The sun burns on the horizon, setting the ocean alight. I hold my hand up to it and watch the colors bleed through my fingers, illuminating the synth-skin and revealing the endoskeleton underneath.
“Nice day, isn’t it?” Tris says, smiling at my admiration. “Especially now that you’re back.”
I take a deep breath, filling my new body with air, and slowly exhale.
“Yeah,” I mutter, looking down at my kicking legs. The sea foams under the dock I’m sitting on, swirling in an infinite pattern of swirls and loops, whispering in its’ ancient language.
“Hey now, you don’t have to be like that!” Tris gently nudges me, cautious of hurting himself. “Besides, have you looked in a mirror? You have one of the new synths, barely out of prototype stage! Not to mention that you’re one of the first Relocated.”
Moving my attention from the sea to his gray eyes, I raise an eyebrow knowingly. I’m not one of the Firsts, I’m one of the Seconds. The Firsts had some… glitches they couldn’t fix, but they promised that this series would be better.
“I didn’t think I’d be so different,” I say, flopping down onto the dock and looking up at my hands. “I mean, look at me! My nails are plastic chips, my hair is made of fibers that won’t tangle or burn, and my face-”
Here, I falter, putting one of my hands on my cheek. Gone are my pale blue eyes and my broken nose, the crooked grin and the sharp teeth that reminded people of a vampire. Now I have a pretty smile and beautiful eyes, a nose that’s just right, and a grin that’s been righted. I still look a little like myself, just… perfect.
I didn’t see myself instantly when I… what’s the word, woke up? I had to float in a tank of some regenerative liquid, waiting for my organs to bond to the metal skeleton, for my heart to start beating, and for my cybernetics to finish calibrating.
I was awake the entire time. It didn’t hurt; it was just confusing, different. They said that they had to keep me conscious, to make sure that my soul bound to the new body, so that I wouldn’t die and waste the millions of dollars they spent on me.
“Well, you may be state of the art.” Tris lies down next to me, staring at my unnaturally blue eyes. “But, no matter how you look, you’ll always be my Ana.”
He leans in and gives me a slow, long kiss, and I’m glad that I can feel it. One of my largest worries was that I’d spend the rest of my life trapped in a plastic shell, unable to feel anything ever again.
“Was it bad?” I ask when he pulls away, gazing at me. “I haven’t calibrated everything yet, and my cybernetics are going crazy. This alert here says that I have a ‘high levels of dopamine’.”
Tris laughed, obviously recognizing the chemical seconds before the display gave me a short explanation of what it was. I put my hands to my face, wondering if I could blush, and roll away from him in embarrassment.
“Hey, it’s okay!” I feel the boards creak as he scootches towards me, gently putting a hand on my arm. “It wasn’t bad, not at all! A little weird, but not bad. In fact, you might be the first synth to have gotten kissed. Imagine if that’s how you’re written about in the textbooks.”
“Stooop!” I wail, curling up into a ball to ease my mortification. “You’re not helping!”
He laughs, but stops teasing. The beeping sensors in my head slowly calm down, then turn off, and I roll back over to face him.
“Do you mean it?” I ask, looking at him. “That you’ll always love me?”
“You know I can’t fib,” Tris says, a sad smile on his face. “If there’s anything I can’t do, it’s lie. Remember that time, during class, when I had to tell the teacher what really happened to my art project?”
I snort, giggles shaking my body, and recall the incident. Supposedly, his pet cat had seen the posterboard as some sort of new challenger, taking it upon himself to devour the project in one night. Of course, his mother had to take the cat to the vet as soon as they woke up and realized what happened, leaving poor Tris to tell the class the tale.
“I didn’t think she’d believe it!” I laugh, staring up at the darkening sky. “You could tell that she was debating giving you an F and giving you a detention, but the look on her face when you brought out the evidence! Priceless!”
We laugh at the silly story until the first few stars dot the sky, telling us that it was time to go home. It wasn’t really home, just a compound with a few cozy houses on the beach. The scientists didn’t want us synths getting into too much trouble without knowing the extent of our capabilities, yet. But once the last round of testing was done, we’d get to choose what happened next.
Tris gets up, and I watch him dust the sand off his clothes. He reaches a hand down, and I take it, letting him pull me up.
“You know,” he muses as we walk down the dock, still holding hands, “You’re a little lighter than you were before… the accident. Somehow, with your endoskeleton and all your gadgets, you weigh less.”
“It’s that new titanium alloy.” I read off the specs off the display in my head. “Hephastium or something. Really takes off a lot of the weight I had earlier. That, and the new skin doesn’t need as much blood, so I have half as much veins and blood in me. Of course, nothing really changed organ-wise, but I don’t have non-essential organs. Weird.”
“How’d you know all that?” Tris was astonished, then he narrowed his eyes suspiciously. “Are you cheating, using your display again?”
I try to play coy, but he sees right through it and tussles my hair. I squealed indignantly, then chase him down the rest of the dock, all the way back to the compound, coming at a screeching stop in front of Hilde, the head scientist.
“Good evening, ma’am,” I say, using the customary greeting. “How are you doing tonight?”
“Very well, Thanatos,” Hilde replies curtly, using my full name. “I trust that you remember what time dinner is to be served, and that any ill-meaning contact towards my son is prohibited.”
I nod, ignoring the silent rage bubbling up inside me. Hilde had always been this curt, around me and anyone Tris came in contact with. It was like no one was worthy of her son, and I sort of got it, but she didn’t have to be so sour!
“Yes, ma’am, I remember. I’ll be more careful next time.” I don’t stop walking, instead striding right through the doorway and to the dining hall to join everyone else.
The hall is lively with conversation. Mostly, the synthetics showing off to their families their new limits or something that they learned that day. Mine aren’t here, due to the accident, and I hope that I get to see them soon.
I’m not entirely sure what the accident was, just that it was big, bad, and happened. They won’t tell me, saying that it ‘would trigger traumatic memories’ and ‘put me in therapy, extending my time in the compound’. They won’t even let me see my family, because they got hurt too. Not badly enough that they needed a new body, but enough to be in critical care for weeks. I wonder what happened…
“Ana!” Tris calls, and I come back to Earth. He’s in line, holding out a tray towards me, waiting for me to join him. “It’s Mexican tonight! Smells authentic, too, but I’ll let you be the judge of that.”
My mouth waters, and I bound towards him. Sliding into line, I take the tray and lean forward as far as I can, trying to tell by scent if they’re up to scratch. Due to having Mexican relatives in close proximity, I’m a little picky about food people call ‘Mexican’. Something that made Tris’ eyes water would be devoured by me in seconds, and if the beans weren’t cooked right, God help you.
We reach the front of the line, and I almost faint. It looks and smells amazing, and I heap it onto my plate. A warning goes off in my peripherals, telling me not to get too much, and I share a bit with Tris so that I have room for dessert.
“That’s not fair!” He says, looking at the upcoming desserts in woe. “I wanted a tablet!”
I turn and look at the dessert corner, and I almost drop my tray. They have chocolate tablets! They’re a little larger than an orange rind, three times thicker, and solid chocolate!
I ****** one up and give Tris a look, saying, “Don’t you dare touch mine. I will not hesitate to chop your finger off if you do.”
Before I can see his reaction, I skip over to a table, dodging all the synths and their families. They’re the ones who got reconstructed because they had the money, and they’re all snobs. Okay, maybe one or two of them are decent, but if so, I haven’t met them yet.
Sitting down, I take out a small hand-mirror and give myself a once-over. According to our lessons, mealtimes were the best times to go over ourselves and see if we’d broken or torn anything. Most of our sensors weren’t fully up and running, and some of the integrated circuits would take a bit to calibrate, so we had to be vigilant.
I’m checking my neck and ears when Tris comes over and sits down next to me. Looking up at him, I ask, “Have I torn anything? I can’t check everywhere.”
He gives me a look-over and shrugs, saying “I don’t see anything. You look fine. Can we eat?”
I nod, and put the mirror away. Looking back at my tray, I grin, then tuck in.
The first bite is amazing, a collection of beans and rice, perfectly made! It almost tastes like my mother’s recipe…
Fire and ruin. My eyes water from the smoke, and I cough, my lungs screaming in pain. My body’s on fire, in agony, and everything hurts.
I gasp, coming back to reality. Tris is giving me an odd look, mainly at my hand, which has crushed the spoon it was holding.
“I… I…“ I stutter, at a loss for words. What just happened? What was that? How…?
“Are you okay?” He asks, now worried. I’m never at a loss for words, and he knows it. “You don’t look so good. Are you glitching?”
“Uh… I’m not sure,” I reply, looking down at myself. “I thought… ah, nevermind. It’s nothing.”
I put the spoon down and pick up the fork, resuming my meal. I hesitate when I put it up to my mouth, but at Tris’ expression, I take a bite.
Pain. Pure, undiluted pain. It runs through my body like liquid fire, searing and burning every inch of me.
I scream, but the sound barely gets past my lips. I shudder and pass out, but I’m back in seconds, still in pain, still alive.
This time, I jump up, yelping, and trip over the bench, falling hard. Tris ‘oi’s at me, leaning over the table to see if I’m all right.
“Are you sure you’re okay?” He’s beside me in seconds, looking down.
My head’s ticking, probably a crossed wire, and I can feel pieces of my synth-skin have torn from the surprise jump.
“What happened?” I say in a low voice, still shaking. “What was so awful that you won’t tell me what happened? What was the accident?!”
Tris gives me a sad and knowing look. It’s not the first time I’ve asked him. He told me to be patient, to wait until my family was better, and I trusted him. I trust him with my life. But this… this is too much! I need to know, now!
“I’m sorry,” he whispers, holding my head in his arms. “I can’t tell you yet. We’re almost there, we almost can, but not yet. Please, please trust me, just a little longer.”
Some technicians hurry over and put me on a stretcher, taking me to the Med Room. I wonder if they’re worried about the tic or the sudden flashbacks. In any case, it looks like I’ll be skipping dinner.
They rush through the halls silently, one managing to pop the plate at the top of my neck, where it merges with my skull, to plug a wire in and run diagnostics. I shudder as the foreign electricity surges through me, marking all the things that were operating correctly. I could feel them pinging through my body, a petit bell ringing every time it marked. A few of them were short claxons, telling me that I had some issues, but there weren’t many.
We reach the Med Room and they place the stretcher on the bed. My body was starting to hurt from the shaking, but there was something else. A memory, a pain memory, was starting to make me feel uncomfortably warm.
I cry out when a tech touches me, and she pulls her hand away quickly.
“She has residual memories from the accident.” She reports, and pulls out a wand. Opening another small plate on my arm, she gently inserts it into a port and reads the data on the screen. “Her brain thinks that her body is still in-”
“Classified!” Another tech shouts, then gently pulls my pants up a bit. As he grimaces, I know that the skin tore a little more than it should’ve, and the ******** red on my pant legs confirmed it. “She’ll need a graft. Do we have one here?”
“We used it on the other one,” the she-tech said, taking the probe out and putting it in my neck. “We have some pieces, but it won’t patch that. Can we get some from the other building?”
“On it!” Someone rushes out, someone who was in the door until just now. Who was that?
“What happened here?” A curt voice says, and I groan. Hilde, of course.
“The meal must’ve triggered some of her memories from the accident,” a scientist answers her. “She had a bit of a seizure and tore some of skin and blood vessels. We used the last graft we had here on Oliver, but we have someone going to Building E to get some more graft.”
“Nevermind the grafts, we need to seal the blood vessels now. Do you have any gel?”
“Not enough to get all of them. And even if we do, there’ll be even more cell death. She’d need multiple grafts on that leg, and would be able to use it for a bit.”
“That’ll have to work. If we don’t seal it up, she’ll lose too much blood and damage her organs. They’re already operating on minimal blood; we don’t want to stress them.”
I can hear Hilde opening cabinets, searching for the gel, and she rushes back to me with a tube in hand. She rolls me onto my side to get a better look at my leg, then starts smearing something cold on my leg.
Pain. My skin is seared from head to toe, pieces of clothing burned onto me. Hands grasp me, and I cry out as they heave me onto a stretcher. The air cools around me, and I sigh in relief as I feel ice packs press onto me. I’m still in pain, but not as much as before.
“She’s having another seizure! Shut her down!” Hilde shouts, and a technician rushes to my panel. “She’ll hurt herself even more!”
An alert flashes across my vision. Shutdown in 5… 4… 3… 2… 1…
System initiate in 5… 4… 3… 2… 1…
I wake up, my brain feeling like a fog’s made its home there. I groan and raise a hand to rub my face.
“Hey, you’re up.” Tris. Thank God Hilde let him stay here. “You okay?”
“My brain hurts,” I groan. “I hate forced shutdowns. They always hurt, even if brains don’t have pain sensors.”
He snickers, making me open my eyes and glower at him. One of my eyes is running diagnostics, a skeletal frame with all my cybernetics highlighting as it goes through, making sure everything is running.
“What’s the verdict?” I ask, lifting my head up to feel my panel. It’s back in place, and they even made sure none of my hairs got caught. I look down at myself, spying my raised leg. “How long until I walk?”
“Not long,” Tris answers, handing me a small pudding. I dig in, savoring the chocolate gooeyness as he continues. “It’s a prototype graft, so it’s building your leg up faster. One of the new things Mom came up with. She’s happy that they got an okay to test just before you tore your leg, so she’ll be keeping an eye on it to see how it works on synthetic skin. If it patches you up better than new, they’ll test it on real skin.”
“Wait, she’s happy? Like, in a scientific way, or a human way?”
“She likes you, Ana. She has to look all gruff because we’re romantically tied. She has a pretty stressful line of work, and she can’t show favoritism or you’ll get booted out of the program before deemed ready. You’d get shut down, essentially killed.”
He hadn’t phrased it like that before. He’d always said that her work was hard and that she didn’t like not keeping an eye on him, but the favoritism part was new. Thinking back, she had been agreeable before the accident, and had soured after it.
“Tris, I think it’s time for me to know what happened that night.” I mutter, gulping down another spoonful of pudding. “I think I know, but I don’t have the full picture. And I think you’ll want to tell me, rather than have me figure it out and get the wrong side of the stick.”
Tris sighed, leaning back. He didn’t want to tell me, probably had been forbidden by Hilde, but took a deep breath.
“No one isn’t sure what exactly happened. The official release says a fire broke in your home and caught onto something extremely flammable. Your apartment exploded, catching the units around it on fire. The other tenants managed to get out with smoke inhalation, some burns, but your family got the worst of it.
“No one died, but you almost did. You were at the epicenter of the fire, a few feet away, and you got seared. The paramedics couldn’t do anything, and once I heard about it, I begged Hilde to put you into the Synth program. She got consent and records within minutes, and you were moved into one of the facilities within hours. They had to get a portable ICU just to get you from the house to the facility, where they did the Relocation. They managed to get most of your vital organs, the rest being replaced by machines or donor organs, and you made it. They kept you in stasis for a while, then woke you up once they were sure that everything was bonding correctly, to start getting you used to your new body.
“Your family members are in ICU units, but they’re stable and healing. They had some burns and smoke inhalation, but they’ll live.”
“When can I see them?”
“Well, it was going to be in a few days, but with your leg, it’ll have to be sometime next week. They’re eager to see you, in person, at least. Hilde’s been sending them progress reports and photos, so your appearance won’t be that much of a shock. They even had a hand in designing you, like your nails. The other Synths just have hardened fingers, but your sister came up with the nails.”
I grin. I could see her going over the schematics and nagging the scientists, asking what was what and making improvements. She was more an artist than an engineer, but had a knack for fixing things.
“I wanna see them tomorrow,” I say. “I don’t want to wait any more. Who knows? The graft might patch my leg up completely by tomorrow, and we could take a wheelchair. I want to see them. I want them to tell me what happened, from their points of view.”
“I’ll see what I can do.” Tris said. He stood up, stretched, then bent down to kiss my forehead. “No promises, though.”
I lean back and pull him down for a more satisfying kiss.
“Thank you,” I whisper. “For everything.”
Edit: Ana has almost all of her original internal organs, but some got ruined. Brain’s fine, but lungs got scarred, certain parts of intestines got punctured and were either removed or patched, while skin, hair, nails, etc. were entirely replaced. Metal endoskeleton houses hormone, blood, and cybernetic centers. Cybernetic-wise, they did it to tell her whats’ going on with her body because she doesn’t have as many sense receptors as she did, so if she gets cut, she might not be able to feel it. Also, they give her a one-up, so why not?
Hephastium is a made-up alloy, I wanted a cool name for a light but practical metal (named after Greek god of fire and crafting, so smithing).