The whole city stared as Zoe walked by covered completely in fabric. It was the middle of July, and the peak of the worst heatwave in a decade. She wore polyester slacks, a turtleneck sweater, a hat pulled low, and gloves – the kind made of thick nylon.
She stopped in front of a dark-windowed skyscraper. She checked the paper gripped firmly in her right glove. After a long pause, she disappeared inside, leaving the passersby to gossip about the next curious thing they found.
Twenty floors up, Zoe emerged from the elevator into a glass-lined hall. The office her note indicated was up ahead. There wasn’t a name on the door, just a painted number and space for more. She heard movement on the other side, and went in.
A man behind a desk gave her a knowing smile.
“You can go right in Ms. Phoenix.”
She hated that nickname. The one the papers gave her after she declined to give her real one. She thanked the receptionist anyway. He pointed to a room off the lobby. Zoe thanked him again, though inside she wondered why she’d even agreed to meet at all.
The room was sparsely furnished with a bare metal table and two chairs. Zoe took the empty one. Across the table sat an older man in a suit that matched his graying beard.
He leaned forward to shake her hand.
“It’s good to finally meet you in person. I’m Mr. Janesh. You can take the gloves off. Everything in here is plastic or metal.”
“You’re not either of those. If I shook your hand, your skin would turn thickly calloused while at the same time feeling raw as a rug burn.”
The man leaned back again.
“How long would something like that take?”
“Only a second. The outer layers of human skin are fresh, comparatively.”
“What about, say, a steak? Or if this desk was made of wood?”
“I try to keep away from those things.”
“The article said as much. I’m talking hypotheticals. What can your powers do?”
Zoe did her best to get comfortable.
“When I was twelve, my cotton sheets began sprouting. I became a vegetarian when the steak grew fur in my mouth while I chewed. Plants, at least, simply taste fresher when I eat them, though I have to avoid all seeds.”
“And a wooden desk?”
“Would be a tree within a day, if I touched it that long.”
A crooked grin spread across the man’s face.
“Have you ever tried anything… older?”
“I don’t ‘try’ for any of this, Mr. Janesh.”
“You’ve never tried to bring back a pet? Or a loved one who died?”
“And risk hurting them in the process? I’ve heard that my touch is painful. And what if I accidentally grow a cancerous cell out of control and they die a second horrible death?”
“I’m sorry. That is a terrible burden. Would you consider trying it on an animal you were not attached to? Something that could help science, perhaps?”
“Wait, this isn’t another animal testing facility trying to cut costs, is it?”
His laugh was friendly.
“No, no! I have something much more interesting in mind. A project that could advance our knowledge of the truly ancient. And, I’m willing to bring you in as a full partner in this endeavor: fifty percent of the profits and a number of other benefits.”
Zoe snapped to attention. The loggers who wanted to cut down the same tree a thousand times offered her two percent. The government officials all but demanded she bring their soldiers back for a similar purpose. Nobody had said anything that didn’t sound like exploitation, until now.
“What… did you have in mind?”
Mr. Janesh tented his fingers and smiled wider as he continued.
“How do you feel about dinosaurs?”