mBody Chapter 1: A New Sharing Opportunity™ (Part 1)

mBody has a new Sharing Opportunity for you!

I glared at the notification hovering in the bottom corner of my goggles, as if I could make both it and the obligation it represented go away by sheer willpower. However, I had a call to finish before I could deal with it. Focusing my eyes back in the center of the glasses, I scanned for nearby restaurants based on Mr. Stanton’s GPS signal. The subvocal microphone pressed to my throat picked up the question I asked under my breath of whether “trying something new” meant a new restaurant or an entirely new cuisine. Then I sat in strained silence while he talked to himself about what he actually wanted, out of life and out of this call. Finally, after three agonizing minutes of indecision, my client settled on a new restaurant in a familiar style, and I sent directions to his palmtop for the best-rated Indian restaurant in transit distance at which he’d never eaten. Finally, I confirmed that I’d taken care of his needs, gave him my employee number, and reminded him to rate my performance on Unturned.

The immediate task resolved, I pulled myself out of the call queue and paused my work timer, then focused my attention on the ghostly popup again, making it snap to full opacity. I hovered my gaze over the X in the corner, and a line of text materialized below it: You have one Guilt-Free Refusal™ remaining this month! Do you want to use it now? I grit my teeth, my tail stiffly jerking back, and I tilted my head to slide the cursor onto the button marked “Tell Me More!”

Soon my vision filled with comets, their tails intertwined, as the mBody app took over the screen. Excellent! the program announced, followed by a legal spew that I started skimming. I groaned as it sped past; it was another six-hour contract, enough to force me out of work for a day but not enough for a full day’s credit towards my payback plan. In short, it was exactly the kind of trap Shai had foreseen. I could just hear zir self-righteous hmph in my ear as I skimmed the contract, full of I-warned-yous and I-told-you-sos. I bit the air in frustration, yelping as my teeth snagged my tongue instead. My hooves flew to my muzzle while pain danced along my throat and stars flickered inside my eyes, interfering with my reading. For several seconds, I just sat and nursed both my anger at my ex and the pain in my tongue, trying to figure out which hurt more, until a notification from my boss popped up on the interoffice chatline, preempting them both. You’re off the clock, Avery. Is something wrong?

Bit tongue, can’t talk, might need a day for more med stuff, I texted back, still in too much pain to subvocalize.

The chat window showed flickering ellipses for a few moments while Stewart’s animated icon made a big deal of thinking. There’s painkillers in the break room.

His overprecise grammar always made me cringe. No, not tongue, I meant another session at mBody?

This time, Stewart’s icon rolled for almost half a minute. I don’t know if that’s covered, he finally replied. I’ll have to check with HR. Do you know when yet?

It’s medical. One sec, I replied, then popped back to the contract. I scanned it for dates, but something more interesting caught my eye: whoever wanted my body for the night had checked both the “Interpersonal Intimacy” and “Chemical Experimentation” boxes; that was an instant bonus to the credit I’d get out of this. That meant more than a day, maybe even two or three. Suddenly the cost of a vacation day didn’t seem like nearly such a bad idea. If you can live with whatever they put into you, Shai’s voice chided in my head. I growled under my breath. If they gave me something nasty, mBody had insurance for that kind of thing. I checked their policies really carefully for that. And if they gave me something incurable… well, wasn’t that the whole point of mBody’s Endless Upgrade program? I’d have to buy that on credit too, but at this rate, I wasn’t getting out of their Sharing Program any faster than I was my student loans.

Though, if more people wanted my body for sex and drugs, that might change. I checked again for the dates, then popped back over to the my boss’s chat window. Saturday next, 19th, need to be off by fourteen. Can be in early to help cover Delhi evening, always busy?

Again, Stewart’s exaggerated features rolled through pondering and the dots of the ellipsis blinked in sequence for a really long time. HR says this can be covered as sick time, if you’d rather take the day off; it’s related to a previously-approved medical procedure. There’s a form you’ll need to fill out to make that happen, if you’d like me to send that to you. Delhi can always use help, if you’d prefer, but I’ll need to get approval for a schedule shift from Rajani and you’ll at least need to take the Connaught Place, Daryaganj, and Preet Vihar certs before I can file. If you can have those done by this Saturday, I can get you that time slot. Those wouldn’t be bad certs to have anyway for your career.

I stared at the semicolon in my boss’ response. It made me want to quit. It made me want to say to hell with Delhi, with Stewart, and with customized interpersonal concierge service. It made me want to hop on the first train out of downtown and not stop moving until I could collapse in Shai’s arms. Of course you do, Shai’s voice reminded me smugly, because you know I was right. That thought snapped me out of my misery, at least enough to shove aside the lingering sense that maybe they had been, at least about buying a new body on credit. Even if it had been a mistake, it was my mistake, and I was going to make the most of it. They, meanwhile, had to live with the pain of knowing that at least one person in the world wasn’t going to put up with them telling everyone around them how much smarter and wiser and more clever they were because they were willing to put off actually being happy indefinitely, on the vain hope that one day they’d have enough money to buy what they wanted outright, by which point they’d be too old to actually enjoy the body they had.

Thinking about Shai and mBody and everything else was giving me a tension headache and threatening to send me home. That’d be two days I missed, and only one I could justify. I couldn’t afford that. I closed my eyes and took a deep breath, remembering some of the training techniques I’d learned for mBody’s Sharing System. Focus on your breathing. Count slowly, ten to one. Breathe in, tense everything. Breathe out, relax and let the tension go. It wasn’t a substitute for a nap, but it would get me through the rest of the shift. Shai didn’t matter. mBody didn’t matter. Getting through the rest of the day mattered, and eventually the rest of the credit contract. Send me the med form. I’ll take certs later. Send me links? Will start studying.

A few minutes later, the mail system told me I had a new message in my inbox; that I could safely ignore for the moment. Sent, my boss told me. Fill that out and I’ll approve it. Take care, be safe, and don’t forget to get back on the clock while you fill out the form.

Will do, I responded. The mBody app let out a chord when I approved the contract. Congratulations, Avery! it said. After this, you’ll only have 264 days remaining on your Sharing Contract! Would you like to browse the catalog of our latest upgrades? With a sigh, I dismissed the sales pitch, restarted my work timer, then turned my attention to my office mail so I could get that form filled out before I left for the day.