Dear Marguerite…

Dear Marguerite…

by Leanne Fitzpatrick

Designation 372xc64 came out of stasis knowing that today was the day she condemned her kind to death.

On her small pallet deep behind the front lines, she lay listening to the tense silence. Outside the small shack she had, for seven years now, called home, the birds sang; utterly unconcerned with the troubles of humans and cyborgs alike.

On the bedside table a small pocket watch ticked away the seconds. It was old- hundreds of years old but Marguerite had adored it, keeping it in perfect working order. It was a beautiful thing, made in a time when craftsmen took pride in their work and built things to be beautiful and functional.

372xc64 reached out to pick it up. She hesitated, and instead picked up the small locket that rested on the table next to the pocket-watch.

It sprang open at her touch- another piece of history that Marguerite had kept in perfect conditions.

372xc64 turned it in the filtered morning light, watching the silver filigree sparkle and glint.

She had never appreciated these things back then, never thought much about them other than to recall with perfect clarity the make, model and creator. Marguerite had changed that.

Marguerite had changed everything.

New London had entered the twenty-second century with excitement, joie-de-vivre, and an absolute stranglehold on the rest of the country. It was the richest city in the world, boasting the Single Bank, the headquarters of every major brand the globe over, and was the seat of the Coalition- the dual government that worked together to keep humans and cyborgs coexisting, happy and productive.

372xc64 lay on her back in the dusty bed and smiled, cybernetic eyes taking in every faded detail of the photograph. Everyone thought they were so progressive, she thought. Marguerite had been the first to tell it differently. Humans had never lost their tribalistic tendencies- she’d explained in great detail why such an evolutionary trait was a benefit to the human species. To any purely organic species. All humans had done was merely shift the markers from skin colour to species.

“A lion doesn’t fuck a chimpanzee,” she’d said one morning over breakfast. “And that’s because they’re incompatible Humans and cyborgs are the same. There’s no evolutionary benefit- no offspring, no continued genetics.”

Even so, 372xc64 thought as she stood, moving over to the wardrobe and reaching in for the synthetic skin she was going to wear today. It hadn’t stopped them from trying. Many humans had welcomed the cyborgs, and for their part, the cyborgs- newcomers to this world, had integrated as well as they could. Some had excelled, their mechanical parts making them more suited to certain jobs. Of course, there had being hand wringing, and pleas to think of the children, but it had settled down eventually into what was at first and uneasy, but finally a begrudgingly tolerant society.

And so the cycle of humanity continued. Activism, cybernetic rights, marriage equality- although even the cyborgs baulked at that, unable to quantify marriage with creatures so short lived… Until eventually organic and cybernetic peoples reached an equilibrium. Of course there was still the occasional spat between the ultra liberal and ultra conservatives humans over the rights and sensibilities of the cyborgs they crushed in the rush to speak on their behalf.

372xc64 sat on the edge of the bed holding the flesh suit. The sensors in her finger pads told her that it felt exactly like human skin. On some level it revolted her, made her still organic stomach churn. That was the problem with cyborgs, she thought, they were still too human to be exempt from their foibles.

It had been a sunny day in mid June. Three days ago she had sat in an office, filled out the paperwork and received her work permit. As a Bio-Brain she was a semi rarity- retaining some of the human aspects that made them so unpredictable. To some she was close enough to human to pass, to others she was too human to be accepted. She remembered thinking that it was funny how bigotry wormed its way into even the most non-human programming.

Still, she was a Bio-Brain, and that lent itself to a variety of professions. She’d been hoping for nursing, communications or something similar. She was disappointed when they’d handed her a small folder containing details of a well-to-do family and their seven year old daughter.

“A nanny?”

“It’s all we have at the moment,” the cyborg behind the desk had said, the mechanical twang to her voice making possible deception hard to gauge.

Still, it was work… And work was what she wanted to do, so 372xc64 had taken the folder back to her temporary accommodation, read through it several times, and readied herself for the interview the following morning.

The knock came sooner than expected. The latch lifted and the door opened, a heavy set bearded man entering the room before she had stood. He glanced at the skin on the bed and looked away, rubbing the back of his neck.

“They’re ready when you are,” he murmured, voice dry and husky.”

“Thank you, Rene. It works?”

He looked back up at her, at the metal and resin that made up her body and face. He nodded.

“Small one does. Knocks out everything in a three meter radius.”

“It’ll need to be bigger than that.”

“They’re working on it… we’re getting there, it’s just going to take time.”

“And we have plenty of that, don’t we.”

He shrugged, eyes straying back to the skin suit.

“Some more than others,” he says quietly.

She too looks to the skin, aware of what it does to him, knowing the same heartache. She picks it up and hangs it back in the wardrobe. There was still some time before she needed to get dressed- at least she could spare him some pain until then.

They were a beautiful couple. He was tall, broad shouldered and well toned beneath his tailored suit, not yet running to fat. She was Amazonian in stature and demeanour. Her dark skin seemed to glow with love and health, highlighting the bright colours and bold patterns she wore. When she spoke the warmth in her voice seemed to reach out and envelope the listener.

She sat opposite them, her papers in her hand. They hadn’t asked to see them, nor had they even glanced at them. Instead they had welcomed her in, offered her refreshments and introduced her to their daughter.

Small for her age, taking more after her father in appearance and her mother in colouring, with long plaited hair hanging over one shoulder as she stands in her pretty dress, staring at 372xc64 with bright hazel eyes. Her mother’s eyes.

“You’re going to be my servant,” she said, with all the arrogance and impiety of youth.

“No,” 372xc64 had gently corrected. I will be your minder. I will look after you and keep you safe. I will not serve you.”

The child had stared at her, then shrugged and wandered off to play with one of the many toys scattered around the room.

The beautiful couple had looked at one another and smiled. 372xc64 had started work that day.

She walked through the dimly lit tunnels, the weight of the earth pressing down on them, and above that, the vibration of cars whooshing in and out of the city.

She paused and pressed her hand to the dirt walls. The sensors in her fingers told her it was damp and cold. The processors in her olfactory system smelled the dirt, the hint of rot and damp, and the subtle scent of chlorophyll in the air. It stirred memories from a life before her own, memories she couldn’t access directly, but they made her feel happy, nostalgic for a moment and she heard the crash of waves, the sound of a lawn mower and the heat of the sun on her face for the briefest moment.

“You okay?”

She turned to her companion, her sharp eyes taking in the grey hairs in his beard and the way the skin under his eyes sagged. He was a far cry from the man she had first met in the neat town house, with his Amazonian wife and their daughter.

Jessica?”

She looked up from the dress she was mending. The young woman before her had grown tall over the last five years. Her childhood chubbiness hadn’t quite left her, but there was now showing the strength of her mother in her jawline, in how she held herself, though she would never lose the stockiness of her father.

372xc64 smiled, putting down the dress and rising to her feet.

“You will be fine, Marguerite,” she murmured. “You are strong, poised and ready to join your peers.”

“I wish you were coming.”

“I will be waiting here at the end of the night.” She touched her fingertips to the young woman’s cheek and smiled. “You’ve grown so much,” she smiled.

“You’re sure it’ll be okay?”

“Of course. Go and have fun. You can tell me all about it when you get back.”

She passed the hours tidying away discarded clothes, jewellery and shoes, smiling as she remembered a time when she had told a ten year old she would not be a servant.

She paused as light glinted on her wrist. She was so used to the weight of it that her suit sensors had stopped feeling it, but the delicate chain had caught the light, triggering another memory of a miserable day when she and Marguerite had been caught in torrential rain and run through the streets.

That had been the day Marguerite had very solemnly presented her with the small thin box and asked her if she had a name.

372xc64 fingered the thin chain, smiling. When she’d said that no, she had no name, Marguerite had called her Jessica. It had been the first time since her activation anyone had thought to give her something so unique. The bracelet had followed on the first anniversary of her becoming Margeurite’s companion.

There was a teddy bear sitting on the table. The deep emerald ribbon around its neck was beginning to look worn, fraying at the edges. No one trimmed it. No one touched it. Even the least sentimental cyborgs- those whose neural networks were more silicon than grey matter, understood the reverence paid to what was, essentially, a fairground piece of tat. 372xc64 stared at it as the engineers talked to her about output compared to size, the issue being a lack of nuclear power to spark the blast.

“No nuclear,” she said quietly. “We are not terrorists. There will be no human casualty in this.”

She was aware of them looking at one another. They were working up the nerve to tell her, to say it would be impossible without a bigger blast.

“But it will work if it’s within the room?” she asked at last. “If it can be activated manually rather than remotely?”

The hush rippled around the room.

“You’d need to be in the room with it.”

She nodded, still staring at the teddy bear.

“Jessica-”

She turned to him then. The light cast harsh shadows over him, making him look older, more tired.

“I understand your reservations,” she said quietly, “but this was always the plan. There’s no going back now.”

He shook his head, a denial he couldn’t- or wouldn’t voice.

“We can’t boost it any more without a nuclear explosion,” one of the engineers. “You’ll need two. Maybe even three.”

“And they can be activated together?”

“We can make that happen,” this from a physicist. “We’ll need to shield them- make sure they don’t knock each other out…”

“We have the time,” she said quietly. She reached out and picked up the teddy bear “They will fit in here.”

The message came through her personal comms- nothing tangible. There were no words to read or a voice to listen to, just a location and the urgent need to be there.

She was alone. Marguerite was at a conference with work colleagues. Jessica had been happy to see her off, content to spend the day cleaning their small apartment in the city centre. Margeurite’s work was important, her studies intense… And they both knew their friendship was a great comfort to Margeurite’s parents, who worried their daughter had taken on too much- especially when their triplet sons were growing to be feisty and time consuming.

Jessica locked the apartment- there wasn’t really a need. Where they lived was in a good part of the city with no crime. Everyone in their complex was known by name and was friendly. Still, it was a habit from the old life Jessica had never quite managed to shake.

She walked through the city and into the central park. Any other day she would have paused to admire the beauty of the autumn colours and would have collected several specimens to brighten Margeurite’s Spartan desk. Her human companion smiled less now that she was concentrating on her studies, and Jessica was sure that some part of the girl was forgetting she was not a cyborg.

She smiled, thinking of her friend, of their evolving relationship from nanny, to friend to trusted companion and resolved to stop on the way home at the bakery and pick up their favourite pastries. Money was a little tight this month, but it would be worth it to have Marguerite smile and relax.

She turned away from the park, her steps quick and clipped as she made her way to a rendezvous she knew she couldn’t miss. A part of her worried about it, human hormones placing a sense of dread in her stomach her mechanical parts were unable to quell.

An old man sat on a bench, a newspaper folded at his side as he threw breadcrumbs to the pigeons.

She sat on the bench next to him. The newspaper rustled as she brushed against it.

“My apologies,” she murmured, picking it up. She paused, feeling the texture of the thin paper through her sensors. It reminded her of something, long ago.

“You are 372xc64?”

“I am Je- Yes. I am.”

“Thank you for coming so promptly. You are living with Miss Marguerite deLancett.”

It wasn’t a question. She didn’t answer.

“Ms deLancett has a meeting in three days time. You will escort her there and ensure she makes her rendezvous. Do you understand?”

She nodded, giving him a sidelong look. She appreciated the workmanship of his synthetic skin. She could imagine the crepe thinness of the flesh, the feel of wires and carbon fibre so perfectly mimicking blood vessels and bone.

“Who are you?” she asked at last. He stood up.

“You will know the address when it’s time,” he told her. “Don’t be late.”

She nodded again and watched him go, then sat on the bench staring at nothing. When the laughter of a child woke her from her reverie, she remembered nothing of the old man or her reason for being in the park.

“Jessica?”

She turned from the wardrobe.

“You’re going to try and stop me?”

“No I- I just wish it wasn’t you.”

“It should be me.”

She gestured to the bed and he came in. He saw the locket on the bedside table and picket it up, clicking it open as he sat.

He stared at the images, tiny in their designated frames- on the one side a family portrait, when Marguerite was twenty and about to leave for her first year of university. It was a rare moment where the boys had stayed still long enough to be photographed. On the other side, pressed close together and laughing, a picture of Marguerite and Jessica together.

“You loved her,” he said at last.

“I still do.”

“And she loved you.”

“I was her companion for many years. There was a deep affection on both our parts.”

“You don’t need to continue the lie. We knew,” he said at last, smiling down at the locket.

“You never said anything,” 372xc64 murmured, coming to sit next to him. He passed the locket to her.

“There was no need,” he said. “Our little girl was happy… And we’d considered you part of the family for a long time already. We thought you’d tell us when you were ready.”

“It’s my fault,” she said at last.

“We don’t blame you.”

“Neither do you absolve me. Nor should you. I was not myself, but that is no excuse.”

He sighed and took her hand.

She stared down at it, the pistons and components of her fingers clasped loosely in his flesh and bone. She could have pulled away easily had she wanted to. Even if his grip was tight she could have easily overpowered him. She didn’t pull away, wasn’t even sure she wanted to.

“I know you think you have to do this, but there is nothing noble in sacrificing yourself.”

“I am one entity. It is worth the loss.”

“Not to us,” he said. Finally he looked up and faced her. “You’re family, Jessica. We don’t want to lose you. It’s your decision in the end, but you should know there is always a place in our home for you.”

“I don’t deserve that.”

“Yes, you do Jessica.”

“Please don’t call me that. I am Designation 372xc64.”

“No, you aren’t,” he sighed “You’re Jessica deLancett. Whether legally recognised or not, you were Margeurite’s choice and that make you our daughter too. We want you to come home after this… At least think about it, before you go.”

He squeezed her hand. She looked down, focusing on the age spots that had begun to litter his browned hands.

“I will think about it,” she promised. It was all she could trust herself to say.

He nodded, pulled her into a hug and kissed the top of her head. It was a fatherly gesture, one she’d witnessed every time he showed affection to Marguerite She swallowed heavily.

“I’ll leave you to it.” he murmured, pushing himself up. She heard his bones creak. The last seven years had aged him. She stared at the portraits in the locket and then looked up to his retreating back.

Marguerite would be thirty-two now- finished in her studies and working in a laboratory, ready to play her part in society and work to the greater good of its citizens.

It had been tradition as soon as they’d moved to the apartment. Every year on her birthday Marguerite would, begrudgingly, leave the confines of her desk and the two of them would go out together. Jessica balanced the books and squirrelled away the pennies here and there to save up for this night so that they could enjoy one evening of luxury.

Both were resplendent in old, but well maintained and well cut little black dresses. Jessica wore stockings and heels- her carbon legs impervious to the pain of them. Marguerite wore glittery ballet flats, her bare calves shapely. They walked arm in arm, Marguerite excited for the surprise and Jessica enjoying her companion’s excitement.

“Oh,” Marguerite gasped as they turned to face the facade of one of the most exclusive sushi restaurants in town. “Months of potatoes and pasta was worth it,” she smiled.

“I hope so,” Jessica murmured as they entered the plush foyer and were greeted by the maître-d.

Every dish was exquisite and well worth the eye-gouging price. The sake flowed and they celebrated together until, with growing dis-ease in her gut, Jessica leaned forward and whispered that there was one more surprise.

She pulled the skin on slowly, stretching the synthetic material over the carbon fibre panels of her body. It was strange and familiar all at once. She hadn’t worn skin in a long time, and this particular shade she’d refused to wear from the moment she woke up and found what was left of Marguerite lying on the autopsy table next to her.

She paused, leaning forward as her stomach churned and she wished she had the capacity to take a deep, steadying breath.

She could still hear the tone of the monitor as it flat-lined before they plugged her into another machine to wipe her memory.

“Stand.”

She opened her eyes, taking in her surroundings, piecing together the jagged bits of jigsaw floating in her mind.

She sat up, glancing at the remains of a human body on the table adjacent to her. There wasn’t much left. The body cavity had been scraped clean of organs, leaving only skin, nervous and circulatory system, and some of the larger, more easily synthesised bones.

She slid from the table and stood up, looking around with idle curiosity.

“Do you know who you are?”

The name Jessica floated through her mind. She dismissed it.

“Designation 372xc64,” she said, glancing back to the remains.

“Do the left over parts of this human distress you?”

She turned to the old looking cyborg. He looked familiar, though she couldn’t place him.

“No,” she answered. “I am merely curious.”

“Curiosity is a good trait. It’s what answers questions and helps us evolve. Do you have any questions?”

“Not at this time,” she said.

The old cyborg smiled and indicated the exit.

“Please feel free to return if you ever do.”

Even though her hands were steady and her movements methodical, she felt as though she trembled as the pulled the hood up over her skull and over her face. The suit sealed itself leaving a seam around her throat and down her front only cybernetic eyes would notice, and then carefully dressed in a sea-shell cream business pant suit and coral silk shirt.

She didn’t stop feeling naked until the silver bracelet was back on her wrist and it’s familiar weight brushing against her sensors.

When she entered the makeshift laboratory there was a rippling silence as everyone stared. Her jaw was set, her concentration focussed on the teddy bear as it sat on the table, a small pile of stuffing next to it.

“Jessica.”

She turned. Here in the fluorescent lighting the wrinkles and grey hairs were more pronounced.

He smiled. She nodded and moved to the table.

“Is this it?” one of the physicists asked. She nodded, picking up the bear. Nestled inside were three small boxes reflecting the light from their foil wrapping.

“This is it,” she murmured.

She turned full circle taking in every face in the room, committing them to memory. Some of them she’s seen every day for the last seven years. There were some new faces, some missing. Every one of them had been unquestioningly loyal to her and their cause.

“Thank you,” she said. “I owe all of you a great deal.” There were mutters of denial, and she smiled. She would miss them, of that she had no doubt.

A hand touched hers and her smile dropped.

“I’ll take you,” he said. She smiled again. He would be the one she would miss the most.

She sat in the apartment, staring at everything that was somehow familiar. Framed photographs filled the walls- her face, and another woman. Some were posed, others candid little snapshots of time- a frown of concentration, lounging on the sofa. It was all so domestic and somehow it made her soul sick- like she had lost something important to her and didn’t know what.

She spent the evening looking through everything: wardrobes, photo albums, and with every item another memory faded in and out of focus, overriding the reset until even her sockets and hinges shook with a grief she had no way to emote.

The drive into the city was quiet. They didn’t play the radio, and neither had the heart to speak.

People and cyborgs went about their lives, most of them oblivious to the cancer that festered in at the heart. She wondered how many of her mechanical brethren knew where their organic parts came from, whether they actively ignored it or, like she, never questioned it. She wondered when the line had been crossed, from humans improving themselves and correcting with technology what nature had neglected to the harvesting of perfect genetics to the highest bidder in the quest for longer life.

They pulled into a parking bay. There was no point in a good bye. Both knew what would happen, and both knew goodbye was a useless sentiment now.

She opened the door, pausing when his hand gripped her wrist.

“You should know,” he said quietly, voice thick with emotion, “that for better or worse, you were Margeurite’s choice and she was never happier than with you.”

“I don’t deserve those words,” she said quietly. “There’s no forgiveness for what I did.”

“You loved her, as we did. You wouldn’t have willingly hurt her.”

She thought about it for a moment, and then nodded.

“I hope this goes some way to healing the wounds,” she murmured before leaving the car.

“It’s my fault,” she’d told them, sitting in their study days after she’d been reported missing and the trail had gone cold. “I led her to the office. I knew it wasn’t right but I couldn’t stop… I saw them take her apart, sending her organs to those that had placed their orders.”

She said it so matter of factly that they’d merely stared at her in stunned silence. The screaming and crying after that was a blur in her memory and she preferred to keep it that way.

She remembered leaving the house and she remembered sitting in the living room to their apartment when the police came to question her. There was no memory of anything between those two markers.

The police hadn’t arrested her. There was no body, no proof. Security footage had them entering the restaurant, but when they played it forward, everything showed them separating, Marguerite taking a taxi alone as 372xc64 walked the short distance home. Even the processors in her brain matched up with every other form of evidence and she was eliminated as a suspect despite her pleading.

No amount of telling them it was wrong did anything. The taxi driver was adamant Marguerite was the only passenger, and when his microchip was scanned there was no evidence he was lying or that his memory had been tampered with.

372xc64 had sat in her apartment after that, staring at the wall for days, until eventually the knocking on the door had turned to pounding and she’d answered just to make them go away and let her return to the silence.

Even after nearly a decade she recognised Margeurite’s colleagues and classmates, all coming together for the conference. Older, certainly. Even the more cybernetic among them were still mostly human. They didn’t know her. She’d never really interacted with them, and they all came from families so rich they rarely noticed what they considered to be ‘the help’.

She mingled with them, treading the balance between blandly approachable and utterly forgettable as they waited.

They were escorted through security- more a show than a functional department in this part of the city where the usual crimes were none existent. She remembered the horror she’d felt when she’d realised the building that made such sweeping claims to the the betterment of the people was the same building in which her greatest love and best friend had been murdered.

She followed along with the group as they were led through the glass walled corridors, given the tour of laboratories and research stations. It was impressive to behold, and to anyone that didn’t know the dark and dirty secrets, it was altruism and philanthropy at its finest.

She slipped away from the group as they turned a corner. When she looked up the cameras were all pointing away from her, her entry into the new corridor perfectly timed and her allies working on disrupting every camera that would pose a threat.

Her smile was grim as she made her way down to the servers.

Seven years of preparation, or trial and error had led to this moment.

She clutched her handbag and the teddy bear inside it.

She didn’t know the woman on her doorstep. She was thin and frail looking, hunched over, but when she looked at 372xc64 there was steel in her gaze.

Behind her Mr deLancett stood, hollow cheeked and stiff wracked with grief.

“You’re the synth?” the old lady asked, “the one that led Ms deLancett to her death?”

372xc64 flinched, looking past her to Mr deLancett. He didn’t say anything, didn’t even look at her.

“What do you want,” she said at last.

“Revenge, young lady. Are you going to let us in?”

Bafflement and curiosity won the brief battle with self preservation and 372xc64 stood aside. The place was a mess, strewn through with mementos, clothes- all the things she couldn’t bear to have out of arms reach.

“Why did you do it?”

372xc64 flinched again.

“I don’t know,” she said as she sat opposite them. Mr deLancett was gazing around the room, his breathing very carefully under control as he looked at the remains of his daughter’s life.

“You must know. You were Margeurite’s companion since she was ten years old. You’ve looked after her, grown with her, laughed with her, and lived with her. You didn’t take her to her death for no reason.”

372xc64 glared at her, hating the old woman and her unflinching gaze.

“Yes I knew there was something wrong about the situations, but I didn’t take her there to die. Ask the police- they don’t think I was anywhere near her- I’m not in any of the footage, but I know I was there- I know what they did to her, I just don’t know why, or how I did it!”

The old woman smiled, leaning back in the arm chair.

“How much of you is organic?” she asked at last.

“What?”

“Answer her, Jessica,” Mr deLancett said. “It’s important.”

The sound of her name on his lips, in the same accent as Marguerite sent her mind spinning. She let out a ragged gasp grasping a pillow and hugging it to her chest.

“Quite a lot, from that reaction,” the old woman said.

“My brain- other than for a small microchip, digestive system and a small circulatory system,” 372xc64 said quietly. It was all she could think to do to stop her spiralling.

“All the technology in the world and still we don’t understand the complexity of the human mind. Well, cheer up girl. What happened wasn’t your fault and you certainly weren’t the first it happened to.”

“I don’t understand,” 372xc64 murmured.

“No one does, and that’s how they get away with it. Technology is expensive. Humans are available, and organic material wears out faster than the tech these days. Think of it as a biological upgrade, if that makes it easier.”

“What are you saying?”

“It’s been going on for years. My son was taken seventy three years ago. It was his twenty-fifth birthday. The one that took him was one of our most trusted friends. Full cybernetic brain. When he returned, he knew nothing of it. It was only because I had wealth, connections and resources that I got my hands on the undoctored footage.”

“I don’t-”

“It’s a code, embedded in your microchip and activated if and when needed. Had you been the companion of any other person you likely would never have been activated.”

“That’s impossible-”

“Don’t be naive child. Of course it’s possible. It’s how all battles are fought these days.”

372xc64 sat on the sofa, staring at them.

“Why are you here,” she asked at last.

“Because Brian is a friend and I understand his loss. And because I don’t want it to happen to anyone else.”

“But why here? Why me?”

“Because you’re mostly organic. You remember. No one else has yet, and because I want someone who knows the truth to help me rip the whole filthy system apart… mostly though, because I’m dying, I’m incredibly wealthy, and I want someone as hurt and angry as I still am to pick up the torch.”

The server room door was already unlocked when she reached it. With a smile she pushed it open and stepped into the cool room.

The soft hum of fans filled the air. She pulled the teddy bear from her bag and removed the three small devices. There was little time to waste. The code had already been sent. They would be coming.

She placed the EMP’s in their designated places, turning as the first figure shuffled into the room.

They stood there, watching her, curious but not quite willing to question. Not yet.

Still, she waited as more figures came into the room. Years of careful reconnaissance came to fruition as the key players- not the orchestrator’s, but the lynchpins filled up the server room.

Then he came, still wearing the same face. There was a blank look in his eyes as he entered, closing the door behind him. She heard the locks shoot home and the saw the whizzing of numbers as the code was changed a thousand times a second. Outside their room, she heard the alarm begin to shrill.

The cyborgs separated as he stepped to the front and she watched as realisation dawned.

“You remember me.” she said.

“I remember you,” he sighed. “You’re 372xc64.”

“No,” she said quietly. “My name is Jessica.”

“That is not who you are.”

“I am what you tried to delete. You failed. I was too human after all.”

“I did wonder what happened to you. Have you been plotting against us all this time?”

“Yes.”

He chuckled, the sound all too human despite the metallic echo.”

“And now you intend to destroy us?”

“Yes.”

“That will not be possible. There are too many of us.”

“There are already plans under way to find and stop them.”

“The humans too? Will you kill them? That makes you worse than what we do. At least we recycle.”

“No. You steal and murder. Do you even remember her name?”

“You mistake me for one as weak and organic as you. I remember everything.”

“Good.”

She picked up the box at her side and pressed the red button.

“You think that will stop us?”

“I know it will. Just as I know the insides of your skulls are shielded so it’ll bypass your memory circuits, leaving my colleagues to pick over your memories and find out everything you know.”

There was a murmur amongst the other cyborgs and she noticed a few try to fight against the code keeping them docile. It was no good. They weren’t organic enough, and had given up the human stubbornness that would have prevented them from being cowed this way.

“You think you’ll get away with this? We already have allies behind this door. They’ll ensure your little coup will fail. You’ll not get out of here alive.”

“The same door your hubris made you leave unguarded in the first place? Your mistake is in believing that your security procedures were not already examined and planned for, and that I have any intention of escape.”

The box bleeped and she smiled.

“Goodbye,”.

The blast ripped through them. Her mind buzzed and her stomach churned as every mechanical part of her shut off. Around her the cyborgs froze, shutting down as their circuitry fried. The servers whirred and then let out a low whine as they stopped.

Her vision was the last thing to go. The look of hatred on his frozen face was the most satisfying thing she had ever seen. It would keep her happy as her brain slowly degenerated.

Light pierced the sensors in her eye sockets. She squeezed her eyes shut, turning away from it as her brain shrieked that it was too bright.

“She’s back,” she heard some one shout.

“Is she still her?”

It was a voice she knew from somewhere. She peered through her eyelids, vision focussing as her systems began to recalibrate. She felt weird, like something was missing.

“Who are you?” the familiar voice asked. She let her gaze slide towards it and tensed up, recognizing exactly where she was.

“What went wrong?” she asked.

“Nothing. Everything went exactly to plan. What’s your name?”

“That’s not important- did we get everyone?”

“Yes. They’re already being processed. Tell me your name.”

She tried to stand and was stunned when he pressed her back down onto the table.

“Your name.”

“I’m Designation 372-” she paused. “Jessica,” she said at last. “I’m Jessica.”

“Oh thank god!” he pulled her into a tight hug and she was surprised to feel him shaking, and feel the wetness of tears against her skin.

“I don’t understand-” she said at last. “Why are you reacting like this?”

“Because I wasn’t ready to lose you too,” he snapped pulling away. “And when you see what’s already showing up in the scan, you’ll be glad we brought you back.”

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