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The Beauty You Cannot Buy

Karl had the delicacy of a hothouse flower. I knew from one glance he'd end up breaking my heart, but we all love to repeat our favorite mistakes.
He re-crossed his elegant, silk-clad legs. "I want beauty," he said. "I want to inhabit beauty. To feel it."
I gestured and the wall displays changed. Pictures of past clients were replaced by medical cutaways. Clean bones and perfect muscles exploded outward into diagrams. It wasn't just informative, it elegantly turned away the squeamish. Working against my own commission, perhaps, but I wanted him to change his mind. I drew up our most traumatizing surgical diagrams. "There's no reason to go beyond surface treatment--surgery, cybernetics--it's reasonably priced and completely safe. All our custom bodies are achievable this way. Dragon wings, prehensile tails, feathers."
"Cellular level," he said. "I want to be perfect on a cellular level."
Ah, Karl. I knew I'd have to give in. He wanted it so extravagantly. "Yes, we also have the full retrovirus reprogramming. It's... intensive. Your body will reject existing tissues and limbs as new ones grow." I called up worse images. "There'll be weeks of follow-up surgeries."
"Yes," he said, leaning forward, mouth open. "Destroy me and re-make me."
I wished I could take him back to my place and enjoy that body he wanted to discard. I let my leg linger against his. He didn't react. I leaned closer. "I'd love to see what I'm destroying." He brushed me aside--I was blocking part of the display.
No one is as self-involved as those who want to conspicuously consume themselves. Especially my type: the quixotic ones. I pulled up the consent forms. "Let's get you started."
Most who said they wanted to be beautiful went straight for the "fairy" options--longer limbs, insect wings, enlarged eyes. We also did a fair amount of work in angels and dragons. We had ridiculously masculine and ridiculously feminine bodies. We had plain ridiculous. Karl wanted none of that. He made me page through our entire catalog and show him how to drag the images around to compare them. "Different. Unique," he said. He held a feathered arm to a wolf's chest.
"I don't even know if this will work," I said. "The retrovirus has to be consistent, Karl. Let's look at the successful alumni again...."
"No. I'll tell you when I find my perfect match."
Those intense, tawny eyes! "You should be easy to match," I said, and let my finger graze his angular jaw. "A perfect match for anyone." But he only wanted to examine skin colors and talk about variegation genes.
"Ultimately there has to be an element of randomness if you want multi-color," I said.
He chewed his lip a long time. "That's acceptable," he said. One decision, at last. I breathed a discreet sigh of relief.
He couldn't decide between feathers and scales. He couldn't decide between variegated browns and variegated greens. He couldn't decide between longer or shorter limbs.
It took three increasingly frustrating appointments for Karl to make his choices. He would be a transitional beast--bird-reptile-elf. Parrot feathers in jewel tones, a fan of a tail, and scales that dotted the skin like sequins, dense here and there, creating darker jewel tones, and the skin underneath a random brew of indigo and mango. Large eyes, of course, with scale-feather brows, and high, swept-pointed ears.
I had to admit, he would be lovely. The engineers were excited, too. It would take nearly our entire catalog of gene splices. His expression as he signed waiver after waiver was intense joy.
I felt heavy, sending the orders across, closing all the open catalogues. My wall screens returned to holding patterns with a sense of finality, like the closing of wings. "Your first injection is tomorrow."
Karl sighed. He looked at me, just me, and we were finally in the same place. "Now," he said, "I feel beautiful."
"Before the treatment?"
He made a dismissive gesture. "That will make me exotic. Today I have the beauty money can't buy. I'm fleeting, ephemeral."
I put my hand on his. "I could burn my eyes on you." And was that surprise on his face? Had I somehow come off as subtle?
He kissed me, then, and my mouth opened against his like a scream. I feared his skin would break apart like spring ice under me, but his answering caresses were steady, calm. He lay back and let me enjoy him, exultant in this body he was sacrificing.
He believed he had the glamor of a cut flower. Why do I fall hard for idiots? I tore at his hair and pressed him hard, to feel the bones inside. I used my passion to show him he was beautiful from the moment we met. Before that. He was born temporary. Heartache? Now that can last.
The End
This story was first published on Tuesday, October 16th, 2018
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