Author: Steve Smith, Staff Writer

They’d tested it, of course, but she was the first person they’d installed it in.

The injections were painful, and numerous, the material marching through the subcutaneous layers of her flesh like an army of angry ants, and when it was done, she wore the material as a complete second skin, just beneath her own.

When they turned it on it was surreal, the loading screen and debugging information scrolling down her back, and her bare chest and across her stomach before being replaced with their logo, a lengthy copyright text, all in high contrast, glaring white against skin turned to charcoal, before clearing and settling into a tanned skin tone with a subtle, shifting, luminous hue.

The control unit was implanted through her navel, tucked safely behind the stomach wall, a port available for updates. They offered wireless, but the risk of being hacked was too great, so she opted for physical access only.

There were light sensors in the substrate that adapted the visual output based on the opaqueness of her clothing, turning off parts of her skin where no one could see to conserve energy, and adjusting her brilliance based on the time of day and ambient lighting. In time, the unit would learn her biorhythms, recognize her moods, and be able to tune its output accordingly.

The Formula 1 event brought her international attention, her body a scrolling kaleidoscope of sponsors’ logos and brand messaging blazing out around a minimalist two-piece swimsuit and sheer gown as she posed with drivers and their cars. The attention brought more contracts, and with it wealth.

Her partner was less appreciative.

“I hate what you’ve done to yourself,” he yelled at her one night after an evening event, “people used to look at me with you on my arm, they respected me.” He drank her expensive whisky from one of her imported crystal tumblers. “Now that you’re just,” he struggled for the words, “just a walking television set, nobody notices me at all. It’s humiliating.”

She almost asked if it was humiliating when he picked up the cheques for their evenings on the town to pay with her money, but instead, she just faded into the background and let him fume himself out.

The first time he hit her, she found applying coverup particularly difficult. She hadn’t worn makeup since the implant, she hadn’t needed to but she managed to cover the mark, she hadn’t forgotten how. After dinner, walking through the crowded restaurant, as all eyes turned to the glamorous couple, there were gasps and murmurs. Passing a mirror she realized her skin had produced garish purple and green bruises in the shape of rough hand marks on her arms and legs, her partner fumbling for words as he rushed her out the door to the waiting car.

The drive home was silent.

When she found out he was cheating, he knew – as soon as he walked through her door – her flesh the colour of obsidian, flames licking around her ankles to mid-calf, her face a mask of fury. He turned in the doorway and left, not bothering to pack. It was the last she would hear of him.

Later, curled in the bath, with an empty bottle of wine by her side, her flesh crawled with storm clouds, the occasional flash of lightning from the depths of the cooling water.

In the morning when the storm had cleared, she would be blue skies and sunshine and flowers. The literal picture of peace.