Author : Sam Clough, Staff Writer

“I cannot sing the old songs, the songs I sang so long ago…”

Guin kicked her heels, muttering the misremembered words to herself. She hadn’t changed. She still looked as young as ever: her dark skin was as flawless as it had ever been. For the first time in her life, though, she felt old. Ara and Lance had gone. Zen and Jason were dead. But she couldn’t bring herself to abandon the City quite yet. None of the ways out seemed to work for her.

She’d been a gardener for a time. She had found the physical aspects work relaxing. But the constant flux of plants growing, dying back and growing again grated against her nerves. She eventually grew to hate the garden. She felt like the plants were mocking her, screaming out to the world that she was the only thing that didn’t follow the pattern. That she wasn’t natural.

It was perfectly true, of course. Guin was artificial. One of the fifth generation of artificial humans that had been constructed in the test laboratories of Integration Project. She was number five-oh-four; that was the number on the Integration Project ID card that had been issued to her. That was the number that was etched into each and every one of the deceptively simple mechanical components that moved silently beneath her skin. Well, almost every component. She’d replaced a number of them herself as they began to fail, using a three-dimensional printer left behind by Lance.

With a little caution, she could probably live forever.

Ara, number five-oh-oh, left the City almost as soon as she could. She was always the cautious one. She compulsively collected data, and was the one who broke skillchips out of the Integration Project without being seen. Presumably, she was still safe, and hopefully so was Lance. Jason, though, was dead, disassembled amongst the labs of the Project. He had attempted to break in to steal documentation and equipment, and sow a little destruction. He hadn’t made it past the first sub-level. Zen had quietly committed suicide.

Guin looked up at the sound of footfalls. A girl, no older than Guin’s apparent age, was walking towards her. Keeping step with the girl was what appeared to be a wolf. Guin stood up, and faced them.

“You’re five-oh-four.” The girl spoke with absolute assurance. “Where are the others?”

“Outside laboratory circumstances, just like me.” The euphemism came easily to Guin. “More to the point, who are you?”

“Senka. Sixth Generation. This is Schuyler,” she ran her hand over the wolflike head, “a prototype. They told us about your series. That you were flawed, and violent. Why haven’t you attacked us?”

“I’m tired, Senka. You’re young. You’ve yet to realise that ‘Integration’ is a joke. Not sure about you, Schuyler, but Senka, I have some advice for you. You can talk to people all you want, but you’ll never be able to identify with them. The scientists understand you in a physical sense, but they can’t grasp how you think. Normal people don’t – and can’t – relate to you.” Guin saw Schuyler tense, ready to spring.

“I’ve been asked to bring you home. They’ve been watching your progress with interest. It was the remains of five-oh-three and your progress out in the world that inspired them to create me.”

“They never knew how to make us into convincing liars. You’ve been sent to offline me, Senka. You might just be the way out I’ve been waiting for.”

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