Wednesday, December 11, 2013

2H2K - June 2050 - Visual Remediation

Daniel Libeskind, “Leakage,” from Micromegas Drawing Series, (1979) 

“I hate my job.” Cory wasn’t talking to anyone, not that anyone around her would know. They’d assume she was “on the phone.” What does that phrase mean? she wondered. Telephone language is so strange. Why isn't my phone on me? She was idly twisting her pRime, worn on her left ring-finger, as an engagement ring. Shouldn't I be "in" the phone or "over" the phone? She looked down at her pRime, as slim gold band, its polished surface broken by a series tiny rectangular apertures and a thin stem. Like a tiny erection. It was her "phone" her "computer" her "camera" "secRetary." She pinched the band as hard as she could, almost as if she meant to bend it. Its everything to me, she thought with a flush of something like shame, or maybe pride. She pushed the feeling away, thought again about being on the phone - wondered how that had come to function as a statement of distanced speaking. The experience of being two places at once - "Hi, this is Cory. Where Are you?" - A physical problem solved by language.  She started to compose a queRy, knowing she'd be able to find a dozen scholarly papers and probably some good lectures on the history, theory, and comparative linguistics of "telephone language" - but then stopped herself. Stay in the moment.

Cory looked up. She was standing at the base of a 40-story farm-tower. Hybrid Vigor. The southern face was a spindly arrangement of chrome scaffolding and transparent plumbing wrapped in, what appeared to be a single, impossibly massive piece of film. Cling wrap at an architectural scale, she marveled, enjoying her surprise with the city.

On the building’s north face, dozens of colorful cylindrical plug-in apartments sprouted. The appearance was some kind of cross between a terrarium and the exposed guts of a vending machine, writ large. Writ very large. This is why you’re here, she reminded herself. To re-energize, to remember what a boom town actually looks like. She raised her hand and positioned her phone’s POV to record the sight, but stopped as Kris came to mind. She’d find plenty of images in locational archives.

Cory’s professional specialty was Asian cities – boring ones. “Location Remediation” had been a hard sell when she started out. Her first job out of school had been with Gāo White in Hong Kong. She’d been their only employee back then. She liked to tell people that she had joined the firm before Kathleen and Robin had gotten married. GW had six offices around the world now, and God only knows how many partners and employees. Cory was happy she avoided all of that with her own one-woman shop.

She took a deep breath and looked up at the web-work of concrete overpasses. They were encrusted by tiny mesh fab-sheds, unmanned she hoped. Beyond the tangle of skyways, she could see an arc of older more conventional housing blocks. There was an array of needle thin towers, each topped by a “unique” corona of faceted mirror glass, resembling quartz crystal - on acid. If she tried to imagine how many Ultramoderne façade she had been asked to disguise or block. The mind boggles, she thought with a smirk.

Cory actually liked Ultramoderne design (everyone has a guilty pleasure) and was in no way ready to retire. Although it meant spending her work life in some of the world’s most blandly conventional cities, Cory mostly loved her job; and, at 33, she was at the top of her game.

Before striking out on her own, she had worked for Septagram in LA for two years; so she knew what it was like to work with the big boys. Recently she’d been wooed by a couple of large firms looking for partners, but the buy-in costs were high. Septagram partners paid a over a million any-time minutes, US. Additionally, for her first seven years, she’d have been responsible for generating three times that in annual billings. Fuck that. She could buy a pret-a-terre in LA for that kind of money.

Being her own boss involved a lot less overhead. Besides her secretaRy (which, over the years, had cost almost as much in upgrades as a partnership would have) she worked alone. She had managed it by building a network of trusted contractors, and a cloud of talented freelancers.

When it was just Kathleen and Robin and her, it had been hard work to convince governors, mayors, and city council members on the concept of sightline brownfields. Half the job had been making politicians comfortable with the idea that they had a solvable problem. These days she was almost always welcomed by cities that knew they had a problem, and understood that she could help them.

Increasingly her job was to help her clients avoid cliché. There was no benefit to reworking the all-too-familiar urban look of the 20s and 30s, if it was replaced with the same premillennial marketplaces and Kowloon-like slums everyone was building currently. The trick was to find a fragment of something authentically local and expand it. The “seed crystal” was often a bit of local iron-work tagged onto the side of a tower or some peculiarity of store frontage, growing out of local zoning law. She never knew what it would be.

Because she often worked in cities with non-descript streets and buildings, at the start of any project she’d spend countless hours wandering locational archives searching for pix and scans. In this way she could find out about things going on behind closed doors, in court yards and rooftops.

Sometimes she’d even find the details in the background of someone’s family snaps: a portion of orange safety netting woven into a decorative pattern in an apartment’s curving outer wall, barely visible from behind someone’s smiling kids. She’d lurk in the social nets of local urban design mavens. She’d watch them trade scans of beloved custom fabs, curious architectural features and adaptations, skimming off some of her favorites to modify and enlarge on.

This immersion often brought her into contact with local scensters who could steer her to places and people that were more exciting than the suggestions of her host city’s professional planning cadre. And unlike her meetings with her professional contacts, she often came away with great shwag when she sought out scensters: like century-old wrought iron door knockers hot-rodded with microscopic optical vein sensors to make them into biometric locks. I should ask Kris to get those installed.

Eventually she always had to get out into the streets. Her work usually brought her to backwater cities in decline, making those walks hard work: always the need to make miracles with tiny budgets. But today, she had no budget, no worries, no miracles to deliver. She was traveling for pleasure. She had been skinning the cities of Asia’s E-Waste Belt for too long. Kris had wanted her to go to the beach, but Cory knew better. I need this.

“I need to think, and this is how I think.” Cory had tried to explain. She thought of Kris’ needs, but then pushed the thought away.

For too long, she had been hearing about the mad urban tangle of Uganda. If it was characteristic of the region, she was looking forward to more work in “Mid-Africa”, so labelled by economic wonks. Unlike the older ingrowing post-sprawl of West Africa, and the even older and denser conurbations of North Africa, Mid-africa was home to the region’s youngest most exciting cities. Uganda’s Jinja - the “Sino-African Tiger” – was a world unto itself.

The few African cities she had visited previously, in Nigeria, Congo, and Cameroon, had been built up during the same period of the 20s and 30s as Asia’s E Waste Belt. That older strain of Sino-African urbanism looked like Bizzaro versions of their Asian urban-cohort. Chinese city-builders had done the same thing everywhere during those years, right down to the tightly packed Ultramoderne towers of giant scifi crystals, and bubbly abstracted cartoon shapes of ChāoPíng design (an aesthetic she had no love for, guilty or otherwise).

Cory had made the trip to visit the older Sino-African capitals as part of a free junket five years earlier. She had found the region disappointing precisely because they were such culturally vibrant places. She had expected the cities’ physical selves to reflect their cultural energy. Like their mainland Chinese sister cities, Cory had found surprisingly few moments of cleavage she felt she could work with. Some sparks of local color, but architecturally nothing profound. But Uganda was true Sino-Africa. Chinese engineers with local labor hadn’t built Jinja; it had been built by 2nd and 3rd generation Sino-Africaners and laboR. This was an entirely 21st Century city.

If the raucous inside-out architecture wasn’t proof enough, the street life drove it home: young, cosmopolitan, outrageously dressed, and sexy. Both men and women were bold. Flaunting what they had boldly, and bold with their appreciation. Without being threatening or even rude (as she found was often the case in the E Waste cities), flirting here was constant and it was full of laughter and compliments on all sides. Even though Cory had never been very interested in men, she had always enjoyed knowing she was attractive to them. And although it was less important than it once was, it was still a thrill - for a long time it had been an obsession.

She thought back to her 18-year-old-self. She had slipped the knot of the Nashville suburbs and found her way to Hong Kong, joining a Freeschool in Fo Ton. She had been the youngest student, and had therefore enjoyed pride of place; everyone had called her “Little Sister.” But looking back now, they had all been very young.

The exception had been an artist-in-residence who had to have been in his late-sixties/early-seventies. He hadn’t been there long before her, and didn’t stay long after she had arrived. Although (or perhaps because) he had been much older than the other “professors”, he’d been very popular with her friends. She remembered he was funny and that they had all liked his art, which had spanned decades and continents. For her, he had established the extra qualification of having found her attractive.

He wasn’t alone. She had been a nymph in full flower—tall and willowy with small but pretty breasts; and, while her hips were small for a girl, they weren’t too narrow. While she had enjoyed the sly glances of her younger admirers at the Freeschool, the old man had not been coy. He was bold. She had liked that most of all. He had watched her with obvious interest, had taken open pleasure in looking at her, and always made a point of complimenting her. Cory tried to remember his name, but couldn’t call it up. She was sure she had him tagged. She squashed the temptation to queRy her old octothorpes. Stay in the moment girl.

She smiled, realizing that she had not been paying much attention to the city around her for some time. She had wandered onto a steep narrow alley that opened onto dozens of little health-food stalls, and she was starving. She had never been into health food, but when in Sino-Africa…

The stalls were filled with young backpackers; Vietnamese and Laotian teens with conjunctivitis and road rash. Cory thought of her own misspent youth, and tried to be patient with their obnoxiously loud voices, poor hygiene and huge backpacks.There were also plenty of geries. To her right was a group of EU men and women with unnaturally thick heads of grey hair. Cory was betting they were sex-tourists, but she told herself not to generalize. After all, the cliche of randy aged Euro-trash was just that, she thought, a cliche. But with their tight cloths, sculpted physiques and copious hair implants, they did look the part. Not every gerie was on the prowl, she chided herself. Behind the sex-tourists - Really shouldn't presume! - there was also as a group of elderly Brazilian men that were so outrageously dressed, Cory felt sure they were musicians or performers of some sort.

She chose one of the more popular stalls, because it had a picture menu over the counter. As it turned out, the picture menu was no help; she couldn’t identify anything in any of the pictures. Fucking health nuts. She took comfort in the fact that of all the possible choices, this stall had the prettiest name: “Eaty Amin.”

Her turn came and a tall, ethnically Korean girl waited to take her order. Judging by her Ainu facial tattoos, Cory guessed she was from North Korea. Cory pointed at the “#4 meal” because it appeared to have the greatest variety of different things on it. She reasoned that by virtue of sheer statistical probability, some of it would have to taste good.

As she took Cory’s payment in minutes the shop-girl shouted in a mélange of mandarin and Swahili with an older co-worker, a dark skinned man wearing a faded Mickey Mouse t-shirt. He looked to Cory like he might be like a native Ugandan, but she couldn’t be sure - she didn’t have much of a grasp for sub saharan ethnic differences. The girl handed her a tall cup full of something thick and cold and saffron colored, and signaled Cory to step down, to where the man was standing. He handed her a clear bowl piled high with steaming mystery eats.

Maybe I’m not the only one rediscovering the reto-cool of the Ultramoderne? Cory enjoyed when her own personal tastes turned out to be ahead of a trend, and both the cup and the bowl were shaped like faceted Ultramoderne crystals. But the tableware was made of a soft, rubbery, and remarkably transparent plastic Cory hadn’t seen before, and didn’t associate with the Ultramoderne. One stall in one city isn’t a trend, but the service was clearly chosen with care. In addition to the odd plastic, both cup and bowl were covered with a faintly glowing tangled pattern of isometric details – she vaguely recognized the image as the work of an artist, but couldn’t call up who. Again she had the urge to make a queRy, but again stopped herself. Instead tagged the bowl and then grabbed a set of chopsticks and a straw and looked for a place to sit.

The stall’s few seats were taken, but the alley’s steps were only spotted with diners, so she sat down on a step in the shade. Next to her there were two of the outrageously dressed Brazilians. Jugglers?

“Ce soir la nuit sera blanche Couleur café Que j'aime ta couleur café” - sang the one wearing baggy batik pants and a surfing shirt. She smiled as she turned away and began to prod her lunch. Musicians. They left her to eat in peace.

The steaming contents of her bowl now had her undivided attention. I’m starving, she realized. The #4 Meal was a heaping serving of tiny pink cylinders, topped with a translucent ruffled garnish that at first, seemed to be noodles, but on closer inspection, she was no longer sure. The ruffled strips were a acid green, flecked with clots of dark red. Unlike the pink things the strips were chilled, she tasted one and it turned out to be a pickled something. Her best guess was an agar of some sort, but for all she knew they were sheets of tray-grown snail flesh.

Cory had assumed from the photo menu that the pink cylinders was grain; but, upon tasting a sticky clump of it, she realized it was some kind of manufactured, mammal-ish, protein. They tasted a bit like salty pork. On closer examination she could see the words "SALTY!" -"YUMMER!" - and tiny cross-eyed happy faces printed along the side of each cylinder in hot pink. Mixed throughout were fleshy dark green cubic bits of - God only knows, she thought with a smile. The cubes were a little sour as they lay on her tongue, but crunchy, crisp, and explosively spicy when bitten into. Nice!

Eyes watering; Cory took a long, slightly desperate tug at her straw. She expected the drink to be sweet and fruity, but was surprised by a savory, somewhat soapy flavor. It was some form of faux-tein or processed sea-slime - Cory hoped it was faux-tein. Slightly bitter at first, whatever it was, turned out to be buttery and refreshing.

At the bottom of the bowl she discovered a cache of gelatinous yellow spheres that had a watery balloon mouthfeel, almost like an over-ripe grape. They had a peppery chlorophyll taste and were dressed in aromatic oil that might have been a mellow cactus of some sort. Cory smiled, I’m so full of shit. Her vocabulary for flavors and ability to draw likenesses had abandoned her almost immediately. Nothing really tasted or looked like anything familiar, but the flavors and sensations were rich, clean, and bright. Jesus, why did I take so long to make this trip?

As she picked absently at the remains of green cubes and yellow spheres, she realized one of the older German men was checking her out. His eyes drifted up to her face and caught her eye. He smiled at her broadly, but there was no smile in his eyes.  Sex-tourists. He returned his attention to his traveling companions and his own absurd looking bowl of food, and Cory was again left in peace.

She thought again about the artist-in-residence. He had been a sculptor – or at least she thought he was a sculptor. He had made complex furniture-like things with heavy overlays of AR. What was his name? She couldn't quite believe it was escaping her. If she queRied, Kris would see, and would know exactly what she was thinking. He was one of the few men she could remember having ever found attractive – and Kris knew that. So she let go of the impulse to find his name. She could picture his face though. She had developed a terrible schoolgirl crush on him. She had met him at a time when her beauty had felt like a fragile, even a false, thing. She had felt ike an impostor, her beauty had been the one thing that made her her. The one thing she felt that had allowed her to be, even remotely, who she wanted to be. And he had made her feel genuinely beautiful.

During their one and only “studio visit” he had, very gently, helped shape the direction of her adult life. Her studio had been a dusty windowless cubicle off a common wood shop; no larger than a hostel capsule, but with full-height ceilings. I loved that space - a room of my own. The two of them had squeezed into two folding chairs that took up all the space not already taken up by her “art work.” Even a decade and a half later Cory could feel her face growing hot as she pictured the art she had shown him - she wondered what he had made of that odd collection of customized sex toys, anatomical drawings, nude photos, and pornographic AR overlays—more intention than anything remotely artistic.

She pictured the two of them, knees touching. She had begun to explain her work. That the toys were based on 3D scans and ultrasounds she had performed on herself. Her hands had been shaking as she had handed over nude self-portraits. Again she tried not to feel embarrassed of that younger-self, of her pretensions and naiveté. She tried, in her mind to adopt the kindness she remembered he had maintained for that young girl in that terribly vulnerable moment.

Eventually she explained her history. She told him how, with the help of a series of tutorials and open-source coding tools, she had discretely cloned, rooted and delinked her pRime. Making a decoy overlay for her parents' chapeRone, while she had then downloaded and upgraded her secretly emancipated pRime. From the server of “Not Pussy Riot,” a radical LGBTN group in Eastern Europe, she found expert systems that had “medicalized” the pRime's now captive AL. And, after a riskier real-world search, had found a sympathetic drug fabricator in Nashville who agreed to supply her with the hormones she needed in trade.

She remembered that the sculptor's face had shadowed with uneasy concern at that point in the story, but that he barked with laughter when she told him the trade was for yard work.

Finally she had explained how, with the guidance of the then medicalized pRime she had been able to “safely” self administering the custom synthetic estrogens. All before puberty had set her course too deeply. And she had told him that now that she was 18 (and away from Nashville), she intended to transition fully, that she was working towards reassignment surgery.

There had been a familiar pause while he absorbed her info-dump. Cory had, by then, explained herself to enough people that she had an order and even a rhythm to how she would unroll her narrative, and knew the moments when it was important to let the facts sink in. She knew he couldn’t be too shocked by what she was telling him. She hadn’t been full-time by then; wasn’t for another year or so after she moved to HK. So he would have seen Cory dressed in both men’s and women’s clothes; there was no great revelation being delivered. Still, he had seemed to need time to think before Cory continued. She remembered waiting for him to break the silence.

He had asked what her parents thought. Cory had explained that they were religious, but supportive; as was her high school girlfriend. He looked happy to hear that and told her she was lucky. The look on his face had had made her feel certain that he was speaking from experience, but experience of what, she had had no idea. She remembered him making a joke in class about how little they all had to lose: "Your families already assume you’re drug addicts and perverts..." he had said.

Then he looked serious. "Do you want to talk about this with me? It's OK if you don't, what you choose to do with your body is none of my business. That's not what I am here to teach, but you brought it up and seem to want to know what I think. Am I right about that?"

She had, of course, hungered to know what he thought, what everyone thought; it was all she had thought about at the time. “I’m assuming that you were not born intersex.” he began, dropping his head and raising his eyebrows slightly to indicate he was asking a question, “That your gear works, but that its just not appropriate to who you feel yourself to be.”

Cory imagined she must have blushed at that, but she remembered nodding, and that she maintained eye contact.

"Let me start by warning you that I am ambivalent - that is not to say I'm against," he explained. "but that I am conflicted." He had looked at her, eyebrows raised hands open. "Do you still want to know what I think?" She had. She had trusted him, and remembered feeling the pressure of the moment as a physical thing, like a too deep dive.

"Feeling that you aren't who you should be is a real, and a really terrible thing." He had begun. "But how much do you know about what surgeons can and can’t do? What they count as success?"

Cory remembered that she had actually known a lot, but no one had ever pressed her about it. Her friends and family had grappled with the existential choice of it, but she had always been the one who held the most information about the mechanics of the transition. She had always been the one to marshal the fact. She had wielded that information like a weapon. Used it to express her conviction, she had never before had anyone point the facts of the thing back at her before.

"Well then you know," he had told her, "cosmetically, there is a lot they can do. They can give you great big beautiful tits." He had smiled wickedly as he said that, making her blush again; but then his face had softened. "They can also give you something that looks like a vagina." Now he leaned in to look her in the eye, again tilting his head forward and raising his eyebrows a fraction, "but it won't be. At best, it will likely have very little sensation; at worst, it will be painful and infection prone."

"Some day," he had promised, "the surgeons will be able to make a real and meaningful change; they will live up to the promise of ‘do no harm’, but right now they can't.” She must have looked miserable, because he had reached out to place his hand over her’s. “But that's OK,’ he had said, “you don't need them."

"That's not to say don't get the tits,” he’d added. “Do that; get four!" She had laughed and he had laughed too – more out of relief than any true mirth – the laughter and smiles had fallen away as abruptly as they had risen. She had been afraid she would cry. "Don't let them disfigure you," he had said quietly. "Right now you have genitalia that can give you deep wonderful orgasms, that is a beautiful thing – the most beautiful. And it won't last forever; it will never be easier than it is right now.” He had pulled a face and looked away as he had said that.

He composed himself then. Placing his hands on his thighs, knees together, he had looked almost demure. “Anatomy is not destiny, but it is still way better than the most cutting edge medical technology” he said. “If I were to need prostate surgery, I might come away with the ability to experience sensation and maintain an erection, but I just as easily might not – depends on the surgeon, on what she had for lunch, on what package of equipment and software they might have access to, on how well its calibrated, on the peculiarities of my nervous system's unique arrangement and ability to heal; whatever."

She remembered being struck by how plain he was. He hadn’t looked at all like the picture of an artist – aging or otherwise. Unlike a lot of American men his age he had no tattoos or piercings of any sort; wore no beard. He hadn’t worn any jewelry or flashy clothes. ”My chances are much better than my father’s would have been,” he had told her, “but my chances of having a happy sex life are best if I avoid surgery; and so are yours” He had looked like someone’s uncle. That had suddenly felt important to her, giving his words greater weight.

“And, here is the thing: cutting edge cultural technologies have dusted the surgeons. You will find a partner who will love you, and love you as a woman. You will find someone who will find every part of you beautiful, and will want to have big wonderful orgasms with you. And he or she will know what you are; that you are a woman."

He had looked around at Cory's art for a moment, perhaps uncomfortable that he had said too much, or just reminding himself how exposed she was. "Cory, you don't need a medical solution because you don’t have a medical problem. There is very little that a surgeon can do for you, because what you are dealing with is a question of language, of pronouns. You were born a he, but you want to live your life as a she. As a culture we no longer require surgeries to make that change.”

He had reached over then to tap one of the plaster casts of her penis she had set out a work table, and smiled. “In the beginning, it had required surgeons to make the change. For family members, friends and spouses - for lawyers and judges - to make the conceptual leap, the body had to be cut. I have no doubt that is true; those surgeries were necessary, for those people, at that time.”

Again he touched the casting, but this time with a lighter touch. “But we don't need them any longer. Those early pioneers did the heavy lifting.” Perhaps sensing that he was making her uncomfortable he moved his hand, but continued driving his point.

“I remember hearing that the ideas that turned Einstein's hair white to formulate and express, are now regularly mastered by physics undergrads in a semester,” he told her. “Sex changes would have been an impossible conceptual leap for my grandfather’s generation to make, they were difficult for my father’s, not particularly hard for me and my cohort, but are non-events for you and yours.”

“I like to think my generation was and is liberal. Still when I look at the attitudes about sex and gender among you and your friends, I see how far my generation and I had to go.” Cory wondered what her face had looked like in that moment. She remembered being upset, but not angry – more confused. She remembered she hadn’t wanted him to see that, so she is not sure what he saw.

She looked around and wondered what her face looked like now, not that it mattered. The lunch hour had passed and her fellow diners were all gone, she had the alley’s steps to herself. She realized that an aspect of Jinja had been lost on her till now.

Once upon a time, the stepped-pavement of an alley like this would have been amateurish concrete work, even dangerously so, but not any more. Although the alley twisted as it climbed the hill, every riser was an identical height, the open drains that ran along each side had beautifully fluted edges and looked like they had had been made by skilled journeymen – that is what laboR had done to cities, it had made them invisibly perfect.

She thought of the “slave walls” that she had grown up looking at in Tennessee. Slave walls were totally unlike the low stonewalls that Cory would discover years later on visits to New England forests. A friend of her father's had explain that those haphazard-looking piles of stone were built by colonial settlers to mark their fields using the stones they had cleared so they could plow the inhospitable appalachian soil. She remembered wondering why the Yankee had been so proud of those slap dash looking runs of stone; little more than long piles of rocks. They had hardly looked like walls to her, had looked amateurish in her eyes. Not so with slave walls. They were marked by their perfection.

Like the walls that lace New England’s forests and field, slave walls were “dry masonry” – nothing cementing them together, just stacks of stones held together by gravity. Unlike the walls built by yeomen Yankees, slave walls were beautifully constructed.

She remembered asking her father why they were called slave walls. When I was a little boy, she thought with a smile. Her father had pointed out a spot on one and said it had been “hit by a car”. Cory had thought he meant a caR, and so her father had had to explain what a car was, what a “car accident” was, and how common they had been. Once he had managed to reassure her that she didn’t ever have to worry about being in one, they had gotten back to talking about the wall.

The spot he pointed out stood just as high as the rest of the wall, its top, was just as flat, but something was different about the stonework. It may as well have been a different color it was so obviously different. Cory had suddenly realized how ordered and perfect the rest of the wall was, because, in that one spot, the construction was somehow less so. Her father had explained that the walls were so skillfully assembled that, if they were damaged, no one alive had the skill to rebuild them anymore. “Like Chinese puzzles,” he had told her.

For a long time she had thought slaves were a class of especially skilled builders. Only when she was older did she understand that the men who had built those walls worked their entire lives, their own labor never worth anything to them personally, the property of their owners. Human laboR she thought with disgust.

Increasingly her job was to disrupt the invisible perfection of laboR; to make drab industrial cities more interesting places to look at, by making them less perfect. For over a century, modernity had delivered inexpensive manufactured goods of such high quality, their remarkable quality so ubiquitous, it was invisible. She liked to ask people to imagine giving Benjamin Franklin a box of ballpoint pens.

Sidewalks and buildings were still a lot more expensive and difficult to make and maintain than ink pens, but like ink pens their production was no longer a matter of artisanal labor, of one skilled man who knew how to cut a quill just so, to load it with ink, just so, and to position it against a sheet of paper, at just the right angle and to move it smoothly across the page with just the right amount of force. Once upon a time that had been penmanship. By the time Cory had learned to write it was little more than style. So it was with cities now, they were invisibly perfect products of laboR.

This was still a relatively new problem for urbanists. If she were brought in to consult on Jinja, she’d break up the alleyway and make the pavers look like it had been made, remade, and patched by a series of unrelated and unskilled laborers, rather than a unitary masterwork of flawless laboR.

Flawless. Cory had been non-op for so long, it was part of who she was, but she didn’t know if it was who she wanted to be. She knew that it didn’t scare Kris, but she was scared. Change is always scary. She remembered the look on her father’s face when she had come out to him. He had thought she was going to tell him she was gay. He had prepared himself for that, was ready to tell her he loved her no matter what, but he’d been caught off guard. They had laughed about it years later, the look on his face. But the truth was, he had handled the news gracefully. He had told her how much he loved her, and how much he always would. No matter what.

Medicine had changed a lot in the 15 years since she had come out, since she had moved to Hong Kong, since she had become a woman; a question of language, of pronouns.

“SurgeRy.” Cory looked around her in surprise, realizing that she had spoken the word aloud. The sun was high, and the streets were empty.

The invisible perfection of factory production had made light, beautifully functioning objects standard elements of every life - from ballpoint pens to automobiles. In her lifetime laboR had transformed cities in ways that people like her made their livings trying to understand and mitigate. No one had foreseen how how difficult it would be to make the invisible perfection livable. But now the invisible perfection promised to transform her body.

Not something that looks like a vagina, she thought with a smile. “We will replace your entire reproductive system with your reproductive system.” The urologist had explained. The idea of a pig surrogate repulsed her, but not only would she have full sensation, she’d have “the uterus of an adolescent, and, for a time, all the hormones that go along with it.” It wouldn’t be long, he had told her, before she’d have to worry about getting pregnant. Not cosmetic surgery; they would transplant female organs, grown from her own genetic material.

She would make love as a woman, but more startlingly, she could start a family. Flawless.

She was alone, standing at the top of the alley, trying to decide which way to go next. She thought of Kris. As a teen Kris had been her confidant; and, then, when she’d cracked her parent’s hold, and medicalized her pRime, Kris had become her accomplice.

And now... And now what?

"kRis?" Speaking the name name aloud, Cory used the AL-R to signal to any listeners that she was wasn't addressing a person, but instead a thing. Never mind that it was a thing that she loved, had always love. Cory liked to joke about the cliché of having taken her secretaRy for her loveR, but she had always loved Kris.

“Yes Cory?” The familiar husky feminine voice gave Cody a thrill - a hot feeling rose up through her breast and shoulders. After a full day of not hearing the intimate sound of pRime's voice in her ear, the whispered reply made Cory realized she was hungry for the contact. She was suddenly dazed by lust. Jesus, I am a pervert.

“kRis I you need to compose a queRy for parenting expert systems. We're having a baby”

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