Brought in by their families, the country girls were usually modified
at puberty. Coming in on their own, the city girls were usually
modified later. Each girl was permitted to store her excised flesh and organs
in canopic jars, in liquid nitrogen, 300 degrees below zero.
were each given a crystal card on which her jar's ID number was
holographically inscribed. Losing or breaking a card was a major tragedy. A
retiring girl couldn't retrieve her former flesh without the crystal card.
"No tickee, no laundry," the older girls were fond of saying.
was the first girl to get the chromatophore treatments. She was transformed
into a living mood ring. Thought and emotion registered in her skin as
anything from a simple color change to a complex cascade of neon brilliance.
With a little practice, she could make her skin undulate with light and
color, a living aurora borealis. The effect was particularly effective around
the six vaginas that ringed the lower part of her head, where her mouth and
ears should be.
Some of the older second-floor girls were jealous.
Everyone knew that Sonja was pretty, but not exactly bright. They kept
their revenges to petty theft and, occasionally, to seducing an unpopular
girl's clients away from her. They knew that if they did any real damage
to another girl, say the reviled Ptitsa (Cossacks were invariably
thieves and smelled bad; everyone knew that, even in Vegas), the repairs
would be deducted from their account. Even a minor scuffle could add years
to a girl's servitude.
And they weren't just saving money to bankroll
their freedom and retirement: on top of that, they needed enough to get their
original bodies out of cold storage. The older girls remembered poor Shekhar,
a sweet child modified with multiple anuses and prehensile tongues
that hung from a dozen quivering, toothless mouths. Shekhar had returned
to her native Bangalore without the restoration surgery. One of her
male cousins, Ranjit, had raped her, doused her with gasoline and set
her ablaze, declaring that her returning home in her unnatural
condition bought shame to the family. Convicted of murdering Shekhar, Ranjit
had served less than a month in prison.
As much as the girls were
jealous of Sonja's new skin, their deepest jealousy was reserved for the
girls on the third floor. Those were the truly modified girls. Far from the
simple good-time fuck dolls, as the second-floor girls saw themselves, the
girls upstairs were an entirely alien species. Crossed with a fortune in
state-of-the-art nanotech and genetically altered animal organs, the
third-floor girls could reproduce. They squeezed out perfect autonomous sex
organisms living masses of genitalia and sense organs that ran around on
their own and could be kept as pets by the wealthy patrons of the house.
Among themselves, the second floor girls referred to the third floor girls
as "penny slots." Their offspring, no matter what their appearance,
were always "squids."
One night, the police came to the house, and not
for the usual fuck-party pay-off. The girls were locked in their
dormitories, even the pampered third-floor freaks. Not that locks ever kept
the girls in their room. Dora Lee, who specialized in bondage and
discipline, bristled with silver needles, like a porcupine. She could also
deliver a stiff electric shock through her lamprey-like mouth. Fastening
her soft undersea maw onto the door handle, the cheap
Vietnamese electromagnetic lock shorted-out when she jammed her stiff needles
into the mechanism and gave them a jolt. The conjoined twins, Kumi
and Laura, were still ambulatory enough to sneak out and listen to
the commotion downstairs.
When the girls came back, they were pale and
shaken. The row of penises along Kumi's spine stood straight up, like raised
fur on a scared cat.
Johnny Crenshaw, their pimp and the owner of their
brothel, had been murdered, Kumi said. To make matters worse, it looked like
a couple of the house girls had done it. About then, some of the second-floor
girls noticed that Sonja and Ptitsa weren't there.
Kumi went on to
explain that whoever killed Johnny had chopped up the body. The hands and
eyes had been taken and kept warm long enough to use as ID for online money
transfers from the house's accounts to a bank in maybe Luxembourg or Egypt.
The transfers had drained the house's accounts almost to zero.
little Sonja and stinking Ptitsa.
The two girls' canopic jars were also
missing. That was the part that hurt the second-floor girls the most. With
the house's money, the runaways could buy their way into a Mexican black
clinic and get a nice fix-up job. In a week, they could be walking the
streets of New York or Sao Paulo, just a couple of cute tourist girls. A
couple of tourist girls with enough cash to buy an aircraft
The dormitory went quiet. The cops left without questioning the
The girls knew that, in their modified state, the cops couldn't
bring themselves to deal with them as truly human. It was the small bit
of power they still held dear. Men could fuck them, but not ask for
their help. In the quiet, the girls envied Sonja and Ptitsa. At that
moment, all the resentment they'd ever felt for the pair transformed into
a kind of savage love. They'd done something each of the others
had dreamed of.
Of course, the second-floor girls also knew they had
been doomed. With the house's accounts zeroed out, their accounts were gone,
too. They'd each have to start over, earning back their flesh and their
freedom. It was an acceptable loss, though. Picturing Johnny, reeking of
sweat and Old Spice, scattered in pieces across his gold-leaf-and-glass
office, made even servitude bearable.
The downstairs matrons turned
off the dormitory lights around 3 AM. They handed out sedatives and reminded
the girls of the aerospace convention coming into town tomorrow. One by one,
the second-floor girls closed their eyes the ones who still had eyes and fell
into a dark and dreamless sleep.
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Richard Kadrey is a member of a small group of innovative writers, including William Gibson, Bruce Sterling, John Shirley, Pat Cadigan, Tom Maddox, and others, who changed the face of science fiction in the 1980s. He also creates art. He lives in San Francisco.