Barb Gets a Do
CyBarb Watermoth feels a little squicky about spending the credits on herself, considering how much in debt she already is to BoomBoom Corp., but it’s been so long since she’s had any hair on her head that she’d said flapjack it and gone ahead and taken the plunge.
“Top of the line,” Sally the fabtech says while she works on the back of Barb’s FemSkull. “You can get it wet. You can brush it. You can put it up, down, pigtails, anything you want. Just don’t cut it, though.”
“Obviously,” Barb says.
“You’d be surprised.” Sally holds the fabber wand against Barb’s IRLSkin, and Barb feels just the slightest tingling as the strands of hair root themselves. “Some cybes, they forget that this isn’t real hair, you know? It’s plass fibers, and plass fibers don’t grow back if they get cut. I mean, the tech is almost there, but nobody will have the credits to spend on that kind of thing for a long time once they do, right?”
“I’m not about to want it cut. I’ve been bald for so long, I can’t even remember what it’s like to have something up there.”
The fabtech’s wand moves quickly, touching here, touching there. “You won’t regret it. Guaranteed. You picked a great color, too. The red really pops.”
“Same color I had before I got sent up,” Barb says. She doesn’t feel awkward telling Sally this. Sally’s got a reputation in the cyborg community for the work that she does, and for not being a judgmental waffle head about cybes and their dark, secret, stereotypical pasts. A lot of people have trouble with ex-con cyborgs. Sally isn’t one of them.
“Bunch of flapjack, is what it is,” Sally says. Her hand is fast and steady, an artist at work. “How long were you in? You don’t mind me asking, do you?”
“I don’t mind. Two in the tank. Out in one-and-a-half for good behavior.” Old cyborg joke, that. Hard to earn brownie points when you are just a brain floating in an interlude tank for a hundred and forty years.
Sally makes a disgusted snort. “It’s barbaric. I always vote against it, whenever it comes up. There’s justice and then there’s corporations, am I right?” She gently folds the top of Barb’s left ear down, to get the fabber wand in at the proper angle. Bright red strands of plass fiber sprout from Barb’s skin as the wand continues on.
“Could be worse,” Barb says. “At least I’m still breathing.” Not really a joke there. Her brain might be the only piece of meat in her cybernetic body, floating in a GellySac 3.0 MeshSleeve, strapped into the center of her ChrohmSteel FemSkull, but it’s an original part, so she’s got BRZLungs installed in her torso to get oxygen up to her gray matter. “In my day, they would have just shot me in the back of the head and dumped my body into the Bay.”
“Honey, your day was the 21st century. They would have just locked you up until you were too old to be a threat and then kicked you out so you could starve to death living under a tarp in a parking lot.”
“Wow,” Barb says. “I didn’t know you were a fabber and a historian.”
“All the cybes that comes through here, I learn a few things.” Sally switches to Barb’s right side, and starts working on her ear area there. “Can I ask how much you’re on the hook for? Is that too personal?”
“No secrets between a girl and her hair fabber, right?” She turns the inside of her left forearm up so that she can take a look at the debt counter ticking away there, red electric ink just below the surface of Barb’s IRLSkin: cr5,284,421.
Sally whistles. “That’s a flapjack of a lot of credits.”
“Penal debt, so what can I do? They charge you for the trial. They charge you for the brain removal. They charge you for the body disposal. They charge you for the storage. They charge you for the maintenance. They charge you for the cybe shell they put you in when they wake you up. They even charge you for the counter they stick in you to tell you how much they’ve charged you. Trust me, crime doesn’t pay.” Barb doesn’t waste her breath explaining that she didn’t actually do the crime she was convicted of. Everyone’s innocent in the penal debt system, or at least that’s what every cybe will tell you. In Barb’s case, it’s actually true, but that and 5,284,435 credits will get her out of debt and earn her that cloned body she’s contractually owed by the BoomBoom Corporation.
“I’ve never seen that much debt on a cybe before,” Sally says. “How about I toss in a friend of the family discount on this hair? Just leave me a good Dongle review on the V-feed, okay?”
“Are you kidding? As good as this hair is looking, I’m never going to stop telling everyone where I got it. You’re a miracle worker, Sally, a flapjacking miracle worker.”
“Stop it some more,” the fabber says. She starts to work on the cybe’s forehead, leaning in close.
Really could be worse, Barb thinks, looking at herself in the mirror. Sure, it’s a cybe body, but other than the synthetic texture of her skin, and the glowing concentric lines of what would be her eyes’ pupils if she were still a meat sack, she can’t complain that much. She’s human-looking enough, especially now with hair starting to cover her head. That bald stuff isn’t her bag. She’d still trade it all in a second to have her real body back, but until her debt ispaid off, that’s something she can only dream about.
“Another half hour,” Sally says. “Almost done.”
“I’ve been waiting five years, I can wait another thirty minutes.” Really, it’s been more than that: five years as a cybe, plus a hundred and forty in stasis in a brain tank. What’s another thirty minutes between friends?
Barb glances at the debt counter on her arm: cr5,284,575.
Tomorrow morning, she’s back on shift at the Repossession Bureau of BoomBoom Corp. Considering that BoomBoom is who she’s currently in debt to, it’s really more of an indentured servitude position than an actual job, but still. She may spend fifty hours a week hacking autocar AIs for her corporate masters, but at least she can look fabulous while she’s doing it.
And is that worth another four thousand credits in her ever-increasing debt total?
Flapjacking right it is.