In the far future the trade in body parts, multiple body parts, is a way of life for those who live by The Code.
New Year’s Day, 3050 of the Common Era. Everyone’s having a party, but the world economy is run by rival gangs from the conglomerated nations and big media corps who suck data, money and privacy from everyone. All cities throughout this godforsaken world, and those of the nearest planetary colonies have become bloated, sprawling Frankenstein monsters of shiny towers and dilapidated housing projects, hover cars and back-street slime. Giant video screens, with ads for personal services, and warnings of the latest escaped terrorist, or money-making scam, flicker their light pollution all day and all night under the sulphurous skies of endless darkness. The black market is the only market: the world’s stock exchanges were thoroughly busted through a series of corporate scandals, and government failures.
This city, Old New York offers modes of survival to anyone prepared to overcome their revulsion, to play the game now offered to a humanity abandoned by any pretence of collective morality, as we live by our own codes, the rules of our trade, the laws of survival at a primal not civic level. And renting out body parts is the latest trend, a clever way to make money from the various bits of our own bodies. I’ve made the best of it, almost every part of me is enhanced and rented, the only real thing left is my left eye, and that’s beginning to itch all the time. Everyone calls me Frankie. I barely remember my real name, but I am the one-eyed King, or Queen.
“¡Hola!” I arrive at Fuego, a filthy underground bar in Hell’s Kitchen, populated by the low life of the city, the forgotten, the damaged, the angry. These are my people, and I’m proud of them, we’ve all failed, but at least we done it together.
I steady myself on the guardrails down to the basement and wipe the stickiness of my hands as I locate my latest client in the noisy cavern.
“¡Hola!” He’s not difficult to spot, an older man in an ill-fitting brown suit, a 330 pound mountain of perspiration, stuffing his face on the olives at the bar. He’s surrounded by others, none of whom take any notice, his difference is just one of the many in a bar that celebrates its freedom of identities.
“¡Hola!” I greet him a third time. Perhaps he’s deaf. Perhaps that’s his problem.
“Ah, my dear.” His eyes lift up as I approach, there’s a salacious depth to them that makes me wary. “I didn’t know it was you.”
I nod briefly and sit on the stool next to him, indicating two beers to the barman, “and a refill of olives, the good ones, for my friend here.”
“So what can I do for you.” I prefer to have these interviews in public, in case the rejection is taken badly.
“Oh, you folk are always in such a rush!” He laughs, scoops up some of the new olives and tips them into his gaping maw, like big baby cuckoo.
“Just trying to get the lie of the land.” I lean back a little and sip the beer.
“Of course, of course. But I do prefer to find out about—“ he leans in conspiratorially, his face clearly locked on my chest, “—my assassins.”
“Well tell me about your body parts.”
I suppose, in another place, another time, that would be considered rude, but here, now, it’s perfectly understandable, even if a couple of the bystanders catch my eye and smirk sympathetically.
“Ok, so most of me is not actually me.” I look steadily at the man whose name I don’t have the pleasure to know. “I came back from the war in Eurasia, like anyone who actually survived six tours of duty, a patchwork of enhancements. My legs, arms, hands, shoulders, part of my neck, my stomach, they’re all enhanced, pieced together in a series of operations over twenty years. Oh, and my right eye, that’s not real, nor the back of my head. Otherwise I’m as human as you are.”
“Oh I doubt that.” His hearty laugh shows some sense of self-knowledge, although he finishes off the olives and gestures for more as the oil dribbles from his lips.
“And with no proper jobs left for a reconstruction like me I take on tasks, difficult tasks, and as many as possible, at the same time, by renting out parts of me.”
“Well, of course I had heard something of that.”
“It’s not unusual, most of the crew in this bar have enhancements, and rent themselves out to differing degrees.”
“Oh, do they?” The wannabe client looks around and opens his eyes in mock surprise. “So are you fully engaged at the moment?”
“Not quite. My right leg is sponsored by a local pawn shop for security, my left leg is security for another bar on 11th and 22nd, both feet carry the logo of a local sports shoe shop, because I’m very, very fast.”
“And what about those lovely arms?” He seems to be holding his breath.
“My right arm is subject to an NDA, so I can’t discuss that, but my shoulders are covered by tattoos from a local syndicate parlour. My left hand is already spoken for, but my right hand and my left arm are currently in search for gainful employment.”
“Well, how fascinating. Don’t your various employers come into conflict with each other, what happens if they all want you at the same time?”
Was that unhealthy interest? Or a sensible question, I wondered, “Always a danger, hasn’t happened yet, and I’ve been doing it for years. And we have a code.”
“People like me.”
“You have an organisation?”
“I’m paid to be part of one.”
“Oh, how intriguing.”
“Not something worth discussing, we just have common interests to protect.”
“Oh I’m sure. Whatever that NDA covers might be compromised by another commission —”
I jumped in, “I wouldn’t take it. The first commission takes precedence.”
“But what if you didn’t know that the new commission for one body part contradicted the job for another body part?
“Don’t see how that’s possible.”
“Well somebody could pay you such a handsome fee that you don’t read the small print, and by the time you’ve done the deal, it would be too late.”
“Doesn’t happen. Won’t happen.”
“But it could.” Smiling unctuously he reaches into his pocket, pulling out a slab of titanium, a virtual transaction wallet. “This contains more money than you’ve ever seen. It’s all legit, but untraceable. It might just tempt you to break your NDA.”
“I won’t touch it.”
“Aren’t you tempted just a little?”
“But it would get you out of your NDA.”
“You can’t know anything about that.”
“Oh, but I do, and the money here comes with a special package to replace the arm you will need to rip off to complete the deal. You’ll have more money than you’ve ever dreamed of, you’ll be free of that NDA.” He leans in again, “And you’ll be my assassin, deal with my enemies. Your reputation is beyond question.”
“Sleazy.” I stare at him.
“I’ve been trying to think of a name for you. Sleazy. That will do.” I look at the barman, “You did give him the good olives didn’t you?” and receive a nod back. I returned my gaze towards the odious man in front of me.
“That code I mentioned. Six tours, six campaigns, hundreds of my friends killed, so-called enemy turned out to be the same as us, desperate humans trying to survive, to be decent, protect for their families, their land. What we did to them we swore we’d never do again. We don’t betray. That’s our code. That’s the NDA.”
Sleazy’s mouth is open, fury and confusion playing in his eyes.
I pick an olive from the bowl and place it on the thumb of my un-rented right hand. “Sometimes I freelance for myself.” With my enhanced forefinger I flick the olive into the gaping mouth, where it lands hard in the back of the throat of the wannabe client. He gags, and clutches at his neck. Those around the bar give him space to collapse.
I nod to the barman, “It’s going to be messy. The poison should be taking effect by now, I just got impatient.”
“He’s a big man.”
“Yeah” my eyes flick to the bowl, “I worried you might run out of the poisoned ones.”
“No chance. I’ll send for a clean-up crew.”
“Most of ‘em are probably here.”
“We all laughed, everyone at the bar, and returned to our beers. We don’t like people who try to break The Code.”[End]
Part of a new series of micro-fiction stories, released as These Fantastic Worlds SF & Fantasy Fiction Podcast on iTunes, Apple Podcasts, Google Play, Spotify, and Stitcher, Vurbl and more. Also on this blog, These Fantastic Worlds.
Text, image, audio © 2021 Jake Jackson, thesefantasticworlds.com. Thanks to Frances Bodiam and Elise Wells, Logic ProX, Sound Studio, the Twisted Wave Recorder App, and Scrivener.
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