"In this world there are good guys, bad guys, black guys, white guys- and me standing alone in the grey."
- Madelia Skeith's response when questioned on nature of guilt.
When considering the who's who of the family of international agents who act as, if not a government's hand, its equivalent of a geopolitical elbow to the ribs; It is quite likely that your mental picture will be of men in tuxedoes with shoulder holsters and between twenty five and thirty five years on in life. I lack any of those apparently standard features. I have never served in an official capacity in any service anywhere, except perhaps the scouts. That is the girl scouts, although the memory is somewhat fuzzy as I left them at the age of seven.
A bullet whizzed past her head, jumbling the recollection; not the best time for introspection, Maddy! She thought running through the rain. Each footstep splashed in the brown glop that was the roadway wherever the complex was in the world. It was need to know. She did not need to know, she did not know. The dirt, or more accurately mud road twisted, while the harsh white greenish light of the processing plant lanced through gaps in the trees. With each step, light freckled her black bodysuit (Type E Field-operative Stealth-apparel FoSa), outlining her in the eyes of the perimeter guards. Snipers equipped with long-range light amplification scopes. Her suit was mostly not bullet-proof. It was made for stealth, with the intention of never being detected in the first place rather than providing assistance on the run.
Her stride increased in length as she neared the outer perimeter.
The rain would muffle her footsteps, but these people would be on alert.
Quite suddenly, her footsteps died away. Each step was marked by a whisper entry into the glop. It wasn't technology; it was all skill and technique. She broke away from the road. Adrenaline II had begun to kick in. She powered forward, the artificial stimulant sending her careening into the outer perimeter fence. Most of the fence was electrified, but one circular section of the wire had in fact had been separated and clipped in place with rubber stoppers and alligator clips. She passed through the hole with a forward role, fluidly flipping to her feet and turning round to remove the evidence of her bypass. This meant that for a second, a break in the electrified portion of the perimeter fence was measured. With a minor alert on in the plant, all irregularities, even momentary ones, had to be inspected. No trace of what caused the anomaly was detected and it was decided that despite the circumstances, it could have only been just that; an anomaly to be logged and forgotten.
They would never notice that it didn't appear in their permanent records.
Inside the complex a senior official began to sip his coffee reflectively. Two days to retirement, and he could be rid of the stress of his job. On his desk lay the manuscript of his autobiography, his retirement fund and ticket to a long life in good health. Idly he flicked through it. His eye's caught a line and bulged outwards.
It was an autobiography, but it wasn't his. Every last piece of secure or damaging information he'd gleaned over the last forty years had been cut. Truncated, removed, cauterized. He booted his laptop, then his desktop. The electronic drafts were different too. Hands shaking he smoothed his hair and inserted a tiny thumb drive. A mistake the last he could make. The computer-virus that had been placed, lurking, waiting for this very device to be inserted, pounced. Immediately the last known copy was replaced with the new truncated version. The virus deleted itself, but not before displaying a brief and morbid message: WCCIUEA Sends Its Condolences to the dead, and point's out; nosus decipio, We Cheat... and Unlike Your late self, we are Good at it. Your retirement present is forthcoming, enjoy the interim. It's your last chance.
The message had an electrifying effect on the man. And as the last line scrolled by, he leapt into action. He knew what was to come.
He kicked his desk over, although he didn't check his cell, its service was disabled. His office phone was disconnected. He pulled the bottom of his desk off to reveal a small compartment. Its contents: A gold brick, a gun, a few passports, cash and his second computer. He took out the E-PC, a tiny laptop, from inside, inserted a Second flash drive and began to copy it's version of the manuscript onto the desktop over and over and over; wishing to tell anyone who found him what his real memoirs were like.
The desktop filled up and at any moment he expected the sharp pain of a knife or the razor hot ping of a bullet to slice though his chest. The fear rose in him, and he breathed heavily, wiping beads of sweat from his forehead as he made the last copy to fill his tiny laptops desktop. His chest felt tight and constricted. After years of jockeying a desk, his health had gone downhill, but, he realized fearfully, that wouldn't matter much longer.
He had time to change the title of the last one, almost. At the first D in 'murdered' he clutched at his torso with an expression of unmitigated horror. The poison had been chosen carefully. Once inside a person's body it dissolved before they died, being consumed by the persons own white blood cells. Prior to then it shut down all cells that made contact with it, temporarily, but for the aging and unfit body of this man the shock and the tension leading up to it was enough. The diminishing poison coursed upwards through his chest. Had there been enough to reach the brain or spinal column then it would have killed outright, but that wasn't the intention.
The aging official, feeling the numbness creeping through him, the terror of the situation and unspecified retribution of the message still in his forebrain, died of a heart attack.
Less than an hour later, he was discovered. The coroner declared his death to be a natural one, despite the incomplete message and discrepancy in the autobiographical texts.
The publishing office contracted to the man seized both versions, publishing it as one book with the differences and discrepancies highlighted.
In other words the covert erasure of the man before he could secure his safe retirement and open his golden parachute of publicity had been a failure. In fact, the reviewer observed, the actions taken to prevent this very situation had indeed exacerbated the entire affair.
Maddy, AKA Madelia Skeith AKA Mad-Lion and official designation within the World Communities Common Interests Unofficial Enforcement Agency (A mouthful, Too long to make it into any action novels) Lictor, was called to account for the incident.
The WCCIUEA favoured the pragmatic idea of shooting the horse which did not make the hurdle; they did so in the certain knowledge that if they continued to call people to account in this manner, one day they would find the proverbial horse which would make the hurdle.
Maddy stood at her full height, legs apart, respectful; behind her back her left hand clasped her right elbow letting her right hand hang down. Hair, short; these days it held a smattering of lighter shades mixed through dark strands, reds, yellow and auburn sifted through raven locks. Her face was in fact quite pretty, though she hadn't really been aiming for that. Nor really had she grown into her features; though they hinted at favourable future prospects.
However such trivialities were not on her mind.
The voice from in front of her spoke again as her eyes attempted to adjust to the stark contrast of light and shadow of the room.
It was shaped almost like an amphitheatre, but divided into thirds: Directly in front of her were the reviewing directors. To her left the other personnel involved in the mission's execution sat on rows of semi-circular tiered seating, or they would have, if she'd ever needed anyone on site.
To the right the support staff, who had planned, advised, conceived and otherwise made the mission possible. And in the centre stage, standing alone was her; who'd carried it out.
How well, she was about to find out;
The central voice cleared its throat.
It was better to think of them as objects, animate but totally emotionless. It removed any lingering hopes for mercy.
"I do believe that the mission operative failed in three places."
He gave a pause and Maddy knew the vital statistics from her suit were being monitored.
" Firstly they were detected once inside the building." His shadowy hand moved, deferring to the figure next to him.
"Secondly the poison did act fast enough. It was selected by the agent."
"Thirdly, the man was able to use a computer in the office and a backup flash drive to very nearly leave a dying message. Perpetrator, how do you plead?"
Maddy cleared her throat for her time honoured opening, the one she'd risked using from her very first time on trial. "I do not plead anything. I followed my orders to the letter. Three faults occurred. Firstly I was not apprised of the number of flash drives, or the laptop within the former targets desk. Secondly my poison was a pellet to be activated the moment the target had inserted his portable storage device and triggered the virus. It was not slow acting, a person was. Third and really first, the alarm occurred when a patrol spotted moisture from my footsteps once out of the sub ceiling vents. This should not have happened. I was assured that the suit was one hundred percent hydrophobic and would not retain any moisture. The guards did not see me, at least initially; they merely were alerted to my possible presence.
The suit in other respects was about ninety eight percent efficient, however some warning should have been provided. Had it been, I would have taken the lengthier, more time-consuming and safer option of traversing the vents and sub-ceiling rather than the building proper. However I did not wish to miss the extraction window and felt I could evade the thirty second patrols. Do you refute my answers?"
Maddy finished looking to each side calmly. Those who had just been handed the hot potato of scrutiny shivered. They quite obviously had forgotten the courts tenant of feel no fear.
Easy enough for Maddy, since she only felt fear when she wanted to.
The panel in front of her considered her position.
"Your not-plea, but statement has been heard deliberated and decided upon.
Each statement cannot be refuted by this body. As always mission records and telemetry support you.
In the first matter, Mission composer Arhkam is excused, for that flash drive had been taken from another man's desk. However the stash beneath the former… 'person's' " He spoke the word with undisguised disgust "-Desk. That should have been known of?"
It was both query and potential reprimand. The mission composer (Nickname; Mastermind) stood "I knew of the stash." There was a stir. "However it was planned to acquire it next week when the goods and chattels of the man would have been auctioned had this not happened."
The spokesperson paused. There was no objection from his fellows so he continued "Such is approved. Support staffer third class jean Prescott grey, why did you not immediately activate the poison?"
A woman stood up. With knee length hair, she was quite pretty, but looked incredibly out of place in the sombre and sober situation. "I was being accosted at the time and fending off the advances of Ford Dela Harrison."
The councilmen all frowned and collectively deliberated. There was no question of if the woman had been telling the truth or not. There had been not a single variation in her heartbeat perspiration or respiration when they asked the question. In other words confident; and in an experienced operative, such confidence stemmed solely from complete and total conviction in the validity of your defence.
Ford was not part of the mission. He was called up to stand next to Maddy. She could smell spirits on him and her nose wrinkled. She noted how his eyes danced across the room, occasionally alighting on Jean. Spirit's were allowed, mostly because practically everyone in the organisation was a teetotaller by necessity; drunken people make mistakes. Mistakes as Ford was about to experience were not tolerated.
"You have been Accused of Interference. How do you plead?"
Ford began, stuttering "Not, not guilty; all I was doing was asking if I would see jean in the mess lat-"
The spotlights on him snapped off and back on, but now it shone in a deep shade of crimson. "Incorrect. All lies are considered contempt of this body."
"I was attempting to persuade her to come with me when she suddenly kicked out-"
The lights flickered again. Around him, light shone, as though a somehow some kind of inverted spotlight was trained on him; leaving nothing but a featureless black silhouette visible.
"Twice you iterate falsehoods; twice you condemn yourself in the eyes of this body. Twice and no more. Does the deceased have any final words?"
"Secrets beget secrets, lies beget lies. I never had been any good at either. Sorry about this." He wasn't defiant. He was resigned. A man who knew, deep in the gnarly knot of his soul, that he was finished.
Momentarily, his jumpsuit ignited and immolated the body. He was already dead by then, a subcutaneous cyanide pellet. The ashes were swept away as people left the court room.
Alone and unmonitored, Maddy's hand clenched in forbidden anger.
You never left, not whole. That was the rule; however Maddy had found that she was surprisingly resistant to rules. Not that she had anything to compare her current job with. Thinking of which, her next briefing would occur soon. She left the darkened room and walked through the shiny steel, concrete and epoxy corridors. Every surface was unblemished without corners for mould or mildew to form. Every surface, button, door and light fixture was polished to within an inch of its metaphorical life.
She walked faster. Her jumpsuits boot's squeaked slightly as she progressed along the glossy corridor floor. With the sound of each squeak and the cold sensation that stemmed from being watched by cameras dulled the edge of her undirected anger.
Here at least she didn't need to silence her footsteps. Her method of letting the heel of her boot absorb the impact and then letting the rest of her sole roll forward before springing into the next step was tiring and a tad slower than her normal stride.
She had a lot of walks, runs and patterns of movement for every conceivable situation or identity, all practices to the point where slipping into them was more a matter of instinct rather than conscious thought.
She entered her team chamber. The dedicated support personal assigned to her were inside. Some grinned. "Got off without losing one of us again?" her handler asked. He and a few others were veteran members, used to Maddy's tendency to end up taking account. The newer ones were still… skittish, no smiles. Grim.
Maddy nodded and sipped a carbonated beverage already left for her on the table. It wasn't coke or sprite or anything, just homemade stuff full of sugar and lemon and bubbles. One of her vices, she indulged it shamelessly. Well her only vice, if only because there was a dire shortage of vices a full time perpetrator could cultivate while living in the subterranean HQ of a quasi-military espionage agency.
She finished her drink and sat down at the centre table before talking; "All comments were honest though. The hydrophobic qualities of the suit were not one hundred percent." It was question.
Her outfitter nodded. "In the manual page four hundred and eighty there was a comment that mineral or aerosol rich rain would resist the covering. I did not reach that far in the three hour prep time."
She nodded "Acceptable. We were over the processing plant when I dropped in, presumably the rain and the cloud-cover had a low enough PH or adequate mineral content to prevent optimal operation." She looked over to the table where 'Mastermind' her planner was hard at work.
"M-mind? What's coming our way?" The bespectacled man looked up. He was in his thirties and had been a tabletop strategist of the highest order, before he was snapped up by WCCIUEA, willingly in his case as this job offered the chance for him to exercise skill he prided.
"You'll like this. This has to look like an unlikely coincidence. There is a potential war brewing in the middle east-"Maddy broke in with a sigh "There always is." "-well" he continued "We need to remove the capacity for prolonged conflict. If left this will fester and larger countries will get involved. Minimal damage protocol; you're going to remove the fulcrums on which this war will turn. In this case we are going to remove eight qualified commanders, leaving religious leaders and born officers to take their places. With a nudge, the country next door can end this war quickly; the larger disciplined army of their opposition will be disadvantageous with unqualified commanders. In other words, the underdog will be unexpectedly victorious, whereupon they will discover the contracts we've signed with them. These will allow their new province to be declared a ward of another country. As always no names. Wayward words warn watchers."
He secured a hardcopy map to a whiteboard. The room was intended to be used as common room, command & control centre during operations and the area where they would plan and prepare the documentation prior to operation approval. Space was at a premium, so having chambers which were multi-functional by design was a necessity.
Circling areas he pointed. "You will only need concern yourself with this area. You need the deaths to be at least nominally of natural causes, their successors are men who will be quick to bury the dead.
Or, if that appears impossible, we have two noisy methods. All the targets will be together for a fancy dress ball, the last among the high command now wars brewing. Each does not like going. They will leave early. You could snipe them then. Alternatively you could blow up the mansion where the ball is taking place. A leaking gas main, and a few deadbolts should turn the place into a certifiable deathtrap.
However poison would be preferred. It is acknowledged that reaching all the targets might be difficult, which is why the alternatives are available."
Maddy tapped her teeth. "I would like the files on the targets. Those with medical training should stick around, I may need a second opinion."
She laid each files report on the men's health open side by side on the long table. A small smile of professional satisfaction curled her lip.
"Mastermind. I think there will be a way to selectively poison these people in a manner which seems natural." She began to outline her plot. The new members hid their shock. The veterans nodded at the audacity.
"At the ball then, I have an idea on how exactly I may enter, since the ruling party is of European descent and practice."
The two gate guards looked self consciously straight forward after one glance at the trio.
A woman a man and a child had come. The man and woman were from a consulate, some minor country which probably had an apartment for its embassy. The guard knew that the more ornate pass was, the more insignificant its source generally was. And the ID handed to him was hellishly ornate.
All three slipped in without incident, a woman a man and a girl child wouldn't be able to do anything. It wasn't as if they could hide anything the way those two were dressed either.
Most didn't look at the woman, quite deliberately. Maddy had counted on that, although she didn't particularly like the style of outfit, which at its best could be called "Scanty". People did look when they though they wouldn't be observed, but it was the outfit they saw, not a person.
The ball began, people circulated and mingled. Wine was sipped, there was chatter.
A single large, rounded man with a full bodied beard clutched at his chest, leaning on the white cloth table gasping. The crowd retracted from him, though a few men came forward to help.
One carefully manoeuvred the choking man and performed the Heimlich. Something fell out of his mouth. The full bodied man turned to thank his savior, before falling over again. One of the other men listened to his heart. Gone, Artificial respiration was performed. Nothing... The man fuelling the larger male with air and pumping his chest ceased and shook his head. Somewhere in the background a thin, sharp nosed, bespectacled and pale faced man took out a lozenge from a silver case in his pocket. He popped it into his mouth. Presently, the persistent headache he had got worse. Eventually he fell over in the crowd. The silver case disappeared from his pocket and an identical one bounced by his side a moment later. Two men had died. Hands shaking someone lit a cigarette. Four minutes later and he was in the restroom coughing and hacking, they found him dead in one of the stalls the next morning. The ambulance arrived. The bodies were taken away.
They were accompanied by three of the four men who'd tried to treat them. The fourth left in his car, he'd performed the CPR but the ambulance personnel didn't want him. He felt fine at the time… however he began to become drowsy on the way home. He pulled over or tried to. His car turned inversely to the wheel's direction and tumbled off the side of the road. Only moments later, the car spontaneously combusted. The men on the ambulance lingered in the hospital for a while, expressing their regret at the unfortunate coincidence. Each agreed the named brownies served to each of the guests had been superb.
One was a diabetic; quite surprisingly he went into insulin shock in the middle of the night.
The other was found to have died from a clot at six A.M the next morning.
The last felt fine for three days, until it was found that a number of his vital organs were deteriorating.
He had a rare blood type, which meant even as one of the highest ranking officer of the country, there were no immediate donors. He died awaiting treatment.
All the guests of the ball were checked. The doormen, upon checking the list and discovering the three that were so obviously unaccounted for had been the same three they were rather unwilling to look at directly. In fact they didn't admit it at all. Anyway neither of the adults was wearing clothing that could have concealed weapons, the deaths were all natural and it must have been a coincidence that they all snuffed it, so no reason mentioning anything out of the ordinary to the higher ups. It required the right sort of mind to stand and not do anything for hours on end, one that wouldn't want to mention something no one else noticed (and they really should have), unless confronted with evidence.
They were right about one thing, the man and woman's garb had not concealed any weapons.
Mine had. The reason that I have not participated in any previous military group? Well I'm twelve and a half. Thirteen sound's better though, so I err on the side of excess.
Another day, another job. Maddy licked her finger delicately and turned a page in a thick book. It was entitled 'Mixed Unit Tactics.' and although she hadn't read it, she knew what was inside.
It still unsettled her co-workers, not just her age and gender, but… other things. Maddy was a girl, mostly, at least something in the region of forty to sixty percent of her was.
When asked about how this came about; almost no matter when or where, her eyes would glaze, sending her deep into recollection of every painful moment.
Four years earlier:
The call of a seagull, probably indicating to another seagull to bugger off his patch of sky, rent the air. Maddy sat on her own at the back of the cove, drawing in the sand with her finger. The rest of her class on the camp had gone down to the shore rather than sit on the hot sands near the cliff. The place was isolated in the extreme. At the top of the cliff, their temporary lodging house brooded. Shack rather than house. Hut rather than shack. It had water and was made of enough wood to keep the wind out, otherwise it was an inhospitable location for camping.
The tide was unusually far out. People were gathering crabs. The wet sand stretched away from the plane of grainy silicon she sat on. She watched. The blue in the distance seemed to be getting a little bigger.
She stood up and called. One boy turned and began to run over to her. The rest ignored her. She began to move up the stairs, one hand on the wood railing. As she moved up she was able to see it clearly. The area where the tide was rapidly coming back in, her class, starting to move with squeals as they splashed each-other. The wave it came now, forcing the water in front of it forward.
The wave began to get bigger as the shelf beneath it dropped away. It had snuck up in the deep water of the bay, but now it was just getting bigger and bigger. She ran up the stairs and looked sideways. She was now on level with the wave!
It was still getting bigger, bigger than the cliff? The wave hit. Maddy hadn't been fast enough. She was taken up, rolled over the cliff in a rush of rocks and muddy water. In front of her there was a resounding clang and with the last ounce of her strength she kicked towards it. She fell through the opening, lacerating her arm on its jagged metal edges. Water came in, but she could breathe. She was a terrible sight. She crawled forward and then slid on the sloping metal sheets of the vent, before falling again but this time down a vertical shaft. With a terrible crack, her back hit another vent cover and crashed through it. She blacked out then, but woke up later to voices. She could still remember the fuzzy sensation of floating, paralysed in a void of soft lights. Her eyes didn't seem to work.
She could still hear them, a woman and a man, one certain and the other nervous.
"Lives, dies. Neither matter. If we don't act we won't save them and we'll never have this opportunity again." "I know I KNOW it's just… Is it worth putting in of that stuff per-person? The cost will be astro-"
"Don't start talking to me about that. All research pays off and there is shortage of volunteers without a history who can't be traced back in any way whatsoever. She was dropped right on our doorstep! If that isn't fate I don't know what is. Anyway, if she breaks, we can recycle the implants." "She's conscious." "Sedate her. Now." She didn't even feel a prick, but all the same her mind was instantly doused by darkness.
Maddy drifted off. She'd woken later, feeling…. Strange... Her eyes closed she tried to blank out the nightmare of the night before, It's all just a stupid dream from this stupid cam- She cut herself off as she opened her eyes. This was not her bunk. This was not her sleeping bag. This was not her room.
She threw off her sheets. Quite literally; for some reason the minor action sent them flying. No time for that. Door. Shiny, metallic. No handle. She kicked it angrily.
The action bruised her foot, but surprisingly dented the door. Probably not metal then. She rubbed her stomach. When had she last eaten? Yesterday's breakfast was quite a while ago, but she wasn't hungry.
Where was she? Well she quite comprehensively knew she was in a WCCIUEA base. She did not know how she knew. She just did. It was like the same way she quite suddenly knew that there were three cameras watching her. It was as though someone had tacked on another four senses to her original five.
Actually she knew that the number being debated by scientists was somewhere between thirteen and twenty seven. She began to list them, amazed her own knowledge. She was rather chilly. Her body immediately radiated warmth from within.
She'd left the scouts by then been forced at knife-point earlier last year into gymnastics. She'd never had quite enough coordination, but now in an un-padded room, she was suddenly confident of her abilities. She started warming up, stretching. It didn't seem to do anything, so she decided to launch herself into a flip. The rooms ceiling was high and she managed three rotations in a narrow arc. The foot which she'd bruised on the door earlier hurt a little but not that much. Idly Maddy flipped onto her hands, balancing first on both and then just one at a time.
Everything was so much easier now. It was as though before the wave she'd been living a half life, with her eyes and ears half blind and deaf to the world around her. The wave... She knew, as of half a second ago that the uncharacteristically large wave would have been the result of seismic disturbance beneath the ocean.
She also knew and had known a little all along, that she shouldn't be alive and that no one else was. Her memory of being in this cell was crystal clear, as was the memory of running up the cliff stairs only in a different way. She hadn't had time to feel fear, but looking back on it there were the faces of her friends on the beach. They had been frightened.
A blue bodysuit slid under the door. Suddenly conscious of the cameras she could feel but not see, she slipped it on; fiercely ignoring the uncanny sensation of her own voice informing her of the jumpsuit material's properties.
There were two short knocks from the door. Immediately following them in was a long faced man in a grey suit. She knew what kind it was, although she'd never seen one before.
Seeing and knowing was beginning to get on her nerves.
"You have been selected to help the world." His tone got on her nerves. It sounded rehearsed and... Pretentious. The descriptor and its definition came to her unbidden from within her mind.
She tried to pinpoint the sensation that had delivered the knowledge, gave up and realised that her thought's, as intricate as they had been, had taken barely a second. It was like she'd unconsciously stepped out of synch with events around her. When she spoke everything snapped back, running business as usual with no indication of the sudden pause she'd experienced.
"It need's helping?" Maddy was acidic, both in expression and vocalizing her displeasure.
"Don't take that tone with me young lady! You are unique, now. You will help the world by carrying out the orders of the WCCIUEA. You'll learn wha-"He was interrupted.
As he'd talked Maddy's eyes had briefly unfocused as she tuned out from time again. To her, it felt like she'd had minutes to think and access to some kind of internal magic mirror which spoke in her own mind with her own voice. It was intrusive. Useful but she refused to believe it when it explained what she would have to become.
Her interruption was clipped and terse.
"I already know. What have you done to me, exactly? I know the brand of your suit; I know how tall you are, your voice patterns, how to emulate them. I can see your irises show signs that you have liver damage and abnormal heavy metal pollution of your neural tissue; while also able to tell that you are short sighted and wearing contacts. I am currently learning what exactly my role here will be, from myself. By the way, do you have enough cameras up there to watch little old me after you've taken my clothes?"
The man frowned. "Your old clothes have been incinerated. That garment was only recently manufactured for you. The cameras you've pointed out are inoperative."
He lied. No-one likes admitting to spying.
"They are there to make sure you don't injure yourself. How's the foot?"
"Fine. In fact denting the door hardly hurt at all. Why was I able to dent the door? Its steel isn't it. Don't lie to me, I can tell, thanks presumably to your own handiwork." She'd ignored his previous fabrication.
"It's steel." His admission was stated flatly and his expression was unreadable.
"And I'm still waiting on what you did to me."
Though outwardly she was confident, inwardly, she was still trying to come to grips with what was going on. It was like culture shock, delivered with an electric chair; traumatic, confusing and totally alien.
The man seemed to sense her unease and quietened down "Ask yourself, your own explanation will be more detailed. I was doubtful that this could be done as well, but with injuries severe as yours … In any other hospital you'd be a basket case. Your spine broke. Your left arm was lacerated and partially pulverized. Your ribs were crushed. Yet you live. You move. We gave you life again, admittedly with some optional extras. In return, you can pay us back for that."
There was an unspoken element to his explanation, she easily saw it, what he hadn't mentioned was the price, which she already knew. Servitude.
"… How much of me was left, or rather how much was replaced?" Maddy asked tapping the new arm to emphasize her request.
"Forty percent of your bodies epidermis and sixty percent of your total body mass is now synthetic, to be updated periodically. The price of continued respiration."
"I didn't ask to be saved." Maddy spoke deliberately.
"Tell me honestly, would you rather be dead right now?" He knew she wouldn't. The fine detail of her combat modifications, which she was not informed of, meant that she would lack the capacity to be submissive or docile in the face of death. If she knew what had been done, it was conceivable her psyche might be able to construct a parable of reasoning to simulate the capacity of normal human beings to hand over the money or put their hands up. But she'd never know about the lack and thus wouldn't be able to compensate.
Unlike Maddy, his musings continued even as he answered her next question.
"How long was I out? I don't trust my newly acquired sense of the seconds ticking by."
"Four weeks. You've been declared legally dead considering the context of your disappearance. The bodies of sixteen of your classmates and your teacher have been identified. They haven't found yours, for obvious reasons. That is also why your skin has covered the seams of your artificial extremities. You will be able to tell on closer examination which parts of your body are covered by lithe, a more developed form of what they will one day cover burn victims with. Peel it off if you like. However, it will reassure others if they cannot see the extent of the repairs." His mind was elsewhere and he got up and left the room before she could ask more.
Maddy was not reassured. She looked at her hand. Her left... It felt normal. Somewhat; but her probing fingers told her otherwise.
Inside her palm she could feel a hard, rounded half circle indent. She inserted her nail and the false skin peeled away. The skin she could feel, but the arm itself had no sense of touch. It was gray, the curved surfaces which gave a skeletal frame of wire and metal the semblance of an arm was textured strangely. It was comprised of hexagonal cells, each of a dark gray with a light grey boarder. She asked herself what had been done and listened to what she knew. One thing they hadn't taken into account in giving her this new sense was how easily she could spot the gaps that marked incomplete or censored information.
For a start that there had been nineteen people including the teacher in her class, but that didn't matter. One body must've been lost.