Exterior, Light-industrial Park, Late in Day
The last of twilight's colors drain from the sky as the late-model sporty convertable arrives at a slab-sided building in a nondescript industrial park in the suburbs. Almost before the car stops moving, an early-thrities woman emerges and quickly strides to the numbered doorway. Tall and long-legged, she is dressed in a fawn-colored leather miniskirt, suntan panythose, matching calf-height spike-heeled boots, and a short fur-trimmed jacket that reaches to her midriff revealing flashes of a white satin blouse and enticing cleavage. Her hair is short, styled, and blonde; she wears a lot of expensive-looking jewelry and looks to be very well off.
Ringing the door buzzer three times, she paces impatiently outside in a tight pattern until the door opens to reveal an early-40's man clad in a paint-smeared lab coat over faded jeans and a T-shirt from an obscure decades-old rock band. He brightens at seeing her, but the woman walks past him into the building, which is a high-ceilinged work space, lit mostly by overhead xenon-arc lamp with pools of warmer light provided by high-intensity spotlights. In the shadows the contours of discarded boxes and packing crates can be seen. The foreground is dominated by a raised platform where a single female mannequin figure stands stiffly posed, luminous in a pool of light; other display figures are scattered around, standing mostly; some sitting on boxes or reclining, including a few in what looks to be a paint spray booth, more mannequins at a mirrored detailing bench lit by gooseneck lamps. Along the side wall is a small office, framed in exposed wood studs.
"What did you drag me down here for, Harvey?" the elegantly-dressed young woman demands by way of greeting. "I've got a very busy schedule." She seems unable to calm herself and continues to walk nervously around, glaring at him.
The man isn't in a hurry, which seems to irk her more. He closes the door, locks it, and walks up to the brilliantly lit mannequin. "The first of the Rachels; isn't she superb," he gushes, his voice colored by a faint British accent. All this time he is looking not at his guest but at the still simulacrum. The mannequin is incredibly lifelike, with brilliant glassy eyes and an impressive amount of detail in the face and hands. Her figure is slim and sexy, shapely enough to catch the buyer's eye while putting a desirable form to whatever clothes the figure is modeling. This one has been carefully dressed in a lingerie ensemble, a white lacy bustier, panties, and garter-suspended white silky-sheer hose. A strand of pearls loops around the neck and drapes deep into the V between the figure's mounded breasts. Pearl earrings accent the sides of her face and on one wrist there is a pearl bracelet. The man reaches over to re-set a curl of the mannequin's hairdo in place. "The new technique worked out wonderfully, can't you see?"
"Yeah, yeah. You created your perfect woman," the young woman scoffs, finally coming over to the pair. "I told you on the phone that I'm done with this. The whole idea of 3-D scanning actual girls to make replicas of them as display dummies just creeps me out." For the first time she really looks closely at the mannequin's face, seeing the beauty of the sculpted features and how the eyes seem to stare at her. It's almost as if Ruth Bretagna, the model who was recorded, is standing here instead. "No display figure needs to look this flawless; you've gone overboard. There are waxworks that aren't this lifelike!"
"You've seen my vision then, Arlene," the man smiles, "And your figure will be equally stunning, though not yet. But that's why I called you today."
"Huh? What are you talking about? You lost me." Arlene circles the mannequin, her heels clicking on the plywood platform. The gorgeous simulacrum is also enthralling her, stirring memories of her lovely friend Ruth in quite a different setting, deep arousals that she doesn't want the artist to know about. I could take that frilly off you girl and then tickle your fancy, she muses, touching the mannequin's lips for the first time. They are hard and plastic of course, but feel almost moist. Hmm, must be the lipstick...
"Oh, mind the background sheet, by the way, I'm getting set up for some snaps... Where was I? Yes; a supply-side problem. The sodding moulding firm ran into a bad batch of compound or something. Your castings were ruined, all of them, which brings me to my present dilemma, dear."
"Get to the point, will ya? I don't have all night!"
"Very well, then. I want you to pose for the promotional pictures instead. For the brochure. I must get them to the printers tomorrow, you see..."
"Pose?" she asks, incredulous. "Up there... as a mannequin?" she turns back to the platform and glares at the costumed display figure.
"Yes. I'm glad you understand my...."
"Forget it!" she interrupts, turning towards the door. "I don't want any part of this."
"You will be compensated, as before, plus a bonus," he counters.
She is still walking towards the doors, but slows. The pay for consenting to be scanned had been considerable, one of the reasons she had even agreed to the hairbrained scheme in the first place. Her avarice, like her desires, she keeps hidden away. "Not enough, Harvey; goodbye."
"Quadruple. For this one session. Plus, you'll get a royalty for every Aubrey series that's sold. Surely you must consider this?" he pleads.
"How much?" she pauses at the door, facing away.
"Fifteen," she shoots back.
"Preposterous. That is more than I receive."
"Then you pose for your brochure instead," she counters, placing her hand on the latch lever.
"Seven! That's the most I can offer, plus four times your posing fee," he concedes after a long pause.
She turns back towards him, glaring for a moment, then breaking into a brief grin. "Deal," she decides, sealing her fate. "You must really be desperate for those pictures!"
"My investors are very demanding," he replies obliquely, leaving her wondering if she should have held out for a little bit more. "Now, you must prepare yourself; I do not want to take any more of your time than is necessary."
"No complaints from me," Arlene agrees, hanging her jacket on a light stand and unzipping her boots one foot at a time. "Where can I finish undressing — freshen my makeup?"
"There's a curtain area beside the office, with a mirror and such. Your costume is there already, along with the faux jewelry. I'll help you with that. Oh, one request that might seem a bit odd?"
"Yeah, Harvey?" The whole thing seemed more than a bit odd to her.
"Since you'll be impersonating a finished mannequin, you should have parting seams on your wrists and waist. A fine line will do for the photos, an eyebrow pencil would be sufficient..."
"You've, um, shaved recently?"
"Yes, Harvey, my cute little pussy is as smooth as a baby's bottom..." she smiles, ducking behind the curtain to remove the rest of her undergarments and hose, imagining him blushing at her American crudeness. "I'll be ready soon; you get that camera of yours set up."
She finds that her 'costume' consists of a sheer fishnet catsuit that had no zippers; it is stretchy enough for her to squirm into before snapping back to hug her firm curves. Unlike Ruth, she likes to work out and has sculpted her body over long hours in the gym instead of hours spent on a plastic surgeon's operating table. Arlene's only conceit was "improving" her smallish breasts a few cup sizes. Now they are firm like the rest of her figure. Preening for a moment in the large mirror, she realizes she's forgotten the lines on her body and has to pull the fishnet down to her legs so she can finish the illusion. Smoothing down her own close-cropped hair, she slips on the auburn-hued acrylic wig and tugs it into position, letting one long curl drape to the left of her face almost to her shoulder. The darker hair makes her look older somehow, more classically attractive. She takes more time to add heavier eye makeup and blusher, then frosted lipstick; remembering how theatrically gorgeous Ruthie — well, "Rachel" — had looked in those lights. A glint on the table catches her attention; there is a set of costume jewelry laid out. She recalls Harvey asking her to wear them. These look to be imitation diamonds instead of pearls and the set includes a hip-hugger belt as well as a choker, bracelets, and earrings. Like a kid playing dress-up, she whimsically slips one of the bracelets on. Instantly, she feels a mental 'whoosh' as all her voluntary thoughts vanish as if into a vacuum. Arlene's mind is wiped clean of her next catty comment, her plans for the evening, how she was going to spend her modeling bonus. Everything. She can only stare blankly into the mirror, lips slightly parted, having forgotten how to move or speak. Minutes pass.
"Arlene, dear, were you not in a hurry?" the man calls to her after some time has elapsed. "The camera, and I, await your presence. Remember, I need to help you with the jewelry once you're posed." Another minute passes before he loses patience and pokes his head inside the dressing area, seeing her sitting, transfixed. "Oh, my, you really did jump the gun, as you Yanks put it. Do not worry; everything will be fine. How do you feel? Speak to me now."
Several seconds pass before she speaks slowly in a dreamy tone. "Hazy, I feel...soft,,, a..cloud..."
"Let yourself float, but listen always to my words. Now you feel happy, at ease, because you are going to do something you always love to do. You are going to pose for me, as a mannequin. You like to pose; it makes you very happy to be seen by others. Let yourself be happy now," he guides her thinking.
"Hap..py...." she says eventually as he gathers up the rest of the costume jewelry.
"Now, you're going to be able to stand up and walk to where you can pose and be happy. I will help you, we will go slowly. You can move now, as long as I'm holding your arm." After a few seconds, she slowly gets to her feet as if sleepwalking, holding the arm with the bracelet in position as before. Harvey lowers the arm before guiding her walk across the workroom and up to the platform where a glass disk is set up a few feet to the left of the Rachel mannequin. He assists her in standing on tip-toe, placing her feet on the raised-heel pads and finding her upright balance. Arlene is pliable, like a life-sized doll, keeping her body, arms and hands in whatever position he places her in. Her left arm is to her side, while her right arm is posed as if resting at the curve of her slim waist, fingers close to but not touching her skin. When he is satisfied with her display pose, he carefully clasps the hip belt around her figure. Almost visibly, her body stiffens, remaining rigid from the waist down.
"There, dear, the difficult part is over. You are feeling very happy now; soon you will be happier still." A few seconds later, belying his narrative, a single tear leaks out of her eye and seeps down her cheek. "Sad? You must not be sad. Tell me your sadness; speak to me now."
For several seconds she is silent, then a single word, a whisper more like, escapes from her painted lips: "Why?"
"A fair question, my lovely lady. Though you will not remember it, you deserve a fair answer: Your beauty, your poise, your presence in those body scans came to the attention of a... connoisseur. My patron. One who treasures beauty and elegance, but does not choose to share those treasures. I offered to sell him your finished replica; he wanted more. He could own the entire production run, all the different variations, own the data from the scans themselves. He wanted more. The original, so no 'poor replicas' as he put it could ever be made again. He wanted you. 'To break the mould,' is what he desires." Brushing the tear from her face, he closes her mouth and gently arranges her expression so she looks pensive, contemplative, not sad or brazenly smiling as Ruth's mannequin is.
Glancing down, he takes a moment to reflect on how curvaceous her firm toned body is, how the stretchy fishnet is pushed out by her breasts away from her chest until it clings to her sculpted stomach and abs. How it will soon remain that way for a long time to come. Giving in to temptation, his hands cup and caress her breasts, giving her one last sensation of joy. Arlene's paralyzed body responds with an involuntary arousal of her nipples.
"Let...me. Live..." she pleads, summoning all her remaning will power.
He chuckles. "You misunderstand; death is not in your future. Quite the contrary, in fact. This jewelry is his enduring gift to you; his sinister technology to preserve your beauty perpetually, for as long as you shall wear the pieces. You will not die; however you will not seem alive either with all your thoughts and vitality suspended." He places the choker necklace around her throat, knowing that her face and voice are freezing, hardening into sculpture.
Reaching for the next sparkling items, he tells her "It is time; when I put these earrings on you, the stasis effect is absolute; you will become that perfect mannequin that you model so well. May your destiny be filled with happiness. Farewell, lovely Arlene."
As he clips the last earring in place, his imagination tells him her jade-green eyes have become a little more glassy because no light of consciousness remains within those vacant orbs.
The artist regrets his role in her deception, her capture, despite the fortune he is earning this evening, knowing Arlene was right; his art has gone too far.
Tomrrow he will pack the two uniquely original mannequins, Rachel and Aubrey, in soft memory foam and crate them securely for their long journey to their place of honor on display in a distant land.
For now, Harvey is content to circle his motionless living artworks and photograph them lovingly, even though the images will never appear in any brochure or in public. We are all collectors of beauty, at heart, he thinks, in a melancholy mood.