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How does she do it?

This story was inspired by the never-ending perfection of women in Hollywood. These are women who never seem to age, who are photographed in a bikini a month after giving birth with neither body fat nor stretchmarks. There are entire internet sites devoted to trying to work out what plastic surgeries these women have had, some of which I could never have imagined (buccal pad removal, anyone?). I couldn't help wondering what else was going on behind closed doors.
Dr. Abram steps away from the waist high, rectangular tank. He has checked the readings for the final time. "It is ready," he says. "You can open it as soon as you want."
There are twenty identical tanks in the room, individually numbered, a screen on the side of each one showing the status of contents. I know what they are, although not who they are. That is kept strictly confidential.
Nerves squeeze my belly. My palms are slick with sweat, though I try to hide it, fiddling with the strap of my crocodile skin bag which I have positioned to hide the post baby belly that I haven't yet been able to completely get rid of. It's been two weeks. I had hoped that I would be back in shape by now, but it always pays to have a backup plan. I can't afford to take too long off. The public has a short memory, and I am not going to risk being pushed aside for someone younger and firmer.
Thankfully, Dr Abram has the solution.
"Would you prefer it if I waited outside?" he asks now. "It is just that some people prefer to do this... privately. It can be quite strange. You might think you know how you are going to react, but it is not always that easy to predict."
I fix him with a smile that hides my nerves. It's an Oscar winning smile and I know exactly how it looks with an added tilt of my head to emphasize my perfect cheekbone and full lips. "Of course not."
I press my index finger against the lock. There's a subtle flash and then a click. It's all very dramatic. There's a huff of smoke as the lid releases, a moment when I have to admit that I hold my breath, and then the lid swings open to reveal the contents within.
These are not so glamorous. Thick yellow fluid fills it almost to the brim, obscuring the contents within. It begins to drain away. I lean closer, desperate to see, to inspect her, to make sure that she is worth the price I had paid.
She is. Oh, she is. Thighs so slender that it seems impossible for them to support the rest of her body. Delicate hands, perfect skin, and the face. The face!
"Thank you," I say to Dr. Abrams. "She's perfect. You are truly a genius. She's exactly what I asked for." And so she should be, given what she cost. The services of this man do not come cheap. I had my DNA samples stored years ago in preparation for this. Everyone does, though none of us will admit to it. Dr. Abram doesn't advertise. Whispered conversations in corners of parties held in dramatic Beverly Hills mansions do that for him.
I knew what sort of business I was getting myself in to back when I first came here, a young but neither naive nor innocent nineteen. I saw how ruthless it could be. Audiences demand perfection, but they want it to be natural. They scorn the aging actresses with their stretched faces, their rubbery lips, their lumpen implants. I was not going to let that happen to me. So I scraped together the money. A stolen watch or two, some unpaid rent, some films I have since made sure are buried. Who has time to recover from plastic surgery, from childbirth? Obviously a surrogate can be used for that, but audiences don't like it. They want to know that we are as real as them. They also expect to see us sewn back into a size-zero couture gown three weeks after the birth.
"You're welcome," he says. He too leans over the tank and checks his handiwork. "Yes, she's a good one."
"Better than good." I am already imagining her walking the red carpet in ten days' time. I'm due to start shooting my next film the week after that. Perhaps I will send her instead. I would much rather spend some more time lying at the side of my pool and drinking margaritas than sweating it out on location in Brazil. I'll get back to fighting weight soon, of course. But a few weeks of relaxation first can't hurt, can it? "How soon will she be ready to work?"
"By the end of the day."
"As quickly as that?"
"She needs to be cleaned and properly checked," he says, "and then of course there is the memory programming, but that will only take a couple of hours."
"When will that be done?"
"No time like the present."
I follow him out of the room, down the short corridor, and through into another room similar to the first, white and sterile, with a stainless steel table and chair to one side. I take the chair. We have already discussed what will happen. The procedure is fairly straightforward, for me, anyway. A mapping of the cortical networks inside my brain, primarily the nerve pathways which hold my memories like the words in a book. Once that is done, the brain matter of my clone will be forced to grow those same pathways, a lifetime of experience crammed into a few short hours.
"You'll only give her the memories we discussed?" I ask, as Dr. Abrams brings over the scanner that will read and map my brain. "I don't want her to know she's a clone." The last thing I want is for her to find out and make a mess of everything. Everyone has to believe she is really me. She has to believe it. That is the key to this whole thing. Once I've finished with her, she'll be brought back here and disposed of, anyway. "And you'll dispose of her properly once she's finished with?"
"Of course," Dr. Abrams says kindly, as he adjusts the scanner and then clips it into position against my forehead. I feel something sharp press against the side of my neck. I don't remember agreeing to that. I try to slap it away, but it's too late. "I always do."
The End
This story was first published on Friday, March 8th, 2019


Jane O'Reilly is the author of the Second Species trilogy, a fast-paced space opera about a genetically modified woman and a space pirate. She likes Captain America and biscuits and can be found on Twitter as @janeoreilly and at her website: janeoreilly.co.uk.

- Jane O'Reilly

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