A cold, metallic light reflected off the sterile walls of the room. Subterranean, dull, indifferent. Just another in the side-by-side series of rooms that made up the medical facility.
The woman lay on the table in the centre of the room, thick straps creating violent indentations in her flesh. Her slight form was covered only by a thin, blue sheet. An array of tools glinted menacingly on the steel tray near her head.
“Are the straps really necessary?” the doctor asked his assistant dryly, peering over his magnification lenses. “She’s got enough sedative in her bloodstream to take down someone twice her size.”
“If you saw what she did to Nicholls, you’d be glad there’s anything that could keep her down. Bitch is smarter than she looks,” the assistant replied bitterly.
“Well then. Let’s begin, shall we?”
Her consciousness seemed to be suspended in a thin, viscous liquid. Bubbles of memory floated sluggishly to the surface.
A face twisted with hatred.
She awoke in her own bed, twisting and flailing as though locked in combat. The sweat-stained sheets had knotted together, causing a surge of panic. Gradually, the familiar aspect of the tiny room established itself, and her pulse ceased its jagged rhythm.
Breathe. Again. That’s better.
She was peripherally aware of the pain coursing through every joint, but she couldn’t deal with that yet. Gingerly, she stretched out an arm to unwind the sheets from her legs. Sweet Creator, the marks. A riot of blue and purple encircled both wrists. She brought her trembling arms closer to her eyes. The precision of the outline suggested that she’d been bound at some point. But how?
As she tried to remember, a white-hot shard of pain slid behind her left eye, blurring the room, causing her to bury her head in the pillow. She lay still for several moments, allowing the ripples of agony to dissipate.
Once the pain subsided, she slipped her feet free from the sheets. As she suspected, similar bruises snaked around her ankles. Obviously, she had been taken. Could it have been Generis? But why leave her alive, if that was the case? And more importantly, were her precautions, her defenses, good enough? The cost of failure was inconceivably high.
OK. Calm down, Ani. Assess the situation.
Carefully, she lowered her feet to the floor. One, two. Steadying herself against the side of the sleeping unit, she rose, faltering towards the room’s single mirror, dreading what she might find. A pale oval face with a sheen of sweat. A dark tangle of hair, plastered against her scalp and neck. Intense brown eyes flashed from beneath brows that still appeared to be raised in terror. But no facial injuries, no scarring. And it was most definitely her face that appeared in the reflection. It wasn’t unknown for Generis to simply appropriate a person’s identity, alter their features, rearrange the biological profile, and leave the original consciousness to cope as best they could in the junk-gene underbelly of Flor. That particular method always guaranteed the most prolonged, painful death possible. And they always watched.
She probed the back of her neck and scalp with searching fingers. Nothing. Or, nothing obvious, anyway. She’d need to pay a visit to Ethan for a full sweep before resuming her work. Her phone was on the table, right where she’d left it the night before. Hands shaking, she texted Ethan their code for a possible integrity compromise, with a request for a thorough checkup: “Gone With the Wind.”
Almost immediately, he responded with a location. Of course, to any outside observer it would have looked like a string of nonsensical digits. Each stronghold was identified by a constantly-shifting numerical identifier, and physical locations were rotated routinely.
As she selected an outfit from the clothing scattered haphazardly about the room, she took stock of her possessions, ensuring nothing was missing. Everything was precisely in its place. That, in itself, was disturbing. The last location she remembered being before waking up in a panic was here. And she was sure she wouldn’t have gone without a struggle. The studied precision with which they’d replaced every single item meant they’d been observing. Making notes. Not that she kept anything important in her sleeping quarters; she wasn’t stupid. You never shit where you eat, she mused as she pulled the grey T-shirt over her head. No. The ideas contained in her mind, the proofs, were as safe as the organization itself. They were stored in her very essence, inextricably woven into her conscious and unconscious mind, courtesy of a clever little implanted device. It was completely passive, easy to use, and virtually undetectable. The basic premise was stolen from a major Corp, of course, and built by some of the organization’s best and brightest. A wry smile twisted her lips as she contemplated the irony of using the Corps’ own technology to aid in their downfall.
She stepped into the crush of the street, wrapping her arms around her body, head down. Thankfully, Ethan’s current lab wasn’t too far away. Weaving through the throng of human flesh with a quick step, she soon found herself in a deserted side street, opposite of what appeared to be a sheet of corrugated aluminum. Skipping from foot to foot in the perpetual twilight of the city, she waited for entry, knowing that she was being observed. Suddenly, a portal appeared in the aluminum, atoms seeming to simply dissipate.
She stepped into the dusky lab, crammed floor to ceiling with technological gadgetry.
“Ani! What the fuck? What the fuck? Where the hell have you been?” Ethan’s voice took on an adenoidal, whining tone. “Oh Creator, never mind. Let’s get you into the scanner.” She was hurried into a pod that was approximately the same shape and size of a sleeping unit.
She always found Ethan’s brisk, precise movements comforting. They belied the otherwise frenzied presence that animated his tiny frame. As she settled into the scanner, she allowed a fleeting sense of amusement to distract her. How Ethan managed to transport his massive collection of equipment from hiding place to hiding place was a mystery. Nobody at the organization was ever able to figure it out. When asked, Ethan simply winked and responded with “It’s all a matter of physics, my friend.”
Multicoloured reflections from the readout screen danced across Ethan’s thick-rimmed glasses. Ani suspected the glasses were a vanity — nobody had needed external visual correction for generations. File it under the long list of Ethan’s quirks, she thought lazily. Her eyes began to close of their own accord. Utter physical exhaustion was nipping the edges of her consciousness, warning her that sleep was going to come soon, whether she liked it or not.
“Hmm, well, someone’s been digging around in here,” Ethan mused. Ani’s eyes lurched open. “But it doesn’t look like they found it,” he quickly added. “Even if they did, there’s no way they’d be able to piece together the data. It’d be like trying to pull solid carbon out of thin air with a pair of rusty tweezers.”
“Are you sure?” she whispered. She could feel the adrenaline rush starting to wear off, leaving a feeling of aching emptiness in its wake.
“It’s a mathematical certainty. I’d recognize the Generis surgical signature anywhere. Bunch of hacks wouldn’t know elegance if it stuck its nose right up their assholes. Other than that, you’re dehydrated, starving, exhausted, and internally bruised in more places than I can count. Sleepy time, Ani.”
As she nodded, she could already feel the precise, chemical embrace of the sedative coursing through her, smoothing out the jagged edges of pain, wrapping her in soft, sweet obscurity.
To be continued.