Seven emerged from the subway station, into the square, where the lights were brighter, the people closer and the noises louder. Instinctively, she drew back from it, pressing against Ryu’s chest, but he took her shoulders and guided her out, into the world. He knew that with the latest procedure she would see only the vaguest blurs and hear the noise of the city as a muffled roar, but he was determined to give her this night, if he could.
A cry escaped her, a small gasp of wordless excitement, and his heart leapt. The subjects were so sheltered, he’d had no clear idea of how she would react, but her pleasure was childlike, filled with joy and wonder. It was not so surprising perhaps; The subjects were vat grown and artificially aged, and none reached the age of ten before the final harvesting, whatever their bodies may suggest.
He took her by the elbow and steered her through the thronged streets of Shinjuku, slipping between couples and salarymen and clustered knots of streetcorner Otaku, ever conscious of the eyes of the city upon them. He supposed that some would think them a couple, but more likely they would see a girl and her father, perhaps a carer, and that suited him, so he took pains to hold her elbow as they crossed the street, no matter how strong the urge to entwine his fingers with hers.
They ate at a noodle bar and he watched intently as she savoured each mouthful. Her system could only handle the smallest portion of the blandest noodles now, but she delighted in the smells and the parade of colours as the conveyor belt of plates slid past them. She laughed out loud as he speared a brightly pink gunkanmaki and he swore that he would never forget the sound.
He had known since their first consultation, when he had marked a square patch of dermis on her smoothly bronzed stomach and prepared to strip it away. Pressing the oxygen mask to her face, he had brushed a stray lock of jet black hair from her slender neck and been lost forever. Even meeting her American original did nothing to change his mind; Hearing the barking laugh and the snickering cough, listening to the stream of filth and invective that passed for her wit, he found himself thinking more and more of Seven as the template from which this aged and imperfect copy had sprung, and he longed for her.
He had begun to work longer hours, staying late at the facility to be near her, creeping down to the nursery to watch her sleep. He listened to her muffled breathing on the intercom and closed his eyes, imagining that he lay beside her. He had even rushed to her side, once, when night terrors tore her from her sleep, but the orderlies who came in after him gave him knowing smirks when they found him with his arms around her heaving shoulders. He knew what they did on long night shifts with the subjects whose faculties for telling tales had been taken from them, and he was repulsed that they mistook his own intentions for anything like their own.
He knew that it was wrong, that he was risking his marriage and his career, the existence of his whole team at the facility, but that just made the yearning all the stronger. With every new procedure, as they stripped her away, piece by piece, he felt the need to do something for her. He wanted to take her away from her pain, if only for one night, but he could not see how to do it without adding to her troubles.
Finally, an opportunity had presented itself; A subject had gone into crash on the operating table, with the procedure barely begun. His team had stepped in to try and stabilise her, and the orderlies had their hands full with another from the same batch who seemed to sense his sibling’s distress. Quickly, Ryu had slipped into the nursery, roused her from her doze and dressed her in an old blouse and trousers belonging to his wife, back from the days when she still cared about her appearance. It was a little old fashioned and unflattering, but it hid the scars well enough, and her face was still perfect. He felt that his chest would burst with happiness as he led her from the facility to begin their tour.
She grew tired far too quickly though, and the night was soon over. She began to cry out as the motorcyclists drew too close, to shield her eyes when the neon glared too strongly. When the rain fell, she huddled against him for protection, with no conception of its source. He couldn’t risk taking her back on the subway without using one of the sleep-laden syringes he had snatched from the operating room, and he had no desire to see her shut down in that way, so he hired a taxi. He spent far more than he could account for when his wife next audited his wallet, but as he watched the lights glide across the rain streaked glass, reflected in her shining eyes, he was glad that he had. He wondered if this was how she saw, what she made of the harsh western music bleeding through from the supposedly soundproofed driver’s cab.
He wondered what she thought when she saw him.
Finally, when he could bear it no longer, he said what was in his heart, whispering it into the maelstrom of leaking rock and roll.
She smiled and gripped his hand with both of hers, and he wondered if she had somehow heard it, a whisper amplified by the feeling behind it.
Then she forced her ruined vocal chords to stilted life and asked him if they could go out again, one day?
“Yes, Seven. One day.”
He didn’t have the heart to tell her what they were harvesting next.
(Author: Karl A Russell. Story: All Rights Reserved. Photographer: Vincent. Image: Some Rights Reserved.)