BRAINIES • by Fred D. White

“We like to think of them as new-life undergarments, Mr. Byrd,” Cynthia the saleswoman proclaimed as she held up one of the latest Brainies (a Chess Master Brainie) by the sleeves, “for the simple reason that they can change your life dramatically.”

Gregg Byrd ran his hands over the silky fabric. There was no way to guess, just through sight or touch, that the glittery blue undergarment contained a layer of nanobots that, once activated (via purchase), would assimilate themselves inside the owner’s brain.

“I invite you to sample one,” Cynthia said. “Choose a skill you dream of mastering; chances are, we stock a Brainie for it. A temporary activation code will enable you to experience ten minutes of enhanced knowledge and/or motor skill in an area of your choice.” She must have noticed Gregg’s confusion, for she quickly added, “Of course, the trial bots will self-destruct after the trial period, with no adverse effects on your brain cells.”

Gregg took the Tablet she handed him and scrolled through the long list. “I’m, like, hoping to, you know, land a job in, uh, marketing,” he muttered half to himself.

“Ah, then perhaps you are looking for a Pitch Master Brainie.”

“Uh, yeah, sure — that sounds about right.”

She pointed at the Tablet. “Go ahead, tell it what you want.”

Gregg cleared his throat and said, “I, uh—” He cleared his throat again and took a deep breath. “Uh, er… I would like the P-Pitch Master, uh, option.”

“Please restate your request.”

“Don’t use unnecessary words like ‘option’ — that’ll only confuse it. Also, avoid saying ‘uh’ or ‘er’ and try not to stammer.”

“Pitch Master!” Gregg bleated.

“One Pitch Master remaining, extra large.”

“It’s, like, a size too large for me, Cynthia, b-but I’ll try it on anyway, if that’s okay.”

She smiled serenely. “I strongly recommend that.”

He doubted that ten minutes would be enough time for the Brainie to convince him that it could transform him from a stutterer with stage fright to a masterful public speaker, aglow with confidence, capable of enrapturing prospective clients — but that was what he dreamed of becoming, and there was nothing to lose by trying it on. It would be an extremely expensive purchase, of course. Rentals, once permitted, were suspended after a rash of illegal nanobot replications.

Cynthia led him to a room where she waited for him to remove his shirt and don the Brainie. “I must lock you in for the trial. As you can well imagine, these garments are popular with thieves.”

“I bet.”

She entered the trial activation code on her Tablet. “Also, this particular Brainie requires me to remain in the room with you — as your audience.”

Gregg smiled. Something delightful began stirring in his head. “That would give me the greatest pleasure!” He spread his arms wide, as if to embrace her.

Cynthia showed no reaction. Some women, he thought, required more savoir faire before they could be charmed. Well, just give him another few minutes…

“I’m ready for your pitch, Mr. Byrd.”

“Call me Gregg.” He cleared his throat. “Now then: As a prospective writer of a ten-million dollar advertising campaign for Mercedes-Air, I will be scripting irresistible scenarios of young people enthralled by the experience of piloting their own Mercedes Airmobile over the city, over gridlocked freeways and decaying bridges, over treacherous mountain roads, literally on top of the world! And furthermore…” Gregg was mesmerized by the steady stream of eloquent words rushing from his mouth — and more than that, a vigorous and seductive delivery of those eloquent words that captured the pleasures of air-mobile performance, the unforgettable thrill of maneuvering a 6874-SL-wingjet—”

Cynthia sat, hands folded, mouth partly open. Were her eyes dilated? Why, yes! The Pitch Master was working splendidly.

An electronic voice crackled. Five minutes remaining.

A fiendish thought wriggled its way into Gregg Byrd’s head. In a voice more fulsome and caressing than he could ever have dreamed of possessing, he told Cynthia he’d been waiting his whole life to meet a woman as radiant as she, a woman to whom he would joyously devote his life, if only she would enter the code for the purchase transaction, and simply look the other way as he absconded with the Pitch Master Brainie.

Cynthia shuddered as if snapping out of a trance. She leaped to her feet and grabbed him in a choke-hold. “Those of us who sell Brainies are required to wear a Brainie as well, did you know that, Mr. Byrd?” she hissed in his ear.

Gregg could only gasp for air.

Ping. The sound came from the Brainie tag: His ten-minute trial period was over. Cynthia slammed him against the wall. “Well? Did you?”

“Uh… N-no!”

“It’s called a Store Detective Brainie.” And with lightning speed, she cuffed him and instructed her Tablet to summon the police.

Fred D. White’s fiction has appeared most recently in Aphelion, Foliate Oak, Limestone, Praxis, and Rathalla Review. He lives near Sacramento, CA.

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