Six Month Ocean
by Rich Larson
Cassie's six month contract passed like a fleeting dream, and then she was awake in neural recovery, sipping out of prepackaged cups of water and letting a bot festooned in yellow smiley face stickers check her vision, her balance, her reflexes. The wallscreen across from her showed a blue sky where the puffy white clouds spelled out date and time. She'd gone under in March and now it was August.
Her mother was not there to harangue the human doctors and exhaust the administrative AIs, but Cassie had known not to expect her. Not after Cassie arrived home for holidays with fresh gauze scarving her neck, her skin still puffy around the shiny white neural notch that would let a digitized human consciousness sit at the top of her spinal column and inhabit her, move her, be her.
Puppet, was the word her mother had gleaned from some Catholic net-tract. My own daughter, a fucking puppet. Cassie tried to explain how the modeling had flamed out again, because she was too short and her ass too big by at least a centimeter. She tried to explain how her then-girlfriend had paid off all her debts from uni in only a year of letting other people wear her body.
Cassie wasn't good at explaining while her mother screamed and sloshed Merlot, so she fled out into the chilled evening and then to a bar. Where she met Noel.
"You're sure he's not waiting in the wrong wing, or something?" Cassie asked when the nurse came back. She'd rehearsed the words; her tongue still felt foreign in her mouth.
"No Noel Pierce scanned in today," he said. "We can call him for you. He might have forgotten."
But Noel would not have forgotten. They'd marked off every day of separation on his studio wall, carmine red splatters leading March into August, both of them high on paint fume and love and amphetamines. Today, the most important day, he'd ringed like a target before he ran his red fingers around her neural notch and kissed her hard.