"But you're the only one, Letitia." Reena Cathcart lay a light, slender hand on her shoulder with a look of utmost sincerity. "You know none of the others can. I mean..." She stopped, the slightest hint of awareness of her faux pas dawning. "You're simply the only one who can play the old--the older--woman."
Letitia Blakely looked down at the hall floor, eyes and face hot, then circled her gaze up to the ceiling, trying to keep the fresh tears from spilling over. Reena tossed her long black hair, perfect hazel eyes imploring. A few stragglers sauntered down the clean and carpeted hall of the new school wing to their classes. "We're late for first period," Letitia said. "Why the old woman? Why didn't you come to me when there was some other part to play?"
Reena was too smart not to know what she was doing. Smart, but not terribly sensitive. "You're the type."
"You mean frowsy?"
Reena didn't react. She was intent on a yes answer, the perfect solution to her problems.
"Or just dumpy?"
"You shouldn't be ashamed of how you look."
"I look frowsy and dumpy! I'm perfect for the old woman in your lysing play, and you're the only one with the guts to ask me."
"We'd like to give you a chance. You're such a loner, and we want you to feel like you're part--"
"Bullmusk!" The moisture spilled over and Reena backed away. "Leave me alone. Just leave me alone."
"No need to swear." Petulant, offended.
Letitia raised her hand as if to strike. Reena swung her hair again defiantly and turned to walk away. Letitia leaned against the tile wall and wiped her eyes, trying to avoid damage to her carefully applied makeup. The damage was already done, however. She could feel the tear-tracks of her mother's mascara and the smudged eyeshadow. With a sigh, she walked off to the bathroom, not caring how late she was. She wanted to go home.
Coming into class fifteen minutes after the bell, Letitia was surprised to find the students in self-ordered discussion, with no sign of Mr. Brant. Several of Reena's drama group gave her frosty looks as she took her seat.
"TB," Edna Corman said beneath her breath from across the aisle.
"RC you," Letitia replied, head cocked to one side and tone matching Edna' s precisely. She poked John Lockwood in the shoulder. Lockwood didn't much care for socializing; he seldom noticed the exchanges going on around him. "Where's Mr. Brant?"
"Georgia Fischer blitzed and he took her to the counselors. He told us to plug in and pursue."
"Oh." Georgia Fischer had transferred two months ago from a superwhiz class in Oakland. She was brighter than most but she blitzed about once every two weeks. "I may be fat and ugly," Letitia said for Lockwood's ears only. "But I never blitz."
"Nor I," Lockwood said. He was PPC, like Georgia, but not a superwhiz. Letitia liked him, but not enough to feel threatened by him. "Better pursue."
Letitia leaned back in her seat and closed her eyes to concentrate. Her mod activated and projections danced in front of her, then steadied. She had been cramming patient psych for a week and was approaching threshold. The little Computer Graphics nursie in whites and pillcap began discussing insanouts of terminal patient care, which all seemed very TB to Letitia; who died of disease now, anyway? She made her decision and cut to the same CG nursie discussing the shock of RoR--replacement and recovery. What she really wanted to study was colony medicine, but how could she ever make it Out There?
Some PPCs had been designed by their parents to qualify physically and mentally for space careers. Some had been equipped with bichemistries, one of which became active in Earth's gravity, the other in space. How could an NG compete with that?
Of the seven hundred adolescents in her high school training programs, Letitia Blakely was one of ten NGs--possessors of natural, unaltered genomes. Everyone else was the proud bearer of juggled genes, PPCs or Pre-Planned Children, all lovely and stable with just the proper amount of adipose tissue and just the proper infusion of parental characteristics and chosen features to be beautiful and different; tall, healthy, hair manageable, skin unblemished, well-adjusted (except for the occasional blitzer) with warm and sunny personalities. The old derogatory slang for PPCs was RC--Recombined.
Letitia, slightly overweight, skin pasty, hair frizzy, bulbous-nosed and weak-chinned, one breast larger than the other and already showing a droop pronounced enough to grip a stylus--with painful menstrual periods and an absolute indisposition to athletics--was the Sport. That's what they were called. NG Sports. TBs--Throwbacks. Neanderthals.
All the beautiful PPCs risked a great deal if they showed animosity toward the NGs. Her parents had the right to sue the system if she was harassed to the detriment of her schooling. This wasn't a private school where all parents paid astronomical tuitions; this was an old-fashioned public school, with public school programs and regulations. Teachers tended to nuke out on raggers. And, she admitted to herself with a painful loop of recrimination, she wasn't making it any easier for them.
Sure, she could join in, play the old woman--how much realism she would contribute to their little drama, with her genuine TB phys! She could be jolly and self-deprecating like Helen Roberti, who wasn't all that bad-looking anyway--she could pass if she straightened her hair. Or she could be quiet and camouflaged like Bernie Thibhault.
The CG nursie exited from RoR care. Letitia had hardly absorbed a thing. Realtime mod education was a bore, but she hadn't yet qualified for experience training. She had only one course of career study now--no alternates--and two aesthetic programs, individual orchestra on Friday afternoon and LitVid publishing on alternating weekends.
For pre-med, she was a washout, but she wouldn't admit it. She was NG. Her brain took longer to mature; it wasn't as finely wired.
She thought she was incredibly slow. She doubted whether she would ever be successful as a doctor; she was squeamish, and nobody, not even her fellow NGs, would want to be treated by a doctor who grew pale at the sight of blood.
Letitia silently told nursie to start over again, and nursie obliged.
Reena Cathcart, meanwhile, had dropped into her mod with a vengeance. Her blissed expression told it all. The realtime ed slid into her so smooth, so quick, it was pure joy.
No zits on her brain.
Mr. Brant returned ten minutes later with a pale and bleary-eyed Georgia Fischer. She sat two seats behind Letitia and over one aisle. She plugged in her mod dutifully and Brant went to his console to bring up the multimedia and coordinate the whole class. Edna Corman whispered something to her.
"Not a bad blitz, all in all," Georgia commented softly.
"How are you doing, Letitia?" the autocounselor asked. The CG face projected in front of her with some slight wirehash, which Letitia paid no attention to. CG ACs were the jams and she didn't appreciate them even in pristine perfection.
"Poorly," she said.
"Really? Care to elaborate?"
"I want to talk to Dr. Rutger."
"Don't trust your friendly AC?"
"I'd like some clear space. I want to talk to Dr. Rutger."
"Dr. Rutger is busy, dear. Unlike your friendly AC, humans can only be in one place at a time. I'd like to help if I may."
"Then I want program sixteen."
"Done, Letitia." The projection wavered and the face changed to a real-person simulation of Marian Tempesino, the only CG AC Letitia felt comfortable with.
Tempesino had no wirehash, which indicated she was a seldom-used program, and that was just fine with Letitia. "Sixteen here. Letitia? You're looking cut. More adjustment jams?"
"I wanted to talk with Dr. Rutger but he's busy. So I'll talk to you. And I want it on my record. I want out of school. I want my parents to pull me and put me in a special NG school."
Tempesino's face didn't wear any particular expression, which was one of the reasons Letitia liked Program 16 AC. "Why?"
"Because I'm a freak. My parents made me a freak and I'd like to know why I shouldn't be with all the other freaks."
"You're a natural, not a freak."
"To look like any of the others even to look like Reena Cathcart--I'd have to spend the rest of my life in bioplasty. I can't take it anymore. They asked me to play an old lady in one of their dramas. The only part I'm fit for. An old lady."
"They tried to include you in."
"That hurt!" Letitia said, tears in her eyes.
Tempesino's image wavered a bit as the emotion registered and a higher authority AC kicked in behind 16.
"I just want out. I want to be alone."
"Where would you like to go, Letitia?"
Letitia thought about it for a moment. "I'd like to go back to when being ugly was normal."
"Fine, then. Let's simulate. Sixty years should do it. Ready?"
She nodded and wiped away more mascara with the back of her hand.
"Then let's go."