Rewind the tale. Summer was ending in eastwing and I was exactly eight days from my 15th annibirthary and not yet the smooth and collected individual who could perp that masterful bit of subterfuge on poor old Pooch that you just saw. If we’re being truthy, you’d probably consider me a real average stud. If we’re being real truthy—below average. I had bestbros I talked to, hung with, sure. Who doesn’t? But there was no connection, y’know? They always just felt like space holders until somebody I really clicked with came along. Even worse, I always felt like I was just a space holder to them, too. I mean if I wasn’t into them, that’s cool, at least I was the one who got to judge. But when no one’s into me either, well, that’s just depressing. All us studs, we were all floating around The Fairchild Institute like bacteria in a big ole petri dish. Bumping into each other, sharing moments in time, and then bouncing back into the cytoplasmic pool.
Which would’ve been fine I suppose, until SHE spoke to me.
“It’s Tig, right?” This femmy was a level older than me. “Tig Fynch? That’s your name, isn’t it?” I stared up at her blankly from my chair. “Intro to Quantum Mechanics,” she said, looking around the room. “I remember this class from a few years back, straight crackerjacked it. You’ll do fine, Tig, no nerves.”
Cheza Gregory was a beautiful animal. Nevermind that crooked, raven holo on her head and the Kabuki Joe makeup. She only had that freakwear on to frighten understuds like me. And speaking only for myself, it totally worked. But even with it, she was beautiful. When the other understuds around me in class with ears high enough to hear caught a listen of Cheza’s deep, raspy voice they got up and moved to a safe viewing distance. You can’t look straight at Cheza Gregory up close for long. She’s like the sun, it’s no wonder I was feeling so warm. As her incandescence continued to loom over me, I started talking to myself.
Cheza Gregory knows our name. Cheza Gregory knows our kuffing name! She’s talking to us, I’m sure of it. What does she want? She’s looking at us like she wants something. Does she want us to talk back to her? I think she wants us to talk back to her. She’s STILL looking . . . We should talk back to her, Tig. We should talk back to her, right? Maybe we’re overthinking this. Oh no, her lips are moving again.
“Hey, understud!” She waved her hand in front of my eyes. “Am I bothering you or are you going to join in this conversation at some point? Maybe you should get your ears juiced next cycle.”
I barely managed to push the words out. “I’m Tig Fynch.”
She nodded her head slightly and smiled at me. “That’s a start,” she said. “But I already said that. Now that we both know your name, what do you say you come watch me get my box twiddled?”
“I’m Tig Fynch,” I said again, louder this time, just to be certain she knew exactly who she was talking to, in case there was, you know, a mistake. Because I’m thinking somehow, somewhere, she must have made a mistake.
“Yes, we’ve established that, thank you,” she said. “Do you want to come with, or not?”
My inner self started talking to me again.
You can end it right here, Tig. Go ahead, pretend like none of this terrifying-yet-strangely-exciting-encounter ever happened, I dare you. All you have to do is say ‘no’ and you can crawl right back into the safety of your previous, unremarkable existence. Wait, are you actually considering it? I was being sarcastic! Now stop being a pussy, Tig! For all your complaining, when push comes to shove maybe you’re just not willing to step into some real fun. Maybe you deserve this life after all. I’ve had it, let me out of here!
Let’s just say my conscience is more rebellious than me. I’m afraid I disappoint him most of the time.
“So what are you going to do, Tig?” Cheza asked.
Yeah, what are you going to do, Tig?
I took a slow breath. “I’ll come with,” I said.
“Wondrous!” She grabbed my hand, spun on her heel, and towed me to the headwoman’s office. With my scores I’m only there a couple times a year, but Cheza greeted the man at the desk and plopped herself down on one of the big, cushy chairs I’m pretty sure aren’t meant for studs. She introduced us.
“Tig, say hey to Linklyn. Linklyn, Tig.” I gave him a “hey” and he returned one to me without raising his hood from the work he was doing tapping on a compupad. Seemed pleasant enough. “It’s Doc Linklyn’s last day for awhile—he’s on the way up. Going to be the new headman here at Fairchild when old lady Toi finally expires.” The young man lifted his head and his comely face slipped a little farther out of his hood.
“I’m not a headman yet,” he said. “And the word is retires, Cheza. Headwoman Toi can’t expire, she’s not a carton of milk.”
Cheza leaned over to me. “Sometimes she smells likes she’s expired though.”