art by Shane M. Gavin
by Jonas David
The door slid open and Cobalt hobbled out of the elevator, leaning to keep the weight off his deformed right leg. The mechanical prosthetic grafted on at the knee helped with his balance and mobility, but not with the pain. He winced as he made his way through the room. His one good eye scanned the various robotic arms, legs and other body parts on display in the shop. He reached the front desk and pressed on the buzzer.
"Bismuth?" he called out. "You here?" His voice was thin and reedy, like a young child's.
"Ah, there you are, my boy!" A familiar, handsome face popped around the corner. "Come on back here and I'll show you the newest models."
The blond hair, blue eyes, and strong square jaw of Bismuth's face were the pinnacle of fashion several generations ago when Bismuth had selected his body. Cobalt thought the look was very campy, and could almost be seen as ironic. These days, new citizens were choosing a more slim, streamlined, androgynous look for their bodies.
"Okay," said Cobalt. "But I've already picked what I want out of the catalog." He worked his way around the desk and followed Bismuth into the back room. Several bodies were standing on display. Their perfect proportions and smooth skin sent Cobalt's blood flowing.
"You must be excited," said Bismuth wistfully. "The Second Step is always the most exciting."
Cobalt nodded. His experience with the First Step, procreation, had been dull. Soon after his thirteenth birthday he was paired randomly via a lottery. The partner selected for him lived more than one-hundred kilometers away, so they agreed that he would mail her his seed instead of performing the act in person. These days, the First Step was only celebrated by females, as the act of bearing a child was still very monumental for them. Cobalt would likely never meet his child or its mother. The Third Step was being assigned to be caretaker of a new child. Due to the low number of children, not everyone completed this step, and it was seen more as an honor than a requirement. Bismuth had been Cobalt's caretaker.
"Yes," said Cobalt, "Thallium is having her Second Step in a few hours, so I don't have much time." Thallium had been his best friend since they were very young. They were born in the same year, and by chance their celebrations were scheduled one day after the other.
"Ah, of course," said Bismuth with a forced laugh. "Can't miss your best friend's Deathday!"
Cobalt smiled and nodded. It seemed all the citizens referred to the celebration in that distasteful manner. He supposed it must be because your flesh body was left behind as a dead shell once your consciousness was moved into your new mechanical body, but he liked to think of it as a second birth, not a death.
"What was yours like, Bismuth?" he hesitated to ask, as what happened inside the Changing Room was considered a personal experience, and people generally did not talk about it.
Bismuth turned away to caress one of the models. "It was like... falling asleep. And waking as someone new."