The convention floor was dark, the unblinking desert sunlight blocked out at the high windows, but with laser lights raying and fanning across the space, and the sign hanging from the ceiling, visible in flashing snatches read "Welcome to FleshFest '96". Two figures, a man and a woman, wended their way through the writhing mass of buyers. They wore shaded glasses and the long thin coats common to visiting northerners. The people around them found them unremarkable.
They looked at each of the sales stalls and the wares within, sample parts in vacuum sealed packaging, both artificial and grown, flesh accessories under glass cases and lit with neon, red-faced hawkers of replacement insurance, and buyers of bulk fetuses who stood and talked awkwardly, new to the arts of marketing in a trade only recently legalized. The two northern buyers ignored all of this and focused intently on the whole-flesh vendors who sold halfs, quarters, and fulls.
"That one," said the woman, pointing to a vacant looking naked woman displayed in the back of a stall.
The man stopped and zoomed in on the goods.
"Possibly," he muttered. "I think they're asking too much."
"Meh..." dithered the woman.
"You there!" said the vendor, a burly woman with an unflattering haircut and a line of beaded sweat dripping down into her cleavage.
"We've been spotted," said the woman.
Both northerners turned their backs to the vendor.
"Yes! Yes you! Don't be shy! Come inspect the product!"
"Ughhhh..." sighed the man.
"I'll do it. Might be worth asking," said the woman.
She turned back toward the vendor, flashing a shallow, brief smile.
"Excellent!" belted the vendor.
"That looks like a quarter," said the woman.
"Oooh, no dear. It's a half," said the vendor. "This one is about six since it's a display model, but we have younger for sale, and all trained to perform remedial tasks. Great for retail or service industry jo--"
"It looks dead in the eyes," said the woman. "It really does look like a quarter, and I don't need any quarters--I come from a state that's banned the sex industry. You don't have any fulls, do you?"
"I see, I see," said the vendor, mopping her chest nervously. "Well, I don't have a license to sell fulls--"
"Fine, okay thanks," said the woman, turning to leave.
"I uh, well what's your need?"
"That's my business," said the woman.
"Yes but, not many vendors here can sell fulls. You're going to have a hard time--"
"Where do I go?"
The vendor leaned over her counter.
"Come closer," she said, and the northern woman leaned in. "You a cop?"
"No," said the northern woman. "I resent the--"
"Fine, that's fine. Have to do it you see--"
"You have unlicensed fulls?"
"Not me, but I can tell you where you can get them cheap--"
"I'm not looking for cut-rate goods--"
"Now hold on," said the vendor, her cheeks growing rosy. She pointed a finger at the northerner's chin. "I think I know what state you come from, and it's not just quarters that are banned."
The northern woman glanced back at the man who stared back at her. She blinked twice, then returned to look at the vendor.
"Maybe," said the woman.
"You might not be looking for cut-rate goods but you're looking to escape any paper trails."
"It's a bit presumptious--"
"The longer I talk to you, the more legitimate sales I lose, you got that sister?"
The northern woman sighed and nodded.
"Now. What do you need fulls for?"
The northern woman's facial muscles grew taut.
"A uranium mining operation," lied the northerner.
"Mining? You could easily use halfs for that."
"It's complicated work. Dangerous."
"All the more reason to train and use halfs. No. I can tell you're lying. What is it? Trust me, I can't be shocked and I won't rat you out."
The northern woman glanced back at her partner again, this time not blinking.
"An army," she said.
"A slave army? Well, I think I might be shocked for the first time. That's a bad combination."
"We need to overthrow the--"
"Hey, not my battle hun," said the vendor raising her hands to shoulder height. "I don't do politics, I just sell stuff."
"You seem to care a lot about--"
"I only care about getting caught--"
"So you sell fulls? Off the books?"
"Uh huh. How many?"
"How many have you got?"
"Potentially, thousands. I can't fulfill all that immediately, but I can keep you supplied for months. I'll throw in a sizable shipment of halfs and quarters for a bulk order."
"I don't need quarters or halfs--"
"You'll need the quarters to keep the fulls content, if you know what I mean."
The northern woman nodded and held out her hand, her payment chip exposed. The vendor looked down at it, a little confused since payment was not discussed. The northerner noticed her confusion.
"It's a platinum chip. Unlimited funds," explained the northerner, arching her brow.
"There's people that kill for those," said the vendor, a sly smile growing across her face. "But we have to arrange something--"
"Mark it down as a consulting fee."
"Uh huh," laughed the vendor. "Like that's not a red flag."
"Who's gonna see?"
"Halfs. You're buying bulk halfs."
She took the northerner's hand with a chip in her own and let the payment system engage. The transaction took only a few seconds and they released their hands. The northerner smiled and started to back away, and the vendor again looked confused.
"Wait, don't you want to discuss delivery?"
"I'm an abolitionist," said the northerner, grinning. She walked backwards with a confident stride.
"What?" asked the vendor, her voice dropping half an octave.
"I just tagged your accounts. If you try to find me, if you tell any of your friends, I will remove all your funds."
The vendor's face bloomed red.
"That's not going to stop the sale of fulls--"
"No. But now I have access to your transaction history. I know who your customers are, where your storage facilities are, and more importantly, who you buy your seed bodies from."
"You bitch! You can't get that from my chip!"
"Just did. You should always inspect the customer's chip to see that it's actually a chip."
The northerner held up her hand and waved it mockingly at the vendor, then she turned and walked up to her partner.
"Done?" he asked.
"Yup. Who's next?"
"There maybe?" He pointed to a large stall with a range of quarters and halfs on display.
"Looks too legit," she said.
"Always the best cover, don't you think?"
They both smiled, bathed in the intermittent light of the lasers.