This is an extract from a longer piece – possibly a novel – that I am developing as a fiction-science experiment.
Violet lives in a world where people physically ‘blend’ with machines. Violet is one of the first of the experimental children, who, as unborn babies, are given cybernetic brain implants that develop with them. p is her mentor, an adapted human who is degrading. When her body can no longer sustain her, p will become part of a Corps – a chimera of human and machine intelligence. Violet, now fourteen, believes that she is being given corrective neurological treatment for a disease.
The Taste of Violet
I think I’ll be sick, but p says look and I look, and I look in the mirror. The skirt is a flower, a tulip, the girl’s legs, the stamens. The tiny girl with her breasts so small they almost vanish in clothes. p says watch and I see her take the pink jumper. It comes over my head and shoulders like a jellyfish mouth.
p buys the clothes for me. p is kind. I say thank you to her. She has a bonus from Enlisting lots of people. Her ear looks extra sore today and skin peels away under the golden scales. Her ear is overloaded with gold. p could hear the stars talk with an ear like that. She laughs when I say this. I tell her that I want to talk to the stars, but she says that is a job only machine people can do.
I am scared of machine people. I saw inside a Corps once at the hospital. Rows of dark boxes like coffins with golden mesh over them so fine it looked like dust, lots of metal shapes, and bands of stripy wires clipped on like rainbows all around the edge. The colours made me taste fruit and leaves, flowers and death, and tastes that I didn’t know I could taste; my mouth overflowed. Then they gave me my treatment. There was a taste of something burnt, but I never remember much. Afterwards I have nothing but pale wispy grey, almost nothing. Grey taste, grey colour, grey sound. Maybe this is how it is to be one of the Halfway. They are so joyless. p will be Halfway soon, and she will no longer be able to smile.
I have a bad place inside my head like a rotten place in an apple – all squishy and horrible. They tell me they are trying to stop me going there, to wall off the bad place. I am frightened I’ll get trapped inside the bad place and walled inside by mistake. They tell me that can’t happen – that part of my brain is a mad place that doesn’t make any sense. No one could live there or even see inside. ‘We need to sort out your wiring, Violet,’ the doctor said, as if I was a machine person.
Poor little Violet. I can’t even write my name; it comes out higgledy-piggeldy and no one else understands it. I only write for p. I can use the writer if I can say the words clearly enough for it to understand. That way I can send p messages. Hello p, I hope that you are well. Today I am having more treatment. I won’t remember it afterwards. That is good, I suppose. All manner of thing shall be well, Mrs Arbuthnot says. I hope that you will come and see me soon, when I am better again. My hair is growing back, but I could have a wig. One with long blonde hair, maybe. I’d be like an angel, but Mrs Arbuthnot says I’d look better with my own colour, which is brown. I hate it. It smells like poo, I say. I hate it. Yellow smells of light. It sings like stars. Brown hums like a nest of flies. Mrs Arbuthnot says she’ll see what she can do. Her hair is like washed tar and curls like melted wax it makes me want to be sick all the time tasting tar and wax and paraffin. My new-grown hair is fuzzy like a baby mouse. It tastes of rancid milk. It doesn’t hide the scars from when they put wires inside. It is the first step to becoming a machine. I’d rather die that that, p. You understand. You are already well on the way to being a machine. But you will be dead then anyway. You become more dead at each stage. Will you know when you’re finally dead, p?
I don’t say that to p in my letters, it would make her too sad.
p says we must go back. The treatment will be fine she says. I’ll be all right. p is sad now. When she is drained, her voice slides around so much that she can’t always be understood. At least I can still be understood. p has to hold my hand now to walk straight. People look at her in the arcade, how she drags her right leg. I close my eyes when we reach the bubble.
p leaves me at the house. She has to get back. They’ll make her feel better for a while. Mrs Arbuthnot waits for me in her office whilst I go to the toilet. I think how it would be to go somewhere where I can be private and quiet whenever I want. Violet somewhere calm and quiet, just by herself. The window here is made with blank white glass. I cannot see out. I can hear nothing from the outside. Mrs Arbuthnot speaks to me from the other side of the door.
‘Are you all right, Violet? Do you need help?’
I say I am all right, I’ll not be long. I hope that my bleeding has started again. I could say that it has, but Mrs Arbuthnot will check. She checks everything. I have not bled apart from that once. They say it is because I am too small. Little Violet – she’ll never have her own baby. Does Mrs Arbuthnot have babies? I cannot imagine that. Her babies would smell of plastic.
There is a tiny clear patch in the top corner of the white glass. A spark of light comes through and sings to me. It tastes so sweet, like honey made from light should taste. I suck it. Mrs Arbuthnot is opening the door. Her head appears as I pull down the little skirt to hide my underwear from her.
‘I thought I might be bleeding.’ I say.
‘You should not be bleeding, Violet. Let me look.’
‘I wasn’t. It was a trick of the light.’
‘You might have an infection.’
‘It was a trick of the light, Mrs Arbuthnot. The light tasted like blood…’
If I start talking about what light tastes like she’ll back off. She hates that. But if she knew she tasted of tar and oil she’d get my medication and I’d be out for days.
‘The car is outside,’ she says.
‘I have decided not to go for treatment, Mrs Arbuthnot. I don’t need it.’
‘Violet, don’t be difficult. You know what happens then.’