Velvet Dogma - By Weston Ochse

Chapter 1

"Stand very still," Kumi said as she ran the palm-sized instrument across Rebecca's naked torso.

At first, nothing happened. Rebecca wondered if they'd made a mistake. Perhaps they hadn't levied her organs. Perhaps she'd be free of that grotesque burden.

Kumi cursed, apologized, and then tried once more. As the scanner passed over Rebecca's kidney, an indecipherable series of red glowing letters and numbers and Chinese characters appeared on the small screen. And then the rest of her organs' inventory numbers appeared on the screen as the scanner passed over them. Her kidneys, her liver, her lungs, her heart, her pancreas, even her spleen. Finally, Kumi ran the scanner over Rebecca's head, reading the indicators assigned to the eyes as well as the different parts of Rebecca's brain. Through the entire process, Kumi had remained dispassionate and professional. But when she reached the back of Rebecca's skull, she paused, her hiss and rapid intake of breath giving away something out of the ordinary. Rebecca waited for the woman to tell her what it was. Instead, Kumi hurriedly finished, passed Rebecca a new set of clothes, and told her to change.

A little later, Rebecca stood in the bathroom and began pulling on the clothes. Similar in style to Kumi's, the only major difference was the neckline. Where Kumi's blouse plunged revealing the curve of her breasts, Rebecca's blouse ran straight across her neck in a crew-style cut, just enough to cover her parole collar. The sleeves fell to mid-forearm. The end result was a strange combination of aesthetic and athletic. The pants fit snugly around hips kept trim from a bland diet of prison food and daily Tai Chi regimens conducted out of sheer boredom. The boots were made from a glossy rubber material that was both firm along the edges and form-fitting around the soles and ankles. They were perhaps the most comfortable shoes she'd ever worn. The end result made her feel taller, the taper of the pants accentuating her legginess.

Staring at the effect in the mirror, Rebecca couldn't help liking what she saw. Her prison haircut left her with few hairs longer than three or four inches, with the longest on top of her head. She'd used some water from the sink to tease them and appreciated the way the blonde hairs spiked. Her cheekbones had always been a little higher than the other women she'd known. Her father said it was from the Sioux ancestry. Her mother had said it was from the French. They'd never agreed. But then her parents had never agreed about anything, their displays of unmitigated obstinacy the reason for their divorce when Rebecca was six.

Rebecca had always felt her eyes were the wrong color blue. Her lips seemed fine...until she smiled. Then they twisted into something that hardly resembled beautiful. She hated her smile, and tried to keep serious as often as possible. She'd once taken to hiding her smile behind her hands, but a casual glance at her reflection in a subway car window when she was fifteen cured her of that mistake. Instead of hiding what she'd considered a defect, it had brought attention to her. The action that had been meant to hide instead looked silly and coquettish. She'd never felt, and never wanted to feel, that way.

But not everything was as it was. Small lines at the corners of each eye and the corners of her mouth reminded her that she wasn't the thirty-year-old girl who'd been sent to prison. Interspersed within the blonde hairs were traitorous slivers of gray. The skin across her cheekbones had tightened and shone with the wear of age. Not all bad, but enough to remind her that she'd definitely changed.

She took a longer more critical look at herself. Then after a minute, shook her head. What had she expected? It had been twenty years. Of course she'd age.

She teased her hair once more, and then unlocked the bathroom door. After a moment to steel herself, she opened it and stepped into the room.

Kumita Rasangawan, or Kumi as she'd asked to be called, sat at the table speaking into a slender phone. When she saw Rebecca, she quickly bid farewell, then shoved the device into her pocket. "You look great, Rebecca," Kumi said as she stood. "That color is perfect for your skin."

"Sure. Rust always goes well with a prison tan," Rebecca said, allowing the old smart side of her to surface.

Kumi's smile faltered. "It's not rust. It's ochre," she said.

"Then rust is the color