Free writing workshop for aspiring authors of young adult and middle grade fiction. The first five pages may be all that agents, editors, and readers read, so get them right with the help of three authors over the course of three weeks. During the third week, an agent will also critique your pages and your pitch and pick a workshop winner - the prize is a partial request!
Name: Tabitha Sin Genre: New Adult Science Fiction Title: Skin Deep
UV INDEX: High
CLOUD DISPARITY: 20%
Highly recommended to avoid any exposure to sunlight!
The nighttime air will bring an unprecedented breeze, but keep the suits on if you can.
The elevator plays a whisper of a song to soothe my ascent to the 14th floor. My body tingles from my toes pushing against the leather soles of my boots to my belly twisting in knots to my shoulders stretching my Start Labs-sponsored sunsuit jacket. When the doors shudder open, the dim hallway light doesn't reach the elevator. My feet dip into the well-walked, dirty green carpet as I head to Apartment 14E. Silence follows me down the hallway as if each door is a container of muted sounds. The eye of the surveillance system is off like it has fallen asleep.
Underneath my gloved hands, the doorknob quietly twists open. It’s unlocked -- as expected. Good.
The apartment swallows me and any light that follows behind. My breath locks in my nose waiting to adjust to the darkness. There’s nothing: no other sounds, no other movements.
When I flick the light switch on, my eyes throb a little at the sudden contrast, even underneath my helmet. I take it off along with my gloves and boots, leaving them by the door, and pad slowly to the living room area. It's easier for the Cleaners to wipe away sock-clad footprints as they eliminate all traces of our operation. I dump my backpack onto the nearest countertop and pull out clear latex gloves, snapping them on. They seal against my thin, veiny hands. The apartment’s air clings against my exposed skin.
Everything is set up the way it should be: clear tarp neatly splayed out in the center, black lockcase next to it.
Except I am completely alone.
The job is simple: The Initiators dismantle the surveillance system and prep the donor for me. I open the door, see the dead donor lying on the tarp, extract the IP, seal it into the sterilized case the Initiators leave behind, and then let the Cleaners know I’m done.
Today, however, there is no body greeting me.
I step back towards the door, close to the small kitchen, and pull out my burner to call Branson.
“There’s no one here,” I tell him as soon as he picks up, raising my voice a bit as I put him on speakerphone. I’m always confused with this phone’s mic range. A warm breeze glides through the short, bristly hair on the back of my neck, and when I turn around, a corner of the thin curtain lifts gently. A few spots on the floor glisten out of reach of the kitchen’s dim light on the side of the tarp. “I see you’ve set up, but there’s nothing.”
“Hey, Shella, nice to hear from you, too.” Branson’s deep voice fills the apartment. He has always been my contact within the Initiators, but lately, our conversations have been lasting longer than they probably should. We’re not supposed to have any outside relations. “What do you mean there’s nothing?”
“Apartment is devoid of donor.” I wave my hand around the living room as if I am at a showcase presenting him a variety of prizes before remembering the phone doesn't have holo-capabilities. It’s frustrating with antiques. “Are you sure you sent me to the right place?”
“Building number 200 on 89th street, apartment 14E?”
“Still nothing here,” I repeat. Branson has never led me astray before in all of our other operations since we started this job, but I had to ask. “The balcony window is open. Did you do that or do you think --”
“That he jumped out?” Branson laughs. "No, we left him exactly how he should be so I don’t understand why you’re saying he’s not there. Are you sure you’re in the right apartment?”
“The door was unlocked, and the tarp is here.”
“That's not possible,” he mutters and pauses. “I'm going to come back and show you.”
“I can handle it, just tell me where he is.” I ignore the jibe. Initiators always think Extractors can’t do their jobs without them. I walk around the tarp to the balcony, pushing the thin burgundy curtain aside and hooking it open. Even though the sun has sunk and it’s only the moon hanging in the air, the heat is still too uncomfortable in direct contact. I press my gloved hand against the warm glass, resting my forehead against it. Take a second and think: where could the dead body possibly go?
“You don’t want to see me again?” He says, and I can hear that lopsided smile through the speaker. Heat gathers in my neck and cheeks as I roll my eyes.
I sigh, my breath fogging up a small circle on the balcony window. There are so many buildings halfway lit up like its bottom has been sucked into the ground and smeared with mud. I can even see one of those grand high-rises that look like they're scraping the underside of clouds. When I had been shadowing in-house organ donations, there was a white guy living in one of those who had the longest vestigial tail I had ever seen. He had it rolled up and taped to his back every day for as long as he could remember. When he nipped the last piece of tape off, the tail unfurled like a snake finally able to breathe.
Here I am, it hissed across the floor. Take me with you.
Before the market became dumb bloated, the easiest thing you could exchange for money was a part of yourself. Isn't that how it always is? A kidney could have gotten you far enough back then until you start wondering, What else is there? An extra finger or toe, multiple nipples? A spleen, a nub growing from the small of your back? What part of you is no longer essential to your being? How much are you worth in terms of potential cellular distribution?
“You still there?”
I nod before remembering he can’t see me. “I'm waiting,” I call out and notice my reflection scratching my hairline by my temple. I should buy a new helmet. My hand balls into a fist, and I turn around to face the rest of the living area again.
In the moonlight, the spots shine like fluorescent tattoos. I walk over to them and crouch above to waft their smell. The pungent aroma assaults and clogs my nostrils, and I cough hard trying to purge it out.
Rotting meat...with the faintest scent of...flowers?
I sit back on my heels. There is a midsized wooden table to my right, and a vase of dark blue flowers wilting in murky water atop it. The light flickers, on-off-on-off like an ebbing tide, before darkness settles into the apartment except for the moonlight gleaming through. These old buildings aren’t always rewired in lieu of the rapid cycles of climate change, and the electricity shutting off has happened on the job before. Another setback, although not as pressing as my missing donor. Was this part of an elaborate joke on the Initiators’ part?
I press my finger against the spot. It sticks to the glove and clumps like tacky residue as I rub it between my index finger and thumb. How strange.