A woman in the shape of a monster a monster in the shape of a woman
the skies are full of them
~Adrienne Rich, “Planetarium"
The child lay on a white sheet on the table.
The doctor gripped the blond beechwood handle, stained tawny with age and perspiration, and swirled the instrument in a final revolution before removing its eight- centimeter steel spike from the girl’s prefrontal cortex, soft as butter, and out her eye socket. He lay it beside its viscous twin on a cream lace cloth covering a mahogany sideboard, next to a small electric console from which two wires emerged, ending in the pair of round discs that echoed the half dollar bruises on the girl’s pale temples.
The room, and the patient, had been arranged for an audience. Tension, as hope, was high. The procedure, a transorbital lobotomy, had taken only ten minutes. The guests rose in a congratulatory hum and retired to the adjoining room to soothe their nerves and take refreshment. Eight heavy armless chairs faced the table, each silk-upholstered cushion dimpled and warm from its recent occupant.
The skin around Luci's orbits blackened like spilled ink. She opened her eyes, breaking the dark room with a meteor gaze. The cold metal hardware of the restraints pushed into her wrists and ankles, and she felt the muscles in her legs and arms contract and twist into one continuous knot. A woman appeared at her side, and laid a hand on her shoulder.
The man who had just taken the ice picks from Luci's brain entered the room and set a glass of whisky on the sideboard next to the instruments, suffusing the air with smoke and splinters.
"There's our patient, awake!" The man shined a light into Luci's eyes. He pressed a stethoscope to her chest under her cotton gown and listened to her heartbeat. He did not undo the straps.
"Capital, capital!" the doctor said to no one. To the nurse he said, "Take her to her rooms, then. Tomorrow we begin the real work, full steam ahead! By God, we've done it. Our Luci will be a brand-new girl!"
As the nurse wheeled the table to the freight elevator at the back of the mansion, Luci closed her eyes and tried to imagine her mother, but instead of the lovely face of Maggie Sykes, there was only a thick blue frost, and the drowning sound of ice cracking against glass.
Luci Sykes swung her stiletto like a gavel onto the glossy wood until a rind of red patent leather heel peeled off the sole. The mammoth desk revealed not so much as a nick. Luci scowled, and pressed a button on the intercom. "Jasper!"
“Luci. How may I help?” Jasper appeared as cool as an April morning. He glided into the room balancing a cup of jasmine tea on a silver tray, dressed as though suiting up was what he did for a living—tapered leg, cinched waist, English textiles, hand stitched Italian shoes—but dressing was not what Jasper did for a living. Luci was his vocation.
Today she detected an uptick in scrutiny under his suave demeanor. She imagined she warranted some watching. It was not her business to reign herself in, to stem the savage impulses. That was Jasper’s job.
"Jasper, what's the word on Lamb?" Less than two weeks earlier, immediately after Luci's mother's death, Olympia's Chief Operations Officer, Theodore Lamb, disappeared with a quantity of critical software. Despite Olympia's resources, or more likely because of them, he was thus far untraceable.
"None yet. The old dog is proving himself pretty nimble. I'm confident, though, we'll have him presently. And BEACON.” BEACON, Olympia’s penultimate global positioning system, was currently in use in billions of devices across the planet. Theodore Lamb had made off with a proprietary version used to help develop SEARCHLIGHT, Luci’s latest creation, set to debut worldwide within the month.
When Luci Sykes applied her energies to a project, dark roads were illuminated and the human species pressed forward. When her electricity went ungrounded, she sputtered like a frayed wire in a puddle. Her significant intellectual skills had thus far created and promoted a global showroom of innovations: revolutionary engine designs, navigational programs, and whole diverse systems for sustainable fuel production. Fired up, Luci could, and did, change the world. Bored, she would just as soon burn it to ash. Jasper tended the coals.
Jasper thought himself a self-made man, a status both accurate and slippery. Certainly, Jasper Collins, Senior Vice-President of Olympia Navigation, was his own meticulous construction, designed to perfectly occupy every nipped inch of his Hugo Boss worsted wool, with no room for memory of when he would not have. Sometimes it was his former self that felt like a construct. Jasper’s past was a cinematic tool—a colorful, sordid backstory he never told, and few knew. Luci knew.
They met at the crumbling edge of childhood, and in fifteen years, they'd rarely strayed more than a city block from one another. Jasper presented as the perfect executive assistant, a super-elevated servant to Luci's sovereign, but the truth was more complex.
Their incarnations in the present hierarchy were roles they wore with the plasticity of an eternally bound couple, returning life after life to play it out again.
Luci's suspicions about Jasper's sharpened regard were correct. He had indeed recently observed Luci pushing the boundaries of her known mercury. His gut fluttered and seized, not knowing exactly what was happening with her, when knowing was his purpose. Luci depended on him for it, or did. His prescience was elemental to everything they had achieved in the last decade. Luci provided the wild germinating force, the rocket fuel, the energy of their partnership. He collected it, housed it, and beamed it where it did optimal good, or optimal damage, whichever was called for. Theirs had been an extremely profitable and effective pairing. Currently, however, something was off between them. Jasper could feel that Luci herself didn’t yet grasp the breach. This time, she was fired up to launch without him.
"I can't say I share your confidence, Jasper, but I trust you to keep our path clear. Lamb can stay gone, as long as he stays out of our way."
Jasper appreciated the inclusion. Even so, he twitched slightly as Luci brought her heel down one last time on her reflection in the black wood.