Cold was the only thing she could feel, weighting her limbs, fogging her senses, distorting her thoughts. Cold pressure against her mouth. A radiating cold of the stone table beneath her. Even the light was cold, streaming through the slits of the turret, draining the stone of hue.
Laughter. A voice, deep and rough. Another, harsh and high, the caw of a crow.
“Installing neural net and physical nodes. Switching to primary stimuli.”
It crackled from her toes to the crown of her head in regimented waves, meshed agony as if her body were on fire. Her eyes popped wide and she screamed.
“And we gotta live one!”
“Don’t touch her. The net is still testing the new connections and you’ll get the flow on.”
“Got some lungs on her.”
“Turn her off. She’s giving me a headache.”
Light, sound, pain, senses gone. Floating, deprived of everything except herself. In darkness, memory returns, a slow tide that can’t be escaped.
“Althea, this is for the best — ”
“My sweet girl, it’s the only way — ”
“They will have the cure, one day — ”
“I can’t bear you dying — ”
Let me out. Let me out. LET ME OUT!
Her voice had been silenced. Like Aurora, her mother had said. Sleeping Beauty in a tower, she remained, unchanged, not dead, not alive and the world going on and on.
“She’s back online. Mesh has been integrated. Frame bonding is complete. Cycle alpha testing.”
“Cycle Omega testing.”
A barrage of odours engulfed her, triggering a gag reflex. They rose from beside her, sour perspiration, the sweetish cast of decomposition, a sharp, bright scent, like burning batteries.
Eyes narrowed against the brilliant overhead lights, Althea blinked, the face looming over her slow…