Breathers

She controls all the voluntary functions. Involuntary functions include breathing, pumping blood, digesting. She controls most of everything else. She can’t kill me though. If she does that, her contract is void and she’ll face various punitive measures like a hefty fine, blacklisting from any of the Breather agents’ lists… civil measures. I’d be dead though. I get the feeling she’s looking for a loophole around this, though. Let me tell you why.

I’d been a silly boy, got myself into some debts with some nasty fuckers. They gave me two weeks to get the money or I’m going to disappear, which, in our big brother society with its personal locators is an impressive threat. There’s only one way to earn that kind of money in that short a time and so I signed onto a Breather agent. This rich woman from Sully Flats gets to use my body to walk around in while she grows a vat clone for herself or gets a remodel job done and I get to be her zombie slave. The rich riding the poor…  I know, I know, la plus ça change and on and on.

It didn’t strike me as odd, a female client requesting a male breather – these things happen all the time. Sex things, power things, there’s more than one reason a woman wants to be a man for a while. Hell, maybe she just got tired of peeing sitting down. They don’t tell you the client’s motivations, just give you a signup sheet and prep you for surgery.

Apparently I get the medulla oblongata, and most of the reflex parts. The nice, reptile parts of the brain that help keep the Breather body safe from being run over by a bus and remind the client to keep it fed. But I also get a private section of the cerebrum, just so I can have little chats with myself. Much like this one. And from here, I plot my revenge.

I woke up, after the op, a little dazed and blinking on the recovery ward. I puked quite a lot. Apparently the receiver they’d fitted was right above the puke centre of the brain. I didn’t know there was a puke centre of the brain, did you? Of course you didn’t. You’re me. But anyhow, it settled down after a few hours and then when they were sure I had stabilised, they flicked the switch and there she was, sitting like a spider on my brain. I felt the me that is me shrink down into a tiny box and that bitch grew to fill in the space I’d left behind.

First thing she did. First. Thing. She. Did. She took my hand and used it to goose the nurse bending over next to me. Then she laughed with my mouth at the look of rage on her face. Fuck you! I shouted from my little box. She couldn’t even hear me. The nurse, clearly used to riders abusing a Breather’s dignity, shook her head and huffed off. She then took my hand and pulled up the surgical gown to stare at my junk. “My, my,” I said in a voice that was not my own. A few seconds later red hot pain leached up my guts and made me want to vomit again. She’d flicked me! “Well,” she said smugly, “I can’t see what the fuss is all about.” Of course she couldn’t – they have a kind of gateway. The rider feels the best of the pleasure, the breather takes the worst of the pain. She’d maybe feel it like a person hears the noise of distant thunder. I felt a sinking sensation that had nothing to do with my balls. She was going to ride the hell out of me.

“No time to waste,” she said and got me up and dressed in my clothes. She looked in the mirror. My lip curled up. “This will never do.” She marched us out of the agency clinic and down to the nearest salon. “Just do something with,” she waved my hand at my face in a general kind of motion, “this.” A few hours later and I barely recognised myself. She’d gotten this clipped, that shorn, this shaved, those lifted and them smoothed. She got some snappy looking turtleneck number delivered while she got me a fairly painful wax job. “Better,” she said to my reflection. I looked like a sex doll version of myself. “And now to business.”

We strode out of that salon, her swinging my hips just a bit too much and we took the tube downtown to a seedy looking area. She took me to a dingy little square and leaned me up against a wall. I could feel her attention as she watched people go by. Some folk she’d really focus on, looking them up and down and others, well, not so much. I started to pay attention to what she was paying attention to. The guys she was eyeing up were all big guys, tattoo-covered. Asian. Fuck! Why was she scoping out the Yakuza? Who the hell had I got in here? My panic started to seep into my brainstem and my legs began to shake and I could feel the hot needles of a sweat erupt under my snazzy turtleneck.

“Just chill, baby,” she thought to myself, in a kind of murmur. “We got some stuff to do,” she said. “Might just be the most exciting time of your life. Capiche?” Oh hell, I got some Mafia type using my body around Yakuza types. What could possibly go wrong?

She pegged some neat, sarariman type Japanese coming out of a little, modest door which looked nothing like an illegal club. He wasn’t alone. Two butch, beefy types, real tall for Japanese, flanked him up the sidewalk. She kicked me off the wall to stand right in front of them. The bodyguards immediately moved for their pieces, but the boss man held up his hands and they stopped, but not necessarily relaxed, you know? “Hello Totoyama-san,” she said, well, I said. Let’s just settle with we said. Like I had a choice in this matter.

“Nani?” the boss man said. Jesus, I thought, you live in this country, learn our language! The woman seemed to understand him anyway. It was like having an automatic translator. Which would be sweet, but just not in the circumstances. They traded the usual words, like what do you want, I got something for you, is this a trick and so on. She reached up, slowly so the bodyguard bozos wouldn’t react and began to pull at the turtleneck collar, like she was pulling at a stray thread. The bodyguards just looked slightly weirded out at first until one of them shouted, “Mono!” or something like that, I didn’t really understand it but suddenly the thread she’s been pulling at unravels the entire collar and it flies out with a flick of her wrist over all three of the Yakuza guys, expanding like a net of black spiderweb. It shrinks down on them, really quick like shrink wrap and they buckle to the floor in a tangle of limbs and groans. She just watches them, like she’s fascinated.

Stuff starts popping and I figure out it’s bones and that old retchy feeling comes again. “Oh settle down,” she murmurs. “It’s only death.” One of the Yakuza henchmen uses some panic driven struggle to get an arm free with his piece attached to the end of it and he starts pointing it at us. We stomp down on his arm, turning the gun so he shoots his boss in the head. It’s the last thing he sees before his head pops from the net’s pressure.

She hunkers down, and the net sort of melts and flows off the bodies – now currently occupying a fifth of their original volume – and it creeps and crawls back to her outstretch hand like a pet worm. I can’t help but shudder as it passes back up my arm to sit around my neck. Once it’s on, we hightail it out of there. I can hear sirens in the distance already, which makes my fists ball up in rage. Cops tend to shoot first, check Breather contracts and legal responsibility clauses second.

We spin around some back alleys, some urban garden plots with sad, wilted flowers and pause when my chest feels like it’s about to explode in a metal-lined storm drain somewhere on the east side. “You did good,” she says out loud but I know it’s for my benefit. She could just think it if she wanted but I get the feeling this bitch is a narcissist. A grandstander. She feels good about it. I start to think maybe not all the gateways are one way. “You know I was going to let the cops gun you down,” she says airily. “I got enough contacts that it won’t matter if they connect us. And I got money,” she says with vicious satisfaction. “Lots of money.”

But somehow, as she says it, I get the feeling that she’s proud of her money in a way that old capitalistas are not. She’s not blasé enough. She’s fiercely happy that she got that money. Meaning she didn’t always used to be rich. That she used to be poor. Like me. Somehow that made it worse.

“Anyway, since I still got you for the rest of the week,” she continues, “what say we keep going?” Our laugh is too high and too girly for my voice and its echoes shriek up and down the metalled culvert. She can’t even hear my swear-soaked reply.

It’s not all hit-jobs. Sometimes she takes me to the Mafia clubs and whispers in people’s ears, “Hey, it’s me, Toni.” And so I learn her name, her contacts, her way of life. She’s one hedonistic bitch and she’s just pulled off several successful assassinations for her boss and is duly rewarded. She uses my body to fuck women, men, she uses drugs like they’re going out of fashion and doesn’t have to worry about a throbbing head the next day. She uses that black net thing to off several more Yakuza bigwigs but by now word has got out about me. My description is starting to pop up on the grapevine and Toni is going to leave my body soon, scot-free, while I’ll be a fucking dead man. I’m bouncing around in my little box, trying to break down the walls, kill off this spider on my brain but it’s improbable. Why couldn’t I have gotten some boring CEO who had to attend meetings and take long lunches?

And there’s the confidentiality clauses. How am I going to get Toni punished for using me like this without breaking at least one? I curse all lawyers as I try to think of a way out. One day left to go before the breather contract’s up and I think of a way. She’s had a lot of sex and is lying there chilling out in a tangle of boys and girls, really relaxed and not paying attention to me. In the little box of cerebellum that I call home lately I bring together an image of myself. And then I call up a mirror. I see my face. My eyes are green, murky. Toni  I say to myself. Toni. I keep saying it until my eyes start to change. Toni.

The next day she has to turn me in so she takes me back to the clinic. “Thanks, man,” she breathes to me sleepily as the anaesthetic starts to kick in. Don’t thank me yet, I scream unheard. Toni, I chant again and again. Toni.

The next day we wake up and I hear her snort awake. I move her hand idly in front of my face and far off, in the distance, I can feel her panic like distant thunder. I look at her in the mirror. “Hi Toni,” I say to her slightly jowly face, her dopey brown eyes, her fat, Mafiosa reflection. “You know, Toni,” I say casually as I bare one of her breasts and pick up a nasty looking knife I see on her dresser, “there’s no such thing as a one-way gateway.” I smile as the distant thunder turns into a storm.

1 Comment

  • David says:

    Breathers has a neat premise but ends a really suddenly. How was he able to reverse the link? That kind of needs to be explored and justified in the context of the story or it becomes just a Deus Ex ending. On a pedantic note (but many techies are into sci-fi and many techies are pedantic – just look at a technical forum!) the throwaway line at the end spoiled the whole thing for me. There are lots of one way gateways – one of the cornerstones of modern electronics the diode is exactly that. Again, it comes back to justifying how he was able to reverse the link. A critical part of SciFi is getting the science right of course – or at least believably wrong.

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