Today's Reading

But Kira lives alone, so the servo-mechanical guts remain exposed, and she does not even bother dressing beyond underwear, a tank top, and her aviator-style metaspecs. She has not left the penthouse suite asylum at the top of the twisted and slowly rotating Infinity Moscow Tower in nearly four years. No good reason to even brush her teeth, or to close the master bathroom door while she pees.

Kira works nights. Her workstation is her studio, and her tools are instruments of fabrication and conspiracy. Proxies conceal her real IP and map to her many identities. Location can be cloaked from the outside world, but real-time interaction cannot be forged, so Kira has become nocturnal. Her boss calls her a "change agent" but she knows that's simply a way of distorting the truth. She is an agent of chaos.

The first step in her evening routine is to make herself tea. In the kitchen, she activates the kettle, and while she waits for it to boil, she sits down to flash charge the monitor affixed to her wrist. The device cannot be removed, so it must be replenished in place. She interweaves her fingers and leans forward, both arms flat against the mat. A lightning bolt icon appears in the corner of her vision, indicating that her glasses are receiving an ambient trickle charge conveyed through her biomagnetic field.

The charging mat is infused with stacks of overlapping coils that are meant to get warm but never hot, and it is not until she smells something caustic and hears an electrical pop that she is on her feet and her legs are backing her away, and she understands that she's been burned. She kicks the cord out of the wall, turns to the sink, and runs her arm beneath a cold stream. She can already see round, red welts forming on the inside of her forearm.

It hurts, but she is no stranger to pain. Pain is always with her, and she has learned to observe it from a distance rather than letting it in.

Kira was her family's primary source of income before the missiles hit, and her parents had her back in front of a computer before she was even out of the hospital. At home, her father carried her back and forth between her desk and the toilet, and her mother changed her bandages and brought her soup and bathed her, and they never spoke of the retaliatory attack her work provoked. It was in the past, and the past could not be changed. Kira learned from an early age that some people do not have the luxury of indulging in yesterday's fears or even today's chronic pain.

If any of her personal monitoring systems fail, she is supposed to alert her handlers immediately. Fuck them, she thinks. They refuse to use anything that is not Russian-made, which means half of it is trash. The other half has shit firmware that any script kiddy could hack. They will know her charger is fried when her monitor runs dry and her biometrics suddenly drop offline.

Kira slides the patio door open to help get rid of the smell. Usually she does not check the pigeons until her tea is steeping, but tonight she steps outside into the cold Moscow evening.

Once a day, a bird arrives with a new handwritten encryption key wrapped around its leg. Homing pigeons are supposed to be only one-way. Once they have established a specific loft as their home, they will deliver messages only in that one direction. To use them again, they must be collected and redistributed. But these pigeons have been genetically engineered to have bifurcated brains with dominance that toggles according to light. They fly in one direction during the day and the opposite direction at night. Like Kira, their handlers have learned to turn their multiple identities into weapons deployed against their many enemies.

Tonight's bird has not yet arrived, but the night air feels good, so Kira does not go back inside. She can feel the spring in the silicone tiles as she passes the pigeon loft, and she gently places her injured arm against the cold metal of the rail and looks out over the city. She is chilly, but not as cold as she would have been in the past. Legs make up 36 percent of an adult's heat-bleeding surface area. And Kira's cybernetic prostheses are emanating warmth that her torso absorbs.

Kira has come to think of her relationship with her legs as symbiotic. She communicates with them through the neural pathways she formed as a little girl, and they interpret her intentions, form a consensus, and communicate spatial information back up through the same route. The vast majority of the time, it all happens unconsciously, but occasionally there are miscommunications. When it feels like her legs have suddenly gone numb, she recalibrates them by deliberately sending them a set of simple diagnostic instructions.

This time, she experiences the neurological dissonance as a dizzy spell. Her legs take her two steps back as if to help her regain her balance, which she was not aware of having lost. And then the back leg launches a firmly planted front kick that connects solidly with the rail and leaves a rippled, crumpled dent.

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