The security agent who checks my ID and boarding pass is rumpled and straining his uniform at the gut. Mom would have some way of addressing this. She’s the type who takes people aside at the library to let them know their skirt is askew or to hand them mints. It’s “one of her quirks,” and she always makes sure to apologize after. I don’t have the steel for that sort of thing, but this guy could use the help.
He scribbles on my ticket and hands it back to me absently.
“Full screening?” I ask.
“What’s that?” he asks, squinting at a couple arguing further back in the line.
“I’m umm…” I motion to my face to complete the thought. He finally looks at me. I touch my head where my AR prosthetic nests in my hairline and then worry that I’ve knocked it loose. The thing is smart and resilient, everyone keeps reassuring me, but misalignment is a disaster. The camera can’t get a good enough look at your expression, and the algorithm can’t anticipate what image it should be creating. The nub starts projecting God only knows what — your dimple pixelates, your smile lags, or your nose wanders below your chin.
I can feel myself sweating, increasing the odds of the nub throwing static, no doubt.
He makes a give-it-here motion for my boarding pass and checks it. “Visually augmented,” he says, pointing to the spot on the boarding pass and explaining what I just told him. “All the way to the right. You’ll need the full screening.”
People always notice. You’ve got to be as distracted as this dummy not to. Sometimes you catch them craning around, trying to get a different angle. They want to know what’s going on back there. It’s like they’re trying to peek down my blouse. Molly, with her gaping earlobes and her sharp tongue, assures me that I deserve it for being so vain and spending so much of Mom’s money.
Why couldn’t Molly have been the one in the accident? She could have been mutilated for free and saved a fortune on tattoos. Mom always laughs at that and tells me that Molly covets attention even when she receives so much of her own.
Nearly $109,000, and my insurance wouldn’t cover any of it. Mom says my happiness is worth it. The only thing that bothers her is that the prosthetic only comes in black — nothing more modest. For a hundred grand, she thinks it should come in a variety of skin tones. The tech who ran the scanning appointment and helped with the fitting was non-committal. “Maybe in the next rev,” he said. Mom tsk’ed at him and told him that his company should be more sensitive, “It shouldn’t take a ‘next rev,’ whatever that is.”
As kids, at Christmas, she would have us perform for our aunts — singing songs that were old before Mom and her sisters were even born. Molly would soar through Cole Porter. Then I’d develop hives as I wobbled my way through Gershwin or Irving Berlin. Mom’s expectations always exceed a person’s lot. The bagger at the grocery store should be able to change the recipe of her meal-replacement bar to exclude almonds. The cab driver is responsible for traffic.
When I arrive at the screening station, they’re finishing with a solider. He’s surprisingly old — probably in his fifties. His blonde hair is buzzed close, like in the movies, and his AR prosthetic sits there like an impossibly big mole. You can see the wire running to the battery and processing pack that rides over his ear. Maybe they’ll get rid of the wire in the next rev, too.
The security agent, this one a woman who at least knows how to select a uniform that fits, pats the soldier's arm. “Thank you for your service, Master Sergeant,” she says. He presses the nub, and his mask shudders into place. The vivid, taut burns that crawl across his cheek and his empty eye socket vanish under the projection.
The agent — her name tag reads Cranston — says “Next,” and I walk up.
She is what Mom would call “no bigger than a minute.” Her hair lays over one shoulder in a twist. It’s too long for her age, but it’s a beautiful black and bound to be her natural color.
“I’m going to need your ID, and I’m going to need you to turn off your prosthetic. You’ll get in line for the backscatter once we’re through here.” She flicks her head toward the casket with the revolving door where people stand like paper dolls before they’re cleared through security. Obviously, she can tell this is my first time in the full screening line.
I hand her my license, and she steps behind a standing desk with it. I want to scratch away the anxiety I feel vibrating under my scalp, but everyone’s watching. Everyone’s always watching. Agent Cranston glances back and forth between me and her console. She hails a colleague.
He narrows his eyes and asks “What am I looking for?”
Cranston replies “I’m asking you.”
“Excuse me?” Cranston says. “We’re going to need you to turn off the prosthetic, please.”
The other agent points to the screen. “There?”
Cranston leans in to inspect it as I toggle off my mask. She approaches, running her hair through her fist to smooth it. She stretches onto her toes to examine me.
I take two quick breaths as she looks closely at the scar that runs through my right eyebrow and dies just before my temple. “Umm…all right,” she says as she shrugs. “That will be fine.”
I feel prickling heat under my arms and at my collar. I raise my hand to cover my neck, hoping that Cranston can’t see the hives scattered across my skin.
JW Bell lives in Illinois and has had stories appear in The Arcanist and Spartan.