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Rated: 13+ · Short Story · Contest Entry · #2121181
Promptly Potter. Day Nine.
Rita was seven years old when she went to live with her Aunt Marge. At first, Aunt Marge terrified her. The woman was tall and broad, with a deep, booming voice, wild, dark hair, and an intimidating presence. Rita's parents had died in a car crash, but they had lived incredibly tame lives, whereas Aunt Marge offered a very different sort of life.

Others knew her as Doctor Margaret Vanderbeek, a brilliant research scientist who had found cures to a number of illnesses. Rita only knew her as Aunt Marge, her father's eccentric older sister. Still, she settled into life with Aunt Marge quite nicely. The years passed by, and they grew close. Rita grew as tall as Aunt Marge, with hair just as dark and wild, and she came to love science just as much as Aunt Marge had taught her to love it.

It was Rita's sweet sixteen when Aunt Marge invited her into her basement laboratory. This was the first time she had been invited into Aunt Marge's private space, as it wasn't fit for children, and any work Rita could manage as a teenager could be done in the kitchen or living room. Rita had been dying to see down there for as long as she had lived with Aunt Marge, and she could feel butterflies in her stomach as she followed Aunt Marge through the normally locked door, down the narrow staircase.

When they entered the basement, the first thing Rita noticed was the sheer size of the room. The basement hadn't been divided into smaller rooms, and stretched the full base of the house. There were shelves against the walls, some of which held a large number of textbooks, and others held what appeared to be science experiments and equipment. Rita imagined that the potions classrooms in her favourite series, the Harry Potter books, must look quite similar.

Rita's eyes drifted to the centre of the room where she examined a long table of science equipment, including medical instruments, as well as what appeared to be an examination table.

Rita raised her eyebrows at Aunt Marge, who had been visibly leaning forward in anticipation of a response. "I thought you weren't a doctor in that sense," Rita said, nodding her head towards the examination table.

Aunt Marge gave her a small but excited smile. "I'm not, but because I do medical research, I like to keep the space open. Plus it gives me a consistently empty table surface to use, along with a private napping space."

Rita snickered, remembering dozens of instances throughout her childhood where her aunt had claimed to be napping instead of working, and she hadn't truly believed her. She still wasn't certain she believed her, given her hard working nature, but it made her smile to think of anyway. Rita recalled the reason Aunt Marge thought today would be a good day to come down to the laboratory. "You said you wanted to show me your current research project?"

Aunt Marge lit up, her dark eye vibrant, and her grey streaked hair swirling around her face with static electricity. "Come, come, I'll show you what I have on the computer."

Aunt Marge led Rita past the tables to a large computer desk that had been out of sight at the back of the room. It was a complex system that had several monitors, and it looked like something she might see on TV. Aunt Marge clicked a couple of keys, and pulled up some images on the screen.

Rita pulled a face as the images sprawled before her, blood and gore staring her in the face. "What is this stuff, Aunt Marge? It's really gross."

Aunt Marge rolled her eyes, her tolerance for those who couldn't stomach science as low as it ever was. "We can cure any number of illnesses, but we can't cure injury in the same way. I've been working on potential options for car accident victims."

"Like mom and dad?"

"Exactly. I think that I could use robotics and tissue from organ donors in concert to rebuild severely damaged patients. Of course if this becomes a widespread solution, we'll have less organ donors available, as many of them are victims of accidents. That said, those who succumb to other illnesses could be donors of other body parts, such as flesh, limbs, or eyes."

Rita could feel her mouth hanging open, and she couldn't seem to close it. She could hear her mother's soft voice in the back of her head telling her that her face would freeze that way if she didn't close her mouth, but she couldn't help herself. Aunt Marge had always been eccentric, but she'd also always been mentally stable. When Rita could finally get her mouth to work properly again, she said, "Sooo.... are we talking Robocop or Frankenstein here?"

Rita had assumed that her aunt would scoff, as she always did when Rita compared science to science fiction, but she assumed incorrectly this time. "Actually, a little bit of both. I think that if we combine different technologies at our disposal, and develop them further than they have been until now, we could actually have a viable solution for victims of tragic accidents."

"You have an incredibly sane explanation for an idea that sounds completely nuts."

"Don't be a smart ass," Aunt Marge said with an eye roll that failed to mask her impatience. "I know how it sounds. I've been researching this since your parents' accident though, and all of the logic is there. I actually am ready to test one aspect of my plan, and I was wondering if you would like to help."

Rita's heart pounded, and she couldn't get her response out fast enough for her liking. "No, I will not be your guinea pig for your Robofranken experiments! And what would you even do, maim me to test your theories?"

"What sort of guardian do you take me for? I'm not about to maim you or subject you to experimental procedures for my own gain. Don't be outrageous."

Rita narrowed her eyes with suspicion. "What do you need me for then?"

Excitement filled Aunt Marge's eyes once again. "I want you to help me apply a small amount of artificial skin to me. I've developed a skin that can actually replace human flesh if it works properly. It could heal small cuts, which is what we would use it for now, but it would be intended for more serious injuries, like gaping wounds or severe burns."

"So I'd just have to apply it to a small cut on you? No tricks or anything? I won't have to stitch it in place, will I?" Despite her interest in theoretical science, blood still made Rita rather squeamish.

"Of course no tricks. You know I love when you ask questions, even of authority, but I do wish you'd trust me a little more about these things. I will make a small incision on the back of my hand, where I can see to observe the reaction. I will even clean the wound myself first. You will apply the artificial skin over the wound as smoothly as you can. It will be like a bandage, but the smoothness is important. I also need you to work the camera. It will be on a tripod, but since one of my hands will be occupied, I would rather you manage the camera so I don't knock it by accident."

"This sounds too easy."

"It's as easy as it sounds. And if everything goes smoothly, this will be a huge breakthrough for me personally, the world at large, and for our family."

Rita swallowed her hesitancy, and got to work. She set up the camera, while Aunt Marge hopped onto the examination table. Aunt Marge laid out the tools, and Rita turned her eyes away when Aunt Marge made the small incision in her left hand, and readied her right hand with a pen and paper.

Stopping in front of Aunt Marge, but standing slightly to the side so that the camera would have a quality view, Rita pulled on a pair of doctor's gloves, and used the tweezers to pick up the small skin flap sitting in the petri dish next to her aunt's hip. Rita's brows furrowed as she carefully laid the piece of synthetic skin across Aunt Marge's small cut.

Both of the women sat there for several moments, their eyes glued to the sight of the skin flap on the wound, too afraid of missing anything to even blink. Suddenly, before their very eyes, something began to shift.

It was like watching glue dry in fast motion, as the skin took on a natural look that blended with the appearance of the natural skin around it. Without looking up, Rita could tell Aunt Marge was smiling. Both of them continued to watch, expecting the healing to be done, but it didn't stop. The synthetic flesh seemed to be growing across Aunt Marge's hand as if enveloping it in a glove, and Rita felt nauseous at the sight of it.

Aunt Marge's voice was filled with frustration when she said, "Damn, I must have grabbed the wrong skin flap. The new one had positive results on the rats, but the old one... well, it grew. Like this, really." The skin had crawled its way up Aunt Marge's arm by now, looking like elbow length gloves rather than true skin.

Rita had begun to hyperventilate. "Oh my god, what do we do?"

"No need to panic, you just need to take the scalpel and cut it off. It won't hurt, as the nerves aren't connected to mine yet."

"That's disgusting! Why can't you do it?"

"Cut all the way up my own arm? I can do it, but not safely. Now hurry, before the incision you'll need to make gets any more complicated."

Rita grabbed the scalpel that Aunt Marge pointed to, and held her breath as she pinched the loose flesh at the bicep of the synthetic glove, and cut from bicep to fingertip. Digging her fingers under the incision, she peeled the fake skin from her aunt's arm, and tossed it into the bio waste bin to her left. Aunt Marge's skin was a bit pink, but seemed no worse for the wear, other than the initial incision on her hand.

Aunt Marge smiled at Rita. "Well, you look like you've had enough experimentation for one day. We can try again tomorrow."

"Maybe without the mistakes tomorrow?" Rita muttered.

Aunt Marge chuckled, and they both headed up the stairs for birthday cake.
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