Kate Moss and Travis Scott are CGI centaurs roaming a digital universe in the first story from Dazed Beauty Issue Zero, published here alongside 'These Monsters' a sci-fi story by Bunny Kinney
The rain clears randomly and abruptly, as usual. In its wake, a wash of sky hangs blankly behind, cold and grey, matching the metal bones that litter the ground and glimmer in the sunless air. We don’t know why they shine. The Light is weak and far away. It pulses slow and steady, on and off, searching, we think, for us, or perhaps sending some kind of message. A hazy white heartbeat from another world reminding us that we’re still here, still alive, still waiting to be found.
We go outside only when it’s dry. It’s safer that way, because our bodies - weird, electric, Frankensteined together - are fragile, and at constant risk. At every step we could scatter into neon ash. But we must follow the Light. Thump thump thump. One forest to the next.
When the Half-Wolves howl, it’s time to move. I peek my head from under the cover of brush that has been my refuge during the storm. An army of Birdthings has already launched into the air; huge ivory wings hide their strange and sinewy faces. These beautiful monsters. I pull the hair from my head back into a knot as I ready myself, and trot out into the open for the first time in days. We must be quick; the rain could come back at any time.
A few miles down the path, I see the Birdthings start to circle. I cautiously approach the area over which they hover: a denser part of forest near the cliffside. This is where I spot him, handsome and regal, even as he crumbles to the ground in agony.
The rain, I think.
As I approach him, I notice a nest of barbed wire sparkling as it strangles his neck. The blood is beginning to seep from his skin as his four legs fall to the ground. He grabs at the wire, trying to pull it away, slicing his hands open and staining himself with slick patches that burn black on his dark skin. “Stop,” I urge him. “Don’t touch it.” But as I come closer, I can see that the spikes are jutting from inside of him, like teeth aching to burst out. Metal bones. His eyes are milky, blind with rage. Who could do such a thing to you?
I bow down on my front legs and nuzzle at his side. I reach out to stroke his fur. Blood drips down from the small braids of hair on his head into my palms. I don’t ask his name. I have seen him before. Or if it not him, then a version of him somewhere. He is one of ours. There are many of us here. Copies of each other, but no two alike. Different, sinister concoctions. Captives of the Light.
Small sparks begin to sizzle off the bones as they keep sprouting, drilling through his neck, his cheeks, his eyelids. I hear the Half-Wolves howl again and sit up straight, awake. Thump thump thump. I listen for the message.
Dr. Kelly lifts her hand from the screen and rubs the sides of her skinny arms, covered in a threadbare cotton lab coat. “It’s too cold down here,” she says to Jenkins.
“It’s always cold when you’re this far underground,” Jenkins says, propped up at his station and leaning too far back in his chair so that it teeters on the edge of total collapse. He scans the morning papers as he licks his greasy lips, croissant crumbs tumbling down his beard and into the gaps between where his shirt is meant to button up, caught by the bulging flesh of his swollen sweaty body.
Dr. Kelly taps at her keyboard one more time and continues to watch as the Male mutates, his entire head now encased in a cage of silver thorns. The Female looks distracted. Dr. Kelly gently presses her fingers to the screen again. What’s she looking at? She wonders.
“Don’t you think it’s strange?” Jenkins says, looking over. Dr. Kelly sighs, trying to ignore him.
Jenkins gets up, coming closer to the screen, standing uncomfortably close to Dr. Kelly as he studies it from behind her. “To sit here all day and watch yourself like this?” He places a hand on Dr. Kelly’s shoulder. She grimaces.
“It’s not me,” she finally says, eyes fixed on the Female. “Not actually. A few of them might be based on some old, out of date version of my scans. But I wasn’t the one who decided to use them.”
“Your file was deemed the fittest,” Jenkins says, smirking. Dr. Kelly shakes her head. “What’s the problem?” He asks her. “What could be better than this? Now you get to live forever. In whatever wicked form we choose.”
Dr. Kelly turns to look at Jenkins. Her huge hazel eyes look lifeless, empty. “This isn’t real,” she tells him flatly.
“But they might think it is,” Jenkins says, staring back at the screen.
Dr. Kelly exhales, annoyed. “They don’t think. They don’t have brains. They’re not tissue and mass. They’re just numbers.”
Jenkins grins again, reaching from behind her to grab the keyboard. “Stop that!” Dr. Kelly shouts, nearly letting herself get flustered. “This isn’t a game.”
With a few clicks, the forest walls begin to bend and the sky turns a sinister, sanguine shade. The ground begins to quake, getting hotter as it erupts into flames which catapult at the pair as they lick the air like a warning. The Male cowers, still in pain, as the Female looks around, alarmed. Hard bricks of mud and stone shoot from the earth to surround them like a fortress. Jenkins cackles.
“Great,” Dr. Kelly says. “Now I’ll have to reset everything. I guess I’ll just delete him and work on another version. He won’t be able to recover.”
“Fry him in another downpour,” Jenkins says, grazing the keys with his fingertips still wet with the butter from his breakfast. “Who cares, right? You said it yourself. They don’t think.”
Dr. Kelly turns back to the screen. As she begins to disassemble the Male, pixel by pixel, the Female stands up again. Her tail swishes slowly as she steps gracefully forward, two feet at a time, inching closer towards the screen. Dr. Kelly stands frozen in her presence, certain that somehow, for a moment, she has been seen.
“Isn’t that funny?” Jenkins purrs into her ear, as he tugs at the mess of blonde hair on the back of her head. “She’s done her hair just like yours today.” Dr. Kelly’s back stiffens as she hugs her arms again. It’s cold.
Jenkins wanders off, leaving Dr. Kelly alone with her creation, and the two stand in front of one another on opposite sides of the screen that divides them. “My God,” Dr. Kelly says out loud, lifting up her hand. She can feel her pulse quicken as she reaches out to touch the Female’s face, who seems to be gazing back, unmoved but alert. “Aren’t you just the most extraordinary thing?”
Dr. Kelly returns to her keyboard and begins to type, inputting more streams of numbers into the program to restore the scene. After a moment, the grey sky cloaking the forest begins to dissipate and the dull white light that masks the air is transformed for the first time with the blissful, warm orange of the sun. The Female shuts her eyes and lifts her head in its direction.
Offscreen, out of sight, the rain clouds wait for their command.
CGI Team: Darío Alva, Travis Brothers
3D Scanning Studio for Kate: Mini You
3D Scanning Studio for Travis: 3DScanLA