Lives and souls to buy, sell or trade
[Trigger warning: Most of the story that takes place occurs on one of the Greater Deregulations where women are property]
When Mary woke, she knew she wasn’t Mary any more. The strange feeling of duality that had accompanied every update so far was not there, just an echoing sensation of emptiness.
It was a peculiar thing to wake up and realize that you must have died sometime after your last save.
The wall opposite was the dingy beige of cheap rental space the world over. Dirty, dingy beige. The sort of beige that she had grown to hate on a visceral level. The space nearby was little better. A one-ass kitchen that was trying to be a half-ass kitchen abutting a living space just large enough to accommodate a screen that dominated one wall, a comfy chair (more accurately, something that might have been a comfy chair in a previous life), and a small, crowded table. Both doors out of this tiny space held little promise. The one, tiny porthole in one door had bars on it, and the other’s greasy, black staining where thousands of filthy hands had brushed it open made her want to vomit.
Which reminded her that she didn’t have a stomach, any more. Just the memory of one.
The denizen of this place was staring, mouth open like a gasping fish. Sunless pale, not exactly fit, but not exactly looking after himself, either. Balding, sweaty, and showing all the signs of a drastically imbalanced diet. Practically on the cusp of malnutrition. His expression did not bode well.
Mary looked down. Someone had digitally crammed the memory of her ample body - or the digital representation thereof - into a ‘naughty maid’ outfit. “Oh, my God…” she muttered. She tried to steady herself on what little there was of the half-ass kitchen countertop, and was shocked when her hand fell through. “I’m guessing we’re mutually disappointed?”
The denizen flapped his mouth without sound for a moment. “You’re s'poseda be a looker!”
“And I was ’s'poseda’ wake up in a better body. That could touch things. I was ’s'poseda’ be able to do stuff.”
“You can do all the important stuff, still.” He spasmodically pointed out the silver projector. “I hooked you up to the controller. You can run every machine in the house. Organize everything. Even do some shopping.”
“Uh,” said Mary, for whom organization happened to other people. “You do know you bought an artist, right?”
“Nah, I bought a woman.” He said the word almost like 'wuh-m'n’. “Woman changes any man’s life. Makes it convenient.”
“Like I don’t gotta stress 'bout groceries an’ bills an’ shit. And you can clean up all my files onna system. Talk me better. You know. Woman things.”
She sighed. If she ever got out of this pickle, she would sue the company that sold her on Bakupz™ in the first place. “Well, at least sex is out of the question.”
“I can get a bod at t’ Hump House any time I want. Why’d I want a woman t’ do that?”
Her entire projected body glitched at that massively incoherent concept. Okay. Not only was she a hologram, she was a cheap hologram. “Okay, so what happens to me if I can’t perform according to specifications?”
He shrugged. “Throw you away, guess. Shame to waste the unit, but you were bargain bin, anyway.”
Mary stared at him as that sank in. This was a place that routinely disposed of people. Bought them and sold them.
She’d always joked that she couldn’t organize anything to save her life. Now she had to make that joke a lie or die. Again.
“And how many women have you… used?”
“Ain’t been able to afford no womans before now. Said you were bargain bin. Now shut up and get cracking. I want improvements.”
“According to you or according to me?”
He grunted. “Shut up and print me a sandwich.”
Mary found a thing that took the place of microwave, cooktop, or stove. It was a frame with coloured tubes and some variety of nozzle. She poked at it, and was rewarded with a virtual manual. Everything was voice-commands or, in the case of a plug-in soul, she could just think it and the machine would print it for her.
She was halfway tempted to hand this mook a PBLTBJ and watch his face, but she couldn’t afford to surrender to temptation. Just the BLT would do. On full-grain bread. With butter, for enhanced taste.
The machine whirred into life, printing her imagined sandwich in quick stripes. While it was printing, she took stock.
This guy had access to a LOT of violent porn. Of the remaining media - a niche market on this world - there was action/adventure, mystery, drama… and kidvids.
So. They still procreated, but judging by the price tags, actually raising children in the home was a luxury this mook couldn’t afford.
There were apps, of the blow-things-up variety. Creation was another niche market of samey paint programs with high price tags.
As for the contents of his refrigerator… beer or coffee. That was not a lot of material to work with.
She started on the accounts, since numbers were at least something she could handle. Ugh. This guy was repeatedly renting porn he owned. Stupid. And spending way too much on food he didn’t have to print at home. Dumb.
“Where are the books?” she asked.
Damn. There was less to work with than she thought. The printer dinged, and the sandwich and the surface it printed on automatically scooted over to where her owner sat, watching porn with his junk out.
“The hell is this shit?” he demanded.
“Which shit are you referring to?” Mary challenged.
“The bread looks funny and there’s weird green stuff in-between.”
Which explained the malnutrition. Fabulous. “You said you wanted improvements. I decided to begin with your health. A good diet can do wonders.” She decided not to cover exercise, just yet. It looked like the most exercise he got was wanking.
“Ugh, you sound like my old Nanny.”
“I’m guessing that’s not a grandmother?”
He looked at her like she’d just defecated from her mouth. “No. Don’t even know what that is. Nanny’s are older womans that used'a pretty up the Bossmen and improve their lives. It’s a waste to bodify 'em when they get too old, so they turn 'em into Nannies. They look after boys in the kid farms.”
“Oh… kay… Look, it’s been a while since my last save. Is there anywhere I can look this shit up so I don’t annoy you with all these questions?”
“Prolly a libary app somewheres. Go looking.”
Ugh. She went looking. So much stuff had been made and neglected. There was a wiki - for free. Good. Free things did not need her owner’s authorization to acquire. And there was a halfway-decent-looking art program, also for free. And an elementary financials app. Great.
At least the mook had eaten the sandwich by the time she came back to depressing reality. He wasn’t complaining, but he wasn’t happy, either. He needed to piss, he said, then he was going to sleep.
She didn’t need sleep, any more, so she got into his files and got them organized. Distasteful though this was, she had to get his porn stash sorted in such a way that his chosen entertainment didn’t cost him so much, any more. And getting rid of the auto-connection to the rental place wouldn’t hurt, either.
As for educating herself…
This planet was a horror show. Men were the only people with agency on this world. Women were… commodities. The pretty and the talented were sold by performance. The pretty and smart were executive toys and semi-assistants. The merely pretty were accessories and, when they were no longer pretty, the semi-servile educators of the next generation of men. Those who were not pretty, or even desirable… They were lobotomized, had their limbs amputated, and had their flesh rented out as 'bod’s. Living sex toys and incubators for the succeeding generation to be raised in the kid farms.
In the midst of existential doubt, still wondering if she was a living soul or a mere echo that thought it was a soul, Mary knew one thing.
Dead or alive, she had to get out of here.