The protagonist is called Erica. Erica is twenty years old and, at ten, became a participant in the first wave of collaborators. Erica’s body was not selected for use in her body share and so her mind was downloaded and her body discontinued. I like this word. For ten years she has been living in the body of a girl much fitter and more attractive than she ever might have grown to be. If all the children in your age group had been physically tested at ten and only the top third got to keep their bodies, would yours have been selected? I wouldn’t have much hope for my brother and me.
Sometimes when Erica was asleep, she dreamed of her old body again.
In the dreams she was always running. Not from an enemy or some unknowable malevolent force as in a recurring nightmare, but running for the pure, life blooded pleasure of it. She remembered a Sports Day race she’d won: the 100m sprint on some distant summer Wednesday when she was nine. She remembered the pure unrivaled pleasure of leaping through the air; of tearing forwards towards the finish line. She remembered the salt of her sweat matting her hair and the congratulatory hugs of her gangly and overexcited friends. She remembered the innocence of being young and of someone else doing all your worrying for her; the promise of a summer and a life that stretched before her, unwritten and belonging to her. She remembered.
It had been a long time since anything had felt as though it belonged entirely to Erica.
Her new legs were better. They were stronger, leaner, more inclined to tan. Her whole body in fact, was more athletic than she had been at nine. Before the change, she’d been lanky, awkward and pale: the kind of freckled, ‘strawberry blonde’ child whose mother badgers her to stay in the shade and plaster on Factor 50, and whose lurching height prepares her for track and field sports, not man-eating. She’d never had the chance to see how her own body might have developed but she felt sure that, had the law not been passed when she was ten, she would never have become what she was now. She had moved through puberty never developing more than a handful of spots and with the kind of easy, cheerleader looks that would have been more at home in an Abercrombie and Fitch advert than a North London comprehensive. It had made things easier, she was sure. But it had never fully felt like home.
Erica remembered meeting the little girl that had beaten her in the physical trials; the little girl that she’d become. Her name was Jenny, and the round, sweetness of the name had matched the face: the cheerful layered hair and apple cheeks of the girl that she was to become.
“My mum told me that you did really well on the physical fitness tests. They just couldn’t pick you because of the eczema.” Jenny had been precociously reassuring and Erica had struggled to meet her eye, her gaze dropping ashamedly to her chapped hands lying limply at her sides. She could feel the hate all the way down to her fingertips. “My mum said we were both in the top 5 percentile for fitness in the country, but that your eczema meant that your body was… less ideal than mine.” There was no question but the girl was smiling expectantly, waiting for an answer. After an awkward beat, pretty Jenny poured more words into the silence. “That’s great about the fitness, you did really well!” “Fuck you.” Erica seethed silently; it was a phrase she had learned that week and was seething at her enemies semi-regularly. She really meant it in the case of pretty Jenny though. “Fuck you and your stupid layers hair.” Erica had asked for a layered haircut only two months earlier and had been denied, on the grounds of layers being impractical for tying up in sports events. It would not be for another four years that Erica’s vocabulary would extend enough to allow her to describe this series of events as “Fucking ironic”.
After years of political discussion and months of campaigning it had all happened, as big things often do, unexpectedly quickly. Her mother had received a letter on the Monday and the tests had been that Sunday. Her mother had driven her there in the people carrier, uncomfortably breezy and giggly as they strode across the car park and into the clinic. She had been asked to run back and forth across a room in time with a series of bleeps. She had been told to skip for a minute. They had taken blood samples and urine samples and pressed a lollipop stick against her tongue. She had said ‘ahh’, recited the alphabet forwards and backwards and sung up and down two scales of notes. Mortifyingly, she had had to strip down to her underwear and have photos taken from fourteen different angles. Then she had gone home and had her tea and gone to sleep and the next day her mum had received a phone call; she had been placed in the forty-eighth percentile and a match in her neighborhood had already been found. An appointment had been made. Her body was to be discontinued that Saturday.
Erica had not cried, though her mum did. She had contemplated comforting her mother – it was probably the mature thing to do. Instead she had found herself walking upstairs, closing her bedroom door, sitting in front of her wardrobe mirror and trying to count the freckles on her face.