Tag Archives: cyborg

Twenty Percent, Jasmine Aird

His body arcs through the air, slamming into the brick wall. I wince. The part of me that once felt pain is fairly certain that would hurt

‘Bitch,’ he says, spitting blood on the asphalt. He glares at me, something that might have been more menacing if his eyes weren’t puffy and blue.

He rises to his feet and manages—despite the state he’s in—to pull a knife from his boot. Why can’t they ever just stay down? He stumbles towards me, half falling, like the drunks I see leaving the Serpent’s Nest at 3 am. I take pity. I’ll make this quick. I bring my right fist up and pop him squarely on the nose. Metal bites bone. He slumps down, face landing in a puddle. This time he stays there.

I pull out my pistol and shoot him once in the back of the head.

He deserves this, I remind myself, as I attempt to scrape off a stray piece of brain matter, which is sticking like gum to the edge of my boot. He’s one of them—a Purist. They all deserve this.

As I stand over the man’s body, I catch my reflection in the puddle. At first, she looks almost normal: a tall woman in her twenties with choppy hair that falls to her chin. Then you notice something’s off, something’s different. Perhaps it’s the lack of pigmentation, freckles and body hair. Or maybe it’s the newly formed gash on her right arm stretching from elbow to wrist; the synthetic flesh peels away exposing the titanium alloy underneath. It’s a good thing he went for my right arm instead of my left. If he had cut my left arm then he would have drawn blood.

‘Well done Eve,’ Alfie’s voice chimes in my ear. If I turn the dial beneath my earlobe I can adjust his accent and language. Today he’s British, tomorrow he’ll probably be South African. These are the things I do for amusement.

‘Maybe this time I’ll get paid,’ I say, as I light up a smoke, a habit that Alfie disapproves of despite the fact that it cannot harm the synthetic tissue in my lungs.

‘I’m afraid that’s unlikely, as 80% of your body is composed of Genesis technology, you are only 20% human and are therefore classified by state law as property. Genesis is not in the habit of paying its property.’

‘I was being sarcastic, Alfie.’

‘I am not programmed to detect sarcasm. I do however know several jokes. Would you like to hear one?’

‘That won’t be necessary,’ I say, as I pull out a hipflask—another habit that Alfie disapproves of—and begin pouring the whisky over the body.

I close my eyes for a moment of silence. Like raising a glass or lighting a candle, this is my small way of paying tribute to the dead—whether they deserve it or not. Once, I might have crossed myself or bowed my head in prayer. But those days are over; I abandoned such beliefs shortly after my transmutation. It’s difficult to hold out for an afterlife when my current state of purgatory isn’t exactly heaven. So instead, I suck down the last draw of my cigarette, flick the lit end onto the corpse and turn away.

The alley falls behind me as I begin manoeuvring my way through a series of back streets. The night air brushes over me, raising hairs on my left arm—my human arm. There are no streetlights in this part of Eden, not that I need one. My cat eyes slip into UV vision, pouring over the alleyway, revealing its secrets, like the urine staining the vandalised brickwork and the semen spattered across the cement. I cringe. If I had a stomach it would be turning.

‘I’m sending you the coordinates for your next mission,’ Alfie says. ‘Your objective is to interrogate the merchant, Abel Zane. He’s a known Purist sympathiser. Genesis suspects he’s in league with your targets.’

‘Who’s the target?’

‘A Purist, who has recently been involved in the infiltration and destruction of a large shipment of Genesis tech. Your orders are to dispatch of the target.’

Dispatch. A small part of me, the part that’s still human, grows uneasy at these words. I swallow her down—along with a healthy nip from my flask—and nod my head.

‘And Eve, if you fail to complete this mission then according to Genesis protoc—’

‘You’ll pull my plug, I know, you tell me every time.’

I turn the corner onto the main drag. The City of Eden draws me in like a cigarette. My eyes are immersed in colour. The browns and greys of the alleyway peel away to reveal a world doused in LED light. High-rise buildings line each side of the street, their spires slice through the smog which hangs over the city like a bad cold you can’t shake. Billboards and digital signage layer the buildings like body armour. The flashing lights and whirling colours cloud even my enhanced vision. I feel a headache coming on. Yes, I still get those.

I begin walking down the street, wading my way through the sea of people. I’m not interested in what’s above, I’m interested in what lies beneath. The cacophony of the Night Bazaar cocoons me. Stall after stall is pitched on the pavement. Merchants stand to attention, exchanging goods for digits, hollering to anyone who passes. I see one woman examining a pile of crinkled silks and another man sizing up a heavy phase rifle. Illegal, yes, but who’s going to stop him? The police stroll by with their hands in their pockets; they don’t care what’s sold so long as the merchants give them their cut.

‘Eve, I urge you to take caution, recent data suggests that there is a strong presence of Purist sympathisers in this sector of Eden.’

‘You don’t say,’ I reply, as I notice a Genesis billboard above me. The fruit-bearing tree—which is Genesis’ corporate logo—has been vandalised. Splayed across the trunk, in blood-red letters, is the Purist motto:

 

 

 

FORBIDDEN FRUIT

 

 

 

Genesis will not be pleased—and neither am I. If I’m not careful, I’ll be nothing more than a burning pile of circuits and wires. I unroll my sleeves, pull my hood down over my head and continue walking.

I pass a spice merchant’s tent. The scents of sumac, saffron and garlic waft through the air. I wrinkle my nose—I still have one of those, though the sensory receptors in my nostrils more closely resemble a dog’s than they do a human. I spy a hooded pair of men standing in a darkened corner between stalls, dealing in who knows what illicit substance. The underbelly of Eden comes to life in the bazaar. Anything can be bought here—for the right price.

‘Love, who wants some love? Swallow this pill and you’ll be swooning!’ a man calls from his stall, as I turn into a quieter section of the markets. I stop and pretend to examine his goods. Bottled pills in every colour line his table, each promising a different emotion. And they say I’m the one who can’t feel.

‘How about some love for the lovely lady?’ the merchant asks, stroking his beard.

‘While I’m fresh out of love, that’s not what I’m in the market for, Abel,’ I say as I lower my hood.

‘Just as well,’ he sneers, realising what I am. His left hand disappears beneath the counter, probably in search of a weapon. ‘Your kind aren’t welcome here, mutt.’

‘Come now, that’s no way to make friends. All I want to do is talk, you have information I need.’

‘I said you’re not wel—’

‘And I said you have information.’ I reach out and wrap my fingers around his neck. If I squeeze tight enough his bones will pop. ‘Drop your weapon.’

He obeys, his left-hand reappearing above the counter.

‘Where are they?’

‘I don’t know wha—’

‘Where are they?’ I tighten my grip and his face turns red. A man from a nearby stall turns his head.

Abel’s mouth flattens into a hard line, an expression I recognise all too well. This one will be a tough nut to crack. I’ll have to try a different tactic. My eyes roll over the contents of his stall. Behind the counter—sandwiched between two bottles of neon green pills—is a picture frame.

‘She’s beautiful,’ I say, nodding towards the frame where a little girl, roughly five years of age, is spinning around in circles. ‘I bet she’s very dear to you.’

‘Okay, okay.’ He raises his palms up, pleading. I release him. That was easy.

He rubs his neck as he gives me the address. I lean in towards him, so close that I can smell his dinner on his breath. ‘Thanks for the tip-off. And remember, I know your face… and hers.’ Abel quivers as I turn away.

‘Now that I’ve given you what you want, can Genesis guarantee our safety?’ he calls after my retreating form.

‘I’m afraid not,’ I say, as I continue walking. ‘We don’t negotiate with Purists.’

I turn back onto the main drag, heading for the exit. I spot another cyborg as I’m walking. His legs move in stiff strides like a marching soldier, though he’s no fighter: his clothes are covered in plaster and dust. He’s probably a tradesman, a blue-collared worker. Maybe he injured himself once; had a bad fall or was hit by a bus. Then, some company swooped in and patched him up. Now he works for free, just like me. Though, judging by his parts—which are primitive at best—he’s no piece of Genesis tech, just a cheap knockoff. His head isn’t hooded either, so he’s easy to pick out of the crowd. And I’m not the only one who sees him.

‘Abomination!’ one woman screams.

‘Mongrel!’ another man spits.

I watch, from beneath my hood, as heads begin to turn and people start to notice him. They move forward, circling him, like a pack of wolves playing with its prey. He tries to push past them but it’s no use. They lunge at him: kicking, shoving and spitting. Even with his outdated parts he is stronger than them, not that it helps—he’s outnumbered.

I take a step forward.

‘I strongly advise against that,’ Alfie says. ‘If you were to proceed with that course of action I cannot foresee any possible outcome that would result in your survival.’

As much as I’d like to ignore this prediction, I obey, and step back, clenching my fists. I watch the cyborg struggle against the crowd; his outstretched fingers reach above them, grasping at the air as if he’s a drowning man who is trying to break the surface. Yet he only succeeds in being pulled further beneath.

‘I hate them, Alfie,’ I say, as one man draws a Hot Blade from his coat. He raises the weapon and slashes at the cyborg; the edge of the blade pulses with thermal energy as he brings it down, severing a metallic limb.

‘It would appear the feeling is mutual,’ Alfie says, as the man raises the prosthetic above his head, holding it up like a trophy.

The crowd cheers and rushes forward, following suit. They tear at the cyborg with anything they can get their hands on: knives, fingers and even teeth. Two officers stand off to the side of the rabble with their hands on their hips. They don’t move. They don’t intervene. They don’t have to. A cyborg is property, not a human. Property damage is punishable by corporate security, not the police. According to the law, no crime is being committed.

There’s nothing I can do here except stand aside and be useless, so I turn away and continue walking.

 

 

 

‘This is taking forever, Alfie,’ I say, as I drop my cigarette into the growing pile of butts that lay at my feet. ‘I should just go in.’

I’m hidden in the alcove of an old printing factory, which, like most of its kind, had shut down years before. Across the street, a number of shadows move behind a closed set of blinds. I can see them, but they can’t see me; I have the element of surprise. Now would be the perfect opportunity.

‘You overestimate your abilities, Eve. I am detecting a number of human beings present within the building. You have one target, not twenty.’

Movement stirs across from me. The doors open and a pair of men saunter out, heading for their vehicle. I recognise my target from the footage Alfie sent me; a tall man with shaggy blonde hair. The two men hop into their car, an old model that doesn’t fly. I guess Purists don’t get paid much either.

They start the engine and take off down the street. I follow their vehicle, which isn’t difficult—I had placed a tracker underneath the rear bumper while I was waiting. After several blocks, I arrive outside a dingy building, which looks—in polite terms—like a well-functioning crack house.

‘Eve, my data confirms that this property belongs to Abel Zane.’

‘The merchant?’ I say as I pull out my pistol. ‘I guess they found out we spoke.’

I cross the street and slip inside. Despite the building’s rough exterior, I’m standing in a typical family home, complete with children’s toys and school photos.

‘Please, don’t hurt us, it wasn’t my fault, they threatened my daughter!’

I race into the kitchen, where, I can see, Abel has been shot. He leans against the wall, holding his side, which is bleeding heavily. My target is standing over him, gun raised and ready for round two.

I’m about to intervene when I spot the other Purist reaching beneath the kitchen table. He yanks at the ankle of the little girl, who kicks him in the face with a fluoro pink boot. I raise my gun towards this man and shoot. He slumps down onto the tiles, leaving the girl alone.

My target’s attention snaps towards me, followed by his gun. He fires, which is a waste of time; the bullets bounce off my chest like oil from a hot pan. He fires again and again and again. I stand there and take it, like a boxer takes a punch, waiting for him to run out of ammo. He reaches the last bullet; it cuts through the air and slams into my left arm—my human arm. I cry out in pain, something I haven’t felt since I was human. I stare down at the torn flesh. That’s going to leave a mark.

I raise my gun and shoot. He hits the floor and stays there.

‘My target is dead, Alfie,’ I say, as I press down on my arm, applying pressure to the wound.

‘Genesis requires that you dispatch of all the Purists present.’

‘And the kid?’ I ask, holding my breath.

‘She is not a Purist.’

I exhale and walk across the room to stand over Abel’s slumped form. He glares at me as I raise my gun towards his head. He’s still holding his side, not that this helps—he’ll bleed out within minutes without proper medical attention. I glance at his daughter, who is peering at me from beneath the table, her face wet with tears. I could still let him go, for her sake, if not for his. Perhaps, if he somehow made it to the nearest hospital—and Genesis didn’t already have someone else there waiting for him—he might live. I would die, of course. My dear friend Alfie would have my plug pulled in seconds. But maybe this is bigger than that. Maybe this is bigger than me.

‘Damn you, mutt,’ he spits.

But then again, maybe not. A part of me screams. I swallow her down and pull the trigger.

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After Life, Caitlyn Radice

Ink stared down at her exposed metallic forearm. Her eyes travelled up to the jagged scar at her wrist, and she wondered if it was still considered a scar if the skin was synthetic. Frowning, she touched her wrist, and tried to remember if it felt the same when she was human. Her blue eye zoomed in on her elbow joint, focused on the dust that had collected. She decided to clean it properly later on.

Picking up her satchel and slinging it over her shoulder, she shifted a heavy, metal vase so it sat more comfortably against her side. It clinked against a set of little, glass bowls. Today, she had been fairly successful in her search. That is what she did each day: searched the suburban ruins for anything of value. She often found frames with ruined photos. Ink would always stare at the faces in them, despite how sick it made her feel. Leaving these alone, she would collect other household belongings. If she was lucky, she would find jewellery.

Ink had managed to find a paperback today. The pages were yellowed with age and dirt, and the cover looked as though it had been heavily buffed with sandpaper. The title was barely legible: P de & re udi e. Due to the phasing out of physical books towards the start of the war, one in such good condition would be worth a lot. But Ink would not trade it for anything.

Tugging on the strap of the satchel, she decided that she had searched enough of the suburban ruins for the day, and headed back into the city. The sky behind the remaining buildings was orange with the end of the day. The small number of cyborgs who now inhabited the city had cleaned it up as best they could after the war, but they had not yet been able to rebuild. The skyline often gave Ink the impression of decay. It often felt weirdly hollow.

As she made her way through the crumbled structures of the central city, her reminder popped up in her vision: feel. Two parts of her mind argued with each other, one groaning about how stupid her reminder was, and the other reminding her that she had set it up because it was important. Stopping her walk, she let the breeze trail over her skin and through her hair. She focused on her skin, and tried to feel the heat from the setting sun. Ink thought she felt warmer, though she was unsure if she was only imagining it. She had spent plenty of time in the sun as a human, often in small hidden beaches. The oceans were now completely toxic with waste and chemicals.

Ink swiped away the reminder, feeling a longing for salt and sand. She felt a tug on her bag and immediately spun around to attack the offender. Z, expecting this, grabbed her wrist and stopped her from blowing him up.

‘Easy there, Lightning,’ he gave her a grin.

‘Why do you always do that?’

Z peered into her satchel. ‘You know, there’s no prize for finding the most stuff in one day. What happens when you find all the things there are to be found? What will you do then?’

‘Maybe I’ll make it my personal mission to annoy you all day, as you seem to do for me,’ Ink pulled the bag out of his grasp and continued her walk.

Z laughed and fell into step with her. ‘You headed to Nova’s?’

Ink nodded, and let Z ramble about the day’s happenings. Everything was always so exciting to him. She wondered what the inside of his head might look like. Ink noticed that his brown hair flopped down over his forehead, slightly obscuring his vision.

‘Why do you style your hair that way?’

Z took a second to catch on. ‘I like the way it looks. Don’t you think it looks good?’

Ink shrugged. ‘Does it matter how it looks? Doesn’t it bother you?’

‘No, and no,’ Z said with an easy smile. ‘Not everyone is as practical as you.’ He gestured to her cropped black hair. ‘And it took me ages to grow it to this length. Before, I used to have to get a haircut every fortnight.’

‘Hm,’ Ink replied, looking at him with her natural brown eye. Her right eye—the robotic one—contrasted greatly with it, glowing bright blue. Z’s eyes were both blue. The right was the same glowing blue as Ink’s, and the left was a natural sky blue. He looked almost completely human in the sunlight.

‘Don’t act like you don’t care about your appearance,’ Z said. Ink sighed. ‘If you didn’t care, why would you get your ears pierced? And don’t think I can’t see your eyeliner.’

‘I get it, Z.’

When Z spoke again, it was with a softer tone than Ink was expecting. ‘I know you’re mad about your arm being exposed like that.’

Frowning, Ink looked away.

‘Hey, I hear the scientists are getting pretty close to testing skin repairs. They’ll be able to fix it soon.’

‘Yeah, maybe.’

After a few moments of silence, Z said, ‘I like your arm the way it is. So does Nova.’

Ink did not respond to this, and they walked in silence to Nova’s shop. The shop was a tiny place, located on a narrow street deep in the central city, squashed between two destroyed buildings. Nova lived in the loft above the shop. On the left side, a makeshift food trade was set up in the remains of a restaurant. The other side was only the foundation and one wall of a building. Travellers often set up there to trade. When it rained, weeks would go by without anyone passing through, leaving all of them bored and Nova’s store packed with the valuables Ink had collected. Ink and Z were about to let themselves in before they heard a shout from above.

‘Nova?’ Ink called.

‘Up here!’ Nova was perched on the gutter above them. ‘There was a hole in my roof, I just finished patching it up.’

Nova’s store was mostly undamaged, though she had done a lot of repairs since settling in.

‘Good, come down,’ Ink said, ‘I brought you a gift.’

Despite being able to jump down from the roof, Nova climbed down slowly. ‘So, you know that hideous floral cat thing? The one that ornament guy gave me a few months back?’

Ink and Z both laughed. Once, a man with only ornamental animals to trade had stayed on the foundation for over a fortnight. He would exchange the ornaments for food. They all found him extremely odd, as he hardly blinked and thought that only prepackaged food was worth trading for, despite it being bad for their bodies.

‘Of course,’ Z said. ‘Completely unforgettable.’

‘Well,’ Nova hopped down to the ground, ‘I finally got rid of it today!’

‘Did you toss it in the trash, like I told you to?’ Ink asked.

‘No, someone actually wanted it,’ Nova shrugged.

‘I wonder what kind of nut-case…’ Ink mused, digging through her bag.

Nova peered into the bag with wide eyes, looking more childlike than usual. ‘What did you find?’

Ink held up a finger, finding the book beneath the metal vase. She presented it to Nova with false dramatics, before giving her a soft smile.

‘No way… Where did you find this?’ Nova gently leafed through the yellow pages. ‘It’s in such good condition… Thank you!’

‘It’s no big deal, Nova,’ Ink said.

Nova shushed her. ‘Yes, it is. I’ll be right back.’

Ink and Z followed Nova inside the shop, a little bell tinkled as the door opened. As she skipped down through the shelves to put the book with her collection, Ink watched her blonde head disappear into the back room.

Z chuckled. ‘It’s no big deal, Nova,’ he repeated, doing a poor imitation of Ink.

‘Shut up, Z,’ Ink glared at him.

‘You make it so easy,’ Z laughed. ‘Going all soft when you see her.’

Ink huffed in response.

‘Don’t be mad, at least you have someone.’

‘I do not have someone,’ Ink felt exasperated. ‘I just care about her.’

Z rolled his eyes. ‘You do have—’

Ink shushed him as they heard Nova shut the back door. ‘Hey! Guess what Chef brought me today! Ever since they were able to get stable crops growing, he’s been experimenting with recipes.’

She returned carrying a bowl of biscuits. ‘They’re delicious, you have to try one.’

Ink eyed the bowl suspiciously. Z immediately grabbed one, and gave her a look. ‘Oh, come on, Ink. You’re still not doing that anti-food thing, are you?’

‘I’m not anti-food,’ Ink said defensively. ‘I just don’t see the point. Just because I have a functioning digestive system doesn’t mean I have to use it.’

‘The point is,’ Z managed around a mouth full of biscuit, ‘that they’re delicious.’

‘You don’t have to have one,’ Nova said, ‘but they are really good.’

‘Come on,’ Z dragged out the words, ‘you’re gonna die of starvation.’

Ink snorted. ‘That’s literally just not going to happen. Unless those biscuits are hiding powerful explosives, none of us are going anywhere.’

Z sighed theatrically, holding out a biscuit to her. ‘Enough with the doom and gloom. Just eat the damn biscuit.’

‘Only to shut you up.’ Ink took it from him. She took a tentative bite. It was crumbly, with a citrusy flavour. Lemons. It was not really sweet nor savoury. She thought it may have been something she would have enjoyed before. Both of her friends were looking at her expectantly. Ink shrugged. ‘It’s good.’

Z cheered dramatically. Ink rolled her eyes at him. Nova caught her eye and smiled.

 

When the sun had long disappeared beyond the horizon, Nova was immersed in her new paperback and Z was looking through a deck of faded tarot cards. Ink, having finished stocking the shelves with her latest finds, climbed up to the loft and helped herself to another biscuit.

Z pulled himself up and stretched. ‘Time for bed.’

‘Do you want to stay here tonight?’ Nova asked.

‘Nah, don’t want my neighbours to worry.’

‘Ink? Are you going to stay?’ Nova asked both of them to stay almost every night. Ink thought that she might not like staying by herself, or that she worried for them. Either way, Ink usually declined.

‘Um, yeah,’ Ink said, ‘if that’s okay?’

‘Of course it is.’ Nova’s smile was bright, but Ink was sure she saw a glimpse of relief in her eyes.

Z raised his eyebrows at Ink from the doorway. ‘See you tomorrow.’

‘Bye, Z!’ Nova called as the door swung shut.

Ink sat by the window and watched him walk out into the quiet main street. She considered what he had said earlier, about her having someone, and wondered whether that was something he thought about often.

‘Tea?’ Nova had moved to the small kitchen.

‘Please.’

Ink watched as Nova filled the kettle. ‘Will you be alright on the couch?’

‘Yeah, that’s fine,’ Ink nodded. She was unsure about whether she would sleep. She just knew she did not want to be alone after the nightmare she had suffered through the night before. Ink had seen herself waking up, being addressed by her code: NK653, and told that she had completed the transition from human to cyborg. The scene changed from a man thanking her for her service, to her standing in the middle of a burning city, sending buildings crumbling with blue heat from her palms. She remembered hearing a voice inside her begging her to stop. The dream ended when her attacks turned to people, and it had shocked her awake.

Ink’s system shuddered at the memory.

‘You okay?’ Nova asked, handing her a chipped mug.

Ink nodded. Silence settled between them as Nova went back to her book. After a long while, Ink decided to ask what was on her mind. ‘Do you ever… feel bad?’

Nova gave her a questioning look.

‘Like, guilty? For things you did?’

Nova thought for a moment, then closed the book. ‘Sometimes, but it’s not our fault.’

‘Isn’t it?’ Ink asked. ‘We signed up for it.’

‘We did,’ Nova nodded, ‘but we couldn’t have known it would end up like this.’

Ink shook her head. ‘We should have known. There was no other way.’

‘The humans set off the En-X, not us. They destroyed themselves, and we were under their control. We didn’t know what we were doing.’

‘But we did,’ Ink argued. ‘I knew when I signed up. Just because I, personally, didn’t set off the gas doesn’t mean I didn’t play a part in it. I can’t sleep without seeing the horrible things I did. The faces of people…’

‘You can’t blame yourself for the whole war. Everyone thought they were doing what was right. Just because it turned out like this doesn’t mean it couldn’t have turned out differently.’

Ink started to feel irritated. ‘But it didn’t turn out differently. We helped cause Earth-wide human extinction. We are responsible for that. I can’t just pretend to be a human when I killed them.’ Ink looked down at her metal forearm. ‘I’m not even human. None of us are.’

‘Okay, so we’re responsible for it,’ Nova said. ‘There’s nothing we can do about it now. We were human. Before this. Part of that is still in you.’

Ink did not have a response to this. Nova got up and sat next to her. Grabbing one of Ink’s hands, Nova held it tight and looked her in the eyes. Ink ignored the glowing blue on the right and looked into Nova’s hazel eye.

‘I know you don’t see the point,’ Nova said, ‘but we’re what’s left. It’s not all bad, so why shouldn’t we try to make a life? We can’t die, we can’t have children, it’s just us. Unless a meteor hits the earth and destroys us.’ Ink cracked a smile at that. ‘Don’t put so much pressure on yourself to feel a certain way.’

Ink nodded. Its not all bad. She mulled over this, wondering if it were true, and let the silence settle for a few long moments before breaking it. ‘Do you remember much about being human?’

‘Some things,’ Nova paused for a moment. ‘I remember collecting stuff. Books. Candles. I had so many candles. I used to have this one that smelled like cherries and flowers and sunset. I never burned it because I wanted to save it for a special occasion.’ Nova cuddled herself closer to Ink. ‘Do you remember anything?’

‘Some things,’ Ink repeated. ‘I used to love soaps. And lotions. Anything that made my skin smell nice. And I never wanted kids. Just pets.’

‘That sounds nice,’ Nova smiled.

Nova made more tea, and they spoke until the sun started to rise. Ink found herself pulled into Nova’s arms, her head resting against Nova’s shoulder. Nova eventually fell asleep with her empty mug in her lap. As Ink planned where she would go that day, the sinking feeling of guilt washed over her. She would have to see their destruction. Possibly her own destruction.

Placing her empty mug on the window sill, she found a rag and started to clean her exposed elbow joint. As she polished it, she contemplated not going out to the ruins, and doing something different with her time. Ink gazed out the window as the sun climbed into the sky, and thought that maybe Nova was right: it might not be all bad.

 

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>Delete File: Y/N?, Sheriden Goldie

Silver pulls the eyepatch away from her left eye. Her fingers press the skin around the metal protrusions, unable to rub in case her skin should pull away from the edges. She closes her one eye, stretches and feels the slight grind in her shoulders. Metal plates and screws pop over each other. She returns to the screen. Silver aligns her aug-eye’s interface over the display’s and selects ‘upload.’

Feeling behind her ear, Silver slides the memory card out of its slot. The patch of synthetic skin hangs loose, and she imagines she can feel the cool air touching a circuit. All phantom feeling, but she shivers anyway. The frame of the screen has a glowing port that she presses the card into. It zips closed, the download of data starts ticking over at the bottom of the screen. She cracks the plastic seal of a new memory card, and slots it in, pressing the synthetic skin back into place. There is a faint buzz and hiss, as the internal vacuum seals the opening.

A blue icon flashes at the edge of the screen. Silver taps the glass table top, and it opens. Mei’s avatar smiles from the corner of the message box.

Mei: You heading home yet or what?

Silver smiles, without parting her lips. Her fingers draw a circle on the table top, and a keyboard illuminates. Silver types.

Silver: Changing over memory cards, just waiting for the download to finish.

Mei replies with a thumbs up.

A second blue icon flashes. Silver frowns, tapping it open.

Rosalie: Has sent you a parcel.

Rosalie: Wish you were here…

Silver aligns her internal interface.

>Open parcel

>Data received

>Image file received.

>View now? Y/N

The image unfolds, spreading across her screen. Silver feels the lower edge of her eye quiver. The city sprawls behind Rosalie, hugging the base of the mountain. She is standing with her back to the camera, but her head is turned, the sunlight catching red hair and haloing her face. The tear falls hot and quick, and Silver’s hand darts out to catch it.

 

*

 

The phone vibrates on the table. The sound interrupts snores from under the blanket. Silver’s arm reaches for it. Long fingers catch an edge, spinning the phone away. She caterpillars to the edge of the bed, picking up the phone. It’s buzzing stops.

‘Hello?’ she says. Her aug-eye boots.

>Interface activating

>Date: 2567.05.07

>Time: 08:37

>Ready for input

She feels the buzzing through the base of her skull.

‘No, I’m in bed still, it’s my day off remember?’ Her sandpaper voice bounces off the walls. She sits up, swinging heavy legs over the edge of the bed. The blanket slides away, half onto the floor. She doesn’t pick it up.

‘What do you need me to come in for?’ Her fingers trace figure eights around her eyes, sweeping the sleepiness away. She presses her feet into the carpet. The blinds begin to rise as her augmented interface systems boot up. The sunlight creeps up the wall slowly. Silver mutters into the phone. She goes to the alcove that serves as a kitchenette. The coffee machine sputters.

‘Sorry, say that again… Couldn’t hear you…’ The coffee mug trembles in her hand.

>Biometric warning: Breathing – Erratic. Pulse – Increasing. Blood Pressure – Falling.

‘Do you know’ she pauses, waiting for the voice on the other end to finish. ‘Yes, of course, I’ll come in straight away.’

>Biometric systems: Increase fluid intake. Regulate breathing. Sit down.

Silver’s hand still trembles as the coffee drips into the mug. She focuses on the rhythm of her breath: inhale, exhale, repeat. The coffee burns her tongue, and the feeling of lightness behind her eyes begins to fade slowly.

 

Standing outside the precinct, Silver watches the passing traffic. Her aug-eye boxes and tracks the cacophony of movement. Her other eye is bloodshot. Silver slides up the optic cover and wipes the moisture away with an unsteady hand. The cover hides her tears from the other agents inside. She is glad of that. She slides the cover down. The ache in her stomach won’t let up. Her hands tremble, so she pushes them into her pockets. A dark car rolls to a stop.

The last time she had seen Rosalie, outside the hospice, they had fought Rosalie ripped a branch off a Japanese Maple and lunged wildly at Sliver. Stabbing for her face, neck, eyes. She had screamed to turn it off the whole time. The nurses pulled Rosalie away with sad nods. They saw this all the time. They left Silver standing in the garden until a dark car had driven her away. The branch of the Japanese Maple remained cast aside on the manicured lawn.

Silver is drawn back to the present as the car door swings open. Silver realizes it is now dark blue, not the black one she remembered.

‘Sil, is it true?’ Donna’s impeccably coiffed hair, chemically set into a wave, has a distinctly greyer tint than the last time Silver had seen it. Donna’s arms wrap around Silver’s shoulders. At the touch, Silver suddenly feels cold, but her biometrics remain stable.

‘They wouldn’t let me see her…’ She says. Silver’s eye fills with tears, seeping under the edge of the cover. Donna squeezes her shoulders and they walk inside.

 

The room is clean, but the walls were the sort of beige that reminds Silver of stained sheets. Donna sits next to her; a tissue box placed in front of her. Silver plucks one out and holds it under her eye.

‘She hasn’t called home for weeks,’ says Donna, speaking to some other unseen entity.

‘When was the last time you saw her?’ Silver asks.

‘Around June,’ says Donna. Silver waits for her to continue. ‘She came home for a while; continued her treatment remotely. She struggled. We struggled. She asked us not to visit anymore when she went back in.’ Her voice wavers.

‘She sent me a photo,’ says Silver, ‘yesterday. She was standing on a lookout.’

‘That must have been from when she came home. We tried to take her out, get her to see beauty again.’

Silver examines the table top in minute detail.

>Composition: Wood veneer. Polychip filler. Recycled metal frame.

>Structural integrity: 98%

>Projected product lifespan: 150 years

The swirls in the veneer are suddenly shadowed.

‘I’m sorry for your loss.’ Silver looks up at her boss. He is looking back at her, his aug-eye shifting in spirals. He sits in front of Donna, and starts to deliver the speech Silver had heard so many times before, but never from this side of the table. She doesn’t realise she is shaking until Donna touches her hand as they stand to leave. Her boss says, ‘I’ve approved your leave Sil, take some time to process this.’ She mouths words. A waved hand silences her protest.

She mouths words. A waved hand silences her protest.

Outside the precinct, Donna and Silver stand together, waiting for Donna’s car to return.

‘We knew she would die. We expected a call from the hospice. Not this, never like this…’ Says Donna. Silver’s aug-eye boxes and traces the paths of the traffic. It keeps her mind busy, distracted. Donna keeps talking about Rosalie. The disease had eaten away at her body. Leaving her hollow. Her organs were removed bit by bit, replaced by wheezing machines, augmented substitutes, or not at all. Donna sighed, and Silver could feel the aching relief seeping out of her.

‘I’m still going to miss her,’ says Silver.

‘Of course,’ says Donna, ‘call anytime.’ Silver knew she wouldn’t.

 

*

 

The quilted foam of the Sync bed is velvety under Silver’s exposed shoulders. The visor slides down over her face. Her aug-eye syncs up, the optic cover projects scrolling text.

>Archive File Retrieval Commencing

>3…

>2…

>1…

 

There is a shimmer as the visor becomes opaque. Silver lets the screen blur in and out of focus. A wave of nausea passes over, as the images whirl, mixing her own internal interface with the memory bank construct. Vertigo passes as the image stabilises, adjusting to her focus range and muscle triggers.

Her eye watches the visor’s projections of the building’s mainframe through the patch. Her aug-eye follows the paths that light up across the screen. The data-streams of the different departments, all flashing in a disharmonious pattern. She focuses on the archives. Maybe I shouldn’t do this. But her mind is already queuing up the commands through her interface.

>Case File Search: Rosalie Flanagan

>Result: 1 File Found

>Unpacking File…

The report streams out, and Silver feels the bile rise in her throat. The images sear themselves in her brain. The crumpled dress around the withered body. A bare-branched sapling tossed amongst the wind. Chipped dollar-store nail polish, pale fingers, lying curled on the dark road. Silver shivers, and feels the velvet ribs of the bed press against her skin. Her biometrics trigger again.

The visual recording of the investigating agent fasts forwards at a flickering pace. It flashes through the day. Silver lets it run while she reads the coroner’s report.

Cause of death: Asphyxiation

Time of death: 01:35 am

Notes: Victim was pedestrian. Brain chemistry suggests unstable mental state.

The video stream shivers and she is watching the road through a windshield. It skips past the sprawl, through the suburbs, into a driveway, a house. Silver watches the flickering lights of home, children, wife. It keeps all of it, every recording, every minute… The thought runs through her head, repeating. Since the install, since logging the cards…

Her mind is wandering, under watchful sensors, and she finds her own files scrolling across the visor. I shouldn’t. But she lets her mind reach. The data file opens, softly, like petals to the sun. Her rookie days. She was leaving work early. The video skips through and then there she is. Rosalie. Sun-kissed and carrying the rabbit bag she loved. Silver had called it childish, but the nurses had encouraged Rosalie to keep it. We were going to the movies, she thinks, recalling the feeling of Rosalie’s hand pulling her along. They had been happy that day.

Silver felt the edges of the memory caving in, could feel the archive recording, absorbing her feedback. A message rolls across the screen,

>Time to jack out.

She folds the soft edges back in, packing the happy face of Rosalie like an origami crane. Silver tags the memory, filing it away in the archive. She begins to withdraw, mentally pulling away. The archive fades out across the visor. She surfaces, taking a deep breath, the recirculated air tastes metallic at the back of her throat.

‘That was a serious dive, Sil,’ says Mei.

Silver slides the visor away from her face. She ignores Mei standing over the bed and goes to the coffee machine. ‘Keep going like that and you’ll begin to corrupt your memory files, you know?’ Mei’s voice echoes around the archive room. Silver focuses on the dark stream of coffee dribbling into the cup.

‘Mei, has anyone ever deleted their own files?’

‘Sure, sometimes. But you can only delete the parts that aren’t relevant to cases, so they have to be screened before deletion, get all the approvals, you know.’ Mei leans against the edge of the sync bed, arms crossed, while Silver nods her head.

‘Do the file deletions affect the brain  you know, the sync?’

‘Yeah, so we’ve heard, it’s not supposed to.’

‘But…’

‘But people delete files, then in about a month – gone. Completely un-retrievable.’

‘Completely?’

‘Yeah, we tested a group of agents. Zero memory bleeds after deletion. And no memories for them to corrupt.’

Silver picks up the coffee and sips. The steam warms her face, and she can feel the place where her cheek is damp. She wipes away the tear, smearing the sheen across her cheek.

Mei sighs, ‘If you changed both eyes, you wouldn’t have this problem.’

 

*

 

The city sprawls around the base of the mountain. Silver stands, leaning against the railing of the lookout. The sun has dipped below the horizon, and the light haze of the city is growing. A network of nodes, flashing lights, towers, and hubs. Silver’s eye adjusts to the light differential in increments. She feels the cool metal of the railing through her shirt. Here in the quiet stillness, she can feel the miniscule vibrations of her aug-eye. She traces a finger along the ridges of metal framework, all plugged in under the skin. She stares into the valley below. The wind that slides down the mountainside rustles the treetops. The optic processor in her aug-eye works overtime.

I can delete it all. I can forget. If I delete, delete… Rosalie.

>Opening data file…

The ellipses flash in sequence. Opening, unpacking, synthesising. Silver waits, her legs swinging back and forth.

>Files ready for review

A message pops up; Silver had to remain linked to the agency network to access the memory files.

Mei: You can just skim through them you know, then authorise the deletion.

Silver: Thanks, I’ll think about it.

Mei: No one would think badly of you, heaps of people do it, you know…

Silver: I’ll let you know.

Mei: No problem, talk later.

>Open files Y/N?

Silver slides down her optic cover, fixing it over her organic eye. The data begins to unpack, lining up in sequence. She picks one in the middle.

She is staring at Rosalie. The memory’s sense-net begins to overlay and dampen her physical senses. The cold air from the open window raises goosebumps on her skin. Rosalie’s eyes are bloodshot, and there is a dribble of clear mucus under her nose.

‘I hate it!’ she says, ‘why did they do that to you?’ she is running her hands up into her hair. The rise of her jumper exposing the pale belt of skin under the navel. ‘I can’t be here! Not with… that!’

Silver’s own voice cuts through, ‘I had to get the augmentation to move into the force, it wasn’t exactly negotiable!’

Hacking sobs follow. Silver remembers the anger, the heat in her chest. The sense-net enflames her cheeks.

‘I don’t want that!’ Her voice choked around the hacking sobs rising from her chest. She paced, gnawing at her fingertips. ‘What is that? I don’t know if it’s even you anymore!’

‘Of course, it’s me,’ says Silver, the feeling of her stomach falling away bled into her voice.

‘But who else is in there, Sil?’

Rosalie walked across the room. Her hands grabbed Silver’s face. Rosalie put her face close, eyes darting back and forth. Frantic. Searching. Silver slipped a hand up and slid up the optic cover.

‘It’s still me, Rose,’ she said, softly.

‘No, that’s not what I meant…’ More sniffs.

Silver feels the tear. Is that mine or the sense-net? She stops the playback. The overlay of senses lessens, but the tear still rolls down.

She remembers how that argument ended.

They had lain together, for hours, curled close. Silver shut down the aug-eye interface and Rosalie traced figure eights around her eyes. Rosalie had learnt not to press too hard. Skin split from the protrusions bled for days.

Silver felt the tingle in her cheeks as the memory faded out of her vision. It would take all of it. She thinks. It would take all of her part of me away. Her lips are dry, and she licks them, feeling the numbness in her gums, the tightness in her throat. She wonders if Mei is still monitoring her.

 

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