“Mitsuko, always a pleasure. How are you, Alice?” Giz’s smile hadn’t dropped. “What have you done to your hands this time?”
“I had to fix something.” Alice shifted uncomfortably and looked away. “I’m sorry.”
Mitsu squeezed her shoulder. “It’s alright, Alice. Don’t keep apologising.”
Alice nodded and fell silent, looking down at her mangled, exhausted hands. The place where the organic and the synthetic met at the base of her knuckles throbbed in pain. She winced as Giz delicately separated some of the tangled fibres hanging limply from her open fingertips.
“You know, Alice—”Giz’s bedside voice was silky—“this is starting to become a regular occurrence.”
She glanced at Mitsuko before staring down at her feet. “I’m sor—I know.” She knew she was a pain, especially since the Aria. But Mitsu was always there. Alice just didn’t know how to explain what it was to her. She didn’t understand it herself.
“Such a strange little girl.” Giz smiled to show he was not being unkind, but Alice already knew he had a penchant for the fantastic. All along the walls were bottles and jars and dusty equipment, separated by decrepit tomes and thick books. It was such an outdated way to store information, but Giz was a queer man. His very being was a fusion between organic and synthetic, old and new, primitive life and post-human cybernetics.
Mitsuko perched against the edge of the stainless steel table and stifled a yawn. “Speak for yourself.”
“We could put an end to this. You needn’t feel pain at all—unless you want to. You could be so much more than you are now.”
Alice bit her lip to restrain the pain she felt taking shape on her tongue and shook her head.
“You don’t want to relinquish your…humanity, is it? The organic matter of your body—is that how you define it? That can all be grown, personalised, and bought now.” He spread out the threads, wiping them down with a brush, lovingly painting them with Skin’s biorganic-oil. “I wonder where that leaves us.” His gaze met hers, his jelly eye quivering as the greenish pupil dilated. “Are you even human, Alice?”
“Giz.” Mitsuko’s tone was steely.
“Mitsuko.” He gave Alice another disconcerting smile. She knew what was coming—he’d asked her a thousand times how she’d gotten her markings and her mechanical implants, but she could never answer. Mostly because Mitsu shut down the conversation. Mitsu had a deep-seated aversion to the non-human. Alice herself was indifferent, but Giz’s questions did make her wonder.
“Humanity is such an antiquated concept, don’t you think? Humans hold on to it with bleeding hands, but true spirituality is when man is released from his self-imposed bounds. You could be immortal, you know.”
“And why would anybody want that? You wanna hang around here forever? Look at this dump. I lost count of the amount of injectors I saw on my way down.”
“Mmm.” Giz acquiesced. “Mrs Wu isn’t likely to do much about it, though.”
Mitsuko rolled her eyes. “Imagine that.”
Alice didn’t much like Mrs Wu. A small, mean, Chinese lady, she was more than just their landlady, she was the local syndicate leader. As Mitsu and the doctor talked shop, Alice drifted off into her thoughts, but the dull ache in her hands kept her tethered, and so she found herself in a peculiar state of stasis, watching the happenings around the room with a muted kind of interest. As archaic as they were, she liked the way Giz’s books looked stacked up in piles that reached the ceiling. They were often used to fuel fires on the streets, but, before they were offered up as kindle, Alice would sometimes flick through them. The language was different, old, hard to read. Jaxx told her it was inefficient. Redundant grammar. An entirely nonsensical lexicon. He said they used to spell based on where words came from rather than what they sounded like. Etymology, he called it and snorted, how stupid was that? But, Alice thought, there was a kind of beauty in that, a kind of enduring identity, a trail lovingly traced through history and preserved on paper. And then burnt and whisked away. That was sad. But then everything was on the nexus, everything. She pictured Giz and his headset, constantly connected, constantly searching and reading. ‘No matter how much a person stayed online, they’d never have time to read about everything,’ she thought to herself. ‘Besides, who would want to?’
In the corner of the room was a glass case containing silver body parts. There were limbs on one shelf, organs on another, each carefully arranged according to function. There was a separate tray for digits. Without realising, Alice had been watching them gleam for the past five minutes.
He said they used to spell based on where words came from rather than what they sounded like. Etymology, he called it and snorted, how stupid was that?
Giz followed her line of sight. “They’re pretty, aren’t they? Do you want some?”
Alice jumped. “N-no… thank you.”
Mitsuko rested a hand on Alice’s head. “You’re not making a guinea pig out of Alice, Giz.”
“Guinea pig?” Giz chortled. “It’s all been tried and tested, Mitsuko. Whoever fixed your arm didn’t know what he was doing. I could fix it for you. And if you wanted more parts, I could arrange it for you.”
“Not bloody likely.” She wrinkled her nose. “I’ve got just the right amount of metal. Besides, it works just fine.”
“My offer still stands. Avail it whenever you like.”
Alice flinched as he began winding up her little finger. Staring at Giz’s face, she spoke up, “Is that immortality? The metal?”
“Well, it doesn’t die like flesh.”
“And what?” Mitsuko raised a sardonic eyebrow. “You become like the Scions of the Halcyon?”
Giz looked at her and gave a very resolute, “No,” in answer, before returning to his work. “Immortality is perfection. Perfection is possible only for those without consciousness or with infinite consciousness. The Sons of Hell have corrupted their brand of immortality with imperfection and dressed it up in ritual and fancy. Their inadequacies lie in their all too human cognition. Their bodies might have moved on, but their minds have not. They are heirs to nothing.” He smiled at Alice as he wound up the rest of her fingers. “But for you, little doll, I meant only full cybernetic conversion. And if you could persuade Mitsuko too, you could run around London terrorising innocent doctors together forever.”
“Innocent?” Mitsuko smirked.
He clipped each fingertip closed and then, almost involuntarily, brushed the blue marks on Alice’s hands. They sparkled like Giz’s curious eye, small strings of bio-data streaming through each pool. Alice could see the question puckering his brow, but he restrained himself, smoothed out her hands and announced with a smile: “All done, Alice.”
“Thank you, Giz.”
“Always a pleasure, little doll.” Giz handed Mitsu a packet of in-Soma. “Half a capsule if she complains. Though not sure she will, she never does. She didn’t even ask for anaesthesia.”
“I hear that stuff’s hard to get hold of nowadays.”
“It is,” Giz said heavily. “That’s why I’m relying on this second grade rubbish as a sedative.”
“Thanks, Giz. I’ll see what I can do about that. Come on, Alice.”
Alice nodded dutifully and followed Mitsu back out into the inky black corridor. She looked over her shoulder as she left and saw Giz watching her go, the question clinging to him like an aura. He was the type of man to try and read everything on the nexus—she could tell; that was why he kept books for their intended use when everybody else had forgotten. One of these days she would have to answer him too, Alice thought, but that meant finding the answer first. She reached for Mitsu’s hand and they set off back up the stairs.
By Mehreen Fatima Ashfaq