Transition

My last body could see infrared and ultraviolet, but I can’t decide what to get next.

“I have no idea.  But I’m going civilian, and I can’t keep the law-enforcement upgrades.  They said they’d cover half of the switch to a civilian model.”

Doctor Ferraz was small and always smiling, but her cheer didn’t ring false.  She seemed genuinely excited about her job.  Of course, she also had pointed ears, naturally shimmering blue hair, and a bone structure entirely too elfin to be a coincidence.  It was obvious she had some enthusiasm for body modification, almost beyond the bounds of professionalism.  It was easy for me to overlook – I wouldn’t want a tattoo from an artist that had no tattoos, and I wouldn’t want a body mod from a doctor who’d never used one.

“So you just built for the job?”

“Biocapacitors charged one Taser shock a week from the hands.  Muscle mass, tendon strength, and bone density beyond the civilian limits.  Infra-red and ultraviolet vision.  I can see where people were sitting, if a car was recently driven, people moving in the dark.  Ultraviolet showed me clues.  Blood traces . . . among other things.”

Doctor Ferraz looked up at me, eyes wide and curious at my sudden vagueness.  “Other things?”

“Don’t ask.”

She blinked, then realized what I meant.  I was glad I didn’t have to explain.  The world that ultraviolet revealed was not a clean place.  “Okay . . . so your job picked your last mods, or you picked them for the job.  What job would you like?  There are so many new mods out!  There are deep-water mods with gills.  The mines and the research on the ocean floor require them.  If you got mods like that, you’d never hurt for work.  And then the orbital shipyard’s going up.”  She looked up at me, an impish grin crossing her expression.  “They’re looking for a new chief of security.  They told me to flag them if anybody mods for hard vacuum, and you were a cop, right?”

“I was a detective.”  There was mischief in her smile, and I suspected I knew just what was on her mind.  I focused my mind on the subject at hand, instead.  “How does it look?  I don’t want to be a space-squid.  Leave the exotic stuff for the people who want to be a spaceship.”

Her grin broadened, and she picked up a slate from the waiting room table.  With a few taps, she opened up a list of mods and swiped through them until she found one.  She held the slate between us, watching my expression from the other side of the holographic display.

I took the slate from her – I couldn’t focus with her eyes on the other side of the display – and examined it.  Hardening the eyes against vacuum.  A bonded layer over the skin, to maintain external pressure.  Valves in the ears and nose, multi-chambered lungs, to get every bit of air out of a breath, and with modifications with withstand vacuum.  There was no exhalation cycle; a custom-built organ diverted carbon into solid waste, instead.  And the body looked human.  I could be handsome in the classic sense.  Call me old-fashioned, but I wouldn’t give that up.

The list of warnings was long; the custom lungs and Co₂ processing had their own set of risks, but I didn’t see anything that was a dealbreaker.  I was moving into a cloned body so I could abandon any degenerative condition with another move.  The rare eyesight problems were a problem for a chief of security, but I’d worn glasses before.  No common neurological or psychological issues.

“You said they want a chief and wanted to know about people with these mods.  Will they help cover them?  This costs an arm and a leg AND a kidney.  The department only wants to cover half, and that was for a civilian model.  They won’t want anything to do with this.”

“I think for the right candidate, I could convince them to spring for it.  I’ll flash them a message if you’re interested.”

For twenty years, I’d been on the force.  It showed you the best and worst of men.  Did I really want another job policing?  On the other hand, administration was a different business, and it was a chance to go into space.  Space was still expensive to visit, and it would be a long time before the launch platform paid back its cost, and travel became cheap.  And it meant a new, unusual set of capabilities to explore, which wasn’t without its allure.

I opened a small case with a few sets of data chips; I pulled one out of the set to the far left.  My generic law-enforcement resume. “Send them that, and ask if they’d like to talk.”

——

It was a week before I heard back from them.  In the meantime, I visited the Corporeal Boutique a few more times, considering a number of modifications for a number of careers.  I learned more about Doctor Ferraz, too.  Her first name was Reina.  Her pointy ears were enticingly sensitive.  She liked creamy food, modern classical music, and having her hair stroked while she fell asleep.  We were eating breakfast at my apartment when the call came in.

“How do I look?”  I straightened my tie, fussing over my appearance.  Luckily I had already dressed to interview.

“Stop fussing.  You look fine.  Face forward for when the call connects.  Don’t let mid-fidget be their first impression.”

I obeyed, and turned to the screen, waiting.  A woman with her hair pulled back in a severe bun faced me as the image snapped to life.  A framed portrait on the wall.  I recognized the haggard, slightly overwhelmed look on her face.  Stacks of folders lay on the desk.  One of them laid open, but the angle was so shallow I couldn’t read anything from the forms inside.

“Detective Thomas Jameson?”

“You can call me Tom.”

“Tom.  We thank you for your interest, and your willingness to undergo modification for the job.  However, we’re seeking a candidate with more administrative experience.”  I felt the disappointment crease my features.  Then I frowned, looking at the folders on her desk.  I couldn’t read her papers, but I recognized the form layout.  Witness statements, and a lot of them.  “We don’t feel that the challenges faced in a community of this size are best served by an investigator’s level of–”

“I mean no disrespect, miss, but that’s bullshit.”  Reina choked on her coffee across the table, and waved her hands, trying to warn me off.  I ignored her, setting my elbows on the table, and folding my hands in front of my chin.  My thinking pose. “You think you need an administrator because your staff is untrained for what you’ve encountered.  You want someone to put a structure in place that will make everything make sense.  And –” In for a penny, in for a pound.  I threw the dice. “–If your chief of security were still alive, he’d know that your security team didn’t need more procedure.  They need to learn to examine, question, and think.  You saw my resume, you know I’m not incapable of administration, and I have every skill your staff needs to learn.”

We stared at each other for a long, nerve-wracking moment.  I steeled myself, hardened my eyes and waited.  Across the display, Reina was staring at me with wide, shocked eyes.

“. . . . Tell me what you know, and I might reconsider.”

“I know that you have a big stack of witness statements in front of you,” She quickly closed the open folder, “and if every one of those folders is the same, that’s a lot of statements.  Your current Chief of Security isn’t sitting in on this interview, meaning that he’s either not worth his title, or he’s incapacitated, or . . . ” I let my words trail off, before picking up again. “That many witnesses means a big canvas, and something big enough that everybody saw it.  But you’re still hiring for administration.  Another clue that your Chief is down for the count.  And I know nothing about this was in the research I did on your company, so you’re keeping it quiet.  Was it a design flaw that killed people?  Sabotage?”  Her flinch confirmed that theory.  “Sabotage, then.  The last thing you need is to push paper more effectively.”

Her face soured, and she regarded me for another long few moments.  “We’ll be in touch.”

Then the screen vanished, and I was left looking at Reina across the table, watching me in shock. “Do you think . . . ”

“They’ll call.  Not right away, though.  First, they have to pretend to be in control.”

Reina jumped out of her chair and into my lap, and her lips were on mine, fierce. “Tom, that was . . . damn, that was hot!  You know what you did? You just spanked a rejection call until they hired you!”

I rose, lifting her to sit on the table, and ran my fingers through her hair, the strands shimmering blue in the light.  “Reina . . . if I get this job, you know what it means.”

“She looked up at me, soberly, her excitement subdued.  “We both knew when we started that it might not last long. With you living in orbit . . . ”

I tucked her head into my chest, under my chin.  She burrowed against me, and I held her.  My mind was spinning though.  Maybe if I had any control over hiring?  No, HR would be intermediate.  I couldn’t offer jobs to anybody I liked.  If we had a sham marriage to help me get her to orbit, they might decide not to hire me.  I’d cost twice as much water and air to hire.  Maybe as a doctor . . .

“Their medical team didn’t list a body-mod specialist.  Did you see the list of warnings regarding the lungs on that mod?  It’d really benefit them if they hired a specialist.”

Reina looked up, her eyes a little reddened, her eyes searching my face.  “Tom . . . we both started this thinking it might last a week.  I didn’t mean to get this serious.  But if I take a job in space . . . I need to know you’re serious, too.  It’s hard to know what you’re thinking.”

I didn’t reply right away.  How serious was I?  I’d known her a week.  I knew she liked to be gentle, that she was quick as a whip and smarter than anybody I knew.  Myself included.  I knew she got mean when she was angry, and I knew that she hated herself afterward and needed to be forgiven before she could be comforted.  I knew that she qualified everything she said unless she was certain of herself, and didn’t mind being wrong – almost delighted in new understandings, usually.  On the other hand, I’d had girlfriends for months that I didn’t know half as well.  I felt the familiar tug of intuition, that force I’d trusted all my career and all my life, and decided to take a leap.

“I know it’s taking a risk.  But I’m deciding to take this seriously.  If you can get up there with me, you can count on me.  I’ll let them know how much I’d appreciate a specialist’s presence.”

“You’re ‘deciding to be serious?’  ‘I can count on you?’ I don’t need someone to water my plants!  I need you to need me!”  The table rocked as she pushed me, and she stood up, pushing me again. “I need you to care!”

“Of course I care.”  I cupped her cheeks, and laid my brow to hers, closing my eyes. “But caring isn’t enough.  Before I rip you away, I need to believe we can work.  I made a decision based on evidence that you and I can make it.  I want you to come with me.  Nothing so flimsy as feelings, Reina, there is bedrock to build on.  Come with me.”

She smiled and looked guilty all at the same time.  “Now I feel bad about yelling at you.”

I folded her in my arms, and tucked her head under my chin, squeezing her. “It’s okay.  All is forgiven.  You know that.”

She burrowed into my chest, the tension easing from her shoulders. “I like to hear it, though.””Will you look strange to me, when I see you?”

“You know I’ll try something new.  But it won’t be too strange, I promise.  You’ll know my face.  There’s a new one for zero-g.  I’ll be able to swim in the air.”

“Like a mermaid?”

She giggled. “Nothing so silly.  More like being able to spread wings from my hands and feet.  And put them away, too, don’t worry.”

“I wouldn’t mind a little strangeness.  Just remember to be human, too.”  The holographic display lit up again, trilling to signal an incoming call.  It was the Orbital Authority again, calling me back.  “That was sooner than expected.  Either they’re still rejecting me, or they’re desperate.”

Reina hopped out of my lap and smiled at me. “You tell them how it is.  You already spanked them once.  Don’t hesitate.  I’ll get up there.  If not with the specialist job, then something else.  You just get on your own way.”

I smiled at the encouragement and game myself a moment to imagine a future with her.  I hadn’t permitted myself that before.  I was so sure this would end.  It still might.  But waking up with her in my arms, Then I turned to face the display, and whatever the future held.

Author: Ash Ericsson

I'm not real.

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