THIRD SKIN TURBO • by E. M. Byrne

PLIFF-pliff-pliff-pliff. PLIFF-pliff-pliff-pliff. LAP-twen-ty-one. SEE-the-boy-run. Yeah, me, Grant Matthews, Olympian. Never felt faster. Is it really the suit? Can ‘optimal thermoregulation’ make that much difference to a runner? DeSelbySuits sure wanted us to believe it, before the ‘fusion’ accidents. The apogee of nanotechnology for those of us who hate the sweaty human condition, bringing to fruition the promise of a truly breathable fabric at last. Well, for a few days, legally.

Stay behind me, Syl! Not used to seeing the back of me, I know, but you’re going to have to deal with it now. Is it true that your parents chose you from among thousands of their zygotes after testing for the best available endurance combo across 50-odd genes? Soooo special. Sylvester. Sleek, shiny, sinuous, and now — surpassed. Overtaken by me, with my ‘random’ genome, first time ever. What was that expression on your face as I went by? You suspicious, or just peeved?

The air might as well be steam. Warmer than an open fire and wetter than a newt’s eyeball. But not me: wrist to neck to ankle, those little nanovalves in this skin-tight fabric suck the sweat straight from my surface, out to nanogrilles. ‘Managed evaporation’ indeed. Whatever finely-tuned trickery they do with liquid and vapour is fine with me. And fine with Garment Control, thanks to Myles and his team of fabric engineers. Masters of disguise, those guys. My little stealth valves are no one’s business. I’ve worked harder than any for this. Put nothing into my body. Everyone else has been tweaking or tweaked. Fellow ‘natural-born’ athletes? — old-fashioned chemical help since before their bio passports… deep tissue gene doping, quick-ditch DNA…

All I have to do is avoid cuts and scrapes.

Go! — Who… Diana? Of course. Prowling with javelin from the octathlon area. Who do you have in your sights now? You don’t see me. Your eyes are behind. On him? Calling his name? Five years of life dismissed for the new and shiny. But you’ll see me on the podium. No escaping my face on the broadcasts.

Another summer Olympics, another weather crapshoot. Even with year-before venue decision, climate instability leaves us biting our nails. Who’d have thought Chicago would get humid again? Always the option to build a nice covered air-con arena… but noooo… gotta keep the tradition of the great outdoors, no matter how many of us long distance sloggers end up with heat exhaustion when the weather turns out like this. Pity the poor marathon guys… could swear this bloodthirsty crowd is waiting for the next Pheidippides to keel over.

Lapping Ericson. Only done that once before. He doesn’t look good… stride’s erratic. Maybe it’s the heat. Heh!

Good Lord, what’s with the flailing arms? Is he tripping or just losing it? Ow — has he just scratched my back? Surely not — what are the chances…? No reason to think my skin’s broken, though, is there?

Lap 22. The sting’s gone, but there’s an odd feeling… is there?

They say you don’t feel pain, just a sort of… Crawling?… Oh God! …sensation that spreads from the wound until it’s under every bit of the fabric. Is that how they described it, the first victims of ‘the fusion’? It takes only a couple of minutes to go all the way — hundreds of times faster than even that flesh-eating-bacteria disease from history lessons. Then you feel normal, but even more comfortable than before. In perfect thermal control. No sweat — literally.

They say the nano-topography of the material is irresistible to cells. Wee buggers stick, divide and crawl along it like mad. Seen them under the microscope in Myles’ lab.

The smallest break in your dead dried-out protective surface lets the moist living tissue touch the cloth. And then all hell breaks loose. Your skin breaks down and rearranges itself at a speed once thought impossible.

It’s not the nano-scale that seals the deal, though, it’s the micro — as your cells snake through the weave of the supporting fibres they make a human-fabric hybrid skin. Tiny blood vessels break down and re-form, meshed with the cloth. Like the way Diana’s fingers interlocked with mine, then wrapped around my mind.

Your sweat glands actually fuse to the nanovalves. Unreal! At least I wish it were.

You invade the suit, or does the suit invade you? A permanent embrace.

In two laps I’ll know.

And if it’s happened, they’ll all know. Soon as the medal ceremony, if I’m on the podium, thanks to those accursed half-sleeve team shirts. Branded for life by my running suit?

Lap 24. Crawling’s stopped.

Even cooler now. Super-dry, like a newly-changed baby.

Could swear there’s more power in the tank. Nothing to do but accelerate, relax and enjoy the ride, for as long as it lasts.

Ding. Final lap. Four hundred metres to go. Last turn towards the Hancock Tower. 300. 200. 100.

Rawrrr. PLIFF-pliff-pliff-pliff. Rawrrrr. PLIFF PLIFF PLIFF PLIFF.

Propelled through the finish line by the lungs of the crowd.

Twenty-six minutes even? Not possible — 5 seconds below the record!

RAWRRRR. Alone. Even Syl has yet to come out of the last bend. That buzz is all for me. For now.

Little marker thread… violet for victory. Victory, but one that’s as hollow as the feeling in my stomach.

Wait a minute – it’s blue… definitely blue. This is my regular suit? Yes – pulls away with ease, stuck only by the layer of sweat I thought I didn’t feel!

Then all that… power… came from within. Power of belief; high-anxiety ‘placebo’?

All my own work! I have something they don’t: I know myself. Maybe could have gone even faster?

Let me lie down here and salute your valiant efforts, Sun, for I have overcome your worst.

THRUM-thrum-thrum-thrum. THRUM-thrum-thrum-thrum. Be still my beating heart!

All converging on this line now. Finally — the undivided attention of my peers.

Matthews? Matthews!

Can’t see them…

Grant?

…through the sweat?…

There’s no pulse. Heatstroke?

…the tears?


E. M. Byrne has spent a lifetime being gently underwhelmed by each new revolution in technical fabrics.


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 average 3.5 stars • 2 reader(s) rated this

Every Day Fiction

  • Chris Antenen

    Sorry. I didn’t understand any of the story and I tried. More like an attempt to invent something, but no real story, and the story is all that matters.

  • Chris Antenen

    Sorry. I didn’t understand any of the story and I tried. More like an attempt to invent something, but no real story, and the story is all that matters.

  • Rob

    Didn’t like the beginning at all– sorry– I did understand the ending and I thought it was interesting. This looked like an experimental piece that didn’t work out. (But then we never know until we experiment) An interesting idea, just needed to be smoothed out for easier reading.

  • Rob

    Didn’t like the beginning at all– sorry– I did understand the ending and I thought it was interesting. This looked like an experimental piece that didn’t work out. (But then we never know until we experiment) An interesting idea, just needed to be smoothed out for easier reading.

  • DrSuzanne Conboy-Hill

    A fraudulent athlete gets his comeuppance but not in quite the way he starts to believe. The idea of setting the entire story within the race is interesting but it did lead, I think, to some unlikely internal conversations. I can’t imagine reminding myself of all that complex bio-development while flogging round a race track in pursuit of a medal. I liked the suit though; that suit is creepy and I was disappointed that the wannabe fraud’s success was down to a (rather extraordinary) placebo effect. I’d have preferred he ground to a halt as a chimeric abomination 🙂

  • A fraudulent athlete gets his comeuppance but not in quite the way he starts to believe. The idea of setting the entire story within the race is interesting but it did lead, I think, to some unlikely internal conversations. I can’t imagine reminding myself of all that complex bio-development while flogging round a race track in pursuit of a medal. I liked the suit though; that suit is creepy and I was disappointed that the wannabe fraud’s success was down to a (rather extraordinary) placebo effect. I’d have preferred he ground to a halt as a chimeric abomination 🙂

  • E. M. Byrne

    Thanks to all for reading and commenting. I wish I’d found a less clunky way to get my intentions across. Suzanne: I did have versions that used a third-person narration alternating in fragments with internal monologue snippets, but that form was found (even) more problematic, on average, by critiquers and editors.

  • E. M. Byrne

    Thanks to all for reading and commenting. I wish I’d found a less clunky way to get my intentions across. Suzanne: I did have versions that used a third-person narration alternating in fragments with internal monologue snippets, but that form was found (even) more problematic, on average, by critiquers and editors.

  • E. M. Byrne

    Oops – “critiques” should read “critiquers”!

  • CJOneil

    Nice job. I found the internal dialogue perfectly clear, and thought it worked fine. Thought the placebo finish was well developed, as was the original marathon allusion. Nice work.

  • CJOneil

    Nice job. I found the internal dialogue perfectly clear, and thought it worked fine. Thought the placebo finish was well developed, as was the original marathon allusion. Nice work.

  • E.. M. Byrne

    Thanks CJ

  • E.. M. Byrne

    Thanks CJ