Part III: Wasting Thousands By The Hour - Chapters 53 - 57 [COMPLETE]

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Chapter Fifty Three

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The journey through the passageway from West to EastGen was fraught with calamity—atmospheric regulators leaking, fuses burning, children throwing tantrums because the displays on their mini-redscreens were broken. Parts and pipes and plastic protectors cracking, covered in ice—hell was freezing over. Individs clutching at their tanks, pressing the brightly-colored rounded square buttons on them in furious panic. Calling tech support, calling security. But all the troubleshooting response units had been outsourced to other colonies, and the lines were dead.

The West Gen'ers were aging rapidly—all those years we'd shaved off by means of thousands of credits and self-serving willpower reversed in a matter of minutes. Those who had installed sensory stimulator upgrades—Plus One Sound! Vision! Taste! Stimuli receptivity beyond your wildest dreams!—with these now ceasing to function, their senses were dulled to the point of blackness. They frantically reached out, stumbling into one another, blind and deaf. Almost all the women and a fair number of the men had purchased Toxx 5 injections—these now over-activated, leaving numb-faced mannequins, zombie-like expressions all the same, melted plastic dolls permanently startled and terrified. Nearly everyone had a weight repressor installed—extra chins appeared, arms and legs plumped up and stomachs protruded like megalomaniacal villains from a kids' greenscreen movie. Some individs switched off their acu-tanks to shut themselves down permanently once they realized how the network failure was affecting them. Mirrors were ubiquitous in Generik, and they had caught their reflections in the glass.

Hobbling my way past dozens, I paused when I came across the Seventeen Sisters of many colors—passageway dwellers, circus geeks and femme fatales. They were weary, dull, and desaturated, slinking down against the wall one by one, faces drawn and kitschy hairdos askew. Age spots and wrinkles covered their skin, dots and lines like Morse code graffiti across Bernini's Truth.

I grabbed the arm of the nearest sister, Cerulean, and tried to pull her up. "C'mon," I said. "It's not so bad, maintenance is nothing but a chore anyhow."

"No, don't. Just leave us here," Cerulean said.

"Look at us, our beauty is gone," Chartreuse lamented. "We can't stand getting old and ugly like this—we'd rather die."

"At least we have old photographs of when we were brilliant," Red said.

Seventeen switches powered off and seventeen souls were released into the sky. If only they could get past that thick sheet of ice.

#

Memories began to trickle back to me in shutter-quick intervals. Living with my parents till age eight, then school training and extra-curricular life-enrichment activities from noon to midnight. Most of these activities cumulated in some sort of competition, in which I would usually receive second place. Redscreen ads, smiling white teeth and long, shiny hair, laughing, kissing one person, then turning around and kissing the next. Introduction of the credit system. Excitement as more funds were allocated to me annually—once Main Computer deemed my progress satisfactory. Work at Infrastratos where just enough respect and neglect were given me so that I felt content in my duties. But really, just biding time—always waiting for the night and the ends of weeks. Overbearing fluorescent cubicle lights are reduced to a mesmerizing carousel of neon colors and the din-swing-crash! music begins—vapor candies and Gummy Tummies, beautiful, willing bodies with vacant eyes, the promised drug of new infatuation at least three times a week. Upgrades that made the heart beat faster, increased intensity with every fleeting moment and every swallow.

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