Sasha and I snap selfies after school.
“Let’s post one to Defame,” she says.
I haven’t used the new app much. It was the latest thing. “How does it work again?”
“You make a post then find someone to flick. The app transfers their face onto yours. Then everyone thinks it’s them.”
“But they’ll know it’s not.”
Sasha shrugs and nods, holding up her smartphone.
I admire her grace as she poses for each picture. Her eyelashes flutter over her hazel eyes. The breeze blows her strawberry blonde hair. Her curves seem in perfect alignment. I try to follow along, letting her flare compliment my blandness.
She grabs me and pulls my lips to hers. Snap. We giggle in front of the camera, lip-locked.
“Now we flick.”
I raise an eyebrow. “How does it alter your face?”
“Some auto-deep fake thing. It’s easy.” She shows me the flick reel of little, bright, dancing squares with people’s profiles overlaid.
I stare unfocused into the screen. It’s mesmerizing. “Do you have Brit on there?”
“Not yet. You can only flick your followers. I do have Luke and Preston.” Sasha taps my face on the screen and selects Luke as a flick, then selects Preston for hers. “Flicked!”
My heart skips a beat watching Luke and Preston’s kissing faces atop our bodies. “Nobody knows who sends it?”
“Part of the fun is figuring it out.”
We walk toward home.
“How many likes do you have?”
Sasha whips out her phone. “Thirty-one.”
“That was fast!”
Sasha’s always had a knack for following the right people, saying the right things. “Doesn’t take long when you’re engaged, you know.”
Maybe I should be too.
I peek as Sasha scrolls through the comments below her post. “Who’s Po5eR.VP?”
“Oh, that guy. He’s an influencer. He messaged me saying he can make me an influencer too if I flick him.”
“No. His creepy face is always shadowed or distorted in his pictures.” She shows me some.
Weird. “He can make you famous?”
“With seven million followers, I believe him.”
“So flick him.”
She shows me part of his message. It’ll only cost you your soul LOL.
“What if he’s a predator?”
“It’s just an app, right?” Sasha half-shrugs.
“Come on, what’s the price of fame?” I tease.
“Here.” She passes me her smartphone and leans up against a nearby tree trunk. She puts a cigarette between her lips.
“Where’d you get that?”
“My brother.” She lights it and takes a few drags.
I do a snap and hand her phone back.
“Here it goes…” She taps on her face then flicks Po5er.VP.
His pale and still eyes are barely open enough to see. Muddied tattoos hide the color of his sucked-in cheeks. His bony facial structure juts out his jawline. The edges of his mouth curl up, and the lit cigarette hangs out. His face is perfectly transposed onto Sasha’s body despite the smoke.
Seconds later, the like star illuminates below the picture. A new comment appears in the chat. This must be… Sasha! My newest friend.
“How did he know?” We scan around us, far as our eyes can see, then return our attention to the screen.
A hyperlink with jumbled letters and numbers shows up in the chat. Click on this link. Fame awaits…
“You gonna click it?”
She looks at the screen, then at me, then back to the screen.
At first, her smile disappears. Her eyes freeze and turn a shade of gray.
Her arm twitches; sweat beads on her forehead. I hear a moan that’s barely audible. It sounds like get this thing away from me.
“Sasha!” I yank at her smartphone, but the device seems stuck to her hand. Her ghostly eyes stare into mine.
“Influence is happening,” she says. “Sparks to electrons to molecules to likes to followers to fame.” Her words come out slow and monotone, like a computer. Her lips curl up.
I awkwardly giggle. “Huh?”
Holding up her smartphone, screen facing me, she repeats the words. Swirls of ones and zeroes coagulate into a red liquid streaking down the screen.
“What the hell are you talking about?”
Her smile widens. “The flick releases the download. Viral success!” She sounds unnatural, as though someone is speaking through her.
“For real, ARE YOU OK?”
I’m about to run for help when Sasha slowly blinks, then looks around like everything is fine. A dull green shade returns to her eyes.
“I’m all good.” She calmly strolls away without saying goodbye.
I sigh. “Sasha?”
She doesn’t look back.
Everyone talks about her now. Sasha’s officially an influencer. But she’s changed. We don’t meet up anymore. I see her around school, but she ignores me. She’s always got her head down staring at her phone or is posing. Her eyes still look dull. They never regained that full green luster. Maybe she’s lost, on another plane of existence.
I want her friendship back.
While I’m walking home, my smartphone chimes. It’s Sasha! She sent me a message through Defame. What, she can only talk to me through the app now? I’m put out, initially, yet excited.
Hello. You wanna be an influencer too? I can help. Just flick me.
I browse her profile. So many followers. So many comments and appeals for her attention. I don’t want to be left behind.
I arrange my hair into a bun, then snap a selfie—scornful tongue sticking out. A few clicks later, it’s flicked! Sasha likes my post and comments.
A hyperlink appears.
Warm pulses travel up my arm. Ruffling noises get louder and clearer. You’re arriving! The algorithm feeds your desires. This intelligent download will increase your influence.
Visions of popularity—infinite likes and followers—appear in my unfocused vision. I’m overcome with virality.