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Hopscotch
by Kevin J. Anderson


p.5-6 The music swirled into a new mix, and the surrounding conversation grew louder. Three effete faux-intelligensia at a nearby table continued an argument with much gusto and little actual information. A narrow-faced young man waved a pungent purple cigarette back and forth.
     “There are other precedents in mental development. Way back at the dawn of time, the human race went through a ‘bicameral revolution,’ when our minds split into left and right hemispheres.” He took a long drag from his purple cigarette with finality and a smug expression. “This is simply another evolutionary step, our consciousness becoming detecthable from physical host to host. I’d say it’s a leap forward for the human species.”
     A second young man drained a flowery-scented drink to fortify himself before he launched into a response. “But it had to start somewhere. Think about the first person who could do it. All right, say the first two people--because the ability doesn’t matter unless you have someone to swap with.”
     “And you want to know the biophysics? Does it matter?” The first man sucked delicately at his cigarette. “When you use a COM terminal, do you care about the network electronics? No, you simply tap in, extract the information you need, engage the communication link you want, access your accounts. You don’t need a degree in organic matrix management to use the thing. You don’t need to understand the dirty details about hopscotching, either.”
     The second man looked rebuffed. “Is there something wrong with asking questions? Makes sense to me that the whole hopscotch thing was triggered by generations of people uploading and downloading to old-style computer networks and virtual reality environments. That’s how personalities first became detached from the body. Now we can do it all the time.”
     The third man had already finished his drink. “Indeed, but the amount of data that needs to be transferred is so enormous, and to be done so quickly--”
     The purple cigarette interrupted the argument with a puff of sweet smoke. “Yeah, but at the root level, it all boils down to a form of telepathy. No one’s ever accurately clocked the telepathic transfer rate. There’s no benchmark.”
     Eavesdropping on the pointless debate, Garth, Teresa, and Eduard smiled as they shared the same thoughts. They’d heard all the theories a million times before; the Splinter monks often had similar discussions, equally without resolution. None of them knew the true explanation, nor did they care.
     Eduard rocked back in his chair, raised his voice so that the posturing faux-intelligentsia could hear him. “Yeah, right--what if it was just from too much astral projection without using proper precautions?”
     The whip-thin intellectuals looked sourly at him for squelching their continuing argument, then turned to debate matters even more esoteric.
     Garth chuckled with Eduard. Teresa put her chin wistfully in her hands. “Oh, it wasn’t so long ago when we were just as fascinated. Remember?”

p.42 Olaf pushed his face close to the glass, where a buxom teal-haired woman sat in a lobby area directing visitors. “How do you like that one, eh?”
     Eduard had no idea whether a woman or a man inhabited the receptionist’s body. Some corporations simply rented sexy female bodies to act as living artwork in the reception areas; then they hired pleasant and competent employees to swap into these beautiful bodies for the workday. Before important meetings, some executives might even hopscotch with their secretaries, always careful to hide their ID patches, so they could eavesdrop on what their business partners might say before negotiations began....

p.50 “Well, I want to become a Phantom. Like a candle flame passed from wick to wick, never burning out.”

p.50 Wandering farther, Eduard and Daragon saw the open-air flower market at the same time, a profusion of colors and scents: bouquets of pink and yellow carnations, long-stemmed roses as red as blood, genetically modified exotics in a garish profusion of neon or metallic colors, with selective scents ranging from peppermint to sandalwood. Some blooms had been silica-enhanced so they would never wilt.

p.97 Standing inside Teresa’s female body, Eduard kept touching his skin, running his palms over his new breasts, tweaking his nipples. “Wait until you try this, Garth. She’s got nerve clusters all over her body!” He stroked the patch of hair between his legs, startling himself. “It feels tingly in places that were never sensitive before. And empty in others.”
     Teresa wore Garth’s home-body like a baggy uniform. “It’s like I’m in a big suit of armor.” She touched her rough face, fondled her new penis, which seemed to have a mind of its own and defied conscious muscle control. “And this--it’s like an appendage, but I can’t do anything with it.”
     “Yes you can,” Eduard said with a sly grin on her face. “I think you’ll figure it out.”
     A look of consternation filled Garth’s face, a puzzled expression that was very much Teresa. “But it doesn’t move like any of my other body parts. I can’t control the reactions--oh!” Garth and Eduard both laughed.

p.178 Without speaking to the blond artist, Ob apprasied the eerie painting of glitter-oils that gradually flowed across preprogrammed paths. Garth had re-created the tumbling breakers from Waimea Beach, but replaced the frothing wavetops with a scatter of stars that spilled into a black universe, showing upon a vague luminous representation of a human form, a soul.

p.209 He was owlish and detail-oriented, meticulous to the point of being anal retentive--just the type of counterpart Garth needed.

p.216-217 When Garth finally emerged from the studio after dark, Pashnak had a light meal ready for him. The artist’s clothes smelled of paints and solvents, his fingers ached from twisting raw materials, hooking up electrical connections, focusing holo-lasers. Pashnak asked, “So, have you finally created your masterpiece? Is this it?”
     Ravenous, Garth dug through the bubbly cheese shell of his baked onion soup, slurping and talking at the same time, barely tasting his food. “You know the original meaning of the word masterpiece? Traditionally, a journeyman had to complete a single outstanding work to earn the title of master craftsman. That work was his ‘master piece.’ But a real master went on to produce many more remarkable works. His ‘masterpiece’ was just the first one.”

p.290-291 Garth had gotten accustomed to the active baby inside him, the secondary life attached to his own. Totally out of his control, he felt the infant girl moving, twisting, turning. She would kick out, pressing one tiny foot against his ribs like an archer trying to string a bow. The strangest part had been a jarring rhythym when the unborn baby battled a bout of hiccoughs.
     Now, during the actual labor and the delivery, the avalanche of experiences came much too fast for Garth to do more than ride them. How foolish he had been to expect that he’d be able to take notes!
     When Pashnak returned with Daragaon in tow, rushing to calm the lights and music of the delivery crčche, the attendants would only let Pashnak in. He hovered about like a proud but nervous father.
     “Hey, you,” the lead midwife said to him, “make her more comfortable by massaging her back and legs.”
     “It’s a him,” Pashnak corrected.
     “Sorry, but any person giving birth in my ward is a female, as far as I’m concerned.”

p.307 He didn’t consider Olaf the least bit attractive, or even interesting. But he had endured dental surgery for this man--he doubted sex with him could be much worse.

p.351 He stood in the middle of his half-completed project. Apathy. Though Garth felt he had a better technical mastery and sophistication than he’d ever shown before, after the lukewarm success of Loss the cirtics were saying he had fallen into a rut. He could not figure out what else to add to Apathy, how to make it more exciting. He didn’t care--which, he supposed, was the point.