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differently alive - page 2


Noemi Proud sat on the pretty pink stool in her own bathroom. Her brothers had to share one. She stroked her hair, counting out each. 11, 12…She smiled. She loved her long brown hair, its smell, the way everyone said such nice things about it. 44, 45, 46. She could hear her brothers down the hall, playing, fighting. A faint smell of spaghetti sauce. 83, 84. She forced herself to stop, fearing her counting obsession would take over her whole brain the way it did some mornings, when she couldn’t turn it off unless she got into a fight with her mom or a friend at school.

The brush fell out of her hand.

Her left arm fell from her body.

She stared at it, laying on the tiled floor, not moving. She screamed, unsure of what else to do. She could hear her father rushing up the stairs.

She reached for her smartphone with her free arm, snapped a picture, then posted it.

Mondays. Fuck.

Stevie closed the bathroom door, told brain to turn on the fan-vent, and pulled out his phone. He tapped on the pictures of his girlfriend’s older sister. He reached for the toilet paper. He unzipped his pants. His right arm fell off at the elbow. He looked down, saw his mess on the floor. He told brain to have mopper clean it up. He texted his friends.

Motherfucking arm. Just fell off. Look.

He didn’t really want to be there. His parents pushed him into wrestling, mostly his mom, in fact. And this guy, fucking gorilla. No way he could take him. How could he possibly be in the same weight class? His legs unhinged themselves from his hips, just like that, and dropped to the floor.

With nothing to hold him up, his now-stump of a body plopped onto the mat. He looked about, embarrassed.

Several in the audience screamed. His parents raced down from the stands. Coach and a few of his teammates carried him back to the bench. Still in shock, he wasn’t sure exactly what they were saying. His mind raced. He smiled. His parents would never again punish him for spending all him time on screens. How could they? After this. He squirmed to the edge of the bench, grabbed his smartphone from his gym bag, pushed a button and chatted with his girlfriend. Her family had moved to Texas last year.

I miss you.

The handsome young doctor was determined to stop this, to make sure no other child was inflicted. With the help of brain, he knew that 93% of the sufferers were between the ages of 13–17. They were disproportionately white or Latino, most attending large public schools, but there was little else in common. Some had good grades, some did not. Some participated in organized activities, but not all. Some where thin, some fat. He asked brain to re-analyze the DNA of the parents, hoping to uncover any patterns, which he then instructed brain to overlay onto the map on the giant screen before him. His left arm twitched. My God, he thought. Now me? He grabbed hold of it with his right hand, clutching, praying it didn’t fall off. The twitch stopped. He shrugged. Foolish. This only impacts children.

But why?

Frustrated, the handsome doctor sought out his mentor, a hyper-fit woman with strong facial features, tragically killed in her early 60s while investigating an outbreak of Bangka-polio in Indonesia. He spoke to brain and a adequate facsimile of the doctor appeared before him, and with it all her works, her words, her posted thoughts, her questions and whereabouts, who she was with at all the times, how she ever felt.

You look good.

Thank you.

The doctor instructed brain to to provide his mentor with all his accessible knowledge. We will end this, he thought. I don’t see it now, but I will.

We will end this together, his mentor smiled back at him.

Jason was only 12, younger than the others. He had his computer screen open. The television was blaring. He was texting with two friends. Both his feet fell off his body He screamed for his mother. His right arm unhinged, then dropped. He didn’t know it at the time, but he was first to have different limbs fall off. He screamed again. He told the television to mute. He used his voice to text his friends.

I’m gonna get bionics! For everything!


No, get a horse leg! Those are so cool.

Lily stared into the mirror and smiled. She assessed her self while drying off. Black hair. A pretty face, adorable, full lips, big round green eyes, cute, perfect nose. And her body. She giggled, touching herself, all over. Her mother was attractive, obviously. Her father was handsome, everyone said so. But somehow, the combination of their dna had arrranged itself perfectly, and without fetal construction surgery, at least that’s what her parents told everyone, resulting in undeniable physical perfection. Perfection at 16. Her mother had already spoken to her about choosing the right man. Her body was simply too perfect, her face too pretty to not demand the absolute best. Her body dry, the vents quieted. She placed her brush back on the shelf. Her arm fell off.

What the fuck!

Then she remembered reading about a girl who lost her hand in a boating accident. They replaced it with a bionic hand. She wondered if her parents would let her have a bionic hand. Then she wondered what colors they came in. No, she thought. One of those baboon arms, the kind they print at university. Everyone would talk about that. Everyone. She took a picture of her still-perfect naked body, but not showing her head, and posted it online. She giggled again.

Noemi’s mom held her head high. She dared anyone, any child, any teacher, any parent, to make fun of her daughter’s new arm. This was not a tragedy. Absolutely not. This was a blessing. The new arm, verifiably better than the original, was colored, bejeweled, and proudly stamped with its brand name and place of origin. Noemi was just happy she could still text with her hands, her parents were always listening in on every word she said. Even better, the nootropics the doctors gave her to fight depression, which she lied about, kept her awake for all but 4 hours a day. More screen time. No one could deny her that, not in her condition.

Her mother did not tell anyone, not even the doctor, at how Noemi treated the carebot. She treated the poor thing even worse when affirmation was set to 10. She feared that maybe her daughter was a psychopath. Isn’t that a sign, she wondered? Torture a carebot when you’re young, kill when you get older? She vowed to stay silent. What else could be done?

Michael was the closest he had ever been to beating computer. He knew it was impossible. Still, only two moves behind, this was his best-ever showing. Was it theoretically possible to end a match in a draw? It must be, he thought. He was determined to find out. He adjusted his backside on the chair. His right leg dropped off.

He smiled.

He told brain to put his favorite song on infinite loop, swallowed the no-sleep pills his parents got him for admissions week. All the time in the world now, he thought. I will beat this thing.

Yes, doctor, but the brain scans reveal no change in the limbic system. The older female doctor’s avatar continued to push the handsome younger doctor. A few of the children have experienced a more heightened readout in their frontal lobe, that’s all. They are actually getting more done. We need to consider that this is not necessarily harmful.

No, I can’t believe that, the young doctor replied. We can’t just do nothing. Their limbs are falling off! Besides, we still don’t know how this spreads, of if it’s self-induced.

Is it coming through the screens?

We checked that before I sent for you.

The young doctor took hold of one of the legs, perfectly preserved.

If only I could feel them, too.

I was thinking the same thing.

Have any of the children actually complained?

No more than usual.


Your name is Prosody.

My name is Prosody, she replied.


The man struck her. You sound much too timid!

She tried again.

My name is —


You sound like you’re unsure!

There were tears. She was only 7, barely two feet tall. She smiled, but you could sense she was deeply hurt.

I don’t like you.

Why don’t you like me, she replied — then was punched this time, eliciting another howl, then pleading. Please, stop! Get off. Please!

A voice from behind the glass spoke. Sounds fake.

If you play with me then I will like you.

She rushed to the small table, eager. I like to play!

That’s not where you’re supposed to sit!

There was an audible whimper. She slowly got off the chair. She stood, trying hard not to cry, failing.

You know where you’re supposed to sit!

The tears began streaming down her pudgy cheeks. She did not know where she was supposed to sit.

Can I sit here?

Another voice from behind another glass. Now she sounds too human.

You’re too fat to sit there.

I wish I wasn’t fat.

You are fat! Fat and stupid! We are not friends!

Please be my friend! She rushed in close for a hug.

The man looked toward the glass. I think she’s ready.

The perfect companion. Even for the problem children.

For $50 you can’t expect perfection.

Still, cheaper than a dog.


They’re mine, all three of them, I paid for them, I own them, my sweet concubines, all young and sad, pretty, perfect, hyperreal sensation, full lips, pale skin, jet black hair, little outfits, tiny feet, legs spread, socks to their calves, short skirt, nothing under, I saved up, paid for all of it, the sweater top, smell like lemon cleaner, eyes to nowhere, and their voices, small and needy, the way they beg, they beg me to take them, take them bad, and they just get louder, louder, and they have to have it — they have to, that’s programmed in — now, please, please, and if they don’t get it, if they have to wait more than a day they squeal and shout, like in heat, so loud, they don’t stop, the neighbors hear, they call to complain, but not like it’s any louder than their dogs, or their stupid music, but honestly, I like when they complain, I like when they call the law, it excites me, and the three, my sweet concubines, they beg for it, beg, plead, so loud, they need it now, bad, so bad, just like they were designed to, just like I paid for, virginal, never changing, and I never give it to them, not once, I lock each of them up, separate closet for each one, they shout and squeal and plead and bang, louder, louder, shrieking, begging me to unlock the door, begging me to fuck them, but I won’t, that’s what I like, that’s what makes it for me, only now they’re taking them away, too many complaints, the law says I’m messed up, but they don’t know.



Oh, very large. Very large.


Fourteen? Yes, well may I suggest sixteen?

No? Fair enough.

And then —

A penis? Also? We don’t get much call for that combination.

5’10”, yes, perfect.

Remember, race is covered only up to twice by the government. Except, not Asian. That you still have to pay for.

Green eyes, oh, my favorite.

Too light? This? No? This? Excellent!

Oh, wait. At this combination, it won’t be eligible for any affirmative action programs. Unless there’s a major culture shift, obviously.

You’re okay with that? Good, good.

Now we can edit out the Parkinson’s and Alzheimer’s, taking the odds down to as close to zero as possible.

However, we can’t guarantee against late onset breast cancer if you insist on it having DNA from the three of you.

Yes, I realize that’s a sensitive topic.

Now, let me show you these. I realize it’s more than you expected, but we can go from an 8–8–4 physical, intellectual, social to a 12–10–8.

Yes, I suppose we can do a 15–15. Your carrier will need to be extended an extra week. Are you prepared to compensate him for that?

Unfortunately, no, we can’t go any higher, society still places rules on those with an unfair advantage. I know, backwards thinking. No, I’m sorry, we can’t make any assurances regarding any special talents. Not in the 21st century, at least. But the recipient can legally make changes to any of these starting at age 16, and who knows what will be available by then.

What? Oh, funny, but no, it’s all the same, I’m afraid. Don’t we wish. We can’t edit in obedience. But, if you want, we can reduce the physical score slightly and, might I suggest, a blotted complexion. Oh, we can adjust their microbiome. That will create a somewhat less pleasant body odor and breath. Or, thinner hair, perhaps? Should have the desired effect. Plus, that has the added bonus of making it want to fit in with all the latest sanctioned micro-cultures. Very anti-establishment.


You’ll also need to sign this. You promise to the best of your abilities you won’t let it have intercourse with a non-premium nor a first cousin from any source. Excellent.

Let’s discuss facial structure. You seemed to have a preference for rounder. But with the body type you’ve selected, I wonder if these might work better for you. Remember, if you’re unhappy, you can return it within 30 days and start again, that’s covered by your employer.


Goddammit, alls I want to do is relieve myself. I’m a fit, young, human <<male>> and it’s been three months, dear God, three months, since I last had sex with a human <<female>> and nearly 38 hours since I last took pleasure and just this once, just this one goddam time I’d like to do it in privacy, without anyone recording it, no one watching, no videocameras around, no wearables monitoring my stats.

These goddam squito drones buzzing about, point and shoot, point and shoot.

They’ve been recording me since before I was born.


All the birth <<mothers>> had tiny cameras inserted inside their bellies, recording everything, ensuring that the creole voodoo from having — in my case — DNA from 2 <<men>> and eggs from 3 <<women>> was properly optimized, though we know motherless babies are superior, the real reason I suspect is to watch us. Watch us even before we are born.

So I like to touch myself. Everybody does. Just look at the screen, you’ll see it anytime, anywhere. Everyone.

I just think — I imagine — it would be so much better, more naughty, more alive, just more appropriate if no one was watching.

But the screens are everywhere. The cameras are everywhere. Giant Brain monitors all our actions.

I just want to scream.

I turn my eyes and that information is documented. I flick my wrist and that’s recorded, the data available to my doctors, my teachers, my <<parents>>. Every movement, every rise in blood pressure, in blood flow, the heat of my checks, the feeling engorged, then not. These goddam brain processors recording, storing and then pumping out petabytes of data while I sleep, available for all to review, anytime, for any reason.

Everything for the good of the aggregate.

But just this once.

The sex toys are also all connected. I’ve heard you can buy warming pleasure balls that are not connected, not data goes to Giant Brain, no video is captured, but I’ve never actually seen one, probably a lie, probably a trap, now that I think about it.

What are we supposed to do?

They had to know this was gonna happen.

They knew robots and AIs were going to take over the world, leaving us with nothing to do, a billion young men, testosterone flowing, no work, no reason to work, no labor, just time on our hands, and so they spent nearly two generations making sure that every <<male>> was a “beta,” which makes sense when you think about it, weak, timid, damn near afraid of actual <<girls>> but they didn’t count on it making us feel damn near ready to die, to burst, to kill, if we can’t self-heal every 3–6 hours, and for me it’s been so long, the longest ever, because I want to just try and hold out, hold out until I can find some place, any place, to do it in private. Just to see what that’s like.

The sexbots keep circling past. They know it’s well past my time. They are tempting, obviously, but I can’t, not this time, every facial expression, every sound, every vital, all of it recorded, every scrap of what is me logged, all of it shown in real-time.

Didn’t anyone see this coming?

Hebrews, chapter 4: “And there is no creature hidden from His sight, but all things are open and laid bare to the eyes of Him with whom we have to do.”

We have made there be nowhere to hide.


You stand before the court.

You feel the hostility of those around you, of the hundreds more watching in.

The sentence is read aloud.

You have been found guilty.

Guilty of preferring games filled with non-sanctioned violence. Worse, that celebrate false and hurtful depictions of women.

There’s more.

The evidence clearly shows that a disproportionate number of those you follow have expressed views which suggest they do not accept the science on the lasting harms of racism, sexism, and white privilege.

This is your second offense.

You know the penalty.

The judge motions a young woman forward. She is thin, black, pretty. She looks hungry, you think. No doubt, she will be paid well for this. You cannot hear what they are discussing. She turns to you, she nods along with the judge’s words.

Two large men grab you. You feel the power in their hands. You see only the white coats as they force you to the floor. You feel a foot on your back. You feel a shot into the back of your thigh. You sleep.

When you wake, you are inside her.

You cannot feel your body, nor your arms, nor legs, nothing. There is only your awareness.

Suddenly, a piercing hissing sound. You think you reach to cover your ears, but you have no ears, no arms, no hands. You hear a voice.

For your crimes, you have been sentenced to spend 90 days living through this woman. You will see as she sees and hear as she hears and feel as she feels. Only then will you truly understand how your white male privilege has colored your values and caused harm to the majority of society.

Only then shall you be returned to your own body.

Know also that the entirety of your digital life has been erased. You shall have zero points and no followers upon your departure. This is standard punishment.

You again fall asleep, though not before the nightmares, cutting fears that the rumors are true, that more than 30 days within another’s body causes the leech mind to go crazy. You fear you will go mad, so mad that when you are returned to your body it will be for nothing, you will just be a walking, hollowed shell of a person, with no thoughts to contribute, no work to offer, no goals to guide your life. Silenced to the world, a raving lunatic within.

This is the real punishment, you fear.

You are jarred awake. She is awake. She is seated. Speaking. To whom? You see only her reflection. Then you realize she is staring into a mirror — and speaking to you.

I know you can hear me.

My name is Noemi Proud.

I do this for money.

You have been sentenced to live within me for 90 days.

I have a surprise for you.

And she explains to you that she has done this many times before. The State pays very well. Then she tells you that she thinks what the Corporate Government does is an abomination, that what they believe is foul and repressive.

She believes that gender is not fluid. She is a woman. You are a man.

She believes every human should be judged by the content of their character, not their skin color, nor their identity. She finds the very notion of privilege to be limiting and intolerant.

There are many like her, she tells you. Women, blacks, people who think differently than is taught.

Oh, and she loves videogames.

She smiles.

Oh, and more thing. I love having sex with other women. She winks.

It’s gonna be a fun 90 days, she tells you.

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