Robots of all kinds swarm through the black, silent, cold hallways. Most of the robots here at the Spa process visual information, and those that do, also have the ability to navigate and interact with their environment without light. Not all the robots “know” this. The ones that don’t, are not programmed to access their auxiliary night or infrared visual capabilities, and will be as clumsy or as helpless as a human being is when confronted with darkness.
Rain is wandering through a dark hallway, running her fingertips along the damp, cold wall, treading lightly just in case the floor isn’t where she thinks it is. The darkness is so black that her mind conjures up the memory of light in protest. When she sees a glimmer of light in the distance, she believes for a moment that her mind is playing tricks on her–but no, it’s a light alright!
Approaching the light spilling through the glass panel of an office door, her eyes ache as her pupils contract. She sees the back of a man’s head. He is sitting at a computer, manipulating 3D images on a screen, rotating them, making changes, tapping the keys. On a long table next to him, holograms of naked women two feet tall parade past him. Each one turns to him and waves or blows him a kiss or twirls as if for his amusement, and then moves on to allow the next woman her five seconds of attention.
The man swivels around on his chair to face her as she walks through the unlocked door. They are both surprised to see each other.
Rain’s Mystery Man’s face is wondrous with adoration. Rain’s gaze is locked onto his burning eyes. Every fiber of her being draws her towards him. She straddles him and sits high on his lap. She melts into him, and locked into his embrace, she drinks in his deep, hypnotic kiss.
The holographic parade continues at their side. The naked women continue to blow kisses and twirl in their direction, seemingly oblivious that their audience is otherwise engaged.
Rain wakes up, stretching, aware of the beautiful white chemise teasing her expectantly charged skin underneath. She moves her almost too-warm feet until each finds a cool spot on the mattress. Her toes wriggle while her eyes scan the smooth ceiling. She smiles, remembering that she is back at the Spa, beginning a day that will be like no other, an adventure, in a body that is an adventure in itself. Remembering her real body makes her appreciate all the more the eight hours she will enjoy in this sexy, sensual body, her “tenem.”
She is glad there is no one sitting by the bed, taking notes and/or perhaps unfair psychological advantage of her slowly-awakening state of consciousness.
Kicking the covers off, she inspects her long, thin, shapely legs and feet, running her hands over every inch of herself, reveling in the perfection of what is just too miraculous to be anything associated with her real life self. She hears herself laugh with joy, and is delighted all over again that her voice reminds her of tinkling bells. She remembers that in real life, she paid an awful lot of money to transfer her consciousness into this tenem, this body that she herself designed, but at the moment, all she can think of is how grateful she is to be here, and how this feeling is worth whatever fortune she may have invested in (or squandered on) this endeavor.
Holding her hands in front of her face, she smiles at the little heart-shaped “birthmark” on the back of her right hand, and reflects that all glitches in life should be so sweet. Maybe a lot of glitches are sweet but we just don’t realize it because most glitches are not heart-shaped.
Remembering the closet, she practically springs out of bed, and slides the door open, knowing that whatever is on the hangers will give her some inkling of what she can expect to do today.
A black turtle neck sweater and a pair of stretchy black pants, and a beautiful pair of sleek black boots with a rippled sole. Oh, and there’s a gorgeous white coat of faux fur with a hood. It occurs to her that she’s probably going outside. Somewhere inside her, there is a five-year old jumping for joy at the prospect of building a snowman or sledding downhill on a Flexible Flyer.
Pausing in front of the mirror, she admires the beautiful woman looking back at her. Every woman who is not beautiful appreciates the assurances of loved ones that she is beautiful. Being loved or appreciated does give one a sense of beauty, but actually being beautiful, seeing oneself as objectively beautiful? There’s no other feeling quite like it in the world. Why should that even matter? Only a woman who isn’t beautiful can answer that question. A beautiful woman could afford to say that it is disappointing to think that beauty had anything to do with personal worth. Oh, but who cares about personal worth anyway? Feeling good feels good, no matter the reason.
Touching her lips, she gasps as she experiences for a moment that passionate interlude with her Mystery Man. With butterflies in her stomach, she wonders if that really happened or if it was a dream or a hallucination. Whatever it was, she’d sure like to experience that again.
Out in the glass hallway shimmering with light reflected from the Alpine snow surrounding the Spa, she follows the aroma of freshly brewed coffee. Noticing the red headed beauty she met in the café last time, she hurries to catch up with her.
“Graciela! Good to see you again!
Like Rain, Graciela also has her coat slung over her arm.
“I’m so excited, Rain! Do you know what we’re doing today?”
“I have no idea, do you?”
“Yeah! After breakfast, we’re taking a train to the top of Europe, and we’re going to explore some blue glaciers! Ever done that before?”
As giddy as school girls, they find their way to the buffet breakfast, and help themselves to little croissants, cheese, mango jam and grapes.
Graciela steers Rain over to a comfortable booth. A handsome young waiter offers to pour coffee for them and, all smiles, yesses and thanks, they nudge their coffee cups over to him.
Both fuss over and pick at their dainty little breakfast.
“Don’t you just love the clothes here? In my real life, I feel like my closet is filled with sack cloth and ashes. And it’s not like I don’t have the money—I do! But I have no sense of what looks good on me, and believe me, not much does. What about you?”
Rain puts her little croissant down and fiddles with the grapes.
“I feel the same way. Part of the reason is that a body like this would make sack cloth and ashes look almost fashionable. Tell me the truth—what’s your real body like?”
Graciela laughs and shakes her beautiful red curls.
“Do you really want to know?”
Rain giggles. “Of course, I do!”
“Well, let’s just say I haven’t looked in the mirror at my real body forever, because it’s too depressing to see what’s happened to it. I got rid of all full-length mirrors in my home years ago when I was a mere 40 pounds overweight. From there, it just got worse. Now I’m about 100 pounds overweight. I don’t worry about how things look anymore, only how they feel. If something fits and I can move in it, and if the colors and patterns don’t clash, good enough. What about you?”
“Well, I’m the same way really, but luckily, I’m not at the point of throwing the baby out with the bathwater. To tell you the truth, I was never all that vain to begin with, but I did go to hell with myself for quite a few years. I ate whatever and whenever I wanted. But the surprising thing for me is that having this incredible body feels so good that I find myself making some positive changes in my real life. And you know, what started out as an escape from my lousy life is beginning to feel like I’m discovering bits and pieces of the life that I could have had. Like maybe, not only can I salvage some of the good, but also create something a lot better than what I had before.”
Rain surprises herself with that realization and wonders if Morgana, whose name she wouldn’t be able to recall because she’s programmed not to, will remember this.
“Well, I wish that were the same for me. I find that all the great experiences I have here make me more dissatisfied with my life. Each ‘visit’ leaves me more resentful of all that’s gone wrong for me. The only time I’m happy is when I’m here. And I’ve only got nine more visits left.”
“Can’t you just sign up for another 30 visits?”
Graciela shrugs. “No, not really. I already went into debt with the first 30 visits, so no. This is it.”
“Maybe you could come back for a real life visit. That could only cost you a few thousand dollars,” suggests Rain.
“Come back here in my own body in my own clothes? Now that’s depressing!” snorts Graciela.
They both chuckle at the stark truth of Graciela’s reaction.
The waiter approaches their table. “Ladies, there’s a train leaving for Jungfrau in ten minutes. If you are planning to go to the Top of Europe, please proceed to the glass hallway within the next few minutes. Don’t forget to bring your cold weather gear!”
Rain and Graciela join the crowd assembling in the glass hallway. They are led to cable cars taking them to a small mountain train station.
As the cable car begins its ascent away from the Spa, Rain recognizes a man peering out from the glass hallway. Morgana would recognize him as Chlaus, Jerinda’s husband, but Rain can only puzzle why she should know him. She wonders momentarily if Morgana will remember who he is or why he is here.
The train waits in the glittering snow, huffing out clouds of steam, as the excited crowd boards, each little group finding and staking out their favorite seats.
The train’s whistle hoots out a warning that they are about to depart. The doors close and the conductor walks through the aisles making sure that everyone is settled in and comfortable. Screens from the ceiling slowly descend and everyone is treated to a short film that explains the excavation of the tunnel and the building of the miles of train tracks that made this arduous journey possible.
After the film, attendants with rolling carts walk through the train’s cars with hot coffee, teas, and hot chocolate.
After an hour which passes so delightfully, they emerge from the tunnel into the blinding whiteness of the mountain top.
Outside at last, Rain hears little popping noises inside of her head. “Graciela, do you hear any popping noises inside your head?” she asks nervously.
Graciela laughs. “Yes, I do, but don’t get nervous, Rain. Remember that you left the real you, the flesh and blood you, back at your house. However real this body may seem to you, it’s just a machine, and those popping noises are the stresses caused by the change in temperature and pressure. No matter how perfect these bodies may seem to us, keep in mind that we are an experiment and that they’re still working the kinks out of us.”
“Eeeuuwww,” says Rain. And they both laugh. But Rain, in all truthfulness, never realized, until this moment, that she was just an experiment.
And neither did Morgana. Not that Morgana will remember this.
It’s all there, in the small print; you know, the stuff that no one reads.
Music Credit: The Chemical Brothers – The Devil is in the Details/Beats High Quality (You Tube)
Photo Credit: Sociopathlife.com
To Be Continued in Chapter 25