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From the author: Piyel is part of a late-stage reality television dynasty, and she wants out.
“I want to… leave?” Piyel tells her mother, who is watching her cry from the other side of the kitchen bench. They have twenty-seven percent of their conversations there, and it rates at a 7.8 with the viewers because it seems so ‘homey’.
The words feel like they’ve been right there for as long as she can remember. As she sobs, her face doesn’t move exactly, so she turns her lips up, then down, because she’s not sure which is right, but she knows that something should be happening with her lips. Tears roll from her taut eyes and she dabs at them with a silk/spider-silk blend Rilla-Cruz handkerchief because Marketing is trying to make handkerchiefs happen again this year. She dabs carefully and tries to make sure the logo flashes outwards.
“Leave?” Perola, her mother, says, looking over at their Producer, Aeren. “Piyel, we haven’t rehearsed this?” Her voice lilts into the question-like vocal fry that punctuates the way their entire family speaks. “If you want to talk about it, we need to do that in the weekly Development Meeting, with the lawyers present? There are contracts to think of.” Perola reaches across the table and puts her hand on Piyel’s shoulder, tapping it once, twice.
Piyel goes stiff. Perola’s fingernails are eight-inch chrome spikes and one false move could see one pierce her jugular or windpipe or at least slip in under the collarbone. She’s heard whispers in Image and Marketing that they might try and make short nails happen next microseason and she wonders what it might be like to have her mother’s hand on her shoulder in a gesture that is not the opposite of comforting.
“I don’t care about lawyers or contracts,” Piyel says, letting her voice catch in the way that sends a surge of heartrate in their wired viewers.
She thinks she doesn’t care about contracts. She doesn’t know. She’s not seen hers.
Aeren motions from behind Camera Unit 2, who takes a step back, lenses retracting with a wave of soft clacks. Her light flicks from red to blue, and this colour change rinses the clench from Piyel’s gut because she’s not on. But then she thinks about how stupid that is, because she’s always on. Everthing is always recorded in case they need it for backstory.
“Piyel?” Aeren says. “What is this? Also, you’re blocking.”
She steps slightly to one side and turns her head, giving the camera her left side even though the camera unit is over by the Craft Service table, chatting up a girl from Image and stuffing truffle pancakes in her mouth. Piyel’s best side is her left side and it’s lucky because Perola’s best side is her right, so they get to have a lot of conversations.
From the Thrippet Wiki:
Piyel Tuesday Moore-Thrippet is a member of the Thrippet Family and star of The Great House Thrippet, born into Season 228, episode 30. She is the second daughter of Perola Crinoline Astrid Cumberland-Moore-Thrippet and Petr Bombaderie Thrippet.
Her birth, which coincided with the mid-season break, broke all previous viewer records, with a viewership of 4.6 billion and a viewer rating of 9.98.
She is engaged to Thursday-Jordan Atkins-Rowe, the third-generation star of Atkins Row, and their wedding is scheduled for the finale of season 246.
Aeren calls a cut and Perola’s team swoops in, taking her off to the Image department on the second floor for hair and makeup. Piyel’s younger sister Perseus sweeps out of the room, knocking into Piyel.
“Thanks for ruining the scene,” she says, then drops her voice low and vicious so only Piyel can hear, “9.98.”
Piyel goes white. Her sister, born a year after her, topped the VR at 9.99. She immediately feels so empty inside that she mentally schedules in some time to find her older sister, Pinta, and call her 9.96 to her face. For now, Piyel starts to follow her mother up to Image, but Aeren and his assistant, who is also called Aeren, steer her off towards Legal.
“What the fuck was that?” Aeren hisses, yanking hard on her wig for a second before he lets go. Piyel teeters in her eleven-inch Huáng Meizhen spidersilk/carbon fibre heels. She’s got terrible balance from the structural reshape Surgical implemented on her feet – she’s all toe and ball. The other Aeren catches her and rights her body, and she trots fast down the hall, trying to catch up as Aeren swats at her heels with his softscreen.
They put her into a small, dark room she’s not been in before, with a placard on the door that reads ‘Negotiations.’ It’s mirrored all over and Piyel can’t stop glancing at her reflection, tilting her face this way and that, ducking her lips so they puff out, because, who knows? If they run this footage later she wants to look good. Piyel waits, and waits, shifting in her Ghosh bespoke stainless-steel/fungi mashup dress, which is getting tight, forcing out soft lumps here and there. She’s scheduled for a quick all-over-suck in surgical later today, or is it tomorrow? She’s not sure, but she knows Image is freaking out that she’s putting on weight. Merchandising too, because all the custom fashion they’ve had made to her measurements would be so expensive to tailor/re-weld/re-grow. They’ve got a staunch Nutritionist on staff who controls every gram they push into her opal-studded feeding tube (Marketing is trying to make opals happen again this season), but Piyel’s been eating again and she gulps with tight, hot fear that they might have caught her.
The legal team flies in, led by Piyel’s manager Stout, a tall woman with a face so taut and featureless she looks 2D. Usually she stands to the left of Camera One while they are filming, or at Piyel’s side, sinister and slightly behind, but today she was in negotiations with Surgical about Piyel’s latest body lipo and the adjustment to her assplants, one of which has shifted a few millimetres to the right and needs to be re-placed.
Piyel wonders if that’s why she said it, because Stout wasn’t there, watching with her wide, wide eyes, unblinking.
I hate Stout, Piyel thinks, the sentence appearing in her head like a line on a prompter. She’s never thought these words before, but knows instantaneously that it’s always been true. Stout has managed Piyel since birth. Like a mother, Piyel did not get to choose her, and she realises only now how much she hates her, in the way that only daughters can hate their mothers. Or pseudo-mothers.
“Stout?” Piyel says. “I think I want to, like, fire you? Like, not work with you or ever have to see you again?”
Stouts face remains the same, but something changes in her eyes.
“Piyel…” she says, her voice cracking. Piyel’s heartrate jumps a little, and she now sees what Vital Statistics was going for when they got Personality and Mannerisms to teach her that.
“Piyel, I’ve… I’ve been with you since you were born. I held you before Perola did.” She holds a hand over her chest, clenching the fist there, catching her custom-grown moss blouse in her fingers and crushing all the delicate threads. Piyel knows that she’s trying to covey how her heart is breaking. Emotions and Mannerisms held a short joint seminar on this kind of thing when she was fourteen. Stout was there, sitting behind and slightly to the left, so Piyel is not sure if she can trust that Stout’s heart is actually breaking or if she’s just outwardly presenting it.
“I don’t want to marry Thursday-Jordan. I’m not ready? Also, I’m not sure if you realise this, but I think he’s a sociopath?
“Callous-unemotional is the correct term, Piyel,” Stout says, and now Piyel is sure they know, but they don’t care.
Aeren nods off to the side and the mirrored walls go dark and fill with lines of text that blip and flash across the black. Piyel catches tiny phrases here and there: ConCom hereby retains all rights…’, ‘all personal images and presentations subject to contractual copyright laws…’, ‘conclusively between the subject’s first and last breaths…’
Contract bombardment. Piyel has heard about this. When her sister Pinta met her first husband for the first time in a Series Development meeting and she didn’t want to marry him, Legal took her down to Negotiations and took her through her contracts for five days until she realised he actually was a good match.
“Now, Piyel,” the other Aeren says, Aeren looming behind him, all stormy in his pinched face. “There are legalities to consider in this instance. I think you might need a little time to look over them.”
“I didn’t agree to any of this,” Piyel says.
Aeren looks to Stout, who looks to the other Aeren, who looks to Aeren. All incredulous.
“You were born into the contract, Piyel. Your birth was your agreement.” Aeren ushers the others out of the room. “We’re going to give you some time to look things over,” he says from the door. “Your current storyline will be pushed aside indefinitely. We’ll go with Perseus and that Hover crash thing we’ve had in development.”
The door closes and Piyel is left in the almost-dark. She kicks off her Huáng Meizhen’s and unstraps her titanium breastplate, hurling it at the diamondscreens, which flicker with the impact but don’t crack. A split appears in the door and a Nutripack pops through and flops onto the floor. She tiptoes over on bare feet, picks it up, plugs it into her tube. The opals sparkle in the glow from the text flickers as it trembles across her skin, long scrubbed into featurelessness.
Even in the bombard, she thinks that it’s nice to be alone. No camera units following her with their creepy grins and clacking lenses, or whispers of ‘9.98’ from Perseus. No rehearsals, no Image yanking on her parts. Alone, in the quiet.
After ten minutes she feels rested.
After eleven minutes, she’s bored.
After fifteen, she starts reading.
It takes two days for Piyel to figure it out.
When the Nutripack pops through on day three, Piyel pokes her nose out through the split in the door.
“Get Stout. Get the Aerens. Get Legal. Now.”
The handler nods. “Of course, Ms Thrippet.”
Stout comes through first, but doesn’t look at her. The other Aeren is next and he grimaces as he sees her – wigless and scraped bald, her soft, blue dress crumpled in the corner and Piyel, pasty-skinned, oily and big-eyed from the dark, naked and perched, all angular but for the curve of her various implants.
“Piyel, darling, you look… just awful?” The other Aeren says, brow trying to crease with the horror of it all, but unable.
Legal files through next and the text fades from the walls, replaced with the soft white glow of ambient lighting.
“Look, Piyel. We’re not willing to negotiate on Thursday-Jordan. There’s not enough time to enter negotiations with anyone else, besides, we need a cross-over with Atkins Row, and this is the prime way to do it.”
“You’re right? Like, I’ve used this time to think and I realise what a bitch I’m being?” Piyel says, gathering the torn up shreds of her dress around her.
Aeren smirks. Kind of.
“We thought that would be the case. Besides, there’s no room to wiggle here, Piyel. The contract isn’t open to negs.”
“You’re so right? I’m being really unreasonable, I know.” Piyel looks to Stout and holds out her arms. “Stout, I’m like, so sorry? I must have had a total brain-glitch the other day? It’s probably all the food I’ve been eating.”
Stout’s eyes gleam a little, but there aren’t any tears there, her tear ducts long removed. She gathers Piyel into her arms and Piyel wants to shrink from the stiff, cold embrace, but she folds herself into it.
“I knew you’d come around, Piyel. You wouldn’t cut me out, I know that.” Stout steps back from her. “And look, you’ve dropped all those extra grams, maybe even a few kilos since you’ve been down here! You won’t even need the all-over suck, I’ll get Surgical to cancel it.”
Stout leads her out of the room and an emergency team from Image rushes in around her, bellowing about the state she’s in and blasting her in the face with the HD guns, powder and colour flying everywhere.
The other Aeren helps her along the hall as her team and legal rush ahead, everyone chattering into their ‘plants. He knots the threads of her dress together gently as they go.
“Aeren, help me get my shoes on,” she says and they pause. He kneels before her and slots a twisted foot into the Huáng Meizhen, holding it gently, reverent.
“You love me, right? Like, you’d do anything for me?”
The other Aeren responds by taking her mangled bare foot into his mouth, tongue working over the scar tissues hidden on the sole.
“Anything,” He says. It comes out all garbled, but Piyel understands. His eyes roll back with pleasure as she pushes her foot in further, feeling his veneers scrape against her arch. It makes her feel sick.
“Good. I need your help.”
Piyel flies along in the hover, fresh air stinging her eyes. Perseus sits next to her in the back, and they laugh, their wig strands tangling together in the wind, but Piyel can feel one of Perseus’s stainless nails stabbing into her thigh. Perseus is still pissed with her for wrecking the scene the other day, though Piyel can’t understand why – she’s got a whole arc to herself now, even if Piyel’s been written in as a participant.
Piyel’s not sure who’s driving. It’s some good looking hire who handles the Merc hover like the expert he obviously is, even though he’s playing the part of a handsome socialite. He whips the hover around a corner, and this is the part where their faces are supposed to fill with horror as the Merc loses control. Time slows down and Piyel looks to Perseus, whose face is contorted slightly in what is supposed to be a grimace, even though that’s utterly impossible. The hover banks and impacts lightly, the camera unit jolting, but bolted hard to the outside, getting their facials in close-up. Piyel puts a hand over her heart as she slams forward into the seatbelt.
Piyel’s heart stops.
She gasps her last breath.
From E-Feed Daily:
Piyel Tuesday Moore-Thrippet of The Great House Thrippet died today in a hovercrash that also injured her younger sister Perseus and an unnamed family friend who was behind the wheel. The young feed-star is mourned by her family and billions of viewers worldwide. Her death will be televised later tonight in a special episode of The Great House Thrippet, broadcast on ConCom at 8pm. Watch the superstars of the Thrippet Family mourn at her funeral, tomorrow at 12. Subscribe to the feed here! See exclusive shots of the crash scene here!
When Piyel wakes up, she’s in a fabulous Hugo Boss live-violet/steel-rust gown, virtually pouring out of the bespoke marble coffin. Piyel is cold and there are flowers everywhere, the stink of them so overwhelming that she almost passes out again. The other Aeren is there, crouched above her.
Piyel sits up.
“It worked. I didn’t know if it would work. I was so scared I’d killed you, like, for real?”
“No, it was perfect. The timer nanos stopped my heart at, like, the exact right second.”
“How did it feel?”
“Like nothing? Like I was asleep or before I was born. I guess that’s death or whatever. Huh. So, how were the viewer stats, if you don’t mind me asking?”
“Oh, astronomical! 10.0 VR, viewership of 25 billion. Perseus is fucking furious.”
She shimmers out of the dress and leaves it in the coffin, still in the shape of her.
“Did you bring her?”
The other Aeren points to a large duffel bag just off to the side of her funereal platform. A wigged head pokes out, an arm. It’s one of Piyel’s artificial stand-ins, a finely sculpted doppelganger of silicone and latex.
“They won’t buy it, this is stupid. They are going to notice,” the other Aeren says, as they wrestle her into the dress, into the coffin.
“No one will notice? They’ll be too busy trying to milk the viewer stats?”
“They’re in an emergency Dev meeting as we speak.”
Piyel dresses in the shapeless black shift the other Aeren brought her. She doesn’t know who made it, and she shivers with the realisation that it doesn’t matter. She presses an almost-hidden button by the side of the coffin and a marble slab descends. She watches as it seals Piyel Tuesday Moore-Thrippet in her streamlined sarcophagus. She says goodbye, but doesn’t linger.
They leave through the Thrippet Vault memorial giftshop.
“What will you do now?” The other Aeren asks, handing Piyel a pair of dark glasses that cover most of her face. Unwigged and bald, concealed, she could be anyone.
“Like, I’m not really sure? But it doesn’t matter?”
It doesn’t matter. No one will be watching.
This story originally appeared in Aurealis Magazine, Issue 102, July 2017 .