My parental units haven’t had words with me in years when they could avoid it. My sib and I had been designed with fluid genotypes: the kind that can be shifted into a new, stable form within hours and not have the traits rejected. Different eyes, skin, gills, tails, fur: you name it, it can be done. Kel used it to aid in exploring beyond the solar system, until the illness. Kel was gone now, accepting the only opportunity to survive by getting her mind transferred out of body: and in Kel’s case, into radio waves that would keep exploring the universe.
I became an exotic: need a significant for a night? A party guest to liven up an evening? Someone to stand around as weird furniture? Give me a few hours notice and I can have a few new traits and show up as needed. I make a lot of money at it, enough that I can ignore offers of sex as part of any contract. Not that my parents know that. I like to think they’d talk to me if theyd did.
After Kel went away I indulged in really odd traits wings, tentacles, suckers, being neuter. Even my hardcore friends blanched at hanging out when I’d been covered in quills and spikes for a week. Right now I’m male again, though I’ve kept a tail. I’ve decided tails are nice and it’s been a long time since I’ve kept any cosmetic trait for more than a week. My tail is long and pale the rest of my skin a swirling of colours that shift and change when I touch anything or it touches me. It includes the wind on my face; I’ve been told the effect can be dizzying but I quite enjoy it. It’s liberating not to care what others think of my body at all. And strange it has taken me so long to reach this point.
I get four messages within as many hours with offers of contracts, desires for certain traits. Et cetera. I let my system send automated replies that I’m busy with another client, offer up a few other exotics as potential alternatives. They’ll repay the favour to me in return some day down the road. The street I’m walking down is pretty worn-out: you’d need a float car to navigate the road at all and the sidewalks are no better but there are still a few storefronts for businesses that need to be more than showcases for prefab items.
The mechanic’s shop isn’t anything special, though it’s more well-built than most shops as it has been blown up at least once. There is ample space for parking and the exterior is clean, neat and tidier than some more professional businesses ever manage. External appearances are important, after all. I head in, the door opening for me after a short scan. The shop is large, hosting six vehicles right now along with a bewildering array of scanning devices, repair modules and toolkits in a neat chaos.
Dar is pacing the middle of the shop. “I know I told it would be a day, but repairing decade-old apps and not updating them takes time, Mr. Alcourt. Yes, it is done but I need at least another day to make sure they’re all communicating properly and won’t break down soon. You – don’t care. I see.” He stops, continues moving. “Very well. Engage.”
An old, battered hovercar in the right corner shimmer and vanished into thin air.
I blink, stare at the spot where it had been, then at Dar. “Someone paid for a transmit of that?” I tried to work out of the cost of turning an entire antique car into pure information and reforming it on another part of the world intact and gave up.
He snorts. “He had it transmitted here, too.” Dar looks to be about seventeen, with a mechanics rough hands and a warm and ready smile. He’s been updating the projection over the past few months after I pointed out that him being a transfer was difficult enough for some clients without him still looking like the eight-year old kid he’d been before the accident. He drops the projection, revealing a torso on treads, two of at least a dozen arms currently outside his dark chassis. The top is a viewscreen with a replica of his face, which does make people feel a little better talking to him, not that his voice isn’t almost pitch-perfect.
I walk over, circling him critically. The vieswcreen now compasses his entire ‘head’ and turns with me. “You’re a bit taller than you used to be.”
He grins. “Well, I don’t need a body small enough to comfortably fit under eight-year Dar, so I figured I might as well make my body a bit bigger. Also more room for a few more scans and tools.” He raps his chest with one arm. “It’s okay, right?”
“It is.” He has a chair for guests that does incredible massages, among other things. I ignore it and find one of his scanning tables to sit on.
He rolls over, curious, and extends one limb to poke my tail. “You’re still keeping that.”
I smack his limb away with a flick of the tail, which wins a grin. “I like it. You have any pressing work?”
“Not now, no. Why?”
He hasn’t had a human body for over eight years; you forget things, even when you don’t want to. Mind you, it’s also me so having a glove on just one hand is perhaps not worth noting. If he – or the shops systems – have scanned it, he gives no sign of noticing the glove is a stealth mesh. I remove it and press the fingertips of my right hand to the middle his body.
“What – oh. Oh!” Dar’s face vanishes entirely from the viewscreen and for a moment his projection is visible, mouth dropping open, eyes wide in shock before it vanishes. Treads whine a little, which I’ve never heard before, as his body rocks and then moves back a step, his face appearing again. “Max. What is – was – what?” he gets out.
“A trait.” I reach over, run a finger down his side. The yelp he lets out is worth entire cost of the trait.
I give him a poke with my tail; his limbs twitch, relax. “It’s just the one hand; neural stimulator, modified to work on transfers. Probably intended as a weapon, given the current views of transfers, but it has other uses.”
“Like what?” he says warily, but doesn’t move.
I flex my fingers, alter the trait with a thought and run them over his body slowly. He lets out small gasps before his vocal systems shut down entirely. I count out a minute, two, a third. Release. It takes almost five minutes from that for the viewscreen to flicker, Dar’s face appearing in it again.
He sounds scared; I never intended for scared. “What was it like?”
“A wave. A wave with images behind it.” Dar is silent for a few seconds. “It was like dreaming was, when I could dream?”
I grin. “Good.”
“You’ve fixed vehicles for my clients at a reduced rate and you’re my only friend who doesn’t give a crap what I look like.”
He snorts. “Like I would?” he manages, almost steadily.
“You could; you don’t. It’s the least I could do.”
“Oh.” Dar licks his lips in the viewscreen, moves closer. “Could you do it again?”