“Yes, yes. Excellent silhouette, outstanding symmetry. Oh, and the skin tone is spot on.”

Darla knew she was good and almost smiled. But pride had never won a battle against guilt in this ever-lasting war of hers and she remained impassive instead.

“Regardless,” the old man said, not unexpectedly. “I still think we’re missing something, dear.”

She looked to the geezer standing next to her and sized him up, saw his chin resting on his right hand as if he were a scholar tasked with a monumental project: analyzing, measuring, critiquing. She felt icky and debased, as a woman and as a human being in general, knowing far too well what things boiled down to in every detailing session that she hosted.

“Perhaps if we…” he said, as his other arm darted towards the slider marked BREASTS on the operator’s deck. His shriveled skin brushed against Darla’s naked shoulder, but he paid the contact no heed. Never mind that hers was a striking figure, even at forty, with red, luscious locks, crisp azure eyes, and an alabaster skin that was scrupulously maintained. No, his lust was directed elsewhere and Darla could see it: a focused beam of compact, tangible heat waves piercing the viz screen in front of them.

“Hands off, Rowland,” she said, and slapped his arm away from the console. “You want more boobs? Here, I’ll give you more boobs.”

Sector always gave her grief about her rudeness with customers. Almost twice a week she would hear from some middle level exec or another about the latest client outrage:

‘She has no manners whatsoever.’

‘Spirited? I would think downright bitchy is more appropriate.’

‘For this amount of money one expects at least a modicum of courtesy. Yes, the work was impeccable. Still…’

She was far from giving a damn. They wanted the best Ganger designer out there? Fine, she was down. But hell if she was about to deal with more overhead than she already had to on a personal and moral level.

Now, she did not consider herself a feminist, not in the strict sense of the word, but she was familiar—and agreed up to some point—with the sayings of a few strong women of old. For example, each hour she spent in her studio reminded her of something Dame Rebecca West once stated:

‘I only know that people call me a feminist whenever I express sentiments that differentiate me from a door mat or a prostitute.’

And that was exactly what filled her with a bitter, sickening anguish: with the skills she had so furiously labored to acquire, doing what she excelled at with unparalleled mastery, she was helping populate the world with door mats and whores. And there was no point in denying men as the culpable source of this unsavory trend. Men, and the economy, of course.

At least I still have Andrew.

She sighed and moved the slider to the right in a seemingly arbitrary jerk that was anything but: years of experience told her exactly where to stop, which often was in the boundaries of ‘too much’.

“There! Perfection!” Rowland screamed, giddy with excitement. He regarded her with a patronizing smile that made her cringe in her seat.

“You’re definitely the best, honey bunch.”

“Happy to help,” she replied sarcastically, the scorn, unveiled, taking up a predominant layer of her tone.

She tapped a few keys and a panel slid out from under the work desk.

“Now, sign there and be ready to pick it up on the specified date.”

The man did as instructed and headed towards the automated doors at Darla’s back.

“Sweetie?” he said, stopping just a few steps shy of the doorway.

She swiveled on her chair and faced Rowland, one eyebrow arched.

“Her,” he said, the stupid grin still plastered on his face.

“What?”

“Pick her up.” He turned around and left.

The swish of compressed air closing the doors lingered inside her head for a moment, a soft counterpoint to the anger building up in her bloodstream.

Her phone rang.

She answered immediately, not even looking at the identifier screen, just thankful for the distraction.

“Darla here,” she said after clicking the speaker button and placing the device on the desk.

“Hey, it’s me,” a male voice said groggily from the other end. “Meeting’s dragging on, only God knows for how long.”

A whirring sound, almost imperceptible to the untrained ear, caught her attention. Well-greased but unrefined cogs, mechanical wires pulling and stressing. C-polymer skin stretching, like rubber.

No.

“Are you still there, love?”

“Yes, sorry, I’m just bogged down by this request,” she lied. “Can’t seem to get the eyebrows right, go figure.”

“That’s because neither the eyebrows, nor the nails, nor the hair, will ever be right on those things.”

She listened for the tell-tale clicks and snaps of lower-end models. They were there, she was certain, followed by the rustle of cheap fabric.

“Anyway, don’t wait for me. I’ll make it up to you soon, I promise. Gotta go now.”

He hung up. She made no motion to retrieve the phone, but remained seated, in stasis, her eyes covered with an impenetrable icy barrier.

Another quote, this time by one Henry Kissinger, of all people, came to her later that day when she was resting on her bed, nursing a still chilly—despite being more than three quarters empty—bottle of Chardonnay:

‘Nobody will ever win the battle of the sexes. There’s just too much fraternizing with the enemy.’

I see what you did there, fella.

She also thought about what happened right after the call ended.

In those moments of true shock, she knew, any expectation of coherent thought is forlorn, replaced involuntarily with a passive receptiveness for the whacky.

But was it really whacky, though? Was there a hidden streak of submission in every woman, nestled in darkness, unacknowledged, heedless of how strong the woman in question makes herself up to be? Or perhaps it was just her, more feeble and sheltered than would be deducible by a tomboy attitude and a stout, fiery temper? The phrase that popped in her mind at that stressful moment offered no suitable answer to these questions. At least none that could quench the turmoil in her midst.

Oh, Andrew. I could have built you a better one.