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You Can't Stop Looking to the Stars

Leila is a freelance writer from the UK, where she shares a small house with a small number of people and a tremendous number of books. Her fiction has appeared or is forthcoming in Horla, Firewords, and Cossmass Infinities.

She's so perfect, she's almost painful to look at. Porcelain skin, gold-spun hair. All cosmetic enhancements, no doubt. Her vision seems fine to me; her pretty pupils are recoiling to pinholes in the foyer's harsh light.
"I want a full optical replacement, and I want it today. Can you make that happen?"
But, of course, she must have new eyes. Hell, she probably changes them to match her outfit.
I shouldn't judge, but these socialites really make my blood boil and I'm cranky 'cause my biceps burn from last night's training. Anyhow, I expect she's equally offended by my messy ponytail and lack of manicure. "You'd like to see the latest line, Ma'am?" I force a smile.
She nods. I tap my keypad and the display shelf slides over the counter. Neat rows of the premium models goggle up at us. She leans over and returns their stares.
"This shade," I point out a pair of baby blues at the front, "would look great with your coloring. They're not the most popular, but I'm guessing you like to stand out at parties?"
She glances up. "Which pair are the strongest?"
"Are you deaf? The strongest lens."
So she's more than a cosmetic junkie, then. An Acuity Enhancement means filling extra records; I'll be late for training tonight.
But they'll get me a fat commission, too. Might cover my rent for the month. "These are all state-of-the-art, Ma'am," I say brightly. "We can take any model well beyond twenty-twenty."
"Excellent. I had my doctor draw up the prescription." She taps her phone and tosses it at me; I grab it before it lands on the merchandise.
I look at the screen. Look up at her.
"I'm not insane," she adds.
Your script says otherwise, you complete nutjob. "It can't be done."
"I thought these were supposed to be state-of-the-art? You're wasting my time." She snatches back her phone, pivots on a stiletto and stalks for the door.
I need that commission. She'll get those eyes somewhere else anyway, so she may as well get them here, and ok, it's not strictly ethical, but her doc signed it off so really, who's to blame- "Wait!"
She stops. Turns around.
"Look... There would be serious side-effects, ok? This level of enhancement will make you very far-sighted. You'll struggle to function, you'll lose things--"
"I keep losing things anyway." She walks back to the counter. "Misplaced my husband last year."
"If you even get a glimpse at the sun, the receptors will blow. It'll be lights out. Permanently."
"I understand. It's fine. I'm a night-owl."
"What do you need to see that's so far away?"
"That's my business." The venom in her voice startles me. Perhaps it startles her as well; she frowns and looks away. Her gaze slides to my jacket hanging from my chair. "You're a cadet in the Program?"
"My final year of training." She's watching me again, eyes narrowed. I change the subject. "Do you really want to spend the rest of your life unable to recognize faces? Looking at leaves falling from a tree two thousand miles away? Perhaps replace just one and wear a patch?"
"Not good enough. You're hoping to be picked for the mission to the new moon?"
"It's called Castellar," I correct her automatically. I like the way the name rolls off my tongue. Castellar. Sounds exotic. Sounds like nowhere near here.
"I might still be around when you land." She sighs and raises a hand to her temple.
Her skin is so very pale.
I notice now there are blemishes, under her makeup. A faint map of veins tracing her cheek. Bluish shadows under her eyes. "Ma'am, are you sick?"
"I could have gone into medicine," she murmurs. "But if you have a calling, there's no choice but to answer, is there? You can't stop looking to the stars. Until they give you severance pay and show you the door. Then it seems, you've no damn choice either." She blinks, recovers herself. "Do you play video games, cadet?"
"I... I guess. When I have the time." She really is nuts. And I'm dooming her to disability.
"Mention it to your training officers."
I gape at her. "Why?"
"Shows you have fast reactions. Problem-solving skills. It's what they're looking for. Can I have the procedure or not?"
I reach for the consent console. "Your print here, please."
She jabs her finger at the screen and thrusts the console back into my hands.
"Thank you," I mumble. "Mrs...." But she's already swept past me into the clinic.
I look down at the console's screen. At the name beside her fingerprint:
Professor Anna Castellar, PhD.
The End
This story was first published on Wednesday, April 28th, 2021
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