art by Agata Maciagowska
by Dan Hart
Ivy tried to imagine how it would feel to be bereft of his musical ability, but could not. The Transfer Specialist smiled at him with warm cheeks and wide eyes. His nametag, elegant as the sleek office, sparkled gold: "Ted Seals." Ivy studied Ted's smile and concluded it was a lie.
"How much would you give me?" Ivy asked, forcing steady breaths. His heart thumped three times for every tick of the wall clock. He needed at least ninety-two thousand for Rose's cochlear implants. He hoped for a hundred and fifty, despite the horror stories of artistic skills selling for less than twenty thousand per decade of experience.
Some of the warmth left Ted's smile. "Well, you have nine years of professional musical experience--although that was a decade ago. Artistic neural pathways aren't in high demand these days with the economy what it is, and they fade with age and neglect."
Ivy's bones felt heavy. "How much?"
Ted pulled in his lower lip, shook his head, and sighed. "I like you, Ivy. I like your music. Your wife has the most phenomenal voice I've ever heard. I bought everything you sold. I love your songs." Ted thumped his chest and nodded, as Ivy had done at the end of each set. "They're powerful and romantic. Majestic. I wish you had never stopped."
Ivy soaked up the praise like a dry sponge, and closed his eyes in nostalgia. Few remembered Ivy Rose, their two-person cabaret band. He could still feel his fingers rolling over ivory keys and hear Rose's glorious voice, lustrous like golden sunlit chords dancing on cloudy staves.
"Eighty thousand," Ted said. "That presumes twenty years' professional experience, you understand. Not the nine you actually have. The boss won't be happy, but you deserve it."
"That's not enough!" Ivy shook his head; his eyebrows scrunched. "We weren't rock stars, but we were popular. Surely my talent is worth more than that."
"Your talent, absolutely. Sadly, we can't harvest that. Only your neural pathways. What the buyer does with those is up to his own faculty."
"It's not enough."
"I wish I could do more--I really do adore your music. But adding additional experience would start your professional career before you were sixteen. I can't stretch the truth that far."
Eighty thousand was still eighty thousand; Ivy only needed twelve grand more. Perhaps he could sell a kidney.
"May I ask why you are doing this?" Ted pressed his fingertips together and leaned forward.
"For Rose. Her voice works fine--it's because of her ears that she can't sing. There's nothing to be done about the cancer, but..." Ivy breathed heavily through his nose. His pause was not interrupted. "I just wanted to let her hear again. Let her sing again. She needs a cochlear implant, but insurance won't pay for it. I've been saving on the side but I'll never have the hundred grand." His eyes stung. "Never."
"I see." Ted stared down at his desk. When he looked up his smile was gone. "Are you sure you want this?" he asked. "We can give you an advance of a couple weeks, of course. But after that we will take your ability. You won't be able to play anymore. Are you sure you want that?"
"Of course I want it!" Ivy bowed his head, but his voice didn't break. "She's given me so much. I need to give music back to her."
Ted nodded. "What other skills do you have?"
"What? None worth anything."
"Are you sure? Can you read?"