Woman in the Designer Genes

Reprinted from Magic For Sale, (1983), Avram Davidson (Ed.), New York: Ace Books.

I had been trying to raise Miss Hartley for twenty minutes on the intercom (a feat akin to the resurrection of Lazarus, though somewhat more complicated by the fact that Miss Hartley is stupid rather than dead) when finally I decided to step into the parlor and discover what had become of her.

The fellow was unimposing, and in violation of my innermost conviction--the acquisition of lucrative business--I nearly failed to see him sitting on the divan, leafing through a copy of Genetic Engineering Weekly, which we of course keep bound in gold-stamped leatherette portfolios. Our clientele is keen on such things.

"Ah, good day to you, sir," I said. Miss Hartley would most definitely be reprimanded for deserting her reception post and allowing a customer to go unattended. I noticed a large fly buzzing annoyingly about the parlor, and neatly extended my tongue and picked it off.

Most distracting insects.

"Allow me to apologize for the inexcusable rude treatment you've suffered," I said, "and let me assure you that this is not policy at Neomorphic Design. Perhaps I might offer you some sherry?"

"Sure." He barely glanced up from the magazine.

I hopped to the sherry-caddy in one leap.

Always show the best you have to offer, show it unmistakably, and in a manner which de-emphasizes the braggart within us all. It was not through the ignorance of such maxims that I became the First Executive Veep of Neomorphic Design House. I noticed that the fellow had indeed witnessed my majestic hop, and I turned casually, handing him a platinum orb of sherry.

"Have you been shown our current line?" I inquired.

"Uh huh."

My perceptual skills are honed like a scimitar, and immediately I recognized that Chic was not his native tongue. I promptly switched to the less-fluid English, which lacks a certain ability to reflect the nuance of fashion, but which is decidedly useful with the plebeians. I am fluent in seventy-three natural and six artificial languages, and the phrase "Check, cash, or charge?" is equally delightful in all seventy-nine.

"Basic amphibian," I said, turning to afford him a view of my air-sacs. "A conservative choice for the discriminating gentleman. I've been wearing it since '23 and have yet to fall outside the circle of fashion. However, our summer line does offer a somewhat more dramatic flair, if you are so inclined."

"I see," said the gentleman, uninterestedly.

I must admit I was taken aback with this perfunctory reply. Had I lost that touch of grace? Indeed not! I'd begun in this business as a doorknocker selling non-functional wing implants for a discount house, and I'd not come this far to be so easily dissuaded.

Besides, it would do my two sales managers, Simson and Seeforth, good to see the Old Man turn out from his office like an ambulating antique and make a sale. No, don't argue. I know what they say about me.

I ran my eyes over the fellow like a white glove. I am neither the Delphic Oracle of the fashion world, nor do I wish to seem didactic. Some prefer a total morphological change, some a tasteful implant.

This man had neither.

He wore the same tacky homo sapiens body with which he had undoubtedly been born. What, then, was he doing sipping sherry in the parlor of the most prestigious genetic design house in New Bonbon?

"It appears," I said, treading dangerously close to his potential ire, "that you prefer mammalian." A good salesman must calculate his risks, and the man seemed unperturbed. "And in splendid taste," I added. "Did you have in mind a complete morphological change or a stylish implant? We can accommodate either request, of course, and though in my day a gill here or a webbed foot there was the pinnacle of charm, times do indeed change, and I'd like to suggest to you that a complete morph change, perhaps simian or something in the Rodentia line, will place you in a position to be an absolute trend-setter among the chic de la chic."

"Mr. . . uh. . ." He stared up at me, uncomfortably.

"Starnsworth, forgive me. But do call me Harvard."

"Mr. Harvard, I'm not here for myself. Frankly, I don't really go for this kind of stuff."


Had this unaltered homo -- sipping my sherry, incidentally -- actually said...stuff? I took several deep breaths as my analyst has advised on occasion, and squelched my pique.

"Good sir, genetic engineering is hardly a mere dictate of fashion, some silly social whim. Nevertheless, I shall readily be of service if you will pray instruct me how."

"Well, it's my wife," he offered. He scratched his chin in a most uncouth display. "She wants a change again."

"A subsequent alteration?"

"Yeah, you got it."

How the Vulgate doth offend the ear. However, I managed to maintain a proprietary calm.

"All neomorphic engineering can be reversed or improved to suit one's taste, and I'm certain your charming wife will applaud your decision to allow Neomorphic Design House to render these modifications . . . but. . . where is your wife, sir?"

The gentleman glanced upward toward the ceiling, his eyes flitting about the parlor. "I don't know," he said. "She was buzzing around here someplace."