Marlowe felt herself waking. There was no dream from which she woke, and no noise woke her. One moment she wasn’t, and the next, she was. Awareness simply happened.
“Is she awake?” a voice that came from everywhere asked. Marlowe instinctively scanned around. She was in a kind of glass tank. She couldn’t see anything. All around her was darkness. The voice was coming from a woman behind the glass.
“She is?” The voice queried. “Good. Hello, Marlowe. I’m Dr. Patel. You are in my lab. We are on Oz. You’re safe.”
Marlowe’s eyes tried to focus through the liquid in the tank. She tried to scream. A few bubbles skirted past the tube in her throat, floating from out of her mouth and up to the surface of the tank. She tried to struggle. Her legs wouldn’t cooperate. She couldn’t lift her arms. She couldn’t even rotate her head in any direction. The only thing in her body that responded was her heart, which began pounding violently.
“Sedation. Now,” Marlowe could barely hear Dr. Patel give the order. Slowly, her panic subsided. “Judging from the sudden spike in your heart rate,” the doctor’s voice said once again, “I’m sure you’re quite confused. Maybe even scared. There really is no need to be. Once again, I assure you, you are safe. Conserve your energy. You’re in terrible shape, and there’s a lot of work to do.”
Marlowe felt her heart rate dropping. She couldn’t feel her body, and yet she sensed tension leaving her jaw and cheeks.
“Good!” Dr. Patel said. “Now, we are going to lower the shield around the tank so you can see what’s going on. The light isn’t necessarily bright, but you may want to close your eyes just in case.”
Marlowe refused to comply. A crack of light formed around the top of the tank and grew into a band, which widened as the shield protecting the hydrostatic tank lowered. The water distorted the objects before Marlowe, but she could just make them out — a few screens on walls, a few pieces of machinery near the tank, and a team of people in white lab coats standing behind a woman who was clearly Dr. Patel. She had a shock of white hair, with bangs that just reached the edges of her thin eyebrows. The smile lines in her face were so etched in, Marlowe could make them out from behind a thousand gallons of water in a low-lit room. The tablet-sized device she held at her waistline was almost as wide as her thin torso, and she stood several inches taller than the rest of her staff.
“There was an EMP blast at the Terminus Citadel,” Dr. Patel said in lieu of formal introductions. “Your eyes, neural interface, and entire muscular system were all disabled and severely damaged. We’ve replaced your eyes and the interface, but your muscles…well, we’ve been working for six days to rebuild them and still have quite a long while to go.”
Marlowe couldn’t focus. A thousand questions flew through her mind like buckshot fired from a cannon, and she couldn’t get her head around any of them.
The omnidirectional voice of Dr. Patel echoed through her skull once again. “You’re going to be in here a while, I’m afraid,” she stated. “The team discussed it and, while it wasn’t unanimous, we have decided not to keep you sleeping for the duration. We have screens positioned so that you can be kept abreast of everything going on, both at home and abroad.”
Marlowe could physically feel her mind strain as she tried to concentrate, this time focusing on the screens. Through the distortion of the liquid in the tank, she could see NewsFeed’s Pat Daniels on a screen. There was another screen which was simply streaming a logo of a red clenched fist on a solid black background. There were other screens with logos and faces she didn’t recognize, with crawls and titles in languages she couldn’t read.
“Some of these Feeds will answer some of your questions,” Dr. Patel said, her tone lifting up in sympathy, “but I’m sure that they’ll probably leave you with far more. Don’t worry, we will have plenty of time to talk once the initial phases of rebuilding your muscles are finished and you’re out of the tank. In the meantime, try to relax.”
Despite the sedative, Marlowe’s heart rate began to rise again. She had so many questions, and the only thing worse than not having the answers to them was not being able to ask them at all. Dr. Patel watched as Marlowe’s pulse quickened.
“I understand that, despite your impressive history, this must be very scary,” the Doctor said reassuringly. “You are in good hands. Many of the members of this team were on the original project that created you from babyhood. They know you better than you know yourself. Well, your systems, anyway.”
Marlowe’s eyes widened.
“Surprised?” The doctor asked. “Surely you’ve wondered…you’ve had to have at some point. Well, let me go ahead and assuage you of any doubt — no, you are not synthetic. You’re only augmented. And quite human.”
Marlowe’s eyes relaxed slightly over relief that her worst fear was unfounded. But immediately, her mind raced back to all of the doubts — that this team was a fraud, that she was being lied to, that this was an experiment to test her. She looked over again at Dr. Patel with worry in her eyes.
“I assure you, you’re in good hands,” the doctor assured her. “This team is the best in the world, and they will be working around the clock to get your body working again. I wouldn’t trust just anybody with my daughter.”
Marlowe’s eyebrows furrowed. The first real thought formed in her mind: Was that some kind of metaphor?
A tone sounded on Dr. Patel’s tablet. She raised it up and studied it. “No, Marlowe, it wasn’t a metaphor,” the doctor responded to Marlowe’s unspoken question. “I am your biological mother.”
Marlowe’s heart rate spiked. She tried to thrash, to smash her way out of the tank and kill this monster who would dare lie to her so egregiously. A few small bubbles rose from the tube in her mouth and percolated to the top of the tank.
“Sedative!” Dr. Patel ordered. “Now!”
Marlowe’s eyelids grew heavy. Her mind couldn’t form words, and her thoughts slowed. Still, anger burned deep in her. She felt it glowing from the very core of her being
“We will talk, Marlowe,” the doctor said, “I promise. For now, get some rest.” Distantly, Marlowe heard Dr. Patel order the shield around the tank raised. Light began to diminish. The wide bar of light became narrower, until the last sliver of it slid through a crack at the top of the tank, finally disappearing, leaving Marlowe completely in the dark.