With the rumbling of distant explosions raining dust on their heads from the ceiling, Arthur and the only other doctor on duty prepared to move Arras deeper underground. The blaring sirens and flashing red lights intensified the panic already building in them as they worked, disconnecting the monitors from her body as the guard remained at the door.
Before they could remove the heart monitor, however, they heard her heart accelerating. Had she still been connected to the other machines, they would have seen Arras’ brainwaves spike as well. Her body started to convulse, and she tugged violently at her restraints.
Her nano-net reactivated, frying the explosive and inhibitor on her neck. Moving up her spine into her brain, the nanomachines of her own net attacked the foreign nanites in her brain. In the frenzy, some of the machines were cannibalized, while the rest were rejected wholesale, pushed back the way they came, through the demolished optic nerve and blood vessels of her now wide open eye.
Both Arthur and the doctor watched in confusion and panic as they saw her once demolished eye being replaced with something else. The foreign nanomachines and the countless others from her own net congealed in the socket, the latter neutralizing the former as they started to take definite shape. Inky veins of neon blue pulsated over her face, pouring into her eye socket as a black mass rounded itself out, replacing the remains of her previous eye.
All the while, Arras regained consciousness, raising her head, yanking harder at the restraints. As she lifted herself, the strange mass still forming in her head, she let out a vicious cry, as if locked in a terrible battle.
The doctor stepped in to restrain her. With one brutal twist, Arras dislocated the fingers in her left hand, freeing herself from one of the bands to strike the doctor in the head with her elbow. As the doctor hit the floor, out cold, the guard rushed forward, raising his M9 without hesitation, ready to put the prisoner down.
“No, wait!” Arthur yelled, pushing the guard’s weapon from Arras’ head, saving her from a pointblank shot.
Before either Arthur or the guard could respond to his impulsive move, Arras had wrestled her other hand from the restraints, keeping it mostly intact. With what dexterity she could muster, she seized the guard’s handgun by the muzzle, wrenching it from his grip with terrifying ease. Flipping the weapon around, without a second thought, Arras fired two rounds in the man, dropping him like the doctor.
Shocked and sick to his stomach, Arthur looked up from the dead guard and back at Arras, finding she had trained the gun on him.
“Untie my feet,” she demanded. “Now!”
Arthur complied hurriedly, undoing the buckled straps around her ankles.
Without a word, Arras got up from the bed, stumbling a little as she reacquainted herself with her own feet. Putting some distance between herself and Arthur, she reduced her dislocated fingers back into their proper positions, wincing only slightly. She curled her fingers a few times, making sure everything was back in place, ignoring the pain.
The M9 in one hand, she brought her free hand to her eye, unsure of why it hurt so much. Despite the pain, she felt something solid where she had expected an open wound. Turning to the wall’s one-way mirror, she got a good look at what had formed in her eye socket. Hairline branches of compressed nanomachines, shining faintly under her skin, pulsed in and out of an entirely new, unnatural eye. The dilated pupil and the normally white sclera were absolutely black, leaving a single ring of neon blue to stare right back at her.
“What… what happened to you?” she could hear Arthur ask from behind her.
Arras turned around, giving him a full view of the strange, inhuman eye. Ignoring his question, she approached him, and pressed the end of her gun into his chest.
“You saved me,” she said simply, still trying to take inventory of what was going on. “Why?”
As if she had stolen his voice, Arthur struggled to respond, saying nothing intelligible.
Taking no mind of the sirens still screaming in the background, she studied him for a few seconds before lowering the gun and walking away.
As Arthur sank to the floor with relief, he watched Arras pull open one of the drawers lining the walls, finding a roll of gauze and some sterilized padding. Lifting her hair, she pressed one of the pads to her eye and wrapped the gauze around her head, covering her strange left eye in a number of layers until she couldn’t see its unnerving glow under the material.
Without another word, she found a spare mag on the dead guard’s vest, releasing the one she already had loaded, replacing it with the new one for as much ammo as she could carry. Next, she took the guard’s radio. Furrowing her brow, she tried listening in on the frequencies, finding that her net was once again active though working only at minimal capacity. She tucked the radio under her arm, deciding it might still be useful, even if she couldn’t fully manipulate it.
Raising her hand again to her new eye, still tender from the destruction of the old one, she wondered if most of her nano-net was busy at work keeping whatever they had given her at bay. She managed to analyze the eye itself, at least somewhat, finding a number of foreign agents circulating within it and the short strings branching into her skin.
With an irritated sigh, she made her way to the door.
“Wait,” Arthur called to her. “Please, if you go out there, they’ll kill you.”
“I’ll take my chances,” was all she said, pushing the door aside and heading out into the corridor.
Arthur stared at the open door for some time, frozen to the spot. Once he managed to pry himself from the door, he looked back down at the guard a few feet from him. In that moment, he remembered how Arras had shoved that pistol into his chest—and let him live.
“Did she know?” he asked himself weakly. “Could she really hear me?”
Looking up, he found Henrietta standing in the doorway, surrounded by a number of marines. She ran into the room, extending a hand to him, helping him to his feet.
“We need to get you to the safe room, Madam President,” one of the marines called into the room, watching the corridors around them.
“Where’s Arras?” Henrietta asked Arthur.
Arthur looked back down at the guard’s body. Henrietta understood immediately.
“Come on,” she said. “We’re under attack. We need to get to safety.”
As they stepped out into the corridor, Henrietta found the sergeant among the marines leading them.
“Arras Enqelin has escaped,” she told him. “Lock this place down. I want her found, dead or alive.”