Jane (18.104.22.168) flexed her new fingers.
It wasn’t her first artificial limb, she already had a replacement leg from the knee down. But she never thought much about the responsiveness or flexibility of her leg. It simply wasn’t something she thought about. This was different; she used her fingers all the time.
She made a fist, then stretched out the fingers, then twisted them up a bit.
The fingers seemed slow to respond at first, but once they got the message they seemed to move in double time to catch up. She felt like she was constantly overcompensating.
It would take some getting used to.
The elbow and shoulder were better, but still it would take some time to move with full proficiency again.
Jane Doe (22.214.171.124) stood over her, gesturing to dismiss some part of her personal display.
“How does it feel?” 78.1 asked.
“Fine,” Jane said, putting on a smile. You had to smile. Jane’s all smiled. That was one of the rules.
“Please take the time to rate your service,” 78.1 said, gathering up her tools.
Jane kept flexing her fingers as 78.1 left, leaning back on examination table, letting her mind wander. The new arm might make her job a lot easier actually. Her old augments were good, but the fully synthetic arm would hold more and better augments than her original. So that was something to look forward too.
One of her sisters was transferring to this planet, and it would be good to see her if she could. She couldn’t be too obvious about trying to see Jane (126.96.36.199), or they’d both be taken away. Probably shipped back to the Homeland, to be reeducated or killed. She didn’t think she could handle losing another friend so soon after Koya.
At least he hadn’t been captured.
The Julians could have made him talk. Jane knew this. She’d carried out the procedure herself.
She realized she’d been in the workshop too long. If she stayed much longer, she would be accused of laziness or failure to acclimate to her new parts. Both of those were against the rules.
She pulled herself up with just a little awkwardness when she put her weight on the new arm. Leaving the base’s synthetics workshop, Jane made her way to the mess for all the Does. It was almost time to eat, and being late was against the rules. Johns and Janes waited in line for food that would have been called a decadent indulgence in their Homeland. You could always spot the new levies from the Homeland by their discomfort with the food. They were all afraid it was breaking the rules to enjoy food this good. The ones who’d been out in the universe the longest were the ones who’d grown accustomed to Julian cuisine, and recognized it as not particularly impressive. Going back to the Homeland would be especially hard on those Does.
Jane got her food, and forced herself to eat it, despite having very little appetite. Jane’s weren’t suppose to lose their appetite. They didn’t need time to process trauma. Failure to cope was against the rules.
Jane was mustering the will to swallow the last mouthful of colorful nutrient paste, when a mutant with milky white eyes walked up to her table, holding their helmet under one arm. They stopped beside Jane and clicked their heels together, standing at attention.
Jane stood, and bowed her head in deference.
“Can I assist you, Soldier?” She said smiling. You couldn’t forget to smile.
“Jane 120.3?” the mutant asked.
“Yes, Soldier. What can I do for you?” She examined the soldier. They were afflicted by the same skin as Koya, though this recruit had a much less severe case. They must have been from one of the few lands of Koya’s world that had been spared the worst of the toxins. Or they had been rewarded with actual treatment for their mutations, for “meritorious service.”
“You are to report to Director General Linisa at 2300 hours. When you are finished with your food, clean yourself up and dress appropriately. Do you understand?” The mutant growled.
Jane nearly frowned, but force of habit thankfully kept the smile on her face.
“Yes of course, Soldier. Thank you very much,” Jane bowed her head again.
She hated Linisa.
Linisa was a horrid woman, promoted after the death of Director General Soyuz. Not that Soyuz had been better. Soyuz had been a sadist, with predilections as disgusting as any Julian that Jane had ever met. Jane had considered the loss of her arm in exchange for Koya murdering that monster a bargain at twice the price.
So Linisa had stepped into the void Soyuz had left.
Not as bad as Soyuz, but almost.
Jane returned her tray, and made her way back to the Janes’ Dormitory. She could feel cameras and sensors watching her entire way there, just waiting for her to do anything Janes didn’t do. Waiting for her to break the rules.
She couldn’t even escape the sensor inside the dorm. Janes were equipment; they didn’t need privacy. She could feel them, not exactly watching her but taking in all sorts of little things; where she was in the room, her body temperature, listen to her breathing.
It was enough to make her sick.
Still, she smiled.
She discarded her usual uniform, and replaced it with something more formal. Linisa insisted on formal attire in her offices, especially for Johns and Janes. Jane had heard her say she liked to look at all her “pretty things.”
So Jane put on her powder blue dress that was the standard issue formal wear for Janes, pulled on her white gloves, though the glove on her left hand felt very strange. Her new arm had a sense of touch, but it was muted, like her whole arm was just now regaining feeling after falling asleep. It made her glove feel wrong somehow.
Finally dressed in what passed for formal among Janes, she made her way up to Linisa’s office.
The offices of the Director General was an office in name only. It was some strange hybrid of a palace and a bunker. Faux-wood doors, built to shield against everything short of a nuclear blast, opened for her as she approached. Two soldiers in dress uniforms stood on either side of the foyer as she entered, seeming to stare straight ahead, but the ever present faceless helmets kept Jane from telling if they were staring straight ahead or looking right at her.
The foyer was filled with so much gold and white it was almost painful. Cream cushion covered golden furniture, while the walls shown with the slight iridescence of mother of pearl (not real mother of pearl likely, but a practically perfect replica). Streams of white fabric, still adorned with Director General Soyuz’s monogram, just beneath the JTC logo. She crossed the foyer, to a wide door with a small lecturn beside it. The creature behind it, a short, wide proportioned human with thin hair, scanned her with a quick wave of his baton, and then let her pass through the doors. The Inside was just as gaudy; even more gold and mother of pearl. The adornment here was more varied than outside, allowed to violate the general theme of the offices in favor of a more personal taste. To her left, the Director General’s desk stood, a red oak island amidst the sea of gold. It was bare, all the contents save the slim, cigarette case sized, personal computer, were piled in a heap next to it. Three earthlings, collaborator slaves by dress, were sorting through the items, putting them in boxes, labeling them, and then putting those boxes themselves into two piles. On her right was a set of bookshelves against the wall, arranged around a tall marble statue of a woman frozen in a contortion that seemed painful to Jane, but the face of the marble seemed to indicate she was enjoying herself. Beneath it was a plaque in a language Jane did not know, and she did not bother querying the network for translation. It was probably just another goddess statue stolen from any number of worlds.
Not her’s of course. They had only one god on her world. That was another one of the rules.
More slaves were sorting through the books here, either placing them into boxes or setting them back onto the shelves.
A slave looked at her briefly, but they knew better than to stare.
Janes may have been equipment, but they were still higher than slaves in the pecking order.
One of the doors leading out of the office was slightly ajar, and Jane could hear jubilant shouts and the crashing sounds of simulated explosions and gunfire.
She passed the slaves, and entered into the entertainment room. The circular room was lined with slaves and servants against the wall, waiting to attend on those two dozen high officials in the chairs surrounding the lowered pit. Jane tried not to stare at the Julians and blessed mutants whose ‘disfigurements’ had been formed in a way the Julains deemed beautiful. Given the way Julians modified themselves and their favorite pets, it was almost impossible to tell at a glance which was which. Jane had seen the records though. The Julians loved their records, and the Janes and Johns kept them. Does were good at that sort of work.
There was Calaca, whom Jane knew was not a Julian, with her bronze skin and crown of ivory horns, who pointed to the wall, commanding her to wait.
Jane fell in beside a sister Jane, similarly dressed in a powder blue dress, and waited. She couldn’t see the game unfolding in the pit below, but from the explosions and gunfire she assumed it was some simulation of ultra-violence, the Julians’ preferred entertainment. Finally there came a musical cue indicating an end to the game, and the audience stood and applauded Linisa. She came up from the ring sweating slightly, and one of the slaves brought her water and a towel. She mopped the white towel over her skin the color of condensed milk.
She looked whole and perfect, nothing at all like a mutant. Her limbs were all replacements as well, Jane knew this from the records, but unlike Jane’s, with it’s sleek but obviously unnatural black plastic casing, Linisa’s synthetics were too seamless to tell from a mere glance. Her auburn curls bounced as she strode past her captive audience, still fawning over her and letting her know how much they were impressed by her performance. Jane followed the rest of the procession as they left the entertainment room and moved to some kind of ballroom, where slaves with trays full of refreshments awaited them.
While the Julians and their favored friends laughed and smiled all about Linisa, taking food and drink from the slaves. Linisa beckoned to Jane.
For a moment Jane wondered if she even knew which Jane she was beckoning to, but then she remembered her sleeveless dress and the black synthetic arm she had.
She allowed herself, for just a moment, to be glad to have lost the arm.
She wasn’t just any Jane now.
There was that at least.
Jane approached the Director General, casting her gaze down so as not to meet the opal eyes with no visible pupils.
“Jane 120.3, I presume,” Linisa smiled with teeth too perfect to be real.
“Yes, Director General. What can I do for you?” Jane smiled back.
“I see you’ve been grafted with a new arm. That’s good. I plan to put you back to work,” Linisa took a small glass of frothing black liquid from slave and gulped it.
“Of course, Director General. I am ready to work,” she had to be. A Jane who couldn’t work was a waste of space. Rules again.
“Good, we have some leftover equipment from that fiasco the other day. You know the one of course. You were shot.” Linisa took two more glasses of bubbling black, downed one after another.
“Yes, Director General,” Jane wondered if Linisa was trying to be funny.
“I want you to pull any data you can from it. See if any of the memory survived and is usable. I want to know exactly what happened down there,” Linisa took a h’orderve from another slave, nibbling on it in an almost childish way, “There may be more traitors in my garrison and I want names, so send any of your findings directly to my office, understood?”
“I understand, Director General,” Jane nodded.
Almost before she’d finished, a gloved hand took her by the arm. Instinct and training left her to naturally fall in step with the soldier now guiding her to a servants elevator at the back of the ballroom.
It seemed her conversation with Linisa was done.
Jane let the smile fade just a few degrees. Just a few. To rest.
The servant elevator, hidden behind a pedestal with more statues of bare female contortionists, was barely large enough to fit herself and the soldier in full battledress, but Jane did not complain.
The soldier led her out of the Director General “office” through the kitchens, and then down another elevator, and into the secure sublevels. Jane remembered these rooms well. She’d been shot in one the other day. She was led down the halls, until the soldier stopped in front of one metal door and stopped to unlock it.
Jane was a bit surprised to realize that this was the very room she’d been assigned to interrogate that slave in the day she’d been shot.
She didn’t stop smiling though. Not until the soldier opened the door for her, revealing a body on the table.
A mutant, dead, with a metal eye and teeth visible through the mess of blood.
It was Koya, and Jane could not bring herself to smile.