Flash Fiction: “Second Skin”

It’s been a while since I’ve written some new Flash Fiction for the site, so I’m trying something new. My writing partner and I have developed a fictional setting called Cal Metro, which we’re exploring in scripts and short stories. In that spirit, I’m producing a few short stories set in our shared universe.

Enjoy.


Second Skin, by Alexander Paul Willging

Word Count: 1,512

When we discovered the breakthrough, I was ecstatic to say the least. But I never imagined that he’d be the one to take the spotlight for himself.

Not for long, though.

***

When the media storm hit its peak, Giovanni held a party at his home in Surfside Heights. Even with all that had come between us, I still received a last-minute invitation in my inbox. A tiny green textbox that popped up on my Scout visor, scrolling over my field of vision as I rode the south tram line across Fairview.

You are cordially invited to the Miracle Celebration!

Drinks and hors d’oeuvres will be served at nine p.m.

RSVP (Please disregard if this is a Platinum invite)

Bloody marvelous. Few things sounded worse to me than an evening spent with Olympian athletes and bodymod aristocracy. I could’ve easily gone to a nightclub in the Lower East and gotten the experience at half the price.

Yet go I did. Not because I enjoyed Giovanni’s company, but because I knew this night would be the last thing he’d enjoy for a while.

While he’d been basking in the limelight, I’d been busy in the shadows.

***

The glitterati were out in force at Surfside Heights that evening. I went unnoticed in the throngs of men, women, and androgynes that passed underneath the golden arch out front. My skin tingled when the overhead security and media scanners trained their cameras on me. As designed, they would spend the next twelve picoseconds examining every flaw in my skin, every line and cut in my little black dress and Armani clutch. All in a vain attempt to guess my tailor, my retailer, and the HMO for my plastic surgery and gene therapies.

I allowed myself a tiny smile. No such luck tonight. All the surgery and gene mods were in-house, unlisted as far as the Coastal Register was concerned.

When I had made it to the front steps, I greeted the android at the door with a cheerful grin. He looked rather smart in his tuxedo. His attire would have been unnecessary in any other field, but there was an image of prestige that had to be cultivated at Surfside Heights.

“Good evening,” said the server bot. He executed a precise half-bow and extended his right index finger toward me. “Your credentials, please.”

Double-layered security. I’d expected as much at a gathering of the Coastal Elite. I smiled at the droid and extended my index finger back.

When my identichip touched his finger’s receptor node, I saw a familiar burst of data in my Scout visor.

Elizabeth-Marie Crowley (female identified)

Genetic researcher – Lapis Philo Enterprises

Contact code: 5XT-990-A, ClaveNet No. 334

I waited until I saw Giovanni’s invitation flash across my eyes. As I dropped my finger, I watched the droid’s behavior change as well. He straightened his posture, his photoreceptors shifting from sea green to sky blue. Even the synthetic voice had turned soft and pleasant.

“Welcome to Surfside Heights, Miss Crowley,” the doorbot declared, transmitting its prerecorded message as crisply as it had been programmed. “Please enjoy your evening. Refreshments and hors d’ouevres are available on the second floor. Our esteemed host will be speaking later this evening at a quarter to midnight.”

“Thank you,” I said and swept past the automaton. He swiveled back into place and greeted the next guest in line while I proceeded into the grand golden atrium.

I wasn’t surprised when no one recognized me or asked for me by name. That was rather the point. If I’d gotten the credit that Giovanni had stolen away, I’d be hosting the Miracle of Miracles alongside him. Instead, I was another face in the crowd, while viewscreens of his smug grin and his baby blue eyes lined every available inch of wall space in the atrium.

And underneath every photo or streaming video ran the same headline:

Giovanni Delcourt, The Father of Eternal Youth

***

At eleven-thirty, I was alone on the eastern portico of the mansion, sipping slowly from a flute of champagne. My eyes were focused on the navy blue night sky, watching for the faintest gleams of starlight. A lot easier to see the stars in East Fairview, where the light pollution stayed to a minimum at the residents’ request.

It was easier than listening to my ex-husband ramble on all evening.

“…And you never know, you just never know,” he insisted from behind me, “how these media pros will turn on you. One minute, you’re discussing telomere extension protocols, and the next, you’re being ripped to shreds because a Vatican theologian is questioning your faith in God!” He laughed and took another sip of his drink. “Honestly, you should be glad you’re not in my shoes right now. They’d be raking you over the coals on account of your gender, Liz.”

I made a point of shrugging and glancing over my shoulder at him. “Well, it’s not like I’ll ever get the chance to find out.”

Giovanni fell silent. I watched him swirl the champagne around his glass and contemplate the bubbles rising inside it.

“We could’ve been great together,” he murmured. “I love what our research pulled off, but—”

“Oh, so it’s ours, then?”

“Don’t be like that, Liz.” Giovanni’s blue eyes flash over my face. He never could read me as well as he thought he did. “You know what these Elites are like. Give them something to play with and the world is yours for the taking. If we’d done what you’d proposed, we’d still be waiting for endless FDA trials and international inquiry boards. This is the only way we’d get it out there. The only way we’d share our gift with the world.”

I gave him an understanding nod, even while I let loose a sigh deep inside. Classic Giovanni. He had such a way of making we still sound like I, even when he was sincere.

I almost hated having to spoil his evening.

***

At a quarter to midnight, the main event was due. Giovanni took center-stage on the first floor, with thousands of eyes fixed on his every move. I kept to the edge of the crowd, watching through the live-feed that streamed across my visor.

“…And within minutes, you’ll see the numbers jump on Mrs. Wonderley’s monitor,” Giovanni was saying to the crowd. He swept his hand back toward the touchscreen. “And you all know what that means, I’m sure!”

That earned him a ripple of laughs and light applause from the audience.

My smile sharpened.

“Sir,” said one of the white-suited techs to his left. The young man waved for Giovanni’s attention. “Will you take a look, please?”

“In a minute…”

“No, sir. Please.”

Giovanni turned and glanced at the technician’s datapad. My grin only grew wider when his eyes bulged in horror.

“This can’t be right,” he hissed, just loud enough for the airborne microphones to pick up.

“Sir, we need to stop the protocol. She’s reached the Hayflick limit. Any more and she’ll—”

Whatever else the young fellow might’ve said was cut off. A bloodcurdling scream split the air. All eyes turned from Giovanni to the poor frail woman sitting in the chair to his right. She gasped and swatted at the tubes running out from her biceps, looking paler by the second.

Only I knew what the poor old thing was going through. Distasteful as it was, I swore to stand and watch every minute.

Her skin had begun to deteriorate, accelerating past metastasis and into the transplant phase. I stood and watched with over two hundred other guests as Mrs. Madison Wonderley’s eyes rolled back into her head, and her body began to convulse with multiple points of organ failure. The numbers on her monitor did jump as Giovanni had promised—but far into the negative range.

Death was never pretty to watch, but after so many lab trials, I wasn’t as terrified to witness it.

“No, no, no!” Backhanding the techs away, Giovanni whirled onto the crowd. “My friends, I must apologize for this… this incident! It was never… I never intended to… to…!”

His voice trailed off into a sad howl, and he turned back to the pump controls at his station, even while Mrs. Wonderley’s face twisted into a horrible mask of tears and agony.

Around me, the crowd broke out into murmurs of disbelief. I hid my smile behind my hand as one well-dressed androgyne in a rainbow hue evening gown muttered, “Revolting. You’d think the old boy would’ve had the decency to leave his gene glitches at home.”

“It’s last year’s Angel’s Banquet all over again,” their date, a stunning blonde, whispered back.

My work was done. I allowed myself one last look at poor Giovanni’s haggard face before I switched off the live-feed and slid back toward the entrance.

The android at the door took my half-finished champagne with a courteous bow. “Shall I call an autocab, Miss?”

“No need,” I replied, giving him a curtsy in return. “I’ll find my own way home.”

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