The story involves a second date, a bad fuse and worse advice.
Jake squinted at the magnified circuits and blinked the sweat out of his eyes.
“So, how much time now?” Ray asked, his voice floating in from every speaker in the workshop.
“Don’t you have a watch?”Jake asked, angling the tweezers in toward the cycling fuse.
There was a rustle over the line then the tap of Ray’s new Omega against the speaker. “Yeah, it says you don’t have enough time for this.”
“I have time,” Jake said, holding his breath as he slid the magnified tweezers under the blown fuse. He tickled the blade carefully between the fuse and the wiring, one touch to the exposed wires and-
“Hey, I could tell her!”
Jake jumped and the tweezers slid over the wires sending a jolt of current up all the sensors. His arm burned from hand to shoulder and the tweezers clattered on the floor. “Fuck, Ray.”
“I told you to disconnect the sensors,” Ray’s disembodied voice said, clearly trying not to laugh.
Jake flexed his synth wrist, bent back then forward, the fingers dangling limply, and squinted at the readouts on the screen to make sure he hadn’t tripped another fuse. “Then I really wouldn’t have time,” he said once he was sure the numbers were good.
He bent, picked up the tweezers, and resettled his elbow under the magnifier. The whole thing would have been a lot easier if Ray had been in town to help.
The line crackled and Ray’s voice was sympathetic. “I really think you should just tell her.”
Jake had the tweezers back under the fuse and was holding his breath again. He could feel sweat running down the center of his back, that last jolt was still prickling through his whole arm, even to his shoulder where the synth fused into his real skin.
“You just start out telling her you got hurt playing football,” Ray said, his chair creaking over the line.
Jake gently squeezed until he was sure he had a firm grip on the fuse.
“Tell her you were getting tackled or something. You could hurt your hand doing that.”
The fuse didn’t want to come out. Jake had to rock it carefully from side to side to get it to move at all. There was a gritty buildup of corrosion along the second prong. He frowned and kept rocking it, each side giving a little with every twist.
“Or you were tackling someone, it doesn’t matter.”
It gave with a jerk and Jake let out his breath in a relieved sigh. He dropped the fuse on the bench and peeled a piece of insulation off the roll with a clean pair of tweezers.
“And you wear a sling. So you look really messed up. Then when she’s all wide-eyed and concerned you can say you got lucky, it was only your synth arm.”
The insulation was precut and fit perfectly over the exposed wires. “Dude, we weren’t even playing football,” Jake said, checking the clock again and nodding to himself. There was just enough time.
Ray snorted. “You can’t tell her you blew your fuses playing Frisbee. That’s just sad.”
Jake had his tongue between his teeth as he seated the new fuse. He bit down as it slipped, his mouth falling open when it caught and locked into the slot. He could feel the power transfer and his limp fingers suddenly stood out straight from his palm. “I’m not going to lie to her. Besides, she knows I don’t play football.”
“Right,” Ray drawled sarcastically, “hiding that arm would never be considered lying.”
Jake moved each finger in turn, looking at the diagnostic as the numbers scrolled past. There was still a lag on the ring and pinkie fingers but he didn’t have time to clean the servos. “It’s not second date conversation. Fifth date at the earliest.”
Ray coughed into the mike. “There are better things to be doing on the fifth date than talking about your rubber arm.”
The flap of synth skin had shrunk back while Jake was doing his repairs and he had to stretch it to get the clamps on. It took five to make the slightly rubbery skin meet all along the cut edge. He grabbed the bottle of sealer and cocked his head, pulling the magnifier back over the cut. He filled in the little gaps first, the hiss of the melting synth skin making him frown, the harsh pinprick sensation following a second later. “I’m sealing up with time to spare. You owe me twenty bucks and a beer when you get back.”
“I think you mean you only owe me fifty now,” Ray laughed, cutting the line.
Jake took off the clamps and ran the gel over the last faint line from the cut. Before the material could stop bubbling he passed over it with the side of the bottle leaving a smooth patch of skin. He didn’t have time to stamp any texture on it but it would be hidden by his shirt.
He checked the clock again and jumped off the stool, turned the display off with his elbow and swung the magnifier over the worktable. He ran up the stairs and turned the shower on, stripping out of his sweats on his way to the closet. He pulled a blue shirt and a gray blazer off their hangars and threw them on the bed. He found a pair of jeans that weren’t too wrinkled and a pair of black dress shoes in the back of the closet behind some boxes and a bag of Christmas lights.
The shower was still cold when he got in and he washed his hair fast. Ray was wrong about the whole arm thing. Ray would have used it as a pickup line if he had a fake arm. But Ray would be able to pull off a good story when they asked how it had happened. Jake couldn’t do that. He’d always been a bad liar.
The thing was to make sure the girl was interested, feel her out about synth parts, see if she knew anybody who had one. Then tell her and be ready for the questions. Because they all asked. With curiosity, with sympathy, with a mix of both. And it was impossible to tell which ones would laugh.
The doorbell rang and Jake froze with his towel held up to his chest, eyes darting to the clock. She was early.
He dried as fast as he could, his jeans sticking to the wet patches on his legs as he pulled them on. The bell rang again, his fingers fumbling with the buttons of his shirt. His phone rang, the sound echoing through the house speakers. He jammed his feet into his shoes without socks, tried to comb his hair flat with his fingers, grabbed his jacket, and stood in front of the door, tucking his shirt in and popping a button off it as he tried to smooth it out. The voicemail picked up just as he opened the door.
“You’ve reached Jake’s phone, please leave a message.”
Heather was on the porch, her phone held to her ear with her shoulder, digging for something in her purse, beautiful even when she was frowning.
“I was running late, sorry,” Jake said over his own echoing voice.
She keyed the phone off and the speakers gave a muted pop. “No, I’m early,” she said with a little shrug, taking in everything from his shoes to his wet hair and looking casually into the living room behind him.
Jake stood quickly aside, grateful she hadn’t cracked a smile at his hair. “Want to come in for a minute? I need to grab my wallet.”
She smiled, showing the crooked bottom tooth he had only seen when she laughed. “Sure. We’ve got lots of time.”
Jake closed the door and watched her walk into the living room, her hips swaying slightly. It was going to be a good night.
There would be other days to tell her he’d lost his arm from a badger bite.