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Skin

By Rob Jennings All Rights Reserved ©

Romance / Scifi

Skin

I honestly didn't think I would be in this situation again. I swore I never would. But I know that if I was ever serious about that, I would have destroyed all the plans properly. And the equipment. And I didn't.

Obviously.

Because here I am.

But it's not what you do that matters, so much as why. And this time I am doing it all for the right reasons. I'm sure that makes all the difference. I hope it does.

I don't really know what went wrong last time. Well. That's not true. I know exactly what went wrong. The mystery is that I didn't see it coming.


I work for the research and development arm of the world's third largest manufacturer of ‘adult entertainment devices’. I know what you're thinking and yes, that means sex toys but ... actually, there's no ‘but’. It means sex toys and it's every bit as sleazy as you might think. At least it was for me when I started fourteen years ago. But you'd be amazed at how quickly you can take dildos, vibrators and butt plugs in your stride. Actually I think the industry itself works as its own filter for employees. Either you can handle it, and you quickly become de-sensitised, or you can't and you get out within a week. I guess I fall into the former category. I must have a good stomach for it. Then again, I don't think I could work in a bacon factory, so you know, it takes all sorts.

A particular challenge of my job is keeping up with the latest trends in sexual needs, and particularly keeping an eye on the latest emerging fetishes. Things move very fast in this game. Today's kinky stuff is tomorrow's pillow talk which, in a couple of years time, they'll be making risqué jokes about on late night sitcoms until a few years later when they'll be chatting about it on breakfast radio. It's the way of the world. It does mean, however, that it's getting harder and harder for the hardcore fetishists to find something that's not mainstream. Some people don't care too deeply what their game is, as long as it comes in a brown paper bag and they can't talk about it in public.

That's where I come in.

One of my jobs is to come up with new, interesting and most importantly, marketable ways for people to get their rocks off. The marketable part is very important. On a recent project, after many months of research, interviews, conferences (oh yes, there are conferences for this sort of thing - and no, they're not more exciting that any other kind of corporate conference) and focus groups (OK, so the focus groups can get pretty interesting) I made what I considered to be a ground breaking discovery. Put simply, I found a new way for people to touch each other. One that would result in more intense orgasms which would last longer, and had a higher probably of satisfying both partners simultaneously. It required quite a bit of precision but, according to the focus groups, once mastered it worked about 90 percent of the time. I submitted a report which I was very proud of and was immediately called into my boss's office. He was holding my report.

‘Touching, Delaney?’

‘Thank you, Terry. I was going for an emotional edge, it's nice to know I've hit the mark.’

‘You've discovered a way for people to touch each other?’

‘Yes. But...’

‘With their hands?’

‘Well not necessarily their hands, but...’

‘Let me put it this way, Justin. With their hands, fingers, tongues, dicks or kiwi fruits, but not - and this is the important point - not with any specific device that they can buy off us?’

‘Well, no. But...’

Terry slammed the report on the table. ‘Fuck your buts, Delaney!’ I couldn't help but smile. ‘We're not in the business of making people happy, we're in the business of selling them shit that we convince them will make them happy. Preferably incredibly expensive shit with moving parts that will wear with use! How long have you wasted on this?’

‘About four months.’

‘Four months? Four months fucking about with my budget, to produce what?’ He held up the stapled sheets. ‘A report? May as well roll it up and cover it in latex for all the good it will do us. Get out.’

I said nothing. I was aware that saying the wrong thing could see me without a job. Apart from anything else, I knew he was right. Unless I planned to write a sex manual, there was nothing I could sell out of this. Like so many things, I didn't really think this through. Did I mention that that was a flaw of mine?


After failing so dismally on what was essentially an academic pursuit, I decided I needed to get back to the physical. As Terry had said, I needed something that people could actually buy. Something they could hold. So I took it all back to sex toys basics.

People have been working on Whole Body Simulations since this industry began. Ever since someone stuffed a dress full of mud and straw we have been working on ways to make the perfect substitute to a living human being. With the technological advances that have been made recently, producing realistic looking models that have the right mechanics and appearance is simple enough. But it's the little details that take a doll from a toy to a companion.

After having spent four months looking at touching I had tactile sensations, and skin in particular, on the brain. Physical contact in almost any form is about skin and people take for granted that when we are naked all we see is skin. However skin is about much more than look and feel. The way that the pores open and close and the tiny folds that appear and disappear when a joint is flexed, the way skin responds subtly to the movement of the flesh and bone beneath it. And the colours: the ever changing palette of colours that combine with the colour of the flesh beneath to make a variety unknown in any other organ. I was sure that skin was the key, and while I knew my company's current skin range was excellent (after all, I developed it), there was a problem. You could tell from looking at it, from touching it, how good a simulation it was - how much craftsmanship has gone into it. But I needed it so that you couldn't tell that it was a simulation at all.

So I started with our current skin options and worked on developing them. I redesigned everything from the base materials to the pigments. I completely re-developed how it attached to the flesh, and how the flesh attached to the bone. I studied anatomical diagrams, all with the purpose of getting the skin right. And the realistic skin that came from this work was excellent. At first, or even second glance, the average person could not tell the difference between my new product and the real thing. However despite this, feedback from the focus groups was not positive.

The focus groups all used the same word to describe it: creepy. We tried all sorts of solutions, including heating and movement, but regardless the skin had a deathly quality about it. One woman in a focus group report said that when the arm moved it was as if a corpse had come to life, and that it made her skin crawl.

That's when it hit me. Skin is not just about the mechanics of how it moves across the levers and ligatures that make up our bodies. Skin is emotional. It reacts to situations that we don't even consciously comprehend. If it's cold, it tightens. If it's hot it loosens. It is characterised by goose-pimples that seem to have a mind of their own. For every emotion that we feel, every thought that crosses our minds, our skin has a response. And that is what had been missing. 

The new skin was so realistic that its lack of response made it appear dead. What it needed was life beyond the mechanics of movement. It needed an artificial intelligence - one that was specifically geared towards controlling the skin.

The key to AI is realistic responses. Controlling vocal responses to situations is relatively easy. A computer can be programmed with a realistic vocabulary, and modulations in voice can be driven by a basic decision process. To make spoken words, or anything, realistic is simply a matter of programming responses that people expect. I wanted to take those algorithms and apply them to simulated skin and muscle. I needed to determine how skin reacted, what we expected of it, and then work out a way of controlling it.

Once that was decided, I worked on the physical implementation. I needed to create goose bumps, open pores, move entire glaciers of skin fractions of a millimetre, all by triggering the correct input sensors and activating the appropriate controls.

My first prototype was, as usual, a female forearm - from mid bicep to hand. When doing this sort of work, I like to start with a forearm, as I always have quick and easy access to my own. I can poke my own arm, then poke the simulated one and compare. For these tests I had ice, heat, water and air all ready. I poked, I prodded, I even used a sewing needle. For a first test it was incredibly successful and after a few nights of adjusting controls it was ready. The skin was perfect. 

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