Once upon a time a child was born. She had red hair, and the blue of her baby eyes was like the pale clean sky above the clouds. She had fair skin and her genes determined that she would be tiny boned, a bird of a woman, when she reached maturity.
Her genes condemned her, although her parents didn’t think so. That their little girl would aid the cause was a surprise. When they were told her mind fit the proper parameters, that she could multi-task in a way which could be nurtured and grown into something stronger and more flexible than any manufactured grid, and that she could thus serve in the war, they cried with joy.
They carefully erased all the little girl’s records. They deleted everything that carried the name they had given her at birth. They scoured their home and burned all her pictures. They got rid of all her toys, all her clothing.
They told her grandparents she had died, and put a lot of money into the funeral so that they could grieve properly.
They went with her to their superiors, and their superiors forgave them the few tears they cried, because they were only human. Her mother hugged her very tightly, and kissed both her cheeks, and turned away despite the little girl’s calls. Her father didn’t stay to hold or kiss her. Half an hour later, they happily submitted to a brain wipe, and went home. For the rest of their lives they thought their baby had died of meningitis encephalitis. They never had another child.
The little girl was taken from that place, to a metal room, where they put a mask over her face, and the chemical smell filled her with nausea and terror before she fell into the dark. While she slept, they opened her skull, used their scalpels and lasers and other marvelous tools to accelerate what the accidents of DNA had started. Because her brain was small, there were some necessary nips and tucks, but nothing that her masters needed was damaged.
When she awoke, she did not remember her previous life, or toys, or pretty clothing, or her mother’s kiss. Instead, she wanted to learn, with a strength and ferocity totally out of place in a four-year-old human. That was because the surgeries had, for lack of a better term, cross wired her mind until it was irretrievably lost to its original purpose.
She could not see. Or rather, she could no longer see as humans did, venturing instead into the ultraviolet and infrared spectra, and beyond. She did not hear quite the way people did either, listening instead to the whispers of light waves and the hiss of x-rays and other waves which by rights she should never have experienced.
Her DNA had carried wondrously mathematical potential. Scalpels, lasers and chemical manipulation now allowed her to see the patterns in everything. She could intuit them, examine and analyze them, in the time it took to blink or breathe. Her abilities would eventually dwarf the primitive skills of chess masters or stochastic navigators.
The little girl could now, of course, think faster than the machines around her. Her storage capabilities were stretched to unhuman capacities. Now she could be force-fed an immeasurable flow of information. In fact she whimpered with need when she was not, because the surgeries she was given meant that, unless she had a constant stream of information flowing from grids into her own mind, she would feel hunger, and thirst, and pain.
She was fitted with a tracery of neuronic transponders, in a series of very painful operations. The surgery need not have been painful, but it was considered right that the little girl experience penance for being human.
Finally, she was made more efficient. Her ovaries and uterus were removed, because she would not need them. Her leg and back muscles were enhanced to prepare her for her work. Her skin was thickened to ensure it would take an ever-growing number of incisions without breaking down.
Her masters were pleased, after their own fashion, which is not to say in any way that a human would understand.
Her transformation took a year, after which she was taken from that place to her permanent home. By then, she had become used to intubation and catheters caring for her bodily intake and excreta. She had long since lost awareness of her legs and arms, which was a mercy since she was to stand, unmoving, entangled in wires, for the rest of her life.
As she grew in her new home, the grid-suit she wore was replaced with a larger one. She wasn’t taken down off the dais for that change, or any of the four or five others that came later. She did not care that she was stripped naked in front of dozens of uninterested eyes by technicians who paid careful attention to her stents and shunts, and ruthlessly cut back the red hair on her head to make room for more wire contacts before fitting the new green suit on her. Her only care was that her daily feed was interrupted, and the lack hurt terribly.
When everything was working correctly, the girl was on fire. She was learning, and passing on information, schedules and visions and downloads and directions to nodes that looked to her like sparkling diamonds and illuminated lace. Her body shivered in pleasure, the closest thing to relief she would ever know, even as she ached constantly and burned with pain that accompanied each surge of blood in her veins, each download of information.
Her masters could have found a more efficient way of tapping into the communications grids of the Fourth Great and Bountiful Empire. But it pleased them to use her, the last and only successful human node, as it had pleased them to transform the newly-dead into terminal relays one hundred years earlier. It soothed their anger, after the painfully unexpected setback of the Jagrafess and Satellite Five. It soothed their fear.
And when she hurt the most, and craved the pain because it signaled another information dump, they were as pleased as their kind could be.
When she was 12, the technicians changing her grid suit and checking her catheters were caught in an unexpected power outage, the result of some undiscovered corrosion in wiring underneath the dais. Rather than being away from her feed for only 10 minutes, she was isolated for 48 minutes.
The pain was incredible. She shuddered and wept silently at first, then cried out, her voice scraped and ugly because she was not used to speaking much above a whisper. Her arms and legs thrashed, or tried to, despite their atrophy and their rigor. Then she convulsed.
The convulsion sent unanticipated rivers of adrenaline flowing to every part of her body. It also re-wove some neural pathways that had been severed by her original surgeries. That should not have happened.
She remembered. Not her parents or her earlier life or her name or days when she could walk and see like those who used her, or even those who made her.
She remembered that she should have a name. She remembered that she hurt and that she didn’t want to hurt, and that there was no ameliorating pleasure with the agony.
For years she had felt only physical pleasure and pain intertwined, and had been capable only of delirious joy in seeing, reading, passing on messages, being a medium and feeling the message.
Now, with adrenaline-fueled bridges between cerebrum, cerebellum, medulla oblongata, her palette was forcibly broadened.
She hated it. And when she realized that hate felt different than the pain or the pleasure, she was intrigued. She examined the hate, and named it.
And she was curious, and that felt different, too. After she named curiousity, she felt wonder. Once she had named wonder, she went looking for other things to name. It took days and days and weeks inside her head, although it was really only 48 minutes before the panicked technicians infused her with painkillers and sedatives, got her re-wired and then flushed the sedatives from her system to get her back to work.
By the time that happened, she had named hate, curiousity, wonder, anger, fear, determination, cunning and loneliness.
When she tried to do more, she thought of her masters, and looked along all her many glittering lattices and nodes to find their names. That tripped a failsafe they had placed in her mind years before, and she convulsed again.
The technicians were still in the control room, and they fell over themselves to get back to her and shoot her full of painkillers and sedatives again, while the Control room day shift tried in vain to compensate for their lack of schedule feeds. The technicians almost killed her, although they didn’t realize it.
But she was grateful, because while her conscious mind was numbed with their chemicals, the rest of her mind was freed again. She had time to name peace, and power, and glee, and several other things her masters would not have wanted her to learn about.
Just before the techs flushed her system yet again, she had time to name herself, but she buried her name as far beneath the layers of detritus in her mind as possible. She had determined that those who had made her as she was would take away nothing else from her, ever again.
She couldn’t laugh, but it would have been appropriate.
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