Kate awoke to a throbbing pain in her backside that cut sharply through the grogginess which always followed the transference. She sat up gingerly, and was relieved to find no other damage. Transfers usually resulted a in a few bumps and bruises, though this was certainly a new sensation.
Kate had been one of the first to sign up for the bio transference program. She was intrigued by the science behind inovation, and also looking forward to a couple of days stuck in bed and free to study for her upcoming exams. The money on offer didn’t hurt either.
The ‘bot version of the program had been running for over a decade and was well established. Elderly or disabled patients could, for a fee, transfer their consciousness into a fully functional humanoid robot to enjoy brief periods of what the brochures described as “enhanced mobility.” The program had been a huge success, but the new advance into biotransference held even greater potential. There were some things one just couldn’t do with a robot, despite all the recent advances, and the list of clients waiting for a biotransfer grew quickly as soon as the program was announced. With a sufficient monetary incentive, there were plenty younger volunteers willing to swap bodies for a few days. Some, like Kate, even looked forward to the brief bit of rest, albeit with a few more aches than she was used to. Plus, she found she always enjoyed being returned to herself afterward. Simple things that she had previously taken for granted seemed much more significant after a few days away.
Although the bio program was new, she was told the same principles from the bot program applied and therefore her consciousness would indeed be very safe. She had been warned, however, that the new bodies would take a while for both participants to get used to, and a few minor injuries were to be expected. She gently flexed her limbs and stood up cautiously. This was her third transference, and seemed to have been the smoothest; other than the sting in her behind there were no unusual pains. Her last transfer had left her with skinned knees and a twisted ankle, making her a prime target for passing jokes as she hobbled around campus the next few days. All in all, this session wasn’t too bad. Therefore, she didn’t bother mentioning the soreness to the clinic nurse who quickly examined her before discharge, instead amusing herself by imagining the spectacle old Mrs. Costello must have made of herself in whatever mishap had lead to the injury on her backside. It was probably just a fall down the stairs, she reasoned, but that didn’t stop her imagination from creating all sorts of amusing scenarios as she stood on the hoverbus back to her apartment.
As she stripped for a shower before bed, the reflection of her backside in the mirror caught her by surprise. Six horizontal red welts were evenly spaced down her bottom. “What did the old bat do, sit on a plasma griddle?” Kate mused to herself, prodding the welts gently. The waves of fire that shot through the welts as she did so was not altogether unpleasant. As she prepared for bed, she couldn’t help but wonder how the marks had come to be. Despite hours of tossing and turning, and a bit more prodding, she wasn’t able to puzzle out a reasonable explanation.
Jarred from her slumber by her alarm the next morning, Kate rolled over to slap the snooze button, only to be reminded rather sharply of the state of her bottom. Fully awake with no chance of snoozing, Kate shuffled to the bathroom. A quick examination of her bottom confirmed what she had already guessed: the welts had faded only slightly overnight and still stood out prominently. Although she was somewhat bothered by the lack of any probable cause for the marks, Kate tried to push the matter from her mind as she went through her morning ritual and headed out for her exams.
If the marks had hurt in bed, it was nothing compared to sitting on the hard plastic chairs in the examination hall. Although Kate usually struggled to keep from daydreaming during the three-hour testing sessions, she had no difficulty staying rooted in the present today, even if it was a somewhat uncomfortable present. Still, by the end of her afternoon session, she was beginning to feel somewhat resentful towards Mrs Costello, and made up her mind to pay a visit as soon as she left the hall.
Mrs. Costello, Kate knew, lived a few blocks away from the university, a quick if somewhat painful walk. On the way she began to wonder about the propriety of her visit. Post-transfer contact was rare, though not unheard of. Transfers were an intensely personal experience, but the exit evaluations and interviews were meant to head off any questions before sending both parties on their way. For each of her previous transfers, Kate hadn’t given a second thought to her counterpart after leaving the clinic. Kate briefly considered going back to the clinic to look for answers instead, but the thought of the pile of paperwork that would accompany such a request kept her on the path to Mrs Costello’s home, grateful that she knew where Mrs. Costello lived. For the transfer, they had opted to swap residences as well as bodies. Kate had declined this option previously, thinking it quite the invasion of privacy, but after struggling up the five flights of stairs to her apartment with Ms. Eastwick’s limp she was more open to the idea the last time around.
Plus, as the injury was in a rather intimate location, a discrete private inquiry would be easier for the both of them Kate reasoned as she made her way up to the cobblestone path to the Costello cottage.
Kate searched for a doorbell for several minutes before giving up and lifting the antiquated knocker. Why is it that some people resisted even the most simple and ancient technology while on the other hand embracing something as novel as biotransference?
Mrs. Costello’s voice rang from within the cottage, bidding her to come in. Kate opened the door and found Mrs. Costello sitting on the corner rocking chair knitting something large and purple which she kept draped over her lap despite the unseasonable heat of the September afternoon.
“Kate, darling, how lovely to see you again! Do come in, come in, there’s fresh lemonade in the icebox, help yourself. What brings you here?” Mrs. Costello asked.
“Erm- thanks, but I’m not thirsty,” Kate said as she perched cautiously on the edge of the sofa. “I wasn’t planning to stay long anyway, I just had a quick question about. . .about um . . well, there’s this. . .injury sort of?”
Mrs. Costello blushed and set aside her knitting. “Oh. That. Yes. Thank you for coming to me and not mentioning anything to the nurse. I wasn’t looking forward to having to explain that on the official record.”
“What happened?” Kate asked, starting to become a little nervous.
“I went apple picking,” Mrs. Costello offered tentatively.
“And what, fell out of a tree and landed on a six-pronged pitch fork?” Kate asked.
“Well, there’s more to the story of course,” Mrs Costello continued slowly, keeping her eyes fixed on her knitting. “Why don’t you get yourself a drink and I’ll tell you. It’s rather embarrassing, but it’s the least I could do. I am glad you came to me directly.”
Kate sighed and headed to the kitchen to pour herself a glass of water. There must be some sort of law that made it impossible for older people to deliver information concisely. The older they got, the longer they seemed determined to keep her as they draw out the simplest of explanations. Kate mentally rearranged her schedule for the rest of the week. She was certain that she would be stuck here until Mrs. Costello fell asleep, which would hopefully be characteristically early. Composing herself, she returned to the living room and settled in.
“Where to begin?” Mrs. Costello mused once Kate was seated.
“How about with how you injured my. . .behind,” Kate prompted, hoping to cut short any lengthy background.
“Well, yes, of course. Though I’d hardly call it an injury,” Mrs. Costello blushed more deeply. “I guess it might feel that way, not knowing, and I am very sorry for causing you pain. I did try ever so hard to take good care of you.”
“You did wonderfully,” Kate encouraged. “It’s no big deal, I’m just curious.”
“As I said, I was apple picking,” Mrs. Costello continued. “When I was younger, my family had a small house down near the river. It was only a few minutes’ walk to the Johnson orchards. We used to sneak in there every fall for a few apples. All the kids did. At least until the year when Sarah-Jane got caught. Old Mr. Johnson certainly knew how to keep us scared away. . .” Mrs. Costello trailed off, lost in memories.
“So why did you go back?” Kate asked after a few moments of silence.
“I’m not quite sure.” Mrs. Costello returned to the moment. “I guess it was so long ago I had forgotten. Or maybe assumed that I was too old for such things, even if I apparently wasn’t at the time. Or maybe I knew what I was getting myself into and did it anyway. Who can say for sure why we do the sillier things we do? In any event, Old Mr. Johnson’s been gone for several years, may he rest in peace, and I didn’t think his son would be so keen on the old ways.
“I was so excited to be young again, I wanted to try to relive moments from my childhood last week. Picking apples was one of my favorites, and it was the perfect time of year; I couldn’t resist. It was so easy to climb the orchard wall- and the trees as well. I was whisked away by the sunshine and fresh juice and didn’t notice Mr. Johnson, or rather the son of the Mr. Johnson I remembered, until he was right under the tree, getting quite the show and none too pleased with me.
“I think my heart froze when I saw him. My own heart probably would have given out, good thing I had yours at the time,” She said with a chuckle. “I was absolutely terrified. Old Mr. Johnson made Sarah-Jane cut her own switch off one of his trees when she was caught. It left absolutely horrible welts. She let me look later and it was enough to keep me from ever going back again. Until last week, of course.
“I can only imagine how Sarah-Jane must have felt in that same position all those years ago. I was scared enough, and that was when I thought I was only going to be yelled at! I never imagined he would do anything more. I wouldn’t have risked your body if I thought. . .”
“Did he make you cut a switch?” Kate asked, beginning to form an idea of what might had happened, an idea that she was struggling to reconcile with her idea of how the world worked. She’d heard of such things in stories, of course, but thought this sort of thing had fallen out of favor generations ago.
“Not exactly,” Mrs. Costello chuckled again. “Times have changed a little anyway. He was angry, and wanted to call my parents. I wasn’t sure how to respond. I couldn’t exactly have him call my parents, though the idea of setting up a séance made me laugh at the time which only made him angrier. I told him I was a student, that my parents were several hundred miles away, thinking he would let it go. I told him I was sorry, that I didn’t realize I was trespassing, that I wouldn’t do it again, and so on. I was babbling rather frantically and I don’t think it helped my case much. I’ve always been an easy blusher, and I think he could tell I knew very well what I was doing. He threatened to call the police and I panicked. I don’t know what the clinic would have done if I’d been arrested during the transfer, and figured anything else, no matter what, would be better.
“I may have mentioned hearing about a young girl getting a switching for the same offense ‘back in the day.’ I could tell I had his attention at this. He paused his scolding to consider. Young Mr. Johnson said he wouldn’t dream of hurting his poor trees on my account. Though he did have an alternate proposal.
“He said that if I wanted him to handle things he would, but that he would make sure I was good and sorry. He ordered me down from the tree. I was shaking so much it took an age to get down. I think he thought I was hesitating; he dragged me by the ear back to the house rather impatiently. It hurt almost worse than what was to follow. Thankfully that pain didn’t linger, at least you were spared that.
“We got to the house more quickly than I thought possible. It seemed so far off, though not far enough when I thought of what he might be thinking of doing once we got there. He told me to wait in the front room for him, so I did, rooted to the spot and not even pacing. He was back a few minutes later with a cane of all things!”
“He needed a walking stick?” Kate asked, wondering where this story might be going.
“Of course not. It’s a different kind of cane. An instrument that used to be used even before my time in corporal punishment. Rather like a switch, but sturdier. I didn’t think people had them anymore, but I was looking at good evidence to the contrary.
“He told me he could still call the police if I preferred, but that if I wanted him to keep this between us it would be six strokes. It was a hard decision. I did think of you dear, and how unfair it would be for you to suffer for this. It was a bit selfish, but I didn’t want the police to be involved. I thought I could make it up to you somehow later, so I opted for the cane.
“He instructed me to take down my jeans and underthings and bend over the back of a chair. He was very calm and mater-of-fact about the whole matter. His anger seemed to have dissolved somewhere on the trip to the house, and it was all business now. He was true to his word. It was only six strokes, as you no doubt know, but he made them count and I was very sorry when he was finished.”
“That sounds awful” Kate exclaimed. Still, she had to agree that it was better than involving the police. She wasn’t sure quite how they would handle the official record, and it would have undoubtedly resulted in a headache that would rival the ache in her bottom anyway.
“It was, though I’ve had worse. In a way, it was almost comforting. I couldn’t blame him for being angry or for punishing me. I didn’t resent it. My only regret was getting you involved. Though, and I hope I’m not being to forward, but you don’t exactly seem to resent it either.”
It was Kate’s turn to blush. She had been listening with rapt attention, and was embarrassed at the inferences Mrs. Costello had made. When she had heard mention of such things in some older stories it had always made her a bit squirmy in an oddly pleasant way. She wanted to deny it, but realized that would be pointless; despite their limited time together, they had come to know each other very well.
“It’s nothing,” Kate bluffed. “Thank you for telling me though. I’m glad it was nothing serious. If you don’t mind, I’ll be on my way now.”
“No bother at all dear,” Mrs. Costello said cheerfully with a small sigh of relief. “I owed you an explanation at the very least, and I do hope to make it up to you somehow. You’re welcome back any time, of course. I’d love to be able to talk to you about more pleasant matters.”
“It’s really nothing. Thank you for the invitation, though. I’d be glad to visit again,” Kate said again as she made her way to the door with no intention of ever returning. The conversation had been awkward, but she appreciated Mrs. Costello’s openness. Although it didn’t occur to her at the time, having a friend removed from her typical circles to confide in and discuss these kinds of things with would prove helpful, and she would find herself back and Mrs. Costello’s far more often than she could have guessed.
“Oh and one last thing,” Mrs. Costello piped up as Kate reached the door, “Mr. Johnson did say something to the effect that it would be worse if I- if you- were found on his property again. Not that I think that you’d have any reason to go back, or rather to go there at all, but I figured I should mention it just in case.”
The wall was easy enough to climb, just as Mrs. Costello had said, with plenty of footholds on the old stones. Kate carefully made her way up and sat perched on the top for a minute. The apple trees stretched out before her, buzzing with bees and laden with fruit. Mr. Johnson was nowhere in sight, but from the rhythmic clanging on the other side of the barn, she knew he must be around.
“What the heck” Kate mumbled to herself, and hopped off the wall into the back corner of the orchard and made her way toward the apple trees, only half hiding in the shade of the hedge.