The ballroom is filled with dancers, courageous and shy, and sweet music. Such music. It flows through them all, them all donned in colourful tuxedos and flowery frocks of silk, satin, gossamer, and cashmere. Cream, magenta, coral, ebony, rouge, aqua, and fuchsia. Twirling and swirling, a riot of colour, all around the room with its dance-floor cluttered with upturned dining tables and broken bottles of alcohol, medicine, and the rank smell of disinfectant. The dancers make their own music as they cling to their partners, whooping and cheering and laughing at themselves, at others, at their lives, or simply life itself.
Kaye and Tee watch from above, their arms draped over the railing of the staircase. Smiling, smiling, smiling. Dreaming too. They wish they could join the happy huddle, dance with abandon. They wish they could hear the music. What music it must be for such joy to be radiating from the swarm below. Tee hums to herself, drawing patterns only she can see in the air with her finger, smiling warmly, like she has a secret.
Kaye watches the smattering of figures by the window, those who aren’t yet dancing. Her smile is weak, betrayed by another kind of secret, a longing for something other than to dance. Companionship. She loves Tee but Tee is insane.
A figure in a cream tuxedo, a black bowler hat and a cane catches her eye. He is amongst the non-dancers. But then with a twirl and a tip of his hat, he bids a ballerina to dance with him and she accepts. Kaye sighs, forces her eyes away only to find them on the couple waltzing fluidly between every other. After the dance to music she cannot hear, as the bowler hat dips to kiss the ballerina’s hand, his eyes meet Kaye’s over his partner’s shoulder and he smiles.
Kaye stares, blinks, stares again, he’s still smiling. Time means nothing here but she wonders for how long he has been smiling, she has been staring. Then her heart thuds and she recoils, retreats, hides behind the corner. She sits on the dirty floor, knees to her chest, and stares at the floor instead.
Nothing is real here. Everything exists only in one’s mind. He did not smile at her. She imagined he smiled at her because that is what she wanted to happen. She wanted to be smiled at and so her head granted her her wish. She hates it here. She hates herself. She hates herself here.
Tee hasn’t noticed anything. She lives entirely a world of her own. What Kaye might see may not be even a touch on what Tee sees. Swallowing her hatred of herself, of here, Kaye stands up again, leans over the wall, scans the crowd. The ballerina is dancing by herself. The cream tuxedo with the black bowler hat and cane is nowhere to be seen – probably because Kaye no longer wants to see him, or be seen by him, so she does not and is not.
The whooping, cheering, laughing and screeching of the dancers grates on Kaye’s ear implants. She says drearily, “Too much noise ….”
Tee replies dreamily, “The bots will come.”
Tee always sounds dreamy. Kaye scratches her neck, around her add-ons, her ear-socket, the whirring irritating her, her hair tangling in her antenna. She sniffs and says, “The bots always come.”
“Yes, they do,” Tee agrees as the hall floods with bots – six-by-three square-feet hunks of grinding metal and slashing claws – and the couples scream and scatter.
Kaye straightens up, preparing to run or watch, and Tee lazily stabs Kaye in the fleshy part of her throat with an implant gun. She hadn’t wanted Kaye to see it, so she hadn’t.
Kaye thought she knew what pain was. Bruises, grazes, cuts, and burns – all minor. Multiple augmentation surgeries, all under anaesthetic, all before this, all memories of that time faded, disintegrated, all gone. Her arms from the elbows down, her legs from the knees down, her right hip, her spine, her lungs, her digestive system, her ears, her eyes, her voice-box; any physical defect she’d had before here was now no more. No more blurred vision or asking anybody to repeat themselves; no more asthma or irritable bowel syndrome; no more worries about losing the use of her hands, no more chronic leg or back pain, no more stutter.
She can’t remember either way, but they didn’t touch her brain. She feels like they couldn’t have or why does she have such trouble remembering things, discerning what’s real and what’s not, who she can trust and who she can’t? Why couldn’t she see before now that Tee’s insanity was dangerous? Kaye had seen her tear the tails off rats, trip strangers down stairs, kill people they knew, were friends with. But what were friends here?
The pain short-circuits her voice-box so she can’t scream in pain or for help, or ask why. Her vision flickers through black, white, and colour and no colour and back again. She hears whooping and cheering, then nothing, then the music everybody else can hear, then nothing again. Then she can’t see, speak or hear but she can still feel. Pain, such pain in her neck, her head, her spine as Tee grasps her wrist and tugs her away, not down the stairs but somewhere else.Kaye tries to remember where they are, where they came from, how they got wherever they are, what she was doing before this happened.
Her mind, the only unaltered part of her left, is blank. It is the one part of herself she was confident in maintaining by herself. But first the dreams flooded in, the inability to tell them apart from reality, then the loss of memories, of who she is, was, might have been. She lost herself.
Tee drags Kaye out of the hall, seals the door behind them, and then lazily meanders along the corridor, humming loudly to herself. She hopes Kaye can hear because when she’s happy everybody else must be happy too. But Kaye doesn’t move and Tee jabs her in the ribs with her boot, wanting her to react but Kaye is busy. She’s trying to remember where she is, who she is, what’s going on. The implant gun is still sticking out of her neck.
“YOU’RE SO BORING!” Tee yells at her, not knowing Kaye can’t hear, and yanks hard on her arm, kicks her again.
Kaye screams inside her own head.
The cream tuxedo with a black bowler hat and a cane walks up behind Tee. He thrusts the end of his cane, an electric prod, into her back. She yelps and drops to the floor, stunned. He leans over and pulls the implant gun out of Kaye’s throat.
Silence is replaced with distant screams, darkness with bright flecks of indeterminate colour dancing before her eyes, and muteness with a sharp gasp as if she has been deprived of oxygen for some time. She coughs, flails, defending herself against no attacker. She is Kaye. She is Kaye again. She remembers. She remembers the dancers, the ballerina, the cream tuxedo, the smile, the bots, and Tee. She grasps her throat, feels the two new flat, circular implants plugged into her jugular and tugs on them.
“O-ut!” she croaks, her voice stilted and robotic. “G-et t-hem o-ut! O-ut!”
“No!” Cream tuxedo shouts, pulling her hands away, and she blinks at him, a cream-coloured blur, flails, tries to get away.
He lets go and she presses her back against the wall, away from him, her hands and feet grinding against the metal grill of the flooring. She blinks again, trying to focus her ocular implants. She can make out blue eyes, a black hat. She uses sign language. Something she doesn’t remember learning, doesn’t know how she remembers its particulars, uses it anyway: W-H-O you?
Hesitation and then he holds out his hands and signs the letter R.
She pulls a face. “C-an h-ear,” she tries to say, signing her words as she speaks. “C-an’t s-ee. C-an’t s-ee,” she says again, pitifully waving a silver hand in front of her face, distinguishing nothing but a fuzzy grey ghost.
She huffs electronically, jabs a finger in the direction of her throat, and signs, Why can’t I take them out?
“I don’t know what they are,” he replied, speaking softly.
Who are you? she repeats and he looks at his shoes.
Eventually he murmurs, “Just call me R.”
Copyright © Sarah Weisters 2018