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Plumage from Pegasus
by Paul Di Filippo

Make Love, Not Flab

"Dear Mr. Van Gelder,
"I'm looking at all these science fiction writers in Locus and all I can think is…everyone appears overweight, pasty-skinned, saggy-faced, rummy-eyed, just plain tired.…"
—Letter to the editor,
name withheld

"Anxious to avoid obesity? Don't make any major lifestyle changes. Instead, eat 100 fewer calories or burn 100 more a day.… To burn around 100 calories…swim for 10 minutes…ride your bike for 20 minutes…make love for an hour…"
—Elizabeth Large, The Baltimore Sun

THE PHONE rang, but I let the machine take the call. The doorbell sounded, but even though I was expecting a FedEx package containing the galley of my new novel, The Qubit Quandary, I ignored the summons. The clock showed half past one, well beyond the hour when I once used to quit work to watch my favorite soap opera, The Anguish and the Sorrow, but I resolutely kept the TV switched off.

I had to finish my quota of words and miles for the day, before the arrival of the woman from the Science Fiction Writers of America's Consort Bureau.

Strapped into the harness of my special exercycle that left my hands free to type on the laptop computer mounted between the handlebars, I pumped my legs while frantically composing. Sweat dripped off my chin onto the keyboard, but luckily the computer was a surplus military model hardened against such distress. As words flickered into being on the screen, the bike's odometer racked up the final mileage toward my morning exercise goal. Huffing and puffing, I managed to type the last word of a chapter just as the little LED readout showed ten miles.

Wearily, I let my legs come to a rest, saved the file, and powered down both bike and computer. (The telemetry on my exercise had already been automatically forwarded to SFWA.) I unbuckled myself and climbed off. A jug of Gatorade beckoned, and I grabbed it to swig down about half a liter. I was just toweling my face and neck when the doorbell rang once more. Damn! I had hoped to have time for a solitary shower, but it was not to be. I glanced at the clock, saw it was now two, and cursed once more the unvarying promptness of the SFWA Consort service.

I went to the door, towel around my shoulders, sweaty track suit clinging to my chest and legs. My mind was still swirling with complications of my narrative-in-progress, thoughts of tomorrow's writing. All in all, I felt about as ready for sex as a soggy dill pickle.

Dana stood smiling pleasantly, albeit a tad mechanically, on my doorstep. I didn't know her last name, since the Consorts were not allowed to give out that information. She was an attractive young woman with blonde hair in a pageboy cut, freckles across her nose, and a fine, ripe figure.

"Dana, what a surprise. I haven't seen you in six months."

"Just the regular rotation schedule. I've been serving in SFWA's Western Region, but now I'm back East and assigned to you. No personal motivations at all behind my absence. May I come in, please? The clock is ticking."

I repressed a sigh. "Certainly."

It was a warm day and Dana wore no coat. Once inside, she began efficiently to unbutton her blouse. She soon had it off, revealing the requisite rocket-imprinted bra which Victoria's Secret crafted exclusively for SFWA. She was unzipping her skirt to disclose her matching panties when she realized I was not making any comparable moves. She stopped undressing and looked at me with puzzlement.

"What's the problem? Oh, you need a shower. Well, we can certainly have one together, although as you must know, regulations allow only five point five minutes for that activity."

"Dana, forget the shower right now."

She regarded me closely. "Are you feeling sick? If you have a doctor's excuse, we can forego everything except post-coital cuddling."

"No, I'm not sick, and I don't have a doctor's excuse. It's just—Well, Dana, do we have to make love today? Couldn't we just—oh, I don't know—sit and talk?"

Dana assumed a reproachful, monitory look. "You know darn well that's not what I'm getting paid for. I'm here to insure that you burn off one hundred calories, so that you can stay trim and fit and continue to produce bestsellers. This service is coming out of your SFWA dues, after all. Twenty thousand a year isn't pocket change, even for someone with your income. Don't you want maximum value for your money?"

"Naturally, but—"

"Was our lovemaking last time unsatisfactory in terms of metabolic stimulation rates? If so, you should have filled out Form Aitch-nine-one-five-dash-em. But barring that, I'm afraid that the terms of your SFWA membership mandate no less than fifty-five minutes of lovemaking, each and every day of the week."

"Yes, yes, I know all that. But I was just hoping—"

Dana glowered at me. "Hoping what? That perhaps you could suborn me from my duties? Perhaps with a bribe? I'm truly disappointed in you. Do you really think so little of me and my office? I'm not just some dumb bimbo, you know. May I remind you that we Consorts, male and female, are not your typical amateur escorts of old. We all belong to a guild of dedicated sexual therapists, whose only vital interests are the well-being of their clients. That's why we won the contract from SFWA, after all. And believe me, it was a tight race against Sisters in Crime."

"I understand all that. But couldn't I just promise to swim an extra ten minutes at the Y tonight instead?"

"You know that's not an option either—unless you amend your original sign-up sheet by using Form Cue-zee-one-oh-slash-nine. And I should warn you that approval of this form generally takes from nine to fifteen months. When choosing allowed activities and permissable exclusions, you signed up originally for biking, love-making, and skipping that morning doughnut you used to enjoy. Substitution in any of those categories is not condoned."

"But it's just that the lovemaking—"

Dana frowned, then suddenly looked ready to cry. "It's me, specifically, isn't it? I don't match your erotic criteria anymore, do I? It's only three extra pounds, you know. And I'm working hard to lose it. Well, the SFWA Bylaws certainly permit you to choose an alternate escort. Just let me get the sample book out of my car—"

I grabbed Dana's wrist as she turned, heedless of her semi-topless state, to go outside and retrieve the book of escorts. "No, Dana, you're as attractive as ever. It's just that sex by the clock and rulebook has turned the whole activity into something of a chore for me. I mean, it seemed like a good idea at the time I first signed up, but now it's often just drudgery."

"Well, certainly it's a chore. It's just one more of your writerly responsibilities, a regular complement to your chosen lifestyle, yet perhaps the most important task—next to the actual writing, of course." She cocked her head querulously and somewhat frightenedly. "You're not advocating a return to the bad old days, are you?"

"Oh, no, of course not!"

"That's good. Otherwise I'd have to report you. And you know the financial penalties for advocating overthrow of SFWA's Physical Fitness Amendment. The organization can't allow matters to retrogress to that horrid state they were in just ten years ago. Why, it's hard to imagine that such conditions ever existed. Writers who were slothful, self-indulgent, shamefully out of shape, and unphotogenic. No wonder science fiction, fantasy and horror writers were regarded as wheezing geeks, spavined mouse-potatoes and cellulite-pocked nebbishes, unable to command their fair share of media attention. They all were! That image proved to be the main reason why those genres could never command more than a certain limited slice of market-share. The writers were simply perceived as too unhealthy and unattractive. In competition with Jackie Collins, Paul Auster, Zadie Smith and their ilk, the genre writers just couldn't hold their own in the mediasphere."

I hadn't counted on Dana being such a SFWA flack, or on getting a history lesson from her. But I endured her speech as being preferable to the lovemaking. The clock was already running down on our session.

"The field should have recognized all of this long ago, since they had certain breakout successes such as those hotties Jonathan Lethem and Neil Gaiman. And even the case of hunky Kim Stanley Robinson and his massive sales, while occurring within the genre, pointed the way. But instead everyone truly believed that people were actually interested not in Stan's author photos or the thrilling news of his hiking exploits but in reading about stinky old Mars! But once the blinders fell away, it was only a short path to a complete reversal of affairs. And now, ten years later, the majority of SFWA's trim, pumped, and buffed members appear regularly on bestseller lists, talk shows, and reality programs. Why, the latest series of Who Wants to Marry an SF Writer? was rated number one last month! And this is the paradise on Earth that you and your selfishness are intent on destroying!"

Dana's pretty face had grown flushed during her tirade, and I had to confess that I was finding her more attractive by the minute, recalling previous sessions with her when I had been more in the mood. What had I been thinking? Surely this wasn't too high a price to pay for all my worldly success. And what right did one writer have to compromise the fiscal well-being of his peers?

I ran my fingers up Dana's bare arm. "Okay, baby, you've convinced me. Let's go to the bedroom."

Dana checked her watch. "I'm sorry, but there's not enough time now. I have to be with one of the local Grandmasters in an hour. He's appearing on the cover of Modern Maturity and needs me as arm candy. But if you fill out Form Bee-ex-seven-six-four, we can do it twice tomorrow."

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