by Laney Cairo
Bailey likes to cut people—in a purely consensual way—which makes his work as a surgical technician with cosmetic enhancement corporation SirenCare his dream job. His recreational pursuits, however, would displease his employer, so he lives his personal life on the margins of Sydney, away from SirenCare’s corporate enclave, taking his chances in a city without water or power.
Quint is one of his chances, an illegal resident who pulls beer and breaks up fights. Quint’s not used to corporate men with the means to buy water, but he could get accustomed to being with Bailey and Bailey’s friend, Flynn, who engineers new and addictive body mods for SirenCare.
When Immigration incarcerates Quint as an illegal resident, only intervention by a corporation can free him. Can Bailey, with Flynn, persuade SirenCare that a disreputable bar tender is carrying experimental body mods, and should be rescued from detention?
Originally published in the Spiked anthology.
SirenCare had a dedicated subway station, on the main line into the centre of Sydney, but Bailey didn’t join the throng of his fellow employees who were heading for the station, down endless white-tiled staircases. Instead, Bailey cut across the concourse at the front of SirenCare’s surgical facility, heading for the street access onto Oxford St.
The concourse opened through a double door that kept the noise and grit out, and Bailey plunged out into the sweltering heat of the outside world. Locked inside an air-conditioned and hermetically-sealed edifice all day, going into the heat always felt like being struck, driving the oxygen from his lungs by replacing it with steam.
Sunglasses were useless in the humidity, so Bailey pushed his up onto his head and blinked in the daylight.
He turned right, pushing his way past street vendors selling cosmetics and skewers of spiced meat, heading downhill and into the shadows cast by the SirenCare tower. It was cooler, out of the sunlight, because the light pipes that carried sunshine to the shadow around the tower didn’t bring heat to the area.
Tilly, the coffee vendor, called out, “Night, Bailey!” and Bailey lifted a hand in greeting as he edged around the crowd clustering around Tilly’s cart.
Bailey dodged a brawl spilling out of a pub, stepped around children playing on the paving, and paused on the curb, beside a pile of garbage bags, to wait for a break in the traffic.
Electric scooters and ordinary bikes poured down the street, away from SirenCare. Someone shouted, “Bailey!” from behind their helmet and mask, and Bailey waved a hand at their back as they were swallowed by the traffic.
A bus, packed with people, lumbered to a halt up the street, interrupting the traffic, and Bailey plunged across the street, stepping over oil slicks.
Around the corner he went, past what had once been a park until someone with some sense fenced the bare dirt and planted the dead ground with veggies, pouring precious waste water onto the plants.
The other train station, when Bailey pushed his way through the children begging at the entrance, lacked the electric lights and tiled floors of the SirenCare-sponsored station. A single globe swung overhead, augmenting the last of the triple-reflected sunlight coming through the pipes. Cool, dank air flowed up from the underground tunnel, smelling of mildew and fetid water, so Bailey found the filter mask dangling from his work clothes and draped it across his face as he dropped his coin into the turnstile.
The platform was crowded with workers from the clothing factories around the station: tall thin men, women with covered faces, their hands tucked out of sight and children hanging from their backs. Hookers leaned against the station’s pillars, resting their feet before a night of work, poor imitations of colorbursts painted onto their cheekbones.
The train rattled up to the station, and the passengers hauled the doors open and pushed into the carriages. Bailey let the surge of passengers carry him into the Standing Only carriage and up against one of the paint-spattered carriage windows. One of the passengers had a boom box, the music starting up as the carriage doors slammed shut.
This was why Bailey caught the local commuter train; because after eight or ten or twelve hours in a sterile operating suite, perched on a stool and encased in latex, he craved dirt and music and human contact. The other train, so white and tidy, would have squeaky clean vinyl seats, and every person on that train would be listening to the music playing on their wires, locked in their own bubbles of perfect aural input.
The train jolted and swayed, reorganizing the passengers, and Bailey closed his eyes and leaned his head against the filthy window. Inside his eyelids, the image of the inserter and the alabaster skin of the patient’s face persisted.
They arrived at another train station, more passengers embarking, so Bailey was squashed between two bodies, smelling of sweat, garlic and turmeric. Someone nearby had taken flare, the ketone-sting of their skin giving the drug away.
The train jolted into movement, and Bailey let his memory linger over the image of the scalpel sliding into the woman’s skin, cutting through her flesh so carefully.
The rattle of the train and the boom of the music almost masked his voice as he said, “You smell hot.”