Alana tried to avoid looking at herself; her body, partially submerged in the green bathwater, bulged against the plastic. Subcutaneous treachery multiplied by soft refractions. She shut her eyes.
Sweat and steam filled the room. The automatic tub beeped, sensors pushing out heat to keep the temperature steady. Alana shifted uncomfortably – the Homeostatic House gave her the creeps. All she wanted was to go unobserved, and now even the walls were tuned in to her body. She could feel the folds of her belly press against each other.
Claire would be here in an hour, and together they’d get the shots. Fever loss would make her healthy.
Streetlights slid across Alana’s lap as the car skimmed through the city. An electric billboard loomed, the perfect face foreshortening grotesquely as they passed beneath it. Claire tapped her hands on the steering wheel, though the vehicle was set to automatic. “You seem worried,” she said, glancing over.
“Well, don’t be. I did fever loss tonnes of times when I was…when I was like you.”
“Sure.” Alana searched around for a way to vocalise her squirming stomach. She looked at Claire’s collarbone, which somehow always reminded her of a deer antler, and at the lips of skin beneath her friend’s eyes. There was always something to lose. “Does it hurt?” she asked.
Claire shrugged. “Some people feel light headed – but that’s just an endorphin rush. It can bring you down, sure, but I wouldn’t say it hurts. Sometimes it’s like all your happiness has sweated out with the adipose tissue, but you’ve just gotta see the fever through.”
Alana nodded, but she didn’t understand.
The car turned into a high-rise. Alana breathed deeply.
“Let’s do this then,” said Claire.
Ambient light from the electric concrete followed them down a stairwell into a sour smelling alley. Alana pulled her coat tight, felt the fabric press against her flesh. “Where’s Ito?”
“He’ll be here.”
Soft lights activated as they walked, twitching nerves of circuitry responding to their bodies. The city was alive, and Alana felt like a dead lump of matter.
A message appeared in the wall’s LED matrix just below their eye-line: this is nobody’s home.
“Ephemera graffiti artists, hacking the wall,” said Claire.
“Hello, ladies,” said a voice behind them.
Alana could taste her own heart. She and Claire turned and saw a small Japanese man with an eggshell jacket and frameless glasses. He held a metal brief-case.
“Ito,” said Claire, “you got the shots?”
The man’s eyes slid over Alana.
“Sorry, but I can’t do business with you today.”
“What?” Claire stepped forward, her fists bunched.
“Fever loss is for fatties. Your friend can’t take it – I don’t sell to anorexics.”
Alana felt a flush of shame.
“You sold to me,” said Claire.
Ito shrugged. “That was before. Now the lab is wising up, and I need a moral defence.”
Claire laughed bitterly. “You’re scum, Ito.”
The dealer pursed his lips. “Say I give you half. Then at least your friend won’t die.”
“Deal,” said Claire.
He opened his brief-case and pulled out a vial of semi-translucent liquid. “Two weeks – six percent of your body fat lost. This one’s vicious, so be careful.”
“Whatever, Ito,” said Claire.
A rotten feeling corkscrewed through Alana’s gut. She felt light-headed already.
Claire’s apartment was dark. A pile of washing spilled from a plastic tub onto the floor, and the air tasted stale. Claire smiled. “I broke the Homeostatic House, now it doesn’t know how to look after me and I can take care of myself.”
Alana felt strangely relaxed – without constant architectural monitoring she didn’t feel the need to perform, to present herself.
“So, half each,” said Claire, running a finger along the hypodermic.
A swampy heat pressed down on Alana, and she felt dizzy. “I don’t know if I want to do this.”
Claire knelt beside the coffee table with her arm out flat. “More for me then.”
Alana looked away. In the black mirror of the television screen she could see a notation of herself, suspended in an ill-defined space. “I could always unplug my house,” she said quietly.
Claire stretched out on the floor; the needle still had a few beads of liquid inside. Alana could feel blood in her ears. “I’m going home,” she said. This is nobody’s home.
“I need to be alone.”
“Fat chance in this city.”
As she left the apartment Alana felt a strange endorphin rush.
She was going to unplug that bath.