CALLISTA by Ren Felman


by Ren Felman

Callista shook her head.

“I’m not ready to give up piano skills. What else?”

“Hmm. Those will get you the most credit. I have lots of orders for those right now. And, frankly, your piano mastery isn’t very fresh…I could get you a decent price right now because I have so much demand. Now would be a good time to sell. It might not be worth much a year from now.”

“No. Something else.”

“Okay. If you eventually want to sell them you’d better put in some practice. It’s hard for me to sell rusty skills.”

“How about some math?”

“Whaddya’ got?”

“Multivariable calculus? I’m not using that. Nonlinear dynamics?”

“Could probably sell the calculus. I’d need to gauge the freshness. How much credit do you need?”


“Yeah, we’re not going to be even close, even if those skills are perfect.”

Callista leaned toward the monitor, “Help me out here, Al.”

Al rolled his eyes.

“I’ve already offered to get you top price for some very questionable piano proficiency. You should take it. Is it really so important to you to play piano?”

Callista stared and didn’t say anything.

“Okay, here we go,” Al looked toward a second monitor. “Baking? I can get you six thousand for that. Horticulture seems to be very popular at the moment and I remember you have some gardening experience. All those weed operations, I guess. Looks like I could get you four thousand, give or take. You speak some Mandarin, right? Not well, as I remember, but even piss-poor Mandarin has a price right now. I could probably get you 18,000 for baking, horticulture, the calculus and the Mandarin.”

Callista sighed heavily.

“Done,” she said.

Al grinned, “You don’t want to be baking biscuits or digging in the damn ground anyway, right? And I bet you’ve never even use that math or Chinese. This way you can still play the piano! And you’d better play, if you ever want to sell it down the road…”

Callista gritted her teeth, “Which extraction location?”

Al looked back at this other screen, “Looks like there are openings at the SODO expertise bank tomorrow. Shall I schedule you for the afternoon? 2:00?”

“I’ll be there. Can you run the credit now?”

“Sorry, Calli, gotta’ wait until the skills are banked.”


“Listen,” Al’s voice softened, “why don’t you try to get ahead of this? I can send you the hot list of skills. I can get top price for the newly-learned. Get some tantric expertise or master FX+ coding…and then sell it. Get some skills you won’t miss and sell them to me for the credit. Otherwise, you’re going to end up as a hole-head. Calli, you’re a smart person and we could clear all your debt if you want to sell everything in your brain, but I don’t want to do that to you.”

“Yeah, thanks for the concern, Al. I’ll be at the bank at 2:00.”

“Okay, okay. Can I send you the skills hot list, at least. Just look at it.”

Callista hit the exit button and her screen went blank. She walked into her tiny kitchen and began rummaging through her cupboards. She had all the ingredients to make a cake…better do it now ‘cause tomorrow she wouldn’t remember how.


Callista took the muscle relaxers as soon as she woke up. The extractors claimed that expertise removal was painless, but if you didn’t take something your head felt like it had been bashed in after. She drank some reheated coffee and ate a piece of the chocolate cake she had baked last night. It was delicious. Callista had always enjoyed baking. She’d been doing it for close to fifty years and she was good at it. She should have pressed Al on the price. Her baking skills were worth more than 6,000. Oh well. She ate the last bite of cake and put the plate in the sink.

The muscle relaxers helped her manage as she boarded the human mover. It was so crowded today, full of hole-heads. There was no place to hold on, but that was okay as her shoulders, back and chest were pressed so tightly against other passengers that she couldn’t possibly fall. She knew that many of them, like her, were en route to the expertise bank and she wondered what, possibly, they had left to sell. She tried giving herself a pep talk…she’d feel lighter after the extraction. Someone would actually be putting to use the expertise that she hardly ever used. Well, she baked often but it would be okay if she stopped. Someone else would appreciate her experience and technique, honed over half a century. The buyer would be lucky.

“SODO skills bank…SODO banco de habilidades” the recorded voice intoned over the human mover speaker. The muscle relaxers were in full effect now and Callista felt as if she weren’t walking at all, but just being carried by the throng of people headed to the large turn-of-the-century building that served as the skills bank. It was all glass and awkwardly not square, as had been the architectural style in the early 2000s.

Once in the door, her body took her to the familiar counter where she added her thumbprint to the extraction waiver and was then directed to one of the red sofas in the waiting room. Another remnant of a dated aesthetic.

There was an elderly gentleman sitting next to her. She may have overdone it with the muscle relaxers and was having trouble producing a smile as he nodded to her, but he seemed to understand her plight and put a kind hand on her shoulder.

“Nǐ hǎo péngyǒu. Nǐ hái hǎo ma?”

“No,” Callista managed, “no, I’m not.”

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About bbcstudiowrites

This blog is me archiving the BBC Studio Writers Workshop.

Posted on October 13, 2017, in Fiction, Seattle, Short Stories. Bookmark the permalink. Leave a comment.

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