THIS IS NOT: the counter-revolution. (It is set
BUT YES THIS IS FINALLY: eyaiverse, for real.
(With love and exhaustion to pushingmetaphor, schiarire, girl_wonder, and fahye, who have listened to me wail for two years now about how I'm never going to write an eyai story that's original, never, ever, my life is so hard, and who have kept me away from sharp objects and continuity errors.
And without further ado.)
The hand they place on the table is the wrong shape entirely, with bitten nails and hair on the knuckles, and Róisín recoils as if from an actual blow. "This isn't mine."
The border guard stares at her with professional apathy. "Róisín Connolly," he says. "Says on the box there, Róisín Connolly, contents three pounds fifty, one all-purpose flat key, two railway punchcards, one left hand." After a moment he adds, placatingly, "It's the right color."
"It's not supposed to be," she says. She can't look away from the hand in the box, some stranger's hand, and the fat pad of its thumb. "I bought mine back-door, it's three shades too dark. This isn't my hand."
"It's yours," he says, and when the repetition doesn't convince her, starts taking out her other belongings one by one. "Miss Connolly, ma'am, I see this all the time, if you don't mind me saying. You come back to Dublin for a month, you wear the wooden hand, you ain't used to something looking so real, like, coming on it unawares like you do. People say silly things. I had one man try and tell me his foot was fresh cut off someone alive, swore it didn't have gears at all. All the while he's playing with the key in the keyhole." He smiles at her; he obviously thinks it's a nice smile. "You're just used to the wood."
"I'm not used to the wood," she says, which is true. The wood is round and strange, a piece of sculpture that happens to fit on the end of her wrist, and the joint at the base of her thumb is so like a bead of her first rosary that she's been saying abortive Hail Marys all month. She's wanted her hand back since she took it off at border control on the way through. She's wanted it since before, since they started asking the usual questions, how did you lose it? and with less professionalism doesn't it itch? and she'd said, tired, only when I don't wind it, all the feeling having gone out of it since they took the key.
"Miss," the border guard is saying, moving in to give her a comforting pat, and she jerks back. She must have missed some speech.
"It's not my hand," she says, again, quietly.
"If it's not your hand, it won't fit," he says. "Go on, Cinderella, try it on."
The nice smile again.
That involves touching it, and for the third time in three minutes her whole body tenses up, her muscles whining, but he's right. Róisín leans over the table, dips her right hand into the box -- this isn't her hand, this isn't her hand -- and slides the thing carefully onto the contacts in her wrist.
"See," says the man, closing the box. "Fits a treat."
She closes it, opens it again. "Thank you," she says, frozen, unsure; still tensed. "I've made a real fool of myself."
"Like I said," he says. "Happens all the time."
It seems hours before she's home in her flat, dusting off the gold that's settled into her hair, and she goes straight to the kitchen. It hasn't changed. The landlady's kept it clean all the while she was in Dublin, and Mrs. Goodman who lives downstairs has left a note with the morning milk: welcome home. She'll have to go down and see her, ask after the cats, but first she takes a long sharp carving knife and cuts a long sharp line into the fat pad of the stranger's thumb.
It's tricky taking out the microphone without disconnecting it, but she manages to unhook the transmitter after a little bit of trickery with the knife, coughing all the while to cover the noises of its displacement. If she wasn't so revolted, she'd be disappointed. It was made by someone who's never worn an eyai limb, or they'd know the way you know its weight, and the way a foreign object presses against the servos of a finger and slows it right down as sure as a tumor would in a real thumb, if tumors grow in hands; she's never heard of it, but looking at the spidery mass of the microphone, she's willing to believe it.
She goes to get some needle and thread.
The stranger's hand isn't so bad when she's wearing it. The squared-off fingers are all right as long as they're not meant to be hers, and she finds herself wondering who's looking at her tapering pinkie and thinking the same thing, or if her real hand is being picked apart by some agent of the Taioseach, or if the Vatican's dismembered it in the name of the Lord. It seems un-cost-effective. If you have to buy new hands for every Irish amputee emigré, you'd ... well ... you'd probably only have to buy a few a year, but still, her left hand cost her a whole year's worth of repair on her flat, not to mention her dreams of owning a bicycle.
The lock's in the wrong place, too, nestled between the bone in the wrist and the first tendon of the thumb. Hers had been next to the vein.
She's heard about this, of course. Dara went back last autumn and came home with the mic into his hollowed-out house key; Prerna's not been back since they left in seventy-eight, but her mother's calls are strained and oblique and interrupted by the faint and ludicrous noise of clicking. This is just another step in the long, slow nervous breakdown. It doesn't have to have anything to do with any of her particular paranoias. But there's a prickling on the back of her neck that won't go away, separate entirely from the itching at the base of her wrist.
The good thing about being back in London is that everything runs smoother. Sure, Dublin's not short of workarounds, but without eyai tech everything feels slow and inconvenient. Here she can start up the oven with a hand pressed to its side, and when the door rings it's the porter with his flat eyes and the lock at the base of his neck, tirelessly willing to take luggage up twenty flights of stairs. The last time she'd been this impressed by winding up her kettle, she'd been twelve and on holiday, and it had all been counterbalanced by how silly she felt in her petticoats.
The phone rings as she's settling into the sofa, and she picks it up. No one answers her hello; no one answers her several subsequent hellos, and when she goes very quiet, the line on the other end is equally silent, without a hint of a breath. For a minute the whole flat is devoid of air.
When the clicks come at the other end of the line, they're so loud she drops the phone.
It rings again almost immediately, and she snatches it up and hisses "Now I don't have to stand for this!"
"Ah, hello," says Prerna's blessed voice on the other end of the line. "Well, you could always sit down."
"God, sorry, darling," Róisín says, and sinks back down into the couch. "I'm sorry. I'll tell you all about it when I see you. Coffee?"
She can hear Prerna's smile on the other end of the line. "We're downstairs," she says, and behind her Róisín can hear Dara's braying laugh. "I brought Helen and Dara, I figured you'd be more than sick of tea."
In the café Róisín nurses a lukewarm cappuccino and refuses to answer questions about her sister's wedding. She tells them in brief outline about the bug in the hand and Helen goes off on one of her completely mad English tears about how illegal that is, and how she ought to make a formal complaint. Dara pats her shoulder fondly. He tells her that next time he talks to his best friends in the secret police, he will bring up her suggestion.
Róisín goes to flick him the V and discovers, with some confusion, that the hand's fallen asleep. She sighs and fumbles for the key, hating to do this in public, in front of the eyai waitress, on someone else's limb. There's the little pressure against the bone, the pins and needles, then the muscles reengaging one by one, and her fingers jerk and spill the salt across her plate.
"Bad luck," says Helen, her eyes just a little wide.
"Leave it," says Prerna. "What was it like?"
Róisín shakes her head, scoops the salt to one side. "It's not," she says. She wonders how to describe it; what they don't remember, what has changed. The air is still cleaner, the bars still better. Her father is still largely silent on the topic of her departure. You can't get a decent pho. "I don't know. What you'd expect. Most people talking about seventy-eight as the end of the world. The Dáil's commissioned a big--" She gestures with a cigarette. "It's meant to be a monument but it's a work project, people getting a bit of a handout."
Dara laughs without humor. "Monument to what?"
"John Paul IV," Róisín says, and grins at his expression. "I know, I know. But he's one of ours, all right!"
"He's one of yours," Prerna says, without malice, and Helen looks profoundly uncomfortable and examines the bottom of her cup.
After they're done, Dara and Helen take off straight-away, scaling the stairs to the Pipe station, and Dara blows her a kiss from the landing. Róisín waves his way -- or starts to, and discovers halfway through the gesture that her hand's responding a second behind, giving the whole an air of the grotesque. Dara's smile slips; he shrugs, one-shouldered, and disappears into the crush of people.
Prerna, in a sudden motion, tucks her arm through Róisín's left elbow. "It's mad, Rosie," she says, and steers them towards the Tube.
Róisín watches the lamp-posts as they go. The fog's sunk low enough that it conceals the street signs, but this is familiar. "What's the news in the trade?" she says, softly. "Anything I should know about?"
"There's been no shipment of small women's hands," Prerna says, wry. "Ah -- although," and she gives a litany of parts bought, parts sold, business apparently being very brisk, and as an afterthought tucks the cheque into Róisín's purse. "But, Rosie."
"I know," Róisín says, scrubbing her face with the back of a hand. "You're going to tell me to be careful."
Prerna frowns. "I'm not. I'm just -- where d'you think they got the hand?"
Róisín tugs away. "God, don't you think I've-- I can't think about, about who."
"You could take it off." Prerna hugs herself, tightly. It probably isn't the cold.
"Jesus." Róisín slides the hand into her pocket. She tries not to imagine: some eyai in a hurry, back behind the embassy, deadlocked before it could struggle away. She is suddenly very grateful that she's not missing an eye.
"But it's not like -- it's not like all the ones we get are-- we're not all remainders and specializations." Prerna looks at her, very worried. "What kind of a gray market would it be..."
Róisín doesn't answer; just waves away the fog in front of her until they get to her stop.
As she steps over the threshold the phone rings, and she picks it up with a tired hello. There's no one on the other end. There's a pause, and then a low click, click, and this time it sounds less like a recorder and more like a sound that's insistently familiar, something she can almost hear in life.
She's paying such close attention to the sound of the clicks that it takes her a full minute to notice what's happened to the flat.
For some reason all she can think about is what this will do to the deposit, as she trails her hand over the pockmarks in the wallpaper, the long slashes in the upholstery, the floorboards that have been splintered but not pulled up. She can feel behind the cabinet that they didn't find her gun, or if they did they left it there. As though she'd keep the wares in her flat, in her bloody flat--! She finds herself wishing, absurdly, for a higher caliber of secret police, the kind that can come and search your flat and not let you know as sure as shit that they'd been there.
Groping for a chair, she takes a seat in front of the worst of the damage to the floor and paces with her eyes instead: they must have gone there, to the door, where they unscrewed the doorknob and tore the holes. They came in, they -- she leaps to her feet and finds the bedroom blind, dives under the bed, comes up with her passport and papers blessedly whole. Still stamped. Still in order. She is still legal in this fucked country that is the only line between her and the people who have destroyed her flat to find evidence of a trade they already know damn well she is a part of, and just to avoid ending the mental harangue with a preposition, she sits down and reads every single word of her papers through from beginning to end.
"I don't have to stand for this," she tells the last page. "I have rights."
But it is suddenly difficult to name what they are supposed to be.
She does not manage to leave the bedroom. The damage is less obvious here, and besides, she doesn't want to lever herself to stand up. She puts on music, something loud and strenuous, until the bar in the roof garden brings in their psallopianist, and then she turns off everything and lies on the bed, her eyes closed, her own hand covering them. She pictures the musician, who she's met once or twice and who's so tube he bites his nails in the elevator; she manages a smile.
At some point she must fall asleep; when she wakes up, it's early morning and the city is complaining its way awake. Róisín mumbles, "I resent this, you know," and climbs to her feet. She'll have to show for work if she wants to buy a much larger gun.
It's hard to walk through the kitchen, harder still to trip over the uneven surface of the floor. She puts on the kettle, but changes her mind; she'll drink enough coffee at work and she's still drowning in the smell of tea. She doesn't think about the cracks in the window as she winds her hand and buttons her gloves and ties her shoes and locks the door, three times, as though it would do any good, and as she walks downstairs to tell Mrs. Goodman to warn any visitors away, and as she ties on her hat and takes a deep breath of clean air and walks out the door.
In the mornings the Pipe is beautiful and she enjoys her ride to work, and even manages to kindle a little spark of enjoyment for copying when she realizes that she doesn't have to write the whole lot out by hand.
Prerna's waiting for her after her shift. Róisín doesn't mention anything, tells her that she cut her arm opening a tin of apricots. Prerna rolls her eyes and takes her out to Elephant and Castle, where they're meeting the latest.
The latest, it turns out, is a shipment of parts that wind up correctly, even, to Róisín's astonishment and delight, the ear. "Prerna," she says. "Listen." She sings into it and tosses it over to Prerna, who cups her own ear to it. "Where'd they get this? No gain, hardly any white noise."
"Same place they got the fingers, I expect," says Prerna, tossing it back. "These'll get three fifty easy if we can get them retrofitted. What's the take from Parliament?"
The dealer, Bartlett this time, looks stiff-necked and uncomfortable. "I feel I must reiterate," he says, "that there is no connection between the offers attached to this package and any political entity--"
Roísin cuts him off with a wave. "Sweet Jesus, Prerna, they're offering five thousand!"
"What? You misplaced a decimal." Prerna shoulders her way over to the clipboard, where a Mr. Coltrane (who is in no way a fully owned subsidiary of the R&D wing of the latest regime) is offering, no decimals off, five thousand pounds for an ear in good shape, ten individually packaged fingers, and a decent enough set of knees.
Róisín frowns at Bartlett. "Does Mr. Coltrane have any reason why he wants to overbid?"
"Mr. Coltrane has--"
"--no particular reason for his purchases and is acting for no particular individual," Prerna cuts him off. "Rosie. Come on. We'd better just pass these on, this smells foul."
Róisín groans. "They're high-profile," she points out. "A musician breaks down, people are going to notice that the bloke from down at the shop has an ear with perfect pitch. We can't just offload them anywhere. We've got to be selective."
Barlett looks from one to the other. "I can convince my client to pay less," he says. "It's not a problem I usually confront."
"What you mean is, you'll take them from us at two fifty and sell them at the going," Róisín says. "Take 'em, but it's four upfront."
This is logic that even Prerna cannot contest.
After her second shift Prerna comes by again. This time it is to drag her, two-handed, to a bar, where Róisín downs a goldbook and a half, watches Prerna go through three martinis. They are equally and gladly tipsy before Róisín says, softly, "So, they came by."
"What," says Prerna, flat and unsurprised. "They came -- what."
"They took apart the flat," says Róisín, examining her palms. She can't meet Prerna's eyes. "I was, I was wondering if you, maybe I could stay at your place."
"We will go and get all of your things," Prerna says, solemnly. "Then I'll drive you to my flat. Then we will be staying at my flat, where they did not take apart all your things."
This seems reasonable.
By the time they reach her building they are laughing again, and Róísín is turning the story into a whine, a minor catastrophe -- the pipes flood, a chair breaks, some secret police search your flat. Detail. She fumbles for the key and ends up trying to wind up her front door and unlock her hand for an unfortunate half a minute, then switches. Prerna shushes her elaborately, shoves the door open.
The flat is absolutely clean.
For a long moment in the doorway Róisín is incapable of moving, though Prerna pushes past her. There is a loud rushing in her ears and a blind panic rising before her eyes, and she stares at Prerna, who meets her eyes with pity and fear, and she-- closes her mouth, because Prerna has said, "Look at the ceiling."
Róisín lifts her eyes, carefully, and sees the light fixture, the new and shined-up copper key on the side, the kind she's never bought because they make her hand give off static electricity all day, the kind that must have been expensive for the people who did this -- although more expensive perhaps was the mahogany they used for her pine floor to fix the floorboards, and now that she knows what she's looking for she runs through to the kitchen, where they've taken her dented kettle and beaten the dent well out of the side.
It's all like that.
"God, Rosie," says Prerna, kneeling by her cabinet. They have, of course, taken her gun. They have also taken a picture of her in America. It is a much thinner bookshelf because they have taken her copy of London Drowning and her beat-up booklet of Partial Economies and the miserable remains of Anouilh's Antigone. They've taken her signed copy of Kuo's Ethophysics, and she puts two fingers into the gap it's left, wondering.
Into the dry-mouthed silence the phone rings. Prerna catches her eye and they turn together to watch it before Róisín knocks it off its ringer, pushes the button that kills the call.
"So," says Róisín, and Prerna laughs into her hands, then carefully goes to the window and throws up.
By mutual silent consent they don't call Dara, who would call Michael, Sharon, maybe even Helen if he's feeling daft enough. Instead they sit side by side on the couch and turn up music so loud that Róisín can't hear the lack of whistling from the cleaned-up flue. Prerna falls asleep there, her eyes closed and her mouth half-open, her hands clenched unhappily in the pillows on the couch. Róisín, of course, does not.
At three in the morning, she picks up the phone on its first ring. No one answers, of course, except for a series of clicks. She finds the silence comfortingly familiar in the face of her refurbished life, and takes the opportunity to listen to it.
"This is absurd," she says, finally. "I'm sorry, but I refuse to be under suspicion by two governments at once. If you'd just tell me what you were looking for, you know, I could tell you I didn't have it."
"All right, then," says a matter-of-fact Cork voice on the other end of the line. "Thursday at two. Ask for Pierson." And hangs up.
The Irish embassy -- her specialized knowledge of history fills in: rebuilt in '26, demolished in '19, without malice, in the riots, by a group of careless xenophobes who'd seen green, white, and orange and gotten confused. She remembers late nights flipping through the case study, their frantic apologies turning surly as they realized that the prosecutors did not, in fact, see it as an honest mistake, and better than that she remembers Dara's face, exhausted over the table, suggesting darkly that the prosecutors probably had seen it as an honest mistake but were bound as usual by the strictures of common courtesy and the law from mentioning it in their official report. He hadn't put it like that. There had been more swearing.
Neither the case study nor English memory explains the architecture, typical Garrideb, a dark building that spreads into the alleyways behind itself. She never studied architecture, but she knows enough about mid-century design to see where he thought it would look compact, friendly, touch-sensitive, and where it looks instead like a spider asleep.
They check her passport at the front gate, and she accepts a wanding down rather than removing the hand, which is starting to itch. She leaves her coins as a tip. The receptionist blandly informs her that Pierson is ready, and that she's been waiting for some time, and room 114 is just down the hall if she'd like to leave her purse. The receptionist repeats the last line, actually, and Róisín is about to wave over someone to wind her back up when she remembers and blushes scarlet. It's guilty she's looking as she heads down the hall to room 114, guilty and sleepless. But she still opens the door.
Pierson, as it happens, is a functionary in a well-tailored suit and kid gloves, but she doesn't smile when Róisín says "good morning," only continues running over Róisín's file on the table. She says, "It says here that you lost your hand in a work-related accident."
"Caught in a thresher, ma'am," says Róisín, thumbing through her copy expertly for the sheet that contains the description. "I travelled after university and I ended up in the States. They don't exactly go in for safety regs over there."
"Couldn't use your degree for anything less dangerous?"
"I took government," Róisín says, the usual flush creeping up her cheeks. "Trinity, seventy-eight."
She waits for the usual blank look, the dawning awareness, the apology, but it doesn't come. Instead Pierson flashes a smile. "Which side?"
"Ah -- strikebreaker," Róisín says, badly startled. "Were you there?"
Pierson shrugs. "I helped clean up afterwards. They needed someone handy with the paperwork. It was a hard thing to explain away."
"My professor's recommendation," Róisín says, sounding drier in her own ears than she's used to, "was that I try the food service industry on graduation. It's in my file." She can still remember most of the wording, and the stuff that didn't make it in: If you were the Taoiseach's niece, girl, you wouldn't get a job in this country, and he'd been right: they'd seen that one line over and over and sent her away. Whereas in America they seemed only curious that Ireland was "still going, huh?" And in London--
"Must have done you a treat in London," Pierson says, her accent spiraling down the classes as she leans back. "Being such a fan of the Queen."
"We didn't want reunification, for the love of Jesus," Róisín says, and pushes her knuckles into her eyes. "You wrote the dossiers, you know what we said."
"Cultural exchange," says Pierson, quoting. "Political protection. Ah, come on, Miss Connolly, you wanted us to be a pair of allies. Outside of my professional opinion, I might even agree with you."
"Yes," says Róisín. "I think a lot of people did. But their -- professional opinion was that we should leave the country as fast as possible."
"So America, Britain..." Pierson flips through the files again. "Oh, exotic, a few months in China. Going down the alphabet?"
Róisín shrugs. "Kuo was looking for interns."
"Then back to London, until your sister's wedding." That unexpected smile again. Pierson has pearly white teeth, about which there is a song. "I suppose Dublin's a D."
"And then," says Róisín, "I returned to the border patrol and was given someone else's hand, ma'am, I'd appreciate it--" Her voice cracks. Instead of finishing she unhooks the hand and places it in the center of the table. She says, "If we could please get down to business."
Pierson gives her a blank look. "The business," she says. "Yes." And pushes a file across the table.
It's not much; one photograph, with blurred outer edges and pinpoint clarity at the center. The effect is to highlight the unhappy cast of Róisín's mouth, lips tight, as she hands over an envelope of unmarked bills to a man holding a chain of keys. Róisín touches her own hair, lightly, watching the way it blends into the buildings around it. The whole thing has a certain artistry that almost belies the fact that it's Exhibit A.
"D'you mind if I smoke?" Pierson says, lighting a cigarette as she speaks, and Róisín can only shake her head, although she takes a cigarette herself when Pierson offers. "Thanks. Yes. I imagine you can see how this changes the situation."
"I'm entitled to a lawyer." Róisín is hoarse. "Without their permission I really don't think--"
"Sure, sure, and fair enough," Pierson says, reassuringly, "just as soon as you answer our questions. To be honest, Miss Connolly, what you've done is, you've walked up to the secret police and turned yourself in, so there's a certain implication there that a lawyer might not be the thing that is pressing most on your mind."
"You haven't asked me any questions yet."
Pierson shrugs. "We'll think of some."
"Are you accusing me of, of," Róisín says, "of smuggling?"
"That's a good one," Pierson says approvingly. "Smuggling! Might be. In and of myself I'm leaning towards treason."
"Aiding and abetting." Pierson taps the photograph. "Unless you'd like to tell me that you're not selling eyai parts to an Irish national here? Because I'm fairly sure Mr. McParland is one of our finest, and I'd hate to think he'd fallen down on the job."
Róisín takes a long, wavery drag on the cigarette, contemplating the table, then the light fixture, then Pierson's gloves -- well-made, of course, but functional and above all stained, and it could just be nicotine but it probably isn't. She says, "Let me see if I've got this right. You're going to charge me with treason, and then you're going to say that this can all go away because I, I've got something England wants."
"We know," says Pierson. She grins. "But then, who gives a shit, really. I'm not here for international relations."
Róisín stares at her. "I assume," she says, cautiously, "that you're not here just for fun."
"No, you assume I'm working in my official capacity," Pierson says, studying her file with great attention. "And when you leave this room, if you leave this room, everyone else will assume that I was working in my official capacity, because to be frank, here, there's about a hundred different reasons I could have you sent to County Clare and shot, and your babbling about this conversation or in this conversation is even as we speak being rerecorded and mixed as compliance, do you understand me?"
"Yes," says Róisín, meaning: fuck.
"Glad to hear it. The party I represent will want exclusive trading rights and first pick of all items you acquire," Pierson says. "They will want a severe discount on the items they select. I'll leave it to your partner's judgment to pick the number, I understand she's a better grasp of the reality of the situation than you do--"
"And who is it you will be representing," Róisín says, dry-mouthed but very firm.
Pierson stands. "Are we in agreement, Miss Connolly?"
Róisín croaks, "Shake on it."
"Sure," says Pierson, with a broad grin, and removes the wrong glove, button by button, pulling it off by the forefinger and placing it next to the stranger's hand on the table, which Róisín barely credits, because she is too busy staring at the hand she's presented with, the neat keyhole next to the vein, the dark skin, the callouses she'd paid extra for, and Pierson doesn't stop; she unbuttons her sleeve and pulls it up past her elbow, which joins with a faint seam the pale skin of her biceps, and then with Róisín's hand she undoes the buttons at her neck, lets her fingers trail over the thin line at the base of her throat which is imperfect, which shows at a bad edge the copper underneath.
Róisín's fingers rest in the hollow of Pierson's clavicle. She says, "Or did you think all those parts were going to waste?"
Róisín tries very hard to swallow. "When you said rerecorded..."
"I did," Pierson agrees. "Not in my long-term memory, of course. I'm keeping that as a promise."
"Did we--?" Róisín says, and then wants to swallow it, says, "I don't -- it's none of my business and--" except for that it is her business, and she says, "You hear rumours about the embassy."
"Ah, do you." Pierson sticks out her right hand, still gloved. "We hear rumours about you, you know. Your whole line of work. We being the party I represent -- I say rumours; we hear figures..."
She puts out her right hand and shakes Pierson's, or someone else's, right hand. She says: "I would like my hand back, please."
"H-65013's, technically, or so my sources in New York say," Pierson comments, sliding it off her wrist. "Not that she needs it. Here you are. I'll ask you to sign for it in the front."
The first shipment comes in six days later and Prerna can't stop cooing over it, touching Róisín's arm and then the box as though one or the other of them is going to disappear. "This is a thousand easy," she says, tracing an iris. "Easy. Even with the discount."
Róisín is not listening. She shakes her head but the eyes still seem to be watching her, round and unafraid.
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