Author : Rob Burton

I watch Kamille comb her beautiful dark hair, and I can’t help but wonder what horror now grows inside her. She’s from a fine family, well respected travelling merchants, with enough money to have selected the best from amongst many possible children, with some low-level inconspicuous enhancements thrown in for good measure. Her eyes are a shade of blue found deep within a glacier. But, honestly, it is her normality that charms me most.

The merchants sometimes encounter distrust, most often ill-deserved. Travellers survive only by maintaining a reputation for honest dealing; it is the business that necessitates constant travel, not any need for anonymity. Low-energy transportation, dirigible air ‘barges’ (a history lesson few realise), are slow – merchant families must travel together. This is less true of those of us who follow.

Perhaps, then, it’s the presence of freaks like me that fosters distrust. Freaks were rarities once; sometimes simple aberrations, sometimes the result of inbreeding. The situation could not now be more antithetical. Births are never accidental, but part of a carefully planned contract, contraception ubiquitous, sex a recreational activity utterly unrelated to child-rearing. Now it happens only because one of the parents has reached the borders of speciation.

Even the poorest usually carry some form of gene modification – perfect eyesight and an enhanced immune system, if nothing else. But the very rich are something else entirely – a people apart, decadent and wasteful of their potential. If they fall upon hard times, the very code that lives inside them becomes their last source of wealth. Those amongst the lower orders who aspire to greater things will give everything they own to forge a parental contract with these glorious beings, and, thereby, a child. Without the careful attentions of the best doctors, however, such children sometimes arrive in unexpected forms.

It’s often uncomfortable for those of us whom appear so obviously different. People cannot help but stare. Hair where it should not be. Fingers fused, diminished or multiplied. Unusual height or build. The variety is endless, the result always the same.

It’s not unusual for us to attach ourselves to these travelling groups. We fit in well with others who feel they don’t fit in. Nothing so distasteful as a freakshow, you understand. I do not sit whist gasping onlookers stare at my patterned fur or my fierce yellow eyes. They come to see the musicians and players, similarly attracted to the nomadic life. Perhaps we add a little intrigue – a glimpsed strangeness amongst the milling troop. I clean the solar collectors atop the canopy, a dangerous task, and tend to electronic systems and engines. Nobody asks how I acquired the skills.

Most of the other ‘eccentrics’ (the polite term, I’m told) don’t even have the education to understand exactly what they are. Not me, though. Because I am a fake, no freak at all. I hide my grace with false mistakes. I pretend to see less well than I do. I keep my silence though I hear everything. I was designed, many years ago, carefully crafted. My family own a quarter of the western continent. I am quite old. I have many children other than the uncertain thing growing in the belly of my love. Her father, recently informed of my status, thinks that the child will be wondrous. I fear he may be right.

I could survive a famine. I have written symphonies. I can run for three days without rest. I was once considered a great beauty.

I just went out of fashion.


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