Crystal Hilliard was beautiful, but not quite beautiful enough. Her hair was long and blonde, yet it lacked a certain sheen. Her large eyes were blue, but not the vivid blue of a summer sky. Her nose was a tad too pert; her lips not particularly pouty. And although she wore a stylish size four, she was not a perfect size four, being rather smaller on top and larger on the bottom than the models who scowled at her from the pages of her fashion magazines.
Fortunately, Crystal was the heiress to her father’s millions, earned by selling mink accessories to the pampered pets of the wealthy. So on her twenty-first birthday, Crystal sat in the office of a plastic surgeon and spelled out her demands, declaring “I’ll spend anything to get what I want.”
Dr. Auric was well-tanned and perfectly coifed, with a dazzling white smile. He regarded Crystal for a moment, then reached into his desk and pulled out a glossy brochure. “If you’re really willing to spend any amount,” he said, “then perhaps you’d be interested in this.”
“What’s this?” Crystal flipped impatiently through the pages.
“It’s my own invention, not yet approved for public use. Worn unobtrusively in a pendant around the neck, it will surround you with a holographic projection of whatever look you desire. No painful surgery, no recovery period—and no one will ever know.”
Crystal tossed the brochure aside with a sneer. “Don’t be ridiculous. That’s not possible!”
The doctor touched a silver medallion at his own neck, and the air around him shimmered for a fraction of a second. Crystal gasped. Dr. Auric sat before her—balding, buck-toothed, and splotchy.
Minutes later, a check with six zeroes on it had changed hands, and Crystal left Dr. Auric’s office with a new piece of jewelry and an aura of splendorous glamour.
Samuel Blackthorn adjusted the cufflinks of his tuxedo shirt. Surveying the sumptuous buffet that stretched along two walls of the ballroom, he winced at the irony: a charity event for hungry children at which thousands of dollars worth of food would be consumed by the glitterati.
He wandered to the far corner, where a small display had been set up out of the way of the partiers. Under the charity’s logo were a dozen black-and-white photos: round-eyed children with matchstick arms protruding from tattered tee-shirts. “Oh, man,” said Samuel softly.
He turned away from the display and braced himself for the coming ordeal. Another absurd charity ball full of superficial people. Just once I’d like to meet someone at one of these things with some genuine human warmth, some—His thoughts were interrupted by a glimmering vision. A woman of surpassing beauty stood across the room, bathed in light, one slim hand fingering the jewel at her throat.
If she has even a tenth as much compassion as beauty, I’ll…I’ll…good grief, I’d marry that girl. Samuel shouldered his way across the crowd, stopping in front of the paragon of loveliness.
“Samuel Blackthorn,” he said, offering the woman a flute of champagne.
“I’m Crystal Hilliard, but of course you knew that! Because me me me blah blah blah me me me.”
Samuel gaped in disbelief. Crystal talked about herself nonstop for several minutes, pausing only to take a sip from her glass and to gaze about the ballroom. When it became clear that no new admirers were approaching, she looked expectantly at Samuel—a look that clearly said let’s talk about me some more.
With a surge of generosity, Samuel gave Crystal another chance. She’s young—maybe she’s just nervous. “So, Crystal—this is a great charity, isn’t it? I can’t stand the thought of even one hungry child. It’s unacceptable, and we should do something about it.”
“Well,” said Crystal, “me me me blah blah blah me me me.” She flipped her blonde mane and struck a pose.
Dejected, Samuel excused himself and wrote a check for twice the amount he’d intended. He drove home with a sense of melancholy, embarrassed at having been dazzled by Crystal Hilliard. She’s as insubstantial as light. Some day I’ll find a woman with a heart.
He was greeted at the door by his dog, madly wagging its tail and begging for attention. Samuel scratched the dog’s ears, then loosened his ascot and thumbed a tiny button on his watch. His Compassionizer2020 clicked off.
Samuel felt a momentary chill. He shivered, shook his head as if to clear his brain, and kicked the dog.
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