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Shop Talk

O. Hybridity has been sighted in numerous locales throughout North America, but their primary territory has been isolated by dedicated scholars to the upper Midwest. Their most common stalking ground is widely believed to be rural college campuses, but the record has shown that sightings can be expected anywhere turkey vultures, slime mold, and other detritivores (to which the subject has displayed much affinity in the past) can be found. No prior record exists of the subject's ever having engaged in published authorial behavior; recent activity has been cause for concern among many mainstream scholars.
"I'm telling you, you should get in on the rental business," says Noel. "It's like being paid to sleep."
Diamanta fills a syringe with selective paralytics. She is trying not to look Noel in the eye.
"And wake up in unfamiliar places?" she says.
"Not as common as you'd think!" says Noel. She is used to Diamanta's needling and refuses to abridge her enthusiasm. "Besides, don't people already pay money to do that?"
Diamanta looks at Noel through the amber serum. She is going to be eighteen in a few months and will, Diamanta estimates, continue to look that way for as long as she can afford to. Rendered in the colors of the syringe she looks like an artifact, like a person in a photograph from the days when pictures that got old turned an afflicted sort of yellow. The comparison, she concludes, doesn't really hold up; she has never seen any of that sort of picture where somebody smiles, especially in the earnest alive way that Noel does.
"Unreasonable people, yes," she says. "Unreasonable amounts."
"But it's fun, right?" says Noel.
Diamanta marks out her target in marker on the bare skin at the nape of Noel's neck.
"I think you're overestimating how much cool adult fun I have in my life," she says, leveling the syringe. It's a weighty model, almost industrial. "Anyway, brace yourself."
She makes the injection. Noel's body jolts in place and then deadens, temporarily quadriplegic.
"Is it fun being on rental?" asks Diamanta, beginning to unzip Noel's spinal column. She can already see that the transmitters are falling out of alignment.
"Oh, I'm gone at jack-in," says Noel. "I hear other renters, folks with shoddy implant jobs I'd bet, sometimes they flicker a little. But I'm just not anywhere for a couple hours, which I guess is pretty cool. Like, my sister has a job, private hazmat stuff, and she says half the work is just sitting in a room staring at a bunch of little lights and hoping none of them turn on until you can go home. I figure renting beats that 'cause with a regular job you're still there if you're not doing anything. Either way you lose some hours, so why be conscious for 'em?"
The internal battery in Noel's streaming rig didn't have enough life in it to carry it through to the next checkup. She's been pushing herself harder than Diamanta told her she should and they both know it. Diamanta strips it out and lays in a new one, mentally adding to the bill. It's the least she should be doing.
"I think you're getting at the appeal of binge drinking," says Diamanta. "Purely conjecture on my part, though."
"Aren't medical students supposed to be good at partying?"
Diamanta weaves in new biofiber linkages where the old ones are starting to break down.
"That would explain why I'm not a medical student anymore," she says.
"Right. Now you fool around in pretty uninsured girls' guts," says Noel, meaning it as a compliment.
The skin of Noel's back splays out like a set of intricate, useless wings. Diamanta folds it all back into position at a reverent pace, and then seals over the incisions with synthflesh foam.
"It's not the only thing I do here," she says. "Sometimes I get to pop open a mafioso and stick all the important bits in a plastic case. They tip big if I salvage their dicks."
"See, this is why you need to get in on the business!" says Noel. "Imagine the rates they'd agree to for a few hours pretending they aren't floating around in a cooler full of sports drink."
"I figure I shouldn't cut into your earnings," Diamanta says as she assembles the bill.
The minutes pass as feeling creeps back into Noel's body. Diamanta pings Noel's rental-rig; everything runs as it ought. The two make small talk, movies and weather. Quiet gaps creep between them. Noel has difficulty talking about things that aren't work, Diamanta knows. The work is putting her far away from the family that would have sold her for raw materials, putting her in a little apartment she lives in alone and decorates with pictures of the friends she has made and the trouble they have gotten in and out of, putting money in her accounts.
She will buy insurance when she is legal--Diamanta knows doctors in the right places and with the right obligations to invoke such that she can be furnished with false documentation for the rig, and she will charge half what she ought to for a finder's fee. The profits will creep in and Noel will buy new bodies, prettier bodies that can take punishment both well and prettily, and the money will only grow. Noel tells this story often enough that it has crystallized in Diamanta's mind.
Diamanta knows Noel well enough to really, truly believe her.
And after Noel has paid and thanked Diamanta for all her help, handed her a business card still hot from the printer, and left, Diamanta is alone in her clean little office in the corner of a converted shipping unit. She locks the door. She presses against her palm with the two middlemost fingers on her left hand and her neural links momentarily go hot beneath her scalp, flaring to wakefulness.
She sits at her computer, hooks up, and punches in an address that her browser remembers for her.
A timer on Noel's site counts down to the start of work hours. Bidding begins in three minutes.
The End
This story was first published on Monday, January 30th, 2017


A good genre story of any kind ought to be written with a human purpose in mind, shouldn't it? I think science fiction authors who can't wed their inventive hypothetical scenarios to a recognizable human situation are better off writing tech manuals. That's doubly true when it comes to the subject of technology in cyberpunk; writing for the sake of the fun tech in and of itself becomes suspicious, in my estimation, when the point of tech is to make us feel anxious and compromised. When I put together "Shop Talk," the one thing I was pretty certain about was that it wasn't a story whose premise was "people rent bodies"--it was "two people are having a conversation that isn't nearly as supportive or healthy as one party thinks it is." Everything else is metaphor, hyperbole, and window dressing.

- O. Hybridity

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