When Mira clocks out for the day, the automated office assistant informs her that she’s earned a bonus. A celebratory jingle plays as her desk’s pneumatic system dispenses a chrome cube. The happy helixes of the GeneArts logo smile up at Mira as a needle pricks her finger, locking the box’s contents to her.
Mira snaps a selfie with it to send her sister.
As Mira heads to the elevator, Ami responds with a video of ever-adorable Arjun holding his pale hand against Nanni Rashmi’s deep brown cheek. Even as she smiles at his wonder, she dreads the day he becomes aware enough to ask why his skin doesn’t look like his grandmother’s.
“How can you resist the temptation to see what you got?” Hana calls as she joins Mira.
Mira gestures to her friend’s ice-blue eyes. “Someone’s already succumbed.”
“Yeah. Designer Cerulean. More junk.” The two women elbow their way into elevator. “C’mon, Mira, why don’t you open it?” Hana says, as if such a thing is possible amid the irate mass of coworkers.
Mira shakes her head. “My nephew will never forgive me if I don’t let him ‘help’ open it.”
Hana chuckles. “Anything in particular little Arjun’s hoping for?”
“We haven’t been keeping up with the current rewards,” Mira half-lies. It’s true for Arjun, whom Ami has kept in the dark.
“Really? One of the dermal mods will really excite him,” Hana says. “It’s a chase mythic, though, so he shouldn’t get his hopes up.”
Mira does her best impression of a shrug without being able to move her arms. “Unfortunately he hasn’t cultivated the necessarily fatalistic indifference to keep his hopes down,” she says.
The other passengers shove past Mira once the elevator stops on the ground floor. As the women walk towards the street, Hana’s voice drops to a conspiratorial whisper. “You know, I heard GA packs their the partner company’s boxes with junk rares so people have to buy more to crack the mythics.”
“Or maybe someone’s bitter about her bad luck,” Mira says. Hana’s not the first person to accuse GeneArts of shady business practices. Similar rumors have been buzzing around the fringes of the collective conscience since the implementation of the bonus boxes. It’s hard to confirm or deny the allegations since regulation of the boxes doesn’t fall under the letter of any particular law.
“I’m not that bitter, it just doesn’t seem mathematically possible that I’d open eight junk rares in a row.”
“Have you done the math?”
“Well, not specifically.” Hana switches the subject before Mira can comment. “My bus isn’t coming for fifteen minutes. You have some time to kill?”
Mira checks her phone. “Seven minutes. Though seven minutes for the bus tracker means I’ll wait somewhere between five minutes and forever.”
“We can snag those chairs by the window, and watch the projectors cycle,” Hana says, pointing out a corner of the lobby near a man sitting alone.
Hana’s words pluck a melancholy chord on Mira’s heartstrings. Arjun loves the changeover. She imagines him halfway across town in Nanni Rashmi’s lap, watching the cascade of twilight colors dance across the sky. One day they need to take a family trip to a nature sanctuary, so he gets to experience a real sunset instead of the artificial imitation.
A GeneArts ad plays on the television behind the reception desk. It’s fairly standard for the company, a bunch of suspiciously attractive young people getting overly excited about mundane tasks. The camera angles draw attention to this season’s chase mods. A woman with hair the color of the sun rises from a swimming pool followed by a young man with intense violet eyes pointing at a graph on a whiteboard. Mira turns away from the third vignette, like she always does, not wanting to watch someone else enjoy the mod she wants.
“Looks like someone’s not happy about his bonus,” Hana whispers, discreetly indicating the other man sitting in their chosen corner of the lobby. He holds up a nondescript bottle, a hair coloration that’s at least three years out of style judging by how vehemently he curses it.
Hana’s schadenfreude smile inverts when the man pulls a small black square embossed with the StarHunters logo from his box. The nanoInk injectors whirr to life as he holds it to his skin, drawing the lobby’s attention to his privilege of self-expression. Mira’s attention drifts as the stranger adjusts the coloration and position of the tattoo, since the appeal of StarHunters is beyond her.
“Woah, he got a god box,” Hana says, shaking Mira’s leg. The universe being devoid of justice, Mira knows what the man opened before she turns around. Still, she has to see for herself.
Mira watches the man hold up a syringe containing the chasest of chase rares. The thing Mira’s been hoping she’d open since before she knew it was possible to open.
The man injects the solution. His skin darkens to the color of strong coffee as the modification edits his genome. Rashmi’s natural color, stolen from her children and grandchildren by mandatory gene therapies so it can be packaged and sold like any other commodity. Mira’s fingers tighten around her own box until they hurt.
Just because this stranger cracks the epidermal mod doesn’t mean Mira can’t but the injustice overwhelms her. She lunges forward, box held high. The man stumbles out of his chair. Hana throws herself between Mira and the man, desperate to placate her. “Calm down, Mira, calm down.” Hana turns to the man. “I’m really sorry. We had a tough day at the office.”
“Geez, lady, jealous much?” The man brushes himself off. “It’s just a stupid cosmetic mod. It doesn’t even look good.” Fury courses red and raw through Mira as his skin fades back to its original whiteness, her birthright discarded like a costume.
Mira stares thousands of years of hatred into him as he walks away.
D. Matthew Beyer is a writer and assistant film editor based out of New York. He writes about video games and movies for GameFES.net, and his fiction has been published by Bogleech.com. As a playwright, his work has been produced at various storefront theaters around Chicago including Otherworld and the Arc. You can find him on twitter @KindaEhGatsby.