The Love Market: Chapter One

Across the plethora of public speakers, on every television channel, interrupting phone frequencies to patch through every device and infect all forms of network functioning, the message began. It would be the final indignation of a society that had long ago collapsed and staggered on without knowing. This would be the final block to fall, and the precusion would wake the sleeping masses. The soft, innocent voice began the verbal diary, recounting every last beat.

I was not very old when I was first brought to the House. I can’t remember when I had my first birthday here or how old I was then. It’s always been that I was here, in the House, like any door or piece of furniture. When I think about my memories here, they’re not so clear. Nothing really seems to happen here. Mister Andre is in those memories I do have, probably because mister Andre, Peter, he said I can call him Peter, is the only adult I see every day. And mister Andre… Peter has been the only one to stick up for me.”

“I’m just sayin’, red, if you had the parts, you’d pass as a black market Scarlet,” Gregor chuckled before lighting another halfer mara-cigarette. He had made that stupid remark for the third time that shift, once at the prior break and another he thought to be behind her back. Piper wasn’t quite irked at the notion she might better come across as a feminized boy from the Love Market, in fact, quite the opposite. Despite their age, Scarlet was a beauty, and though she didn’t throw money down on the content herself, Piper had seen bits and pieces of streams starring the kid. There wasn’t a taboo to it, too common for that, but Piper couldn’t see the appeal regardless if it was on the level.

No, the problem for Piper wasn’t the suggestion she might look reminiscent of Scarlet, likely only due to her red hair, but it was everything else in that comment. She couldn’t tell how seriously Gregor had meant it, but it felt like a cruel joke. After all, even without the makeup, Scarlet had the bone structure and proportions that were filling out to make her a natural beauty. Without her various indulgences, all the off-market, half-brand effects Piper used, she still had the facial structure of a vase, an awkward ponch, bad skin, and not enough in any department to make her even look half descent for a third-rate Love Market model. What really got to her, above all else, was that Gregor, whether sincere or not, had, in essence, regarded her as having the stature of an effeminized boy, maybe in his teens.

Downing the rest of her medicated water, the only thing doctors said would help negate the various rashes the working class collected, Piper shoved past Gregor, “Yep, Greg, and you’re a regular Lucius, aren’t you?”

“So, is that an invitation?”

There weren’t words for Piper to answer with, and she knew it. The poster on her wall of the well-built man just out of his twenties, tall, lean, and swarthy, with the only body hair in his well-sculpted beard, told too many truths for her. Lucius was what every man was supposed to be, trying to be, so they could either work the Love Market or hope to contend with one of the women on the lower rungs. If they couldn’t attract anyone that way, and usually most men outside of the market couldn’t even get halfway to the point of looking like Lucius, too short or fat, bald or bad facial structure, the list goes on, they had to go the way of Scarlet. Jeremy, now Luna, had taken that path and was a respectable though fairly low-tier Love Marketer.

Luna was her own series of terrible decisions and harsh words, no longer someone Piper could confide in. She wasn’t of status or wealth or anything for that matter, yet because of her new place in the grand scheme of things, Luna couldn’t interact the same with former friends and colleagues. Even if only a few months before, she had been slaving away on the factory floor with everyone else, she was now able to charge a fee just to talk to lower casts, and that wasn’t even direct conversation. The Love Market was a terrible thing, a bitter thing like war, and both were only increasing in fervor, directly opposing the economic state and stability of the country. ‘No, not just the country,’ Piper thought to herself, ‘the world at large.’

As she entered the plant through the back exit, Piper saw the rest of her crew shutting down the production line for the day. The sight should have been one of relief, a twelve-hour shift cut down to eight, but it wasn’t a good time for the cut in pay. She needed to know why or if, possibly, there was more work to be done. Anything Piper could do might be enough to squeeze the rest of her shift into. The break room connected the floors and the smoking balcony, and inside the production lead, Danny, sat with his head hung slack. Footfalls reverberated up from the stairs as someone left the area back to the production floor, but Piper didn’t bother to look.

“Hey, Dan, what’s going on? We have a problem with the machine, or are we doing some cleaning task again?”

The grit on the foreman’s dark gaunt face was streaked away down his cheek revealing slightly cleaner flesh, “Dauring, I ain’t got the heart to tell you this, or anyone else for the matter. I guess I got to tell someone, though. We’re all being sent home. No material, no orders either. Until further notice, the factory is not in operation.”

“What are we supposed to do in the meantime? I won’t be able to get by if I miss a day. How are we going to keep going if we’re down for a week or more?”

“It’s looking a lot like more. I hear you, though. There’s a list, a priority list. If you do me a favor, tell everyone else what’s going on, I’ll put you at the head of it.”

“They’ll rip my head off! And what about you, shouldn’t you tell them? Shouldn’t you be at the top of the priority list? What about your family?” Piper was incensed but also too aware of what Danny was like and what he had at stake.

He shook his dull, bald head, “We can’t afford to lose a day either. My wife and I are taking the kids and going down to the shore. Her uncle used to fish; maybe we’ll make it work that way. I guess what I’m sayin’, kid, is that this is goodbye.”

Piper stood, watching in silent awe that this man, once so devoted to his job, easily as breathing, got up, took his lunchbox and key, and was gone. She followed like a sleepwalker, unaware of the world around her, as Danny took the steps two and three at a time. Once they were at the landing, where the main exit let out into the lot, he didn’t even bother a backward glance. He was gone, out into a gray-washed world, cold but reeking of smoke and industrial-strength chemicals. Humming with the prelude to so many death rattles. Inside, the last juttering cycle of the machines was the factory’s own serenade of finality.

Wheeling around, Piper looked down from the landing at the rest of the workers, some milling about aimlessly, others finishing putting the lockout tags on the machines, and a few staring up to where she stood, no doubt wondering who had just left. She then eyed Saul’s office, knowing he was in and probably the one who had delivered the message to Danny that he then passed onto her. There was so much she wanted to say to him, to lash out at him, slam him into his filing cabinet, but none of that would fix it. Nothing could stop the decreasing demand, the rise in material prices, the cost of operations, the lack of skilled workers, and the oncoming war.

Gregor stopped just behind Piper and stared at her as she drug her gaze back and forth across the factory floor. Finally, he nudged her, “Hey, we getting back to work?”

“It’s over, Greg. Danny just walked out, told me that we were shutting down. It’s all over here, I think.”

“Oh,” he drummed his fingers on the railing, regarding the other women below. Most of them were worse off than Piper. Some of them were morbidly obese, others thin to the point of breaking under sufficient pressure, and still those so misshapen in the ways that no Flesh Marketer would ever be that if one ever saw such a thing for sale, it was only for the ambitious adventure. Then there were those who had attempted to fix the mistakes and maleformations of nature, and as was so often the case, not a single one of them looked as they were advertised they would after the invasive surgeries. Finally, regarding the dumbstruck Piper again, he asked, “So wanna go back to my place?”

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s