She looked to her father, and then over to her mother. The car ride had been silent, and the gray blur of the landscape made them feel as if they were hurtling through an abyss in a coffin or maybe even a torpedo.
"Racquel, you should be happy that we found you a spot in the Haus. Not too many girls get selected." Her mother's smile was perfect, like everything else about her, from her crystalline blue eyes to her near metallic platinum blonde hair. Racquel had to wonder if she really was a Monster like she heard existed in lower levels of the city, with her ink black hair and earthen brown eyes.
"Now you can be acceptable," her father added, sitting back in his seat. Racquel had never meant to be trouble, really. She had smashed the mirror because looking into it had made her angry, not because she wanted to be a pain.
But it all fell back into silence, their disappointment palpable in the air. She breathed patterns onto the glass of the window, and hoped that the Monsters were just rumors.
The Haus wasn't glamorous at all from the outside, just a gray box squatting in the middle of the Tenth District, where the machines were made. Racquel could feel her parents' hands on each of her shoulders, guiding her towards the nondescript metal door with 'HAUS' made with a stencil and spray paint like some kind of graffiti.
A woman emerged from the door, her blonde hair pulled back severely in a way that made her angled cheekbones look laser-cut. She took one glance at Racquel before addressing her parents.
"This one will be a lot of work."
"She's very well-behaved," her mother said with an edge of pleading in her voice.
"She has a better structure than others, I'm sure it won't take much work," her father added, a hint of defensiveness in his tone.
"We shall see. There are more failures than successes, it is a hard process to remake them."
Racquel felt the momentary urge to run, get away, but she could feel her mother's long nails and her father's strong fingers digging into her shoulders. Surely they could hear the way her heart was beating, faster than if she really were running.
The woman took Racquel's chin with her slender fingertips and forced her to look at her eyes, or where they would be if she weren't wearing shaded glasses. Not being able to look at human eyes somehow made her that much more terrifying.
"Welcome to the Haus."
Racquel felt something press to the back of her neck like a kiss until the pain shot through her and her head swam. As she fell unconscious all she could see were the dark lenses, penetrating her with a gaze she couldn't see.
In her dreams, Racquel had been buried in the ground.
Her coffin was made entirely of mirrors, pulling and distorting every angle of her. When she closed her eyes she could still see the shards pulling and ripping at every bit of her flesh, revealing machine parts underneath. She tried to use her now de-fleshed titanium hand to break the mirrors, but the hits didn't seem to crack them. It merely amplified the image of herself--not human or machine--a mere monster-specter of what she used to be, the color draining from her hair and her face as it melted away.
Her scream came out in a synthesized pitch.
When Racquel woke up her coffin was made of plastic and the latch undone.
It took her a while for her fingers to respond like normal, and even then the motions were jerky. She was relieved that the flesh was still on them, but all of her body had been encased in latex, constricting what was left of her body which had been noticeably thinned.
Eventually her fingers found purchase on the edge and she got her atrophied muscles to respond in order to lift the lid of the coffin, and finally to crawl out. She felt at her face, and though she could see, there was something clearly over it, like the rest of her body. If it weren't so tight she would rip it off, get the foreign material off of her and go...
"Congratulations. If you can hear me, you have survived the first part of the process."
The voice seemed to have no visible origin, and felt as if it were being projected into her mind. Racquel stopped focusing on her own discomfort and saw other figures crawling jerkily out of similar plastic coffins. They were all in latex too, a black in contrast with the white clinicality of the coffins. A few coffins remained closed, and she shivered to think of what had happened to them.
"Now the real process begins."
Tall figures with female bodies and covered faces came in pairs and pulled the various coffin dwellers up on their feet or dragged them if they were too unsteady on their legs. Racquel's pair had to drag her, as she was already exhausted, barely holding onto her consciousness until it fell completely.
In her dreams, Racquel was drowning.
The water was clear but felt like acid to the touch. She struggled at first, kicking against the undertow, but the sun was getting farther and the depths more murky. Her lungs felt as if they might burst and she opened her mouth to try and swallow and make the process go faster, to make death take her more quickly. But she only kept swallowing, and she felt it fill her, making her skin translucent; her blood vessels and veins neon red and blue.
Her heart pulsed like a bass drum.
She woke coughing, her handlers having failed to get the liquid down her throat.
"You have to drink all of it, don't struggle."
Her latex suit had been replaced by something less constricting, but no less synthetic. Next to her was a bathtub, filled with what was presumably water. Racquel didn't expect it to be that, though.
She still swallowed the last of the liquid like she was told.
"You make it through this, and you'll almost be ready to be seen."
Her throat tasted bitter and she suppressed the compulsion to gag. Once that was under control she looked at her handlers; one was blonde, but the other was dark haired like her, with blonde streaks radiating from her temples like an aging woman's grays.
Racquel almost started with questions, but they methodically stripped her and dumped her into the water of the tub which shocked her with its cold temperature, but not with anything else unusual. Submerged, she heard the sounds of screaming and a struggle, but it sounded so far away to almost be a dream. Maybe if she stayed at the bottom...
But they pulled her head to the surface, the screams and struggling sounds hit her ears like a slap. Racquel can see it now, some strawberry blonde girl that couldn't be very many years older than she is, struggling with her handlers while all the others sat obediently in their tubs like well-behaved children.
When the liquid took over in a haze, she could swear the girl who had struggled had looked right at her, with large eyes that seemed to say you know why I fight.
In her dreams Racquel was flying.
Higher and higher, up past the city smog to the clear blue of the sky that she'd only seen in books. There were no wax-work wings to worry about getting near the sun, only the strength of her desire to go further. And so she did, until the air was so thin that she couldn't breathe. Instead of the crush feeling of drowning, she just got dizzy. Slowly she lost her grip of the ascent.
She rocketed to the ground like a shooting star.
"You will come, show your worth."
Racquel had woken in a warm water shower with her skin notably lighter. She fell into line where unmasked handlers passed them leotards of white and sky high heeled shoes. There were the faint ghostings of the girls they had all come in as; everyone seemed more wan, more slender, more angled than they should have been. Laser cut with precision.
She'd never expected to see the men there, dressed in black suits and sipping drinks like cocktail hour. The girls stood like nervous cattle, finding out where they would be herded.
"These girls aren't ready yet." Racquel wasn't sure if the woman that spoke was the same one that had greeted her parents, but there was really no way to tell the difference between the finished ones. Only the handlers seemed to retain any semblance of individuality but they were obviously incomplete and it would be scrubbed out of them eventually.
Like she would.
But the eyes of the men weren't on any of them, they were transfixed on someone that had just entered from the back. She was covered in a coat, a halo of platinum hair, with the promise of diamonds in more places than the crown of her head.
Racquel barely had time to register the face when they were sent upon her like a pack of wild animals, tearing the coat off her body and presenting her before the men. Her body was thinly covered with diamonds, not enough for true modesty yet not so many as to reveal everything.
She caught her glance, and realized that she knew that face; the one that had fought. The eyes were different but they hadn't shaved down her nose into a thin angled beak. That fact alone made her beautiful to Racquel, having something to herself.
So when the fighter now shackled with diamonds fell in line with the others in a perversion of some kind of dance, a show, Racquel realized that whatever hope she had been holding, however small, was evaporating faster than the alcohol in the men's glasses.
"Gentlemen, the bidding for Lady Gaga is over now."
Even though it couldn't be her name, Racquel was glad to have something to associate her with.
Later, Racquel dreamed of fire.
The entire Haus was burning, and the plastic and glass was melting in its heat. Metal was becoming molden and the cinder block was catching as fast as wood. When the fire reached her, it caught her hair--now halfway blonde--first, and then the clothes she'd been wearing since becoming a handler. Her skin, her muscles, and then she was bone.
And she was laughing the entire time.
Racquel pulled the snow white animal coat over the Lady's tiny shoulders, the only thing keeping her from a chill in her undergarments. Others had applied the makeup, emphasizing a razor sharp cheekbone and full lips. They had spent time making her hair the image of an old movie star.
The Lady pulled a pair of dark glasses off the table covered half the work.
"This way, Lady."
Racquel's job was simple, just to deliver the Lady to the room. She tried not to stare, looking for signs of the woman's former rebellion underneath all the plastered on glamor. But her walk was perfect, her stance exactly as designed.
Racquel had reached for the handle of the door to the room when the Lady grabbed her wrist.
"Shhh." The Lady produced a silver lighter from her bra.
"What are you going to do with that?" Racquel whispered harshly.
But the Lady only put it back in her bra, pulled the glasses down a bit, and winked. Then she reached for the handle of the door herself.
This time Racquel grabbed her wrist. "What is your name?"
Stefani.. Yes, that suited her.
They said that the fire had been localized; only the man had burned, but he had been burned completely. The others handlers pretended that they weren't interested in the girl who had escaped when the man burned, taking with her diamonds and all of his money that he'd brought.
But they still whispered about it, when the completed ones weren't watching.
Racquel didn't get in on any of the gossip, despite being the last person to see Stefani in the Haus. Idle chatter from those that still sought perfection didn't interest her.
It was interesting that most of the liquids they fed the newest girls was alcohol-based, perhaps in higher concentrations than even the drinks they gave to the men that came and judged, picking the brightest of the incompletes at the end of the night. She'd learned it was the final step before the end of the process. Stefani had a good idea setting her man ablaze, but Racquel wanted to think bigger. And she would bide her time, as there were plenty of girls that still eclipsed her.
She pointed her index finger, and cocked her thumb, the carbon copy of some bastard's perfect woman in her sights.