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Laugh Lines

Samantha Mills lives in Southern California, in a house on a hill that is hopefully not a haunted hill house. Her short fiction has also appeared in Strange Horizons, Beneath Ceaseless Skies, and Diabolical Plots. She blogs about reading, writing, and her love of female action heroes at samtasticbooks.com, or chat with her on Twitter @samtasticbooks.
She plucked me from the nursery without hesitation, like I was a fresh-skinned baby model straight from the vat instead of three months old and doomed for the clean-up crew. The nurses clucked their tongues in disapproval, but it wasn't their decision to make.
We looked nothing alike. I had two legs; she had eight. I was small and malnourished; she was gorgeously plump. My skin was translucent, betraying every nervous thump of my heart; she was dark as a shadow, inscrutable, strong. I was just a rabbit-baby, the mediocre result of her reproductive application, preserved by the nurses for extra organs and a bit of meat.
But she picked me up anyway, with arms like warm wicker cradles, and said, "Call me Mother."
I knew every line on my spider-mother's face.
(She collected legs like other women collect gas masks.)
The furrows across her brow were for her work: hours and hours sitting in front of a viewscreen, forcing columns of numbers to produce water three thousand miles away. The creases bracketing her mouth were for uninvited visitors, for late deliveries, for pitying glances at the child on her hip.
Eventually that purse-lipped displeasure turned my way, but in the early days, it was the lines at her temples I elicited most. When she laughed, her cheeks pushed all the way up and shut her eyes, a simple origami that turned her usual flat focus into crisp-cornered delight.
And every time she caught her breath, she tugged me close and said, "Oh, Mira, who wouldn't want you?"
My spider-mother was at home in every social situation. She gleamed at fundraisers and took the lead at anti-vat marches. I would hide behind her signs, cringing at the flash of the cameras, and she would grin her most charming grin and drag me into the light.
My spider-mother was beautiful and brilliant, and I was neither. Her hair was shiny; mine dull. Her shoulders were broad; mine sloped. She was taller, funnier, more graceful, more talkative, more entertaining, more everything.
We fought as I grew older. (Of course we did!)
I said terrible things. That I was an accessory, a decoration, a pet to trot out at one of her causes. That I wanted a rabbit-mother and a brood of siblings with no more than four legs apiece. I demanded a full-body suit to block the sun and keep me translucent forever--better to be vulnerable than to develop a hard shell, I said.
She let me stomp around in that ridiculous suit for weeks. When I gave up, she tucked it away in a trunk in the attic with hardly a told-you-so and bought me a pair of reflective goggles instead. My weak eyes, you see.
When she died....
Just a moment.
I'm sorry about that. She would have done a better job delivering this eulogy, too.
When she died....
Shit.
No. I can't do this.
According to my notes here, when she died, I realized I had been too harsh on her. She had only been trying to help me, and I shouldn't have run away to university, or come home arguing about human evolution, and body modification, and eugenics.
But that's a lie. I'm not sorry at all. She poured everything she had into the cause, and so you think she's a saint of the movement. Maybe that's true. But I'm here to tell you: it made her a terrible mother.
Absolutely terrible.
No, you step down. I'm not finished yet.
You make us. Then you mistreat us. Then you rescue us, and demand we be grateful!
I don't want any more legs. I don't want eye implants or chemical therapy or acclimatization. I don't want to be marched in front of a crowd as an example of a vat error. And I don't want you crying for my mother because she was inconvenienced by me.
I want lifts. I want ramps. I want public announcements sky-written in standard visible inks. I want emergency exits with handholds and manual viewscreens for people who can't tolerate brain receivers.
I want you to love us the way we are, instead of marching to improve the lives of the people who raised us. Stop putting us into classes and correctives. Stop forcing us to fit a hole in the world that you carved before we were even born. For once, just once, leave a little room for the unexpected.
I miss those days, those early days when the happy lines on her face crinkled just for me.
But I don't miss her.
The End
This story was first published on Monday, June 10th, 2019
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