“T-that’s not hair!” cried James, recoiling in horror. “Those are tentacles!”

“Yes,” said Cephy sadly, her unusual yellow-blue eyes glowing all the more fiercely. “I am actually an octopus driving a sophisticated animatronic puppet.”

“H-how has n-no one noticed that before?”

“Hats, and living in New York City. I don’t even have the weirdest hair secret in my building.”

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The photoshoot had gone great, Reid thought. It was rare enough to find a willing model, much less one that had the combination of good bone structure, natural-looking long blonde hair, and violet eyes.

It had gone so well, in fact, that Reid’s assistant had drawn him aside during a break. “Does something strike you as a little…odd…about this model?” he asked.

“I’m sure I don’t know what you mean, love,” said Reid.

“I dunno. Something about her just seems a little…unnatural.”

“Well, that’s not her natural hair color, if that’s what you mean,” Reid laughed. “But you ought to know that by now, love. No human has that color naturally–it’s dye or wig or chromosome engineering from one of those fly-by-night gene labs in the Beral Lands.”

“But…her eyes, and her skin…I just don’t feel like they’re real,” Reid’s assistant persisted.

“Well, I can assure you that they are her real eyes and her real skin,” laughed Reid. “Not a skinjob, this one! But I agree, she does have a very exotic otherworldly beauty about her. Sometimes I can scarcely believe it’s real myself!” He turned away abruptly and clapped his hands. “Okay, that’s a wrap with this one! Miss, you’re been lovely. Please send out the next model from the green room, if you please.”

The model nodded, and walked into the small room that Reid had set aside for the use of his models, locking it behind her. It was completely empty, save a for a small trunk.

The model took off her hair–a very convincing nanofiber wig–and replaced it with one that was short, dark brown, and tightly curled. Then she took off her nose and ears–they were both prostheses made of nanomaterials as well. Carefully hovering over a selection of replacements, she decided on a pair of small lobeless ears and a wide nose with flared nostrils, both dark-skinned. She could have opted for more flexible shape-and-color changing nano-protheses, naturally, but custom-made ones with a single shape were less likely to stand out and had a more natural look.

As she shimmied into a fresh outfit laid out by Reid ahead of time, the model adjusted the chromatophores in her eyes and skin to fresh hues. The photographer had asked for dark skin and green eyes, and so she obliged–matching her overall hue to that of her fresh prostheses and her eyes to a color wheel with the aid of a mirror.

There was a knock on the door. “Ma’am?” said Reid’s assistant.

“Ready in a moment, dear,” the model cried, rearranging her multi-layered vocal cords to produce a much lower, huskier register.

It would be easier to have the assistant and camera crew in on the fact that their model was a Callistan, surely. But Callistans were hated, discriminated, against, even outlawed–not least because they were spies and assassins as often as they were fashion models. But–in the model’s mind, anyway–if she had the ability to change her appearance at will, and the prosthetics and wigs to make it happen, why not use it to earn a little safe money at the expense of others?

The unspoken code of Callistans was very clear on that point: it was perfectly okay to fool, rob, or kill Zeussians (as they called all other humans), so long as you didn’t abandon your secret Callistan identity or fall in love with one.

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They keep to themselves, the Callistans, and not without reason. The kind of work they’re hired to do is rarely pleasant; at the very least, the person they imitate or the place of business they infiltrate is in for a cash loss, if not a rapidly spreading rusty stain on the carpet. No one’s ever come forward to claim responsibility for engineering them; the Callistans themselves hold that they’re self-created and bred into existence over generations, or so they say to the sociologists who have managed to interview them.

But it’s obvious to everybody else that they’re engineered. Back in the day, before the bleeding hearts got all righteous about it, a number of Callistans that were iced during jobs were analyzed. Over 10,000 genes from outside what you’d traditionally think of as the human genome were floating around in there, including two kinds of chromatophores for natural camouflage (from the mimic octopus and chameleon respectively), jellyfish (to combat aging and free radical accumulation), salamanders (regeneration of injured parts), and many others.

All that means they have exceptional resilience and longevity, of course, but also no natural skin tone. Those same sociologists say the Callistans assume unnatural (for humans) colors to identify themselves to one another, with each lineage having its own distinct “normal” color and pattern. No hair of any kind, either–the better to blend in using creative wigs, since hair color can’t be changed on the fly. All that’s well and good, but what people reportedly find really repulsive about them is their lack of external ears and a nose; just slits there like you’d see on a burn victim (along with a lack of fingerprints). They substitute a variety of prostheses instead, the most elaborate of which can supposedly mimic the flesh tone around them.

In other words, somebody put an awful lot of loving care into engineering the Callistans for disguise and infiltration. That they don’t take credit for their work is probably a testament to the fact that their creations have long since surpassed and destroyed them.