Elizabeth Xilvrin pushed the thin white sheets off her bare smooth legs. She pulled a proper shirt over her night shift. Some of the day's heat had been trapped in with the cool desert evening, mixing in an uncomfortable humidity.
The electronic lock was overridden by filaments of the liquid and metal compound -known as Xilvrin- invading its circuitry. The keycode buttons beeped without being pressed in the correct sequence. The green light appropriately flashed. She'd been trained well. Escaping from her bunker was easy. Constructing it to lock solely from the outside couldn't keep her in.
She shook the drops of Xilvrin from her French-manicured nails. Rabbit had done those for her ... nail upkeep is a health necessity for a Xilvrin being. She ran those fingers now through her cornsilk hair. He would ask Rabbit to do something with it next. These were strange feelings. She'd never wanted to be pretty before. Any way Rabbit had dressed her was of little consequence until recently. Now her heart would flutter where it had been steady all other times.
It was that Palmer's fault. She had wanted to try it ... yes, I wanted to try him, just once, just one kiss ... to see how a boy tastes ... in kindness. In kindness because she had tasted them before, men and boys, but not their lips. She understood anger. She understood burying her blade in their chests. She was familiar with the taste of blood in the gaps of her teeth and pooled in the pockets of her gums.
"That ... that bothers me?" this occurred to her. Her stomach knotted up. The acid had been eating away at its walls. A Xilvrin-being stomach is delicate to begin with ... most solid foods made them feel ill. She'd switched to a liquid diet long ago. Lately that hadn't been enough.
She wandered directly to her father's room, a building away, without thinking about it. She'd tread the path habitually.
"Curious ..." she observed he'd gone to bed in a full suit. He lay flat on the bed, eyes closed, no sheets over him.
His creation -his daughter- padded quietly to his side. "Your work is so stressful," she petted his chick-soft short hair. Will twitched and grumbled, running like a dog through a dream. "Shh," she cooed.
How beautiful and yet so troubled.
Her dangerous fascination brought her close to him, hovering inches from his head. She extended her fingers, dripping Xilvrin. She let the silver substance run around the grooves and folds of her skin, not letting it fall in him just yet.
"I could ... I could make you like me. It can be done. I can tell you how. Not yet. You’d want to use it on others ... but it is a very special gift. I only want to give it to you. I want you to heal," she glanced down to his left arm where a stump ended where a hand should be. "My brother took from you. I want to make you stronger. I want us to always be together, Daddy..."
A sliver of light from the door she was sure she'd shut behind her grew to a large rectangle cast over his body and ultimately, to her.
"What are you doing!" His current girlfriend, a woman who worked in artificial organs and appendages, shouted. A leggy lady, she resembled the screen starlets of the 1940s. They'd met over a consultation to craft a new hand for him.
Elizabeth sneered, "You could never understand him. You can never understand his goals; realize his dreams, like I do."
“Do you hear your daughter, Will? She is jealous of your lover. Do you allow this behavior?” Carrie pulled Elizabeth into the hall.
The commotion made it impossible to rest, but Will was slow to wake.
“You incestuous brat! If your father won’t discipline you, I will.” She struck the child.
Elizabeth’s face turned red. Her eyes filled to the ducts with silver. She returned a strike for a strike, slamming a metal fist into the side of the woman’s hip.
By now Will had come around. “Enough!” he called. The tip of his hooked hand raked its way across Elizabeth’s surprised face.
Elizabeth pressed her palm to her nose, curiously looking at the slash of red that stained it. How could he find her to be the wrong one in the situation? She pointed -arm straight out- to Carrie. “We will settle this another time.” She then ran down the hall, heading back to her room before her father could reprimand her again.
“You must find a way to contain that … girl.” Carrie said not quite suer if Elzabeth was one. “If this is how she acts now, how will she be when the baby comes? She nearly very seriously hurt me tonight, will.”
It will be dealt with,” was all he said, laying a hand on her shoulder in reassurance.
Elizabeth was almost out of sight when Will stopped her.
“Are you loyal to me?”
“Yes! Of course! I will always be loyal to you.” She found it odd that he would question it. Loyalty to him consumed her, drover her mad.
“Then I would like you to prove it. Come, now.”
After a few other steps, they retreated to a small room used to examine the lab animals. On the slab he placed the cage of the furry creature he’d charged her with taking care of. In her hands, he placed her automatic.
”Shoot the rabbit.”
”WHY?” she cried. “You gave me Blood Eyes to prove I could be delicate if I needed to be. Won’t destroying him…”
The point of the hook carved its second scar in her rubbery skin. “Do not question my orders. OBEY THEM!”
She aimed at the puny animal hopping from one wall of chicken wire to the other. She closed her eyes and pulled the trigger. Usually she braced herself for the kickback, but tonight she had a difficult time keeping a clear head. Somewhere far away she was aware that she was shedding tears and that her beloved father was beating her. Her soul, if she had such a thing, temporarily floated out of her body to the ceiling, where there were shapes and sounds but none of them mattered.
“I want to be a good girl. I want to get it right” her body muttered over and over. “I want to be a good girl…”
“She has massive internal bleeding,” Dr. Chung told Mr. Richards the next morning.
“Carrie?” Had Elizabeth’s punch done more damage than he though?
“Elizabeth.” Dr. Chung corrected. “Her cells have been destabilizing. He stomach lining has been eaten through. The Xilvrin has been eating through all her organs, save the heart, brain, and lungs. She’s in a great deal of pain.
“Tell her to self-heal. Or is this some new virus that affects our project?”
“Neither… she’s too weak to self-heal and there is no detectable disease. Perhaps it is the pressure put on her?”
“You think this is stress? Nonsense. She has always eagerly accepted every task I’ve given to her.” Will scratched his chin. “Perhaps flesh is too weak to handle the power she has inside of her. Artificial organs … yes, that would do it. Xilvrin only disintegrates organic tissue. Talk to Carrie. Get on it right away.”
“Yes…sir.” Dr. Chung agreed with the man who paid the bills, though he saw a deeper problem.
After a lengthy operation, Elizabeth lay in her bed, recovering. She hadn’t had a choice. They’d had Rabbit sneak up no her, jab her in the arm with a needle full of sedatives, and set her on the table. Carrie, whose company had become affiliated with SunSand after her persuasion, oversaw the procedure. Dr. Chung had worked with some of the best from her office as well as the full-time medical personnel SunSand employed to design the new set of artificial organs. Her biological ones, full of holes on the edge of failure, were removed. Xilvrin only ate through organic material, as her father had said and proven in the lab, so as long as her body did not reject the ‘piping’, she would be in no clear danger of a second system collapse.
“How are you feeling?” Her father, standing on one side of her bed, asked. Rabbit was standing on the other.
“I hate it,” Elizabeth scowled.
“You will get used to it. This will make you stronger. Don’t you want to be stronger? Everything we do will make you stronger,” Rabbit, her long time babysitter, talked down to her.”
“She’s right. What may upset you now will turn out to be good for you. We always have your future in mind. We mold you according to our greatest hopes for you.” His blue eyes shone for her. “And you don’t want to be selfish and chaotic like your brother. There is an order to maintain, a pattern to follow. You are part of a whole, a part of a plan.”
“I… have been acting selfishly.” Elizabeth admitted. I’m the only one who knows his dreams and can achieve them, she reminded herself. I will be strong for him.
“All is forgiven,” he brought his hands together in mock prayer. “Now until you are well enough to resume your education, Rabbit will be happy to attend to your every need and want.”
“You don’t pay me enough,” Rabbit forced a smile.
“I pay you plenty.” Will said in a tone that warned her not to be selfish either.
Some weeks later, Dr. Chung and Mr. Richards faced a full-length one-way glass window overlooking Elizabeth’s exercise arena. The light from the arena cast the two men in lab coats in silhouette in the darkened room.
“What’s your report?” Will asked his colleague.
“The outlook is not good.”
“Elizabeth feels as though she is being replaced. Your love for this woman confuses her. Then you alter her body with parts the woman recommended. Her self-esteem is suffering.”
“I don’t keep you around to be a damned psychologist. PHYSICALLY, how is X-129?”
“Physically, she is fine.” Dr. Chung sighed. “She is striving to be tough enough to fit your standards.”
“Good, good.” Will folded his hand and hook behind his back, engrossed in the scene.
Elizabeth, in a dress fit for Shirley Temple and curly ribbons in her hair, shook in a corner of the steel-plated concrete room. It was built to withstand a bomb. On the opposite wall stood three men who had made a deal to get out of their death row prison sentences. All they had to do was kill the cowering blonde girl. Simple enough…
Or was it?
“Work… work…” she commanded her trembling fingers.
The men were closing in. They wore crooked smiles, hands out ready to grab her and rip her apart.
Panic kicked in. Long bars shot out of her digits, thickening into forelegs. Xilvrin crept up past her knees and swelled out as wide around as trashcans. She dropped to all fours, a two horns twisting up over her nose.
One criminal who had gotten too close became snagged in the gummy silver gel. It wouldn’t le the head of the rhino form properly. With a great squash, she slammed him against the wall and began hardening the shell. He was simultaneously pushed out of the beast armor and against the wall. His limbs twisted unnaturally and ribs were crushed. The blood ran over her left beast eye.
The remaining men got the message and backed off. Too late... the rhino charged forward, bits of the first man hanging off her jaw.The second man hit the glass, flung up there with a toss of the Rhino’s head. His hand left a crimson streak as he slipped to his death.
Dr. Chung looked down in dismay. “X-129 worships you as a god… doesn’t that disturb you?”
“No. She will do as her god commands,” Will replied, pleased with the being he had molded.