Andromeda Stacey, twice People Magazine’s Most Beautiful Person in the World, evaluated her face in the mirror.
“You are stunning,” said the man to her right.
Andromeda almost pointed out the many flaws. For starters, those three damned freckles, too-large pores on her nose, the shadows under both eyes, how one nostril was slightly larger than the other, and the faint remnants of a pimple near her lower lip. But she never said such things out loud.
Instead, she quirked one corner of her mouth into a smile and said simply, “Thank you, Peter.”
Peter Moore had aged well, thanks in large part to unending wealth and power as a studio executive producer. He possessed a strong jaw and clear green eyes, the kind of looks that melted young Hollywood aspirants into spread-legged piles of drool. Peter could easily have been a rugged forty years old or a fit sixty. Only the deep smile lines around his eyes revealed more sixty than forty. His shaved head glowed in the bright lights surrounding the mirror.
“Listen,” he said in his deep baritone, straightening his tie in the reflection, “I know you’ve caught a lot of flak for being part of this show, but I hope it’s falling on deaf ears. You’re the perfect third judge for Alpha Squad. The audience is going to tune in because of you.”
The other person in the room, her make-up artist Barbie, was applying concealer below Andromeda’s eyes. The shadows there disappeared as she brushed out the concealer with practiced, quick strokes. Soon the other obvious flaws would be obscured. Goodbye until tonight, freckles.
“Thank you, Peter,” she said, almost without moving.
“Don’t move,” Barbie scolded.
“Good luck today,” Peter said, smiling his brightest at her in the mirror and winking. “Knock ‘em dead, and don’t take any shit from either of them, you hear?”
Andromeda quirked her lip again. After a second or so, the smile faded.
“Right then. See you on set, gorgeous.” He turned and walked out of her dressing room, the door closing behind.
“Asshole,” muttered Barbie.
“Peter? He’s not so bad.”
“Don’t move. If you say so. All he did for five minutes was talk about your looks and then ended by putting you in your place. You’re better than him.”
Andromeda put her hand up, signaling Barbie to stop with the brush.
“Put me in my place?” she asked, quirking an eyebrow.
Barbie was built like a twelve-year-old boy, all skinny limbs and sharp angles. Her pink hair was short and spiked out from her head artfully. Today she wore a simple tank top, showing off tattoos that covered every inch of skin below her chin. The most dramatic ink was the Asian-looking tiger crawling from shoulder to elbow, but Barbie’s body was a mosaic of fantastical animals, obscure symbols, and cartoon characters.
“I shouldn’t have said anything. Sorry,” Barbie said, not sounding sorry in the least.
“No, please. What did you mean?”
“It’s just…” Barbie sighed loudly. “I mean, ‘third judge’? Like the other two are obvious and you’re the tag-along? And that follows a reminder that some people don’t even want you on the show. It just felt like tearing you down more than building you up, is all. Saying people will tune in because of you is just telling you that you’re hot, like you’re only there as eye candy. This sexist industry gets to me sometimes is all.”
Andromeda settled back into the chair, signaling it was time to resume. Barbie started expertly applying highlighter along the top of her cheekbones in silence.
In a couple of minutes, Andromeda spoke. “I don’t even hear those things anymore, to be honest. And let’s not kid ourselves. I’m only on this show as eye candy.”
Barbie snorted. “No. You’re not.”
“If you were here as eye candy, you’d be the host. You’re a judge. You’re here for your opinions.”
“And as eye candy.”
“Okay, sure. But it’s your words that are going to shape this show, not the luscious lips saying them. I get really tired of people treating you like you don’t have a brain, and I’ve been working with you long enough to know you do too. Your looks get you in the door, but you are smarter than anyone at the studio and both of those judges combined.”
“Hm,” Andromeda said noncommittally.
Several minutes later, Barbie was using a fluffy blending brush across her eyelids when Andromeda spoke again.
“It’s ironic,” she said, “that the person hired to enhance my looks is saying this.”
She heard Barbie snort again. “The fact that you see that irony only proves my point.”
Nearly an hour later, both women stared in the mirror, evaluating her face critically. Clay, her hair stylist, had artfully piled Andromeda’s blond hair atop her head, with spiral locks curling down each side to frame her face. That face was now smooth, perfectly symmetrical, and, Andromeda silently admitted to herself, flawless. Cheeks shone. Lips naturally pouted. Her eyes looked back from the mirror large and sensual. Purple eyeshadow glittered, ready to match the miniskirt dress that hung behind her. She had become an airbrushed photograph come to life.
“I think we’ve got it,” Barbie said.
“Yes,” Andromeda said, “Me too. The Trojan Horse is built.”
Barbie blinked, startled. Then her face broke into a huge smile.
“God yes. That’s what I’m talking about. Go get ‘em.”