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Virror, Virror

Anatoly Belilovsky was born in a city that went through six or seven owners in the last century, all of whom used it to do a lot more than drive to church on Sundays; he is old enough to remember tanks rolling through it on their way to Czechoslovakia in 1968. After being traded to the US for a shipload of grain and a defector to be named later, he learned English from Star Trek reruns and went on to become a pediatrician in an area of New York where English is only the fourth most commonly used language. He has neither cats nor dogs, but was admitted into SFWA in spite of this deficiency, having published original and translated stories in Nature, F&SF, Daily SF, Kasma, UFO, Stupefying Stories, Cast of Wonders, and other markets. He blogs about writing at loldoc.net.
She blinked three times to boot her contacts, and braced herself for her double vision to clear, the real and the virtual images to coalesce, but the lag was a fraction of a second this time, much less disorienting than before.
"Oh, I love this new upgrade!" she said and watched him stagger momentarily as he booted his own. He looked like a sailor on a ship in a storm, she thought, and playfully willed him a pirate hat and an eye patch and a beard, erected a virror, and chuckled as he did a double take at their reflections.
"Arrgh," he said. "Shiver me lumbers!"
She laughed out loud then, still unfiltered and in street clothes. He loved her laugh, and her face when she laughed. The memory warmed her, as did his answering smile. The beard, she thought, creased very realistically, and rakishly. Perhaps he'd keep it in the mask he'd wear shortly.
"I can't wait to see what you have in mind," she said. "You must have spent a fortune on my rig. Perfect real time masks, wow. Who are we, this time?"
Last masks and chill they had been Anthony and Cleopatra in Tutankhamen's burial chamber; the time before, Jane and Tarzan in Hagia Sofia.
"I've something different in mind," he said. "Shall we undress?"
"I can't wait," she said, her blush deepening. She willed the room to darken, in meatspace as well as in virtual, and shed her clothes in the privacy that gave her, trusting him not to switch to low-light vision. She heard his belt clink against the floor, and softer noises he made; she smelled his shampoo on a tiny gust of wind, most probably as he took off his shirt. She smiled, again, in the darkness.
She willed the lights to brighten slowly. "I'm ready," she said, turned to the mirror, and gasped.
In twilight, two naked people stood in front of the virror. Part of her mind admired the detail of the seamless, hi-res masks they wore, that moved without a perceptible lag, that were both unmistakably them and unmistakably old, sagging in all the places she was afraid she'd sag, wrinkling along her smile lines and frown lines and lines she did not know she had but that were clearly hers, her mask's hair gray and sparse; his own unsparing masks, potbelly and jowls and all--
"Oh my," she said.
The brightening light revealed in ever-sharpening detail their imperfect bodies: age spots, stretch marks, hair they had always taken care to remove. She moved, instinctively, to cover herself, and her mask's breasts swung in pendulous arcs. The room around them appeared faded too. Literally faded; wallpaper yellowed, printed flowers wilted, stains appeared on upholstery, cobwebs on the ceiling. She looked down, and the clothes on the floor appeared patched and wrinkled, too.
She looked at him, and met his gaze. Neither looked away. Not for a long time.
"Marry me?" he said.
She willed a small part of her mask to drop, showing him what she wanted him to see: not her real, younger, prettier face; not her real, athletic body; but her real, flowing, tears.
The End
This story was first published on Wednesday, September 18th, 2019
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