“As I was saying, death is an incredible experience. Thousands of years ago, artists on earth used to inject their veins with peanut butter just to explore how it felt to have their heart almost stop,” the Iceman said.
The door opened on another enormous hangar, filled to its domed ceiling with rack after rack of blank bodies awaiting their customization.
"My wonder cabinet," the Ice said briskly, leading them down a silent, flesh-colored aisle.
The racks were labeled.
"FEMALE, HEAVY." "FEMALE, MILITARY." "FEMALE, LUXURY EDITION."
The blanks swayed gently from their rods, making Jacques' skin prickle.
Martine kept close to Jacques, trying not to touch anything. Or anyone. The bodywriter noticed.
“It can be little violent on the eyes, at first. Would you like a veil?” He fished in his jacket.
“No, no, I’m fine. They're stunning. But I’m not sure I envy you.”
“Well, you get numb after a while. That’s why I have my ‘Nna. Flesh begins to seem too permeable.”
“Yet you still choose to wear it. Flesh, I mean.”
“Ah. Well, often I dress quite differently. But my sales go down if I do not make certain compromises.”
“So if you had not known we were coming...?”
He smiled. “You may have found me dressed somewhat incomprehensibly. Ah. I believe this is your order.” The racks of female bodies had given way to male ones, and the rack of meat in front of them was hung with 40 identical men, all with square jaws and square, compact builds.
"MALE, MILITARY." A red tag was attached to the label. “KINGSOLVER MISSION.”
“May I?” Martine said.
“Of course. They are yours,” the Iceman said, stepping to one side. She took one of the men’s hands in hers and held it to her cheek.
“Beautiful. Absolutely beautiful.”
“I aim to please,” the Iceman said.
“Clearly,” Jacques said.
“Right, that’s all done then--" the bodywriter began.
Coyote cut him off. "There's something I just got to ask you, man. Is it true about... you know..."
The Iceman put his hands behind his back. "I'm not sure what it is you're trying to ask."
Coyote went red. "Heh, about the maker's mark. I heard you put it on all your blanks."
Jacques smiled. "I've heard that, too."
For a moment the Iceman was perfectly still. Then he melted into laughter. "That's wonderful. I have wondered if people would ever take notice, you know. You must understand. A father can look at the face of his child and see his own face looking back. I have fathered so many. Yet none of them have my face, or my mind or anything of me at all. To a very few I have given my own memories, but by and by large they are all orphans. And so I leave my mark."
Jacques laughed. "It’s quite a mark."
"I don't know what you're talking about," Martine said.
The bodywriter pulled a delicate handkerchief from his pocket and pressed it to his forehead, glancing over furtively at Jacques, as if to ask permission. "Ah... ahem..."
"Come on, you can tell me," she said.
"It's a dick!" Coyote said. "His maker’s mark is a dick! He shapes them out of a mole or a birthmark..."
"Sometimes a few stray hairs," the Iceman admitted. "Just a little sign that I was there, really. Like signing my name."
Martine covered her mouth. Grinning crookedly, Coyote reached for one of the blanks and pulled out its leg.
"Right here," he said, "behind the knee, you see it?"
She saw it and laughed. There, in the shadow of the blank's left tendon, was a mole of unmistakable design. Dark, floppy balls and a phallic series of dots. "Wow," she said. "What a piece of work." She laughed harder, doubling over. "Oh, oh my."
Jacques patted her awkwardly. "Good, good," the Iceman said. "Pleased to have amused you. But let's get sorted. You said you had books to trade, is that correct?”
“Oh yeah. More than any of us have ever seen,” Coyote said. “They’re in the ship. You want me to show you?”
The Iceman touched his temple and closed his eyes. “’Nna already has.”
Jacques was startled. “Listen, we didn’t agree to--”
“You are on my ship. We operate by my rules,” the Iceman said. Martine straightened and wiped her eyes, blinking at him. She let the blank's hand drop; it swung at the man’s side, casting a turgid, metronomic shadow.
“I will accept the books,” the writer said. “Despite the blood.”
"Blood?" Martine said.
"There is blood on the books," the Iceman said.
“They were like that when we—when we procured them,” Coyote said.
“Fresh blood,” the Iceman said. His eyes flickered to Coyote’s hands, which the boy quickly pocketed. “Desperate times, desperate measures. I do understand. But perhaps, in exchange you will help me with a matter of my own.”
“Gladly,” Martine said.
“Follow me,” the Iceman said, striding away. They exited the room after him. The bodies moved gently in their wake, resettling softly like a field of grass.
Three aisles away from the Kingsolver's blanks was a rack filled with young men. Each one had the same face. The same thick eyebrows, same thin chin. It was a boyish face. A sly face.
It was the face of Coyote.