Veil of Shadows – Chapter Four

More tests followed lunch. Kelsey was heartily sick of being an invalid. She was even more disgusted with all the blood and tissue samples Lily insisted on taking for her nano search. Modern medicine didn’t normally require invasive procedures, but even the diagnostic equipment the doctor had available didn’t show the tiny machines. The samples would go to a lab to find them.

It was late afternoon by the time Kelsey returned to the Old Empire scanning machine. Doctor Leonard and Carl Owlet had left. She wondered what they’d discovered and where they’d gone. She’d expected them to camp here until Lily threw them out.

Lily brought Kelsey’s grav chair to a halt beside Workstation Twelve and headed for her office. “I have a ton of work waiting on me. Yell when you’re ready to go back to your room. Or if you need some kind of help with this.”

“Will do.” Kelsey closed her eyes. She knew she didn’t have to, but she was tired.

Diagnostic Scanning Workstation Twelve?

This unit hears you, Kelsey. How may it assist you?

I don’t think I’m correctly accessing my implants. Can you tell me how this process should work?

The machine only paused for an instant, but Kelsey noticed. This unit has completed a diagnostic routine on your hardware. All higher functions are in standby mode. Your trainer should have brought them online as the implant stages were complete.

What kind of stages?

The implantation procedure for commando hardware takes place in stages. Stage one is the cranial hardware and nanites. Stage two is the optical, olfactory, and auditory hardware. Stage three is the pharmacology unit. Stages four, five, and six are the artificial musculature and bone reinforcement. These procedures have a recuperative period of between four and seven days. During that time, the patient integrates the new hardware. Subject matter experts then train the patient on how to control the new hardware.

Kelsey felt like laughing. Not because it was funny, but because it partly explained why this sucked so bad.

Diagnostic Scanning Workstation Twelve, you performed all of those stages in one session and I have no trainer. I can’t even walk.

The machine was silent for a full five seconds. Records confirm. This unit is at a loss as to why it did so. This violates all protocols and places the patient in significant danger of implant failure or death. The machine actually sounded shocked and dismayed.

Blame the people that reprogrammed you, Kelsey thought. You can’t do anything about those who came before me, but you can help me recover. How many times have you done this before?

Accessing records. This unit has performed this illegal procedure five hundred sixty-two thousand, four hundred and ninety-two times. The first illegal procedure took place five hundred twenty three years, four months, and twelve days ago.

Over half a million people forced to become like she was and then made slaves by the rebels, just by this one machine. And that didn’t count the Fleet personnel that already had implants. The scope of the horror made her sick.

You can’t do anything about that now. You said I have a set of commando implants. That’s a marine, correct?

Incorrect. Commandos are a specialized group of marines with the highest degree of enhancement. The standard marine package, while capable, has significantly less comprehensive hardware. Nanites, but no artificial musculature or bone reinforcement. Basic ocular and auditory implants, but no olfactory implants.

So, commandos were the elite marines?

Correct.

Did Fleet officers have different levels of implants?

Negative. All cranial implants are identical. Support equipment varies between Fleet personnel, marines, and commandos. Fleet officers only have cranial implants. All have medical nanites, though the commando-grade nanos are markedly more capable.

That was the first useful information she’d gotten for them. Hopefully, there was a lot more.

Okay, Diagnostic Scanning Workstation Twelve… I’m going to refer to you as Twelve going forward. That other unit cut me open like I was a fish. Shouldn’t there be painkillers and regeneration of the incisions?

Regulations require anesthesia for the procedure. Accessing implantation unit. This unit is detecting that the regeneration equipment is not active. The unit should also perform the surgery in a slower and more controlled manner to minimize injury to the patient. I have reset it.

That was useful. Or it would be if anyone else were crazy enough to put themselves through the procedure.

So that brings us back to me, Twelve. I have no idea how to use these implants. I’ve destroyed things because I can’t control my own strength. Can you do anything to help me?

Step one is to bring your hardware to active mode. Once it is fully online, you should be able to achieve consistent control.

Kelsey opened her eyes and waved at one of the nearby technicians. “Would you get Doctor Stone for me?”

“Certainly, Your Highness.” The man hurried over to Lily’s office and sent her back.

Lily smiled as she hurried over. “That was quick.”

Kelsey frowned. “How quick?”

“A couple of minutes.”

“Huh. It felt like Twelve and I were talking longer than that.” She filled Stone in on what she’d learned.

The doctor excused herself and retrieved her tablet. She had Kelsey go over it again and made notes. “A commando, eh? Your father would be proud.”

Kelsey snorted. “He’d be horrified. I want to bring all my hardware online. Maybe then I can walk.”

“I’d recommend against that, but I know how effective that’s likely to be. Let’s get you into a scanner so we can watch the process.”

It took half an hour to get everything set up to Lily’s standards. Medical personnel now packed the room looking at an array of instruments. Doctor Leonard and his programming henchman returned and wired her up like a stolen grav car. Only then did they allow her to start the process.

Twelve, let’s bring my implants online in the manner you think best.

Acknowledged. Close your eyes and relax. Setting higher functions to active mode.

She felt the indescribable sensation of something inside her head turning on. Her entire body twitched.

“The processors just kicked into a flurry of activity,” Doctor Leonard said.

Lily leaned over Kelsey. “Are you okay?”

“Yeah. I just feel weird. Like I can feel the implants.”

What now, Twelve?

Stabilization subroutines are now active. You should be able to stand and move normally. Your internal governors have locked your speed and strength to levels appropriate for normal duty. They will remain at that level unless you chose to override the governors or your implants determine that you are in danger.

Kelsey took a deep breath and sat up on the diagnostic table. She slid her legs off the side and stood. Lily grabbed her arm for support, but Kelsey waved her away and took a step. There was a moment of seeming instability, but her body corrected for it. She walked around the lab, starting slowly but gaining confidence with every step. She felt the grin splitting her face.

She stopped in front of Twelve and thought about a technical schematic and one appeared. She found she could drill down into the machine to the level of circuits. The diagrams labeled everything with part numbers and summaries of functions. There were even instructions on how to safely remove and replace them. The information seemed to be coming from Twelve, but she wasn’t sure.

“Whoa.”

Lily was at her side in an instant. “What’s wrong?”

“I wondered about the workstation and schematics just popped up in my field of vision as though I was holding a tablet. Twelve, I think I’m operational.”

“Incorrect,” the machine said aloud. “Your optical, olfactory, and auditory implants are in standby mode.”

“I just saw a technical diagram of you, so I’m pretty sure my eyes work.”

“Correct, but incomplete. The basic functionality is active, but the higher level functions of the commando implants are not.”

Lily looked at the machine suspiciously. “What does that mean for her? The eyes, for example.”

“Commando optical implants are capable of enhancing human vision into the infrared and ultraviolet ranges. There are also certain threat assessment and combat functions that integrate with them.”

“Turn it on, Twelve,” Kelsey said. “All of it.”

On reflection, that haste might have been a mistake. Her view of the room changed. Everything became sharper. Clearer. And for a moment, brighter. Bright enough for her to shield her eyes.

Noise overwhelmed her hearing for a few seconds. She heard what seemed like a hundred conversations going on. There were so many unknown sounds that she couldn’t catalog them all. The same was true of her sense of smell, though to a lesser degree. And in a much more technical way. Chemical composition analyses popped up in the corner of her vision, detailing specifics of what she smelled to levels more appropriate to a lab. Why a commando needed a good nose, she had no idea.

She dismissed the information and focused on her breathing until she felt she had a better grasp of what was happening. She uncovered her eyes. Everything was still unnaturally sharp, but the brightness had returned to a more normal state. Kelsey focused on a man in the hall. His face snapped close, as though she’d looked at him through electronic binoculars. By focusing in, she found she could see his eyebrow hairs clearly. And his pores. He should see someone about that.

The noise in the room subsided until she thought she could hear him breathing.

“Excuse me,” she said loudly. “You in the hall. What’s your name?”

The man looked around to be sure she was talking to him. “Claude.” His voice thundered in her ears.

“Where are you from? Whisper it.”

He looked confused, but nodded. “The southern continent.” His voice was very soft, but she heard him clearly. The other noises around her almost overwhelmed him, though. She’d have to practice a lot to do that more consistently. Or better yet, to turn it off.

She thought about that a moment and her vision returned to normal. The overwhelming sounds and smells damped down to what she thought of as normal levels.

“This is going to take a lot of getting used to,” she muttered.

“That’s enough experimentation for the day,” Lily said firmly. “I want you to rest for a while.”

“Seriously? I’ve been in bed or a grav chair for a week.”

The doctor smiled. “Everyone says that. Maybe you feel like you can take on the world. Hell, with those implants, you might make a credible effort. But you can rest for a while first. Back in the chair.” She pointed at the grav chair sternly.

Kelsey sighed and climbed back onto the chair. She did feel tired, even though she didn’t want to admit it.

“How long until you know about those nanites?”

“I already have some preliminary images.” She handed Kelsey a tablet. The picture on the screen showed a cell. There were little dots next to it.

Kelsey expanded the image and the small machines came into view. They were still somewhat indistinct, but they were obviously mechanical. “I’ll be damned. Those things are inside me? That’s creepy.”

“There are a lot of them, too. They somehow signal one another about an injury and congregate to help repair the damage faster.”

The princess handed the tablet back to Lily. “I don’t know if I’ll ever get used to that.”

“Humans are surprisingly adaptable. What you need now is a little more rest and a few more friendly faces. Senior Sergeant Talbot is back from his trip to look at one of the Pentagaran military bases. Now that you can walk, I bet he’ll help you get back on an even keel.”

Lily moved the grav chair toward the door. “But for now, you can take a nap.”

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