To the multifarious neon nightlights of the city dawn never came. The city made sure of it. The alpine buildings and sky traffic blocked out the sun, or at least it would, if the sun were able to fight back the grey clouds and eternal rain. There was never smell of petrichor. The rain brought a faint pungent smell of dirt and pollution. Instead of a cleansing agent, it brought tiny particles of debris that mixed with the dirt of the lower city creating a grime that would never be washed away.
Disagreeable. That was the word Andra used to describe the constant and miserable drizzle that always fell from the sky creating a wretched and tepid monotony that cloaked the Serenity in a grey despondency. Everything that made Serenity serene was lost with the upward expansion. The city outgrew the name long ago but continued to hold onto it as an ironic relic of the past. As she walked, she looked through the rain to the endless array of electronic advertisement screens and neon signs. Both were as inescapable as the rain. One of the ad screens displayed a model next to company name Paragon Genetics. Below the company name flashed the moto of their latest ad campaign. CREATE A PERFECT YOU!
Paragon Genetics was one of many small divisions of Paragon Industries, the rulers of technology in a city that no longer cared about ethics. Paragon Genetics recently acquired nanotechnology that altered how a person looked without the need for cosmetic surgery. It was all as simple as programing an army of nearly microscopic robots to alter a person’s genes. Larger breasts, smaller noses, face lifts and tummy tucks were now possible with Nanoplastics. It was the new addiction of the rich and famous. It was the savior that called to them, promising eternal youth. It was rumored to cure cancer, fix birth defects, make a person smarter or stronger, and create super soldiers. Behind every rumor there is an element of truth. It was a matter of time before these ideas came into fruition along with the consequences.
The Paragon Genetics model called herself Genesis – or that was the name she was given, no one knew for certain – because she was the new ideal woman; the first woman made perfect by science. Genesis staked her entire career on cyberplastics when it was still in the experimental stages and it paid off. The surgeon’s knife was replaced by nanobots and Genesis was their apostle. Andra’s stomach turned just thinking about it.
Andra heard a man swearing over the sounds of the city and clenched her jaw. The sidewalks were not crowded at this time of day. The swearing became louder with each step. She jammed her hands deeper into her pockets and picked up her pace. Very few cared what happened to those that lived in the Lower Serenity including the police. Those assigned to the actual streets were resentful. Reprimanded officers were reassigned to the lower city as punishment, unless they had connections. Nepotism was behind every Someone in the city, just not those in the police department.
The swearing came from an ally the neon glow of the city did not reach. Everyone who passed ignored the two poorly dressed and dirty men wrestling among the trashcans and debris. Andra stopped briefly for a better look. One of the two men was dead, most likely from a drug overdose. Rigor mortis had yet to stiffen the body. This was to the advantageous to the man wrestling the body. His job would be much harder if the body was stiff. He was a scavenger after the cybernetic implant on the dead man’s arm. He was pulling on the implant like one pulled a stubborn ring stuck on a finger. The implant was not going to give up that easily. The first man grew frustrated, pulled a knife out of his jacket and started hacking away the skin and muscle around the implant. One way or another he was leaving with it. He would take the entire arm if he had to.
Andra pulled her hood of her raincoat over her face. She walked quicker now. Scavengers were common enough, but this was the first one she had seen. A feeling of emptiness formed in the pit of her stomach. There was good money to be had selling implants on the black market. Companies working to reverse engineer the technology of Paragon Genetics paid and obscene amount for implants. Selling implants on the black market did not pay nearly as well, but it was a lucrative enough business. Those with the stomach for it turned scavenging into a career.
Not everyone could afford the high price tag of cyberplastics and there were shady cyberplasticians that would reuse the implants. Sometimes they were sterilized first, other times they were not. You could always spot someone with recycled implants. Their body would reject them and leave a thick build up of scar tissue. Some preferred this extreme look. There was always the risk of infection or other complications, but someone was always willing to take that chance. The media had a habit of inciting panic in the body modification community. When a body was discovered missing implants, the cause of death was always murder, even if it wasn’t. Sensationalized news always blamed Paragon Genetics for overpriced procedures forcing people into crime.
Andra knew her street value. She clenched her right hand into a fist, suppressing the need to run. The last thing she wanted to do was draw attention to herself.
JNR – JOURNAL OF NANOMEDICAL RESEARCH
Nanomedicine: Preventing Rejection of Cybernetic Implants and Artificial Limbs Using Nanobots
Carl Jackson PhD
Ongoing nanomedical research into nanotechnology reveals nanobots can aid in integration of cybernetic limbs in amputee patients. Nanobots are highly specialized microscopic robots of .1 to 100 nanometers long and wide programmed specifically to the needs and individual biology of the patient on a sub-cellular level.
Experimental procedures were performed on a 19-year-old female after a motorbike accident with success. The patient required amputation of the right arm and multiple skin grafts to her face and left leg. Nanobots were used to facilitate healing of internal injuries, assimilation of a cybernetic arm attached at the shoulder, and to prevent rejection of titanium cyberskin skin grafts.
Patient was given a low chance of recovery following the accident. With the assistance of nanotechnology, the patient was able to make a full recovery.
Etched across the glass door were the words Electric Circus. The door let out a long electronic beep signaling to Static Faraday someone was in the shop. The familiar perfume of disinfectants was better than any anti-anxiety medication. Andra inhaled deeply to calm herself. She hung her raincoat on the metal clothes tree just inside the door. She heard the voice of Static Faraday call out, “Static will be with you in a moment!”
Andra picked up one of the electronic magazines off the counter and sat down. She sighed. Naturally Genesis was on the cover. There was no escaping the woman. Girls and young women everywhere gave into celebrity culture mimicking her hair, makeup, clothing, and speech. Men fantasized about having sex with her, wanting to know if there was anything about her that was not genetically enhanced. It was not their fault, not really. It had to do with psychological anthropology and brains poorly adapted to evolution of society that equated celebrity status to prestige to be copied in order to achieve success. Static knew how to make an appearance. She wore an open pink lab coat over black leggings and matching black shirt that strained against her oversized breasts. She teetered in her heals. “Static is here!”
Andra tossed the magazine on the counter. “This too? Don’t you get enough of her without magazines?”
Static’s laugh was contagious. “Static Faraday is following her career. She’s always making improvements.” Air quotes accompanied the word improvements. “Consider it my way of keeping tabs on Paragon.”
“Of course.” Andra rolled her eyes.
Static noticed the bee pendant Andra was wearing. “You actually got it back? Static thought for sure Tomas was going to screw you over and keep it.”
“Honestly, I did too. I’m sure someone somewhere would have paid him big money for it. On the other hand, it would be bad for business if he was caught double crossing his customers.” A black metallic bee, restored to its original luster, was suspended from her neck. It was one of the original nanobees created by Paragon Industries when actual bees became the first casualty to the deadly mix of pesticides and rising temperatures. Robotic bees were now used exclusively in the industry greenhouses. Every so often someone would leave a door open and a few nanobees would escape into the world. The dead metal body was lying next to the dumpster of her apartment. She would have missed it if she had not been standing in just the right spot to catch a speck of neon reflecting off the black metal. It was impossible to know how long it had been laying there, ignored. It was a first generation. The bees in use now were dubbed nanobees. They were half the size of the one she wore now.
Tomas was the owner and crafter of Tinkered Trinkets, one of the exceedingly few jewelry stores in the Lower Serenity that dealt in anything but worthless baubles. Tomas designed everything he sold, a fact he was very proud of. His was a flair for integrating the modern cybernetic aesthetic with steampunk into remarkable pieces. If anyone could return the nanobee to its original brilliance, it would be him. So, she took him the bee. There was always the chance that it would be returned to Paragon for their Lost Technology Finders Fee. The Finders Fee was a competitive amount to encourage people to return any acquired technology rather than sell it on the black market or to their competitors. Tomas would have made nearly five times his restoration cost. Every day until the bee was back in her hands, Andra checked her phone several times a day.
“It looks good. It’s you.” There was a pause. “Let Static get things set up where we can get this done. Don’t want you being late for work again.” She sashayed to the backroom.
Andra shook her head and looked down at the magazine again. She oo the exact opposite of Genesis. Genesis was perfect, only the best for her. Andra’s modifications were the precursors to the cyberplastic nanotechnology that made Genesis. Andra glanced in the mirror on the opposite wall. A futuristic Phantom of the Opera stared back at her. Memories of what she looked like before she lost control of the motorbike eight years ago were fuzzy. She might have been pretty once, now she made small children scream.
“Come on back! Static is ready!” Static’s voice pulled Andra out of memories she wanted to forget. The months following the accident were hard. Andra slept on Static’s couch while looking for employment. Her skills were limited and she was unable to hide her titanium skin. Prospective employers were concerned that she would have a negative effect on business. They did not state this outright, though. It was always, “We don’t think you would be a good fit” or “You aren’t what we are looking for”, and even “We don’t think you will fit in here.” Finally, she was hired to bartend at Nexus. It was better than nothing, and she was desperate. She was paid well enough to be part employee and part freak show. She fit the cybernetic aesthetic of the club perfectly making her popular with the patrons. At least they were friendly as well as generous with their tips. She was as much as an object as Genesis, only for different reasons. Last week a photographer approached her wondering if she had considered modeling for alternative and transgressive beauty magazines. She still had his card.
Andra made her way to the backroom. Static’s easel was a modified tattoo chair. Framed close ups of body modifications hung on the walls. She was always surprised the number of people that were interested in cyberplastic body modifications. She did not understand their appeal, but that did not stop her from adding superfluous additions to what was medically necessary. Today it was four small titanium circles added under her eye on the unaltered side of her face.
Andra hopped up on the tattooist chair trying not to rip the protective paper. “Thanks for seeing me on short notice.”
“Static will do anything for you, you know that.” She smiled. The smile was the one thing that was not changed, when everything else had been.
Date: April 29, 2153
To: All Employees
From: James Coldwell, President
Subject: Termination of Ian Vargas
I am writing to inform all employees of the termination of Ian Vargas effective immediately. This memo contains classified information covered under Company Secrets in the nondisclosure statements signed as a condition of employment for Paragon Industries.
Mr. Vargas has undergone gender reassignment and currently goes by the name Static Faraday. In order to accomplish this, Mr. Vargas/Ms. Faraday illegally used company research for unauthorized and unethical purposes. If Mr. Vargas/Ms. Faraday is caught on company grounds, notify security and myself immediately.
President, Paragon Industries
Andra and Static’s friendship went back as far as middle school when Static was still Ian Vargas. She was sure she knew Ian as well as she knew herself. The acceptance of the employment with Paragon Industries was a surprise, the gender reassignment was a complete shock. It was not so much the procedure itself, but how he went about doing it that was surprising.
Ian’s initial idea was to expand on stagnant nanomedical research by creating nanobots that would prevent organ rejection in transplant patients eliminating the need for a lifetime of expensive medications. His biotechnical research merged the inorganic with the organic in an unexpected harmony revolutionizing medicine. Always one to push things as far as he could, Ian wanted to know the full potential of his medical invention.
James Coldwell, the CEO of Paragon Industries, fired him personally for “unethical experiments”, “not conforming to company expectations”, and the technicality of not being Ian Vargas. Nondisclosure statements were signed preventing Ian from sharing the technology he developed with other companies, from talking to the media, and disclosing the details of his gender reassignment. The last one came with a large sum of money as incentive. Coldwell anticipated a lawsuit over gender discrimination and essentially paid Ian off before the possibility came into fruition. The only legal problem was Ian had to sign the paperwork two different people, Ian Vargas and as the female version of himself. Ian assumed he would have the opportunity for further experiments in order to revert to his original male body. No amount of reasoning, no matter how logical, was going to persuade Coldwell to change his mind. He had already gone this far; he might as well take it as far as he could. If he had to live as a woman, he wanted people to think he was an over the top drag queen for his own amusement, and so Static Faraday was born. The pay off from Paragon Industries was used to open Electric Circus.
A doorbell rang in an Upper Serenity penthouse. Genesis was not expecting anyone. “I have to go. Someone is at the door.” She said into her phone and pushed a button disconnecting the call. The doorbell rang again. She hurried across the room. The doorbell rang a third time as she was opening the door.
The stranger invited himself in and Genesis went pale. Her hand carved through her hair, pulling it back and then releasing it. “Rude!”
The man looked at her and smiled. He tossed a large thick envelope on the coffee table. “You could be more appreciative, after all, I am doing you a favor.” He had one rule. Inform people before the collateral damage happened. It helped him sleep better at night. He was not the uncaring asshole people thought he was. He motioned to the envelope. “Trust me, you will find the contents interesting.”
“What do you want?” Her voice wavered. Sweat started to form on her forehead.
“Nothing from you.” He moved back to the door and opened it. “The information contained in that envelope is going to the press in the morning.” He winked at her before shutting the door loudly.
“Asshole!” He did not hear her through the door. She looked at the envelope. What could possibly be in it? She squeezed her eyes shut. When she opened them, the envelope was still laying there, the name Iris Babbage scrawled across it. She took several deep breaths and opened the envelope, dumping copies of newspaper clippings, legal documents, transcripts, photos, and other miscellaneous paperwork onto the table. She shuffled through contents unable to read everything at once and started to cry.
Loud dance music shook the floor. It would be another hour or so before Nexus was swarming with people ordering drinks between dances trying to temporarily escape the rain induced depression. She took this time to make sure the bar was well stocked. Two of the club regulars already complemented her on the new implants and tipped a bit more than usual.
Andra was polishing away the ring left by someone’s glass when a woman grabbed her hand. The woman did her best to hide her identity but failed. Andra recognized her right away. She shook her head. “Decide to slum it tonight?”
“I need to talk to you.” Her voice could barely be heard over the music.
Andra drew her brows together and tilted her head. “Excuse me?”
“It’s important.” Her voice was unsteady.
Andra shrugged and walked off. So much for an uneventful night tending bar. The woman studied Andra carefully as she walked over to her co-worker at the other end of the bar. They had a brief conversation and Andra set down her cleaning cloth. She approached the woman and tapped her on the shoulder, motioning her to follow. The office was the best place to talk. The soundproof walls were imperfect, letting in muffled music. The company tasked with building the club cut as many corners as they could in order to make a larger profit. Andra sat down behind the desk.
The woman took in every detail of the room. It was everything she was not accustomed to. She removed her coat and draped it over the back of the chair before sitting. She straightened her back and placed the large envelope on the desk. She took a deep breath. “Open it.”
Andra looked from the woman to the envelope, recognizing the name written on the envelope. She looked back to the woman. “Is this some kind of joke?”
Genesis shook her head. Andra opened the envelope and pulled the contents out piece by piece, scrutinizing each in turn. There were pictures of the two of them together as children, pictures taken at the motorbike crash site, research reports, a stack of legal paperwork from Paragon Industries. Genesis watched her reaction closely. Andra finally asked, “Where did you get all this?”
“Some asshole delivered it earlier. Said he was taking it all to the press tomorrow.” Genesis sighed.
“It looks like someone wants to take down Paragon Industries?” Andra commented, still sorting through the paperwork and photos. A stress headache threatened her.
“I guess.” She shifted in her chair. “Papa lied. He said you died.”
Andra looked up from the paperwork and photos scattered on the desk and started into the eyes of her sister. As children people could not tell them apart, today they looked nothing alike. No one would believe they were sisters let alone twins. They were both products of a broken society. All it too was a motorbike crash to send their lives careening in different directions, one beautiful, rich, and famous, the other a bartender in the bowels of the city. Andra had no argument to defend their father. She spent years resenting him for his decision to leave to leave her for dead and turn her body over to science. Everyone who said the power of love could overcome anything were lying to themselves. Money trumped love. Love meant nothing when it meant drowning in debt to save a life. “I might as well be.”
Genesis stared back into a broken mirror image of herself. Was this what happened when people were left to fend for themselves? The girls were raised in the outskirts of the city in a middle-class neighborhood where people believed they could make enough to move to Upper Serenity and believed the stories of Lower Serenity were just that, stories. They earned just enough they did not have to experience the jaundiced city streets. Genesis had never seen the lower part of the city until today. She shuddered realizing this was her sisters’ home, that she had been living here since the accident eight years ago. “Your implants, we can have them removed. We can fix you. I have the money.” She spoke slowly, her voice was almost a whisper. “You don’t have to work here anymore. You can move in with me.”
Andra cut her off before she could say more. “Fix me?” Who did she think she was showing up to drop a bombshell then judge her broken?
“You can’t possibly like living like…this!” She spread her arms out to indicate the bar, her implants, and everything else that living in Lower Serenity implied.
“This,” Andra duplicated Genesis’ arm movements, “This is my life, the life I built out of nothing after being used as a lab rat!”
“You have to want something better!”
Andra narrowed her eyes and flinched her head back. “I don’t hate my job, and it pays well enough. I have friends and a decent enough roof over my head. I don’t go to bed hungry. I have everything I need.”
Genesis broke their eye contact. This was no going how she expected. She thought Andra would be excited, or at least happy, to see her. That she would take her up on the offer to move in and fix her appearance. She thought that things would return to how they were before the accident. She was not prepared for indifference. “We could be a family again. You could get rid of your implants and look,” she hesitated, “normal.”
Andra snorted. “The day I wrecked my bike I ceased looking normal. I can’t regrow my arm. The titanium skin grafts can’t be removed. This is my normal. No amount of money can change it.” Andra sighed. Genesis would have to reconcile that on her own. “Tell the truth.” She looked down at the photographs of her accident. “Let’s assume that whoever brought this to you has some kind of agenda against Paragon…”
Genesis cut her off. “There aren’t any other possibilities!”
When did her sister become so short sighted? “There are numbers of possibilities…” Andra considered that Paragon Industries could very well be after Static. She made a name for herself in the body modification community using a modified version of their nanobot technology. She made a mental note to call Static as soon as possible. “…and we are caught in the middle.”
“Why?” She muttered.
Andra watched her fiddle with her bracelet. Her chest felt heavy. Iris Babbage, her sister, was long gone. Genesis, celebrity supermodel made perfect by science, replaced her. She was used to being coddled, to having everything her way and everything being about her. She did not have the time to fill for this, she had to be back to work soon. “It doesn’t matter.” She scribbled her address and phone number on a piece of paper and handed it to Genesis. “If you are worried about the press, just play stupid. Tell them you are trying to rescue your poor unfortunate sister. Whatever makes you feel better.”
Genesis was holding back tears. “I thought you might at least be happy to see me!”
Andra took a deep breath and let it out slowly. She felt like she was talking to a child. “I never thought that anyone would come looking for me, let alone you. There is no way I can make you understand this. I am supposed to be dead. The medical technology used on my implants paved the way for the technology that made you what you. Without me, there would be no you. Everything was taken away from me in order for you to exist. Tomorrow, or the next day, the world is going to know, and we can’t escape it.”
A tear rolled down Genesis’ face
Andra turned away. “Look, I need to go back to work.”
Genesis stood to leave, grabbing her coat. “If we can’t be sisters again, can we at least be friends?”
Andra smiled. “We can try.”
Genesis nodded and stepped out of the office without the life changing envelope. Andra watched her leave. Someone had their reasons for putting together a dossier on the two of them. She wanted to know what it was. The one superpower she wanted was the ability to avoid the media. Genesis had people who did nothing but deal with the media. They would do their best to put a positive spin on the story, making Genesis out to the be the victim. The public would feel sorry for her. It would only help her career.
Once again Andra would have to fend for herself. She decided that Genesis was not going to be the only one who benefited from the situation. She pulled a business card from her pocket and dialed the photographers number.