I’m Reginald Breedlove. I’m here to pawn my daughter.”
I’m here to pawn my daughter. Tilly Breedlove knew they had another word for it—they called them “kickouts”, people who were sold to the establishment to cover debts. She and her girlfriends used to laugh at the K-Span commercial on late night Holoview. She wasn’t laughing now. She’d never seen so many kids gathered in one spot, except at a school assembly. Right now she felt like slithering into a crack.
The first floor of the auditorium-sized building had at least twenty standing lines and a waiting area filled to capacity. This building area was reserved for the Sunflowers, teenagers who ranged in age from 13 to 19 years-old. At 17, Till fit right in. Sure, there were sniffles and tearful goodbyes, with an occasional knock-down-drag-out, but the worst scenes were reserved for the six to twelve-year-old kids, the next wing over. Those kids were on the Daffodil Plan, commonly called Daffys, and their screams pierced through the air conditioning vents. She’d seen the entrance door for the Daffys on the outside of the building, next to the Sunflower entrance, which was her admission portal. The Daffys were hardly equipped to handle the emotions of severing bonds with their parents, and Tilly couldn’t even begin to understand what kind of jobs assignments those kids would have in order to work off a debt for their parents.
“Pawn is a term reserved for the intercity establishments, Mr. Breedlove, most notably found in the vicinity of Forty-Second Street, “ said the check-in receptionist, who didn’t crack a smile when in a husky contralto, she added, “You cede, or relinquish custodianship of your ward here at Family Trade and Loan, for a specific time period. Do you have your identification wafer and DNA cube, sir? I don’t want your hard-card identification.”
Reginald unsnapped the lid on his wrist-held Omnicomp and handed a small wafer diskette and cube to the woman. “Pawn, sell, loan, trade, it’s all the same,” he said. “I’ve already been through the psychogram and background check. So I’d appreciate it all to hell if I was not held up any longer.”
The receptionist, whose name tag read Aurora slipped the wafer and cube into a console and adjusted her monitor. “Bear with me while I double-check the contract-application.”
“Mother Mary on a wagon wheel,” muttered Reginald. “It’s taken me three hours to get to this counter. I’ve got varicose veins as thick as rope, ready to burst from standing in this line.”
Tilly chanced a look around and saw a few eye rolls, mixed with a few sympathetic smiles from the other kids. This place was drama central. Her father wasn’t helping any with his over-the-top exaggeration. The man had always been brutally impatient.
Aurora remained calm, steadfast. “I’ve already had microsurgery for such an affliction, sir, so you are not alone…and…I think we have a winner.” She pulled down a headset magnifier and grimaced. “There seems to be one discrepancy here…I cannot make out the residence location. Is it Sealand Condominiums or the Sealand Community Housing Authority?”
Reginald raised his voice above the din. “Neither of the above. I’m housed at the Pier J Settlement on Long Island. I live in a converted Sealand transport container.”
Her eyebrows shot up. “Oh, my mistake. You mean the projects.”
“Used to call ‘em steel deals without the wheels,” boomed someone behind Tilly. “They became low-income housing for the financially impaired in 2019 during Palin’s administration.”
Tilly heard a few gasps and guffaws behind her. Way to fucking go, Dad, another cringe-worthy statement. If she could find a crack in the floor, she’d cram her shamed self inside it. She could feel the stares burning holes in the back of her head. But she had vowed from the start she would get through this and hold her temper.
“And you must be Tilly Breedlove,” said Aurora, locking eyes with her. “What a bright-looking, attractive young lady! May I have your identification wafer and DNA cube?”
And you must be Aurora Borealis, as in Bore-me-Alice, with your smile ready to bust collagen bags in your face, and your head stuck firmly up your liposuctioned ass. Tilly bit her lip and handed the items over. “Thank you very much, Miss Aurora. I’m looking forward to a pleasant stay at my Eff-TALC assignment.” She implied a bit more meaning in the company acronym than intended. The whole place could eff-off as far as she was concerned.
Aurora processed the items and handed them back. “Looks like you check out, dear.” She turned to give her father a puppy dog tilt of her head. “Looks like you’re cleared to proceed, Mr. Breedlove. Your last stop will be with Mr. Frampton, your financial counselor. Follow the yellow line to suite 175. Or enter the suite number on the foot tram console, and you will be transported there.”
Her father took Tilly by the hand and approached a rainbow pattern of lines on the floor. He picked out the yellow line and began a swift march. They arrived at a back facade of the building, festooned with dozens of corridors. Tilly wondered why all the walls were painted pink. Then she remembered from what her father had once told her that such was the case with the prisons and many mental institutions. The color supposedly soothed the nerves in stressful situations. Pink and light green. It would take more than pink to bring her nerves to heel.
Her father found the foot tram, keyed into it, and they were off at a swift glide. They arrived at suite 175 to find an In Closed Session digital readout across the door. Her father hammered on the door with the heel of his fist. The door opened a minute later, expelling a couple who brushed past them. The female of the pair looked visibly shaken. Father and daughter stepped inside.
A rotund man dressed in a white suit sat behind a clear Lucite table. He had a patch of hair over each ear, a weak chin and sad eyes. He made a half stand as they entered his office. “Welcome, I’m Mr. Frampton.” He plopped down, gesticulating at the plush airbag sofa. They took seats. Her father handed over his I.D. wafer and cube to the man. Tilly followed suit.
Mr. Frampton loaded them into his console and gazed at his screen. “Hmm…I see,” he said, an edge of mysticism in his voice. “Tilly Breedlove, female, seventeen years old, born in Chicago, Illinois, and given up for adoption at the age of two in Gary Indiana. Custodianship bestowed to Mr. and Mrs. Breedlove, Reginald Cornelius, father, and Denise Patricia Ann, mother. Denise Patricia Ann Breedlove deceased, August ninth, 2021, Venice Beach, California.”
Given the formality that it was, it bothered Tilly that she had to be reminded of her mother’s death three years ago. Her mother would never have let this happen and would have done everything in her power to keep the family out of debt. She missed her mom—her confidant and best friend.
“If you don’t mind,” Reginald said, “I’d like to get down to the dollars and cents on this issue and finalize the transfer. I’ve had my application and documents read to me a dozen times over the last three months. I could recite all of it word for word.”
“Just verifying the information, Mr. Breedlove,” said Frampton. “I suppose we can usher things along a bit. Now, according to her bio/history, she’s been categorized with an eight point five attract-appeal rating as of her last state scan, which was six months ago. If you wouldn’t mind, Miss Breedlove, I’d like you to step on the green disk in the corner of the room. We’ll have to rescan you and see if your rating has changed.”
Tilly walked to the corner of the room, stepped on the small dais, and looked at a smoke-colored screen bolted to the wall. She ground her teeth, feeling like a pet put on display. Maybe her father would have second thoughts and void the deal, once he witnessed her humiliation.
“Hold perfectly still,” said Frampton. He threw a switch and pushed some buttons. “This is a full rotational body scan and X-ray. Close your eyes against the laser beams.”
Tilly crimped her eyes shut. She could feel the disk under her feet engage and begin a slow clockwise rotation. The feeling was identical to the state scans, but this equipment looked newer and more high-tech. When she came around full circle, she heard Frampton’s voice. “That’s perfect. You may dismount.” She took her seat again, sitting as far away from her father as possible, pissed that he felt the need to rush everything.
Frampton looked at his monitor again. “Teeth look fine,” he began, “no bruising, lacerations, cuts, disfigurements, lungs clear, absence of tumors, a weight gain of four pounds, hmmm…the hair is styled a little differently than last time out, and thank the maker, no pregnancy! So, we’ll adjust your rating and bump you up a few points.” He typed on a touchpad. “Now, we’ll merge this with the intelligence and talent index…and we’ll have it.” He scratched his chin. “And…done. An eight point nine! Impressive.” He looked at Tilly as though she should cheer at the news.
“I still don’t know how the scan, bio and talent index factors into this,” said Reginald. “Clue me.”
“It has everything to do with your allotment, the maximum amount you can borrow. It also gives us a profile for her employment assignment.” Frampton kicked the table leg hard. His desktop comp wobbled. “Seems there was a glitch in the machine,” he said, raising an eyebrow. “I just found an extra data point, raising the index to nine-point-oh.”
Typical, thought Tilly. Reducing people to profiles, numbers, and calculations to determine their worth. That’s how products were sold, just like a can of protein slurry. She wondered if there wasn’t some pervo or sloboholic sitting behind those scanner screens, ogling the cute little bodies, scribbling on notepads, tabulating all these data points. No way did she feel she deserved a ninety percent rating. She knew a way to find out.
“Just out of curiosity,” said Tilly, “where did I get a point deducted?”
Frampton glanced at the screen and smiled. “Facial profile; the nose is a tad large. Half a point for that. Another half point was deducted for your, let’s say, upper torso…a bit underdeveloped, as far as age, weight and frame. You should be ecstatic; those were physical attribute deductions. You score a perfect ten for your talent and intelligence.”
Well, he did have her measurements down, she admitted. Or the Know Everything Database (KED) had tallied her numbers accurately enough. Still, routine scanning always left her feeling violated.
Frampton read from a small folder. “Financial hardship has been proven for a one hundred and twenty day loan-out. Should you default on your settlement at the prescribed end of the loan-out, you will be charged an interest of six percent, compounded daily until your account is paid in full. You have waived the insurance policy that covers accident-injury. Therefore, you qualify only for standard medical care provided by Family Trade and Loan, should there be an injury upon the premises of the work facility or during transport. This contract is binding and complete, subject only to changes and amendments deemed reasonable by FTALC. Should you default payment of the loan, your ward will be impounded and full custodianship assumed by FTALC. While still in the possession of FTALC, the ward will be eligible for the next scheduled labor auction. Do you understand these terms or have any further questions?”
“I want to change the assignment duration, or whatever you call it,” said her father. “I want six months. You said she was a nine, so I’m entitled to a longer loan period. I know that part of the contract.”
Tilly stood up and turned on her father with balled fists. “We agreed to four months, father! You know about the rich uncle who is paying for my boarding school? That was the cover-up so I could be back home for break. My friends weren’t supposed to know anything about this. You promised!”
“Be quiet and sit down,” said her father. “I’m the one in trouble here. I’m headed for Federal prison. Six months is nothing. You’ll be getting free lodging, free eats, and I’m sure, an O-J-T education. You have no right to demand special conditions. I’ve given you the best years of my life. None of this is about you.”
“Oh, yeah?” she said, seething. “What about my reputation? How am I gonna live it down if my friends find out about this.”
Her father’s eyes became slits. “Don’t back-sass me. You’re still my daughter and under my control. Sit down and behave yourself!”
She sat down, her arms crossed in front of her. She found it hard to catch her breath.
Frampton typed out a sequence on the touchpad. “I’ve made it known that a change to the contract has been requested and entered. A six-month duration has been stipulated by the custodian and granted. His audio request serves as his signature, and is now a matter of record.” Frampton rose from his chair and stepped up to a wall safe. “The only legality we have left, Mr. Breedlove, is the method of your payment—should it be Imperials or regular tender?”
“I think the Imperial is still sliding like the Euro. I’ll take cash on the barrelhead.”
Frampton removed a thick envelope from the safe and turned. “Are you sure? The Imperial might rebound with an upsurge in the economy.”
“Hah! Not in our lifetimes. I’ll take the cabbage.”
Frampton counted out $90,000 and shoved the pile toward her father. Her father recounted the stack, then folded it neatly before tucking it in a money belt. Frampton pushed a blue panel button on the desk, then shook her father’s hand with vigorous pumps. “It’s been a pleasure. I hope our association culminates in success on both ends.”
“Yeah, pleasure.” Her father gave Tilly a peck on the forehead. “Now you listen to all the instructions from the staff. Ace those classes like you always have. I’ll see you in six months. I’ll tell your friends that rich uncle wanted to keep you during break and spend some time with you. Most importantly, keep your yapper shut and ears open.”
Tilly let out a gale-force sigh. “Dad, you know how you are with gambling. Don’t blow it. Pay the back taxes so I can come home. If you default, I swear to God I’ll hang myself.”
“Will do, bright eyes. Take care.” He gave Frampton a snappy salute and skipped to the exit. “A million things to do,” he said as he left with the slam of the door. Just then, a large man wearing a one-piece black latex suit entered. The man wore a FTALC security patch on his breast, a riot helmet with a gold visor, and held a sting wand in his gloved hand. He took up a parade rest stance near the door and glanced once at his wrist-held Omnicomp. Then, with a monotonous regularity, he began to thrum the wand on his thigh.
Tilly’s heart crashed in her stomach while she watched Frampton run some hard copy documents through an automatic rubber-stamping machine. The financial officer looked cold and calculated now, as though he’d won some great victory. When he reached into his desk, he brought out a chain necklace with a tin tag attached to it. He gave it a light toss at her. She caught it deftly.
“Wear that at all times,” said Frampton, avoiding eye contact. “Memorize your personal code number. You’ll be asked to repeat it.”
She slung it around her neck, flipped it up to look at it. 9S555365. She tucked it inside her top with a trembling hand. “I don’t suppose you might tell me where I’m going. You know, my work assignment?”
Frampton gagged, and then spit in a cup. He wiped his mouth on his suit sleeve, a sleeve stained multiple times from the same disgusting habit. “Your dossier indicates an entertainment position,” he said. “Probably dancing for the Prairie Dogs…and I’m not supposed to tell you that.”
Dancing for the Prairie Dogs. Dancing, as in strutting around naked and wobbling my bare-ass body parts for men like you? Then she thought about what men like Frampton could do to her or want to do to her with such a job. But where were the Prairie Dogs?
“You mean out in the mid-west?” she tried.
Frampton chuckled. The security guard coughed.
Frampton cleared his throat. “Prairie Dogs are miners—diggers. That’s what they call them at Tranquility Harbor, anyway.”
She swallowed hard. “Is that anywhere near Long Island? Or maybe New York?”
Frampton blinked. “You’re about two hundred and forty thousand miles off, Sunshine.”
Tilly did some swift mental calculations then stiffened. “You’re not talking about the Moon settlement. Not the Moon!” Now she knew who the Prairie Dogs were–just the type of men who would take advantage of her.
“That’s the place, Sunshine. You’ll be just one more hamster in the giant Habitrail.”
Tilly knew she would not be singing in a choir or dancing in a stage play. They were shipping her off to the Moon, to dance for men that never shaved, showered, or spoke a sentence without using a cuss word. She had a girlfriend who’d told her that her mother had said that the miners were all a bunch of thugs. She thought it incredible that they would put a teenage female in harm’s way like that. Thugs. If things got out of hand, she vowed to open up the first pressure hatch she found and step outside.
“It’s not so bad,” said Frampton. “Those hard-working brutes could use a cute little cheerleader like you to brighten their day. I know I’d love it.”
She felt bile rise in her throat. Then she began to make high-pitched wheezing noises. She always did that before she vomited.