In the novel, the main character, Vinnie, lives on the Halo, a ring-shaped space station that orbits the earth. Specifically, Vinnie and his Gran work in the Scaff, which is the service quarters supporting the Halo. Everything in the Halo and the Scaff is carefully monitored and rationed, especially water.
In this excerpt, Vinnie, a trans-male, has his Shower Song. Twice a week, he gets to bathe, and his shower is limited to the length of his favorite song. After his shower, he tries on his new binder and finds out it's a little more restrictive than he first bargained for.
Here is the link for Vinnie's Shower Song: When You Wish Upon A Star
from The Boy Who Painted Stars
by Celeste Hollister
Word Count: 1785
Part of the never-enough of the Scaff was the never-enough of water. Like everything else in the Halo, it had to be recycled over and over again. Once a month, the Halo toted fresh water from planetside in gigantic plastic drums. But most of the water they got from the filtration system was carefully monitored so that every drop could be reclaimed.
Nothing in the Scaff was more regulated than water. Restaurants like Stiletto's received an allotment based on their average business per month. Scaff folk used their day-to-day rations to wash their personals, like dishes and clothes. Bathing, though, was set up on a schedule of weekly rotation.
Each person in the Scaff got two shower songs per week. Any water they didn't use got immediately reclaimed by the Halo, so if you missed your song, you'd be stink out of luck until your next rotation.
Like most people, Vinnie loved his shower song. You climbed into the shiny, clean shower tube, tapped up the pre-programmed list of songs, got your sponge all lathered up, and hit play. The lights dimmed to a soft, buttery glow. Then the water hissed on, heated to your exact preference, and you'd scrub scrub scrub while the music filled the scented air.
Vinnie had perfected his shower ritual. His favorite song was a Disney classic, When You Wish Upon A Star. The song rang in at a full three and a half minutes of lathery bliss.
Vinnie spent the first twenty second count of the song washing his pits and his bits. He spent another eight seconds scrubbing between his toes. That brought him to the lyrics portion of the song. He worked shampoo into his kinky curls, scrubbing deep to reach his scalp. He rinsed while the second verse trilled in a sonorous tenor: “Fate is kind. She brings to those love the sweet fulfillment of their secret longing.”
Then came a coconut conditioner – one of the cherished rarities he'd saved for. This he let soak in his hair for twenty-four seconds before letting the water course through it. He always hummed along with the last refrain, eyes closed and reverent: “Like a bolt out of the blue, fate steps in and pulls you through. When you wish upon a star our dreams come true.”
Vinnie twirled under the shower spray, letting the swells of violins and the chorus of voices sing through his skin and his bones.
Signaling the song's end, a soft chime sounded, followed by Mickey Mouse's tinny laugh. “Uh hello, there,” the mouse said. “Always remember: When you wish upon a star, your dreams really do come true!”
Tears pricked behind Vinnie's eyes as the water abruptly shut off. He squinched them closed and squeezed his hands into fists.
As always, he whispered his most sacred wishes. There were only two, and he never spoke them out loud. Except in his dreams.
His dream from last night spun up in him, his hands linked with Myra's, the paint on his lips, the taste of metal and sugar.
He pulled the towel from its rung and wiped his mouth. Fans in the shower's ceiling and floor whirred to life, chasing stray drops from his skin for reclamation.
An airy voice sounded over the speakers: “You have one minute and eighteen seconds saved from previous songs. Please choose from the following menu items.”
This was a HaloCorp trick. If you chose to end your shower early, you could save your water ration until you had enough time for a third shower song. Or, you could combine them for a spa package which included an extra long song, like Ina Godda Da Vita, and special things like aromatherapy and a colored light show.
Or, you could donate them back to the Scaff for people in need. The shower's OS helpfully provided a list of organizations to which your could donate your extra water: Halo General Hospital, The Angel's League Home for Children, elderly care facilities, that sort of thing.
Vinnie didn't trust it. He believed HaloCorp kept all the donated water in reserve. And yes, Myra had guessed it, he was stealing water, but it was for a good cause of his own choosing.
“Gen, run subprogram eighty-eight, please,” Vinnie said.
Gen fluttered into action, connecting to the shower's computer as the screen illuminated the final menu option.
“You have selected to donate – one minute and eighteen seconds – to Scaff ID number one-zero-five-two. Please say yes to confirm this donation.”
“Yes,” Vinnie answered.
“Donation confirmed,” the shower computer intoned. “Have a blessed day.”
Vinnie wrapped his body in the towel and stepped from the dry shower tube-icle. Gen returned to the Thread display on his wrist. “You have donated a total of four minutes and twenty-one seconds to Ava Beatrice Pero Lazarotti.”
He smirked at his reflection in the mirror. “Gran can have a nice, long scrub today. She's earned it.”
“Reminder,” Gen said. “Next shower song begins for Scaff ID 1052 in three minutes and thirteen seconds.”
Vinnie slipped the plastic tube from his coat on the hook and unwound the bundle of cloth inside. It loosened with a kind of silken sighing between his fingers.
“Keep a countdown for me, will you, Gen? Every thirty seconds.”
“Three minutes,” Gen confirmed. “And counting.”
Vinnie turned from the mirror. He let the towel fall as he pulled the springy black binder over his head. He wriggled and tugged, snugging it over his shoulders. In his excitement, he'd forgotten to work the zip, and so the binder caught between his chin and chest.
“Two minutes, thirty seconds,” Gen chirped.
“Freck,” Vinnie swore. He twisted his arm, catching the zipper hasp to inch it down. He squirmed and pinched the tight, cool, slippery fabric, pressing it over his breasts and then his ribs, his breath catching in both restriction and eagerness.
“Two minutes,” Gen said. “The next shower is cycling up to the proper temperature and pressure.”
“Thank you, Gen,” Vinnie bit out. The binder bunched under his shoulders, tangling against the friction of his still-damp skin. He bent his arms back, dancing a tight circle as he pulled and pulled to tug the binder in place. His shoulder cramped painfully and he let out a yelp.
“Lara,” Gran called from the door. “The computer lady's telling me it's time, can I come in?”
“Just a second, Gran,” Vinnie gasped.
“One minute and thirty seconds,” Gen corrected.
Vinnie's breaths panted in shallow gulps as he wrestled with the zip. It stuck fast between his breasts, leaving a full eight centimeters' gap at the top. He sucked in his breath and squeezed his elbows together, flattening his breasts against his chest as his sweaty fingers fussed with the hasp.
“Sixty seconds,” Gen sang.
“Freck freck freck,” Vinnie spat. It was too tight, and he was too big. He'd wasted the 80 creds he'd snagged on something that wouldn't even work. He felt the double stab of greed and vanity as his mind raced over all the useful things he could have done with that money—like replacing Barbara's motivator circuit or buying new shoes for Mello. Hell, even saving it would be better than throwing it away on something no one but him would ever see.
Then, with a sproing, the zip raced up, snapping its snaggle-teeth in an even line over Vinnie's chest.
Breathless, he whirled to face the mirror. The binder snugged tight over Vinnie's curves. He turned in profile to confirm. Yep, flat and straight as... as a boy.
“Thirty seconds,” Gen said.
Gran tapped at the door again. “Lara, dear. Everything okay in there?”
“Yes,” Vinnie said, spinning to see his body from every angle. “Yes, Gran. Everything is super-great.”
The binder felt comfortingly restrictive against the cage of his ribs. He thought with delight how every breath would remind him of its presence.
Of course, beneath the bulk of his work pants and his corded-knit sweater, no one could tell the difference. But Vinnie knew. He had things under control. And the binder was just a step in the process, a way to get used to how he would look once his top-surgery was done.
“Fifteen seconds,” Gen counted. “Fourteen, thirteen, twelve...”
“I'll take it from here, Gen. Thanks,” Vinnie said. He stepped to the door and used his Thread to spring the lock.
Grannye Gi stood in the doorway, eying him with a kind of bemused suspicion. She sniffed. “Coconut,” she said.
“It's in the caddy,” Vinnie said, stepping around her. “Use some if you like.”
She narrowed her eyes. They looked like the glittering buttons in an overstuffed cushion. “Oh, I will,” she said, muttering as she stepped into the bathroom stall. “Bananas and coconuts. What do I look like, the Queen of Tahiti?”
Vinnie went past rows of emergency evac suits, to the diner beyond, where Myra waited at the counter.