Аннали Ньюиц: #Selfcare

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Аннали Ньюиц #Selfcare
  • Название:
    #Selfcare
  • Автор:
  • Издательство:
    Tordotcom Book
  • Жанр:
    Фантастика и фэнтези / short_story / на английском языке
  • Год:
    2021
  • Город:
    New York
  • Язык:
    Английский
  • ISBN:
    978-1-25079-582-3
  • Рейтинг книги:
    4 / 5
  • Избранное:
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  • Ваша оценка:
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#Selfcare: краткое содержание, описание и аннотация

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In a near-future San Francisco where the gig economy has made work more precarious than ever, Edwina is an average twenty-something scrambling to hold down her job with a major skin care brand. Until her awful boss does something you should never do—angers the fae on social media—and the struggles of her job take on an even nastier shade. At the Publisher’s request, this title is being sold without Digital Rights Management Software (DRM) applied.

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Annalee Newitz

#SELFCARE

Фото

Wildfire season turned sunset a rotten orange that seeped in through the shop windows and spread across the floor in lurid streaks. Edwina leaned on the poured concrete counter, watching women walk past outside, pushing strollers whose fabric gently strobed with the names of their nannyshare agencies. Usually they veered off to buy groceries at Whole Foods, currently bathed in a hellish glow. But sometimes they peered inside, looking beyond her to stare at rows of glass bottles full of creams and aromatherapies and anti-aging remedies. A small, tasteful sign in the window guardedly alluded to the services they offered at Skin Seraph:

Feel younger with a moisture peel
Indulge in a revitalizing mask
Try cool sculpting for clean lines
Even out your natural color with melanin toners
#skinseraph #selfcare #youdeserveit

Customers trickled in all day. Women asked for less hair and men asked for more. White people wanted to be tan, and brown people wanted to be paler. Older people wanted tight, matte skin and younger people wanted plump, dewy cheeks like on K-beauty Instagram. Edwina’s job wasn’t to help them. She was a “customer care associate,” which mostly meant she babysat the system that texted appointment reminders. Occasionally she took calls from harried assistants trying to rebook their bosses. Her physical presence wasn’t necessary, but her boss Isobel wanted Skin Seraph to feel elite and expensive. That’s why she’d hired an actual human to stand here on the premises instead of outsourcing to Task Rabbits like Edwina’s cousins in the Philippines.

Sometimes customers would ask if she used any of the products. Edwina had tried most of the Skin Seraph–branded masks, so she could say honestly that she did. She liked the company’s signature citrus-and-cinnamon scent. But she’d never had a chemical peel or Botox or laser color correction. Most customers were looking for something way out of Edwina’s price range. She tried to be nice to everyone, because this was a decent on-site job with health insurance and a 401K plan. There were limits, though. She wasn’t going to do free brand repping like Daisy, the staff clinician. Daisy’s self-care videos blew up pretty regularly, and they were full of artfully deployed Skin Seraph products. That’s why Daisy got bonuses while Edwina never would.

Isobel ran fifteen Skin Seraph stores in three countries, but she still found time to micromanage their bonus system. All the employees had to install this humiliating productivity app called MakeMeProud that tracked how many people they’d converted into loyal customers and pushed leaderboard updates to them every hour. Daisy always won because she had incredible numbers from her socials. The app could see who clicked “buy” after watching the clinician apply toning snails to her face on Instagram. But since Edwina worked at the front desk, it was hard to prove she’d triggered a sale. The one time she used the app to log a $500 purchase of foot cream, Isobel rejected it because “merely operating the cash register is not the same thing as brand conversion.” Edwina had given up at that point. Her salary wasn’t great, but it was good enough. At least Isobel didn’t leave screamy voicemails for her like she did for the high-performing clinicians.

Edwina sighed, rested both elbows on the counter, and let her shoulders rise up until it felt like they were touching her ears. A cute person with a dog stood outside talking to someone remote. Maybe they were arranging a dinner date. Or having a conference with fifty people in Shenzhen. Idly, Edwina wondered what time it was in Shenzhen. Was it morning there? She blinked up an interface in her contacts and searched for the answer.

Outside, the sunset was browning into twilight, and the cute person wandered away. Edwina would be closing soon, leaving a few dim lights strategically trained on their most expensive products, which had been decanted into crystal polygons that shot rainbows onto the white display shelves. As she wiped Instagram out of the air, she noticed a woman staring into the window directly at her. Something was wrong with her skin, which maybe made sense because she was staring into a skin care boutique. Edwina squinted into the smoky shadows, blinking all the feeds out of her contacts. Was that a sunburn or some kind of scarring? The woman placed her hands on the glass, leaning in so close that her breath made a frosty, opaque circle. Now Edwina was sure the darkness was messing with her vision, because it really looked as if tiny cracks were growing outward from the woman’s fingers.

No. It was actually happening.

She heard the unmistakable cry of glass fracturing, and the threadlike fissures spread faster, forming a snarled pattern like a medieval street map full of twisted roads. The woman continued to gaze at Edwina, hands and breath at the center of this bizarre form of vandalism. Edwina jumped out of her chair, flicking the emergency call screen into her left eye. But something kept her from pinching the button.

Hesitantly, she approached the woman. Her skin—it wasn’t skin at all. There was no skin. The woman’s muscles moved wetly, beaded with clusters of yellow collagen, veins and arteries a throbbing lace across her cheeks and neck. Her lidless blue eyes were set into sockets the color of rubies. Her lips slithered with fat.

The jagged cracks had wound their way to the edges of the window frame.

“Get the fuck away from here!” Edwina screamed without thinking. “I’m calling the police right now!”

The woman smiled, squeezing the tissues of her face into a new configuration of oil and blood. All around her, the glass whined and sagged, on the verge of collapsing into a million shards.

“Go away! Leave right now!” Edwina realized distantly that her voice was rising to a higher and higher pitch.

She reached up to pinch the button that would call Skin Seraph’s private security service. Before her fingers could rub together, the woman disappeared. It was as abrupt as a bad special effect: she was there, and then she was gone. Shaking, Edwina reached out to touch the glass where the woman’s hands had been. The windows were perfectly smooth.

Daisy came racing out of the back, where she’d been assisting with the day’s last chemical peel. Perfect pink ringlets bobbed around her pink face. “Are you okay, Edwina?”

“There was—there was a person messing with the windows.”

Daisy made a big show of opening the door and looking up and down the street, now glowing with LEDs from the Whole Foods parking lot. “Was it that homeless lady again?” she asked. “The one with the cute cat?”

With no other way to explain what she’d seen, Edwina nodded. “I think maybe it was her, yeah.”

“She used to stay down in the Mission at the BART station, but now she climbs the hill to Noe Valley because people in this neighborhood have more money.” Daisy sighed. “I have to admit it’s relatable.”

Edwina kept staring at the place where the woman had been, and Daisy finally went back to her chemical peel, still talking about homeless people. Except that woman hadn’t been carrying a cat. She might not even have been real. Edwina sat back down behind the desk and put her head in her hands, wondering if she’d finally gone crazy.

Half an hour until closing. There were no more tasks in her queue, and the last client of the day was with Daisy. She had no reason to be here other than to lock up. Pulling up a chat window, Edwina texted her best friend Alyx. They ran social for a few Memegen brands, and were always online.

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