Two days before she told Nono her secret, Summer first tried on her new outfit.
Another of Leo’s big oversized suitcases is waiting for her when she gets home. Inside is the new body - or part of it. Leslie had apparently hauled it inside for her. At least she hadn’t opened it. Geez, that’d be creepy. “Hey, roomie, I found a bunch of human skin, including your face, in a suitcase your ex-boyfriend sent you.”
Summer reflects for a moment that Alycia might have a point, sometimes. Looked at a certain way, her life is completely fucking bonkers.
Back to work. Her internal mechanisms haven’t changed, so all she needs to do is replace her limbs and skin. No problem. At one point, she’d thought about a whole second shell, but that was too much to ask of Leo. She undocks her holographic drone and gets to work.
It’s around the time that her chassis is mostly exposed skeleton, with rugose carbon struts in place of bones, transparent biopolymer bladders for moving ionized fluid around her interior, and thick sheafs of nano-yarn muscle, that her cell phone rings. Nope, it’s not a regular call, it’s a Skype video call.
Summer stabs down on the “Hang up” icon. It doesn’t work - her holographic fingers interact badly with the capacitance sensor in the touch screen. She grabs a pencil and hits the button with an eraser. What a crappy time for someone to call! But who called? She looks.
Ryan is Puerto Rican. He was raised in Michigan, but cultivates the fashion, the slang, and the attitude of an island boy. He has a winning smile, good customer service skills at Blintzkrieg, and no plans for his life other than charming everyone he meets on his way through college. When he made his one and only pass at Summer after work one day, he rolled with her rejection so gracefully that even she’s half-convinced he was just joking.
Since then, he’s covered enough shifts for her (and vice versa) that they exchanged Skype accounts recently to make it easy to coordinate. But so far he’s stuck to text chat, never tried to do a voice call, much less video.
It must have been an accident–
Another call comes in. Voice, this time, from him. Summer glances at her half-done project, sighs, and mashes the answer icon with her pencil.
“Acho! Hey, sorry about that, I shoulda thought–”
“It’s fine, Ryan, what’s up?” Summer asks brightly.
“Hey listen, Chaima’s got big plans for you. Shift supervisor is the word.”
Summer hauls a cumbersome batch of artificial skin onto her bed with a thump. “Yeah…?”
“So, y’know, I’m calling to congratulate you! I assume you’re going to take the job, if she offers it to you. It’s good money, you should be saving up while you can.”
Summer tries to pull a sheet of skin up from the bed and apply it, but she’s distracted and almost loses her grip. “Gee, thanks, um, it’s a lot to think about….”
She doesn’t want to be rude, but she really wants to get this done too. What’ll keep him talking? Ryan loves to play mentor to anyone younger than him. His advice is hit or miss, but he means well. “If I had some other thing, some activity or club or something at school, that was really important to me, what do you think I should do?”
While Ryan starts talking, Summer clamps a hand-held microdrill in her mouth and tugs epidermis up and over her robotic shell’s shoulders.
“You’re still in high school, but you gotta start getting ready for adult life. You gotta eat, pay rent, save up for a rainy day. You play around and goof off, you’re gonna be pelado. Money makes the world go 'round.”
This all sounds like good adult advice, and Summer smiles to herself in remembering that Ryan himself is far less reliable. “What if I’m not just goofing off?” she asks, coyly. “Maybe it’s something important, something responsible of me to do, or charity or community service.”
While she’s sealing the nanotubes, Ryan chews this over. “I guess it depends, yeah? You’re a pretty girl, muy caliente, but you aren’t coasting on that. You do the work and you’re nice to people. Maybe you think you need to do more good deeds. If so, hey, respect. Just don’t give too much of yourself that you can’t keep going. You’re not invulnerable, you know.”
“Uh-huh,” Summer grunts, and clumsily levers the drill into position with one hand. The conversation amuses her: Ryan’s only nineteen, two years older than her. She can imagine him as a young dad, giving this advice to a daughter. But he’s still talking - which is good.
“Listen. Retail’s just where you start. It’s not your whole life. Go to college, pick a good major, something you’re good at. Study hard, pay attention in class. Or if you can’t get financial aid, or repaying it is too much, there’s jobs you can learn to do while you’re doing them, or that use skills you might already have. Delivery driver, stuff like that. And leadership skills are good everywhere. Shift supervisor would teach you how to manage people. That opens a lot of doors.”
The faint hum of the drill starts up. Summer holds her robotic shell and her new skin together, using her holographic body as a vise, and drills. The mirror on the outside of her closet door lets her watch the process from the other side.
“Anyway, what excitement are you engaged in at present?” Ryan asks. Summer can practically hear his eyebrows waggle.
“I’m …. taking care of my skin,” she says lamely.
“I hear some kinda humming,” Ryan says. “Issat a machine? You must have a serious beauty routine. Your complexion is great already, don’t ruin it, okay? You’re still young, let that natural glow shine through. God gave you some amazing skin.”
“My creator did indeed,” Summer agrees.
“Hey, you wanna come to a party?” Summer knows he’s not making a move, they’re past that. This is him trying to expand a coworker’s social circle, and have fun with someone he enjoys being around. “Not one of those senior house parties, I mean the real thing.”
“I’ll think about it.” College parties are not her scene - neither are high school parties, for that matter. There’s too much fascination with alcohol, which does nothing for her. Getting together with a bunch of classmates and strangers for an evening of lowered inhibitions and close proximity is a recipe for disaster to a robot on the down low.
On the down… load? Summer giggles to herself at the joke. “How are _you _doing, these days?” she asks with a smile.
“Oh you know, studying hard, gotta pass those exams. Working at a coffee house really helps out when I’m up late, hitting the books.” Summer tries to imagine Ryan ever studying hard. He’s certainly never brought any of his study materials to work, something even the high schoolers do. “Hey, what impresses a girl more, a Kia or a Subaru? Which would you rather be picked up in?”
“I’d prefer the car that showed the driver thought about his car purchase as more than a pickup tool,” she says drily, but she smiles in spite of herself.
“I have! I called Mama and she had a lot of ideas. A Kia didn’t seem very cool but I’m starting to really see the appeal.”
Enough of the new skin is now on the new shell to bootstrap the next phase of Summer’s project. She runs a quick program. A hologram emerges from the skin - gratifying, in and of itself, because it means the new module is working perfectly. But useful, because the hologram is a solid projection of her own skull. She begins laying the replacement skin over it, to build herself a second face.
“You driving anything? Or still bumming rides from that vision of pastoral loveliness you call roommate?” Ryan has seen Leslie twice, hasn’t talked to her, and may never. He just doesn’t seem to have an off switch.
“I catch rides with Leo too, sometimes. But I get myself around just fine.” She fires up a test program to verify the thrusters, and is rewarded by a definite feeling of pressure on her hand as she waves it across the exposed skin. Flight should be a lot more stable in this new configuration.
Meanwhile, the elements of her new face are locking themselves together. She lifts it carefully off the holographic mount, and layers it over the carbon-allotrope skull. It clicks into place, and she starts the bonding process.
“Okey-dokey. Don’t be a stranger, though. When I get my Kia, I’ll take you anywhere you like.”
“I will, Ryan.”
“Ope! I gotta call someone else now. Imunna leave you be, see you at work!”
Summer surveys the job in progress. With the rest of the skin attached, the newly upgraded shell will look exactly like the old. She still has to re-pigment the whole thing, or people will start asking about tans and tattoos.
Ryan’s right about one thing. She has to grow up sometime. The face before her clearly looks sixteen or so - still developing, still maturing. Someday, probably soon, she’s going to have to resculpt herself. It’ll need to look natural, a series of unnoticed changes over weeks and months.
Am I being a stupid kid for wanting to play princess and dress up like a magical girl?
She smiles to herself. It’s still scary, but right now, with the new shell literally in her hands, she feels confident.
Growing up also means establishing yourself. Who cares what other people think? If it’s what I want, it’s my body and my look. I have a right to this.
author: Bill G.