By Juliet OC
I hear their voices before I remember who or where I am.
“Why today and why so many?”
“It’s the school holidays – I bet a lot of them are teachers. Those sort are always sticking their noses in. You know what they say, those who can’t, teach.”
I stretch and wriggle my toes. I am warm and floaty. I am post-op. I remember. I listen. There is shouting and chanting. It is muffled like someone has stuck cotton wool in my ears. I open one eye a fraction. I don’t want them to know I am awake, yet.
There are two of them, stood by the window. They are both wearing white tunics and trousers. I very gently pat my body. The dressing over my chest is thick and soft. I smile. It’s over. A couple of weeks recovery and I will be as good as new. It was nothing compared to the last time. A shaft of pain shoots through my left ankle and foot at the memory. I wriggle my toes and open both eyes into slits and look down the covers towards my feet, the cover doesn’t shift – maybe they’ve used a cradle. I drift in and out of sleep catching snatches of their conversation.
“What do you think about it? The SPs I mean.”
“Don’t matter what I think, I can only afford a pig and that’s shared with two of my cousins.”
“I think if they worked with SPs on a daily basis, they’d see – they’re all the same, self-centred, out for what they can get. They are definitely not like us.”
“Not like us at all.”
Matty never had an SP, not that he could afford one, but even if he could, I don’t think he would. He always said;
“I’d rather live and die by my own actions.”
It must be a CAP demo outside. It doesn’t worry me, they never get violent, too many civil servants in the mix. Matty wasn’t timid like that, he was always pushing the boundaries. I wriggle my left foot again, it must be a memory pain triggered by being in the Studio. I cough.
One of the practitioners turns towards me. “She’s awake. How long have we got this room for?”
“Till’ five,” the other one says, so we need to get her up and moving.
I don’t understand what they are saying. The room’s all paid for. The insurance takes care of it.
“Can I have a drink please,” I say, and my voice is deep and husky from where the tube was pushed down my throat and my right lung sliced out and replaced.
The fatter, shorter one of the two walks towards me. She is not the practitioner who took me down to theatre and I don’t like her on sight. She looks like an ignoranti, with her blonde hair and puffed up lips. She fills a plastic glass with some water from a jug on a table at the end of the bed. I wonder where the singing-flowers Gabriel sent me have been put.
I push my hands into the bed and pull myself to sitting. I moan as the dressing tugs at my chest and another sharp pain shoots through my left foot. The practitioner holds out the glass, she’s not really looking at me, and if I didn’t feel so groggy, I would give her a piece of my mind. Insurance isn’t cheap. I keep her in boob jobs, tummy tucks and by the look of things spray tans.
I take a sip. The water is lukewarm with a tang of something unpleasant. Typical. Give you iced water and lots of attention before the op, but once you’re paid up and done, they couldn’t care less. I make a note to contact my broker and ask we use a different Studio next time. It will mean a move for my SP, but the backroom is pretty much the same in every Studio, so my broker says.
I am frightened by the thought of pain. Matty wasn’t; though he found it hard seeing me in pain. I think he found it even harder to reconcile he’s feelings about SPs with what happened to me. Thank Gates I hadn’t terminated my medical contract like I told Matty I would. I wanted to make him happy, only he’d shaken his head; “Don’t. It’s too late.”
“But then I could be like you. Nothing in reserve.”
He was the only person to ever make me feel dumb. “It’s like asking a severely handicapped child who has known nothing but pain, whether they wish they had been aborted. How can they answer that? Give any organism the choice of life or no life and it’s going to pick life, whatever that life brings.”
Just after the accident, when Matty was stroking my head and trying to keep me from losing it, while we waited for the medivac, he even joked about it. “I hope your SP has as beautiful toes as you.” Which was such a silly thing to say, but I think it was his way of saying, it’s OK and I will still love you. Of course, I wouldn’t have been tobogganing down the switched on mountain, with the power turned off, if it weren’t for Matty, so I think there might have been a bit of guilt there, too.
My foot is still hurting, but I know pain is a complex and subjective entity and often has very little relationship with the physical body. “Can I have some painkillers?” I ask.
The other practitioner, with one of those hard, flat faces that gives away her social strata, looks at me like I’ve asked for the moon. “Haven’t you got used to it?”
I think I must still be half-dreaming, because her comment doesn’t make sense. Unless she’s referring to my left foot, but that was ten years ago and anyway once in the Studio, they’d kept me pain free.
“If it gets her up quicker, I think we should. We’ve got to have this room cleared and ready for the next one and we’ve only got an hour,” the fat one interjects.
Thinking about it. This isn’t my room. I must still be in recovery, though they did say I would wake in my own room and my Sculptor would be there to explain how it went.
“Good point. I’ll get an injection.”
“You do that.”
The fat one leaves, I hear a stifled cry before the door sucks shut.
“I’ve had enough,” I say to the other one, holding out the glass.
She tuts and snatches it from my hand, spilling some over the cover. It seeps through to my thigh. I give her one of my disappointed looks and definitely vow to see my broker. This is not a Studio I ever want to come back to.
Now I am more awake, the noises from outside seem to be louder. “What’s going on out there?”
The practitioner is back at the window, peering through the slats in the blind. “Your lot, again,” she says, without bothering to look at me.
These two really are at the bottom of the gene pool. Every other sentence they utter is nonsense. What makes her think I would join in a CAP demo? Do I look like a public sector worker?
“Is it CAP?”
The fat one flies through the doors, bringing a smell of iron and cabbage in a rush of air.
“I told you something was up, we’re in lockdown. Ruby in the pharmacy reckons its one of the Sculptors, he’s only gone and swapped sides.”
The Sculptors are the real talent in this place. I went out with one once. He was nice. Perfect in fact. But I like my men a little more roughed up. Like Matty. He went off the rails after my accident and started base jumping, but not from Big Ben or stuff like that. No he base jumped off Kilimanjaro and finally the Luna lift. I’m not sure an SP could have saved him even if he’d had one; there was nothing left to save. I loved him so much, and I don’t know why, but he loved me back.
The practitioners are jabbering excitedly; I guess their lives are pretty mundane. They don’t have the money to go to the Bowl or Galleria, except probably at Brandlovetime.
“Have they found the Sculptor? Which one was it?”
“Ruby says it’s the new one – the one that looks like a movie star – you know, butter wouldn’t melt.”
“Oooh, no, not him, he was my favourite. There was me thinking he was really clever.”
I can’t hide the snort that comes out. How the hell could she judge the intelligence of a Sculptor? If I wasn’t reliant on their care, I would say as much to her.
“What’s he supposed to have done?”
“It’s what he was planning on doing.”
“Releasing the SPs.”
“How do they know that, if he hasn’t done it?”
“An SP told Matron. She said she’d overhead another SP talking to him only she didn’t know which SP it was because of the Darkness and they were whispering.”
“I didn’t know they could whisper.”
“There you go, maybe they aren’t so different.”
“You got all this from Ruby?”
“Pharmacy is central.”
“And she embellished it, no doubt. Well we’d better get this SP back – just in case.”
I nearly miss this as I am thinking about Gabriel and realising that he just isn’t Matty, not even close and deciding, once this lung is functioning as it should, I’ll ditch him. The alco-vapour has to stop; I only have one spare lung left. It may not get your liver, but they fail to mention the damage it does to your lungs. Gabriel’s only high when he’s high. Matty got high on life, on me. I want to find someone like that again; except I am not sure how many Matty’s there are left.
“Is my SP still in recovery, then?” I say, sensing things are not as they should be, but then with a CAP demo going on right outside and a Sculptor with a conscience, the atmosphere is bound to be a little charged. Not that I’d really thought much about their cause before. As Matty said; if it weren’t for me, my SP wouldn’t exist at all, and life is preferable to no life. Anyway there are too many things wrong in this world, and far more serious things than SPs, like child exploitation and sex slavery and starving Africans. One has to learn to switch off, else you’d end up in the Head Facility and an SP couldn’t help you then.
Both practitioners turn and look at me properly for the first time since I woke.
“Is it the effects of the anaesthetic do you think?”
I am not sure if she is addressing me or not. “Is what an effect?” I say. If these pair worked for me, I would have torn strips off them by now, but then I doubt they could afford university and it is also a well known fact that there is less intelligence to be found in the lower end of the social strata – hence why they are poor.
“Never had it happen before with any of the other SP – though after a long op, some have got a bit confused.”
“What did she have done?” The fat one, who I have now decided I totally hate says, and plucks a chart from the end of my bed.
“Oh, highly irregular. Who sanctioned two gifts? She must’ve been under a long time, it might it explain it.”
Maybe they’re right about the anaesthetic because once again I am struggling to understand them. Two gifts? It was just the lung. I didn’t need anything else.
“Who carried out the sculpting?”
The fat one shakes her head and a gleeful smile makes her cheeks bulge. “Uh oh... only our Greek Adonis turned feral – Raoul Marchant.”
Raoul. Raoul Marchant? He was the Sculptor I dumped two years ago. He is not my Sculptor, the one from this Studio.
“Maybe she is not as confused as she is making out,” They both return they attention to me – this time they stare.
“Maybe she’s acting all precious so we delay her return.” She shakes her head at me. “Don’t matter now, love. Raoul’s been sussed. If he’s not been caught by the Company, he will have long gone. So you can drop the act.”
“What act? What are you two half-wits going on about? I am the client not the Spare Part! It should be obvious, look!” I slap my forehead. “See. No tattoo.” I slap it again and my eyes water.
“How do you know about the tattoo? There are no mirrors in your room and when you have socialisation it’s always in the Darkness?”
“Because I am not an SP! Duh!”
“Don’t you be fresh with me. Time’s up anyway. Come on, out of bed. Use those crutches, you’ll soon get used to it.”
“You don’t think she really is ‘The SP’, do you? The one Ruby says the other SP overhead talking to Raoul.”
“Might be, I suppose - though I’ve seen better models and with his looks... We’ll report her to the Company at the end of the shift, but I think we need to get her down to her room as quickly as possible. Just in case. And there was me gonna phone in sick today; wouldn’t have missed this for anything.”
I thump the bed with my fists. My chest hurts. “Are you two so thick you can’t understand me? I am not the SP. Look at my forehead.”
“You’re a feisty one, I’ll grant yer. Most of them can’t wait to get back to their rooms – I think we need to let Matron know she could do with a bit more happy-vappy pumped in.” She approaches me and shoves her mean, hard face into mine. “But you get any ruder, love, and I might forget how much you are worth and accidently chop a finger off.”
I need to get up and look in a mirror. I wonder if these two are winding me up for a bit of sport. I will make sure they do not have jobs by the end of the day. The noise outside reaches even higher levels and I hear the sirens of the Protectors. CAP demo’s rarely get much attention, filled as they are with the bleeding hearts. I pull off the covers and clutching my side swing my legs around and stand up.
I lose my balance. “Nooo...” and crash onto the floor, slamming my shoulder into the frame of the bed. The practitioners do not come to my aid. I am angry and pull my legs out in front of me and see it. My left leg is bandaged.
“What the hell’s going on,” I can’t seem to understand what I am seeing. My foot was replaced ten years ago. I pat my chest. Yes, the dressing is there. I begin to think they might be right about the anaesthetic.
“Here. You’ll need these.”
A pair of crutches are shoved into my hands.
“Lung and left foot. Highly unusual as I said. Your benefactor is a bit accident prone and clearly impatient.”
“No. No. That was ten years ago.”
Something Raoul said comes back to me... You will love me. In time you will love me.
“No... Raoul... no.” I pull myself up using the bed and the crutches. I need to find him.
“Right love, let’s get you back downstairs.”
I ignore both of them and drag myself over to the window, scrabbling for the blind and yanking it up. Pain is now swamping every part of me. I search the angry faces down in the parking lot. The Protectors are using batons, and the protestors are shouting.
Clones are People! Clones are People!
I see my reflection in the glass at the same time I see Raoul. I see the dark vertical lines, intersected with numbers... that’s my coat, my bag... he has his arm around... my forehead is tattooed... my SP and she wears my hat, pulled down low over her forehead... I rub the bar code with the heel of my hand... no, no... she turns and looks up at the window.... no, no... I smack my head with my hand, she gives me a small smile... and then they are lost in the crowd of teachers and social workers that no one ever listens to...
“Enough’s enough. Time to go.”
The fat practitioner grabs my arm.
“No. No!” I try and shake her off, but I can barely stand. I start to cry.
The second practitioner comes around and takes my other arm. “Don’t cry. With any luck your benefactor won’t need anything else and you’ll get to live to a ripe old age in peace and... well, almost intact health. Come on, don’t cry. You don’t want sedation. You know how horrible it is when you come too.”
I am dragged from the room and into the lift and down into the bowels of the Studio; a voiceless, faceless commodity.