“Hey baby, why don’t you come on over here to my table and give me a little help?” the man at table eight said as he reached out to me. I had just been passing by, my table’s order piled high in my hands. The jerking motion caused by his hand colliding with my arm nearly made me drop everything, my unsteady leviboots slipping and sliding across the empty air without any traction.
Once I had steadied myself, I turned to glare at him. Screw Gage’s constant reprimands that I have to be nice to the patrons. The man’s eye-piece implant left ghastly scars on one side of his face around it, his arms large and beefy as he leered at me, only one side of his mouth lifting as he tried to smile. Metal teeth glinted in the diner's limited light— the place I worked, Gage’s Kitchen.
“Hands off,” I stated shortly lifting my chin to the sign planted on top of every table in the restaurant. It read: do not touch the workers, clone or machine. It clearly said that touching me, a clone masquerading as a waitress, to give people in the cheap diner the illusion they were getting served by real people, was off limits.
Unwilling to risk a beating from one of Gage’s on duty yellow-shirts, one of which was eyeing the exchange carefully from where he stood in the front of the diner, I turned back to the table I was bringing the foot to. I forced my leviboots to skate forward, and they glided along the air. Apparently, back in the days before the Great Sinking of 2115 and the establishment of New Atlantis, people had actually rolled around on the less sophisticated version of leviboots: roller blades. Still, these were hard enough to get used too, I couldn’t imagine rolling around on actual wheels attached to my feet.
“Aw c’mon blondie, I don’t mean any harm. At least I like my girls living and breathing unlike that chump over there. You know half that food is going to waste, don’tcha?”
“Shut up man, your gonna get us kicked out,” I heard his friend mutter. “Besides she’s just a Marilyn. I know where we can find a few Audreys later tonight for cheap, just keep it in your pants, will ‘ya?”
I paused, gritting my teeth. It took everything I had not to whirl around and throw all the food in his face. Screw the consequences. Still, I couldn’t let every little thing rile me up so much. Just another Marilyn defect. Our model had always been so dysfunctional, it was hard to imagine we had been overproduced into the millions before they figured that out.
Regardless, the way this man was talking was nothing new. Most of Gage’s customers saw the diner as a flimsy cover for a clone body trader. And some of my sisters didn’t exactly help that misconception, selling their services outback when they thought Gage wasn’t looking.
But Gage was always looking. I hadn’t received my eyechip without realizing that. I was the only Marilyn he had ever allowed the privilege, something I was happy about as I approached my customer, currently on a date with his virtual girlfriend.
It was considered highly rude to pretend she wasn’t there, something made far harder to do when you couldn’t see the V-World -- or the Virtual World. My eyechip, though it was a cheaper version, allowed me that.
“I have one Gage Burger and a side of fries along with a sweet tea and a House Jellyfish Salad for the lady,” I said as I placed the food down on the table. The man, the only real human sitting there, didn’t even look up at me. His eyechip glinted in the light, the little red light pulsing in his iris, indicating it was active. He had the latest model, and I did my best to not let my jealously slow. There was no way Gage would ever get me that, but a girl could hope. They said the immersion on the VWChip 25 was way better than its predecessors, making the flow of the real world and the virtual world nearly seamless. Like they were one and the same.
“Thank you.” I looked over at his date, who was looking up at me with an awkward smile. Virtual People had a hard time understanding they weren’t real. When people didn’t see them or interact with them, it could sometimes make their programming jumble, distorting the fantasy they were meant to portray. This Virtual Woman had the look of perfection on the V-World could offer. Wide round eyes, a little rosebud mouth, and a figure that even some of the most extensive cloning and genetic manipulation could never reproduce. Her waist was just a tad bit too narrow to be humanly possible, her skin too smooth. Behind her, the back of the red booth she sat on could be seen, the fake leather starting to peel and crack.
I nodded to her, quickly moving away. Lingering too long at the tables was another thing Gage hated. We were there to give the illusion of actual waitresses, not to act like them. There was always work to be done.
As I moved away I nearly collided with a large body. I almost muttered an apology, but then I looked up meeting one beady black eye, and another one a hologram where his other eye should have been. It swirled around grotesquely, not following the movements of his real on as it settled on me.
It was the man from before, the same slimy leer pulling up on side of his face.
"Hi baby," he said. He looked down at my nametag, and his lips curled in a low laugh. He reached out to place one of his paws on it, not caring that it sat right over my chest.
"Or Mari, is it?" he said mockingly. His breath was hot and rank, something rotten deep inside him.
I closed my eyes against the red that flared across my vision. The patrons always found it funny that Gage tried to give us unique names. Still, it was the name I had grown up with. So much better than my Number, 350. It was one of the few things that were mine. Anger heated inside me, growing intensely in a matter of moments. There was just no way I could have stopped it.
A moment later my knee made contact with his groin.
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