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In this world, there are a small percentage of humans with "special" abilities. The source of these abilities is alien genetic meddling for their own cryptic reasons (though the characters don't know it yet) so evolution is not a point there. The time frame (for technology levels) would be present day.

I'd like for one of these abilities to be the ability to quickly grow a sort of organic body armor (the need for that ability has a reason in-story), not necessary for all the body (for example, they could grow only vambraces or similar). The armor would grow/appear when needed (in combat situations, for example) and, once the danger has passed, the armor would either molt or be reabsorbed by the body.

What I'm more interested is in the composition of the armor itself. The armor should be puncture and bullet-proof, at least with regular weapons (armor-piercing weapons may exist but be expensive). It will be great if it could be some sort of anti-conductive or reflecting properties to give some protection against energy-based weapons (that the characters encounter later).

Initially, I was thinking in something made of keratin or keratin-like substance (chitin? spider silk?) that might work similarly to current-day bulletproof vests, so even if the armor blocks a bullet, the flesh within may get bruised. Then I thought about some kind of organic polymer with viscoelastic properties or something similar.

I know I'm getting more into X-Men territory, but is there any way something like that might be somewhat plausible? Or at least plausible enough for my readers to suspend belief and keep reading and not just roll their eyes and throw my story to the wastebasket. My story is more soft SF than hard SF, but I'd like some believability.

Please, take into account that I'm an historian, not a chemist or physicist. Thank you!

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  • $\begingroup$ Crocodile armor is made of osteoderms (bones formed in the dermal layer of the skin); the armor of adult crocodiles is impervious to small arms fire -- only high-powered rifles (or machine guns) can pierce it. The only problem is with growing it quickly. $\endgroup$ – AlexP Jun 24 '17 at 22:40
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    $\begingroup$ What's the time frame for the armor to "appear", you want something instantaneous or it could take a few hours? $\endgroup$ – Sasha Jun 24 '17 at 23:48
  • $\begingroup$ Initially, I was thinking about the lines of instantaneous, but taking a bit could work too, as not as is not too long. A couple of hours or so, perhaps. $\endgroup$ – EGJ Jun 24 '17 at 23:54
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I am thinking about something like the desert frogs make: a coat of fast-drying mucus.

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It should be secreted then expand like expanding foam. The end product would look like these guys I found in this video - covered with hard expanding foam.
enter image description here

It is not crazy outrageous. Animals, humans included, are good at making mucus. It is possible to make a lot of mucus very quickly as most people have occasionally experienced. Mucus can harden to a shell-like consistency. If the mucus were hydrated partly with acetone (which is also made in the human body!) it would dry faster. Maybe the volatility of the acetone could confer the expanding property.

This would be a process of some minutes, not seconds. I could imagine the shedding process also to be glandular - maybe secreting some sort of grease or earwax-like substance under the shell?

The toads eat their mucus when they shed it. Waste not want not. You could have your mutant do that too, since he can't really get a whole lot grosser.

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    $\begingroup$ Also note hagfish slime. $\endgroup$ – JDługosz Jun 25 '17 at 0:30
  • $\begingroup$ Acetone is smelly, poisonous and carcinogenic. The smell would advertise its presence. The other properties could be fatal to the mutant. More genes need to be mutated for its survival. Enzymes could be an alternative for armor removal. $\endgroup$ – a4android Jun 25 '17 at 4:26
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    $\begingroup$ +1 - this is probably the only way to get some sort of armor that doesn't take hours to grow (which would be everything bone or shell/chitin based) $\endgroup$ – Nicolai Jun 25 '17 at 4:33
  • $\begingroup$ @a4android: acetone is smelly but no more poisonous than ethanol and not carcinogenic. We make acetone when the body shifts to ketogenic metabolism. In the medical literature there are 2 described intoxications: one accidental when they used acetone to remove a cast from a girl, and one an ingestion by an alcoholic person. Both recovered completely. $\endgroup$ – Willk Jun 25 '17 at 14:20
  • $\begingroup$ @Will Thanks for the correction. I may have misremembered the safety precautions from chemistry lab work. Had a fun time checking out details about acetone. Nice to be better informed. $\endgroup$ – a4android Jun 26 '17 at 2:12
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I think a spider-silk-like one would be interesting and easily explainable. Attempts to bio-engineer spider-silk is also something people would recognizance from contemporary articles and such. It also makes it easy to research, because you can just find analogues in real-life spider silk.

You could have bio-engineered glands spread out over the body to activate it quickly, and release it quickly with enzymes.

If it'd be a good plot point the enzymes could be used as a weapon against other people's bio-armor! Otherwise you could just explain that doesn't work because the enzymes breaks down "seams" in the armor, and therefore it only works from the inside.

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