A Model Citizen

by Karl Low

Tonight I'm the hottest thing on the runway, and I know it. My agent knows it; I can see it in her eyes. The other girls know it. I can feel it in their stares and if looks could kill, Doc Wagon would revoke my Gold here and now.

I spin at the end of the runway and feel the fabric slide against me like an alien lover, a silk snake as I start to walk back. My long black legs taking each step with poise, grace, a hint of arrogance, and a ton of come-hither, just like I was taught.

On the second step the circuitry in the dress comes alive. It flares the fabric out and around me, my every move having almost a second's delay before the material reacts. It lends an unearthly look to the whole thing. Some of the girls can't handle it. It makes them look freakish, out of touch with themselves. Me though, tonight though, it's just reacting like everybody else, trying but not quite being able to keep up with me.

The step behind the curtain is a transition I've always loved. The elegance and sophistication of the runway crumbles into the hurried panic of trying to get into your next outfit -- trying to look even better after a thirty second change of clothes. My strides break into a short run as I reach behind my neck and squeeze the collar. The outfit, now going through some spastic thrashing as I run to the rack, falls limp and the back opens obligingly. Thank God, Michael is already here. As I frantically try to wriggle out of the dress he's grabbing my dark hair from behind and twirling it into some kind of upright braid.

"Claudia!" I scream as Susan begins to wrap the semi-clear, plastic toga around me, "Shoes! I need the shoes!" Sharon is already stepping back out front; I'm supposed to be the second one behind her. May is just getting some makeup put on to cover where her hairdresser pricked her ear with a hairpin. Poor thing, I think nastily. Serves those pointy ears of hers right.

I cry out once as Michael pulls on my hair. He's not exactly gentle, but there's no time, and he's better than most.

Where the hell is Claudia?

I'm already heading back to the curtain, wondering if I can pull this off barefoot, when Claudia appears with the shoes and tosses them at me. I catch one. The other clatters to the floor just inside the curtain. May is stepping out front. I hop awkwardly toward the curtain and my head swirls with the bustle.

God this outfit is cold.

Think positive: pert nipples.

I toss a final glare at Claudia. What's she pantomiming? Behind her head? The outfit! I haven't turned it on!

The second shoe slips on easily (small mercies) and I manage to turn the toga on just as I step through the curtain. The clear material swirls to colored life. Words, phrases, live video of the room around me, images from the news and the history books: they all play on the dress, my ebony skin clearly visible in the moving cracks of the montage.

For the second time tonight night I walk coolly down the runway. For the second time tonight the BigBoard shows that the public, too, knows I'm the hottest thing here. Only the second walk and I've already sold over 30 units. When you consider the price of a Lee ensemble, and my two percent on every fashion I wear that gets sold, it's hard not to smile. But smiling is taboo, so I don't.

Lee's fall line is 60 sets of clothes. There are six of us here tonight, so ten times each we have to go out and come back. Ten times tonight I get to be the angel of sex.After the fifth walk, there's a break while Lee talks about the "fundamentals of his line" or some such. Michael informs me I've been invited to nine parties tonight after the show, and four private engagements from people in the audience. Two are mid-upper executives from the megas. A third is a Yakuza boss. The last, a woman, the president of a double A corp. I smile wickedly and tell Michael not to answer any of them yet. Let them wait.

God, I'm hungry.

My stomach rumbles painfully but nobody seems to notice.

Think positive, it got you here. It's the price of fame.

Promising my tummy a helping of soy-cheese after the show I turn to survey the other girls. Only one other human; the rest are elves. Of the bunch, I'm the only one that hasn't had any cosmods. Diet and exercise only. It shows too. You can always tell when someone's had surgery if you look. They aren't quite comfortable with their own skin. Their walk isn't quite perfect, their confidence not quite natural.

Take poor Sharon. She must be what, 22 already? She went to the modshop last month trying to stretch out her career: got her skin tightened and some extra pounds off -- slice slice. And now she walks just the tiniest bit stiff. Sure, she looks great. We all look great. But she doesn't have that extra something anymore.

Which is all the better for me.

The break is over and we start our parade again. Style and glamour are on the front side of the curtain, panic and tension on the other. Susan has strung the toga up backstage. She's got it replaying the shots of the audience it took while I was wearing it. Watching it, seeing the faces beside the runway looking on in awe while I strip down and wiggle from one outfit to the next, is surreal. I'm not used to the show being in here where I'm naked and graceless.

The BigBoard shows a hundred forty of my units sold.

It's only my eighth trip down the runway.

My face is half covered with a scarf, my body draped in what looks like titanium lace. I'm halfway down the runway when I notice the man staring at me. Why him in particular I'm not sure. He has an intensity about him that commands notice. I rip my gaze away from his face before my head has to turn and spoil the line of the gown. At the end of the runway I strike my pose. With my legs slightly spread and arms stiff at my side, the scarf and gown make me look like a desert-bandit. I wheel and look directly at the staring man. His eyes still haven't left me. Slowly, deliberately, I blink. He doesn't. He's part Oriental. He's wearing Lee's summer men's classic suit. It's a compliment, both to his taste, and to Lee.

Then it's movement again. Walking purposefully back up the stage while Anne makes her pose behind me, I can feel his gaze follow me. I get behind the curtain and the bustle breaks his hold on me. Trying to squirm out of the silvery garb quickly without tearing it to pieces is nearly impossible. My agent, Terri, is back here now.

"Ivory, we've got it!" she starts. I'm confused. What the hell is she talking about?

"What? AH!" the last as Michael pulls my hair from its braid and starts pushing it through a series of silver hair clips.

"So have you decided what party you're goin' to, Ivory?" Michael asks, his thick Jamaican accent blocking what Terri is saying.

Claudia is rushing out with a pair of calf-high, heeled boots while Susan is pulling the magnetic strips on my pants closed. "No!" I scream to Claudia, "Those are next set!" Claudia looks at what she's carrying and realizes her error. Her mouth forms an O of horror and she turns and runs back where she came. Terri's babbling and I can't make out a word of it over Michael and Susan. Michael is wanting a reply for my admirers from the audience, while Susan is cursing because she can't get the magnets to line up properly. And Claudia isn't back yet! Lee's going to want her rear in a sling, but he'll have to wait because I'm going to rip that little scrag's head off if she isn't back in the next eight seconds. Can't they see this is my moment? I can't let this screw up!

May's already walking out and I'm right behind her. My magnets aren't lined up quite right, I can feel the give in the pants, and I'm going to have to do this bare-foot, but I'll be damned if I let this night go!

Just before I hit the curtain I can make out what Terri has been saying, "Century wants to shoot you next week! You made it, Ive!"

Suddenly it's doable.

I step out. I'm poised. I'm collected. I'm nova-hot and nitro-cool at the same time. I make the perfect steps down the plank. The classical music now seems to attend to my every nuance and my bare feet and lightly painted toe-nails somehow accent my total self-assurance. Mr. Stare doesn't even merit a glance, although I notice his eyes widen as I go by. If I was the hottest thing on the runway before, then right now I'm the hottest thing on earth.

I'm not the only one who knows it either. The BigBoard numbers jump noticably as I walk to the end of the raised floor. As I step into my pose I feel the magnets in the outfit shift and the pants start to fall open. Any other night it would be disaster. Tonight, I just let them fall away, leaving myself unveiled from the waist down. A strip of the gauzy, loose-wrapped blouse I am wearing clings to my legs, barely obscuring my sex and my rear from being completely revealed. I wheel and return up the runway. Anne is off step, but I don't think anything sarcastic. Right now it doesn't matter. There's no way she could compare even if she was at her best.

And through it all, all I can think is that I've done it.

Century XXI: The Magazine of Style wants me for a photo-shoot.

This is megamodel status.

This is the golden ring.

This is.. It.

Behind the curtain, Lee is waiting for me. He bows to me very deeply as I slip out of the top. For once I feel graceful even while changing to the next fashion. I let Michael, Susan, and Claudia take control.

"A change in schedule, Ivory. You will go last," Lee loudly proclaims. Poor Anne who's already off her stride suddenly realizes she's got 30 seconds less to change. Luckily her last number is a robe that's easy to slither into.

I smile languidly at him and nod. Of course I'll go last, it's only natural. Last model out is the one who starts the applause. Lee and I both know that a good portion of that applause tonight is going to be for me.

My belly gurgles, but again nobody notices.

I pick a party at random and tell Michael to let my suitors know that's where I'll be going. He laughs as he pulls the last of my hairclips out and lets my hair fall free behind me.

Susan is doing up the zipper on my one-piece, apologizing all the way: "I'm so sorry Ivory. I'm so so sorry. It wasn't supposed to fall like that. I thought I had them lined up proper, but there was just so much rush. I can't believe how well you handled it. I'll never let that.."

I quiet her with a hand on her shoulder. No words are needed. I'm beyond fault right now. Nothing can go wrong, which means nobody can wrong me. Claudia is wordless as she laces up the calf-high boots. I finish attaching the collar, then rest my hands on top of her head and she too knows that everything is fine.

The last walk down the runway is almost routine. Mr. Stare is gone. The audience is rapt. The BigBoard numbers still climb. When I return to the line with the other girls in front of the curtain, the applause from the crowd starts almost before I reach the curtain. Lee doesn't come out for a few moments, and the ovation continues to swell. Here and there a reporter has come to her feet.

When Lee does come out, the rest of the audience stands. He's handed a huge bouquet of flowers by someone in the front row. He turns and brings them to me as he takes my elbow and walks me forward with him. The girls behind me watch rapt. It's gone beyond jealousy now. They know I've moved into a different class than them.

The adulation seems to go on forever. Lee smiles and nods, his Oriental features glowing with delight as he surveys the crowds and the BigBoard. I'm hugging the flowers to my chest as I applaud Lee as well. I may have moved on, but it was Lee's show that let me do it.

We retire backstage to hugs from the rest of the crew. Terri is on her cell-phone but tosses me a thumbs up when she sees me. The other girls congratulate me. They're even sincere about it. It's good luck for them when someone in a show they're in makes it. Lee has disappeared but returns soon, with none other but Mr. Stare in tow. They head directly for me.

"Ivory,this is my financier, Mr. Cheung," Lee announces.

"Most pleased," I respond. The intensity around the man is still palpable.

"The pleasure is mine." His voice is smooth, refined. The accent is cultured Harvard. "Your participation tonight has handsomely repaid my investment. I understand that Century has requested your services? You must be thrilled."

"I'd be lying if I said that that even began to describe what I'm feeling." I look him over as I'm sure he must be doing to me. He has a dancer's build and the datajack behind his right ear shines gold. His features and hair are professionally molded into a classic profile. Only his skin-tone and his eyes betray any Oriental heritage. The dark brown eyes are heavily lidded, though not so as to give him the appearance of squinting.

If it weren't for his complete self-confidence, I'd normally write him off as a male-model hopeful.

Terri returns and starts when she notices him with me. "Ed! I didn't think you ever came to these things. It's so wonderful you could join us. Especially tonight."

"Indeed," Mr. Cheung begins, "Ivory has proved exceptional.You're lucky to have her."

"Incredibly, Ed," she agrees as she takes my arm, "but could you excuse us? I have to sort out some business."

Ed nods politely to Terri, then me, and turns to speak to Lee, who has been beaming through the entire exchange.

We step off to the side and Terri says to me, "That is a man you desparately want to know."

"What?" I'm startled by the hushed tone in her voice.

"Edward Cheung. He's a money-man with a gift. What Century can give you, he can give you ten times over." Terri is almost breathless with excitement. "Listen, no less than three of the mega's hire his consulting services regularly. He refuses to become a company man, and is good enough that they don't dare alienate him by pushing him too far. He's got favors owed to him from the Yakuza and the Wiseguys. And investments in almost every media service you can think of."

"You make him sound like God."

"Ive, honey, I wouldn't be surprised if he had connections there too." Lee begins to approach us and Terri speaks more loudly, "But I've got you booked for your shoot on Thursday. It's going to be on the California Coast. Your travel arrangements should be ready sometime tomorrow."

Lee bows to us slightly. "Terri. Ivory. Mr. Cheung would like to know if you've already made arrangements for tonight."

"Unfortunately, I already have," I begin, and am rewarded with Terri elbowing me me in the side. "However, he is welcome to join me as my guest."

"I am sure he would be delighted," Lee responds, clasping my hand. I feel him slip a card into it. "Should you ever need help. This night will not go unremembered. Your career is not the only one which has taken a step forward tonight." It's his personal cell-number.

It's not long before I'm leaving the hotel on the arm of Mr. Edward Cheung.

Behind us his two bodyguards -- Max and Henry as they are introduced -- follow. The former is a grizzled looking troll, the latter a debonair young human. The limo they escort us to is a long silver affair.

"So, I assume Terri gave you a description of my net worth? I saw the glint in her eyes," he comments, after a few minutes of silence.

I can't help but laugh, "She's my agent. What do you expect? Says if the rainbow ends, it does so in your living room."

His eyes sparkle momentarily, "I'll have to show her my place sometime. She might be surprised."

The intercom buzzes, "Better buckle up, sir," comes Max's voice, "we've had company the past three miles."

"Coincidence?" he asks.

"They're shielded from astral, sir," replies Henry, "and their registration matches a van the Star lists as stolen several hours ago."

Ed begins to buckle himself up and motions for me to do the same, "Do your job men. Let me know if I can help." To me he apologizes, "Now you know the downside of being around me. Things can get a little too exciting a little too quickly."

I nod, wordlessly, and snap the buckle into place. Just in time too as the car suddenly swerves. I hear a sound like corn popping from behind me. Turning around I see spiderweb cracks appearing in the glass.

"Bulletproof," he comments, but I notice his hands are growing white as he clenches the arms of his seat. Behind us the van starts to swerve erratically.

The intercom crackles to life again. "Henry's out! I think he got through their

shield to drop a slee…"

Ed reaches into his jacket and hands me a gun, "You can use one of these?"

I just shake my head. This isn't like it's supposed to go. Not tonight! God, I've never even held a gun and now he's handing me this monster and telling me "Just point that end in their general direction then. You'll be cover I'll handle..."

He doesn't get the rest of the sentence out because the limo has just smashed into something. I'm alert enough to scream until the van slams into us from behind seconds later.

I don't think I was out long. Ed's head is cut really bad and there's blood all over the place.

God, this can't be my life!

Think positive girl. You're still awake. Nothing damaged. Press your Doc Wagon emergency call.

I look around me and try to take stock.

Ed's hurt. Unconcious. Doc Wagon will be here soon.

No idea about Max or Henry.

I feel cold.

Sticky. What's that? I'm bleeding. Can't tell if it's bad.

Behind me, through the smoke, I notice some movement. Someone is crawling around out there. I struggle out of my seatbelt and crawl through the window.

I think I'm crying.

This was supposed to be my night, damn it!

I'm dizzy.

"Max?" I call. The crawling figure looks at me and starts scurrying back. Not Max. I squirm the rest of the way out of the window (thank god for diets) and start walking toward him.

I'm doing my model's walk.

I'm cool. Poised. Almost arrogant, as I stride over twisted metal and some rubbish (A body? Don't think about it.)

It's so damned cold.

I find him. He's trying to heft the body of a troll onto its back. He's a skinny chested fellow, Native American, adorned with bits of bone and feathers. He sees me and tosses some kind of powder at me from a small bag hanging at his belt. In return, I throw Edward's gun at him.

As the powder swirls around me I watch the gun smash into his face and send him toppling backwards.

Suddenly, exhaustion and tiredness hit me like a ton of bricks. I've done it though.

I've saved Edward. Probably made my career. I'm the hottest thing out here.

I hear helicopter blades as I collapse.

I wake up in my dreary, cold apartment. The bare fluorescent tube flickers over my head and the vid shows nothing but static, cable cut off who-knows-when ago. In the static, I see my reflection. My pale, pale skin, short black hair, and the protruding lower canines of an ork all mock the dream. At least I'm as thin as Ivory, I tell myself. Although her shape is better than mine could ever hope to be.

Oh my God, I'm hungry. And why is it so cold? I look over and see that the solitary window hangs open and a light dusting of snow has drifted in.

I'll have to shut that. Shut that and get some food and feed the baby. At least the baby's not crying anymore. I look over to the bundle wrapped on the couch. It's not moving.

"Just sleeping," I say, and am startled to hear my voice so cracked and dry. Okay.

I'll check the baby. Make sure she's all right. She's probably just sleeping, I tell myself.

Check the baby, then shut the window and make some food. Right after I play this once more. Just once more and I'll do all that.

Lazily I watch a bug, a cockroach or something, skitter just past my foot. I'll clean up too, I promise myself. I'll clean up right after I've run this sim one last time. After all, I think as I hit the go button on my simsense player, it's only another hour or so. And tonight I'm the hottest thing on the runway.

And I know it.

©1998, Karl Low - used with permission