Skinwalkers, XXXVII

Lingering soporific effects of the sleeping drug dragged at Nathan’s normally decisive mind. The copious steam did little to assist; it wasn’t even doing its job of keeping his skin fresh and usable –tear it!

He sunk to the floor of the tiny bathroom, clutching at his head. Again and again he rubbed at his temples, eyes, cheeks. Wake up! Think!

Had the skin been a rag, a dud? He’d examined it upon purchase. It had lasted more than a tick; more than two full workcycles… With this in mind, he looked up through the mists to take a second, desperate look at the damaged skin in the case. Something about the torn sections poked at a memory; tickled a phrase a frustrated study peer had voiced during their research.

“It’s been three ‘cycles, just fine in the steam bath.” Her plaintive voice broke through his mind-fog at last. “THREE! Why the fudge do the fingers have HOLES?!”

Nathan laughed through his shock. He’d forgotten how Celine had always refused to curse. Trust her to keep to her religious quirks even in the face of a completely ruined Advancement project. She’d been experimenting with the new synthdermal strain’s durability over time and stress, using a skin glove. The experiment had been more fun than most, as he’d often looked over to find her scrubbing at a piece of pumice or literally playing with fire.

Yet her sample had broken apart without reasonable cause when stored…

He rose at once and entered his shower. A brisk rinse later and he stepped to the casing and removed half of the expensive skin with utmost care. Draping it over his left arm, he pressed his right palm against the wall panel to the side of the Skin Conditioner. The panel opened to reveal his private, miniature lab. The small array of solutions, tools, and substances in his secret nook calmed his pulse, as their organized appearance always did.

Beginning at the toes and moving up his ankles and legs, Nathan then applied the bioengineered wonder he’d gambled the remainder of his savings on. He worked quickly. The watch spoke up from the bedroom to remind him that one precious tick had passed, then fell silent to allow him to finish with the second half.

He sealed each vertebral connection and pressed at each seam with care. Fully skinned, he turned to his foggy reflection in the mirror. “One, two, three…” he counted. At every moment’s iteration (ninety jiffs), his fatted hands rubbed across the entire skin.

After three rounds of this, he reached to the wall nook and removed a priceless tube of silicone gel. “Thank you, Nimp,” he muttered, nearly smiling at the knowledge that Nimp had never parted with his rare substance willingly. Nimp was rich enough; one failed iteration wouldn’t set him back as it had Nathan.

Nathan jerked open the top sink drawer and withdrew his toothwash and Suspension Drops. He set them and the gel tube on the small counter top. He spent the next half-tick in another rhythmic pattern of rubbing, interspersed with applications of minuscule amounts of gel. Much to his relief, he watched the gel reactivate the torn edges of each hole. Just as Celine had realized when her glove tore, proximity to Nathan’s own, blemished skin reactivated his purchased variety’s regenerative properties.

The effect was not perfect; he found himself thanking God or Whatever Else might control fate that the facial area had not ripped besides a single line beneath his jaw.

One rinse with toothwash and an agonizing application of eyedrops finished his preparations. His encumbered, blinded sprint back to the bedroom to dress reminded him of his recent nightmare. This time, however, he intended to face a better perspective than that of his dead twin brother’s.

 

Continued from Skinwalkers, XXXVI.
Read to Skinwalkers, XXXVIII.

 

Skinwalkers, IX

“Be that as it may,” Caill interjected, “We would certainly need someone with direct experience in such areas to even attempt the task…”

Nathan allowed her to ramble, to warm to her subject. Little did she know that he was learning about her personality, approach, nervous habits, feelings, and fears. The sensation he felt was almost like mind-reading. Like a telepathic sponge, he read nearly every bit of her person.

What would his dear father have said now? Nathan frowned slightly, knowing the answer would still have been an ignorant reprimand of a useless talent and wasted cycles learning more about it. “The Military, Kid,” the old man would have said, “That’s all you’re good for now. They always need targets.”

Caill was winding down. He brought his attention back to the present to hear, “Carapace simply can’t consider promises alone, no matter the reassurances given.” Her angular face pointed to aim directly at his. Her deeply-colored eyes coolly met his own rigid blue ones.

“Indeed,” he replied, equally cool. “How beneficial, then, that I have exactly the experience you mention.” Withdrawing his comm and setting it atop the touchsurface before them, he enunciated a single word: “Carapace.” Obediently, the small device projected a two-dimensional graph into the air. The white outline and red plot points reflected from three pairs of executive eyes.

Nathan gestured at his glowing creation. “Perhaps you’ve heard of a little company named Photap.”

“Of course-” Caill began, eager to interject, but he ignored her interruption and continued.

“I led a team of Advancement students for one quarterplanetcycle.” Nathan pointed at the dates listed under his image. “This quarter,” he added. A pretty blue line climbed an extremely steep slope from the first plot point to the second during his indicated time period. “Photap had been working for over a planetcycle to gain front page report status, and ‘allowed’ our team to work on it because they found it impossible. As you can see from the rest of the data, their market was all uphill from there.”

At his statement, the blue line continued rising between points. It topped out beyond the last; forming into a dainty little arrow that intentionally pointed beyond the reaches of his y-axis number counts.

Pul, again, made a noise of surprise. “Your team brought about Photap’s sudden climb?” He asked, disbelieving.

“Yes.”

Stone cleared his throat. Perhaps Nathan had convinced him, but the man did not wish to let Caill and Pul know of his opinion. “So, this was documented?” Stone asked.

Unlike Caill, Stone seemed stoic merely from tired habit. Nathan felt much safer fencing questions from him, though the others were obviously still present to hear what responses he might give. “I have some documentation, yes,” Nathan told him. Caill twitched involuntarily; she’d clearly not expected an affirmative.

“So, where is it?” Pul asked excitedly. “Next image?”

Caill snorted somewhat, as Nathan hesitated. “You don’t have the documentation?” She asked. If only she would make as much effort to mask her tone as her expressions, Nathan thought, Caill might actually make it to whatever higher-level position she sought.

“I have documentation, but it’s classified,” He adjusted the watch at his wrist, then desisted. Who was exhibiting nervous habits now? He chastened himself. Aloud, he expounded, “I never break an agreement with an employer.”

The three sat in silence for a few moments. Caill’s face showed some disbelief, Pul’s was of a happier animation, and Stone appeared to be thinking.

Finally, Caill spoke, “Are we to believe your claims when you have no backup documentation?”

“No,” Nathan told her, levelly. “You are to know my claims are true because I said they were. Rest assured, I have all the knowledge needed to undertake this task.” He sat back slightly, aiding an impression of power and authority. “Now, onto my ‘direct experience’ with epidermal conditions,” he stated, intentionally quoting Caill’s phrase.

Looking down at his comm again, he voiced another single word: “Skinwalkers.”

 

Continued from Skinwalkers, VIII.
Read to Skinwalkers, X.