22 Aug

Short: Beyond Skin

Hello, lovely readers! Your intrepid writer is having a crappy week, and is taking a little break to recharge her batteries.

But don’t worry! You won’t go without your Starwalker fix. I’ve been working on some short stories about the crew, and wanted to share the first one with you all.

Your regularly scheduled posting will return next week. In the meantime, have fun with Rosie!

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She had been hiding the tremors for weeks now. Rosie Brasco clenched her fist to suppress them as she watched her captain be whisked away by overly-efficient medical staff. The ship’s doctor was scurrying after them, voraciously interested in the arm reattachment process. He didn’t notice that she was being left behind. She didn’t care. She couldn’t even feel her nails digging into her palm.

Alone in the hushed corridor, the skin crawled on the back of her neck. This whole building felt like it was holding its breath, afraid to speak. It was too much like that moment before a barfight breaks out; she kept looking around for someone to size up.

Her gaze snagged on the sign by the elevators: particularly, the line that read: Cybernetics and Enhancements, Floor 102. She looked down at her fist, then punched the button for the elevator with her other hand.

****

Broken Hill was the colour of corrosion. Rosie wasn’t sure if it was because of the metal, the liquor, or the bad language. She suspected that it was a special mix of all three; when she stopped to think about it at all.

She only thought about it when she was hiding and she hated hiding. Wedging her slender little twelve-year-old body in between crates, or behind the fold of a door, or under the lean of a wrecked sheet of plating, waiting for that moment when footsteps pounded up and someone crowed that they’d found her. She hated the way her pulse thrashed in her ears and her stomach turned over, even when they ran right past.

She hated being dragged out of hiding even more, surrounded by the laughter of that punk Tyrone and his friends, or the shouting of her furious father. No, she much preferred not hiding at all. It was less frightening to stand her ground and take the beating; either way, it was all the same in the end.

It was a Saturday when she saw the convicts being marched through the lower residential sector. Hard-faced men and women in faded grey clothes, miner’s boots and a bright collar with a tiny red light. Control collars, to incapacitate them if they stepped out of line; that’s how she knew they were convicts. That and the armed guards bracketing the group, glaring as much at the people they passed as they did at their charges.

The convicts weren’t usually brought within the civilian parts of the station. Some accident had closed down one of the convict docks; Rosie remembered her father muttering about it over breakfast because he had to work the weekend to fix it. He was a mechanic, which, now that she thought about it, was probably why he was so bitter.

Mechanics weren’t as cool as miners. Miners got to go out into the weightlessness of space and kick rocks all day. Tightening nuts wasn’t anywhere near as interesting. Sure, convicts made up most of the mining force, but there was plenty of work for civilian miners too. They were all over where she lived, with their big hands and loud voices, getting drunk and swiping at any small thing that got in their way. Most often, that was Rosie. Small things were useless on a mining colony.

One of the convicts in the line was huge, even for a miner, and Rosie stared. She had never seen a man so big. He was head and shoulders above the others and burly to boot. But he wasn’t soft, like the tailor down the street with the sticky fingers. He was hard and coiled, walking as if he was far stronger than his bulk suggested. He filled up the street with his presence; even the guards seemed to be giving him a wide berth, and the other convicts knew not to look him in the eye.

Rosie watched him, fascinated. It was more than just his size: there was something in the way he moved and held his head, as if he wasn’t wearing a control collar at all. It wasn’t just that he could reach out and snap a neck without any trouble at all; it was the fact that he looked like he would.

When he drew near the doorway she was sheltering in, she realised that he wasn’t all flesh: both of his legs were dark metal from mid-thigh down. He was all shifting machinery down there and, in places, she could see all the way through him. He clomped along with deep thumps and the faint hissing of mechanical joints. Those legs weren’t made for just walking, she thought.

And then his thick neck swivelled and two bright blue eyes pinned her, like he was jabbing a needle through a butterfly. Rosie hated hiding, so she lifted her chin and stared right back at him. To her surprise, the convict smiled darkly.

He flexed the fingers of his right hand, drawing her attention to it. It, too, was metal, along with his forearm. She could see the threads of mechanics sliding against each other. It was barely a human-shaped hand at all, with no soft curves meant for holding. When she looked back up to his face, he was still smiling at her. He kept his eyes on her until the guard behind him grumbled; then he sighed and moved on.

He was almost to the corner when she realised that no-one else was looking at him. He cast his gaze around but the bystanders all glanced away. They were afraid of him, all of them, even though he was wearing a collar that would flatten him if he so much as reached towards them. Out of all the people in the street that morning, she was the only one who dared to look him in the eye.

Even Tyrone and his friends across the way had shied away from him. Now that he had passed, they were giving her strange looks, and so Rosie smiled back in return. The same smile the convict had given her, as if she believed her small hands could snap their necks. For the first time, they chose to shove off down the street rather than torment her.

It wasn’t about size at all, she realised.

Six months later, Rosie got her first implant from a back-street limb-hacker in the mechanics’ district. Even with all the money she’d been able to scrape together between various odd ‘jobs’, all she could afford was a cheap weave to enhance the strength in her right arm, and it hurt like hell. But it was worth it when she split her knuckles on Tyrone’s face and broke his cheekbone. It was worth it for the wariness in his eyes that lingered even after his face healed.

“Rosie Rockbreaker,” he spat at her, and she grinned. He meant it as an insult but she liked the sound of that.

Straight away, she started saving for leg implants. Not so that she could run faster. So she could kick them so hard they’d wish they were running.

****

“There, Ms Brasco, all done.” The tech released her arm and stepped back.

Rosie flexed her hand and noted the smooth, unruffled movement. Much better. She curled it into a fist and smiled at the taut skin across her knuckles. She could almost feel the hum of the bio-metal frame balancing her new strength against the organic parts of her anatomy. No tearing at all this time. It wasn’t often that she could afford the latest upgrades and she decided that she liked it.

“So, what else you got on the menu here?”

++++

If you’re curious, the convict in this story is Henry from a previous short.

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3 Responses to “Short: Beyond Skin”

  1. Francisco Says:

    What made her decide to go into security?

  2. mjkj Says:

    Gah, my comment was lost…

    I posted yesterday — and then nothing here worked anymore…

    *sighs*

    mjkj

  3. Marcus Says:

    A wonderful little side story.