by

Justen Russell

You sell the little finger on your left hand first. This is not the prudent way to do things. You should sell the whole hand, but you are not trying to be prudent. You are trying to preserve as much of you as possible because this is a one-time thing. You are just a little behind, and that extra money will go a long way. It is only a finger, you tell yourself; you will not even notice it is gone.

Math was never your strongest subject, but another two fingers and even you can add up to a mistake. The offer price for the whole hand falls by half with each missing digit; now only an eighth of an offer remains. What a way to learn that all together, you really were worth more than the sum of your parts.

The hand is hardly worth selling anymore—you still do, though. The money from one finger never lasts like you need it to. Work has been cutting your hours, and you are not sure why. Maybe the manager thinks you are unreliable. You did turn down his request to fill an extra shift that once, and he says he really needed you. After four straight weeks, you just needed one morning off. Now you have more mornings off than you wanted.

The next time you need money, you show that you have learned from your mistakes. You sell the whole leg at once—everything from hip to toe. Only one surgery, and it nets enough to afford rent all the way through winter. You will even be able to keep the heat on inside. That is not a luxury, you tell yourself, it is an investment. It is important that you keep healthy; healthy bodies sell for more.

You justify a new prosthetic with the same “investment” theory. You have not been moving around much recently, and it is starting to show. Sure, the X-350 looks fine, but with a Z-series prosthetic leg you would be able to run. You hobble past work on your way to the store, but you are not on the schedule at all this week.

After buying the ZS-7000, you feel somehow whole again. It is not a top-of-the-line leg, but it is close enough. A few missteps, and you understand how it bends. You decide to really test it out at the park. The sun is out, and you feel like running somewhere nice. Soon you are telling anyone who will listen that you sometimes forget which leg is the real one and which is the replacement—you can tell, though.

You start jogging in all your free time, and you have a lot of free time. It has been ages since your last shift. Do you even have a job anymore? Maybe this is your job now, jogging. You enjoy it, and there is no reason you cannot do it all the time. Jogging is cheap—if you stay off the premium paths—and it keeps the rest of you toned. Even if work did call, you do not think you would take the shift. It is more important that you stay in shape. Your body is your most important asset now.

You feel that you finally understand something you did not understand before. It is not about keeping more; it is about being able to enjoy what you keep. You have accepted that no amount of money will last forever; there will always be another sale. You sell your right arm and do not even think about a prosthetic. You do not need an arm to run, and you want to run as long as you can.

You are out running when the ZS-7000 locks up. It sends you tumbling to the ground. Luckily nothing seems broken—except maybe your prosthetic leg. It no longer bends when you want it to. It takes forever to hobble home. You make an appointment with a repair technician and, with nothing else to do, sit and wonder what you might sell if you need a replacement.

“It just needs a little oil,” the technician tells you with a helpful smile, much to your relief. Then she lectures you on the importance of regular maintenance and upkeep. “Of course, if those aren’t your things,” she adds, “you could always consider something biological. We have some options on the sale rack.” Even on sale, they cost more than anyone ever paid you.

You start to take maintenance very seriously. You clean the hinges every day instead of every week. You regularly inspect every bolt and spring. You cannot oil the joints as often as recommended, sure, but the oil is expensive. You add two drops every third week and hope that is as good as three every second. It is not. When the leg will no longer bend, the technician says: “I warned you. Now the hinges are completely shot. At this point, it would be cheaper to buy something new.”

After you sell your genitals, you wonder why you did not sell them first. They go for a lot of money, and you cannot remember the last time you used them. You buy a Z-9000, the best mechanical leg on the market, and choose the extended “three-lifetime warranty” because the extra cost includes free maintenance. It is still much cheaper than anything biological.

The salesman congratulates you on your “generational investment.” The Z-9000 is a leg you could pass on to your children after their first sale—not that you can have children anymore.

You run past your old manager outside of your old work. He smiles and complements your new leg. He says he is falling apart too, “maybe even faster than you.” He says: “I had to buy new fingers after the arthritis set in.” He is on his third set now. It seems those long hours making schedules really strained his hands. He says he is eyeing a new leg next so he can run again “like you do.” He says: “Look at me, I’m so pale, I am practically a ghost. I can’t remember the last time I enjoyed the sun.” You wonder who has your old leg and if they remember to “enjoy the sun.”

You sell your cosmetic parts gradually, your ears, your nose, your nipples. Each sale is easier than the last—you sold your vanity long ago—but you are starting to get worried about what comes next. You do the research on how often you can sell a part of your liver and still expect it to grow back; the numbers are not promising. You wonder if you really need all the lobes of your lungs. The thought of organ sales scares you. You have heard of people stretching it out until they are completely hollow, and you do not want it to end like that. You decide that if you could no longer run, there would be no point in selling more just to lie around until nothing is left. You will need to be prudent. It is not about how to last the longest; it is about ensuring you still long to last.

Sometimes you dream that you wake up whole, with everything attached and nothing sold. These, however, are not good dreams. In them, piece by piece, you sell yourself again because there never was another way. You know now that the game was rigged before it ever even started. You lost before your first finger was sold. Still, you think as you open another overdue bill, it is not too late to change how you play. Let all this value you have “invested” deteriorate while you enjoy the sun; whatever time you have left will be enough. Afterwards, when you have run this body into the ground and there is nothing left to salvage, let them—for once—fall apart without you.

A synthetic biologist by trade, writing offers this scientist an outlet to explore the futures his work in the lab may be hastening forward. See his complete bibliography at www.justenrussell.com/writing/

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