ANNe

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ANNe

The train clattered along the track, its shrill bursts of steam and grinding gears matching the snaps and misfires of her internal wiring. Though they’d done their best to assess and repair the damage, the asylum simply wasn’t equipped to deal with the intricate mechanisms of an e unit.

Especially one with battlefield experience. Anne fussed with the leather clasps on her handbag, grateful for its weight on her lap as it fixed her in place. In this world, because she was nearly lost in memory.

If she’d been capable of speech when she’d arrived at the asylum’s imposing double doors, she would have saved them the trouble. A bit of time and her programming would mend what human hands could not. Once her restoration program was complete, she’d be all that she was, and then some.

Instead of a rush of relief, the thought brought on a dizzying stab of fear. Anne placed a hand over her heart and stared out at the dust and decay slipping by the passenger car windows. The view brought on a pang of grief. So much had been lost. How did the pure humans do it? Go on everyday at the mercy of their emotions? She’d forgotten their raw strength. Little wonder e units came with a detachment option.

How else could a cyborg-human hybrid complete its duties and stay sane?

It appeared she would be the one to find out. Either she’d find a way to manage her newfound state, or she’d go mad and compromise her efforts to seek refuge in the neutral zone.

“You mustn’t tell anyone what you are, not a single soul,” the asylum matron had warned.

“But what am I?” she’d asked, memories a whirling fog of anguish, bloodshed, and the shrill cries of the dying.

“A weapon. A secret.” The matron’s gaze softened. “And a spirited young thing who deserves a second chance.” She spun Anne to face the long mirror embedded in the wardrobe door. “This red hair of yours will draw enough unwanted attention, best to keep it restrained.” Parting Anne’s thick locks down the middle, her fingers set to work creating two simple plaits. When she finished, the matron eyed Anne’s reflection. “You’ll pass for twelve. Eleven if you’re lucky. Never set that hair free, my dear, or the jig’s up.” She loosened the braids at the nape of Anne’s neck. “Be sure to always hide the mark.”

Anne gently traced the brand at the base of her hairline. A lowercase, italic e made of an intricate crosshatching of black lines - her model and serial number. The pattern unique to Anne, each e unit could be tracked and located with a single scan by one of the Magistrate’s enforcers.

Once safely in Avonlea, an insignificant farming town deep in Providence’s neutral zone, Anne just might be able to build a new life.

One without blood on her hands.

“Providence has its share of extremists too, mark my words.” The matron snapped, bringing reality back with the subtlety of a parasol spike to the temple. “The island may not be a target. Not yet, but how do you think it’s gone unscathed this long? Those potato fields have many eyes, child. Best remember that as well. If even one of those hoe wielding farmers discovers the truth, they’ll turn on you like feral dogs.”

Thus far, Anne had been able to keep up the pretense. Even earning the protection of the Providence Island Line train’s elderly porter, a stooped man with a curling grey mustache and sorrow buried in the frown lines that etched his features.

“I see you’ve spotted them,” he said now, leaning over the back of her seat to peer out the window. Lost in her thoughts, Anne had indeed been observing the approaching riders, but only now realized the threat they posed. Six men on horseback, racing alongside the locomotive with faces hidden under faded bandanas.

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