Jump to content

[Fiction] Skin Deep


Magnum Opus

Recommended Posts

From: kayo@gmail.googleopnet.op

To: GMOT@hotmail.viasoft.op

Subject: Free This Sunday?

Hey Meghan,

My folks are heading out of town this weekend, off visiting relatives and I'm gonna be bored out of my skull. I was wondering if I could come up and visit you in Rio - I can fly there pretty easily if Flicker's not around, and we could hang out, maybe play games on the big screen or something. I heard you were real busy with training up for the XWF so I'll understand if you can't get it free, but let me know if you can.

- Danielle

"My eyes are up here."

-----------------------------------------------------------------

Hiya Danielle!

The serious 24/6 training with Stellar out at her place in Big Bear (I think that's what it's called) isn't for another week. I've mostly been doing meetups with the suits and some promotional crap. It's part of the package, and there's no way for me to dodge it if I want to play in front of their cameras. Blah. Blah, I say.

But I digress.

I'm definitely free Sunday, and I think Nova and Neil will be out of the house. Something about a study break, if you know what I mean. We've got an awesome video setup here, so yeah, it'd be great to see you here! The local scenery is amazing, too. If we get tired of gaming, we could fly around Rio together or something. There's mountains, beaches, and skyscraper canyons to play around on. This is a great town to be a nova.

That's a hella long flight from Calgary to here. Are you sure you don't want a lift from Nova? She does this sort of thing all the time and it never bothers her at all.

Bring a swimsuit. ;D

--Meghan

-----------------------------------------------------------------

"Sheesh, she was right. That was one hell of a flight."

Danielle touched down on the outskirts of Rio, her eufiber shifted into the form of a tank top and shorts. She checked the GPS function on her phone. "Now where's her place...?"

She walked into the city, her keen eyes on the lookout for street signs and directions. The temptation was there just to fly, but she was tired from the trip - and she already got enough stares. Car horns honked as she passed, and she ground her teeth at the occasional wolf whistle. Most of it was in Brazillian, but the language of catcalls was universal.

She tapped the small chip in her pocket, making sure it was still in one piece and the eufiber had protected it. Remarkable stuff, this, she thought idly. No friction burn, no wear... I like it a lot. The game itself was a hotly anticipated title - Kickin' it in Kashmir, where you could create your own nova and fight through the war-torn titular region, wiping out enemy forces and clashing with the novas popular in the region. Being Canadian, Danielle asked herself if there was a "don't kill anybody and keep the peace instead" option - but being of the video game generation, she didn't ask it for long.

"Hey, honey?"

She looked over slowly to the car travelling along side of her. All right, she thought. I am not going to fold his car up and throw it into the sea. I am going to behave. "Yes?"

"Nice legs, babe. What time do they open?"

She stopped, and turned, and felt her stomach tie in a knot. None of them looked her in the eye, and what was worse was how used to it she was.

She could tear the roof off, giving them a free convertible. Pick it up and put it down upside down, or position it on top of a mailbox, or...

"You," she said, pointing a trembling finger. "Can go to Hell."

One blur later, she was gone.

-----------------------------------------------------------------

A few minutes later, Danielle appeared in front of Neil, Nova and Meghan's house in a high-speed blur, shaking. "Dammit. Dammit."

She forced herself to breath calming breaths. God, does every woman go through this? Men are pigs. We're pigs. They're pigs. I never did that to a woman, did I?

I hardly ever talked to a woman, period.

I need to talk to one about this.

No. Meghan and I are just gonna hang out and have fun. I'm not going to let this ruin my day.

She leaned forwards and rings the intercom button.

Link to comment
Share on other sites

  • Replies 98
  • Created
  • Last Reply

Meghan "Mithril"* Cutter loafed in her usual place on the living room sofa in the expansive Rio de Janeiro mansion she shared with Neil Preston and Nova "Flicker" Madigan. Pookums, Nova's overweight grey tabby cat loafed on the other end of the sofa. Meghan had tuned the very large wall-mounted video display to a local news station, even though she spoke only a few words of Portugese. She'd learned through repeated viewings that the "nova watch" (noticia do nova) was the third regular segment every half-hour.

Meghan was rewarded a moment later by shaky amateur video footage of herself flying through the glass and steel downtown canyons of Rio de Janeiro, shapeshifted into the feathery-serpent form she'd first tried out on her visit to one of Timeslip's alternate timelines. The caption on the screen read "Menina Titanium capturado pelo video."

"I guess I ought to announce the name change," Meghan thought out loud, "Issue a press release or something. What do you think, Pookums?" She tickled Pookums with the pointy end of her toeless foot. Pookums curled around her foot and batted at it, and wondered if Meghan was saying anything about cat food.

The intercom buzzed into life, startling Meghan.

"Cool, cool," she said happily, as she thumbed the all-in-one remote, simultaneously muting the television and opening the intercom.

"Quem esta la??" Meghan said in sing-song tones. She'd learned to answer the door in Portugese.

(* Formerly "Girl Made of Titanium.")

Link to comment
Share on other sites

Meghan's expression brightened.

"Oh, Danielle, awesome!" she said, jumping to her feet. She thumbed the button which opened the security gate at the end of the drive. "I'll open the gate. Come on up, and welcome to sunny Rio!"

Meghan ran to the front door and quickly walked down the drive to meet her guest halfway. The Springtime sun shone warmly on her metallic skin, and it looked like a gorgeous day was in the making.

At the foot of the drive, she spotted Danielle.

"Hey stranger!" Meghan shouted, waving cheerfully.

Link to comment
Share on other sites

Danielle blinks at the sight of Meghan's flesh - or whatever it could be called - glinting in the sunlight like a diamond with a thousand facets.

Wow.

Just wow.

She sucks in a breath and smiles, walking out to meet her and giving her a hug. "Hey Meghan." She breathes out, already feeling more relaxed. "This is some pad! All I hang my hat in is my bedroom at my folk's place."

Link to comment
Share on other sites

Mmm, she's warm, Meghan thought happily as she embraced Danielle.

"Yeah," Meghan replied, walking alongside Danielle, "I think I really hit the lottery when I popped: immortal, nearly invulnerable, and plopped right into Flicker and Neil's laps." Meghan pirouetted through a complete turn as she walked, taking in all of their surroundings. Far below, the entirety of Rio de Janeiro lay before her, as if it was her domain. Beyond that lay the sea. On the other side, the steep and green mountainside rose toward the immense statue of Jesus.

"So how's Calgary?" She asked. "Any snow on the ground yet?"

Link to comment
Share on other sites

"Oh, it was rain this week. Snow last week. Nice and sunny the week before. I'm glad I don't mind the weather any more, because we sure have been getting every kind there is...

"Asides from that, same as usual. I like it, but I like getting away from it. It's such a big world - a big solar system. So much to take in, you know? Like that." She points towards the giant Jesus. "Just that I could fly right up there and touch His Nose..."

"Oh, I bear gifts." She hauls out a chip, with the logo for Kickin' It in Kashmir. "It got an 8.9 on SheGotGame.op. You build your nova and fight through Kashmir. I thought you'd like it, it just came out like today. You wouldn't believe the crap I got from this... jerk at the game store when i got it."

Link to comment
Share on other sites

Meghan's attention was momentarily distracted by the Kickin' It in Kashmir chip, in much the same way a shiny object would distract Paris Hilton. However, the chip's magnetic grip on her eyes was overpowered by Danielle, so she no more than glanced before returning her attention to Danielle.

"You know, if you're nice to guys they'll give you stuff," Meghan explained off-handedly. "I mean, don't put out or anything. Just smile and pretend their stupid bullcrap is the coolest thing ever, and they'll just do helpful things for you, and expect nothing in return."

"Anyway, that looks awesome," Meghan said, glancing again at the game chip and changing the subject. "I've been drooling over the screencaps and previews on the OpNet for months." Meghan opened the front door and ushered her guest inside. Sunlight shone in through skylights in the vaulted ceiling, filling the living room with a soft glow.

"Meu repouso e seu repouso," She said, stepping to the side to let Danielle have her look around.

The living room was easily the size of the main floor of a typical suburban home, and could contain an entire house party on its own. The video screen dominated one wall, and half the furniture, including Meghan's favorite sofa, favored it. To the other side, a staircase lead to a balcony, beyond which lay the upstairs bedrooms.

The furniture was an interesting (read: weird) mix of South American traditional, North American Traditional, and twenty-something bachelor pad black steel and glass. Even to the untrained eye, it was obvious that several contrasting senses of style had contributed to the decor, and that compromises had been struck.

Link to comment
Share on other sites

"Oh, my goodness." Danielle looks around, giddy. "Wow. This place is a palace!"

She sets the chip down on the coffee table along with a few personal items, such as her phone. "No, it wasn't free stuff - he thought an ickle widdle girl wouldn't want to play a game about war in Kashmir. He tried to sell me Barbie Mermaid Adventures. I felt like putting my fist through a wall."

She sighs. "I kinda made my peace with the fact I got this suit for free just 'cause I have a cute face and big boobs. I felt like such a lewt whore. But geez, Barbie Mermaid Adventures? There's no call for that."

She runs a hand through her hair. "Sorry, I didn't mean to dump on ya. I'm just feeling sensitive. This place is great. Thanks for having me."

... did I just say 'I'm feeling sensitive' in a non-sarcastic way?

Link to comment
Share on other sites

"Barbie Mermaid Adventures," Meghan said with amusement, "that's rich. I take it you still haven't gotten used to the 'nobody takes you seriously anymore' thing." Meghan grinned wickedly. "You will in time, I hope. I'm not condoning it, mind you, but it is something you'll either get used to or you'll have to spend your entire life being angry."

"Enough of that, though," Meghan continued, changing the topic. "Let me give you the tour, eh?"

Link to comment
Share on other sites

"Oh, yeah. Tour sounds great." Danielle keeps pace with Meghan.

"Yeah, I have noticed no one seems to take me seriously... it's hard getting used to. I tell you. I hope I never did this to a woman back when I wasn't one..."

"I forgot to ask. Do, er... do Nova and Neil know? About my... uh... eruption. It's cool if they do, I just... I'm not sure if I wanna keep this under my hat or not. I was just wondering who knew."

Link to comment
Share on other sites

"I haven't told anyone," Meghan said, leading the way across the living room, "but since you said it out loud and/or thought it in The Phoenix Room, you should assume that some nova has overheard it or even skimmed it off the top of your thoughts." Meghan glanced over at Danielle. "You had considered that, right?"

Meghan walked into the study, and turned on the lights. Desks lined three of the walls, laden with several computers. More computer parts, manuals, and boxes lay everywhere. Two of the desks were piled high with textbooks, notebooks, and papers. "This is the study. It used to be where we would all geek out in unison, but Nova's mostly taken it over now that she's in med school."

Meghan turned suddenly to Danielle. "Hey, are you hungry at all? Let me show you the kitchen."

Link to comment
Share on other sites

Danielle groans. "I figured someone might overhear - but reading my thoughts? God, no, I didn't consider that. That gives me the creeps." She sighs. "Well... too late now, I guess."

So. This is public life. Fwee.

She picks up a medical journal and flips through it in an eye-watering blur, then sets it back down. "Sad ending."

"I'm not hungry but I could eat. Kitchen sounds great."

Link to comment
Share on other sites

"You're not hungry and I don't eat," Meghan said, leading the way back into the living room, "so we'll skip the kitchen. If or when you get hungry, just let me know."

"Tell ya what, let's skip the tour and just get to the gaming," Meghan said, suddenly bored with architecture. "What do you say?"

Link to comment
Share on other sites

"Gaming sounds great."

A few minutes later, the chip sits inside the video game system, and the living room is awash in the soft glow of the big-screen TV. Danielle lets out a long whistle, sitting on the couch next to Meghan with a controller in her hands, watching the opening cinematic.

Lance Stryker, the Stone Badguy™, unleashes hell upon the Pursuer, in a hail of high-tech bullets that cause the furniture to vibrate. Lance Stryker then leaps to the top of a defensive turret and kicks the sentry in the head.

"Is that CGI? I can't tell - " Knockout leans forwards. "No, the way that guy's head came off? That's gotta be faked." God, I hope it's faked.

Link to comment
Share on other sites

"Yeah, that's got to be CGI," Meghan agreed, "They can do really awesome things with gore-particle physics now. The splatter is totally lifelike. I like the way the droplets hit the virtual lens and tinge it reddish in places."

The intro cinematic ended, and with it the triumphant militaristic music crescendoed and ended. The option select screen took its place, with a more muted brass and snare drum riff providing a sense of tension and anticipation over an animated graphic of burning Himilayan villages and stormy skies.

"Do I need to go through the whole character gen, or do you have some saves?" Meghan asked Danielle.

Link to comment
Share on other sites

"There's a save on the hard drive of my console at home. Sorry, I didn't think to bring it - I didn't want it to burn up and it wouldn't all fit in my eufiber. There's some templates but they're not very good and the costumes are kinda eh." She shrugs her shoulders. "Just go plasma/force field and slot everything into soak to start with."

She looks around, and finds herself staring at Pookums, who is sitting behind Danielle on the back of the couch. "Oh. Hi."

Link to comment
Share on other sites

"Okey doke," Meghan said, punching the button to select CREATE NEW CHARACTER. After a few minutes of work, she'd nearly finished. A tall athletic-looking woman with long brown hair posed boldly on the screen as Meghan filled in her abilities. Meghan hoped that Danielle would not comment on her character's remarkable similarity to Flicker.

"Is regeneration any good in the game?" Meghan asked. "I do that myself, in reality I mean, and it comes in really handy. Or should I just stick with a ton of damage soak?"

The irony of two novas playing a video game about novas was lost on her.

Link to comment
Share on other sites

"Oh, you need regen. You see, every attack, regardless of how high your damage resistance is, has a chance of doing a little damage. About 2 in 5. So a bunch of insurgents can wear you down no matter how high you crank soak. They call it 'ping damage.' I think it's a stupid idea. 'Oh, we wanted to make massed insurgents a threat since Elites are so rare!' Well, come on, folks, I'm in favor of good gameplay abstractions as much as the next guy - girl - whatever, but that's totally unrealistic - "

Danielle is cut off by Pookums leaping onto her chest, and digging in his claws. The cat's largess spreads like a pat of furry butter over Danielle's torso, as he headbutts her chin. "Ah! Cat on my chest!"

Link to comment
Share on other sites

"Oh, totally," Meghan replied, "That 'ping damage' is completely unbelievable. You and I could probably go out in the yard and shoot each other with handguns all afternoon and still not have so much as a scratch to show for it. We'd have to take turns, though, since we only have one gun here that I know of."

Meghan shrugged. "Still, since the game system demands it, I guess I'll take regen too." Meghan tapped in her character's name: F-L-I-C-K-E-R.

"Okay, your turn," Meghan said. "Oh, hey, you've met Pookums." She smiled and watched Danielle wrestle with the fat tabby.

Link to comment
Share on other sites

"Yeah, I met - him - Jesus, he's big - "

Danielle stands up, Pookums still attached to her chest, claws dug in deep. "Is he hungry or something? Does he just need a - don't lick me, you fat little - don't you dare - "

She extracts Pookums, her eufiber stretching away from her chest for a moment before schlooping back on. She holds the cat as if it were a bomb ready to explode. Pookums licks Danielle's finger.

"Jesus. I think holding up a car would be easier. This cat's like a tube of fuzzy lard."

Link to comment
Share on other sites

Stifling the urge to giggle, Meghan stood and took Pookums into her arms. "I'll check his food bowl," she said, walking to the kitchen, "Be right back."

A minute later, she returned without Pookums. "He needed food," she explained, sitting next to Danielle on the sofa. "Are you done making your character yet?" Meghan peered at the screen, following Danielle's progress.

Link to comment
Share on other sites

"Yeah, I went with the usual brick suite. Now I'm just gonna go through training."

A large obstacle course is laid out on the monitor. Danielle whistles as she moves her viewpoint around. "Now that is sweet. That is beautiful. All I have is a crappy old HDTV at home, but this...!"

A man with an eyepatch appears on the HUD, chomping a cigar. Danielle bursts out laughing as he explains the obstacle course.

"Already went through this but you get to carry over a little inventory - some mox injection netting, extra batteries for your SatCom, stuff like that. They skimp on inventory a little so it helps to keep it."

Link to comment
Share on other sites

"Okay, cool," Meghan replied, "Let's hit it." Mercifully, the game tutorial assumed that the players could already find their own butt without using both hands and a map, and it skipped straight into the intricacies of combo moves and advanced weapons. In a short time, Meghan's videogame avatar was cartwheeling off of obstacles and blasting dummy targets with both hands like a John Woo heroine.

"Nice," Meghan said, tapping the controller and focusing on the screen, "I like how they assume you already understand basic shooter game mechanics. There's nothing I hate more than a tutorial that wastes my time teaching me how to walk and shoot."

Link to comment
Share on other sites

"Oh yeah. I know everyone has to learn sometime? But you learn by doing. Holding someone's hand because they don't want to damage someone's self-esteem by throwing them in the deep end is just - ugh."

Knockout's onscreen avatar, titled "Kayo," blasts a tank. It explodes, the turret flying off and toppling end over end.

"Oh, this is my favorite part - I think I'm strong enough - "

'Kayo' runs over to the turret and picks it up, wielding it like a giant club. Danielle lets out a giddy laugh. "I'm not quite that strong yet. Tanks are outta my league."

Link to comment
Share on other sites

"Oh, that's awesome," Meghan laughed along. For fun, she blew chunks out of the base of a ferrocrete wall until it collapsed upon itself in a heap of simulated rubble and dust.

"Okay, bored now. Where's the exit to the first level?" Meghan asked as she tapped off plasma blasts at a remote mountaintop, admiring the way they faded into the distance before becoming too small to see. A moment later she was surprised to see faint puffs of smoke rising from the mountainside.

"Oh, that's sweet," she giggled. "Let's get started already."

Link to comment
Share on other sites

Danielle nods, following.

The game allows players to choose their starting mission, and Danielle points at "Operation Crystal Knife." "I hear that's the best one - I tried 'Operation Suitcase' but it was this hostage rescue thing that forces you to restart if too many die. Oh, and they said they got a real specops computer to randomly choose all the names. I don't believe it myself."

The one-eyed man appears, speaking in a gruff tone. Danielle idly taps her controller. The briefing instructs the players to seek revenge and teach the insurgents a lesson for the killing of several Associated Press reporters and a UN official. Shakey camera footage shows a white van with its tires blown out by hidden tire spikes in the road, then several men in masks coming out from the alleyways with AK47s and strafing the van full of holes.

The footage was apparently delivered by anonymous tip, and facial reconstruction on the unobstructed parts of the men's faces points to several known city residents. The automap points to their last known locations.

Danielle watches idly, seemingly uninterested.

Link to comment
Share on other sites

"Turn it off," Meghan abruptly said in a strangely quiet voice. Her gaze was unfocused, and the controller hung limply in her hands. Even though the in-game cinematic had moved beyond the images of a passenger van being hosed with machine-gun fire, she still saw the AK-wielding rebels vividly in her mind's eye.

Link to comment
Share on other sites

"Hmm? But I hate skipping cinematics. So few games let you replay them - "

Danielle's hindbrain sends a signal to the part running her mouth. You'd better take a look at her. That tone of voice... it doesnt' sound good.

Danielle hits the button that skips it and turns to Meghan. "What is it?" she asks, her voice suddenly quiet.

Link to comment
Share on other sites

"I'm sorry," Meghan replied, still looking straight ahead. The game controller slipped from her grasp and fell to the floor. Suddenly aware that her hands were empty, Meghan covered her face and rocked forward, curling up with her knees to her chest.

"I'm sorry," she repeated more softly.

I should have done more, she thought.

"I'm sorry Daddy," Meghan whispered.

Link to comment
Share on other sites

"I - "

Danielle freezes in place, her mind going a mile a minute. What do I do? Do I say something? Do I hug her?

I feel numb. My brain's tingling. It feels like it's on fire.

What do I do?

"I - " She tentatively reaches out, putting her hand on Meghan's shoulder.

I'm sorry, Daddy? Something happened to her father? I - I never even asked. Did I ask? Something about that cutscene -

She just squeezes reassuringly, hoping she's not overstepping a line.

Link to comment
Share on other sites

Danielle's touch broke Meghan's sudden trance-like reverie.

"I'm sorry," she said again, this time addressing Danielle. Meghan straightened slightly and her posture began to return to normal. Still, her speech was noticably shaky as she struggled to find words adequate to describe her emotional state:

"That scene," she explained, "It, it reminded me of when I erupted. " Meghan looked to Danielle, and finding support in her eyes, continued. "I don't talk about it. I still have some issues, I guess."

Meghan wiped a nascent tear from the corner of her eye and smiled wanly.

"Didn't mean to be a buzzkill," she apologized. "Let's save our spot and get back to it later? I still want to check this out, just maybe a different level?"

Link to comment
Share on other sites

Danielle nods. "Okay. I'm sorry - I just didn't know." She sounds legitimately sorry as well, as if it was her fault for picking the game.

Without taking her eyes off Meghan, she picks up the controller and saves the game, then turns off the console.

"Was there something else you wanted to do? A movie, or something else?"

Link to comment
Share on other sites

Danielle smiles, standing up as her eufiber re-forms into what she's thought of as her 'colors.' She starts picking up her widgets, placing them inside her belt.

"That sounds just fine," she replies. "I nearly got lost on the way over here, so I'll let you lead. Uh, it IS okay for novas to just fly around out there, right? I hear some places demand that flying novas confer with local air traffic control."

With good reason. Don't want to get sucked into the wake of another 747.

Link to comment
Share on other sites

"Well, nobody's tried to stop me yet, so how illegal can it be?" Meghan replied, rising from the sofa. She lead the way to the kitchen, and the patio beyond. Through the sliding glass double doors, most of Rio de Janeiro spread out before them.

"I love this view," Meghan gushed as she slid the door open. She pointed toward a cluster of skyscrapers on the opposite side of the bay. "That's downtown," Meghan explained. She shifted her aim toward an island adjacent to the shore. "That's the international airport. Don't fly over it, and you're golden, 'k?"

In-between where they stood and the skyscrapers lay a vast stretch of green forested hillsides, thick housing developments, the South American equivalent of suburbia, a row of tall hotels, and a beach whiter than a Clorox commercial. From Meghan's hillside mansion, it was a straight downhill run all the way.

Meghan turned to Danielle, smiling impishly. "Shall we?" she asked.

Link to comment
Share on other sites

"Oh, I'm jealous of the way you can just decide to fly like that," Meghan said as she imagined a new shape. She decided to use ond of her favorites, and reshaped her body into that of an oversized silvery falcon as she leapt over the patio's bannister.

"Oh, hey, could you close the kitchen door for me?" Meghan asked sheepishly as she circled on her metallic wings. "I'm sans hands, you know."

Link to comment
Share on other sites

Meghan led the way down the high hillside toward the shore, skimming just over the tops of the trees and ducking under the occasional power line. The hillside was steep enough that she had no need to flap her wings, as gravity pulled her downhill faster than she could have propelled herself. As she rushed over a cleared field which she knew to have no obstacles, she looked over her shoulder and spotted Danielle, following close behind.

At the bottom of the long slope, forest abruptly gave way to the South American equivalent to suburbia, and Meghan and Danielle had to climb briefly to fly over the twisting mass of buildings, utility lines, signposts, and other obstacles. Beyond that lay the shore. Meghan moved to fly side-by-side with Danielle.

"We'll head straight across the bay for that cluster of high-rises there," Meghan said, indicating the downtown core.

Link to comment
Share on other sites

Archived

This topic is now archived and is closed to further replies.


×
×
  • Create New...