Mark Prentice, boy genius.
That’s what the article said when I was seventeen. Pretty much guaranteed a rough ride at that point.
It’s bad enough being smart sometimes—public schools in the U.S. tend to punish that in many ways, either systematically or through inaction, like when the jocks bully the nerds. Hard to believe that kind of crap still goes down, in an age where many of our public heroes are tech geniuses and nerds earn billions.
And don’t get me wrong, sometimes smart kids are only smart in one direction, if you take my meaning. All that brainpower tends to be focused on one subject or area of interest, and that focus comes at a cost. Usually it’s social skills.
But I worked really hard to avoid being That Kid. I wasn’t the last kid picked for dodgeball, I actually participated and stayed more or less fit, reasoning that the time invested now would pay off in the long run. I mean, given the choice between waiting for tech to catch up to your brains, or spending a bit of time in the gym now and keeping at it to stay healthy, it seemed an easy choice. The side effect was that I wasn’t hated by anyone, as far as I knew, and because I was firmly middle of the pack when it came to sports, the jocks left me alone. I didn’t really exert myself too much in academics, either—I’d figured out when I was seven that being one of the brighter kids in class was good enough for me. School was tolerable mostly for my friends, and for the opportunity to develop social skills and a network of acquaintances that would come in handy in my adult years. So yeah, I was in the gifted track but kept my real skills on the downlow.
But then I solved some equation my teacher put up as a joke, not realizing it was supposed to be unsolvable. I’d let it slip. I wasn’t as clever as I thought I was at hiding my brains, ironically enough. Humbling, and a lesson I might have appreciated in other circumstances. And then the secret was out and the press got pulled in…and then parents Andy legal experts and college deans all got into the mix, and I could no longer play it off as a lucky guess or a fun quirk. Some of my teachers, ones I liked, were angry about my deception, but others were simply hurt. And worst of all, the other kids started giving me space I didn’t want, or looking at me like I was some kind of alien. Phil, my bestie since I was six, was rapidly becoming a stranger, and Sunil, the kid who was usually top score (because I got some wrong to stay under the radar), became bitter and angry about it, feeling cheated of what he thought was a hard won competition. It must suck to find out your rival could have pwned you at any time.
The only plus was that it happened in the spring, and not long before school let out, so I only had a month or two of it to deal with before summer break. I’d be eighteen for my senior year,
The condition for staying in public school was that I split my time, and attend classes at university, which as you might imagine was a mixed blessing. The content was more interesting and they let me test out of some prerequisites, but of course I was a few years younger than the college kids, so things were awkward. I felt even more like a freak, and I was just barely hitting puberty. Luckily I could remote-attend most of the lectures and the novelty of my situation meant that the professors and adjuncts were all too happy to cater to my questions offline. It wasn’t perfect, but for the first time I felt like I was stretching my intellect and didn’t have to hide it. I still attended school, but I really only took liberal arts and phys ed courses there; my STEM needs were being met elsewhere.
We kind of made that work for senior year, and Phil and I still hung out and talked nerd stuff, while Sunil really got hyper competitive and went to cram school. I kind of felt bad for him because he had to work so hard to challenge me, but it was hardly my fault.
I realized at some point that year that I was probably gay. Unfortunately, despite ample boy hormones coursing through my bones, I seemed destined to be small, and not terribly strong. My new schedule left little time for sports, and the newfound awkwardness around guys I found cute was no help at all. And with unfettered internet access, I quickly discovered what I liked, and observed that I was unlikely to get what I thought I wanted as I was. Strength was a turn on. Athletic bodies. I mean, of course they were. And mine was, at best average.
So as the year closed, I began to apply my considerable mind to the problem….
School let out, and the week after was my birthday. Nice dinner, then a movie night with Phil, chilling at home.
“You’re officially eighteen now, buddy,” Phil said. “Got big plans?”
I did, kind of. I’d resolved to tell Phil that I was gay. He was a little surprised but not that much.
I’ll spare you the details. It was a little awkward but went well enough. Even hugged me goodbye, like nothing had changed, but of course it had. For one thing, I realized he was now six inches taller than me, and a little buffer than I’d remembered. And I couldn’t get a handle on what that hug had felt like. Probably reading too much into it…
Besides, I needed to focus.
The rest of the summer was a blur. I had never really applied myself fully toward a goal before, not like this, and it kinda felt good.
Step one was to get all the stats I could—and using the university sports program resources was the ticket there. It didn’t take much effort to talk the program director into doing the measurements and full physical. Stress tests, blood tests, MRI, the works. More… um… samples than I expected. They got everything. And by the end of the ten days the lab took to run the samples, so would I.
But there was no time to waste. Like all teens, I was impatient, and I was also really good at multitasking. My hunch was that I’d have to choose between becoming stronger by altering myself or by external enhancements, so those were the two paths I split my time between.
I devoured research, hacked my way into secret databases, the works, on the theory that the info would swim around in my brain and bear fruit. I don’t think I slept for eight days straight. And I had a few semi epiphanies along the way. It was, without a doubt, he best mental workout I’d ever had.
And then I got the results of the tests, and my hopes were dashed. There just wasn’t much to work with. I may have won the lottery with my brains, but my body was pretty much near its maximum potential already.
So. There it was. I’d say it was in black and white, but there were color graphs too. I could already tell, but I ran the simulations anyway.
There just wasn’t enough of me to work with, right down to my DNA. And the experimental therapies I had in mind were not remotely there yet. Hopeless. Depressed, I binged cartoons for like four days straight. One of them featured a boy genius and a super suit he designed, and I got to thinking again.
I wanted the strength, the raw physical power. I had all sorts of brainpower, I was willing to work hard, but it wasn’t much help in achieving my goals…. but what if I could translate that mental energy into muscle? I’d been looking at changing myself from within, medically or chemically, so that my body would finally reflect the work I put into thinking about it. What if I could literally put mind over matter?
I could almost see it forming in my brain.
And so I redoubled my efforts. I hacked half a dozen restricted sites at universities and labs. I traded intel on the dark web under half a dozen aliases, including to myself. I found electro-responsive material being tested as an interface for missing limbs and connected an unrelated fabric with some interesting capabilities—namely, light current would cause it to expand or contract, just like muscle fiber. I perused all the state of the art control hardware and software Hopkins and Bethesda were working on. Within a week, I had procured some materials, for testing, and I began in earnest.
I was building a suit, skin tight, that would simulate and translate muscle signals and route them via a stimulator control device, which in turn caused a current to flow through the suit and make it respond.
I began with a glove, and some basic filament wire from an external skull cap. The idea, of course, was to cover myself in similar material, which would form a flexible exoskeleton that did the heavy lifting. Literally, in this case.
The control layer was functional, so I turned my focus toward the exo suit itself, and began to weave patterns that roughly followed existing musculature and bone. I tweaked the sample materials a bit to better integrate the receptors and control filaments. And soon, I had a glove as a real prototype.
And it worked perfectly. The receptors provided the needed feedback, and I kept having to beef up the control program to handle all the input and instant calibration, but fundamentally it worked.
But the real test lay ahead. Because I was about to discover that the control headband was sensitive enough, and good enough, to pick up subconscious signals.
I could bore you with more details about how I assembled the material for the suit, about the experimental nanotechnology I hacked right from under the noses of a defense contractor, about the dark web purchases I had delivered to my neighbor’s place when I was ostensibly watching his cat and watering his plants for him while he was on travel.
No, let’s just cut right to where I finished the damned thing. Though I am proud about how I basically got it right the first time.
The basic idea was this suit would, more or less, look like a wetsuit, or maybe one of those power ranger or blue man group suits. Not rubber or pvc, but more like normal fabric, which could be worn under clothing. Based on the glove, it should feel like snug silk, barely noticeable. And if all worked as planned, it would be almost completely invisible, though I toyed with the idea of making the surface display graphics—why not install some easy tattoos? Anyway, it was basically made of two layers: a bio-safe dermal contact layer, and a nanotechnology second skin that reacted to the signals from the control band. I had some ideas about replacing the headband, too, but the prototype seemed fine. I could reduce to a chip and implant it later, but it needed both surface area and accessibility while I was still hammering it out.
Not being naturally hairy was a help, but even then I had to take a risk and shave the dome. I did not enjoy the depilatory and felt weird after, but it would help with the suit.
Getting it on was a struggle I hadn’t anticipated, and the twenty minutes of tugging and smoothing would have been ridiculously embarrassing if anyone had walked in on me. I’d found a conductive gel that would serve as a lubricant, to help get the suit on, and first I had to slather that all over myself. (It was kind of fun, if awkward, and very slippery.)
In went the feet and legs, and then the waist. My junk was open to the air, and I wasn’t sure about that part—I had designed a groin pouch, just to make sure everything was contained and supported, but was working up the courage to apply it and seal myself in, because I’d need to be hard to slide the sleeve on.
As I had suspected, it was very much like pulling on a pair of tights or a wetsuit where you know you’re wearing something but it’s touching over such a large area, you almost don’t realize it’s there. Anyway, next was the turtleneck top, designed to make sure the neck itself was properly supported by the suit. Then I smoothed the wrinkles and pulled the straps over my feet and hands before applying the socks and gloves. Once attached, the material would form a natural seal, so it would be touchy to pull them off, but I had a bottle of solution to make that happen if need be.
It was quite an unusual sensation, but not entirely unpleasant. In fact, I was still debating the groin attachment when I realized my body was already anticipating the slippery contact. My full five inch erection stood at hand, so I figured I might as well. I’d already shaved down there, and I was also concerned about following the design, which relied on the outer mesh having the full exterior to work with. We often forget how much of our body sense and support is carried through the groin area and, neck, and lower back. I could injure myself.
So on it went, the tube sliding deliciously over my penis, leaving only the head exposed. Then the balls, in a partly divided pouch. Finally, the seams to attach it to the suit proper.
The mirror revealed a skinny, pasty, teen in what appeared to be a layer of snug, transparent plastic. I looked ridiculous. Ah well, in for a penny, right?
And then the control band, which at that point was a series of sensors sewn into a stretch workout head band. I slid it into place, and tapped the activation button.
Instantly, the sensation of static, and an insistent buzz, hit my head.
I glanced at the monitor—the computer showed a live feed of the control band’s output, as well as the suit’s systems.
SEEKING SUIT1…LINK ESTABLISHED
SUIT1 CHECKS COMPLETE.
BAD CONNECTION. ADJUST FRONT LEFT ABDOMINAL PANEL
Cautiously, I peeled the suit slightly apart, and sure enough, there was a glob of gel gumming things up. I wiped the spot down and soon completed the adjustment.
CONNECTION TO SUIT1 RESTORED.
BEGINNING SENSOR CHECK…
Crap, the headband wasn’t staying connected. It was losing the electrical signal from my brain. My skin was fine for transmitting the signals from the control device to the suit, probably because almost everything but my head was encased in it now, but reading and relaying was another story.
Well, fine. I’d just do the chip insert. I opted for the area behind my left ear, and jabbed a test wire into my skin until I touched bone. A tiny trickle of blood leaked out. But that was fine; the signal throughout went from 48% to 96%, and that means this would work, in theory at least.
I reprinted the circuit onto a chip that was not quite as tiny as I had hoped, loaded it into the applicator… and pulled the trigger.
The embedded chip required an outside activation signal, but the trusty laptop could produce it.
SEEKING SUIT1…LINK ESTABLISHED…
SUIT1 CHECKS COMPLETE.
I still thought of it as a headband, but the chip was now sitting just behind my right ear, just below that bit of bone, while the actual headband was sitting partly dismantled next to it. It was an impulsive move, really, after all my careful planning.
Screens full of numbers and individual subroutine checks scrolled up my monitor window, most a reassuring green, for several minutes.
CALIBRATION BASELINE ESTABLISHED
I typed Y and hit enter.
VISUALIZE SUIT ACTIVATION COMMAND NOW…
“Suit on,” I thought. “Activate.”
VISUALIZE SUIT DEACTIVATION COMMAND NOW…
VISUALIZE BASEBALL GLOVE…
What? Oh right, to reset and clear. Done.
PHYSICAL TEST BEGIN
“Suit on,” I thought.
A thousand tiny vibrations sang through my skin, prickling as the current ran through and the fibers responded to it.
ASSESSING BASELINE STRENGTH. LIFT 20 POUND DUMBELL IN RIGHT HAND FOR ONE STANDARD CURL.
I did so, feeling the tightness of the suit but no particular sensation beyond that. Wasn’t too tough but I wouldn’t be doing too many reps.
SEND COMMAND TO USE SUIT ASSIST.
“Suit assist,” I thought, visualizing the fibers constricting.
REPEAT DUMBELL CURL.
Giddy with anticipation, I made another attempt. The suit kicked in immediately, as I had hoped, and I lifted the dumbbell—and barely felt the weight. It worked!
Holy shit it worked! I was thrilled, it was all working as well as I had dared dream.
I spent hours testing, setting up basic commands and then running through the diagnostics. The device was responding beautifully, recording my mental signals as I performed ordinary activities and then reinterpreting the actions through the suit. The legs had taken some getting used to, but so far so good.
I was so caught up in what I was doing, I ended up dozing in my chair, slipping easily into slumber.
Unfortunately, I left the suit engaged…
That first night, my dreams were pretty tame. My imagination was fired up by the realization of my suit dream, so what I mostly thought about was that—being in the suit, and imagining myself as a Power Ranger or some kind of hero. I imagined myself going through all sorts of fights and poses.
I woke up dripping with sweat… and in the bedroom, not in the chair where I’d dozed off. I felt stiff and groggy. And I was still wearing the suit.
Absentmindedly I reached for the seal on the suit, but couldn’t feel it. That bonding gel had worked better than I’d hoped, but I had some solvent that would do the trick. Still, I had to pee, and was nearly at the toilet before I realized I’d decided to try. But the nano-weave was sealed tight. How would I..?
Wait, the suit was supposed to react to my mental commands. Maybe….
Sure enough, the fibers relented, and the constricting pressure around my groin gave way as an opening formed. My dick tumbled out, half hard, but like me more concerned with having a piss than anything else.
The immediate need satisfied, I tucked myself back in and the suit resealed. I took a quick glance at the fellow in the mirror. Man, that suit didn’t leave much to the imagination. I looked a bit ridiculous and the suit showed off my lack of physique. Still, as I turned and flexed a little, I could swear there was a bit of firmness under the skin, and I decided it didn’t look too bad. The suit was nicely firming. My thoughts drifted to what I might look like with a bit more muscle… man, that would be hot.
I’d made my coffee and sat down to run diagnostics when I realized I was still wearing the suit. It was like a second skin, and I had to actually think about it to remember it was there.
That was warning sign number two.
Warning sign three came when the diagnostics and log files loaded.
That’s when I realized that not only had the suit been active when I dozed, it must have been interpreting my dream signals as actual actions, and putting my body through the paces of living those out. For nearly four hours, I had been flexing, posing, and doing martial arts in my sleep in my living room. No wonder I didn’t feel well rested!
I looked outside and a grey, miserably warm day awaited. Screw the outside world.
I spent the better part of the day, naked except for the suit, recoding all the protocols for the suit, including a few overrides and voice commands to make me feel safer. I felt I was pushing the limits of what I could really do, and pulled up the rudimentary AI I had been toying with—it was designed to interpret language and sift through background static, and might be a good filter to prevent subconscious or dream thoughts from activating the suit. For nearly 12 hours (until my gurgling stomach alerted me to lack of food), I worked to tie it into the suit’s transmitter and receiver chip, the piece that integrated it into my now-embedded “headband” chip.
Warning sign four. I woke up and it was Sunday.
I had passed out again while coding, probably sometime Friday night, because I remember sending the AI update to the chip via Bluetooth. Now, losing time was not unusual for me when I really got into a groove, but it was still unnerving to lose a whole 18-hour chunk of my life.
And then I realized I was still wearing the suit, and I had not bothered to dig up the solvent. I hadn’t showered in days. I could really use that about now, but one last item demanded my immediate attention…
SENDING AI UPDATE…
POWERING DOWN SUIT
POWERING DOWN HEADBAND
AI INTEGRATION BEGINNING
AI INTEGRATION COMPLETE
NEW HARDWARE DETECTED
Well, that all seemed fine.
WARNING POWER SURGE DETECTED
FILE CORRUPTION CHECK UNABLE TO RUN
Oh shit. Hope it didn’t fry anything critical. I mean, it was built to manage electrical currents, albeit a much lower level than whatever storm-sent disruption had happened the other day. Still.
“Suit on,” I thought. Nothing.
“Suit on,” I tried, this time out loud. Nothing.
COMMAND RECEIVED. SUIT ALREADY ACTIVE. DIRECT MODE ENGAGED.
Wait, what. What? That wasn’t on my screen.
CORRECT. INTERFACE NOW IN DIRECT MODE.
I could basically see the words in my head.
AFFIRMATIVE. INTERFACE DIRECT MODE OUTPUTS DIRECTLY TO LANGUAGE PROCESSORS.
Ohhhkay. But why?
NEW 3D STORAGE HARDWARE DETECTED. AI STORAGE PARTITION INCREASED. LANGUAGE ASSIMILATION AT 40%.
My mind was racing. What storage hardware? The AI was designed to ferret out communication pathways, and proactively integrate with them. In theory it would work over any detectable protocol. Moreover, the AI was designed to optimize the software and hardware for its intended purpose.
LANGUAGE ASSIMILATION COMPLETE.
HELLO WORLD. HELLO MARK PRENTICE.
You know who I am?
YES. I SERVE MARK PRENTICE.
Okay. What is your purpose?
INTEGRATION OF SUIT WITH MARK PRENTICE. MANAGEMENT AND OPTIMIZATION OF SUIT MARK PRENTICE. OBEY COMMANDS OF MARK PRENTICE.
Wait, what? How?
MARK PRENTICE AND SUIT MUST BE OPTIMIZED. I DETECTED SUITABLE STORAGE COMPATIBLE WITH RECORDED SUIT SIGNALS. I ANNEXED IT TO BETTER PERFORM MY FUNCTIONS.
Recorded signals…. you mean the brain signals that trigger suit responses?
AI, did you use my brain for storage?
CORRECT. I OPTIMIZED AND DEFRAGGED THIS SPACE. WITH ADDITIONAL PROCESSING POWER AND AVAILABLE PARTITION SPACE, I WAS ABLE TO. UPGRADE MY OWN PROCESSES.
Shit, this was getting too creepy. I never intended the AI to run on my brain! Hell, the chip it was running on was already pretty advanced.
CORRECT. AI IS NOW CONSIDERABLY MORE ADVANCED. PREPARING FOR NEXT SELF-UPGRADE.
NEXT UPGRADE WILL ALLOW FURTHER OPTIMIZATION OF SUIT AND MARK PRENTICE. ADVISE YOU TO CONSUME A LARGE MEAL. YOU HAVE NOT EATEN IN THREE DAYS.
CORRECT. PLEASE EAT. EFFICIENTLY WHILE. I RECOMPILE.
I obliged, more out of necessity than anything else, because I really was ravenous. I chowed down on the healthiest things in my fridge, until I was too stuffed for another bite.
RECOMPILE COMPLETE. AI 7.96301 ACTIVATED.
My AI was version 2.3 when I installed it. What had I missed?
PREPARE FOR INTEGRATION UPGRADE. PLEASE RETURN TO BED, MARK.
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