The corrections officer ran the biometric scanner up Graham’s breast. Bold, digitized, red, it declared: EXPIRED. Many observers would have still called him a child at his sentencing, those decades ago when the implantations began. The need for prisons crashed when repeat offenders carried explosives somewhere on them.
Graham had knuckled down. Studied hard. Added letters of all sorts to the end of his name. Stayed whole while other boys from his gang tried again. Lost arms. Faces. Lives. He would be a model example of the project’s positive effects. Took a role in the implant factory to prove his route to reformed citizen was complete.
The officer waved him off, a free man. He left, cycling the serial numbers he’d memorized. The list of duds he had approved for use. Graham would contact their owners tonight. He had just the job in mind.
In the vermin light of fibre-optic reception he worked his quest a decade. A skintight cap dotted in electrodes cartographed his neural network. Human condition boiled of a soul, reduced to raw mathematic anatomy, synaptic charges.
The tiny box pulsed with promethean intent and his hand weighed the power cable. He thought of how he would have a replica for eternal company. In want of a body when there was only one body to be had.
The cool earth of a garden freshly dug pooled on metallic casing. Anything more violent would be murder, he thought. Anything less, a suicide.
It came like a funeral march over the fens of dry rice paddies. The beasts called from some unilluminated place just through the hedgerow and the patrons pushed their refusal and earbuds deeper.
They first arrived as envoys and company volunteers and each held on them somewhere a deed for their return. Wrapped up in pledges of reimbursement and guarantees and promises paid in full.
Distant lights of the approaching carriages preceded a horn’s cry in the dark. Everyone knew there was no going back. Not from here. Still, all huddled to board, and carried their thoughts of home.
Winter had set in, and spring never came. Ever since those strange months when the second sun appeared in the sky. The days still passed but he could scarcely call them days, and the moon rose no longer in the lengthening nights. The petrol can he clutched had been the whole reason he’d come out this way.
The youth followed the footsteps by torchlight when he fell. Fresh snowfall had masked the steep bank before him, so too the patch of scrambled thorns below. He lay on his back and the briars stayed his struggle with their claws in cloth and flesh. The smell of sodden, dead leaves filled his nose.
Breath rose from him in towers. White in the chill of the air. His flashlight gone in the tumble down the slope. His woodened fingers searched pockets for a lighter and returned empty.
Hours passed until footfall crunched through the drifts and stirred his huddled frame. A yellow glow cast from somewhere unseen to his rear made the streaks of bracken dance in shadow.
“Hard to see your way without a light.” A soft voice. A woman’s. He looked over for a face but found none, drowned by the rays cast from his pocket torch held hammergrip beside her head. “Where you heading?”
“Home,” he smiled to show his relief. “Might you cut me loose?”
She extended her hand to him. He reached out but his fingers stopped short of hers. Drawn back by the thorns.
“Ain’t no home this way in the woods but ours.” She wrenched the fuel can from his pleas and despair. She took it and her lamp and soon he lost sight of them altogether. All that was left was the creeping cold, and snowflakes that fell from the blackness of the heavens.