The regulations surrounding standard operating procedure for the Dive Chamber were quite strict, and on Monday morning Sam broke all of them.
Jelanna found her partner slumped against the glass of the chamber, mostly unconscious, wearing a body that had been meant for a Diver with ten times the credit line they had. Sam had locked the door from the inside and now lay, naked and limp, against the controls that would allow Jelanna to open the door and remove any evidence of wrongdoing before one of the Chamber’s senior operators showed up.
“Sam, how the hell…?”
Inside the chamber, Sam’s old body lay on one of the Dive beds. None of the monitor lights had ticked on. Not only had Sam shucked their body, they hadn’t bothered to hook up the stims that would preserve it. Jelanna couldn’t tell how long it had been there, but it was probable that by now the meat had started to rot beyond repair.
“Come on, baby girl, wake up.” Jelanna thumbed the intercom a few times. She spoke as loudly as she dared. She wasn’t sure when the next Dive was scheduled, but it couldn’t be long now.
Three quarters of the circumference of the chamber was surrounded by thick electronic glass that could be darkened for privacy. The other quarter was taken up by the steel support that arched over the chamber, providing the door and lock mechanism and conduit through which the electronics for the chamber were run. At the center of the chamber were the two Dive beds. One for the old. One for the new.
Mondays and Tuesdays were the busiest days at the Chambers, what with the weekend damage rich, young people, several times removed from the consequences of their actions, would sustain. That had to be the body Sam was wearing. Soft, supple, with dark skin and perfect breasts.
“Hey, Lanni.” Sam’s eyes blinked open. “You like my new suit? I think it fits me.”
“Will you open this door?” Jelanna kept her voice to a low, hissing whisper. “Come on, we gotta get out of here.”
“Pffft.” Sam lolled their head. “Let ’em fire me.”
“Fire you? They’re not going to fire you.” Jelanna slapped the glass in frustration. “They’re going to flog you and then ice you. Where the hell did you get this body?”
“I dunno.” Sam’s words slurred together, losing definition. “Some rich girl.”
“Holy crap, are you drunk?” That was it. They were both going to get iced. Jelanna buried her head in her hands.
“Hey, Lanni, Lanni, don’t cry. Here.” A soft click signaled the door opening.
Jelanna stepped back, but Sam didn’t come out. Instead, they beckoned her to come in. She shook her head. Sam shrugged and turned back, staggering slightly.
“Are you?” Jelanna demanded. “Drunk?”
“I was.” Sam put one foot in front of the other, making their way back to the bed where their old body lay. “I think I was pretty obli-oblitch-er—yeah, I was pretty messed up.”
Jelanna froze. She was only a junior operator, but she’d heard multiple horror stories. Been present for some of them. Don’t drink and Dive. Even if a meat husk was on the verge of total destruction, they couldn’t make the Dive until the blood was purged of every drop of alcohol.
“Oh, baby girl, what have you done?” Jelanna couldn’t swallow back a sob.
Sam collapsed on the bed.
Jelanna took one step inside. Then a second. Another regulation broken. She stole another step, then another, until she stood between the two beds, her partner’s old body on one, the other occupied by the beautiful new suit.
The monitor lights clicked on under Sam’s pressure, and none of them said anything good.
“Aw, baby, why?” Jelanna took Sam’s hand, their new one, soft and unblemished. It felt strange without the hard tips of the fingers where the callouses from playing guitar had been raised, or the ridge along the inner palm, roughened by the mop and brooms they wielded every day on the job. “We were saving up. We almost had enough.”
Sam raised their hand, brushing away a tear from Jelanna’s cheek.
“We got a letter this morning.”
“And?” Jelanna captured their hand, kissed it. “What letter? What did it say?”
In that moment, Jelanna understood. They had petitioned for a suit change. They had saved and saved, and almost had enough money to purchase one. The past weekend, they had celebrated being one paycheck away, perusing models in the online category. This new body was not far from the one they had eventually chosen.
But the rules were the rules, and even in the chamber, Diving in and out of a body that did not fit one’s assigned biological sex required reams of paperwork and several lawyers. And usually a bribe. They’d had just enough money to prepare the waiver request so that Sam could, finally, experience life in the gender they lived every day.
“Did they give a reason?” They could find another waiver. They could find another avenue. Even save for another lawyer. Several lights on the monitor turned red, even as Sam started coughing, a deep, wet hack that sprayed red droplets across their new breasts and Jelanna’s hands. Outside, voices penetrated into the chamber. Jelanna ignored them, gazing into Sam’s stolen eyes.
“I’m sorry, Lanni.” Sam’s speech slurring even more, losing focus. “I’m so sorry.”
The lights on the monitor winked out. The warmth in Sam’s limp hand faded. New suits didn’t retain heat like biological bodies did.
Dimly, Jelanna became aware of hands pulling her back, cold metal against her wrists, men and women in uniforms and badges. She closed her eyes, trying to hold on to the last image of her partner, her lover, the last light spark in their eyes.
“Love you too, baby girl.”
Rachel A. Brune‘s first paid gig as a writer came when she joined the Army in 2002 as a military journalist. Since then, she has authored numerous short stories across a variety of genres from steampunk to horror to literary fiction. She currently lives in North Carolina with her spouse, children, and an assorted menagerie of rescue pets.