Welcome to NaNoWriMo, where I - and thousands of other plucky souls - try to write a 50,000 word novel in a month.
You are reading "Tales of the Algorithm". A compendium of near-future sci-fi stories. Each chapter is a stand-alone adventure set a few days from now.
Everything you read is possible - there's no magic, just sufficiently advanced technology. Think of them as technological campfire horror stories.
Your feedback on each story is very much appreciated.
And so, let's crack on with...
The first important thing you should know about me is that I am beautiful.
I don't mean that I am pretty. I don't mean that my husband tells me how cute I am. I don't even mean you think I could be the weather girl on channel 7.
I mean your man would leave you in an instant if he thought he had a chance with me. He'd chew off his own finger to remove any trace of a wedding ring just to be near me. You don't need me to describe my beauty, you already have a pretty good picture in your head of what I'm like, don't you?
They say Helen of Troy's face launched a thousand ships. My face became so much more important to world events than hers. I'm not boasting. That's just a simple fact. My beauty has changed the course of the world. It's just a pity it had to happen like this.
The second important thing you should know about me is that it is all natural. Sweetheart, I don't even wear makeup. These lips are that full without filler and astonishingly red without lipstick. You can tune your photo filters all you want but they'll never get close to the perfection of my skin. No invasive toxins have paralysed my flesh. No synthetic compounds pump up my arse or tits. The surgeon's scalpel hasn't been anywhere near my labia.
What you see is what I am. Stunning perfection. A goddess to put all others to shame.
You must think I'm a perfect bore to go on about this. But I promise you it's relevant. Old ladies used to stop me in the street and ask who did my nose. I tried to tell them it was God, but they cursed me for not sharing a name or address they could give to their hideous lump of a daughter.
I've had lovers pull back my ears looking for that tell tale scar. One enterprising chap hooked me up to a polygraph and gave me an MRI just to be sure. Both looked terrified when they could find no evidence of manipulation. It was as though my natural beauty was an affront to them. Men who had designed perfection could not conceive of it occurring naturally.
The third and final thing you need to know about me is that I am cold. I feel frozen. Not emotionally - although the last few years have tested me - I am physically cold. I struggle to wake. It is warm in my dreams and frigid in reality. There is an urgency. I don't quite understand what. But I must wake. Something is wrong. So terribly wrong. The cold numbs my pain, but it isn't quite enough.
But, for a moment, let's go back to my beauty.
It may surprise you to know that I am not remarkable in this world. Everyone is gorgeous these days. Genetic contouring only gets you so far. Perhaps you select the sperm with the best chance of blue eyes. Or you selectively abort any foetus without perfect facial symmetry. That only gets you part of the way there.
But, as the old advertising slogan goes, the blade fixes God's mistakes. And, shit, does he make a lot of them! Crooked noses? Slice that carbuncle off your face and 3D print a more suitable one. When your child grows out of it, pop it off and pop in a more fashionable one. Burn the acne clean off your hormone drenched face. Replica skin will cover those acid scars - and why not some better cheekbones while you're with us?
Dissatisfied with a part of your body? We can make it longer, shorter, wider, thinner. The customer is always right. And a second visit to iron out any kinks hardly costs more than the first. Wake up with great hair every day. We'll put little capsules of dye just below your hair line. Your roots will never show.
That last was, of course, a lie. If you stopped paying the subscription fee, your hair quickly reverted to its original colour. If you couldn't afford the ever increasing costs and tried using third party dye, they sent people round to repossess your scalp.
Sure, some people went too far. We'd all met someone whose dick was shaped like a dragon, or who thought shaving their ocular sockets was a great way to get Disney-Princess-Eyes. But most people wanted classical beauty. And I was classically beautiful. So much so, that shortly after my 16th birthday, I was pirated.
My face was a meme. My body was a drop-down option on a surgeon's website. My genetic gifts were ripped-off and set free on hobbyist websites where desperate coders grew replicas of me to wear. I didn't own the rights to my own body. My face wasn't a trademark. There's no intellectual property for beauty. And so I was repeatedly copied.
I cannot explain the psychic distress of walking onto a crowded train and seeing your own face stare back at you a dozen times. I'd switch on the TV and see myself reading the news, or being butchered in a horror movie, or winning a game show. I was everywhere. I spoke to a lawyer about whether I could sue anyone over this. She said half the judges in the country were buying "my" face for their kids. So I gave up.
I thought the craze would die down. But every year brought more people who were willing to reshape their flesh just to look like me. Industrial lasers fried away their imperfection. Biocompatible skull implants grafted into their faces. Complete surgical reconfiguration of every visible part of their body. It was like the world was addicted to me. A few celebrities tried to cash in and go viral - one or two succeeded. But I was the original and the best. I was Coca-Cola. You could find me everywhere. My body was the default choice for billions of people.
And so I slipped into anonymity. Perhaps I should have reconfigured my features? Done something radical and different. But this was my face. It was my beauty. Why the hell should I slip under the knife just because other people had no concept of originality.
The ice around me is beginning to dissolve. The pain around my belly is more intense. I can feel my body giving involuntary spasms. It isn't enough yet to rouse me. But I'm becoming more aware that something has gone terribly wrong.
The problem with bodymodding is that it is superficial. I don't mean that in a pejorative way. I mean it literally. You aren't changing your base genetic code. You are just slapping a fresh coat of paint on top of a crumbling structure. Beauty is skin deep. Genetics go deeper. Much deeper. And the law goes deeper still.
All babies are beautiful. That's a lie we tell new parents. But a lie that keeps them from staring at horror at the wrinkled little blob writhing in their arms. But some babies just look wrong. When the President of Free Zambesia gave birth, there was a problem. Although her lineage was impeccable - a dozen or more documented generations - her husband's was less so. After months of legal back-and-forth it was determined that he was liable for fraud. He'd bodymodded himself from a squat Caucasian into a tall African prince. Their love was real, but built on a lie. Their distinctly half-white baby visited their father once per month in jail.
And that set off a global wave of lawsuits. Men and women claiming their partner had tricked them into marriage. That the fruit of their union was disfigured because of the other party's deception. Aesthetic Fraud, they called it. A baby shouldn't be born with a Roman Nose unless both parents freely consented to it! Pre-nups contained acres of language about pre-marriage surgery and the impact it could have on divorce proceedings. Some light surgery was acceptable, of course, but parents had the right to beautiful offspring.
I am awake. Just barely. The pain is all consuming. I'm lying tangled under the crush of melting ice. The bathroom mirror has words smeared on it. Block capitals. I'm too tired to read, my eyes don't focus. I drift back.
The lawyer I'd spoken to called me up one day. By now I was resigned to having video-calls with people who looked like me. It didn't stop it from feeling creepy, but I suffered in silence.
"I'm getting married," she said, "And I need your help."
That was disconcerting. I didn't know this woman well enough to plan a bachelorette party, or even be invited to the reception.
Warily, I said "Congratulations. What do you need?"
"I hated being a Plain-Jane. Now that I look like this," she waved her hand over the reproduction of my face, "I truly believe this is what I was meant to look like. I don't want my children to suffer as I did. I don't want them to go through life ugly. I told my husband that I'd only had a few touch ups and I think he accepts that. But I worry about my children."
"I don't see what that has to do with me?"
"Your eggs. I want them. I want my children to look like me."
"You want your children to look like me?"
"No! I want them to look like their mother. Me. I'll pay, of course."
I terminated the call. She rang back incessantly but I never answered. Old school-friends sent me long emotional messages about how they wanted their kids to have their mother's eyes. Former lovers called to demand access to my ovaries so their latest girlfriend could have the babies she'd always dreamed of. I rejected them all. My genetic material was not for sale. I began to see my beauty as a curse.
I'm now fully awake. My eyes focus on the writing. The first line was simple enough:
With a crushing feeling of inevitability, I knew what the second line would say.
Someone had paid The Egg Men to cut me. Freelance surgeons who would hack out the ovaries of the beautiful but unwilling. The pain across my abdomen where I'd been filleted was now unbearable. I clutched the phone which was perched on the edge of the bath and wept down the line. I don't think I've stopped crying since.
They never found who ordered me to be gutted like cheap meat. Within a year, "my" babies started to be born. The Egg Men had sold around a million of my ova to the highest bidder. There were towns where every baby had my face. Schools quickly became full of identical little girls each radiating the same beauty as I once had. The children were little more than fashion items, designed to replicate their mothers.
It was like an addiction. My beauty was a supernormal stimulus which broke people's brains. The remainder of my ova were cloned, often by unscrupulous 3rd party biolabs. It became a rite of passage for young married couples to implant one of my eggs into their willing wombs. To grow the next generation of perfect beauties.
My scars never healed properly. I'm looked after by nurses who all look like me. Their sweet faces looking down at me. My face looking down at me. My face looking back up at me. The whole world looks beautiful.
I'd love your feedback on each chapter. Do you like the style of writing? Was the plot interesting? Did you guess the twist? Please stick a note in the comments to motivate me.