“Maybe Tikki’s accepting calls?” I asked as Kals touched the bracelet on her left wrist.
“We tried that,” Jaclyn said. “No.”
“Did you leave messages?”
Her sigh was audible even over the implant. “Yes, but not about not touching. You should call them.”
Would Tikki even need to be told? She shouldn’t—except that she’d had a week to discover that there were no issues with touching us at all. I hadn’t remembered it coming up, but she might not have told us if it had.
“Okay,” I told her, and left messages with Marcus’ implant and Tikki’s bracelet. One of them would have to notice, right?
I stopped concentrating on my implant to find Kals with her arms folded across her chest, watching me.
It struck me that taking a call on my implant might be at least as rude as taking a cellphone call. “Sorry. Jaclyn called me about Marcus and Tikki and also um… us. I told her we’re not uh… doing anything.”
She closed her eyes for a moment. “Of course that’s where their minds went.”
I glanced toward the window. We were off to the side of it, so I couldn’t see much, but a couple people were looking out. With all the light in the room, they probably couldn’t see anything out here.
I turned back to Kals. “I don’t see why your friends would assume we’re doing anything. For all they know, it’s impossible.”
She didn’t say anything for a second, but added, “Let’s just say anything’s possible if you use your imagination… You were saying something before she called. What was it?”
It was my turn to pause, trying to remember something that it felt I’d said half a week a go now. “I was trying to say that while I don’t want to cheat on my girlfriend to do it, I’d like the colony to survive. It seems like if someone could use my genes to fix the allergy, your people could hide the effects from the Human Ascendancy. I mean, you’ve probably got the technology. The Abominators had those birthing tanks. Plus, you seem to be ahead of us in every other area and we’re nearly to the point where we can edit people’s genes.”
She frowned, but then she shrugged. “I’m sure it’s not that simple or we’d have done it already. But you have to talk to Iolan about the mole anyway. He’s our genetic counselor. He’d know whether or not it’s possible if anyone would.”
She checked the window. “We’d better go in before they decide we’re…”
She stopped. “I take that back. They’ll still think that no matter what we do.”
“That reminds me,” I said. “What is second skin? Jaclyn said that your friends were joking about it.”
I’d been wearing the glasses that as acted as a hidden HUD for when I was wearing my stealth suit as clothes. Through my glasses I could see Kals’ skin darken or take a redder tinge at the very least.
“I’m going to kill them,” she muttered, but in a louder voice she said, “Second skin is a product used to help heal burns. It can be sprayed over the skin of any gene line. More expensive varieties allow the user to feel through them like normal skin.”
I’d been wondering why she’d begun to lecture me in a controlled, almost strained, voice about a first aid product at first, but a few words in, I knew exactly why and she confirmed it.
“My first serious boyfriend was from another gene line. We used it once, but not for the official purpose. Both of us ended up with horrible rashes in the worst places.” She shook her head. “No one will let me forget it and it’s not as if I’m the only one it ever happened to. I’m sure more people use it for sex than burns.”
Then she threw back her head and laughed, “Assholes. See if I don’t spill their most embarrassing moments the first chance I get.”
We went back inside soon after that. In some ways, there’s not much to tell about the party except that I didn’t spend the rest of it standing next to the wall. Kals pulled me into the group, introducing me to her friends (“This is Mati, his most recent, ansible only, girlfriend turned out to be an intelligent computer virus with a weird thing for feet—“), whose embarrassing moments were often stranger than I’d thought possible.
The beer tasted better than the beer I’d tried at the last party I’d been at. It had been Miller Lite and tasted most strongly of the metal keg that contained it. It was a low bar to cross, but the beer here didn’t taste like metal. I still wasn’t sure that it tasted good, but at least it wasn’t bad.
Marcus didn’t reappear until after everyone had left. Cassie, Jaclyn, Katuk, and I sat around the table in the common area talking through what we’d learned. Tikki wasn’t with him.
“I walked her home,” he said. “She’s amazing.”