"Agency requires healthy males/females for body loan. Excellent rates. Phone ...."
The ad appeared in the Saturday sits vac column which I had found beside the garbage disposal bin on the corner of Proximastrasse and Rue Centauri. Had I not been broke with, as they used to say back on good old Terra, not a Yen to my name, I would not have considered Body Loaning. Oh it was respectable enough and hundreds of citizens across the spaceways used it, but somehow it carried a popular image of being slightly sordid - like the visiting masseuse or the nude model. I classed it with selling blood, except few hospitals used the real article nowadays. Still, I was broke and needed money and the ad promised good rates so I fiddled a vidphone booth just long enough for the Body Loan receptionist to give me directions before the machine cut me off.
The agency was in a well-kept backstreet, Magellan Ave or something, and it was lit up in muted glowtubes which prevented it from looking too tacky. The frontage bore the legend "Ursa Metro Body Loan Bureau" in red on a lit up cream background. The same receptionist sat behind a high bar and recognised me by my voice. She produced a sheaf of forms, peeled off one and handed it to me.
"There’s a pen in the booth," she said, smiling and indicating an alcove to one side of the bar.
I sat in the pseudo-hide chair at the pseudo-wood table and picked a pen from the pseudo-something-or-other dispenser. The form asked the usual application form things - name address, history, medical details. I filled them in as honestly as I dared. Against previous occupation I wrote "relocated citizen, n/a" instead of "deported vagrant" and handed the form to the receptionist.
She barely glanced at it before putting it in the duplicator slot. In a few moments every branch of the agency would have a copy uploaded onto computers. I waited those few moments and grew fidgety. Then an androgyne stepped from a door I’d not noticed and ushered me into the heart of the agency. Ursa Metro seemed full of the genderless "drogs" - in the stores, on the streets - hundreds upon thousands of genderless humanoids come from some backward planetoid to seek their fortune and looking human enough to settle in human enclaves and take human jobs for less than human wages. Many were employed within the "entertainment sector" meaning the sex industry where their quasi-human bodies appealed to curious or sexually misdirected humans. The drog outlined the wages and conditions, both quite acceptable to me, and sent me for a medical at the electronic hands and appendages of their computer medic. Obviously the computer liked me because when I stepped from the metallic booth the drog smiled an offer at me.
Body Loan is, despite its popular image, a respectable business. Business people of all races who are unable to meet in person due to physical intolerances of each other’s atmosphere or travel difficulties, hire a suitable body. Their personality is transferred into the hired body (the host’s personality ‘hibernates’) and transactions are completed after which they return their borrowed body to the Body Loan Bureau and transfer their mind back to their own on-ice body. Transfers across millions of lightyears are everyday events and a failsafe ensures that the body returns to the Bureau after a preset time anyway - just in case. Then the host personality is unhibernated, paid and given a little radiopager ready for the next load. Not half as difficult as selling blood, providing the borrower doesn’t abuse the body.
Of course, however hard the Body Loan Bureau screens its clients, there are a few borrowers who merely want to borrow an ‘alien’ form to allow them to indulge in certain pleasures - a sexual liaison with a someone physically incompatible with the borrower’s native form, use of drugs which have no chemical effect on the borrower’s native form or suchlike. Plus the occasional hazard of having a body borrowed for illegal purposes. No doubt such things deter many would be body-lenders, but the money makes the risk worthwhile.
(And sadly, the dream petered out at this very promising point)