The Clockwork Girl


Arctic Sun

1st March 2011

My memory is not a straight path. It is not like a river, and it is not like a book. My memory is like a film, albeit one that has been torn, exposed and forgotten in many places. There are days in which it flows in perfect colour, when I remember every detail, every sound and smell and taste until my eyes hurt and I have to look away. Then there are the days when I remember one thing; the taste of a fruit, the glare of the sun, the sand between my toes. Then there are the days when I remember nothing.

Almost the last thing I remember was the water. From the bridge it raged, black and tumultuous, cutting through the snow like a burn. I knew better than to lean on the railings; Mother had told me a hundred times that I shouldn't rest against the aging wood, but I did it anyway. I felt the rotting planks give way, then pain. Pain all over my body as I touched the water. It bit through my meagre winter clothing and into my flesh, straight through to my bones, cutting like white-hot knives and stealing my breath. I opened my mouth to scream, but water rushed in and choked me before I could make a sound.

The very last thing was a burning in my lungs and in my head and in my muscles as I drew in water instead of air. Then the muscles shut down and my lungs stopped working, and I was left alone in my head, a floating consciousness. I was aware of the pain leaving my limbs and flooding out through my fingers and toes, and I was aware of the hem of my skirts tickling my ankles, and my bonnet pulling free from my hair, but little else.

The light faded in my eyes, and everything was still and quiet.

There is a gap here. I may have been unconscious, or it may be a consequence of my augmentation.

This is where the True memory stops and where the Other memory takes hold.

Suddenly, I was no longer attached to my own flesh and bone; instead I was standing alongside it as it floated down the river. It is an odd sensation, watching one's corpse. There is a sense of detachment from it, a loss of care, almost a relief. But there is also an incredible longing to go back and be whole, to experience life all over again. For me, the detachment reigned. Her body – my body – drifted for hours like a broken doll until someone caught sight of it downstream and fished it out.

Her family was informed; they collected the body and buried it, weeping and wailing as it was lowered into the ground. I stood beside it all the while, watching as emotions scarred their tender faces. Flowers were thrown over the freshly-turned earth, another dirty burn in the snow.

As night fell, the mourners left and the men arrived. I recognised none of them. They were all wearing normal clothes, carrying spades and sacks. One tall man stood and watched, distancing himself from the others. The other men pulled back the earth, hauled the small coffin out of its pit and lifted the lid.

There she lay, like a forgotten toy, lovingly dressed in her Sunday best. Someone had clasped a small bunch of winter flowers in her fingers. Roughly, they lifted her and shoved her into a sack. The flowers fell from her fingers onto the snow, the pale yellow of the flowers barely contrasting against the vast, emptiness of white.

They reburied the coffin and took her away with them. I followed, though I wondered if I had any choice. I no longer cared what happened to her, but a small part of me said I should at least say good-bye. An even smaller part raged against the indignity of it all.

The house we arrived at was very non-descript, and under the street lamps, the men were too. Except for the tall man who had stood apart. He watched with a look of mild distain, which stood out from the beaten necessity on the faces of the other men.

Hours passed, and dawn broke. All the men except Tall Man left, and others arrived. Tall Man was joined by Hook Nose, No-Hair and the Crow Lady. At around eight o'clock, they began their work.

I could not see what they did to my body. I only felt the wires go in and out through my skin, bones replaced in part with metal, muscles replaced with steel and iron and brass. I felt no pain – my real brain had shut down long ago, taking away the sense of agony my mind screamed to feel. When surgical knives bit through my skin, I felt nothing. When bone was hewn from bone, I felt nothing. When steel bars pierced my spine, I felt nothing.

It was only when they turned to my face that I felt anything. They addressed it with an almost religious fervour, working carefully and tenderly, as if the smallest slip would mean ruin. I knew the pain I should have felt – it should have been agony, my tender flesh burning as tiny blades pushed past the fragile barrier of my skin – but I felt something else. Sorrow, perhaps, as my face was warped beyond recognition. Physically, it looked much the same, but behind the mask the men created I felt like I had lost my last true ties to myself.

As they removed my right eye, I felt everything. My mind truly returned to my body, and all the pain of the augmentation cut through me like icy knives. The pain. The fear. The shock. I wanted to lose consciousness for the first time since retrieving my True memory. But I couldn't. I felt the ripping as the muscle at the back of my eye tore, felt the ooze of still, coagulating blood trickle down my cheek like a scarlet tear, felt the cold absence in my eye socket. The hole was quickly replaced with a series of wires, followed by an oval clock face. The cogs and gears that moved the hands were set into my cheek beneath the corner of my eye, replacing the bloody tears with permanent, brassy ones. The clock's ticking reverberated through my skull.

My memory loses all clarity again here. I remember the sound of footsteps echoing on stone, a cold hand on my cheek, fingers tugging at the edge of the dress I wore. Fragments of memories drifted into my increasingly dormant mind; when one has no point of reference, one slips into a state like sleep. The sudden memories were like dreams; not the fleeting, restless things barely remembered after a good night's sleep, more like realising something has happened and being too late to stop it.

As time wore on, I recovered whole scenes: my spindly arms clasped around a precious box, hair whipping my face as I leaped through the streets in a loping gait, my fingers clasped around the hilt of a knife buried in someone's stomach, the sensation of pain as a bullet ripped through the flesh of my leg. I wondered what they meant. Slowly, I gained access to the stories behind the memories. The majority of them made little or no sense, just random strings of confused plot mixed with obscure detail.

The first complete, detailed memory is of my chamber. Less of a chamber, more of a cell. It was not visibly a prison, but I knew the dark wood door was backed with solid steel and bolted three times, and the walls were full of iron pillars driven deep into the foundations. There were no windows. The floor was cold flagstone on top of solid concrete. It was bleak, but calmingly so. Though there was no lighting, I could see semi-perfectly. My augmented eye picked every detail out, but in a strange sepia tone, like I was seeing everything reflected in a polished bronze mirror.

My body was covered in blood. Not my own – my own had coagulated to a sticky black and dried in my veins. Fresh blood is the colour of young cherries, before they darken to a glossy purple and sweeten. It coats everything it touches, seeping across skin and staining cloth like a scald. I could taste it on my tongue, feel it gathering in the corners of my eyes, matting my hair and deafening my ears. There was blood everywhere, except for the silvery dagger clasped gingerly in my fingers. I had wiped that clean on my dress.

I gripped the blade tighter, feeling the sharpened edge slice through my skin and stop abruptly in contact with my steel bones. I forced my memory, calling for anything related to this dagger.

Scraps came back to me, the warmth of the blood that covered my body spurting from a hole in somebody's chest, the repeated thunk of the knife as it collided with bone, the screams of my victim cutting off, and the overriding command to escape. My usurped reflection in their terror-struck eyes; white nightdress stained red, pale hair plastered to a misshapen skull, a streak of scarlet across the eyes. The dead, hollow, empty eyes. My clockwork heart beat steadily, though my mind raced.

My spiritless conscience stormed with emotion, trying to fill the void behind the memories. Who was I? What was I? What was my purpose? What had I done? Tears threatened, but I had no tears to spill. The very thought that I was no longer my own was petrifying. I asked myself the same questions, and only came up with one answer: I don't know. And the lack of knowledge scared me the most.

Why couldn't I stop? Why didn't my body rebel, rise against the men controlling it? Why couldn't I stop?

And yet a small part of me revelled in the bloodshed.

Time passed; it may have been hours or days. When Tall Man approached me again, my mind was sharp and clear. I didn't want to waste this last chance. My cold fingers tightened around the knife, waiting for him to come closer, dried blood crisping between my finger joints.

He knelt before me, long arms reverently reaching towards my still body. I lashed out. The blade cut through the soft skin of his face, trailing down towards the softer skin around his neck. It sliced like an axe through cheese. Sticky scarlet blood blinded me momentarily as he convulsed, blood pumping out of his slit arteries, then the last of the tremors stopped and he lay still, draped across my body.

A smile crept across my lips, and my body went limp. The blackness of broken memories was creeping closer, but I held on to the triumph for as long as I could. I didn't know when I would feel something this sweet again.

At last, I knew what he had made me. I was a killer. I had done what I was created to do. And he would not be the last.