We Apologize for the Interruption – Part 2
She soaked in the pulse of the crowd as she made her way down the avenue. The touch of the shoulders and legs that brushed her felt gentle, like all of humanity giving her a hug. She was probably setting off thousands of In-Between alerts, but the mass of commuters was too dense for anyone to figure out who the In-Between was. It felt good. Anonymous.
Before long she was back on campus, circling the perimeter of Washington Square Park. She stopped to take in the beauty of the towering trees. Usually, she didn’t look up, didn’t notice. Annoyed faces maneuvered around her stationary form like an inconveniently placed human bollard. A few, paying more attention to their handhelds, crossed the street to get away from her. Oh, God. She tried to imagine walking into her classroom and teaching a room full of terrified undergraduates. It was beginning to seem like a terrible idea.
Her handheld buzzed, zapped by an unknown user, immediate proximity. Her dating service flagged him as a poor match. She looked around to figure out which one he was of the milling strangers. Off the path, a guy with long dreadlocks arranged red and black pamphlets on a plastic foldout table. He winked.
What the hell, she thought, and answered his zap. Normally she avoided the doomsday radicals like every other sane person. Changes in base personality. She nearly groaned. Symptom number two of Generalized Dissociative Dysphoric Mania.
She was about to go over and flirt when he sent her a micro-ad: The Zombie-Capitalists Want to Eat Your Brain – Resist! Wednesday, 19:00, Judson Memorial Church. Zap RobertNeville@NYU.
She flinched, but had to smile at the timing. Her dating service had not misled her. Dreadlocks boy might be cute, but this was definitely a bad idea.
“You got somewhere to be?” he called out in a disarmingly smooth Euro-African accent.
“You Robert Neville?” The name sounded familiar.
“Nah. Just my handle. He’s a character from this old movie I saw. Last guy standing in New York, post zombie apocalypse.”
“I Am Legend?” Peg remembered the book.
“Yeah, that’s the one.”
“I think it was vampires.”
“Oh.” He looked puzzled about what to do with that information. “Well, I saw the movie.” He stuck out his hand. “Jayden.”
A girl named Peg had to like retro names. And his was cute. It fit.
“Peg,” she said, accepting the handshake. She took in the broadness of his shoulders. Screw the math tutorial.
How did this Jayden guy get a shirt that tight over his head and past that neck? What was the elasticity of what seemed to be a regular cotton shirt that it didn’t tear whenever his arm muscles flexed?
“You thinking about coming to the meeting?”
“Uh huh,” she managed. He was beautiful.
* * *
They decided to get a drink at the Delta. The greetings the staff gave Jayden zeroed him as non-random for the spot. A few of the wait-staff glanced nervously at the In-Between alert, but they were clearly the more progressive types. They smiled with professionalism and took her order.
By the time she had taken her first sip of beer, Peg had played out the scenario where they fell in love and she decided not to go through with the surgery, unwilling to lose this catalytic moment forever. She ignored the insurance company’s warning: one ridiculously expensive syn construction per policyholder, per lifetime—no do-overs.
Of course, she was never able to raise the cash to build another syn. Eventually her brain rotted with age in bitter contrast to her stubbornly youthful body. But: She died knowing love.
Very romantic. Unforgivably stupid. There was no excuse in this day and age for allowing one’s brain to waste away. Nana just didn’t have to be such a jerk about it.
With three days of nothing to lose, she decided she was in this for sex. Peg opened her stance and focused her mind on nothing else. She uncrossed and crossed her legs and made her lips pout just a little bit. She lit a cigarette.
“So, you’re a communist,” she said. “What’s that like?”
He laughed, a good throaty chuckle, and grinned back at her, cheeks puckering into dimples.
“I’m an anarchist. And it’s just okay. What are you?”
“In-Between,” she admitted, a bit surprised with her own candidness. She blew a perfect smoke ring. “And it sucks.”
“Yeah, I know,” he smiled, indicating his handheld.
Jayden was easy to talk to and with the awkwardness of the whole In-Between thing finally out there, everything else was fair game.
Jayden was amused by her derm upgrade. She’d selected a milky latte color so her skin would keep longer. Skin cancer ran on her father’s side, and since her parents hadn’t gone in for the whole designer-baby craze, Peg was predisposed. Insurance didn’t usually cover a derm upgrade until your mid-40s, but for people with her genetic markers they made an exception. The truth, Peg confided, was that she’d just not wanted to look so pasty.
In trade, he confessed to blowing an entire summer’s tips to get his eyes swapped, just for a color change. Dark brown to sea-foam green. Peg examined them as he did his best not to blink. She liked how he did that, making a point of letting her know he’d also had cosmetic work, just to make her feel better about her derm job.
“I’ll bet they were fine brown,” said Peg.
Jayden twirled the foam on the head of his beer with a slow circling finger. His smile was crooked and sad.
“What is it?”
“It’s none of my business, but I wish you weren’t getting it done.”
“Why?” She sighed and crossed her arms. Better to get this over with. Let him drone on about the soul so we can get to the part involving clothing removal.
“You’re going to die,” he said, pulling apart bubbles of foam between fingers. “I just think that’s sad.”
Peg set down her beer too forcefully and it sloshed over the brim, spilling over the table. Jayden soaked it up with a napkin while Peg fumed. What was she supposed to say now? My mother died of early-onset Alzheimer’s. You were probably a designer baby, but, surprise! I have the markers for Alzheimer’s. If I don’t do this, and soon, I’ll die way too young and it won’t be pretty.
But there was no way. She’d just met this guy and, as he’d said, it was none of his goddamn business. Taking a page out of Sonar’s book, she decided to answer with a question.
“So what’s your solution? Let your neurons rot until you wink out?”
“Better that than letting the zombie docs carve out your brain, turn you into Frankenstein. You’re going to die and some other chick who is almost you is going to check out extended life in your place.”
He reached across the table to hold her hand. Hell, no. She jerked away.
“Look, I shouldn’t have said anything.”
“No,” Peg said, zapping the bar to pay her tab. “You shouldn’t have.” She snatched up her coat from the back of her chair. “I was going to let you fuck me.”
Peg was about to turn and leave when she saw the look on his face.
“Have you actually read any books?” she scowled. “Frankenstein was the doctor.”