Coming Soon: Twitch!
Read the first chapter here!
Twitch will be out by July 1st.
You can read the first chapter below, and let me know at firstname.lastname@example.org if you'd like an email when Twitch is released!
He’s thinks he’s got the best of me. He’s blackened my eye, bruised my kidneys with his fists, raped me while he smiled his glinty smile and grunted his animal grunts. Now he’s locked me in the pantry again, where I lay shivering on the cold floor in the dark. The pantry must be one of the perks of being a Director. Lower designations like me live in single-room cubes, with a cot and a toilet, and the vid feed from the wall screen constantly blaring ads. And the cameras, always the cameras, recording every move we make with cold, electronic indifference.
He thinks he’s got the best of me, but he’s wrong. Because I saw Benna on the port tram, I saw her with that young man. She’s alive, and I saw the look in her eyes. It was a look I’ve never seen in Benna’s eyes before, a look that gives me strength.
Because Benna looked . . . hopeful.
I think he’s gone out now. I could hear him at first, walking through his rooms in the blissful silence people like him enjoy, free from the constant cacophony of the ads. Then he took a call and I could hear his voice, that hollow, nasal tone making every utterance grate. I couldn’t understand any words, and it wasn’t a long conversation. Sometime after that it grew silent, but there’s no hope of escape for me. I already tried the door—locked, of course. I knew it had to be, because he didn’t bother tying me up.
He must be going to make another deal. The first one, the reason we were on the port tram in the first place, fell through. The man waiting, a big man with dirty fingernails, took one look at me and laughed.
“A pasty and a twitcher,” he said, shaking his head.
The Director started to bargain, saying he could lower the price, but the man stopped him mid-sentence.
“It’s not that. There’s a market for pasties and twitchers, and I could sell both in one package easy. But you’ve wrecked her face. I can’t sell black and blue to my crowd. They like the finer things in life.”
The Director seemed to enjoy it when he was doing it, but I bet he was sorry for blackening my eye when he heard that.
“I know a guy could use her though.” The man squinted at me. “He might pay even more than the usual, but it’d be a one-time payment.”
A one-time payment. That sounded ominous.
And so back on the tram we went, back here to the Director’s unit, where he expressed his displeasure at the lost sale by bruising me up a bit more. This time he was careful to focus on places that don’t show.
A pasty and a twitcher. That’s me. I have the albino-like, white skin that happens sometimes with Breeder babies, and for good measure, the trembling hands, too. I don’t know whether it’s bad sperm or worn out Breeders, but it seems to be getting more common. I’ve heard it even happens sometimes with Society mothers now. I was lucky; I don’t have severe tremors. When I get tired, or when I’m tense, my hands do shake, but most of the time the tremor is so subtle I can get away with nobody noticing. The Ward Manager where I was born must have seen that I would be able to work, so I was allowed to live—most twitchers born to Breeders aren’t so fortunate. When I got older, they tracked me as a Helper and now I take care of babies in Pre Ward, just like Benna did.
Or at least I used to, until I asked one too many stupid questions. I couldn’t help it, though. Benna was my only real friend and when she disappeared, I had to try to find out what happened.
We came up through training together, Benna and me, though we weren’t really friends then. We didn’t get to know each other well until we ended up assigned to the same cube complex, and the same Pre Ward. At Pre Ward we worked different shifts most of the time, and different nurseries, but we saw each other between shifts, or when we were both done for the day.
I liked her. She was an innocent of sorts. Benna didn’t like the system, but she didn’t focus too much on the way things are for us. She loved caring for the babies, and while she hated some of what we had to do, she never held on too long to her anger. She followed all the rules and behaved just like a lower designate should, at least most of the time. The only thing I know of that she did that was really risky was the drawing. And that was really risky.
Benna liked drawing. She was good at it, too. I wasn’t supposed to know about her sketches but I saw one once, when she wasn’t expecting me to drop by her cube. She’d stolen some of the sterile gown wrappers from Pre Ward to draw on; the paper was tissue-thin. Who knows where she got the pencils—probably found herself a Jacket at the station. You see them all the time, the guys with the long, oversized coats, linings filled with contraband. As long as you have something to trade, you can usually find what you need through one of them.
The drawing I saw was of a boy. It was not any boy I know, and it was wonderful. It captured something, something about the inside of the boy instead of just his outside, so that when I looked at it I felt as though I knew that boy. I never said a word to her about seeing it, even though I wanted to tell her how good it was, how it made me feel like the boy was a friend.
Drawing isn’t something you can legally do, unless you’re tracked as an Artist. I never said anything to Benna, because I never wanted her to worry about me getting a CBA. That could have happened; lots of times when someone gets arrested—and Benna would be arrested if anyone knew about her drawing—all their known acquaintances get Charged By Association just for good measure. I never wanted Benna to worry about that—she’s the kind of person who would stop drawing rather than risk trouble for me. And to be honest, I never wanted her to wonder if I’d turn her in.
People do it all the time—they’re all so scared you can hardly blame them. They don’t want any problems and if you’re meddling in what looks like trouble to them, they’ll report you just to try to keep safe themselves. But I never would have turned Benna in, not for anything. We were friends, real friends. And I understood that her drawing helped her in some way, helped her cope with what the world is like for us.
I wondered, when she disappeared, if that’s what happened—if she got caught with a sketch and they hauled her off to the labor camps. But nobody ever came to the ward, or to the complex, to question her associates. I never heard any buzzing about an arrest.
It was like she just vanished. We were supposed to meet after work and give each other haircuts. We used to get our cuts at a shop not far from our complex, but one night some punks started in on me, calling me pasty and twitcher, doing all kinds of jeering. Benna never cared that I was either of those things, but most aren’t so kind. I’ve been spit upon and called every sort of name there is, just trying to walk down the street. I’ve never let the way I’m treated get all the way inside of me, down to the place I hold sacred, and I know that I’m lucky it’s just been saliva and slurs. Not long before that night Benna and I ran into trouble, a pasty was killed in the Eastern Quad, by just such a crowd of stupid punks. After our own encounter on the way to the cut shop, I decided to help my luck along, and I scored a set of clippers from a Jacket at the station. He produced two different sets from his coat lining for me to pick from; imagine that. I had to give up a packet of pain blitzers that I’d stolen from the Pre Ward, one by one, for just such an occasion, but it was worth it. From then on Benna and I gave each other our regulation skinner haircuts safe at home.
But that night, Benna wasn’t home. I buzzed and buzzed her cube and finally asked around in the complex. Somebody said they saw her in the hallway with a big man, and somebody else said he drove her away in a dark vehicle. She wasn’t at Pre Ward the next day, either. I tried to tell myself she’d just found a bit of fun, but it wasn’t like Benna to miss a shift. I asked some of the other Helpers when the last time they’d seen her was, but most of them just shrugged. Only Helper97, who must have worked the Pre Ward since before I was ever born, had anything to say. She just looked at me for a minute.
“You sure you want to know?”
She didn’t say another thing.
When Benna still wasn’t back the next morning, I cornered one of the other Helpers—Helper29. I knew she had worked the last shift Benna showed up for at Pre Ward.
I didn’t know Helper29 well. I knew a lot of people in Pre Ward and in the complex, but I kept them all in the acquaintance compartment in my mind. I didn’t get close; it seemed safer that way. Helper29 must have felt that same way about me; she actually squirmed when I approached her.
“Have you seen Helper12?”
“Not today,” she said, and I could tell she was hoping I was done with her.
“She’s gone missing.” I didn’t budge when she tried to push past me.
“So? I don’t see how that’s my worry.” Helper29 refused to meet my gaze.
I wanted to slap her. I couldn’t count the times I’d seen her giggle and make nice with Benna at shift change, acting as though they were best pals, even though I know for a fact that Benna never even told Helper29 her baby name. I’m not fussy about telling people my baby name; it doesn’t matter to me whether I go by Kris, the name the Baby Helper who cared for me when I was born gave me, or my designation of Helper15. But Benna kept her baby name close—she always introduced herself as Helper12.
“I thought you were her friend.” I glared at Helper29.
“I don’t need any trouble,” she shot back.
That made me bristle; she knew something. I pressed her further into the corner.
“If you think there’s trouble it’s because you saw something. What happened?” I let her feel my breath on her face.
She looked up and down the hallway, checking to see if anyone might overhear.
“Look, all I know is the Director was on the Ward, and that family—”
“What family?” I felt ice touch my heart. Society members can afford the luxury tax on family units. They can have their own babies; they don’t need to come to Pre Ward. At least not for any legitimate reason. As for the Director, he avoids the Wards if he can do it.
I understood why Helper29 was worried. The fact that the Director set foot on the Ward and that a family unit was there at the same time meant big trouble. It probably meant that the Director is selling babies, and Benna saw him do it. Which probably meant that Benna was dead.
I saw Helper29’s eyes go wide and before I could turn around I felt his hand gripping my arm, and heard his voice in my ear. It was like an insect droning—an insect with a deadly sting.
“Helper15, does there seem to be a problem?”
It was the Director.