by Nekira

Punk is not the word that springs to mind when I look at myself in the mirror. Clone, maybe. Generic wageslave's kid, last line in the credits for a shadowrunner trid. It's not for lack of trying, it's just that whenever I try to do something a little different, say, maybe even rebellious, Mom blows a gasket and runs out to get it "fixed". Maybe if it were just Pops and me I could manage it, but she's a full-blown tyrant. You can tell who wears the pants in our family.

The closest I ever came to freedom before today was a golden eagle tattoo, courtesy of Tommy's. I had a full day before she discovered it, and another day before she found someone to remove it with a laser scalpel. Then freedom was over, the thrill of independence replaced by the sound of my mother's lectures and the vision of her shaking fist.

I wouldn't say I hated my mother. It was just that I decided whatever it took, wherever I had to go to find something that wasn't expungible, it had to be done. Nothing personal, Mom, but I'm my own man now and I'm going to do my own thing. That sort of attitude.

Trouble was, I was fourteen, penniless (thanks to that same tattoo) and stuck in school. I reasoned that revenge - excuse me, revolution - didn't have to come right away and that another tattoo, the only thing I could come up with at the time, just wouldn't cut it. Finally, I managed to console myself with a spiky haircut. Looking back at it, I'm surprised I got that.

Things are different now. I have a bona-fide job. I'm eighteen, the age of... well, of me. And best of all, I have a bank account that dear Mummy and Daddy don't monitor too closely. I have it made. I'm ready to sally forth into the Sixth World a liberated man. The key is three blocks and two hours away, inside a run-down brick building without any address that I've been able to discern. The business doesn't have a name, either, but it doesn't need one. It hardly has to run ads on the nightly trid. It has the magic of the shadows; if people have to know about it, they know. That was half of what convinced me. It seems right, meant to be, like the setup of the shadowrunner trid where the up and coming decker gets his 'ware. Of course, I don't plan on that particular career path - I know that trids aren't too accurate when it comes to the nitty-gritty of the life (and early death) - but a little heroic analogy never hurt anybody. I can dream.

It's a very simple procedure if you ignore the fact that it's high-level neurosurgery. Very simple indeed. They open you up, stick in a card and a plug, and reattach everything neat as can be. It's really not bad at all, especially when you think about how gruesome some of the other enhancements can be. And it's not like it's something I won't be needing later down the line. Everyone's getting datajacks, particularly everyone in middle management positions like I'm expected to land when I start making my own way. The more I think about it, the more I'm sure it's the right thing; the only downside is the cost, and what else would I do with the money?

I'm walking down the street now. I avoid the glares of passers-by, trying to imagine the change in their attitude when I have a little sliver of chrome decorating my skull. Suddenly I'll be something higher than your ordinary man; people will make a little more room for me in elevators. Classes will rock. I'll have the cool quotient that looks and personality never gave me. I walk a little quicker.

That datajack, that freedom machine, is just a block away. Forget the nuyen. I'll have something priceless; one up on the world. I've always loved computers, even though it hadn't occurred to me before to assimilate one. Maybe I won't have to deal with people like my father; maybe I'll be able to limit myself to dealing with machines.

No people; now that would really rock.

I smile shakily up at the blinding light; I can't help thinking of my last trip to the dentist's office. At least here there's no grinning death's head telling me about all the things that are wrong with my mouth, although I'm not entirely sure how much of an improvement it is to see no one at all.

My heart is hiccuping in my chest, and I'm trying my dutiful best to ignore it, but even I'm not quite sure how much I'm succeeding. The embarrassing thing is that they're monitoring my vital signs, and someone's watching that flickering console that displays my panicky heartbeat. I know this, and I still can't force myself to be calm. This is every test I've ever taken, and the doctor's office when my mother's in the next room discussing grave matters that I know nothing about. Hell, this is the third grade class play, the one where I had to stand up in front of five hundred people and read the opening lines. They never did give me another speaking part after that.

This is right, I assert stubbornly. It's the best decision I've ever made in my life, right up there with that golden eagle tattoo. There's no good reason for my mind to be throwing all the shadowrunner trids back at me, the parts about ripperdocs and terrible cybersurgery botches that result in homocidal lunatics who the main characters have to hunt down and destroy. Hey, I tell myself, at least this way I won't get last billing.

My mouth is dry. I don't have to talk, though; I've already signed the legal forms. I'm eighteen. I can do that now. I'm glad, in a way, that the decision's already made. I don't know how I'd decide it now.

A mask is fitted down over my mouth and nose. That's going to be the anesthesia, I know. At any moment I'm just going to relax and drift off to sleep. My heart hammers harder, as if it's trying to fight the effects. Everything is getting a little blurry now, my thoughts most of all. Why am I doing this? Is it really just my mother? I don't remember. What kind of jack are they installing? Did I get the best brand? Why didn't I think of it before, maybe do a little comparison shopping?

My fingers are starting to feel numb. My bottom lip is shaking. I have a really, really bad feeling about this. I don't feel like Fast Eddie embarking on the road to adventure, I feel like "Second Boy" about to get knifed by the organ-pirating ring. That's crazy, I remind myself. This was your idea, remember?

Here goes nothing. I'm either free or dead, headed for a high-paying position at Renraku or permanent psychosis. I'm starting to realize just how little I know about the real world. Do kids do this sort of stuff? Am I the only one? Do I need to wear a cap when I take showers? My heart's still hammering. You'd think the anesthesia would have taken effect by now.

Or maybe they haven't started it yet. Or maybe I am under anesthesia, and this is my fevered delusion. My eyes are closed, I note. That's probably good.

I'm my own man, I remind myself. This was my decision, not my mother's, not my father's, not my teachers', not even my friends'. I made it without hesitation or delay, without trepidation or overcaution. I'm almost sure I made it right...

(c) 2000 Nekira. Used with permission.