Swylce

Musings and Writing of GG Alexander

Weaponised (Mechanical Augmentation)

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 The second smoldering target flipped down, and the third one on the range popped up. Serrah turned to the plexiglass wall behind her.

‘Daddy, this is boring!’

‘Just keep at it, sweetheart,’ he called through the intercom. ‘It’s a demonstration, not a test.’

With a groan, she pointed her left arm at the target. The skin along her wrist and forearm broke apart, revealing the metal innards. Her hand flipped aside.

BANG. The gun in her artificial limb fired, and again blew the head off the target twenty metres away. Another one. BANG, back to her smoking right hand. Fifth target. Thoroughly tired with such child’s play, she lifted her right leg up and another concealed gun flipped out of her knee-cap. It only took off the target’s ear, so she lifted the other leg, took the time to aim, and got it in the centre of the neck. The mistake would look bad to the suits Daddy was with, but she could only have made that shot first time if she had on the aiming program in her eye-com – and that would have only made this exercise even more skull-numbingly boring.

‘Okay, princess, we’re done. Have fun the rest of the day, and I’ll meet you at the hub for dinner, all right?’

‘Whatever,’ she said, striding to the range door. He’d be late, as always. That’s the way it went whenever he showed her off. He’d spend all day lunching with them, charming them, before bringing them to the range, and then he’d spend all evening showing them his workshop and charming them even more, before diving in for the kill.

She wondered which layer of corporate bureaucracy he was in now. It was a never-ending stairway of well-dressed people and red tape, and it got on her nerves having to show off her arms to every single group of them. But it would all be worth it, he said, once it was over. Once he had full backing, he wouldn’t need to hide her secret anymore. ‘And then we can finally get justice,’ he’d said.

Serrah walked out of the range by the side exit – the one that looked like a janitor’s closet, made specially so she could bypass the strict security of the front. It took most people months to get the permit for the range, with multiple psychological checks before they would allow anyone near a gun. Ammo was precious, after all, and bullets extremely dangerous for the ship. She didn’t get why anyone would bother with the hassle. The range was only like playing loud, recoil-heavy darts.

The door came out by 5th Avenue, on the shopping district. She perked up as she saw the new quarterly ranges in the windows: bright floaty dresses, shorts, sandals. The heat in the districts had been edging up over the past week, as the temperature controls in HQ simulated the beginning of summer. The ceiling displayed blue sky and scattered white clouds. Maybe she would get Daddy to take her to the agricultural district this week. When it was summer, nothing was nicer than to go out into the fields and feel the artificial wind buffet your hair, trying to catch the dandelion seeds as they whirred past.

‘Miss Marsden,’ came a voice behind her, ‘shouldn’t you be in school?’

She rolled her eyes before turning around. In a district of fourteen thousand people, how did anyone manage to find her so easily?

‘I’ve been at a doctor’s appointment, Mrs Holborn,’ she said to her elderly neighbour. The lady sniffed and looked her up and down.

‘Well, I suppose. But surely your limbs are fine by now? You seem to be at an appointment every second week.’

‘I’m a growing girl, ma’am. Bye!’

As she walked away, Mrs Holborn called after her:

‘I’ll be talking to your father about this, young lady! If you’ve been missing school…’

Serrah laughed to herself at the old bat’s naivete, skipping down a side street. Daddy had barely been to school, he’d said. He didn’t put much faith in it, except for meeting friends. Better to teach yourself, and question everything, he said, instead of having facts fossilised in your brain. After all, hackers teach themselves, and since they don’t play by the rules, they’re always finding new ways to wreak havoc. We have to do the same.

She decided to go to the observation deck. It was always better to visit it during the day, when everyone else was busy and the deck was quiet. So she ran to the edge of the shopping district, swiped her wristband across the lockpad, and half-stepped, half-swung herself down the escalator. It was a steep, white-walled passage down to the observation deck. She couldn’t wait for the day she was tall enough to reach the ceiling when standing on the escalator rail. Some of the boys in her class could do it already, and Daddy said she would be as tall as her mother in a year or two.

The doors at the bottom opened as she jumped off the last step, and the vista of space spread before her. Black, endless. There was a faint glimmer far away on one side that could be an asteroid, a dwarf planet, or some gleaming space junk. She could see nothing else – only the rest of the Ark, stretching for miles along either side.

It hurt her mind to think of how far they were from anything. Old people like Mrs Holborn still had an inherited anxiety from their forebears, a worry of something going wrong, a fear of extinction. But we would’ve been extinct if we’d stayed on Earth anyway, Serrah’s father had said. His generation, and hers, had grown up with faith in the Ark’s hundreds of checks and failsafes. The problem was people who would sabotage that for their own ends.

‘When we left Earth, everyone was on the observation deck,’ he had said during one of his impromptu history lessons. ‘It was packed as people watched the only home we’d ever known disappear out of sight. Then every time we passed by a planet, everyone would crowd here again.’

It had been a long time since that happened. The vast expanse between Uranus and Neptune was all Serrah had ever known. And they were still years and years away from their destination. She was born on the ship, she’d live on the ship, and die on the ship, without ever feeling natural atmosphere, and without ever seeing real sky, real earth, real wind.

She stepped up to the vista, where the projection of space outside was just as sharp as reality. Once upon a time, humans had used windows on everything, easily broken glass instead of photorealistic displays onto solid walls. Submarines were one of the few exceptions. One of her favourite lessons had been about submarines, and the ocean on Earth. Her great-grandfather’s diaries had said that space was like the bottom of the ocean: lightless, weightless, disorienting. She couldn’t imagine what ocean was like: water as far as the eye could see and with no bottom, moving because of an orbiting moon miles away in the sky. She couldn’t imagine it. Even the sea life district held only water tanks with visible bottoms and sides.

‘You wouldn’t have been able to go in the ocean anyway,’ Daddy said one night when she was younger, and he was adjusting the circuits in her left arm while she talked about Earth and gestured with the right. ‘I wouldn’t risk the damage salt water could do to you. If your arms and legs seized up, you could drown.’

That was why she hadn’t been a swimming pool since she was very little. Daddy thought of everything.

It was nice to come here and remember the past, and the mission humanity was on, but Serrah had been given her own mission and decided that the darkness of space was enough for one day. She headed back to the escalators, taking a different passage this time, up to her residential district.

Nufilly, District R18. It was hotter here than the observation deck. Her elbows and knees hurt a little bit as they changed in temperature. She’d need summer adjustment, for when it got hotter. She wondered what it must be like to not have to consider these things. She came onto her street.

The hubs ran in perfect unison on either side, and she looked to see if anyone had changed the skin display on their otherwise identical home. The Grays had changed theirs to pink for Sally’s birthday last week and not changed it back yet. Mr Neilson had changed his from a picture of one ancient Earth building to another slightly-less ancient one. And then there was her house: it still looked its original white, as if it had never been changed, but in truth it was a specially-made skin. Running along the bottom, in tiny cursive writing, was the quote:

Victorious warriors win first and then go to war, while defeated warriors go to war first and then seek to win.

Daddy was weird with quotes like that, but hardly anyone noticed the line down there, and she felt like it was their own little secret that only smart people could notice.

Using her wristband to get in, she flopped down on the couch and tried to decide what to do. She had English homework, and Politics homework as well, but she didn’t want to do that right now. There was nothing on the media centre that she hadn’t watched or listened to. Her friends would be just coming out of school right now, and she didn’t want to listen to their complaints about her skipping class again.

With a sigh, she went to the fridge, hoping something new and tasty had appeared there since this morning, but as she opened the door, the display on the front blinked into life and spoke:

‘Today is: May, 21st. Reminder: Claire’s Birthday. Claire is thirty-nine years old today.’

Serrah froze, blind to the food in front of her. Mom’s birthday. She should probably go see her.

She changed out of her school uniform and left, suddenly feeling like she could do with a rest but knowing she had to go out. Everyone else’s home displays were less fun to look at as she walked further up the street. Everything else was less fun on the way to the crypt.

A door between the two houses at the end of the street opened onto the passageway down to the crypt. She stood on the walkway, no energy to walk along with the moving tiles, as it wound its way between districts, eventually sloping downwards. A few metres from the end of the walkway was a grey arch covered in religious symbols, and quotes in all languages. To the right was a flower kiosk.

‘Some pretty red ones,’ she asked, swiping her wrist against the payment pad. The keep passed her a bunch of red peonies with yellow centres. Not pretty enough, she thought, but it wasn’t right to make a fuss in such a place. She took them and walked under the arch.

Line after line of small white stones with names engraved on them, each standing over a small box of ashes. Flowers sat in vases on either side of the gravestones, the newest and most visited being most overshadowed with petals. Many graves held multiples, with urns on steps above each other, two or three levels, sometimes two to one step. There was little space in front of the memorials for grieving families, but space was at a premium on the ship, after all.

The air was filled with the half-musty scent of old flowers. The air was dimmer than upstairs, and the hush was smothering. A couple was holding hands in front of a new grave, one sobbing at the ground. The only time Serrah ever felt guilty for being rich was when she came here, when she walked past the packed lines and tight packs of mourners, to the door at the end. Behind that door, were the memorial rooms. Three could be hired for anniversaries, so families had privacy to remember their departed. The rest were permanent, and cost more to buy and upkeep than a yearly average wage. But he wouldn’t have settled for anything less, for her.

Serrah came to the room where her mother’s remains and memories lay, and – after a moment’s hesitation – she beeped in. She pushed the door open, and knew immediately that the room was occupied. It was only after she stepped in that she heard the sound of sobbing, and then it was too late.

The memorial room. Lowlit. A tight, “cosy” place. Seating ran along the left and right walls. Along the top above that, were the monitors, playing a continuous, silent loop of a woman with auburn hair, laughing, smiling at the camera, dancing in her wedding dress, holding a baby. On the opposite wall to the door, on the display, there was the box of ashes, and the stone, which read Claire Louise Marsden. Above it was a still photograph of her mother in her early twenties. And underneath, curled up on his seat and sobbing so hard it looked like he might break, was her father.

‘Oh, princess,’ he said, unfurling himself as he saw her, wiping his face. ‘Sorry…I didn’t know if you’d be coming along today. C’mere, let’s get those flowers out.’

She passed him the bouquet and he arranged them in the vase by the stone. Serrah gladly looked away from him to the videos on the walls. They always fascinated her, seeing this mythical woman who gave birth to her caught moving and smiling as if she was still alive.

‘C’mere, sweetheart,’ Daddy said, opening his arms for a hug. ‘Let’s have a look at her.’

Reluctantly, she knelt on the seat beside him and hugged into him. His chest shook as he breathed, juddering against her chin.

‘You see she was beautiful just like you.’

‘I know, Daddy.’

‘And she was the sweetest person you would ever have met. No-one else was like her at all.’

‘Yes, Daddy.’

He pulled back and looked at her. She didn’t like to see her dad all red-faced and weak. Just an hour ago, he had been convincing the richest people in the entire ship to back his secret, illegal contraptions, in the face of governmental punishment – and he did it like it was the easiest thing in the world.

‘Every day you look more and more like her, you know. It’s just – it’s a travesty that you’ll never know your own mother. Nothing’ll ever put that right.’

Serrah said nothing. She felt she had missed nothing. She had friends, other relatives, other women to help her as she went through puberty, to help her with girly, womanly things. For the rest, her father was there. She didn’t need anything else.

They sat in silence and looked at the videos a little longer. Then her father reached out and touched one of the displays, pausing it and swiping it back to the menu, putting the sound on as he did so. He scrolled through the hundreds of hours in the hundreds of days recorded there, until he found one he had marked as important. They were his memories, his recordings, after all.

‘Here,’ he said.

It was just after Serrah had been born. She felt no connection to the ugly goblin-faced creature wrapped up in Claire Marsden’s arms. Her father’s eye was very close to them both and every bag under Claire’s eyes and every wrinkle on Baby Serrah’s fingers was visible.

‘Isn’t she wonderful,’ Claire Marsden whispered, for the baby was asleep.

‘She is,’ came her father’s voice,with the slight distortion of sound that the old eye-coms always had for the wearer’s voice.

‘What should we call her?’

‘You said you wanted to call her Sarah, if she’s a girl.’

‘Maybe. But…she looks too special to be just called Sarah. It needs to be prettier.’

A brief duck in and out of Claire’s face as her father kissed her.

‘Maybe “Serrah”, like S-E-R-R-A-H. That’s pretty.’

Claire Marsden gave a tired laugh.

‘She’ll be correcting how people spell it her whole life. She’ll never forgive us.’

‘So be it,’ said James Marsden, kissing her again.

Serrah’s father stopped the video, pulling her out of the hug, his chest heaving. He struggled to stop the tears, and struggled even harder to speak once he had them under control.

‘I swear to you,’ he said. ‘I’ll make them pay for this. I’ll get the corporations on our side, dive into the rotten heart of the senate, and I’ll find the people who did this to you both. And together, I swear, we’ll kill them.’

‘I know, Daddy,’ Serrah said, tired.

He gave her a kiss on the forehead, kissed Claire’s picture by her grave, and left. Serrah sat, the weight of his grief, his anger, oppressing her. She didn’t like the idea of killing people, but it was what Daddy had said she would do, ever since he started welding the propulsion chambers into her fake arms. She vaguely remembered, when she was six, how she cried and missed her real arms and legs, because these ones were clunky and clumsy and didn’t feel right. Now she knew no better. She didn’t miss her mother. She didn’t miss her limbs.

But she wouldn’t kill for herself. She’d do it for him. So he wouldn’t cry like that anymore.

She looked at the screens around her again, and saw that the last one he had touched had returned to the menu. Serrah had never had the chance to see any of these memories by herself before now, never seen what her mother was like outside of the memorial’s silent loops. She scrolled through and saw the tags on them: Serrah’s first steps, Serrah’s fifth birthday. The last video had been viewed twice as much as the rest. It wasn’t tagged, but she knew what it was: the last time her parents saw each other alive. She scrolled away from it, back into the past, a sick sensation in the back of her throat as she imagined what it must be like for Daddy to rewatch that video, knowing he had had no idea of what was going to happen next.

She started clicking on random videos that she hadn’t seen before. Boring banality. Claire wiped up Baby Serrah’s food from her lips as she made plans for the day with James. They visited parents and friends. Boring, boring. Days and days of boring plans, smiles and hugs. She had to quickly skip past some groping and kissing, and close videos entirely at some parts. Gross.

One random video, not long after she was born. Claire was crying. A baby screamed in another room.

‘I can’t do it, James, I can’t, she won’t stop crying – I can’t do it anymore – I’m not good enough for this –’

‘Sh, sh, it’s alright, it’s alright…’

‘I can’t do it, I can’t!’

The first sign of frailty, of humanity. In bits and pieces, memory by memory, the real Claire Marsden materialised. She cried when she failed. She said she wasn’t good enough for her job, for her family, for her husband. She got angry when she thought she was being criticised. She made crude jokes. The myth fell away, and her mother came out – and she wasn’t the angel that Daddy had always said. But that was worse than if she had been unattainably perfect. Knowing she had been real, seeing what she was, finally made the heartbreak of her death true for Serrah.

She stopped after a while, tired of being in her father’s eyes but still eager to see more of her mother. She went up a menu, on a hunch. Her parents had been two of the first to get the eye-com implants. Surely, while her mother’s body sat there in that urn, her memories still existed in digital form? And she was right. Another folder, another million files: Claire.

She clicked through at random again, this time going oldest to youngest. Childhood. Fighting with friends Serrah had never heard of. It was funny seeing her aunts and grandparents when they were younger. Parties with boys (most fast skipping and closing of videos). Boring work. Then, meeting her father. More smiles and lovey crap. The wedding, which Serrah had seen a hundred times from her father’s point of view, but never from hers. Him, young, handsome, tears in his eyes during the vows. Skip, skip, Baby Serrah, tiredness, crying. Daddy holding her hand as they walked down the street, and Claire saying: ‘Look at that, aren’t you two sweet?’ Toddler Serrah throwing a fit because Daddy was going out to work that night. Toddler Serrah asking what this, and this, and this and that is, her eyes growing as they explained about Earth, and travelling through space, and how she would never see anything like Earth, just as her parents wouldn’t.

‘But it’s not FAIR!’ Toddler Sarah yelled.

‘Well, we had no choice. It’s just the way things had to be.’

Serrah hovered over the last video in Claire’s file. October 10th,Year 102. Unlabelled, but everyone knew what it was: the Hampton Disaster. When they talked about it at school, people would whisper and turn to look at her, look at the seamless joins where her real skin met her fake skin, look at how brilliantly crafted her limbs were, because her father was a genius engineer, didn’t you know, and that’s why they were rich and she had the best arms money could buy.

Serrah took a breath and tapped the file. A moment of hesitation from the computer, and then a message came up:

This file has been blocked for viewing under Ordinance 7014: Judicial Evidence.

Serrah came out of the menu and put it back on the silent video of sixteen-year-old Claire dancing in the park. She kissed her mother’s photograph, rearranged the flowers, and left the memorial room. As she walked through the crypt, she looked again at the graves, and looked around, wondering where the graves were for the rest of the victims of the massacre. No-one was going to avenge them. The culprits had disappeared without trace, leaving thirty dead and more injured besides.

‘It’s likely the disaster was a hacking theft gone wrong,’ her teacher had said. ‘The automated cars were reprogrammed and driven through Hampton in District C31, on the way to a factory storage. The hackers were probably going to take them from there.’

‘The cars were rigged with explosives underneath,’ Daddy had told her. ‘I found the remains stuck to the undercarriage.’

‘The hacking must have gone awry, because the cars crashed into the district wall. One of the gas lines inside was ruptured by one crash, and likely ignited by a torn cable from another crash.’

‘Explosions don’t happen so easily,’ Daddy said. ‘We made all the failsafes in this ship before we left Earth, and we’ve only improved them since then. It was terrorism. The government had been getting threats for weeks, and not done anything. And even now, they haven’t done anything. They’ve swept it under the rug, and pretended it was an accident.’

Deep in her memories, Serrah remembered screaming, smoke, blood and glass scattered on the ground. She more clearly remembered hospital, where she cried because it still felt like her hands and feet were there, though she had only stumps. She remembered Daddy beside her bed, crumpled like he had been today, a tight-wrought ball of grief.

Serrah gave a last look at the crypt, and made her way back upstairs. The light brightened, and the noise grew louder the higher the walkway climbed.

‘Why would anyone do that?’ she had asked – had always asked. ‘If they damaged the ship, the entire human race would die.’

‘Some people don’t think in that wide a scale,’ he said. ‘They only think about what they want now.’

She didn’t understand. She had asked so many questions, and even he didn’t have all the answers.

‘Don’t you worry, Princess,’ Daddy had said, as he fitted the last panel in place. ‘I’ll find them. I already know who some of them are. I’ll learn what’s been hidden from us. When everything’s in place, and I’m deep in their system, we’ll go after them. And together…’

Here he had ruffled her hair.

‘…we’ll make them pay.’

Serrah Marsden, as she walked home, felt her elbows and the weight of the ammunition laden in her arms. Thirty people, all with grieving, lost families like hers, all without justice. For the first time, she felt her father was entirely justified, and felt glad with what he had done to her.

She would be their weapon.

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Written by G.J.

31/07/2013 at 8:44 pm

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