As long as she could remember, Gabi had wanted wings, certain it would change everything.
When she told her French-Canadian grandmother, Mamé snorted. “Si jeunesse savait, si vieillesse pouvait. Youth is wasted on the young.”
Mamé didn’t understand. She was a lean, wrinkled Naturalist of 107 who’d never had genetic reassignment. The family of four — Gabi, her parents, and Mamé — had moved to the city after the crops dried up. Everyone was eating synthetic food, anyway. No need for farmers, just scientists. Her parents were Naturalists too; they’d accepted the standard genetic modifications on their daughter but had left her physical traits up to chance. The result: Gabi was dark, sturdy, compact: a traditional farmer’s daughter.
Nowadays parents ticked off boxes for their offspring’s desired traits. The more boxes checked, the more expensive the baby. In history, Gabi learned that people once were afraid such choices would bring about a single and terrifying eugenic race; but by the end of the War Against Media, society no longer conformed to one standard of beauty. Humankind remained a motley collection of fat and thin, tall and short, dark and pale.
“Naturalist,” the other 8th grade girls whispered across the aisles, hissing the last syllable like it was a dirty word. Gabi sat up straighter at her desk, staring ahead as if she didn’t hear them. How did they know? Maybe it was a generic insult. She’d only registered weeks ago, after all. She was still The New Girl.
“L’habit ne fait pas le moine,” Mamé soothed after Gabby confided to her. Mamé had a saying for every occasion. “The clothing doesn’t make the monk. They need to get to know you on the inside.”
“But I want my outsides to match my insides,” Gabi said.
Once diseases had been eradicated, genetics became a science of vanity. Mostly, it was nothing too extravagant: tiger-striped arms, iridescent scales around the eyes, parrot plumage at the hairline. True animorphing was a status symbol for the wealthy. Tails were spliced onto spines, ears became floppy and furred. Nothing was illegal as long as it was ornamental and unconcealed. No venom sacs, no electrified skin. Claws and teeth were fine. Gabi’s mother knew a woman who got a marsupial pouch after graduating college. She had always wanted to be a mother.
In her first year of high school, Gabi, the only Naturalist in 9th grade, ate lunch alone. Felines stared at her unblinkingly across the cafeteria. At the top of the social order, they were spoiled rich girls whose popular Sweet Sixteen gifts were leopard tails. Even the Freaklings, with their mini elephant trunks like floppy, wrinkled penises spliced onto faces and their dark glasses concealing giant light-sensitive owl eyes, wouldn’t eat with her.
Gabi was taking a shortcut through the park when a group of Felines spotted her. They yanked the tablet out of her sweatshirt pocket and threw into a public restroom toilet. After they’d left, tails twitching with laughter, Gabi ran into the stall and fished it out, but the screen had gone black.
When she begged her parents for even the tiniest animorph alteration, they shook their heads, mumbling about money. Frustrated, she appealed to Mamé.
“Petit a petit, l’oiseau fait son nid,” Mamé soothed. “Little by little, the bird builds its nest. Just give them time to get to know you.”
And then, a breakthrough. In tenth grade, the Zoodles, kids with mixed modifications like antler buds and feather tufts, invited Gabi to her first sleepover. She packed and unpacked her overnight bag seven times before leaving. She felt welcomed and joined in gossip about the athletic Reptilians with scales and claws who obsessed over their BMIs. They reminded her of a gaggle of geese as they giggled and massaged her scalp with special conditioner, promising it would strengthen the follicles.
Later at home, Gabi cried as Mamé shaved her remaining tufts of hair. The special conditioner had been a depilatory cream.
“Plus ça change,” Mamé murmured while rhythmically stroking her bare head. “The more things change…”
“That makes no sense!” Gabi fell asleep to Mamé’s soft hands and refrain.
When Mamé died, she left a large inheritance. Gabi, though numb in her grief, knew just what to do with the money. Mon ange Gabrielle was Mamé’s secret name for her when they were alone. My Angel Gabrielle. Now it would be true.
An appointment was booked for her sixteenth birthday before the last long weekend of the year. With any luck, she’d be back at school on Tuesday. Her parents didn’t understand but agreed to support her decision.
After a simple procedure of genetic splicing and dicing, surgical grafting, and injections of nanobot sentinels that commanded the immune system to stand down, Gabi stood before the mirror, rotating slowly. She smiled at her reflection, feeling awkward, shy, newly hatched.
She practically floated to school, certain of the awed gazes that followed her. Once inside, she tucked in her wings to navigate the crowded halls. When a pain pricked her shoulder, she whirled around. A single feather drifted in the air currents produced by teenage bodies pushing past. Gabi glided to class and slunk into her seat. As her tablet pinged, she read the message:
Her tablet pinged again and was echoed by devices throughout the room. She swiped the screen. A photo of her back, hunched over, her beautiful wings limp and grey.
The three-storey school, built two hundred years ago, was filled with hidden doors and secret corridors. Gabi knew the way to the roof and often went up to eat her lunch undisturbed.
Plus ça change. . .
The more things change. . .
Crouching over the edge with wings outstretched, she felt the rain pelting her back. She stood, folding and flexing her wings as she surveyed the school grounds below.
. . . plus c’est la même chose.
. . . the more they stay the same.
With eyes shut, she jumped and kept them closed.
Christina Grant, a Canadian, is the reigning Fall Fiction War Champion and has enjoyed this latest battle to defend her title. She is completely immersed in all things bookish as both a writer and teacher-librarian. Her first young adult novel, Being Human, was published in 2015. She is presently working on the sequel, but loves writing within the confines of tight timelines and writing prompts! You can find more of her original work at cgrantwriter.com.
Plus Ça Change/The More Things Change is a Fiction War Finalist entry.
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