Avonaco held vigil by the medical pod, his cheek resting against its transparent canopy, his gaze locked on the operation inside. Procedure by procedure, the pod dutifully executed his instructions. Lasers crisscrossed what had been Grace Donner’s face, this time dancing along the edges of incisions made hours before, sealing what had been opened, leaving behind thin lines of red flesh. The operation was in its fifth hour and would soon be complete.
The visage was now undeniably Jaya’s: the long, oval face he remembered cradling in his hands. The prominent cheekbones, cleft chin, slender nose. The face of his caretaker, emerging from that of a stranger. Somewhere inside, he felt peace at the sight, even though this was a doppelgänger, a mere copy of Jaya.
Avonaco sighed. Maybe someday she would look back at him out of some kind of face, but not this one. Perhaps that’s why he watched, making certain that he could still tell the difference. Jaya’s memory was safe as long as he remembered. He bore witness so nobody could ever mistake an imposter for the real Jaya.
The medical pod bleeped, indicating the final round of modification. The laser instruments were clipped back to the inner tool chain, replaced with hypodermics. Next, custom viruses would complete the transformation, changing colors and minute features.
Pink gel was swabbed along her body, delivering bacteria that swept across the hair from her head down to her legs, transforming the dead tissue from variants of blond into a rich chocolate-brown. Injections increased melanogenesis. Her lips changed from rose to deep plum, and her body’s skin tone darkened significantly. It was still paler than Jaya’s as he remembered it, but the sun would take care of such deficiencies soon enough.
Avonaco lingered on the face, which had lost its tracery of red incision sites. The face was so peaceful, so unlike his final memory of Jaya. There had been creases of pain on her forehead. Her lips had been parched; her eyes sunken. He still saw the blinking readouts hovering in the air around her as she lay broken in the medical pod. Irreparable.
Avonaco pretended to tap his ptenda.
“I am going to open the pod soon.”
“I will be right there.” Jaya’s imaginary voice was unusually solemn.
The neural display above the medical pod showed that Grace Donner was in cold sleep. He tapped the controls to begin raising her back to consciousness. As the graph danced across the screen, her expressionless face, a mask devoid of a mind, would soon spring back to life.
“How is she doing?” Jaya’s imaginary voice came from behind. She rested a hand on Avonaco’s right shoulder and leaned closer. He could almost feel her breath stir his hair.
“She will have some pain as the bones heal, but nothing too bad.”
Jaya squeezed Avonaco’s shoulder. “And how are you?”
He exhaled. “I am ok.”
“Take it slowly when she wakes up,” Jaya said. “Grace will look like me, and she will have my voice.”
“I will not get attached.”
“She will have different facial expressions, though?”
“And a different build. I did not overly tamper with her frame or musculature.” Avonaco sighed. “I have no illusions, Jaya. I know this is not you.”
“It is not her fault she is not me,” said Jaya. “Or yours.”
“Yeah,” he whispered, alone.