to put on real clothes. There’s a little seminar with a projector that goes over how to use the tank. It’s complicated as hell, so they give me a packet I won’t use, and a nurse bot I will.
The shipment has to go out in another day. When it comes to running guns you have to move quick before a cease-fire is declared. I’ll change on the plane.
The tank looks like a big glass womb. That’s all I have to say about that.
I sign a whole bunch of papers, leave the hospital and get ritually shit-faced in a high-class brothel. It’s a long standing tradition of mine to leave planet feeling like hell.
Her name is Big Bertha, and she looks like a tit. Someone had a sense of humor about that, from her nose art. She’s painted gun-metal, where her paint hasn’t burned off, revealing the gun-metal…metal…underneath. Her exterior is dinged and scored. She’s seen some shit.
Class-D, beetle hold, 200 tons empty, carries another 300 in cargo.
I get my stuff shipped over from the storage unit I’ve kept in the city. Printer, wardrobe, and my personal collection of instant-arrest-ordinance. I try to buy some food, because some quartermaster at the company thinks I love noodles. I like noodles. I don’t like nothing but noodles for one week, never mind six months. But I can’t buy 100 pounds of food in a few hours, so I get dinners for special occasions. Like when I’m so sick of noodles I want to puke.
While the crane loads the last of the freight, and the reactor gets hot, I take my tour. She’s a mess, like me. Lights burnt out in the corridors. Last painted a hundred years ago. Barely up to any code or standard. I think I can stand living here for awhile.
Bertha has been cool for a month, and stowed outside in the rain, so there are a lot of things to get done. I’ve got the ground crew running around and taking off covers, and it takes them an hour. I fail a check and find out they forgot one. They’re good guys, but I think they all got trashed last night too.
The drive is hot, and my flight window is 200 miles away from the city. Flight control takes an hour to clear me, and then it’s another hour to the equator. Big Bertha handles like a brick marionette, but I hold the sticks like a pro.
I hit the stratosphere and real gravity goes away, replaced by the inertia definers I’ll be feeling for awhile.
There’s a hurricane forming down there, and I have twenty minutes to watch its lightning pulse as I climb.
When I pass the Van Allen Belt the jump drive is charged and I make the leap, just inside where it’s legal. I spend some time locking the flight deck, locking the brain, and building my back door into the security systems. I’ll be in patrolled space until I wake up, but there’s no reason to take a chance on piracy.
Now it’s time for a long, long, nap.
The nurse-bot hooks me up. This includes jamming some needles into my skull. I’m prepared as I can be for that, which turns out, isn’t enough. While that’s happening the tank is filling with goo from a bunch of different sources. I have to climb stairs to sit inside, and then scrunch up a bit. There’s a new tube connected to my heart. That takes some deep breathing exercises to stave off the panic while it’s happening.
The water tingles a bit in a way that I know would get painful after awhile, fortunately my body won’t be around for that long.
Nurse puts another tube down my throat and I submerge, very glad that the drugs are going to knock me out soon.
A month goes by. I don’t dream.
Being born sucks. A tube opens and spills a whole bunch of amniotic fluid into a sluice. My naked body comes with it. It does not go down the sluice.
The light hurts my eyes. My pupils have never had to constrict before. Apparently the first time that happens it’s fairly painful. Who knew.
I’m exhausted. It takes me over an hour just to get the strength to wiggle my fingers. I’m laying inside an incubator, and breathing for the first time in four weeks, and that’s taking up all of my energy right now.
After a couple of hours of laying there I finally muster the energy to sit up. The heats up on the ship, and the incubator has helped, but I still feel cold. There’s a mirror on the wall in the med-bay. I avoid it. Something in me wants a grand reveal.
I leave sticky foot prints on the deck, and waste the water for a shower, so I can get all the gunk off. I get out feeling less than human, and make my way to the bunk house to gaze in my self reflective reflection.
My knees hurt.
My fingers hurt.
My breasts hurt.