Jane examined her tools. They were hers, not just whatever was in surplus. Somebody had gone up to the dormitories and taken her tools from her belongings.
Jane had to remind herself that it was a breach of her privacy.
It was so easy to forget that maybe her things shouldn’t be so accessible. A lifetime of servitude left you with low standards of personal space.
She took a moment to feel righteously indignant.
“Is there a problem?” the soldier at the door asked through the helmet’s voice modulator.
Jane used that to help keep her smile. The voice the soldiers spoke in was a modulation the Julians had determined would exemplify the ferocity and intimidation they wanted their forces to project to primitive societies. It might be dark and menacing now, but Jane knew it had gone through round after round of development and focus testing, all so that short mutants could sound like demons. The thought of that process, of fifteen Julians poking at settings in a sound editing program to get the voice juuuust terrifying enough, was amusing to Jane. She wasn’t sure why.
As if the radiation and toxin ravaged bodies of the mutants they employed wouldn’t terrify their conquered slaves enough. But then, the Julians preferred to keep their soldiers in their face-concealing helmets. That way, those beneath them could never know if they were speaking to some mutant, a native collaborator, a Julian, or even a Jane.
Not that they would ever give a Jane a gun. Even back in the Homeland, only Johns could carry guns, never Janes.
That would be against the rules.
“Not at all, soldier. I am merely inspecting my tools,” Jane smiled over at the soldier. This one was terribly thin, and too tall to be from Koya’s world. The poisons that permeated that world rarely allowed for such stature.
“Well hurry it up,” the soldier growled, “I’d like to incinerate this traitor’s corpse sooner rather than later.”
Jane raised an eyebrow at the soldier.
“Have you seen a data extraction before, soldier?” she asked.
“No,” the soldier said, the helmet making it sound like a bark.
Jane turned to face them, “These procedures can take some time, soldier. Days even. There are several factors involved that…”
“The Director General wants this data as soon as possible,” the soldier insisted.
“I will work as fast as possible. It may still be several days,” Jane picked up one of her slim probes, pulling free the cable at the back.
She looked at her forearms, still covered by satin gloves.
She turned to the soldier, holding up her hands as if presenting evidence, “I will need to change.”
The soldier looked around, not sure of what to do, “I’ll…call it in? What do you need?”
Jane felt her smile become genuine again, hearing the growling demon confused. “Surgical attire, with an apron and visor. Also a glass of water and an class 3 energy bar would be helpful.”
“Energy bar?” the soldier asked.
“As I said, soldier, this may take some time,” said Jane, “I will require calories.”
The soldier nodded, and radioed in her request. Jane thought it was exactly like the Julians to bring in the body and her tools and forget all about sanitary concerns. Linisa may not have been a real Julian, but she was already thinking like one. With perfectly engineered immune systems, they had lost most of their concerns over filth and decay. The only part of it that still offended them was on an aesthetic level; the unseemly sights and smells of death.
It was an unfortunate truth that some Julians actually enjoyed that aesthetic, but thankfully Linisa wasn’t one of those.
Jane almost laughed again.
There she was, thinking of Linisa as one of them.
Linisa would have liked that. She wanted so desperately to be considered one of them. She dressed like them, she acted like them, she surrounded herself with them, all in the hopes that she would forget she wasn’t one of them.
Jane wondered what the Julians thought of that. Maybe they thought it was admirable, or at the very least interesting, to see a mutant rise so high.
The more Jane thought about it, the more she wondered if they just found it amusing.
They had an empire so large, and so much of it was running on autopilot most of the time, Jane couldn’t help but notice how crushingly bored most of the Julian’s seemed. They hand more than enough slaves for every single Julian to live like some demigod of hedonism, and drones and mutants to fight all their wars, it was easy to see why so many Julians were obsessed with their amusements.
Some were like Linisa, playing games and throwing parties, indulging in what they might call ‘simple pleasures.’
Others were like Soyuz. His tastes were considerably less pleasant. He’d loved to watch data extraction. Particularly of live subjects.
Jane had performed several of those extractions, but she’d made sure she didn’t have to do that last one.
Her eyes returned to Koya.
She turned away, facing the masked soldier. Their suit was considerably bulkier at the back, as if a rucksack was stuffed under the armor. A mutant afterall?
“Did you know him?” Jane asked.
The soldier’s helmet moved a bit. Without a face, it was nigh impossible to read these soldiers.
“Not personally,” they growled, “He was in my division.”
“What can you tell me about the subject?” Jane asked, “While we wait for the equipment.”
“He was an officer in the 1076th Intra-Orbital,” the soldier stiffened, “Lieutenant for Scafa Company from Earth-Sector 89. They say he went crazy and turned guns on some soldiers and a John in a tertiary hanger.”
“Is there any indication as to why?” Jane asked.
“Who knows,” The soldier shrugged, “I heard there were some slaves involved. Maybe he got attached. Maybe he just went out of his skull. Who knows.”
Jane knew she was imagining it, but she could almost hear the bitter sadness in the soldier’s voice. The sense of betrayal. She wondered what this soldier would do if they knew Jane and Koya had been comrades.
There was a clanging knock on the metal door. The soldier opened it, and two slaves entered carrying the change of clothing she’d requested. They set them down upon a metal table, bowing to the soldier then Jane, and they left. Jane picked up the surgical gown and apron, nodding with approval.
She held the garments to her breast as she turned to look at the soldier.
“Would you be so kind as to look away, soldier,” she asked.
Jane’s were expected to be demure.
The soldier dutifully turned away, hands clasped behind their back, waiting.
It was a ritual Jane found herself conflicted over. Jane and John Does lived their entire lives under constant surveillance. From birth to death, somebody was watching them. Those were the rules. Nominal effort was put into protecting the modesty of Does, as laid out in the rules, but there were so many exceptions and special circumstances that it was better to assume that your body was never unwatched, even when naked. In this very room, there was a device in each corner by the ceiling, recording everything for review later. There would be no privacy here, so why should another pair of eyes bother her?
It was second nature to a Jane, being watched, and Jane hated it. She wanted privacy, though. She craved it desperately, longing to be completely, utterly, unwatched.
She had ask the soldier to turn away, and they did, but it was all preordained ritual. Just another one of the rules for Johns and Janes. All for appearances sake. One less pair of eyes meant next to nothing.
But maybe not completely nothing.
She pulled off her gloves, unzipped her dress, and placed both pieces of clothing carefully aside. Her shoes and stockings were next.
She pulled on the surgical gown, connecting the built in adaptors to the ports in her arms and neck. The gown was uncomfortable against her bare skin, but she surmised that it was better to be a bit uncomfortable now than to face the hassle of having to requisition new formal wear. Especially if she was going to have more meetings with Linisa.
Jane could just imagine Linisa’s hideous disappointment at seeing a Jane in work overalls. It was almost enough to make Jane tear the dress up out of spite.
Gown, apron, gloves and all the various accoutrement finally on, Jane cleared her throat, and the soldier turned back around.
“I am ready to begin the procedure,” Jane declared formally.
“Fine. Go ahead,” the soldier nodded.
Jane returned to her tools and picked up her first probe.
She attached one end to the adapter in her sleeve, feeling her senses extend down the cable, to the very tip of the slim device.
All at once, she knew so much more about the room than she had a moment ago. She knew the exact barometric pressure, temperature, and spatial dimensions of the room, down to four decimal places if she focused on it. Her eye implants projected a readout of data only visible to her. She raised her right hand (the one still made of flesh), and motion sensors in limb allowed her to interact with the new display.
She adjusted the probe for the data extraction and turned to Koya’s body.
It was time to begin.
There could be no more delays.
She didn’t move.
She wanted to move, or rather she knew she had too. What she wanted was to run away from this room, to find her dormitory, scramble the sensors and curl up in a ball and cry while she was well and truly alone.
But there were rules.
Every second she didn’t begin she was breaking them.
The sensors would have noted her hesitation at this point.
She stabbed the probe into Koya’s eye.