by Vera Brook
The first time it happened Mira and John were in a restaurant—a posh vegan bar with an underwater theme. The ceiling and most walls were sections of a large aquarium, lit up from within. Shadows of gentle water currents and darting fish danced around the room. The effect was dizzying.
On her way back from the bathroom, Mira passed a glass wall filled with colorful, swiftly moving fish so flat they briefly disappeared when turning around, as if lacking one dimension.
Mira caught a glimpse of her own reflection in the glass.
Except the reflection suddenly smiled a brilliant smile.
Mira froze. Could it be…?
But the woman was already coming towards her—a tight black dress, heels clicking.
“I can’t believe it!” The woman was giddy with excitement. “It’s you. The real Mira!” Doubt cut through her glee. “Isn’t it?”
Mira stared at the woman’s face—at her own face—for loss of words. Every feature was recreated in the last detail and with uncanny accuracy. Her eyes, her nose, her lips.
“Mira?” John had come looking for her. The direction he’d come from made him face the other woman first. The woman smiled again, her cheeks darkening under John’s direct gaze. He stopped, and his eyes lingered on the stranger’s face.
Mira felt sick to her stomach. “I’m here.”
John blinked and turned to her. “Are you alright?”
“I want to get out of here.”
They left right away, John holding Mira’s hand in the hovercab all the way back to the luxury loft they now owned.
But it was only the beginning.
Three months earlier, on the morning of Mira’s appointment, John waited for her in the kitchen. He’d made coffee.
She poured herself a cup and drank it at the counter. Her hands shook.
“Hey.” John slipped his strong arms around her. Worry creased his broad, plain face. “You don’t have to do it. You know that, right?”
She couldn’t help but smile. “I know. I want this.” He was happy to support her if she only let him. But she wouldn’t.
“Okay. I won’t try to stop you.” He lifted his hand and stroked her cheek, his calloused fingertips at once rough and gentle against her skin.
Every day, he went to the gym to do nothing but climb the same wall over and over again. She never fully understood it, and he couldn’t explain it. But something about it resonated with her. It was one of the reasons she’d fallen in love with him.
“You have the most beautiful smile in the world,” he said. “And if they can’t see it, they’re blind.”
She kissed him, then gently pushed him away. “I have to go.”
He meant well, but he got it wrong. It wasn’t rejection she feared.
It was getting the job.
The agency building was all glass and polished steel. Her reflection leapt from pillar to pillar as she crossed the lobby, peered back at her from the elevator walls, rushed at her when she approached the agent’s door.
Tall and slim, the agent was clad in a smart-fabric tunic that shimmered like water with their every movement. Subtle eye makeup and an immaculately trimmed beard.
She expected an audition of some sort, but the agent only led her to a chair and handed her a tablet. “We want to offer you a contract. I’ve sent it to your lawyer. Any questions, don’t hesitate to ask.”
The contract was short. Her lawyer app gave a green light almost instantly, but she forced herself to read through the few pages anyway.
The agency asked for exclusive worldwide rights for ten years. No surprises there. But the royalty rate made her pulse quicken. “You’re offering me forty percent on every sale?” It seemed insanely high. This type of designer plastic surgery cost a fortune.
The agent smiled. “It’s a new territory, and we want to set a good example. Our agency has been a champion of the arts for over two hundred years.”
“But I’m not an artist,” she blurted out, an old disappointment slicing through her.
She sketched every day, painted with oils whenever she could afford a new canvas. But she was never satisfied with the results.
“No—you’re not an artist,” the agent agreed. “You’re the art.”
That hurt more than it should.
She dropped her gaze, quickly signed the contract, and handed the tablet back.
“Excellent,” the agent said. “Follow me.”
The photo session and tissue scans took less than an hour. And then it was done.
The agent accompanied Mira down to the lobby. “We’ve deposited your advance already, and the royalties are paid monthly.” Their fingers brushed hers, the handshake so brief she barely felt it. “Congratulations, Mira. You’re rich. Enjoy.”
The shimmering tunic departed through the sea of mirrors.
Mira stepped out of the building and logged into her banking app.
She stared at the number, her heart pounding as disbelief turned to joy. The agent was right. She’d never have to worry about money again. She was free to make art all day.
But a sting of fear followed. What if the agent was right, and she wasn’t an artist?
All her paintings failed. She was making no progress, even though she barely left her new art studio, often working through the night. Not even John saw her finished pieces.
All the while, her fame grew.
Once the first wave of surgeries had proven safe and effective, Mira’s look became a global sensation and an ultimate fashion statement, with dozens and then hundreds of wealthy women redoing their faces in her image every week.
Soon, Mira couldn’t enter a store or a gallery without running into a copy of herself. And the worst thing was—they all looked happy. Or happier than she was anyway. Why else would they all be smiling so hard?
You have the most beautiful smile in the world.
Except she didn’t. The smile wasn’t hers anymore. Her face was a commercial asset that could be licensed by anyone who could pay. When she looked in the mirror, she saw a stranger.
John was quieter now. He waited for her to come to him, and when she didn’t, he kept his distance. He never complained. But he came back home later than ever, his fingertips scraped raw from climbing, as if he had to claw his way out of a rock.
She missed him desperately. But he couldn’t help her, couldn’t tell her who to be.
She had to choose for herself.
The delivery of paints came mid-morning. A serious young woman handed Mira her package.
“What happened to your arm?” Mira asked.
A pale, knotted scar stretched from the top of the woman’s hand to her elbow like a strange vine in bloom.
“Oh. Knocked down a pot of boiling soup when I was a kid.”
Mira was transfixed. “It’s beautiful.”
The woman chuckled. “I’ve never heard that before but… thanks.”
After she left, Mira grabbed a sketchbook, a new idea taking shape.
She’d been chasing perfection. But perfection was dull, a dead end. Beauty was unique, surprising, unsettling…
The relief was exhilarating.
“Let’s go traveling,” she told John when he brought her dinner. “What’s a good climbing destination for a newbie?”
His eyes lit up. “You want to learn to climb?”
“If you’ll teach me.”
He pulled her close. “When do we leave?”
She kissed his mouth. “How about a week from now? I need to finish a project first.”
Mira sits in a reclining surgical chair while a nurse fastens a padded strap around her forehead to prevent head movements. Mira barely feels it, her face comfortably numb.
The cuts need to be precise to protect the facial muscles under the skin, and the bioprinted implants flawlessly placed to produce the desired scars. It will take all of the surgeon’s skill to sculpt into Mira’s cheeks the intricate lines and textures.
A new face she designed for herself.
And this one isn’t for sale.
Vera Brook is a neuroscientist turned science fiction and fantasy writer, working in both novel and short-story form. Her latest, indie published novel is Ghost Runner, book 3 in the Sand Runner series. You can learn more about her writing at verabrook.com or on Twitter at @VeraBrook1.