He awoke with a start to the sound of machines. Bright light burned his eyes, forcing his iris to strain and retract against the onslaught. A dry rasp escaped his throat. He had attempted to speak, but his lips were dry and cracked. His vocal chords felt bruised. His whole body felt bruised.
Attempting to move, he discovered himself bound. Straps on his ankles and wrists. Metal clamps held his body and head in place. The smell of surgical alcohol and bleach stung his nose. With his eyes now accustomed to the harsh paraffin-lamp light, features of the room could now be made out. White tiled walls, flecked with something best left unidentified. The ceiling was stained with layers of ancient tobacco. In places the plaster was cracked and crumbling.
'Where am I?' the thought emerged from his clouded mind.
He did not know this place. Through a jumble of sensory nonsense he attempted to recall how he might have come to be here.
He remembered the call on the radio. The police had found another victim. Another poor helpless woman, robbed of her life, and robbed of her face. The motif of this string of violent attrocities; brutal and sudden attacks, culminating in the victim's face being removed from the head. The tabloids had taken great delight in hypothesising about which mania or delusion the perpetrator was afflicted by. What was not reported, however, was that in contrast to the brutal and haphazard attacks, the removal of the faces was surgical in it's precision.
The call had come in from round the corner, and being the nosey PI he was, couldn't resist slipping through the back alleys to get a look. The radio interceptor was illegal, and it was the third he had been forced to make. The others had been confiscated by the authorities. Why he hadn't been banged up in a cell already he could not fathom. Freelance Aid to the Central London Metropolis Enforcement Agency. That was his official title. It got him a lot of benefits. It also got him into just as much trouble. Sometimes more of the latter. It depended entirely on who was eavesdropping on his conversations.
He slid around corners and ducked between shadows. He was very good at his job. The patrol blimps overhead continually scanned the streets below with high-powered and newfangled electronic lamps. The beams lit up the foggy streets and back-alleys a strange shade of yellow as they drifted by. Ahead, a congregation of three blimps marked the spot. He shimmied up a slim metal fire escape and across a crooked slate-tiled roof. He was careful to keep to the shadows, following the lines of the roof, so as not to stand out to the pilots above. Soon he had come to the edge of the alley around which the blimps were circling. Skirting around a chimney stack he peered down. Four storeys below he could clearly make out the faceless corpse of a woman, surrounded by a pool of blood and a multitude of police officers.
It was odd, how the blood shone in the electronic lamplight. Still very red. Still very wet. Very fresh. Too fresh. The sound of a boot on a slate tile behind him, the sensation of being hit by something large and hard.
That was all he could recall. Once more he tried to move. No luck. The straps and clamps held him firmly and resolutely immobile. His peripheral vision gave no hints as to what or who else may be in the room with him. This certainly did not seem like any hospital he had ever been in. The sound of the machines was invasive. He couldn't stifle the sound, making his ears ache and his head pound.
With a clatter he became aware of someone else in the room. The sound had been a large metal door slamming loosely closed. Clipped footsteps approached. High heels. There was no mistaking the sound of stiletto on tile.
Trying to speak once again, all he managed was a pained rasp.
“Try not to speak, Mr Parfett.” The voice was Germanic, female and soft. “Try not to move at all. The procedure has yet to be completed.”
Leaning over him, he saw that she wore a surgical mask and scrubs. Over one eye, attached to a leather head strap was a magnifying glass. It enlarged one of her bright blue eyes by a terrifying degree. A strand of loose hair hung down and tickled his nose. She brushed it back behind an ear.
In any other situation he may have considered her attractive.
“You are lucky to be alive, you know.” She looked him up and down, then turned quickly on her heel and clip-clip-clipped away across the tiled floor and out of sight. He could hear her moving objects around. Glass jars or bottles. Metal tools. Liquid bubbled. Something hissed.
The Germanic woman returned, a large syringe in her hand.
“You will sleep again now.”
He tried to shake his head. He did not like needles. Not one bit!
The syringe drew nearer and nearer.
“You are my finest work.”
The prick of the needle was followed swiftly by the soft metallic emptiness of chemically induced sleep.
When his eyes opened next, he found himself free of straps and clamps and quite able to move. The aches and pains had gone. The sound of machines remained, however. Boring into his brain, causing a sharp pain between his eyes.
“Ouch.” He pinched the bridge of his nose, screwing up his eyes.
The pain receded slightly, and he sagged with relief.
With a concerted effort he sat up and swung his legs over the edge of the table upon which he had been laid. The room, he could now see, was some kind of laboratory. All manner of strange equipment was scattered about the place, half-finished, it seemed, on tables similar to the one on which he found himself. On a wall upon which he expected to find a window, there were light boxes. Electronic lighting again. It was all over the place these days.
Over the front of the light boxes hung images. Strange black images printed on transparent film. They appeared to be images of the inside of his body. They were labelled with his name. Each and every one contained something alien. A piston. A spring. A set of cogs. Agog, he studied each and every image. He then pulled up his sleeves. There were metal seams around his wrists. One finger was now made of articulated pieces of polished brass.
“What is this?”
He pulled his shirt open and looked down at his chest. A metal plate, resplendent with fancy latched hatch covered his left side. The sound of machinery filled his ears again. Not from far away. From very close. So close. Too close.
He gingerly brought a shaking hand up to the back of his head. A metal-framed section of his head was missing. His fingers caressed a thousand tiny cogs, spinning like the innards of a clock. Minute pistons pumped in and out in sequence, bouncing off his fingertips.
“What am I?”
The door clattered open,
“You are a piece of genius.” The Germanic woman said happily, “We saved your life.”
Grinning happily the woman took off her scrubs, revealing a police-issue medical uniform.
“We have built into your new body many useful tools.”
“I am chief medic Von Hinda. And it is my pleasure to issue you with this.”
She held out a circle of shiny silver. A Metropolis police badge.
“You are now a part of the Emergency Agency. Congratulations, Adrian Parfett.”
He shook his head, “You've made me into some kind of human toolbox. Some kind of police-issue gadget.”
Von Hinda handed Adrian a sheet of paper. It looked very official, “And the rank of Inspector.” Her smile had fallen at his apparent ungratefulness, “We saved your life. You owe us.”
She spun and exited swiftly, letting the door swing shut behind her.
Adrian Parfett stood staring blankly down at the document and badge in his hands. He owed them. A debt, he suspected, that would never be fully repaid.