Article: 261345 of talk.bizarre
From: (d.)
Newsgroups: talk.bizarre
Subject: "Thick Skins"
Date: 1 Dec 1995 15:27:32 GMT
Organization: iTribe, Inc.  <URL:>
Lines: 532
Message-ID: <49n6t4$>
Summary: fiction, FTSD submission
Status: O

[Note: the original version of this story was posted in july '92 to
rec.arts.prose.  This is a rewritten, revamped version for FTSD '95.]

I didn't know much until too late what Doctor had meant.  'Chemistry,'
he had said.  'You're a matter of chemistry.'  He had smiled
enigmatically at me as he said this, and I had known he was riddling
me once again.  Doctor had always shown a penchant for riddles and for
riddling me until I begged to know the answers. This final one was his
best work in the field.

I remember so many days spent in his laboratory, a room filled with
inventions and ideas of grandeur -- a big room, large enough to
satisfy his every whim of equipment and experiment space without
having to crowd or stack a single thing.  The laboratory and
everything in it was all provided for him, Little One, it was all
given to him by the government.  Sometimes I wish the money and
materials hadn't always been there for him; how happy he and I might
be right now, somewhere far away both quiet and safe.

Well, I guess quiet and safe could never exist for people like us.
Doctor and I were men of conflict who craved peace in an idle sort of
fashion.  It was always a paradox of pain...we could never be happy in
any circumstance, but only wish for a different set of agonies to be
visited upon our situation.  This is an intensely human outlook, I'm

Listen to me closely, Little One, for I may not be able to repeat my
story a second time.  I know you know most of it already, but allow me
one final indulgence.  Relax and listen, please listen my friend.

My childhood was average and hardly noteworthy.  I lived with my
parents in a nice suburb, never worrying about war or death, never
knowing anything more about politics than the passing names of nations
in the news.  I was privately schooled, and turned out to be a very
well-adjusted adolescent -- I was a pride to my parents.  My early
life was quiet and peaceful, and then on my twentieth birthday I awoke
in Doctor's lab.

It still feels so strange to remember that day, that sudden blast of
confusion and fear as a strange, round-faced, bespectacled man leaned
over me.  I think I screamed.  The man jumped back excitedly -- I
think I must have screamed in terror.

"Who the Hell are you?"  I had shouted, staring wildly around me.
Strange metal walls surrounded me on all sides, rather than the
familiar walls of my bedroom.  Gradually the disorientation began to
fade, and I realized I was reclining on the floor of a large metal
box, staring at the ceiling and the man standing over me.

"Hello, Fivven," he said, his crinkly old face breaking out into a
grin.  I tried to ride down my emotions for a long moment as the old
man in the lab coat continued speaking to me, unaware of my emotional
state.  "I'm Doctor....well, just call me Doctor."  He smiled again in
a disarming manner and asked, "Would you like to get out of the box

I had thought at the time that I was going insane.  Just last night I
had been safe in bed in my parent's house.  My calm life had been
overturned on me.

"Poor thing," Doctor commented upon seeing my expression.  A concerned
look spread across his face.  "You're terribly confused, aren't you?"

I nodded dumbly in my steel box, mind spinning.  Later, it registered
on me that I was naked and cold in the box, but for the moment such
mundane concerns it didn't make an impression on me.  "Where am I?" I
wailed, grabbing the edges of the box with unsteady hands.  With great
effort and even greater help from Doctor I managed to stand
uncertainly on shaky legs.

The room that surrounded me was huge, the Doctor's laboratory as I
described to you earlier, Little One.  Gadgetry and High Design filled
the room in a grandiose maze of exposed electronics.  The box I had
climbed out of was more or less coffin shaped, causing my basic
disquiet to grow.  I stood in partial awe of the room, hardly hearing
Doctor's calming words.

"You're in my laboratory," he told me as his strong arms steadied me
on my feet.  I felt like a newborn babe at that moment, taking first,
tentative steps on the cold steel floor, and didn't know just how apt
the feeling was at the time.

I looked at Doctor fully when I could at last stand on my own.  The
confusion on my face must have been evident, for his expression grew
clouded and dark.  He looked away and sighed.  "Follow me, Fivven." he
said, voice tight and unreadable.  "We'll get you some clothes and a
comfortable place to sit."

I followed him through the stacks and racks of computer-arrayed
mechanisms, much of it not recognizable to me.  A haze had filled my
mind upon awakening, and I don't recall very much of the next few
days, Little One.  I remember a few conversations, I remember Doctor
telling me I had a partial case of amnesia (Yes, he was lying, Little
One.  Remember that I was especially fragile at the time).  He
explained many things to me and gave many excuses for my
disorientation: cryogenics, amnesia, brain-washing.

Gradually and with masterful skill Doctor painted a believable,
disjointed picture of my mind being sick and horribly injured.  Of
course, he always portrayed himself as the helpful physician who was
'just trying to help'.  I gradually became accustomed to him and his
unassuming friendship, completely unawares of his ulterior political
intentions.  In his hands I was simply a patient who had forgotten the
last few years of his life, and I was comfortable in the role after
growing comfortable with him.  I trusted him, and he tested me

As time went on in the laboratory, he used less and less of his
testing equipment on me, and began enlisting my aid as a
technician-assistant.  None of our time seemed to be spent unraveling
the mystery of my lost memory, but it didn't bother me too much; the
lab and Doctor were quickly becoming my new life and world.  During
this time, I found myself knowing things I had never learned as I
helped Doctor in his experiments; they hadn't taught Tachyon Physics
in any of the basic levels of schooling I remembered taking.  Doctor
explained it all away, saying that I had taken more schooling that I
'couldn't remember' now.

Doctor was a terrific liar.  He manipulated me completely, twisting
and molding my beliefs into just what he wanted.  At that early period
I trusted him completely -- I had knowledge, but no social skills, no

And during this time, I was introduced to Doctor's second-best
invention, the Skins.

Doctor was a biotechnician first and foremost.  He could engineer
himself anything he wanted, within reason.  The Skins were a triumph
for him; artificial creatures that a man could wear over his body,
covering him completely.  A Skin could be tailored for almost any use,
but Doctor only envisioned one usage for his genetic creations: war.

Doctor was the last of a dying breed: a patriot.  His home country no
longer existed, annexed brutally in some minor border conflict.  His
drive thrust towards one purpose; he was a patriot, he would win his
homeland back, even in exile.

His cause wasn't measured by relatives or family -- Doctor had
outlived all his kin, and then some.  I suspected longevity compounds,
but I never caught him using such addictive chemicals in the time
during which I knew him.  With his intellect and ability, it wouldn't
be too outlandish to suggest he had synthesized his own without the
personality-twisting side effects, though.  If it was important to him
at all, he would get around any obstacle in his path, be it
pharmaceutical or political.  Doctor would win his homeland back in
the same manner, simply because he believed he would.  Everything else
in his life took a distant second place, including me.

He showed me my Skin several times as we worked through the weeks.  It
swam in a huge 'fishtank', barely a hand's-length long then and only a
baby.  I would frequently come back to the tank to watch it and its
siblings swim in the nutrient pool during the long year it took to
mature.  I was always strangely drawn to my pre-natal Skin, for at the
time it was in fact my only possession, Little One.  Watching it
became a great pastime relaxation for me in those pre-war years.

As the year passed I matured as well, learning life through Doctor's
eyes.  Doctor was my father and mother, easily pushing aside those two
barely-remembered people who had reared me for my first twenty years.
It sounds callous, but it was fitting, Little One -- the memories of
my old life were fading fast, all replaced by my life with Doctor.
Those were idyllic times, I still remember that year fondly.

At night we would sit on the balcony and look out at the great
metropolis sprawled below with its blinking lights and bright peoples.
We would talk about important things and unimportant things under the
gradually darkening sky or just sip wine while we sat silent.  Doctor
would occasionally tell me stories of his homeland: stories of pride,
excess and life in general.  Gradually, I came to yearn too for this
land I had never seen and which no longer existed except in memory.  I
suppose that attachment was planned by Doctor, but I'd like to think
that I came to love Doctor's homeland of my own accord through his
idealistic visions. It's of little or no consequence either way,
however; I would have fought for his ideals if Doctor had but asked,
as he later did.

At last Doctor removed my Skin from the large tank to make some final
adjustments to it.  Before he took it out, it had swam great and
ponderously in its tank, larger than all its cousins and moving like a
huge lethargic manta ray.  Doctor showed it to me three weeks later,
now bristling with spikes and filled with poison sacs.  My Skin had
been designed with death in mind I realized with some shock.  Doctor
and I kept carefully behind the protective viewplate as the Skin was
injected with various dosages of RNA and chemicals to make it useful
to me.  Samples had to be taken from my blood to properly bond it to
me, to let it know who its 'owner' was.  So much time went into
development of my Skin that all of our other projects were neglected
for a while.  At last it was ready, though, and I was excited to
finally be able to wear it.

Doctor made me stand in a special safety box not unlike the one I had
found myself in when I awoke in his lab originally, with my Skin in an
adjoining cylinder.  Doctor had assured me that the process was
absolutely safe but fear still sparkled in my mind.  Then the panel
between my compartment and the Skin's opened, and I felt a gentle
touch on my lower back.

It slid up and down my back, touching only briefly in places like a
teasing lover's kiss.  One large tendril of it looped over my shoulder
firmly, and I knew that it had accepted me.  The rest of the Skin slid
around me sensuously, covering me and warming me with its body.  I
felt strangely whole and protected with the Skin wrapped around me,
and a strong sense of bliss shook me to the bones.  It covered my face
but for my eyes, and ever-so-gently my lips were pried apart by its
warm, dry flesh.  Smaller pseudopods entered my mouth, nose and ears
as soft as a lover's tongue.  Shivers echoed through my body as it
acclimatized itself to me and began feeding me air it had filtered
first to my nose.  I took a deep breath slightly scented with an odd
musk and stood there relishing the sensations running through me until
the chamber's door opened and Doctor looked in, his eyes wide.

"Perfect, so perfect," he whispered, stepping back to give me room.  I
walked out of the box and strutted around a bit, feeling strong, brave
and invulnerable in my Skin.  I had set up a full length mirror nearby
earlier, and I looked at myself now in the reflection.  I looked like
some sort of demon -- a hulking figure dressed in dark reds and
blacks.  Spines covered my shoulders and, as I watched, the Skin
pulsed slightly with its own heartbeat.  It occurred to me then that
many people would have been terrified by such a sight, and sickened at
the mere thought of wearing such a creature on their body.  To me it
felt completely natural.

I turned to Doctor, and the Skin pulled away from my mouth
automatically to allow me to speak.  "It's beautiful," I said, tears
staining my vision.  A small feeler from the Skin stretched up and
absorbed the water from my face caressingly, and I smiled with the
utter happiness of feeling fulfilled.  Doctor smiled beatifically
at me and then led me away for more testing.

After Doctor was satisfied with his work, the training began.  I
learned myself and my Skin completely, and it learned me as well.
Soon I ceased to take it off at all, eating and sleeping in its safe,
comforting confines.  I trained in weaponry and gymnastics, martial
arts and tactics under Doctor's watchful eye.  My every physical need
was provided for by the Skin; water and nutrients were provided in my
mouth from its body.  It injected muscle relaxants and mental
stimulants into my bloodstream when I needed them, and it processed my
wastes for its own sustenance.  It augmented my strength, my agility
and my balance with its own, and soon I became to feel super-human
with it on.

These were also happy times.  I remember feeling great pleasure as I
flung myself through a rented gymnasium's equipment with Doctor
watching with pride.  I wish those days could have lasted forever, but
my purpose was rapidly approaching, Little One.

The oppressor nation that had wrenched Doctor's beloved homeland's
independence away was engaged in a major land battle with another
similarly inclined power.  Its attentions were diverted away from that
small area of rivers, valleys, mountains and plains that had once been
the land that had given birth to Doctor.  We listened to the news on
the balcony that night, Doctor holding a glass wine and me being
perfectly content with my Skin's provided sustenance.  I remember the
sudden knowledge that the stage was set, and the time for action would
be coming soon.  Doctor looked at me with strange eyes that night, and
I nodded to his silent thoughts.  The time would come, but for now we
would allow it to set its own pace as we sat and enjoyed the last of
peaceful days.

I was secretly shipped away that weekend during the height of the war.
I ended up on a whirlwind tour in the capital city of that ugly nation
which had ripped Doctor's homeland apart.  I remember looking up at
the tall building that served as the seat of their government with
utter hatred in my heart, copied wholesale from Doctor's soul to mine.
I rented myself a room nearby, and opened the huge footlocker I had
brought with me as luggage.

Inside my Skin was hiding in a compact lump of red and black flesh
behind a false lining.  Its branded identification number faced me as
I exposed and caressed its dark surface, and it crawled up my arm to
become one with me again.  I admired myself in the mirror and enjoyed
the sensations of being with my Skin again; I had spent long hours
without it in order to fit in and not attract attention.  Now I felt
better again.  Turning around, I saw the brand again in the small of
my back, where all Doctor's creations had been conditioned to show
their serial number.  Mine was special; there was no number two.

With a mental command, the spikes on the surface of the Skin retracted
and I put on a large overcoat to mask our bulky form as daylight faded
from the city streets.  The time for action was near.  I stepped out
into the near-deserted streets controlled by martial law and began my
stalking.  Outside their government building I discarded my overcoat
in a bush and readied myself for battle.  The spines on my shoulders
grew long, my fingernails coated themselves with a lethal poison.  I
was ready for my purpose.

It's not important how many guards I killed silently in order to gain
entrance to the building, Little One.  Many.  I killed many people.  I
was not ashamed now of my actions then, but at the time I remember
beginning to feel rather sick at the absolute waste of life.  I walked
through their building like a demon possessed, randomly destroying
anyone in my path with absolute silence, leaving bloated and broken
bodies hidden in my wake.  I searched upwards, floor after floor,
until I found my quarry sitting in a room alone.

His name was unimportant.  I can't even remember what his name was now
in fact; it must not have been important.  His position was all that
mattered -- at this moment in time he was their leader, their
dictator, the man who had issued the orders to conquer Doctor's
homeland so long ago.  The man sat in a plush chair reading a
philosophical journal with a bright light over his left shoulder
lighting the room.  He was obviously feeling safe and secure in his
well-guarded fortress, sitting with his back to myself and the door.

Silently I entered the room and turned off the light.  He exclaimed
loudly and began standing up before I shoved him back down harshly.  I
moved around to the front of his chair and stood before him,
silhouetted in the window's glow.

"Who...who are you?" he asked me in a angry voice.

"Shut up!" I growled, the Skin amplifying my voice to a booming
thunder.  He clutched his hands to his ears and writhed a bit in pain.
I mentally commanded the Skin to lower the volume and continued.  "I
have come to make a simple demand upon you.  You will fulfil it."

He blinked in the darkness, and I could see every line on his forehead
stretched taut with my Skin-enhanced night vision.  He looked up at me
from his chair, fear evident in his eyes, and asked, "What is it that
you want?"

The few guards that I hadn't killed on my way up the building rushed
to the room.  They stood bunched in the doorway, calling out commands
and brandishing weapons almost comedically.  I grabbed their president
by the throat and lifted him up from the chair one-handed in a motion
calculated to be dramatic.  "Stand back!" I boomed, "Or this one
dies!"  I saw blood beginning to dribble out of my victim's left ear
and decided to turn down the volume some more.

"What do you want?" their president gasped with what breath he could
draw around my tightening fingers.  His face began to turn blue with

"You will cease occupation of the entire western valley region you
appropriated sixteen years ago in the Border War, or I will kill you."
I said forcefully, shaking him or good measure.  "If my demands are
not met I will destroy every member in your government in turn until
my demands are met."  I threw him back down into the chair carelessly
and rushed the guards in the doorway, leaving half of them dead before
they could even react.  With a burst of speed, I was out of the
building and trembling on the street below before the first alarms
were raised.  I was away safely, it was time for patience as they
decided to take me seriously or not.

The decision was as I had expected -- their president was disposed of
and a more warlike man was erected in his place.  Immediately the
streets were filled with home-patrols, and the security surrounding
their capitol building increased to an insane level that I had little
chance of penetrating..  I hid in my rented room and listened to the
news on the radio all day, waiting for a useful development.

On the third day, it was declared that people living in the area of
Doctor's old homeland could no longer own property and were no longer
even citizens of the empire.  I knew these laws had been passed solely
to deliberately enrage me.  Unfortunately, it worked.

I went out that night and began killing policemen.  I was ruthless and
cold-blooded; any remaining doubts that I had had were burned away by
fury.  Over the next week I decimated every policing force in the
capital city, and the entire country rose in a furor.

There is so much blood on my hands, Little One.  I dream sometimes of
the people I've killed.  If I am entitled to an afterlife, it will not
be a peaceful one, I know.  At the time all that death felt necessary.

After there was no longer any police force to speak of in the capital,
I began to make good on my promise made to the old president.  One
after another I entered their private homes, made a mockery of their
fancy alarms and security guards, and either killed or frightened them
to my side.  It was a simple concept, and before I had finished
scarcely half of the names on my list, the civil war began in their

A private shuttle took me overseas back to Doctor, and we drank wine
again on the balcony that night.  All was silent except for the
occasional special report on the radio, and I tried hard to pretend
that nothing was different.  Something had changed between us and
conversation was awkward: we were no longer mentor and student,
scientist and assistant.  Instead, we were now artisan and tool.

The next morning Doctor and I boarded a public shuttle, this time the
destination being Doctor's homeland itself.  He wanted to see the
lands of his youth again, and upon arriving, I too looked out upon the
rolling fields and wooded mountains and felt something not unlike
pride spring in my breast.  These were the lands I had fought and
killed for.  These were the people for whom I've slaughtered
innocents.  Something seemed missing, but I was unsure if it was a
hero's welcome or an execution squad I was expecting.

Doctor's eyes were wide as he peered around, counting things that had
changed and thing that had not outside the shuttle terminal's windows.
I could almost see the memories filtering in his eyes, and a gradual
tear eventually slipped down his face.  I reached out a reassuring
hand and put it on his shoulder.

I comforted him with soft words and he nodded silently.  When he had
composed himself we took the lift down to the customs area.  The lift
doors opened, and we entered a largish lobby with many security guards
lounging around a single bored-looking customs official.  Many people
had congregated here, waiting to be let through the bureaucratic
bottleneck.  I settled down for a long wait with the huge luggage that
contained my hibernating Skin.

I wonder still if the happening of events were beyond me, Little One.
Could I have changed anything, if I had been faster, or smarter?  It
haunts me now; I can clearly see bloody images of the terminal as if
they were burned into my brain.

A voice rang out "Independence!" it cried.  I heard gunfire, and
pulled Doctor to the ground roughly.  The security guards pulled guns
and shot the freedom fighter down, too late.  I looked down at
Doctor's body, horrified to see his blood covering my clean, new
clothes.  He had already died from his wounds, and it was all I could
do weep over his cooling body, my face buried in my hands.

At least he died in the place that gave him birth, Little One.  At
that moment I vowed to myself to see his dream alive, his homeland
free once more.

"Come on, come on," said a guard to me imperiously, as if as this were
an everyday occurrence.  Perhaps it was.  I stood dumbly, my mind
blank, and asked if Doctor's corpse would be taken care of.  The guard
nodded vaguely and motioned me onwards.  I allowed myself to be taken
away by the flow of the crowd towards the customs area, not caring
where I went anymore.

After a long time in line, I found myself at the customs counter.  I
didn't know how I had come to be there, and didn't care; my head was
still filled with the mist of shock.  I watched silently as they
searched my luggage and found nothing.  Then, with a cruel touch, they
strip-searched me in front of the crowd.

A guard poked me on the shoulder, "Nice brand there."  I had enough
sense to realize it was my Skin's brand he was looking at and kept
silent about the marking on my lower back.  Finally I was allowed
through, where a kindly old lady showed me to a local hotel.

It was there, while I was taking a shower to wash the blood off my
body, that I realized that I wasn't wearing my Skin at all.  I jumped
out of the tub and cleared the mist off the mirror desperately, trying
to twist my body and neck around enough to view my back.

There it was, as the guard had said, the branding 'Ex-5'.  Ex,
Experimental.  Fivven, five.  Everything made sense to me in a crystal
clear moment as I stood examining myself in the mirror.  Then I
collapsed in the bathroom, managing to bang my head open fairly well
against the exposed steel piping.

I'm a Skin, Little One.  Doctor made me and filled my head with false
memories, and then used me for his own purposes.  I'm a 'filled' Skin
and Doctor's greatest accomplishment: a genetically engineered
sentient being.  So much has come clear to me both then and now.  I
was a catalyst for the freedom of Doctor's homeland.  "A matter of
chemistry" he had said.  Chemistry.

I awoke a little while later with a slight headache.  Groaning, I sat
up and noticed my arms were now black and dark red -- my Skin had
somehow known I hurt and had come to me while I was unconscious.
Feeling my head, I noted that my Skin had also staunched whatever
bleeding there had been, and I silently thanked my less-evolved

I stood and looked into the mirror, viewing my red and black-clad
demonic face.  I had a vow to uphold, and it was time for me to act.
My purpose had solidified now; instead of fighting my destiny, I
embraced it.  I had been created with a purpose in mind, and now I
meant to fulfill it.  I'm not sure at all if I was thinking clearly
then, but it felt so right.

That next week I spent on a rampage, no longer even trying to keep my
existence and visage a secret.  I was everywhere, fighting a one-man
war against the oppressors of my adopted homeland.  Gradually, ever so
gradually, the pressure lessened as civil war drew more and more
troops away.  Finally, nine days after I had made my vow, nine long
days after Doctor had died, there were no more occupying forces
anywhere in the valley.  I felt proud of myself, and thought that
Doctor would be proud of me too.

Unfortunately, neither Doctor nor I had reckoned on whether the people
actually wanted to be liberated.  I discovered this when I
accidentally stumbled across a protest against my actions, sponsored
by the citizens of the town I was using as a headquarters.  This threw
me into confusion -- they had been treated so badly, and now rushed to
defend their jailors.  I don't understand their motives, I don't
understand them still, but a terrible upcry was raised against me, and
I fled into hiding.

That wasn't enough, evidently.  They set up a trap for me, evidently
hoping my deliverance would make their former government happy.  A few
citizens dressed up as soldiers, others played out the parts of
victims.  They drew me out easily; I was so, so gullible.

They brandished weapons and asked me to come silently.  I stared with
disbelief at these traitors to my cause and almost wept in despair.
They milled about, uncertain if their guns could hurt me.

One of them had a better idea, evidently.  A sudden explosion behind
me, and then darkness engulfed me.  A building, an entire building had
been collapsed on me in hopes of killing me, and no doubt they
celebrated on the rubble when it was done.

I wonder if they're up there celebrating.  How long have I been down
here, Little One?  Not long, for I am still dying, but not yet dead.

I feel the steel girder that impales me through the chest as a dull
throbbing now, thanks to your help, Little One.  There's no more need,
though; I'll be dying with or without your care.

You've always been with me, Little One, you've always cared for my
every need.  I fell in love with you even during those early days when
you floated uncaring and silent in a giant tank.  I never even needed
to see your brand then to know which Skin in the tank was you.  We had
a strong bond, we were made for each other.

I know you can easily slip out from beneath this rubble, so I have one
more demand for you, one more mission.


Take my seed.

Goodbye, Little One.  Teach our children well.


The large and potentially dangerous polygonal mirror wheel: