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The four wallscreens shifted their image to that of a large room, making the basement gym feel much bigger than it actually was. A personal trainer materialized on the wall screen Aerope faced. He was bright, cheerful, and a bit hyper.

“Are you ready!” he said. He sounded like a cheerleader.

Aerope wearily said, “Almost. Renne: mat.”

The floor panels opened up and a yoga mat rose to fill the gap. She stepped onto it.

The image glitched slightly, and the trainer said, “Are you ready!” again. Same exact vocal expression. Very effeminate. Stupid replays. They still can’t hide it well.

“Yes,” she called.

“Oh-KAY!” he gushed. “First we’re gonna do some yogabend. Now, I want you to lay out on the mat”--Aerope imitated his actions--“and we’re gonna do some nice easy stretches first. Go ahead and do what’s called the...”--What am I going to do with the dress? Aerope wondered silently--“...and you have to really pull your legs up, like this.”

“Good God, I can’t do that!” she shrieked, seeing the man onscreen. His foot was past his ear, and the other remained firmly planted on the mat. She’d tear in half trying that stretch.

He sat up and looked out at her. “AEROPE”--she jumped at the suddenly dead, mechanical voice that spoke her name, which then went high and giddy and human again--“you can do anything you set your mind to. Just believe in yourself!”

He pulled his leg a little farther past his ear and looked expectantly at her. Grumbling, she half did the stretch.

“Good!” he gushed. God, it was hard to forget they couldn’t actually see you. “Now, just hold it there for another ten seconds...”

I can’t throw the dress down the laundry chute. I’d never see it again, and they’d ask questions. Unless I said it was ruined--they never check those.

“And you’re done! Now let your leg down slowly--don’t hurt yourself!” He giggled pointlessly. “Ok, now we gotta get back on our feet...” He stood and danced in place a little. “Next stretch is the Methuselah Swan, and it’s absolutely fantastic for the upper back, going into the neck, down the arms, and around even into the pectorals.” He beamed. “You take your arms up, like this...”

She mindlessly copied. Her thoughts continued. So laundry chute is out. What else? She looked up and saw the stretch’s name written across the bottom of the screen. What the hell is a Methuselah? and a swan?

“Pull back farther!”

She pulled. Maybe they’re things that used to be, but are no more. I wonder what they did.

“Relax”--she did--“aaand again!”

She lifted her arms painfully. It would be interesting to find out what they did.

She then speculated on the topic, concocting package-rippers, stretch-machines, longevity pills--still elusive to Scientists--, autoprops for temples, in-flesh touchscreens, even a sort of contraption that would let you go in the sky without having to take a railbox. They were all vaguely shaped like the giddy trainer on the screen, who at that moment said, “And you’re done!” She dropped her aching arms and cradled them. The poor things, they weren’t made to be methuselahs or swans or whatever the hell he’d just done to them. “Good job!!” he praised. “Now we’re gonna do some real yogabend! Down on your hands and knees, like this”--he showed--“and you’re gonna make your body go as straight as you can. Keep your butt up! Don’t arch your back! Make sure your legs are straight! Aaaaaand one! Two! Three! Four!”

What am I going to do with the dress, though? I wonder if I could...no, I have no idea how the clothing cycles around the city. I mean, I know that used items are cheaper, so those come from somewhere, but how do they make them not stink? Every item landed in the pickup tray smelling fresh and clean. She didn’t know how they did that.

Maybe Dexios does.

She made a mental note to go see him as the stretch changed again.

After all, he knew where to go get it in the first place.

Dexios. Her eyes got a faraway look in them. He was always so kind to her, even when she was almost cruel to him. He always told her she looked beautiful. He said the guy that modified her had probably taken one look at what he had to work with and said, “Why’s she in here? It’s not like she has anything that can be improved on.” Dexios would say this with a sly wink, and Aerope would blush. It was the honesty in his eyes that made her red. His beautiful, brown, unmodified eyes. She’d never met anybody else with brown eyes. But then, everybody else was modified.

The stretch changed.

She’d never actually told him all the modifications she’d gotten. Somehow, she didn’t want to admit it to him. It wasn’t that she was insecure, it just...well, things were always different with Dexios. He saw you differently, treated you differently, no doubt thought of you differently than other people did. There was nothing about Dexios that was normal. Even his compliments could border on strange. Like the time he’d said, “I like that you let Eryx play in the backyard. You’re a good mother.”

She’d been quick to correct him. “I didn’t let--I don’t let him play outside. He did that on his own. And I told him not to do it anymore.”

“Did you enforce that?”

“Not...not especially.”

“Then you’re a good mother.” And he had sat back triumphantly. She couldn’t refute his Logic.

No, wait, he had none. That was another thing about Dexios. He wasn’t Religasonable. He hadn’t set foot inside a temple in years. If you called him Unreasonable, he’d laugh at you. “There’s more to existence than reason,” he’d say. Aerope had nearly fainted the first time he’d said that to her. Avoiding temples she could (sort of) justify, or at least pretend to ignore, but such a direct affront to Reason!-- It was like saying there was more to food than eating. Or more to clothes than covering nudity. Existence was Reason; Reason was existence; to separate them was suicidal. Now, of course, she would call it nearly suicidal, but his tendency to hand-wave Reason away still unsettled her. He’d taken to mention his views less often in her presence, but...

It would still hang in the air between them.

Aerope suddenly realized that she was balanced between her right hand and left foot, and that her right leg was bent up in an arch, over her back, to meet her left arm in completion of that arch, and that the yogabend regimen was over. The personal trainer gushed, “Ok, great work! Now we’re gonna do cardioresistence, so get out your treadmill! Ready?” A twitch in the image. “Ok, great work! Now we’re gonna do cardioresistence, so get out your treadmill! Ready?” Another twitch. “Ok, great work! Now we’re gonna do cardioresistence, so get out your treadmill! Ready?” Twitch. “Ok, great work! Now we’re gonna do cardioresistence, so get out your treadmill! Ready?” Twitch. “Ok, great work! Now we’re gonna do cardioresistence, so get out your treadmill! Ready?” Twitch.

She thought about seeing how long he would loop, but even pre-recorded personal trainers racked up sizable bills on account of Network usage. And he was getting annoying. She gracelessly fell out of the stretch and pushed to her feet. “Renne: mat away.” The mat sank noiselessly into the black abyss beneath the floorboards. “Treadmill.” The clunky monstrosity rose into where the mat had been. She stepped onto it.

“...treadmill! Ready?”

She glared up at him defiantly. “Ready.”

Cardioresistance had never been her strong suit, and the recorded trainer somehow knew it. But she would not show him anxiety. She would swallow it like a stale oversized shrinkwrapped cookie and jog it off like the calories such a cookie would produce.

“Go!!” he yelled, as if starting a race.

She answered him, “Renne: treadmill on.”

The treadmill started moving.

“Ok so we’re gonna run for five minutes,” the trainer babbled excitedly. “And if you find yourself getting demotivated, just think how slim and toned you’ll be--and how healthy of a heart you’ll have!”

Ha, she thought. Nobody slims and tones in a gym. Why bother.

Glumly she thump-thump-thump-thump-thump-thump-thumped along, thinking nothing, hearing nothing, until her five minutes were up. She was about to start the next regimen when footsteps came padding down the sandalwood. She turned.

“Christ, Eryx!!” she screamed.

He had hunniesyrup all over his hair and running down his face and dripping onto his shirt and there it was all over his hands and his jeans and good god was it coming out of his nose too?? He was also crying.

Awesome.


Submitted: January 29, 2013

© Copyright 2022 Iskah E Shirah. All rights reserved.

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