Membership Optional | PodCast (audio) by The Centropic Oracle | Text
It takes Jamie a while to realize what bothers her about the man who picks her up. It’s not the plant-leather suit that fits him like a glove or his perfectly styled baby-blue hair that looks like it could pick up cellu-type frequencies if he twisted the ends of his pompadour towards the sky. It’s that he has no pores.
He looks perfect when he opens the passenger-side door, his teeth too straight and smile too bright, but all of that might have been assuaged if his skin looked less plastic.
“There’s some napkins in the glove compartment,” he says, and Jamie wrinkles her nose. There’s something rude about an intermediary being so blunt. “Use them if you feel you’re going to…”
“It’s only just started,” she protests, but even as she does she can hear her replacement lung wine and catch on the air she’s trying to suck in.
“Only just.” The driver mocks, pulling out into traffic. Virtually no one owns cars anymore unless their business involves driving. For most, it’s easier to take one of the hover trams or hire a driver for a one-off. Almost all medical providers have their own drivers and most are more efficient than emergency personnel. This one, for example, picked Jamie up right at her doorstep and he didn’t even rush her as she took more than three minutes to walk the ten steps from door to curb. “Just bubbling up biochemical fluid, nothing to worry about.”
Jamie presses her mouth closed against the groaning of her lung and the iridescent bubbles that creep up her throat from the printed organ. She’s afraid they’ll tumble from her mouth if she opens it. They taste like copper and cherries as they burst on her tongue.
“What did you do to it anyway?” he asks, but his smirk says he doesn’t expect an answer. “You got it put in, what? Six months ago?”
Sometimes printed organs break like sunny-side eggs all over the glass printing case. Normally they just ooze: bits of jellied printing compound working its way out of blood vessels or designer pockets as the injectors weave in and out. It’s fine if the organs sweat so long as the lines don’t crack and the cells don’t split. Even if they do, it’s a simple matter to print another organ, another limb–unless it happens after attachment. There’s no insurance for a faulty printable: everyone assumes post-surgical breakage is environmental or personal.
Jamie is certain she did nothing to it. Of course, she doesn’t know what she did to her original lung, either.
There’s a metal sign above the stairs that says: Inquire inside about membership. Jamie notices it as she braces herself against the intermediary in preparation for braving the stairs.
“Tell me about this?” she asks, because fear makes it even harder to breath. She has to stop every three steps to sputter into a handkerchief and each stop makes her anxiety escalate. Her guide is at least kind enough to mostly hide his disgust at the way her whole body seems to splinter along the lines of her single biological flaw.
“The Fixer. That is what it’s called. S'posed to sound omnous.” He says the word ominous strangely, like the vowels are out of order. It’s the most humanizing thing Jamie has heard all day and her faulty lung finally stops seizing in a sputter of latent nerves. The relief lasts only until a voice rises from behind a blue patterned curtain hanging behind the white reception desk:
“They. That’s what they are called.”
“Right. Sorry.” He doesn’t sound sorry. He bows mockingly towards the curtained off area and then ushers Jamie forward with an arm at the small of her back. She struggles to keep pace as they brush past the curtain but he doesn’t seem to notice her feet dragging while he strides. “They are called ‘The Fixer’. One person, plural.”
There’s only one other person in the entire building and they’re perched next to what looks like a dentist chair with an old style digital x-ray panel floating above it. The person looks perfectly normal until Jamie is flat on her back and staring up at them. There are silver tipped gills fluttering out one side of The Fixer’s beautifully pale neck and their eyes are slightly too big for their face. Are their eyes artificial? Jamie isn’t sure. There are other things, too, but they take longer to notice because surgery stasis might allow for maintaining awareness while gutted but it doesn’t allow much movement.
“It’s a shame,” they say when they open her up and begin to patch the microscopic tears. “All this beautiful work–hidden.”
The Fixer has bullet casings for finger tips and they tap, tap, tap against the metal tray as they pick up one instrument, then another. It’s sloppy-sounding work like suction-cups against heavy, wet meat. “Would you like to see it?”
Jamie can’t answer, just swings her eyes wildly in what she hopes is a clear enough no. She tries not to be thankful as her intermediary snorts from the other side of the room, “No one wants to see the meat-pulp-and-gold version of their own printed lung.”
“Just because you wouldn’t.”
Jamie isn’t sure if she’s horrified or awed when The Fixer turns the x-ray panel into a mirror and angles it towards her face. The Fixer has patched the tears in her lung with what looks like ever expanding and contracting stars. A few break off into golden rivers that fade as they dive deep into her still freshly-printed tissue. It takes more than six years for printed organ material to go from a sickly peach to proper coral. Jamie’s lung will always look a shade too light, and now it will always be marred–a strangely beautiful patchwork of reimagined tissue and nanite adhesive.
“It’s beautiful, isn’t it?”
It doesn’t matter what Jamie thinks. She closes her eyes and tries not to think of it or the way The Fixer’s face goes soft as they turn their attention towards to putting Jamie back together.
Jamie doesn’t have to lean on anyone when she leaves. Her chest aches slightly with post-surgery echo but the air that comes in doesn’t catch or bubble or leave her scrambling for support. Still, she stops at the stoop leading out to the road and her driver’s slick, black, car.
“Hey, do you know why anyone would want a membership?” She gestures to the plaque.
The intermediary opens the passenger-side door, eager to be paid and on his way. “It’s cheaper if you need repeat procedures.” He says, “Some people need it. Some people just don’t want perfect things. Weird, right?”
“Weird,” Jamie agrees as she sits down. “Very weird.”
But when she closes her eyes she can still see the gold flecks of stars holding her cells together.