5,300 Words

Palmer was standing at the counter in Chichen Itza Coffee at nine in the morning when he spotted the next big thing. He’d pushed open the blue-papered doors minutes ago to find himself the only customer in the place, which was unusual for Chichen even though it was tucked down an otherwise deserted alley in the twisted heart of Greenwich Village. The human being was a herding creature. A shop could be empty one minute and two-thirds packed the next. That he’d walked into a dead zone, ahead of the crowd and ahead of the curve, made him hyper-alert.

So when the twenty-something barista with a nose ring and tattoos cascading down the left side of her neck set the white china pot containing his Lotus Eater blend in front of him with a clink, along with a tea bowl, he saw the mark in his peripheral vision.

“Wait.”

She looked up at him, a willow man hunched into a hook, hands jammed in the pockets of his black cashmere overcoat, his spiky hair pointing forward like antennae. “Do you want a hemp cookie with that or something?”

“What’s that on your wrist?”

She beamed and held out her left arm. It was an oval-shaped tattoo, a glistening green jewel. It looked remarkably three-dimensional. Smaller, honeycomb-like markings guarded the central slit of a cat’s-eye image. But he’d seen something—

Then the markings moved and the slit of the iris bulged open. It didn’t look like an eye anymore. It looked like a huge organic pore. He tried to peer inside, but it snapped shut.

The back of Palmer’s throat started itching.

“It’s a stoma,” the barista said proudly. “Like plants have, only bigger. See, on either side are the guard cells that control the opening.”

Palmer coughed and put both hands on the counter. He could barely bark out his next question.

“Body … bod mod?”

She nodded, her brow wrinkling. “Do you need some water?”

He shook his head fiercely from side to side. He didn’t understand yet, but this was it. His find. “Wh—where?”

“My brother did it.” She looked at her wrist, admiring. “He’s a genius. He’s totally into bod mod, you know?”

Palmer hastily poured some tea and gulped it. It was too hot, but he grimaced it down. It helped his throat a little. “Where’s your brother’s shop?”

She looked at her wrist, admiring the work. “Oh, he doesn’t have one yet. He just moved into the Village.” She hesitated, then spoke low. “He fixed my mod in his apartment.”

It took all of Palmer’s will to keep him from grabbing that wrist. “I need to meet him. Now.”

The woman stared at him and then looked over her left shoulder, to the back of the cafe. “Cory? This guy wants to talk to you.”

He’s here. Just then five people walked in the door. The young woman waved Palmer to the back. “Sorry, I can’t introduce you. Customers.”

Palmer shrugged and grabbed his tea and cup. “No problem.”

He headed for the table in the far back, where a muscular guy sat under the mural of a ziggurat. He looked like he’d be as at home in a gym as at a chess tournament. He nodded for Palmer to sit. Palmer cradled the steaming cup in both hands and let the scent of Lotus Eater bloom surround him as they introduced each other. Cory had never heard of Palmer, but when he found out what Palmer did, and that he was interested in his sister’s bod mod job, he sat up straighter, ready to talk. This pleased Palmer; the guy was smart. They spoke in quiet tones that blended with the chatter that was growing around them as the human herd continued to wander in to graze.

Cory had a medical degree from Johns Hopkins and an engineering degree from MIT. Impressive, given he looked barely thirty. His dark bangs kept swinging over his right eye as he sipped a tall cinnamon-laced mocha. “Stomata are how plants breathe,” he explained. “Except what they breathe in is carbon dioxide, and they breathe out oxygen.”

“So your sister’s stoma is breathing in what she breathes out.”

Cory’s mouth tugged into a wry smile. “That would be quite impossible, given the biological differences between people and plants. It’s the idea that we’re engaged in a reciprocal process that balances our own emissions. Carbon dioxide is one of the greenhouse gasses.”

Palmer sat back, already plotting the trajectory of the trend. This was a high concept. “Climate change. A wearable political statement.”

Cory relaxed back in his seat. People loved to be understood. “And it’s felt. When Hammond’s stoma respirates, she experiences a sense of breathing, not in her lungs, but in her wrist.”

Palmer looked to the front counter, where the barista wore a beatific smile as she foamed a small pitcher of milk. “She feels more one with the Earth.”

It wasn’t a question, but Cory nodded.

Palmer’s thoughts were in fast-forward. “Everyone’s complaining about being sucked inside their technology. People don’t notice where they are because they’re staring at their devices.” He wasn’t really talking to Cory anymore. He was rehearsing for investors. “Here’s the antidote for that. It’s a new way of connecting with the natural world. It’s a hyper-connection. Superior.”

“That it is,” Cory murmured, smiling. “That it is.”

They spoke business. They shared a second pot of Lotus Eater tea and ate black sesame laddoos. It was nearly noon when Palmer emerged from Chichen’s alleyway onto the winding streets of the Village again, as mindful as if he were walking in a labyrinth. He had what he needed, including Cory’s contact information and his e-signature on a contract to represent. It was one thing to spot a new trend. It was another art altogether to help people make money off it.

§

Palmer knew where he needed to go next. He took the C train straight up to Columbus Circle and phoned Mona as he strolled north and west toward his condo.

“Palmer,” a grandmotherly voice crooned with a sexy edge. “So nice you rang.”

“How’ve you been, Mona?”

“As always. Fabulous.” A sigh. “You haven’t been around in a while.” Mildly chiding.

“Well, you know, I’ve been working.”

“Do tell.”

He coughed. “Just something new. Very new. I saw something today.”

Do tell.” Mona’s tone brightened. She listened to Palmer’s two-sentence pitch. “Intriguing. We’re having a cocktail party tomorrow night. Our usual. Would you like to stop by? Maybe I can put you in touch.”

Mona was amazing at reading people. Palmer silently thanked her for artfully avoiding a situation where Palmer would need to invite himself, or beg. “I can make it,” he replied, as he thumbed to cancel tomorrow’s appointments. “Sixish?”

“See you then.”

She clicked off. Mona was gracious, but when she was done talking that was that. Palmer returned his device to his coat pocket and walked past Sanjay who had opened the huge iron and glass door to the building for him. As always, Palmer was flattered to catch the doorman’s lingering look in his peripheral vision. He got on the elevator and rode up to the eleventh floor, turned right and entered his India-inspired apartment, where he wasted no time preparing his spa tub with warm water and eucalyptus oil. As the tub filled he took his time undressing and brushing all his clothing, including his coat, before carefully hanging them up in their appointed places. He meditated while he soaked, clearing his mind and preparing himself for the work ahead. Afterwards he donned his silk kurta pajamas, poured a cashew feni with lime, and set about distilling his message to a single, perfect image—instantly understood and as elegant as it was irresistible. Not the catch phrase that would heat up the masses. That was for advertising. His specialty was positioning the idea as a fine investment for those smart enough to see it. Palmer always made sure his investors felt smart.

Palmer had never brokered this kind of trend. He usually dealt in clothing, discovering new designers and connecting them with the right boutiques. He researched the long history of body modification. Decades ago there was a guy who’d made himself into a lizardman—complete with a bifurcated tongue. Another man zebra-striped himself. People got subdermal implants of horns that sprouted from their heads. But as he worked he became even more convinced of the success of this new project. Stomata weren’t for the freakish community of bod mod addicts. This was a wearable mod. A stoma could be created in a simple two-hour procedure that Cory had insisted could be done outside of a hospital. Think day spa, and mass market appeal soared.

Palmer stayed up through the night until he’d solidified his strategy, then drank down a liter of Gerolsteiner mineral water while he brewed espresso and made buckwheat mini pancakes, which he topped with paddlefish caviar, crème fraiche, and chives. He ate standing on his balcony, taking in the view of the park below and the lightening of the sky over Queens that portended the coming of the sun.

§

Palmer woke in the mid-afternoon, performed a full ninety minutes of Ashtanga yoga, second series, showered, and then dressed for cocktails in his black skinny suit, an eye-popping fuchsia Duchamp floral tie and Hugo Boss shoes of the exact same color. He left early and stopped at his favorite German café for spicy eggs and knackwurst spread with onion confit. He wasn’t going to Mona’s to linger at the hors d’oeuvres table. He washed his meal down with black coffee and a large glass of water. When he checked his device again it was already five-thirty. He paid, tipping exactly seventeen percent, and headed straightaway to a liquor store. Mona’s continued friendship was ensured with a good scotch or a bottle of liqueur. He purchased both. This was a big night.

Mona’s place was Upper East. He’d known her for nearly a decade, and for the first three years he kept wondering what she did for a living, after which he realized how Upper West a thought that was and gave it up. Perhaps it was investments, but he could readily believe Mona’s wealth was in her connections. Money flowed naturally in her direction and to her sumptuous cocktail parties, as inevitably as a river flowing seaward. Mona was the sea, miraculously contained in a three-bedroom apartment. The master suite was always tastefully locked, but the party spilled generously into all remaining spaces. One bedroom was the art room, containing an inviting black leather couch and armchair, its ambience provided by bold paintings covering three decades of the Modernist period and an actual Calder suspended from the ceiling in the far corner. The other bedroom was given over to a saltwater aquarium wall, a scrimshaw collection, and a single white couch that curved like a wave around the remainder of the room. The living room was generously sized, but always felt cramped with the press of the cocktail crowd, and held a spectacular view of the park. It wasn’t a penthouse by any means, but it felt like one. Certainly many of the attendees were important enough to merit a grander location. Yet everyone was perfectly content at Mona’s. Her parties were a weekly occurrence, but no one dared show up uninvited. Palmer prayed Mona’s radar had engaged when he’d called, and she’d invited the right people for him to meet that evening. Investors.

He wasn’t disappointed. Mona was waiting for him at the door, a bold geometric print hugging her ample curves, her hair in a flaming red fauxhawk. “You’re a doll,” she crooned in delightfully old-fashioned slang as she accepted the bottles of Glenmorangie and Cointreau. By the time she’d made a quarter-turn Jane had appeared to unburden her and whisked away the gifts. Jane had worked for Mona as long as Palmer could remember. He doubted Jane was her real name, but it was difficult to envision her with any other name, and even harder to see her in any other role than tending to Mona’s events.

“Come,” Mona beckoned. “There’s someone in the aquarium waiting to meet you.”

The crowd parted before Mona. Jane reappeared and pressed a drink into his hand. Palmer sipped it before he stepped into the aquarium room. He smiled. A Rusty Nail. Jane was a gem.

Palmer was surprised to find not a white-haired man waiting in that room but a young black woman in an orange sheath dress. No, not orange, Palmer corrected himself, but saffron, that perfect new tone this summer. The woman’s back was to the door as she watched a trio of clownfish float past, but she pivoted at the sound of Mona coughing politely. Palmer recognized her at once. The tickle in his throat confirmed his host had anticipated him perfectly. He took a quick sip of this cocktail to stifle the cough.

Mona introduced them, but Joyeux needed no introduction. She’d made her fortune in the music industry, but she was also the CEO of Whim Erratica, her lifestyle company. The gaze from her eyes—the color of fertile soil—was hypnotic. “I flew in from Dubai just to meet you. May I call you Palmer?”

“Yes. Yes of course.” He coughed. Here was the Empress of Earth to benevolently purchase everything Palmer had. In that moment he realized stomata were going to debut globally.

They sat on the white couch and he downloaded everything to her about the project. No price was ever mentioned. There wasn’t even a handshake deal. He simply trusted and gave. Abundance would come his way in time, as they did with Mona’s parties. For every action there was a counter action. That evening he understood the perfect balance of Taoism organically, in his bones, and surrendered himself to Joyeaux’s ten thousand eyes.

§

Joyeaux chose fall Fashion Week for the unveiling of her new lifestyle look. She partnered with two up-and-coming designers to craft their own takes on what to wear with stomata. Sphere Harlequin, a Japanese-American woman, designed a line she dubbed ForestWare, using technologically enhanced fabrics to simulate tree bark and rustling leaves. Palmer particularly loved the conifer skirts—minis that shimmered when the wearer walked. These were paired with brown midriff-baring layered jackets that reminded Palmer of pine cones. The other designer, Raffih, went a meditational route, layering Persian and Indian patterns with gold and green brocades and frog fasteners.

All the models had to agree to get stomata. Cory personally oversaw the modifications. Joyeaux breathed enough of a hint that the show was packed with those curious to see what twist she was bringing. Palmer sat next to Joyeaux, who had Cory tucked at her other side. Joyeaux had taken a fancy to him. They were now one formidable power couple.

Sphere’s designs opened the show. There was a general murmur of approval as the first model hit the runway, which was followed by a wave of gasps as the crowd discovered there was more here than the fashion. In Sphere’s show the stomata mimicked buttons, carrying the details of the garments onto the skin of bared midriffs, shoulders and arms. Stomata even peeked out from the backs of legs just beneath the hems of those conifer skirts. Palmer enjoyed the parade and envisioned the adjectives the critics would use: fresh, modern, earth-conscious.

Then it was Raffih’s turn. A model stepped forward dressed in a flowing sheer tunic that trailed on the floor behind her, over lavishly patterned, loose-fitting pants. The crowd did not gasp but was utterly silent, for in the middle of her forehead, as a third eye, was a stoma, embellished with jewel-like insets that sparkled as she moved. Another model stepped forth and another till there was a pantheon of parading goddesses arrayed along the runway. Stomata as bindis, as bejeweled navels. The effect was hypnotic. Then the pièce de résistance appeared: a barefoot model who opened her hands in a graceful mudra half-way down the runway to reveal stomata on each of her palms. As the model continued a type of temple dance, more stomata were revealed, one each on the soles of her feet. The crowd went wild. Raffih came onstage at the peak moment, a model on each arm and flanked by his entire company. The lights flashed up, then down, and all froze in a tableau. Slowly the lights played over the bejeweled stomata. As Palmer watched he became aware of a rustling or … sighing. It was unsettling in its strangeness. A murmur moved like a wave through the assembly. They appeared to be listening to the respirations of the models’ stomata. Joyeaux grasped Cory’s hand, and they rose to their feet. Lights and cameras trained on the pair, capturing Joyeaux’s famous face in a carefully crafted smile of generosity and pleasure.

Palmer was puzzled. He thought Cory had told him the respirations were felt and only by the person with the stoma. Was this a recording, then? Part of the ambience of the show?

As the crowd continued to applaud, Palmer, who had secretly wondered why a model would consent to get a bod mod just for a show, at last understood. Joyeaux had successfully branded stomata as lifestyle. Every model on that stage was suddenly going to be very popular indeed.

§

Within a few short weeks wherever Palmer turned there were stomata. The fashion trend on the streets favored Sphere Harlequin’s designs over Raffih’s. ForestWare shimmered along the sidewalks like fallen leaves moved by wind. The fashion-forward got the bod mod to match. Stomata winked at Palmer from shoulders along Park Avenue, from necks in Soho, from women’s calves on the subway.

The ad campaign played on the climate change theme he’d originally anticipated. There was Million [HU]man Forest: a tapestry of male hands-clasping-arms, all with stomata, in a show of strength. Bee the Solution: an animation as if viewed through a gently undulating pool, of women’s backs with stomata placed in delectable places.

One day as Palmer was searching the web for stomata’s growing presence he found the model who’d received stomata on her hands and feet had her own Internet show. It was called A Moment with Grace. She was dressed in one of Raffih’s meditational designs. For the full thirty minutes she sat in full-lotus position, which exposed the stomata on the soles of her feet, and holding her hands in that same graceful mudra that had stolen the show at Fashion Week. All four stomata winked open and closed in unison, slowly and hypnotically. Palmer turned up the volume on his bluetooth and gasped. He could hear those stomata breathing.

Shortly thereafter he was winding through the Village when he passed a storefront and saw it was occupied by several dozen people. He could hear the stomata respirate from the half-opened door. Everyone wore beatific expressions.

Soon thereafter he stood in his living room one night, empty martini glass in hand, recording Cory explaining to Kitty Karr on the Much Later Show that the bare minimum number of stomata one should have is three.

“That’s enough to engage the auditory effects and reap the benefits.” Cory had a vibe about him that radiated simplicity and trust.

“Good to know,” Kitty said and swiveled to reveal a pair on her shoulder, beautifully arranged to suggest an hourglass shape within a patch that glimmered softly. “I want to talk about those benefits in a little bit. But first, you can see I have two stomata right now.” She batted her eyes at Cory. “Where should I get my third?”

The audience laughed at her suggestive tone. Cory took it in stride. “Why stop at the minimum? More is more.”

“Funny you should say that,” Kitty replied. “I heard there’s a certain number of stomata where other people can hear them on you. Can hear them respirate. Is that the word?”

Cory smiled. “Yes. The fabulous four configuration was first worn by the model Grace. That produces an effect where your stomata are audible from about four or five feet, which is within the range of normal social distance.”

A Moment with Grace!” Kitty looked into the audience, and they applauded as if it was their own idea. A few whistles augmented the clapping, presumably from the show’s fans.

Kitty was in top form. “Can I have too many, Cory? Or are they like diamonds?” She put on a wistful look to the audience’s delight.

Cory smiled. “I can see you in a necklace of stomata …” He demonstrated on his own neck. “With maybe a drop down the front here …” He looked at the camera as he moved his finger a bit lower. “… and another stoma here …” His finger moved to what on Kitty would be deep in her cleavage.

The audience whooped as Kitty gave Cory her you’re-a-naughty-boy look. Palmer grimaced. Everyone referred to stomata like they were jewelry and not a surgery. What would it take to reverse something like that?

Kitty leaned in. “But now I have to ask you the tough question, Cory. You know what I’m talking about. Scientists have come forward to debunk stomata. They say they don’t do a thing about reducing greenhouse gasses or anything else. Because … and you have to help me out, Cory, because I’m no scientist. But we evidently breathe out carbon dioxide because it’s a poison, and plants breathe it in because they need it to do their thing. What do you call it?”

Cory’s smile had disappeared. “Photosynthesis.”

“Right. And they’re saying people can’t do photosynthesis.”

Cory shrugged slightly. “I never said people with stomata are capable of photosynthesis. Never. Simple. Next question.”

The audience tittered, and there was a spatter of applause that quickly ceased. Kitty nodded. “Okay, okay but there’s the elephant in the room here. Cory, what about ForestWare? Million [HU]Man Forest? This whole thing has captured our attention precisely because of its eco-consciousness.”

Cory leaned toward her, and Palmer caught his breath. “Exactly, and you can trust what I’m about to say. These stomata do something. I assure you.”

Kitty’s posture mutated from investigative reporter to confidante. “Tell me.”

“Isn’t it evident? You have stomata. Have you noticed their opening and closing movements have a calming effect?”

Her hand went up to touch them. “Yes.”

“Don’t underestimate what that can do for you. When we’re able to lower our stress levels, we can think better and make better decisions. For ourselves and for the planet.”

The audience sighed its approval. Kitty seemed genuinely touched. “What’s not to love about that? Am I right?” Applause. “I’m loving this.”

Cory was nodding. “Wouldn’t it be great if our world leaders had stomata?”

Kitty beamed. “Two words. Win win.” More applause.

“And the more stomata you get, the more you feel this,” Cory said. “It’s a metaphor in flesh if you will.”

Kitty pressed both hands to her cleavage. “This is important, isn’t it, Cory?” She appealed to the audience. “I love this man!”

The crowd was roaring now and she had to shout. “A genius in our own time, everybody! I’m Kitty Karr and that’s all, kits!”

Palmer thumbed to mute and freeze, and then did as many American viewers were doing right now, he imagined. He poured another drink. In his case a vodka martini, heavy on the Russian Standard. He stood idly staring at the freeze frame as he took his first sip.

Wearing stomata indeed. Let them have their fantasy while it lasted. Besides, he thought, good things were bound to come from the increased concern for climate change. Good things.

§

Palmer stood in front of his bathroom mirror. He picked up his hairbrush. When he lifted it to his head his robe fell open, exposing a stoma so large it covered his entire chest. Its lips opened, a tremendous maw exposing his lungs and heart, everything all the way down to the top of his intestines. He screamed, but the sound came out of the gaping hole.

He woke, sitting up in bed with such force it felt like he’d been flung back into his body. He ran a shaky hand over his chest, feeling only skin. Why was he sweating? It was just a dream.

He moved through his morning as if he were an automaton. He was mildly surprised when he discovered he was descending to the subway at Columbus Circle. He took conscious control of himself and chose a train down to Chichen Itza Coffee.

He found the blue paper covering the door had been removed, and when he entered he saw the booths were drenched in sunlight.

“Hi there, stranger.” It was Cory’s sister, Hammond, standing behind the counter. The place was bustling. This crowd without a doubt was into stomata. He could hear the respiration from where he stood, the default background noise these days.

“What can I get you?”

He wasn’t sure. “What’s the tea of the day?”

She cocked her head. “You didn’t come to try the elixir?” She laughed when she saw his confusion. “Don’t tell me you haven’t tried any yet. It’s the new big thing.”

He laughed a little, embarrassed. “Okay then. Elixir.”

She started to go over the ways he could have it, but he interrupted. “Serve it to me the way you think I should experience it.”

She had attractive dimples in her cheeks when she smiled. He found a stool at the communal counter and kept his sunglasses on so he could observe his surroundings without being obvious. Most of the customers were drinking out of pretty little glass chalices in jewel tones that reminded him of stomata. The elixir, he thought. How old was this drink trend if there was already a special glass made for it? Answer: overnight, if it was manufactured by the lifestyle industry. The clues pointed to Joyeaux and her Whim Erratica. He shook his head, amused. Why shouldn’t a bod mod and fashion trend have its own drink in its own specially designed chalice? Still, being behind the curve stung.

He watched Hammond put a tiny purple chalice on a tray, swing it gracefully to the up position, and head toward him. He found himself being grateful for the ordinariness of her movements. She transferred the contents of the tray to the tabletop. Two ounces of golden liquid sparkled inside. He took a sip. It was crisp and pleasant, alighting on his palate sweetly at first but finishing refreshingly dry. It didn’t seem to be alcoholic. He looked up at her questioningly.

She smiled back and then furrowed her brow. “You’re not feeling it, are you? Don’t you have any stomata?”

He shook his head.

“I’m so sorry,” she said, turning away. “You should get some. You’re missing out.”

He continued to sip and observe the crowd. Across the room three young men and a woman were sitting at a table holding hands. No, correction. They were touching at their wrists. Palmer didn’t need to get up and go over to investigate. He was certain they all had stomata on their wrists, were joining their stomata. They all wore peaceful, pleasant expressions. The young woman licked her lips, and Palmer looked quickly away.

Someone had hung a flat screen over the mural of the ziggurat. A Moment of Grace was on. The now-famous model meditated underneath an arch arrayed with a rainbow of tiny chalices. As he watched, she reached out, eyes still closed, picked up a glass, drank its contents, and placed it back in its holder. There was no hesitation or fumbling in her movements. As he pondered this, she reached out and took the glass that was immediately above the emptied one. Communion, he thought, looking at his own empty chalice.

The young man sitting on the stool next to him leaned in. “Enhances the view, doesn’t it?” He winked.

At a loss, Palmer smiled and agreed.

The man’s eyes shifted focus briefly, and then he made a kind of scooping gesture with his left hand. “Yeah, man. Now I really see.”

§

Less than a week later, the President of the United States mentioned her seven stomata at a special White House press conference on the environment. Stomata were becoming popular among world leaders who were making a show of how it improved their ability to process complex information and make better decisions. Palmer focused on her intently during the remainder of the twenty-minute conference. His hand reached out and hit pause just as his brain told him there. His hand shaking, he inched the tape back and then inched forward frame by frame.

There it was. She looked briefly nowhere, intentionally. And then she flicked her hand in one of those gestures he’d been noticing since his first taste of elixir at Chichen Itza.

“What is it?” Palmer had been asking himself this for days now. He could hardly sleep. The phenomenon wasn’t mentioned on the web anywhere. He spent hours stalking the city, looking for people with stomata so he could follow them, watch them, catch them making one of those out-of-place gestures. He saw them looking nowhere, intentionally—and yet it was somewhere in a way that said I see.

He turned down an invitation to cocktails at Mona’s because he was nervous about entering a room filled with movers and shakers sprouting stomata, signaling and discussing things he’d find incomprehensible. It was as if a portion of humanity—and an elite group at that—had become a new species.

He shut off the broadcast. He closed his eyes. He opened his eyes. He did not fix himself a drink. He thumbed open a website and made an appointment.

§

They gave him a sedative for his anxiety. He sat in a comfortable reclining chair, enjoying the sensuality of the leather upholstery when Cory entered the room, his unruly bangs caught up underneath a blue cap, looking every inch the surgeon despite the fact this wasn’t a hospital, but Cory’s flagship bod mod spa. Go for the best of everything, that was Palmer. Get the quality job from the original master.

Cory smiled. “So we’re doing the Magnificent Seven today? Good choice. So many are coming back for second and third procedures. The Seven won’t disappoint.” He consulted the screen next to the gurney on which Palmer lay. “And you’d like to leave the location and design up to me.” He looked down at Palmer.

Palmer could hardly talk, but he waved his hand and managed to reply. “Serve it to me the way you think I should experience it.”

“You got it.” Cory half-turned away, and Palmer saw the man’s own string of stomata running from behind his ear and presumably around the back of his neck. Something just on the horizon of his neck glistened.

A face appeared upside down in his vision. “We’ll be feeding you an intravenous drug that’s safer than anesthesia. I want you to count from one to ten for me.”

Cory had something different on his neck.

As the needle went into Palmer’s arm, he said, “I guess I’m curious about what other people are seeing.”

Cory smiled softly. “Isn’t it obvious? Another dimension, one in which everyone can see the interconnections.”

“Please count for me now,” the anesthesiologist said.

“One … two …”

As Palmer resurfaced, he said the word “three” but he couldn’t remember why. He took a deep breath and heard his other breath, too. “I’m opened,” he said. It was the best way he could describe it.

Cory was there, smiling at him, welcoming him to the other side. Palmer’s stomata opened and closed in synch with the brilliant man’s breath.

Lettie Prell likes to explore the edge where humans and their technology are increasingly merging. Her science fiction stories have appeared in Analog Science Fiction and Fact, Apex Magazine, and its Book of Apex anthology, and elsewhere. Her work has also been featured on the StarShipSofa podcast. She is an active member of SFWA.

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