From the editor:
You’ve never known embarrassment until you’ve shown up at a skinrave with the same facio-cranial avatar upgrade as your nemesis. Luckily, Cordite Hadli’s doctor will set her up with a proto-trend so unique, it’ll settle this rivalry once and for all.
Australian author Marlee Jane Ward is a graduate of Clarion West, and her work has appeared in Terraform, Apex, Aurealis, and more.
Content note: mature.
From the author: I love to read this story aloud, it's so much fun and a crowd-pleaser. It was my week 6 Clarion West story. I wrote it in an afternoon, utterly delirious from lack of sleep, kinda blazed and suuuuper hungover. If you like transhumanism, 'It' girls, and a fuckton of made up words, this might be the story for you.
When I get to the skinrave and see that Curve Cilla Pando-Deng has the same facio-cranial avatar upgrade I installed two days ago, to say that I'm pissed would be something of an understatement.
I double-take in case my Corneal's ID program is glitching but when I look back her stats are still glowing, hyperimposed over her facsimile face. Fuck!
I ex the rave, even though there's a slew of colourful babes-of-paradise already puffing on synthocibin, stripping down to show off their genital upgrades. Me, I've got a mean new org that is a cross she-hyena megaclit and an Eastern Grey Kangaroo triple vag that Dr Kinlophica designed bespoke for me and I'm just dying to use it, but I can't be seen dead with the same skin on as that replicunting slut Curve. To think she used to be my best friend.
When I get back to the apartment, I call Dr Kinlo on my cellplant and purr when he answers. Last month he upgraded my larynx with the fresh-discovered Newitz-Slough organ so that I actually purr and trill like a cat. That's a legit custom refurb, very expense.
“Cordite Hadli Stam-Doutzen-Wrengler, is that you, kittycat?”
“Who else would it be?”
“Of course it's you, you sound positively felicious.”
“Kinlo, wanna tell me why I showed up at the week's most exclusive skinrave to find that labia-cyst Curve Cilla Pando-Deng wearing the same fucking face as me?”
There's a long pause on the connex.
“Don't you dare mute me out! What's going on?”
I hear an almost inaudible crump over the wave as he flips voice back on. I wouldn't have picked it up without my Greater-Wax-Moth auditory patch – mega-costy, but worth every fucking cent. I mean, have you ever listened to voidstep at 300kHz? Utterly perftense.
“I'm listening, Kinlo.” My slick patent hooves click over the obsidian tiles in the bathroom as I shed my Brexley-Miut-Cross mini-dress and puff my breast-feathers. I step into the mister and let the fine spray puff over my plumage.
“Now, I'm not saying I saw Curve's stylist at the preview the other night, I'm just saying I might have seen her.”
“Gluh. I mean, her face was stunning, but you should have seen the rest of her, Kinlo. Horricious!”
“No one wears a hoof-plumage combo quite like you, Cordi!”
I shake out my mane and smooth my feathers with an all-purpose groomer.
“So what do you vision for our appointment tomorrow? I'm thinking huge. Literal giant, yes? Or Karmine Plimpson had Serp-Rodents in her show last week. I think the whole mash-up of predator and prey is heaps in. I'm tired of this Avio-Equine vibe, it seems like everyone's a fucking flying horse this week.”
“This week? Sweetness, this week is so last week. I've been in secret talks with Annah Sycamore-Raven-Jones-Wold and I've got the look that the hypermodels will all be wearing in her show on Tuesday. It's utterly transgressive, babe, you've no idea.”
“I love it already,” I say, clicking off my cellplant.
“Octo-chic, Kinlo! Absolutely tentacular. Is that the look I'm going for today?”
I trot into his office and throw my coat into the eight wriggling limbs of a waiting recep. Everyone at the office has a subtle cephalopod vibe going on right now. Kinlo shimmies beside the Upgrader, his skin rippling and changing colour, texture, shape and form from moment to moment. It's so fierce I can't even handle it.
“No, Cordi, I've got something totally proto-trend in line for you.” He kisses my feathered hand with pebbled squidly lips and I step inside the upgrader. It's all slick surgical steel, very dark and cool, and that thrill of imminent upgrade runs through my spinal fluid and thumps in my cunts as I'm locked into place and sealed.
“Wait, Kinlo,” I say, actually kind of processing what he's said. I pull against the stays, my crest erect with mega-alarm. “Proto-trend? What do you mean, proto? Proto-what?”
It's too late though, because the stuporific is already pumping in and everything goes to static like a retroview on the fritz.
“Kinlo!” I wail, clutching at my face. “This is unacceptraneous!”
“It's fabulous, Cordy. It's so up to date it's basically tomorrow. It's next Tuesday, I swear.” Behind him six or so molluscan assistants nod and ripple rainbow in unison.
“So hot. Steaming. Lava,” an underling breathes, his jelly shreds trailing like there's a breeze in here, which there isn't.
“Magma,” another whispers.
“The Earth's very molten core!” Kinlo bellows, stroking my hair. My hair! Like real fucking long amber strands that tumble down over my pale shoulders in waves. My shoulders!
“Kinlo, I'm not sure how I feel about this.” In the mirror I see a look of incredulity and panic cross my face. “My emotions are showing.”
The face is a creamy heart split in thirds with eyes-nose-lips. All humanoid. Humanoid! Breasts like pyramid points with pale pink nipples stand over a gentle-curving belly. One sex organ – a singular orifice that's so utterly plain that I'm not even sure what I could do with it. The legs are a pair of very unstable, single jointed pins that end in dainty feet with ten fucking toes.
“Classic visage is the latest thing, Cordite. It's an expert level look to pull off and, if you don't mind me saying, to create.”
“I know another way to get this look, Kinlo.” I ball my fists, squeeze my eyes shut and shriek.
“Being born poor!”
He staggers a little, his cuttle-skin palping with moribund flashes of khaki and dirt-brown.
“Have you... have you seen the tail?” he chokes.
Just above my hairless, featherless, scaleless ass is an admittedly fabulous brushy foxtail. I give it a half-measure flap and then another, more vigorous wag.
“I suppose the tail is rather... brushular,” I sniff.
“Totally brushular,” chime the phalanx of squidsistants.
“If you say the natro-look is in, I guess I could try and work it.” I turn back to the mirror and assess my formitude, run my hands over the weirdly soft skin that's just, like, everywhere, bounce the soft breasts in each hand, explore the folds of the basic vaginal model betwixt the milky thighs. My milky thighs.
“I guess if anyone has the audacitence to pull this off, it's me,” I say, and hold my head high, curling a lip and I try to embrace the sheer authenti-chic of it all.
Arleigh-Kael Azri's coming out soiree is as good a particular as any to debut the new look, so I click up to her door early-ish (not too early though, squick!) in a pair of ultra-vintage shoes that Kinlo's stylist told me were quadruple-exclusive back in the dark ages when everyone just had standard-issue feet.
The doorman gawks at me. He's running a pretty snarly lizard upgrade and I brush my tail over his scales as I pass, flashing him what I'm hoping is a sexy pout. I'm not really up on the faciality of this model, but I've been practising in the mirror all day so I'm halfway there. He winks his inner and outer eyelids at me and I take it as a good sign. In the elevator on the way up I assess the dimensions of this upgrade for the eighteen-billionth time and try to prefigure my entrance for maximum bombastibility.
“You got this, you superbulous bitch,” I tell myself, swishing my golden-ombre tail. The lift doors spread.
“Cordite Hadli? Is that you? That's a bold look you're faciating there.” Azri-Kael sports an astoundishing raptor-rabbit mashup upgrade, velvet ears sprouting from a whitecapped feathered skull. Pred-prey is so 72 hours ago, but I bite my lip. After all, it's her special day.
“Bold,” she says again, then grins beneath her yellow beak. “Love it.”
The elevator dings behind me and Curve Cilla Pando-Deng steps off on a pair of familiar creamsicle gams. Her tumble-hair is yellow and she's got a prehensile tail like a Golden Macaque. Natro-with-a-twist, but she's too late because everyone here has already lowered oculars on me in this upgrade.
Curve reads my ID stats on her Corneal and that humanic face splits apart with rage. She stomps back into the elevator on her spindly little feet and I wave my digitals, blow her a kiss with my labial tubercles puckered. I think I'm doing it right, anyway.
“Basical copy-cunt,” I hiss as the doors close behind her and I pediate into the party, joining a group vein-blasting phegeia and tetrameth, and feeling just totally atavistacular.
This story originally appeared in Andromeda Spaceways.