It was a pretty good joke, but I was too uncomfortable to even teehee. My backside slid around the oversized chair and I pretended to study the office walls. “I didn’t know you could bring other studs in here with you,” I said.
“You can’t.” She flashed a wicked smirk. “But I’m a different grade of meat, or at least that’s what they tell me. I’ve been watching you. You keep to yourself a lot, don’t you?”
“No,” I said to her, straightening up in the chair. “I have bestbros, just not a lot of them. I’m picky.”
“Oh, don’t get so tangled up about it—I’m not saying you don’t. I’m sure you’re the mayor of Understudville. But still, there’s something else about you—a longing.” She waved her arms around. “Something that cries out to be heard in this, this . . . theater of the bland.”
It really spoke to my ordinary-ness that I couldn’t tell whether she was flirting with me or insulting me.
“I don’t think I have a longing,” I told her
“Of course you do! All human beings have longings,” she said. “You just haven’t figured out what yours are yet. Maybe because you’re too dull to feel them. We all are, but I’m getting close.”
“Give it some time, Tig Fynch. You’d be surprised how quickly your numbers can rise if you hang out with the right studs.”
“Can you get me better marks?”
“Better marks? Sure, I can do that. But then what’s in it for me?”
A buzzer sounded. Linklyn waved us into the juice rooms and Cheza turned back to the young man at the desk. “Happy graduation, Link. I’ve still got that gift for you.”
“Next time,” he said, his head still buried in the pad.
Cheza never even asked if I could go in with her. It was just sort of assumed. When we arrived at her door, Headwoman Toi didn’t say much. It was a well-rehearsed dance between the stud and the elderly fem: Cheza hopped up on the table and lowered her head, Toi disconnected her holofield and her fingers probed the recesses of Cheza’s shaved scalp. Then she went to work at the skin behind her neck.
“Fill ‘er up and check the oil, doc.”
“You haven’t a clue what that means, do you, Ms. Gregory?” Toi had the remnants of a Pan-Asian upbringing in her accent.
Cheza scoffed. “Please, Heady Toi, just because I’ve never piloted an actual gasoline combustion engine doesn’t mean it’s not clever. Besides, the joke was for you, not the understud.” Her chin in her chest, she raised a finger blindly in my direction.
Toi looked down her tiny specs and smiled. “They were called automobiles, Ms. Gregory, and you didn’t pilot them, you drove them. I guess there’s only so much you can learn just by reading about it, even for you.”
“Oh stop spoiling everything you relic.”
Headwoman Toi paused. “Alter your tone please, Ms. Gregory.”
“O-kee-dee,” Cheza said with what sounded to me like real contrition, “But I think you’re asking for it by wearing those goggles on your face.”
“I like to wear eyeglasses,” the headwoman said. “There’s a certain comfort in old-fashioned things. Now stop moving.” Toi took hold of Cheza’s cranium to steady it and turned to me. “This is like trying to operate on a meerkat. I should get out the harness, for goodness sake.”
Then they both teeheed.
What the kuff was going on here? Cheza was talking to a school official like she was a fullgrown. And Toi was letting her! Curiouser and curiouser this new world was becoming.
Headwoman Toi rolled the skin off Cheza’s neck to expose her nogbox, a surprisingly unremarkable-looking chip-and-circuitry board. I’d never actually seen an exposed one before. She picked up a buzzing, lightning wand in each hand, edged her glasses down the bridge of her nose with her knuckle, and prodded the embedded circuitry. When the headwoman finally juiced her, Cheza’s left leg and arm gave a slight spasm, but otherwise she looked exactly the same. Finally, Toi stretched the skin back over Cheza’s scalp and gooed this femmy shut.
“Give it a mini to dry then you can fire up your holo and take your new tongue out for a spin,” she told Cheza. “You know the way out.” The headwoman scuttled away leaving the hydraulic door to ease shut. Cheza immediately bounded off the table and switched on her hair.
“What are you doing? She said to let it dry. You’ll catch the rot.”