“Grace!” my relief at seeing my best friend was just as strong as seeing R&R, only this time I knew I had someone I could tell my secrets to.
“Emmie Keyes as I live and breathe. Did you miss me?” replied Grace.
Grace was the same fashionista she had always been. Every outfit she wore made me jealous and her current top with belt and skirt combo made me as jealous as usual, especially as I was still wearing pyjamas with little sheep on them. She was also incredibly beautiful, something her job as a make-up artist made it very hard to compete with.
Her slightly dark coloured skin went with anything and made her skin always look healthy and tanned, a rarity this time of year with the typical British weather. She wore fake eyelashes with alternated red and brown lashes that went perfectly with the red streaks in her chocolate brown hair. Thanks to her job she got free make-up which was a novelty for most of us and I was always thankful for any samples she could give me.
After she had given me some mascara and lip gloss we laughed and talked like old times. For a brief moment it was as if all was right in the world again.
“You rang?” asked Grace, clearly wanting to know why she had been dragged half way across the country overnight.
“It’s bad Grace it’s…” The next sequence of words were hard to think in my head and even harder to say out loud.
I sat down on a pink bean bag whilst my eyes began to water. “It’s Will,” I said “He’s...” I forced myself to say it. “He’s gone Grace, he’s gone!”
“Gone? Gone where?”
“Gone, gone!” I clarified “I watched him die.”
“No, Emmie. I’m sure he’s ok. If you’re alive that means he’s alive somewhere too. It must be a mistake. We can find him.”
Her words tried to comfort me but it was no use. “This is different. I saw him die and I no longer feel him tied to me,” my eyes started to swell with tears and Grace realised that I wasn’t joking.
Grace sat on the floor with me and placed her arms on my shoulders. She didn’t want to pry but wanted to know more so she could help, “How did he die?”
“He was murdered.”
“I saw the whole thing; he was killed by two orange eyed men,” I explained.
“It was like nothing I had seen before. Their eyes had an orange pulsing glow and they spoke in a language I couldn’t understand.”
Grace nodded along as I explained how Will had died, a dead stare in her eyes as if she heard the words but didn’t really understand what I had said. As if she couldn’t process the how or the why of the situation.
I told her about the DualCam, the last recording it played and how my identity was slowly being destroyed. I felt relief in being able to share what had happened with someone I could trust.
Grace had always been weak. That’s why she clung to me for help and why her job was so low pressure. But she was a good friend and had always helped me when I needed her.
“Emmie, don’t you see what is happening here?” asked Grace, snapping me away from my story.
“Whoever wanted to kill your brother, they think you are dead too. That’s why they deleted your files. You aren’t safe, especially if they know you are still alive,” said Grace.
“I know and that’s why I called you. I want to find out the truth behind Will’s death and to do that I need your help. I need you to help me disappear.”
Grace nodded knowing exactly what I meant. For years she had trained as a make-up artist and this skill meant she could easily change someone’s appearance to make them unrecognisable.
If I was going to find out the truth I needed a disguise, something Grace was an expert at.
“OK, now that I can help with,” replied Grace.
“Great, what are you thinking? A few hair extensions, a tan and some different makeup?” I asked.
She nodded along, waited for a moment as if considering something and then took her backpack off her shoulders. Reluctantly, she removed a silver box from inside and said “I have something even better. This box contains the most advanced make-up kit in the world.”
I stared at the silver box, curious how Grace could fit all of her make-up supplies into it. Sure she was great at what she did but I remained sceptical that she’d have enough bits and pieces in the box.
“This box can make you be anyone you want to be. More convincing than make-up and quicker too,” said Grace. In fact you’ll be the third person in the world to try it out, after me and my boss.
I was excited by the prospect and anything to make the process of putting on make-up quicker was ok with me. “Great! Let’s go for it,” I replied.
“So who do you want to be? How about ‘rocker synth Emmie’, she was hot!” said Grace, our past feelings for each other starting to show through a little too much.
During my darker years I loved Rocker Synth, an electronic mix of rock music and dub step. To go along with the style I had purple hair and tended to wear more dark grimy clothes. It was a massive contrast to my blonde hair and calmer clothes I wear now.
Grace seemed to like it at the time and it was fun to be rebellious at least for a little while.
“No, I need to be unrecognisable. Make me look like no one you have ever met before,” I said.
“Ok, you’re the boss,” Grace pressed a button on the silver box and it began to glow.
I wondered what possible make-up kit would need to glow and I instinctively lent forward to touch it.
Grace batted my hand away. “No touching. This thing runs incredibly hot.”
This only added to my curiously. Sensing this Grace asked “What’s with all the questions anyway? You’re the one with a top secret camera.”
She was right; it wasn’t as if I didn’t have a mysterious box of tricks in my own room.
“We need a computer, does the DualCam let you install programs?” she asked.
I nodded and turned the DualCam on so it was once again reflecting on the wall with its twin rainbows. We ran a search for new devices and found one called “Skin 2.0”.
“Is that it?” I asked. Grace lent forward and clicked the confirm button.
A loading screen appeared showing a Queen of Diamonds playing card rotating around and around. I assumed that must be the developers of the software.
“So how did you get to test this anyway?” I asked
“My boss loves me,” replied Grace, who had always had a knack for getting what she wanted so this didn’t surprise me.
The software loaded up and presented a series of options from skin colour, to hair style and we spent thirty minutes tweaking them until we had found a new face for me. It seemed quite different to my normal look and I was unsure exactly how I could undergo such a rapid change without hours and hours of work.
The computer sent a signal to Grace’s device and we boiled a cup of tea whilst we waited.
“So what exactly are we waiting for?” I asked, whilst the kettle boiled.
“It’ll have a red light on top when it’s ready,” said Grace.
“Ready with what exactly?”
“The face we created for you is being made inside the box.”
I looked at the box. It wasn’t anywhere near the size of my face. “I know I have a small head but I don’t see how…”
Grace interrupted me mid-sentence as she started to poor the boiling water into our cups. “It’s simple really. The box creates fake skin that will be placed over the top of your skin like a mask sitting on top.”
That sounded anything but simple. “What? How can that be safe? And didn’t you say it was hot? Won’t it hurt?” I continued to think of one hundred and one more questions but before I could say them, Grace interjected; “Look at my face. I used it this morning. You’ll be fine.”
A red light flashed on the box indicating that it was ready. Grace stirred our cups of tea, threw the tea bags away and poured in milk. She gave them another stir, extra slowly as if she was playing with me.
She paused for a moment and asked “Do you want sugar?”
“Just open the box!” I shouted.
“Fine, fine. You’re no fun.”
Grace lifted a lid on the grey box and removed a flesh coloured ball. The ball was shifting slowly in her hands as if it wanted to escape. It wasn’t a hard material like a bouncy ball but wasn’t runny enough that it ran from her fingers either.
“This is Skin 2.0, are you ready?” she asked.
“No,” I replied, hoping to go back to the make-up idea.
“Trust me Emzie,” she said, using her affectionate name for me. “If we don’t use this, you will get caught. There’s not good enough make-up in the world to hide anyone completely but with this you have your best chance. Now hold out your hands.”
I reluctantly agreed and placed my hands out in front of me, palms facing upwards. Grace angled her hands downwards and the flesh coloured ball slid down her hands into mine.
The touch was instantly off-putting. It felt like holding a living creature. The ball twisted in shape and its slimy texture reminded me of the snakes that sometimes crept into the downstairs basement of our building.
With the ball firmly in my hands it began to glow. “What is happening?” I asked.
“It’s just remembering your DNA,” said Grace, as if this was the most normal procedure in the world. “You know, if you don’t trust it you’re basically saying you don’t trust me. I did design it after all.”
I rolled my eyes at her. I was more than used to this type of playfulness from our college days together.
Once the glowing stopped, I asked “Now what?”
“Place it onto your face and whatever you do, do not remove your hands until I tell you to. Understood?” she said, with her best Headmistress impression. Yet there was an ounce of severity in her voice too.
I placed the skin over my face and it began to expand covering every pore. As the skin branched out, it expanded over my ears and neck and then wrapped around the back of my head to cover my hair. As it expanded over my lips I started to feel it tighten up, like clay beginning to form. It felt like my real skin was drying out and being suffocated.
As the skin on my neck began to tighten I was thrown back to the memory of Will being strangled and I started to panic. My breathing became shallow and I felt my hands begin to drift away from my face.
“It’s me Emmie, you’re ok. Just calm down,” Grace’s words soothed me and helped bring me back to reality. She pressed her hands against mine and gently placed them back on my face. I so badly wanted to remove my hands and tear this fake skin from my face but Grace helped to stop me.
I opened my eyes and looked in the mirror, watching as dye started to run from the skin that had covered my hair, changing its colour from blonde to a dark black. Suddenly all of the hair from below my shoulder fell to the floor, as if someone had suddenly cut my hair to that point. For the hair that remained each strand became a little thicker and my fringe lowered down to just over my eyebrows.
“How is it doing this?” I asked.
“The short version?” she replied. “The skin copied your DNA earlier and created new strands of hair. It then rolled up the hair you no longer needed and blah blah science talk blah. Look, the important thing is, you look amazing!”
I stared at the mirror and took in the transformation. My freckles had gone, replaced by perfect lightly tanned skin. My ears were slightly larger with a cute pointy bit at the top that popped slightly out from behind my hair.
“So you couldn’t do anything about my big nose?” I asked
“Emmie, the skin goes over your face, I can’t change bone matter,” replied Grace.
“Ok, ok. Maybe something for Skin 3.0?” I continued to look at the changes. My blue eyes remained but my lips had changed. They were now fuller and far more seductive. A purple colour covered them from top to bottom. “I told you no ‘rocker synth’ Emmie’!”
“Sorry, I couldn’t resist, purple always did look good on you. You’ll need a new outfit to go with that face,” said Grace as she opened my wardrobe.
I didn’t own many clothes, mostly just jeans, strappy tops and sweaters that had been abandoned by the ‘haves’. The only nice outfit I owned was one I had been bought by Will for my twenty first Birthday. It was the only piece of clothing that wouldn’t look out of place where we needed to go. Grace spotted it instantly and handed it to me with a large smile on her face.
I slipped into a pair of light black jeans and high black heels that had not been much fun to walk in last time around. Grace handed me a black top which had a white V shape that ran from my neck down to my belly button, revealing a smaller blue top underneath. It clung tightly to my figure.
My outfit was finished with the one piece of jewellery that I owned, a large pearl necklace that had once belonged to my mother before that horrible day that took her away from me.
As I looked at myself in the mirror it felt odd. As if I was looking through a window at someone else who happened to be copying me. If I couldn’t recognise myself then that meant no one else would, which was perfect.
The fake skin no longer felt tight and had settled to feel quite natural and when combined with an outfit that would get ruined within twenty minutes on a typical day in Smyth West I felt ready to go.
“Perfect!” said Grace. “We just need a few more things before I can let you go,” said Grace.
“Well you can’t very well have a brand new face and then just start using your existing credit cards or ID. That would defeat the entire point!”
“Ok but where would I even get a fake ID?”
“It’s ok, I know a guy. He’s a prop designer on set. He makes really good replicas for movies. So good you can’t even tell the difference. I’ll text him your photo now,” Grace really was proving very useful today.
“Cool but don’t I need a new name too?”
“Oh yeah, what would you like it to be? Emzie?”
“No, that’s ok you can keep that nickname between us. How about Jessica Young?”
“Seems a bit plain Jane to me but ok,”
She took my photo, sent it onward and we waited.
“So you have a new identity, what now?” asked Grace.
I knew exactly where I wanted to go.
“TethTech,” I replied.