“She has three spinal cords,” I muttered, tapping the picture MC had drawn for me. We hadn’t bothered trying to wrestle Elizabeth into an x-ray machine, since it would give her a chance to escape and clue her into our motives, but I had vivisected her enough to give us a pretty clear picture on what we were dealing with.
Doctor Henry peered closely at the drawing. We were in one of his offices, about ten minutes’ walk from the warcage where Elizabeth was still trapped. “Looks like one to me.”
I rolled my eyes. “What grade did you get in your anatomy class?”
“None. I got my doctorate in engineering.”
Well, that explained why he couldn’t read it. MC had drawn it like an x-ray, so it was a little tough for someone without the proper training to decipher it.
I pointed to the part where it was most obvious. “See, here?”
He nodded. “Right. The spine.”
“No, not her spinal column, her spinal cord. Look, that braid.”
The doctor blinked. “She has three spinal cords braided together? What’s the point of that?”
“Stability, I’d imagine,” I muttered. I wasn’t exactly a biologist myself, so I was a little out of my depth here. “And speaking of the spine, she has thirty-five vertebrae.” I peered closer. “It looks like they’re all articulating…which fits. I thought she was a little bendier than she should be, and I guess that explains it.”
“Normal is thirty-three,” Henry noted, mostly to himself. “Twenty…four? Twenty-four articulating.”
“Yeah, that sounds right.” I shuffled to another printout, showing a more detailed view of the individual vertebrae. “And they’re shaped wrong. Only barely, but you can see here—”
“Yeah, they’re more fragile. Provide less protection to the spinal braid.” He frowned, pulling the paper closer. “You know, if this were a monster—something modified by the toy maker—I’d say that this spine is designed for speed.”
I nodded. I had been thinking the same thing. “If she’s fast enough to never get hit, she doesn’t have to worry about a weak spine.”
The doctor drummed his fingers on the table in frustration. “But you said you didn’t find any brushstrokes or anything else that would indicate she’s ever used the toy maker.”
“They could have just done a good job on her,” I said, not really believing it myself. The amount of modification she had should have left some evidence behind, some mistake by whoever engineered her.
“The tissue samples will be back soon. We’ll know for sure then.”
I leaned back in my chair and sighed. “I doubt we’ll know anything. Every time we learn something new, we get ten more questions to go with it.” I plopped the printout onto the table haphazardly. “All we know for sure is that bits cut off don’t return to her body if they’re frozen, and throwing her through a woodchipper just pisses her off.” We had lost two guards in the three seconds when she had a single arm free.
Henry waved his hand. “Let’s just…let’s just keep going. We still have some info.” He pulled out another sheaf of paper. “She’s got an extra aorta and ventricle on her heart. The purpose of that is obvious.”
“More blood flow…” I frowned at another page. “Am I reading this right? No appendix, no tonsils?”
“Yeah, that looks right. I spotted that on the original pictures.” Much of what we were looking at now was pieced together from photos I had taken. I had made sure to only do it while Elizabeth’s head was paste, to make sure she didn’t realize what we were doing. “That’s no big deal, though.”
In theory, he was right. Most people in this city—myself included—didn’t have appendices or tonsils. The process was just so easy with the toy maker, that it was smarter than waiting for them to get infected. Researchers had eventually discovered that there were some benefits to having those in your body, but a few cheap toys took care of that problem as well.
“That’s not what I mean. Look. There’s no place for the appendix. Nothing was removed—it looks like there was never anything there.”
“That’s…” he rubbed his forehead. “Men and monsters, we need a break. At least let me call in some relief—”
“No,” I said firmly. “We need to minimize the number of people involved.”
He laughed. “What, the fifty ‘sarian guards outside—”
“They don’t know what’s going on. If Elizabeth gets free and starts a revenge trip, she won’t target them.”
“That’s a lie and you know it. She’ll kill anyone in her way without a moment’s hesitation.”
I looked away. “Maybe. But for now, it’s best that we keep the actual information limited to you, me, MC, and Miss Lingshen.”
“Speaking of Miss Lingshen,” a pleasant female voice announced, heralding the presence of the Henry’s lab tech, Chao Lingshen. “I have those blood tests you were waiting on.”
Chinese girls were a bit on the rare side in Domina—China sent most of their criminals to the Reiner Gamma colony before it was destroyed, rather than to us—but there were a few of them scattered around. Chao was actually first generation. She had come here herself, willingly, from Lemuria.
So clearly, she was insane.
Insane or not, Henry loved her like a daughter, and smiled wen she entered the room. “Perfect timing! What’s the verdict?”
She bit her tongue. “The verdict is…weird.” She handed me a pad.
I scrolled through the file being displayed with a frown. “All right, I think we have officially ruled out the toy maker causing her modifications.”
Henry pulled the pad away from me. “Let me see…” He blinked. “Wait, what?”
“Thirty pairs of chromosomes,” I read aloud. “Twenty-eight pairs of autosomes and two pairs of sex chromosomes. Sixty total.” I put the pad down. “Humans have twenty-two and one, for forty-six total.”
Chromosomes, along with DNA, could be modified by the toy maker. While it’s not exactly easy, it’s far from impossible. But on this scale…
Trying to use the toy maker for that purpose was like trying to render a high-definition photograph using fingerpaint on rocks. We could make minor edits and alterations—skin, hair, and eye color, little things like that. Even the fey, the undisputed masters of genetic modification, couldn’t do something this advanced.
The only way for someone to have sixty chromosomes would be to be born that way.
“She’s not human,” Henry muttered.
“No,” I admitted. “Not even a little.”
Behind the Scenes (scene 153)
Lots of talking, but very important talking.