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by Scott Westerfield
p.97 Yesterday they’d taken Tally’s final measurements, rolling her all the way through an imaging tube. Should she tell this new ugly that sometime this afternoon, her body was going to be opened up, the bones ground down to the right shape, some of them stretched or padded, her nose cartilage and cheekbones stripped out and replaced with programmable plastic, skin sanded off and reseeded like a soccer field in spring? That her eyes would be laser-cut for a lifetime of perfect vision, reflective implants inserted under the iris to add sparkling gold flecks to their indifferent brown? Her muscles all trimmed up with a night of electrocize and all her baby fat sucked out for good? Teeth replaced with ceramics strong as a suborbital aircraft wing, and white as the dorm’s good china?
They said it didn’t hurt, except for the new skin, which felt like a killer sunburn for a couple of weeks.
As the details of the operation buzzed around in her head, she could imagine why Shay had run away. It did seem like a lot to go through just to look a certain way. If only people were smarter, evolved enough to treat everyone the same even if they looked different. Looked ugly.
If only Tally had come up with the right argument to make her stay.
p.197-200 “They’re called ‘magazines,’” Shay said. She opened one and pointed. Its strangely glossy pages were covered with pictures. Of people.
Tally’s eyes widened as Shay turned the pages, pointing and giggling. She’d never seen so many wildly different faces before. Mouths and eyes and noses of every imaginable shape, all combined insanely on people of every age. And the bodies. Some were grotesquely fat, or weirdly overmuscled, or uncomfortably thin, and almost all of them had worng, ugly proportions. But instead of being ashamed of their deformities, the people were laughing and kissing and posing, as if the pictures had been taken at some huge party. “Who are these freaks?”
“They aren’t freaks,” Shay said. “The weird thing is, these are famous people.”
“Famous for what? Being hideous?”
“No. They’re sports stars, actors, artists. The men with stringy hair are musicians, I think. The really ugly ones are politicians, and someone told me that the fatties are mostly comedians.”
“That’s funny, as in strange,” Tally said. “So this is what people looked like before the first pretty? How could anyone stand to open their eyes?”
“Yeah. It’s scary at first. But the weird thing is, if you keep looking at them, you kind of get used to it.”
Shay turned to a full-page picture of a woman wearing only some kind of formfitting underwear, like a lacy swimsuit. “What the. . .,” Tally said.
The woman looked like she was starving, her ribs thrusting out from her sides, her legs so thin that Tally wondered how they didn’t snap under her weight. Her elbows and pelvic bones looked sharp as needles. But there she was, smiling and proudly baring her body, as if she’d just had the operation and didn’t realized they’d sucked out way too much fat. The funny thing was, her face was closer to being pretty than any of the rest. She had big eyes, smooth skin, and small nose, but her cheekbones were too tight, the skull practically visible beneath her flesh. “What is she?”
“Which is what?”
“Kind of like a professional pretty. I guess when everyone else is ugly, being pretty is sort of, like, your job.”
“And she’s in her underwear because...?” Tally began, and then a memory flashed into her mind. “She’s got that disease! The ones the teachers always told us about.”
“Probably. I always thought they made that up to scare us.”
Back in the days before the operation, Tally remembered, a lot of people, especially young girls, became so ashamed at being fat that they stopped eating. They’d lose weight too quickly, and some would get stuck and would keep losing weight until they wound up like this “model.” Some even died, they said at school. That was one of the reasons they’d come up with the operation. No one got the disease anymore, since everyone knew at sixteen they’d turn beautiful. In fact, most people pigged out just before they turned, knowing it would all be sucked away.
Tally stared at the picture and shivered. Why go back to this?
p.339 David rummaged through the bag. “Plenty of instant food. Let’s see, VegiRice, CurryNoods, SwedeBalls, PadThai. . . any favorites?”
Tally took a deep breath. Back to the wild.
“Anything gut SpagBol.”