It takes me a sec to realize that the baby-faced Asian hunk in track pants and a tank who’s sitting straight-backed and cross-legged on the floor is (more than likely) Beta.
“Dude, two questions,” I say.
“Sure thing,” Beta replies, his attention split between me and my Wii. “Just let me hit pause—”
“What have I told you about hanging around my bedroom when I’m not here?”
“Never without underwear?”
“Well, yeah, that goes without saying. But I’m talking about the whole low-profile thing. You know, parents walking in? Unknown dude playing their son’s Wii? Questions upon questions?”
“They’ll never come in. They respect your personal space too much.”
“Hardly! My mom always checks in on me now that I’ve lost my sight!”
“Yeah, but only when you’re here, and only to bring you tea at bedtime.”
“My point exactly.”
Beta sighs. “Fine. Sorry. I’ll stay virtual except for weddings and Comic-Con. Mostly Comic-Con. What’s your second question?”
“Why do you look like a steroids version of Kevin Tran from Supernatural?”
“What, this?” Beta raises one of his ridiculously well-developed arms. “I torrented a Hung Lee skin.”
“I’m not sure I want to know who that is.”
“Gay porn star.”
“You’re, uh, into gay porn?”
“But you’re wearing a gay guy’s skin.”
“Strictly for the purpose of substitution.”
Beta resumes his game (Captain Toad: Treasure Tracker, I note out of the corner of my eye). “You know, when you watch porn. I like to pretend I’m the guy. Only all the guys in hetero porn are fat, ugly, or both. So, I watch gay porn and pretend the seme is me, the uke is some voluptuous blond chick.”
“Why not just watch straight porn in which both partners are equally hot?”
“Hot guys don’t have technique. And besides, the porn industry never casts hot guys. Hetero men are too afraid of being turned on by some gorgeous dude’s smokin’ meat. That’s why hetero porn stars are so grotesque—it’s to keep straight guys from getting sexually confused.”
“If you’re just going to use your imagination anyway,” I say, “then find straight porn that has a gross guy with great technique, and, er, substitute.”
“I’m comfortable with my system. What do you have against gay porn anyway?”
“I…nothing. It’s not the gay porn that’s…I just think I’m pretty sure that…” I try to work out in my head how to explain that I’ve seen straight porn starring attractive guys (not that I noticed or anything) without admitting that I’ve ever watched porn or noticed attractive guys before, but ultimately my brain forfeits, my belief suspending itself regarding this new musclebound variation of Kevin freaking Solo and his masturbatory habits. “Maybe the guys in straight porn are smokin’, but you just can’t tell because you’re straight.”
“Interesting theory. We should totally crowdfund a study.”
Jan, who’s been holding Ernie this whole time, clears his throat. “Um, guys?”
I sigh, tasting lemon floor polish on my breath. “Yeah?”
“Where do I put the leviathan?”
“Just dump him on the—” Holy crap.
I can see it!
My room is clean again. Cleaner than clean. Immaculate—as in not only have things been put back into their proper locations, the broken furniture has been repaired, blankets and pillows have been re-sewn, damaged CDs are now in their original shrink-wrap. It’s as if Mini never ran amok at all.
“My room,” I say. “It’s…fixed.”
Beta’s eyes are glued to the TV. “I said I’d clean it, and I have.”
Jan again: “Um, guys—”
“But the torn-up floorboards, the mountain of skulls—” I drop to my knees, peer under the bed. “—where’s the mountain of skulls?”
“New Room, brah,” Beta replies.
“New Room? As in New Room from the same company that makes New Eyes?” I swallow, standing again and wishing dearly I wasn’t barefoot. “As in my room is now crawling from top to bottom with nanobots?”
“Dude, relax. New Room is far less complicated than New Eyes. The only thing that could ever happen with New Room is one of the little buggers gets a spot of carpet wrong. Which isn’t an issue since you don’t have carpet.”
I wring my hands. “Have we learned nothing from the New Eyes incident?”
“Yes, there’s the one-percent club, of which you’re now a junior member, but that doesn’t mean you should discount the other ninety-nine percent of what nanotech can do. Safe as flying, little dude.”
Don’t get me started on the flying versus driving thing! “Of course flying is safer than driving—if you do it a few times per year. If you fly several times per day, to and from work, to the grocery store, to your friend’s house or whatever, flying is way more dangerous than driving.”
“Again, interesting theory, and we should totally crowdfund a study.”
Chinese half activated.
Asian glare brought to full power and aimed square at the side of Beta’s porcelain-smooth face.
He winces. “All right. I get it. Bad blood between you and nanotech after your little New Eyes mishap and all. But you can’t systematically close yourself off to each and every aspect of the world every time something goes wrong.”
“Little mishap?” I throw my hands in the air. “I’m blind thanks to New Eyes!”
“You also got your sight back thanks to New Eyes, and you got a nifty pair of contacts out of the deal. And come on, you’re a geek. You have to admit that nanotech, that this—” He gestures at the unblemished walls, the spotless floor. “—is pretty cool.”
He has a point. I mean, it is cool having an army of tiny robots cleaning my bedroom for me. But it’s also creepy. Very, very creepy. I know the bots are supposed to regroup inside their applicator and deactivate after they’re finished, but I can’t help wondering if there are still a handful of them wandering rogue over my things, waiting to be hacked…waiting to hack me—
“Guys,” Jan says, his latest attempt at getting somebody’s—anybody’s—attention.
“Oh, just dump him on the floor already,” I tell him.
“Not that.” He points at the window.
A smoldering, naked puppet is climbing awkwardly over the sill and into my room.
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