Life and Limb
By Kevin Holton
I thought she was a rumor.
People never talked openly about The Surgeon. If she came up in conversation, it was in whispers behind closed doors. When Margorie first told me about her, I dismissed these discussions as rumors. Myths. Stories told to the desperate or fearful. Gullible people are why I spent my few scarce hours of free time at home, sitting around.
My couch was full of holes, but it was mine, and I was in my favorite spot, watching the Ultranet news feed on my holographic video screen. Beyond the couch and holovid, I didn’t have much else, and my barren apartment showed it. Blank walls, a dirty floor I rarely got time to clean, and a bed that sagged in the middle were about all I owned.
On the news, another few people had been very brutally, very publicly, killed by Enforcers. Unity Government’s official statement was, as always, “Obey the law, support your country, and do not resist arrest. Follow these rules, and you’ll be fine.”
A spasm ran down my arm. The left one, the Dynatech arm I had installed to replace my real one after the accident. Lately, it had been malfunctioning. I couldn’t afford repairs, and UniGov ignored my appeals for assistance. I’d received an email of only two sentences. “We will not be able to help you. Bear in mind, a severe decrease in productivity may result in a punishment of a fifty thousand credit fine and ten years in prison.”
Another harsh jerk, this one painful. All the new models were built to feel everything flesh and bone could, and that wasn’t always a good thing. Frayed wiring sent electric bursts through my system, hurting both replicant and real tissues. Squinting my eyes shut, I massaged my shoulder, where the installation met muscle.
“Planned obsolescence,” said a voice, and I jerked back, eyes wide. A woman stood against the wall, next to the news feed, where protesters were destroying a few bodegas to show how they disliked UniGov oversight.
“Who—how did you get in here?” The hammering in my chest overrode my pain. My door had been locked, and like every home, apartment, and business in Adonia, it had a complex combination lock. Only I knew the code. There were no windows.
“Wealth perpetuates. Design faulty goods, then design a way of life so you can’t live without them. Buy, break, buy, break. Repeat, ad nauseum.” Her tone was cool, calculated, machine-like, but I couldn’t tell who or even what she was. The woman wore a long black shirt and loose pants that flowed around her like an oil spill. On her face, she had a reflective mask, and a hood drawn to hide the rest of her head. When I tried to make eye contact, I only saw myself.
I stood up, ready for conflict. I didn’t have much, but I had pride, and wasn’t about to be intimidated in my own home, no matter how crappy a home it was. “What are you doing here?”
“Relax,” she said, raising a hand, “I’m not your enemy. In fact, I’m here to help.” Being around her made my head buzz with a faint static. My brain was caught between the channels of anger and curiosity. Darkness shifted, clinging to her frame as she levered herself off the wall, slowly approaching. “Let me see: a crushing accident. Hydraulic press came down in the center of your arm. Splintered bone. Torn muscle. Beyond repair. UniGov offered a new arm as compensation, but has no interest in upkeep.”
All this was said as a statement of fact, and was completely accurate. She didn’t need to ask questions. I was barely part of this—just an observer, not reacting, or sure how to, even as she reached out and began probing at my shoulder too, as I’d been doing moments earlier. Her fingers were cold. Real fingers, with skin and tendons, but long and pointed, almost sharp.
“Hm. Artifical supraspinatus and bicep tendons. Dynatech humerus head inserted into original glenoid. Easy.” Despite her mask, I could sense a smile on her face, mouth stretching wide like she was ready to bite. “You’re angry, aren’t you? At this government, which treats you so poorly. At your…” she rapped on my elbow, sending another jolt through me. “Limitations.”
I’d had enough games. Hypnotic as her touch may have been, I fought myself to say, “Why are you here?”
“Because you want me here, David.” Her reply, swift and rehearsed, told me she’d had this conversation many times before.
I swallowed, hard, feeling a tense knot in my throat. “You’re… The Surgeon, aren’t you?”
She laughed. Just once, a short, rhythmic burst of melody that bore the memory of brighter times. “Is that what they call me now? Well, I suppose it’s not wrong. That’s what I offer you. Surgery. I’ll remove this arm of yours.”
That was downright unthinkable. No one offered Dynatech removal. I mean, even kids were getting Cosme-tech augmentations these days. Your wealth was literally measured in the price of your new “parts.” Otherwise, you were just any old human. Or worse, Defective. “Why? What’s in it for you? I don’t have money.”
“I know,” she replied. It wasn’t a condemnation, like it would’ve been from anyone else. I almost heard a note of sympathy. “I ask your service. I’ll free you from the tyranny of cybernetics, and in return, you leave Adonia. Forever. Join my coalition back on Earth’s surface, where the darkness of this floating nation is just a passing shadow. You’ll tend fields, raise livestock, whatever the group needs. Whatever you can do with one arm.”
It was an enticing offer. As it was, I was working to survive anyway. Having people around, actual companionship, and a job I could be proud of didn’t sound too bad.
Another soft chuckle. “So you accept my offer?”
That confirmed it. She really could read minds. The rumors I’d waved off as impossible held up. “I do.”
“Then the first thing we have to do is fake your death, so no one gets suspicious.”
A screeching filled my head and pain exploded behind my eyeballs, painting my vision red. I struggled to stay conscious, only faintly aware that I was crying out and kicking at the floor, my body reflexively fighting against this slow implosion. Then my limbs fell limp, refusing to respond to my primal urge to flee as she kneeled over me, holding up a scalpel.
“That involves a little screaming,” she said, “and a whole lot of blood.”
She held me down, and in truth, the operation didn’t take long. True to her word, she let me scream; in my neighborhood, no one would bother investigating. Violent crimes were common. There’d been a news report later. Maybe. Plus, when you don’t have to be careful or gentle, surgery isn’t complicated.
I passed out from blood loss. When I awoke, for a moment, I thought I’d been having a nightmare. When I tried to sit-up, but could only push myself off the metal cot with my one remaining arm, I knew it’d been real.
My body shivered, but if I was cold, I didn’t feel it. Shock, probably. Wouldn’t be surprising. I’d been placed in an abandoned sickbay. There were a dozen or so beds, all like mine: rusted from neglect.
Voices caught my attention as I shook away the veil of unconsciousness. I followed them, passing a mirror in the hall. My left arm was gone. The stump of my shoulder had been branded, no doubt to stop me from bleeding out. In the center was an eye.
“…Just one of many recent deaths in this district,” a voice said, drawing me out to a waiting area. This might’ve been a hospital. Now, it was just a waystation. A single holographic screen ran, projecting tonight’s news. A woman I didn’t recognize stood next to a picture of me. “A neighbor heard screaming. His landlord found the tenant’s arm laying in a pool of blood. He has been declared deceased.”
Deceased. She’d done it. I was officially dead. No one would be after me, or tracking me through the tech that’d given me an arm, but caused me so much pain and grief.
“You’ll be escorted to a private vessel, and it’ll take you to the surface. UniGov won’t bother hunting for people there.” Her voice echoed in my head, but she was nowhere to be found. Two men entered the room, eyeing me. “It will be a long, arduous life, but it will be yours, full of people who’ve made the same decisions. Try to enjoy it.”