THE BODY INSTITUTE

THE BODY INSTITUTE is my near-future science fiction debut that released September 1, 2015, from Entangled Teen. It explores issues of body image and identity.

The Body Institute
Meet Morgan Dey, one of the top teen Reducers at The Body Institute. 

Thanks to cutting-edge technology, Morgan can temporarily take over another girl’s body, get her in shape, and then return to her own body—leaving her client slimmer, more toned, and feeling great. Only there are a few catches… 

For one, Morgan won’t remember what happens in her “Loaner” body. Once she’s done, she won’t recall walks with her new friend Matt, conversations with the super-cute Reducer she’s been text-flirting with, or the uneasy feeling she has that the director of The Body Institute is hiding something. Still, it’s all worth it in the name of science. Until the glitches start… 

Suddenly, residual memories from her Loaner are cropping up in Morgan’s mind. She’s feeling less like herself and more like someone else. And when protests from an anti–Body Institute organization threaten her safety, she’ll have to decide if being a Reducer is worth the cost of her body and soul…
 

Are we our minds...or our bodies? 

ISBN-10: 1633751252
ISBN-13: 978-1633751255


The Body Institute book trailer: HERE.

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Reviews for THE BODY INSTITUTE:
"A fascinating, page-turning novel with the perfect balance of romance and science-fiction. Readers will love Morgan and her journey as she solves the mystery of what's really going on at The Body Institute."          --Elana Johnson, author of POSSESSION

 
"A fantastic and thought-provoking read! Riggs examines autonomy, ethics, politics, healthcare, complicated family dynamics, and a touch of romance in this sci-fi page turner."         --Lydia Kang, author of CONTROL and CATALYST

 
"The Body Institute is a roller coaster of a book. This fast-paced sci-fi thriller grapples with issues of identity and scientific technology run amok in a society only two steps ahead of our own, while scrutinizing an all-encompassing obsession with being thin which is very much part of the here and now. Readers will love the twists and turns and be prompted to question their own relationship to technology, body image and the ever-growing power of mega-corporations."     --C.K. Kelly Martin, author of YESTERDAY and TOMORROW


Excerpt: The first chapter.

Copyright © 2017 by Carol Riggs. All rights reserved, including the right to reproduce, distribute, or transmit in any form or by any means. For information regarding subsidiary rights, please contact the Publisher.

THE BODY INSTITUTE
Chapter 1
Five more reps, and I should be done with this body for good.

I pull the weight bar down to my chest, working my biceps. Here I am, flat on my back once more, communing with my old buddy the Fluid Resistance Machine.

Twenty-six…twenty-seven.

Man, I can’t wait to get back into my own body and be myself again. Hanging out with my friends, spending time with my family. Dancing. Urban paintballing. Messing around with kinetics experiments at the Catalyst Club.

Out of the corner of my eye, I catch the jog-pump-stride of other Reducers toning and slimming. Hard workers, these ladies: 100 percent keyed in to their jobs. Above us on the third floor, I’m sure a bunch of men are exercising just as hard in their own gym.

A chirp signals the end of my programmed reps. I ditch the machine and do cool-down stretches while it resets for the next victim, then take a brisk shower and head to the first floor for my weigh-in.

I shake a rush of tingling nerves from my fingertips. If my stats are on track this morning, I can finally check out of the Clinic. I’ve toned up Shelby Johnson’s body, plus kept her weight stable this past week. Imagine—fifty whole pounds, sweated off in three months. Soon, Shelby’s Before and After images will spring up in vidfeeds everywhere, peddling the Institute’s new client group, teens fourteen to eighteen.

Put an end to obesity before you reach adulthood, the ads will shout. Look fabulous in three to six months! 

I’m happy to say I’ve made important progress for Shelby and the pilot program.

The scanner in the Weigh Center doorway blinks as it reads the ID chip in my hand. This early, the garish green waiting chairs hold only a few Reducers. I nod to another arriving worker, a guy who has about ten pounds left to lose. Before I can start up a conversation, an electronic voice near the ceiling intones, “Morgan Dey, report for weigh-in.”

In Admittance, I step toward an available tech. “Hey, how’s your day going?”

He grunts and barely looks at me as he waves me onto the scale, like Reducers are a bunch of faceless cogs on an assembly line. “Morgan Dey in the body of Shelby Johnson,” he verifies for the data streamer. He records my vitals and steps to the wallscreen readout. “Your assignment is complete. Restoration is scheduled for oh-nine-forty-five today in the administration building. Arrive at least ten minutes early at Mr. Behr’s office.”

A wide grin takes over my face. In one short hour, I can shed my Loaner body and go home. I exit the Weigh Center and take the stairs two at a time back to the second floor. With a hasty handprint, I access my dorm room. After I dictate a log entry of my morning workout, I grab my Institute phone so I can send a voice-to-text message to Mom, Dad, and Granddad. I word the message carefully, since Leo Behr, the director, screens everything a newbie Reducer sends.

Or so he says. Personally, I think it’s a bluffy scare tactic he invented to keep his workers in line.

Coming back today! Restoration at 0945. Home after that. See ya.

I dash off similar messages to Blair and Krista, and I’m ready to reclaim my body and leave this place. Forget the monumental pay. Nothing is worth the constant sweating, sore muscles, and hunger pangs I’ve endured for the past eighty-nine days. For my next job, I’ll find an easier way to earn credits. But I need to clue in my other self. Because when I wake up in my own body after it comes out of suspended animation, I won’t remember thinking this way. I send myself a memo.

Never sign up to be a Reducer again. It’s awesome tech, but a torturous way to earn credits.

For extra insurance, I send another to Blair and Krista: If I ever say I want to be a Reducer again, PLEASE tell me to find a different job.

I can count on my two best friends to stop me from joining a second time, since they weren’t too fired up about me being gone so long this time. Blair also didn’t get the point of the job, since credit shortages aren’t part of her family’s vocabulary. Not that I’ve exactly told her or Krista about my parents’ financial problems. Just my dreams for attending tech school. I don’t want to sound like I’m asking for pity—or worse, bragging about helping Mom and Dad pay the bills.

Downstairs, I slip into the fresh morning light of summer and breathe deeply. Farewell forever, tedious Clinic. Added to that cheerful thought, twelve thousand lovely tax-exempt credits will soon be auto-deposited into my account, not to mention the eight thousand that will go into my parents’ account for their share of my underage earnings. So fantastic.

At the administration building, I pass under the program’s motto, lasered into the metal above my head: The Body Institute: Taking The Work Out of Your Weight Loss. The ID scanner verifies me with a subtle flicker.

Turning left, I head to the director’s office. Leo’s waiting room has plush chairs with built-in gamevids on the armrests. My shoes make no noise on the sound-insulated tiles. As Granddad would say, it’s government extravagance at its best—spending the people’s hard-earned tax revenue. He’s not impressed one teensy bit that Congress is helping fund the Institute to create a healthy future.

I flinch when an electronic voice speaks before I have a chance to sit down.

“Morgan Dey, the director will see you now,” it announces from concealed speakers in the wall.

Speedy response times this morning. I like that.

As I walk through the autodoor into the office, Leo rises behind his desk, his trim build matched with an equally trim mustache. A broad salesman’s smile spreads across his face as he shakes my hand.

“Morgan, you’ve done well. Shelby will be delighted with her new appearance.”

“Thanks, Leo.” I smile at his exuberance. “Will I get to see a vid of her reaction?”

“No. We only reveal your client’s name and show you progress vids so you have a record of your success. Shelby’s allowed to send one text message of thanks, which we’ll forward to you. I’ll take your Institute phone now, please.”

I hold it out, and he whisks it into a desk drawer. I eye his crisp shirt and black suit. Impressive. As usual, he looks like he belongs to this office as much as the mahogany desk, the high-tech desktop screen, and the Italian landscape on the wall.

“Will Shelby be able to keep off the weight I lost for her?” I ask.

Leo gives a rather fierce smile. “The reintroduction program involves a strict year of maintenance exercise. The hardest part will be changing her eating habits, and we’ll help her make that transition.”

I hope that works out for Shelby. At least her body is free of junk food cravings now. She’s already healthier, and she won’t have a bunch of tax fines for being overweight.

“If that’s all your questions, I’ll send you on your way,” Leo says. “Your real body is already emerging from suspended animation, so there shouldn’t be more than a half-hour lapse between Transfers. The solution is leaving your body’s bloodstream, and the stasis gel is evaporating from your skin. See you on the other side.”

It’s strange to hear him talking about my body as if it’s a separate entity from me. I leave the office, and a hostbot shaped like a bell glides up. Flutters of nervousness and excitement cascade over me as I follow the bot’s silvery form down the hall. It’s almost time for the big switch.

We pass a door that slides open, and a voice leaks from the room like dissipating gas, low and almost hissing.

“Then get rid of him, if he knows too much,” a man says. “Send him to Seattle.”

I sidestep as a man with narrowed eyes and a dark goatee rushes out, pocketing his phone.

“Excuse me,” I say. The man strides off, saying nothing in response.

A soft whistle comes from the rolling hostbot. “This way, please,” it says.

I stumble behind the bot, the hairs on my arms standing upright as I stare over my shoulder after the man. What was that conversation about? It sounded hostile or threatening, but I guess I’m hearing the words out of context. I shudder. None of my business anyway, I suppose. By tomorrow, I won’t remember one syllable of that man’s odd conversation.

I can’t decide if that’s a good or a bad thing.

In the Transfer wing, I find a nurse with an angelic face. She’s the same nurse who helped insert my brainmap file into Shelby’s body at the beginning of my assignment.

“Morgan Dey?” the nurse asks in a gentle voice, checking her chart reader. “In the body of Shelby Johnson?”

“Yes. Hi, Irene.”

She scans my ID for verification. I trail her across the room and check the beds we pass to see if my real body is in any of them. Most are empty, while the rest are curtained off for privacy. We come to a section with two beds, one of them occupied, and a shock zings through me. Yes! There it is. My own self—my true body. My dark brown hair is splayed across the pillow, and tubes and sensors are attached to my torso under the gown. I look pale and lifeless. It’s eerie to be standing in front of myself like this. Knowing there’s nobody home inside.

After three months of seeing Shelby’s face reflect back at me in mirrors, my real features on that pillow look as if they belong to someone else.

I rub the goose bumps from my arms and stretch out on the white-draped bed, the one next to my very still body. The sharp odor of rubbing alcohol hits my nostrils, and the prick of Irene’s IV needle stings my forearm. Nerves scramble like crazed insects in my stomach despite my attempt to focus on the swirly patterns on the ceiling.

Electromagnetic Resonance Transfer, or ERT, is an incredibly complex process. Sure, I trust the geniuses who developed it, but if it hiccups or glitches, I’m in huge trouble. If my brainmap doesn’t leave Shelby’s body the way it’s supposed to, I’ll be stuck forever in the body of a blonde with blue eyes. I don’t care that she’s seventeen like me and has a pretty face. I want my own body, and the life that comes with it.

Even worse, if for some reason my original brainmap won’t reinstall into my real body, I’ll be stranded as a data file with no consciousness.

No, stop. I just need to breathe and relax. The ERT process worked great before, and there’s no reason it shouldn’t work now. There hasn’t been a problem with any Transfer since the Institute opened. The risk of failure is microscopic. I’ll be fine.

Irene pulls a divider curtain between my real body and me, and a thin doctor, as gaunt and sunken-eyed as Death himself, stands at my bedside. “You’ve received your anesthetic, Miss Dey,” he says, attaching monitoring sensors to my torso. “In a minute or two you’ll drift off. When you become conscious in your own body, you’ll remember nothing of your experiences as Shelby Johnson. This is normal, since we’ll be using your original brainmap file and not the one you’ve been using in Shelby’s body.”

I squint up at him. Right. I know all this from my initial briefing, but now that I’m about to experience it, it sounds creepy. I’m on the verge of losing three months’ worth of memories in a matter of seconds. My current brainmap will be gone forever, wiped out in the name of patient privacy.

Irene leans over. Her calm face floats in front of me, her features beginning to appear swimmy. “Start with one hundred and count backward. Restoration ERT will begin shortly. It’s like going to sleep. After a short nap, you’ll wake up in your own body.”

I take a deep breath and blow it back out. Here goes nothing. Or rather, hopefully, here goes something.

I begin counting. One hundred, ninety-nine, ninety-eight… 

My eyelids start to grow heavy.

Ninety-seven, ninety-six… 

Naptime. Like going to sleep.

Ninety-five… 

Except if this were a real nap, I’d be more certain I would wake up on the other side.

~*~