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Surrogate, a short story by Chester Burton Cheeseburger Brown; illustration by Matthew Hemming

1.

Substitute yourself for the surrogate, for empathy. Walk a click in his trainers. Can you be so haughty now, so sure he's naughty now, so undeserving of the resurrection weighing down the balance of his credit card?

Ladies and non-cis ladies and gentlemen and non-cis gentlemen of the jury, please engage the following channels: visual, aural, olfactive, proprioceptive, gustative, tactitive, vestubilative, thermoceptive, nociceptive, chemoceptive, chronoceptive and orgasmic.

The option to engage the cardio-pulmonary channel is optional, as the subject matter of our experiential rhetoric today includes brief instances of death.

Ahem.

Because there are many distinguished dirty foreigners present in the galleries and the court today I will be extraordinarily explicatory, lest the ways of our great culture confuse their simple opinions and bedazzle their noble ignorance. Due to the real-time nature of the language processing required, some inconsistencies in the translation may be expected and yellow.

Are you sitting comfortably?


2.

You are the surrogate. Take a moment to orient yourself.

That's not wetness you feel, it's coldness. It's cold out. It's the early morning. The glow out there's the dawn. Your arms are heavy because they're strapped into a glider. You're strong, though. It's not hard to hold the thing up. A lot of surrogates spend a lot of time at the gym and you're no exception. Clients expect performance.

A crackle in your ear. Tinny voice: "Here's daybreak, Oreo. Good to go?"

Your own voice is deeper and closer. "Good to go." Your vision dips as you nod.

Sunlight tints the peaks pink. A signal sounds. You sprint along the plateau and leap off the edge. The glider's wings unfurl. Your viscera floats inside you, bumping up against your diaphragm as half a gravity drains you downward. But the wings find enough air to catch. The falling stops. You swoop ahead over the valley, dawn light soaking down from the top of the western slope. The rivers wink gold between runs of tall, spindly low-gravity conifers.

It's not sensible. Your body quivers and you can't help but holler. A complex soup of hormones jets through your bloodstream. Your eyes widen and your hair stands on end.

Birds panic out of your path.

You yank on the left handle and the glider banks, careening between two hills. The tips of the trees seem close enough to touch. They sway in the wind of your passage, raining needles and the smell of their evergreen spice.

Over the river. You can see fish. A raptor drops down to the water to take one. The sun is hitting the top of the waterfall now. The churning clouds of spray over the rapids seem to fluoresce. It looks like aurora. Your heart tickles and your lungs laugh. You feel unspeakably alive, alive, alive. You're privy to angel secrets.

And somewhere very far away your client is, too. This is top-tier vicarity.


3.

Some surrogates specialize but you're a generalist. Sexism, sportism, foodism -- no matter the experiential genre your perceptions are for hire. You'd have that printed on a card if you could read.

You take the world train from the valley, reeling around the world's waist while you watch the smeared horizon scrolling past the window: a dome of lush green fields; a field of craters under an airless black sky; a dome of apartment blocks and churches and gardens; a rocky wasteland crisscrossed by bands of far-flung ejecta; a dome of shops with animated signs...

This is Ganymede. Best world in the world.

Your home dome is hum drum. There are forty-eight dozen quite like it. Inside it the sunlight is dimmer because the dome is dirty. Lazy crews in welfare jumpsuits hang around on custodial barges docked to little clean spots. They scrape the algae into buckets and then the buckets fly away.

Commuters ooze out of the train station. The cool grass of the downtown avenues feels nice between your toes. Cars flash by overhead, ruffling your hair.

You go to the gym. You work out. You see yourself in the mirrors. You're beautiful.

Client line ahems. You touch your ear. "Oreo Taylor2, surrogate. What do you desire?"

"Mr. Taylor2, I wish to engage your services in the pursuit of a truly singular experience."

"You want me to masturbate?"

"No. Not at all. I have been told you're a true polymath of vicarity. Is that the case?"

"I'm not really sure."

"Are you a generalist or aren't you?"

"Oh totally."

"There are two peculiar aspects to the request I'm about to make. The second is such that it cannot be discussed without real proximity, and therefore the first."

"Pardon?"

"I want to talk to you in person."

"Holy tits. Why?"

"Because the nature of my request is very sensitive."

"Yeah I know, but what are you going to ask me?"

"Mr. Taylor2, what is your usual fee?"

"For foodism, sportism, or what?"

"Let's say sexism."

"Oh yeah, okay, rates start at two and two thirds bitcoin per hour for the basic stuff -- intercourse with a non-specific bio partner vaginal slash oral slash anal, like that kind of stuff."

"I am now depositing twenty thousand bitcoin into your wallet."

"Pardon?"

"Your ticket to the belt is booked. Get to port. Give your name at the private charters desk. Use full obfuscation. The charges will come to me."

"I don't really understand about all this. It makes me kind of uncomfortable. Like, nobody ever asks to see me in person. It's weird."

"I have all assurances you are the right man for this very special job, Mr. Taylor2. I am prepared to make you wealthy. Your life is changing today, and it is changing for the better. Now don't be a fool. Do as you are told."

You tug your ear to hang up. You stare into space. Then you run to the locker room and change.


4.

At the port you board a private charter. It has soft orange seats and it hums while it rises. One and half gravities draw on you as Ganymede falls away beneath. The charter is largely transparent. You shop your perceptions on the vicarity markets but nobody's buying suborbital flight experiences right now so instead you eat a bag of roasted almonds and flip through magazines with your eye.

You yawn.

The charter docks with one of larger, older modules in the orbital belt of heavenly colonies. An expensive automaton escorts you through cavernous corridors in freefall, hopping from alcove to alcove. You copy it. You pass into a catacomb of the living: click after click after click of great centripedal-gravity wheels, each dedicated to the hermetic safety of a single kingly bastard.

You are admitted to the hub at the centre of one particular wheel. The automaton gives you a spin to match the slow turning of the wheel and then propels you to the entrance. You are scanned and probed and disinfected. You climb along a ladder through a narrow tube until ‘along' becomes ‘down' and you're standing at the bottom of it. An aperture to the inner sanctum splits with a moist hiss.

"Hello?" you call and your echo calls back.

The centripedal-gravity inside the wheel is slight. Just enough to orient you, really. Not enough to keep the water wholly in the pool. In fact the water is running up the curved walls, slapping against itself in fleeting orb-speckled shapes at the apex of the ceiling, letting off a lazy globular rain. The lights are dim and green.

You glide from stone to stone, tapping a tiptoe on each. You advance along the glimmering pool, nearly halfway around the ring-shaped habitat, until you see its lord.

"Mr. Taylor2," he says. "I am your client."

Like many of the kingly bastards who live in heaven the client is generously incorporated. The entirety of his majestic self floats in the pool suspended by strategic jets, like a pizza eternally tossed. His face seems small. It looks up at you from the centre of the mass of flesh. You can't find a hand to shake due to the bastard's exceeding kingliness. "Sir," you say simply with a bow of your head, as if you are a robot.

"I am a creature of vicarity," says the client, "and well aware of how distasteful my corporation must seem to you. But do rest assured: your disgust won't queer the deal. This body and this tank are the least relevant parts of my existence."

"Oh, okay," you say in order to say something.

"If it weren't for people such as yourself it would be untenable to be someone such as myself, I hope you can recognize that. I do. A man of my wealth simply couldn't walk around on a planet and expose himself to luck -- can you imagine what my insurance premiums would be?"

"Pretty high, huh?"

"The GDP of lesser moons," he says with a somber nod, his face squelching into the surrounding dough once, twice, thrice. "Indeed the only affordable way for a kingly bastard to subsist in this world is to live only vicariously, and our penalty for this prudence is the bane of repetition."

"Repetition?" you echo.

The client winces slightly. "How old are you, boy?"

"Twenty-nine."

"I was born one hundred and seventy years ago. My life is so safe that it's long, and so long that it's dull. So dull even top-tier vicarity can't answer every craving."

You stand up straighter. "What do you crave, sir? Like I said, I'm a generalist."

He licks his thick lips quickly. "I want to tell you all about it. I need to tell you all about it. But it's got to be in bio confidence. It can be nothing more than rippling air between myself and yourself. No broadcasts."

I shift on my rock. "You want me to block my perceptive relays?"

"Yes."

"For twenty thousand bitcoin?"

He chuckles. The surrounding flesh undulates. "Mr. Taylor2, that was merely your advance. Close off all feeds and I will tell you what you have actually come here today to know. Close them now, and lean in close. I want to smell your breath when you talk to me, and I want you to smell mine."

"Why?"

"Because that is the stink of secrets."

He licks his lips again, and looks up at you in expectation.


5.

Working backward from what we know it isn't hard to see what you're doing. You're choosing the target according to your client's criteria. How specific are those criteria? We may never omelette without further testimony.

This, though, is when you first see her.

She's a dirty foreigner from Callisto. She has the unfortunate eye colour and hair as straight as a horse. She is cursed with fat breasts. There are mutant speckles on her cheeks and across the bridge of her traditionally incorrect nose.

There's no accounting for perverts.

In obvious deference to your client's warped tastes you feign attraction to the slatternly Callistina and flatter her. "The truth is," you lie, "I'm a surrogate and I've got a big client who wants me to take a pretty stranger out to dinner. All expenses paid."

It is easy to see when she blushes due to the whorish transparency of her skin. "I came to Ganny looking for work," she mumbles with a charming backwoods accent, "and to be candid I sure could use a hot meal, Mr. Male."

"My name is Oreo."

"That's Earthish, isn't it?"

"Very directly, yes. My line has a lot of self-integration in it. That's why my ears are like this."

"I think they're cute."

"What's your name, Miss Callistina?"

"Flower Mushroom Twelve Four Niner."

"That's a beautiful name for a beautiful girl."

She smiles. You go to dinner. You chat. No party knows quite where it's going to go which is the point in the first place, and why recordings and simulations have never seriously competed in the vicarity markets against live surrogated experiences. The uncertain future is the payload. The free outcome is the product.

Over desert she says, "Does your client need anything else?" Her eyes linger. "But I don't want to mislead you: I'm not licensed for sex. Not on Ganny."

"He wants what you want," you say. "He wants flow."

"So let's go for a walk together. We can keep talking. I like you, Oreo."

"I like you too. Let's walk up the bridge. The view is to die for."

Her unfortunately-coloured eyes sparkle. "Perfect," she says through a smile.


6.

You hold hands. Your arms swing. It's dusk and clouds of vapour are condensing on the inside of the dome, making the sinking sun seem to swim. Your legs burn a bit from the hike up the bridge over the royal gardens. You rise higher and higher, coming close to the dew-dappled sky itself. Beneath you is spread the entire contents of the dome.

"It's marvelous up here," says Flower Mushroom Twelve Four Niner. And then, "What's wrong?"

Your attack is clumsy but she is genuinely surprised. The bundle of credentials and tokens she was slipping out of your pocket are cast aside as she goes down hard. Her expression is childish. You scoop her up and lunge at the ledge. Her expression becomes bestial. She claws at you when she feels the air beneath her, but it's too late.

Now her face is very small and rapidly shrinking. Her mouth is round.

Her body comes to a jerking halt down among the crowded arrowheads of the conifers, caught and pierced and torn. A rain of green needles falls. Birds shriek and flap away.

"Oh my God," you cough. Presumably to your client you ask, "Is that what you wanted? You wanted to know what this feels like? This is it? This is killing?"

You yank on your ear but nobody's picking up the line. "Are you feeling what I'm feeling? You couldn't be. No, you couldn't be. Oh my God. What've I done?"

You look over the side of the bridge again and then look away. You spit up a string of bile. Voices in the gardens below are rising in register as they recognize what's happened. There are calls for police. You look to the far end of the bridge and see people fighting their way up the slope to look at you.

They point at you. You've never been pointed at like that before. But nobody could mistake what it means.

"You said nobody would care about a dirty foreigner," you cry out. "But she was alive and now she isn't, and I'm the one who has to care!"

You yank your ear bloody. Your fingers are red. You gape at your hands then look up at the end of the bridge again. People are advancing. They're coming for you.

Like something out of a historical simulation: you're a murderer.

Now, please, ladies and non-cis ladies and gentlemen and non-cis gentlemen of the jury, at this time I recommend the closing of the vital channels. Disconnect your hearts and your endocrines. Separate the surrogate's breathing from your own. Leave his pain to him.

You can still see through his eyes and hear through his ears as he jumps.

The tops of the conifers race at you. Then all is lost in a hail of pine needles and flecks of blood. The surrogate's twisted hand twitches. Tunnel vision, waking dreams, the steady pulse turning to a mumbled chorus...

No signal.


7.

What happened next? You can't live it but I'll tell you: the client died. He rode along with the surrogate to the bitter end, and there their experiences became hopelessly entangled.

Were you tempted to pity the prostitute? Smarten up.

We've now seen first-hand how an illiterate surrogate blinded by avarice manipulated one of our most senior citizens into a real-time death experience which resulted in that citizen's death by proxied vitality via vicarity. Killing by commingled senses.

Now one Mr. Male Oreo Taylor2 of Ganymede Dome Twenty-two stands before you, resurrected for justice to answer for his acts. On his head is the irreversible bio death of his client, one Mr. Male Cadbury Abilify III of Heaven module one.

The charge is murder.

Also incidentally appended to the docket is a nominal fine for littering, where such litter is understood to be the detritus of one Ms. Female Flower Mushroom Twelve Four Nine of no fixed address, formerly of Callisto, who will not serve as witness in this trial because her insurance was not sufficient to cover the cost of resurrection despite bio feasibility.

All respects to her next of kin et cetera.

Closing statements will come after lunch. This court is catered by some of the most sophisticated foodist surrogates working in the Joviat today, and if you'll add yourself to the queue the bailiff will process you into a joint experience for mealtime conversation. If you require a kosher or halal surrogate please ensure you've checked the appropriate box on your juror form.

Today's dessert menu includes a choice of mountaineering with survival rations or cigarettes and chocolate following the deflowering of a virgin.

Once your appetites have been satiated we will reconvene so that justice might be done.


Fin.

IF YOU HAVE ENJOYED READING THIS STORY, PLEASE CONSIDER LEAVING A SMALL TIP. A PAYPAL ACCOUNT IS NOT REQUIRED. THANK YOU VERY MUCH. YOURS TRULY, C. BROWN.
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