Anna K. Young

And We’ll Become Silhouettes



          NEW CALIFORNIA GAZETTE reporter ONEIRA CAVALON will be following the lives of two early recipients of cyberkinetic surgery in a 12-part monthly series. Blink here to include the N.C. Gazette in your regular CraniYUM™ Brain Capacity downloads.



“Oh, it’s so exciting!”

             Hiu Bree can barely contain said excitement. In the small corner of a premiere café in Visia City, New California, she swings her legs back and forth under the ergonomic barstool and sips a NutriNeuro-enhanced mocha frappe.

             People around us can’t help but stare at her legs. When I mention this, Hiu laughs.

             “I’m used to it, sweetheart,” she says. “Though it used to be people would stare for a very different reason.”

             She giggles and clutches her frappe in both hands before taking a sip. Her long, shapely nails are painted a matte, metallic silver — “Audacity Wright’s ‘Titanium Tirade,’” she says, “because not only is Audacity my hero, but it matches my legs.”

             It does. From the tops of her black Air Nikes to the bottom of her green running shorts, Hiu’s legs are made of metal, a smooth emulation of the human form constructed from, primarily, titanium and stainless steel. Red and blue wires peek out from her shiny kneecaps when the joint bends and exposes the reinforced silicon tendons holding it all together.

             “It’s so silly,” she says. “I thought getting this surgery with these would make people focus more on my dancing and less on my legs.” She laughs again. “What on Earth was I thinking?”


             As cyberkinetic surgeon Argwin Felt knows, those metal legs connect at the hip under the green running shorts, while the Air Nikes conceal a pair of — for the most part — perfectly average feet.

             “Ms. Bree’s plantar fascia and the tips of her toes are reinforced with steel and silicon,” Felt says at our first meeting. His office, stark and sterile, features equipment and walls made primarily of brass. Brass is self-sterilizing, he informed me when I entered, and the less he has to disinfect, the better.

             “Other than that,” he says of Hiu’s surgery, “her feet are much the same as they were before. We’ve found in the field of cyberkinetic surgery that, in cases where the patient’s body parts are essentially functional, it’s best to leave the smaller tendons and bones alone.”

             He turns on the Snaggle projector on his brass desk, and a head with two near-identical, yet somehow opposite faces rotates between us. One face is perfectly average; the other, its perfectly perfect counterpart.

             “Michael Janus,” Felt says, reading the large text over the image. “Now, his case is a bit different, and something a breakthrough in the challenging field of expression-based performance.”


             Michael Janus’s secretary has me wait in the cramped lobby outside the courtroom. The Visia County Courthouse is an old building. This becomes apparent when I sit on a creaky wooden bench next to an old-fashioned drinking fountain, the kind where you have to lean over and put your mouth near the spout.

             I hope that spout is brass, I find myself thinking, right before the courtroom door swings open and the perfect face from Felt’s office appears above a black blazer and matching slacks.

             “Oneira Cavalon, is it?”

             I stand almost compulsively as Michael draws near and shakes my hand in a perfect handshake — just firm enough and not too damp. “That’s me,” I say. “How’d the case go?”

             “Excellent, of course.” He beckons, and we walk at a self-important, brisk pace down the stuffy hall and up a flight of brick stairs to his office suite. “The defendant actually gave a statement after the sentencing to apologize for wasting my time.”

             As he talks, I have to pinch myself at times to stay focused and commit information and details to my CraniYUM. But now, as I write, I never need to play back my audiovisual notes, because I can remember exactly what he said with perfect accuracy.

             In Michael’s office, he offers me a look into his throat. He apologizes for the crude method — I have to manually peer into the dark gullet with a concentrated lightstick — but he ran out of Nanobite imaging pills last week and hasn’t replaced his office stash yet.

             Still, the lightstick has three built-in cameras and Snaggle capabilities, so he connects it to the projector and uses a plugin to enhance the 3D image. After that, it’s almost as clear as if he’d swallowed a Nanobite.

             “You’ll see there that Dr. Felt lined my vocal folds with nanorobotics,” he says, proving the point as his hypnotic baritone resonates around the room. “They adjust tuning and inflection in my speech for optimal auditory reception.”

             “I like the sound of that!” one of his colleagues cracks from across the suite, and Michael smiles.

             “Well, of course you do,” he says. “Everyone does.”



             Hiu’s apartment sits at the top of an unremarkable high rise, all two-way mirrors and titanium framing. You can see the original concrete sidewalks peeking through the cracks in the solar-heated, comfort-optimized paving tile. Sometimes an entire square of concrete breaks through; just walking across one makes my joints hurt.

             Two people, perhaps lovers, squat in the arched doorway of the building. They might be teenagers, but it’s hard to tell — the recent generations always look perpetually youthful and androgynous.

             The first injects something under their tongue, then helps the other do the same. “Wanna see what my insides look like?” the first says with a coy smile.

             “You said this wasn’t Nanobites,” the other replies, still holding the syringe. “You said these nanorobots reconfigure to emulate hormones. Antidopa-whatevers and shit.”

             “Well,” the first says, grabbing the other’s hand and leading them into the stairwell, “there’s more than one way to look inside a person.”

             I’m relieved when the other giggles. Then I’m less relieved to remember that “antidopa-whatevers and shit” — likely antidopaminergics, if my CraniYUM word completion brainware is correct — are dopamine blockers. Dopamine regulates impulse control.

             Then Hiu floats down the stairs, and I forget about the two youths until I play the scene back later while collecting my notes.

             “Oh, Oneira,” she says, her gait balanced and smooth even on the exposed concrete, “I’m sorry I kept you waiting. This neighborhood is a dump, but I’m moving out soon.” She beams. Her teeth shine, though I notice the left incisor is a little crooked.

             As if on cue, she unwraps a stick of tooth-whitening gum and offers me one. I decline. She throws the wrapper into a chrome moleculizer, where it vaporizes the wrapper and the non-natural compounds are sucked away for later reuse. The water molecules stay in the air for a minute, a hazy rainbow hanging in the mist until a pleasant breeze blows it away.

             “My career exploded,” Hiu continues. “I was nervous at first to make this investment, but it’s business — you have to spend money to make money. Now I’m the International Dance Troupe’s number-one dancer.”

She stops once we get to the old marina, crystalline seawater lapping at the wooden piers. Visia City engineers recently renovated the docks, reinforcing the structure but keeping the decayed wood look. It looks run down, but with a unique, ugly-chic charm.

             “Watch,” Hiu says.

             She takes one step and leaps, landing en pointe in her ballet flats on the dock’s railing. Her movements precise, her balance impeccable, she elevates herself on one set of toes and begins to spin, whirling faster and faster until I begin to think she’ll never stop.

             But she does stop, again with extreme precision. She flashes the crooked incisor. “Thirty-two fouettés,” she says, hardly even out of breath. “Odile, Swan Lake. I’ve never been able to do that before. And I don’t even need pointe shoes anymore.”

             She leaps down, making almost no sound as she lands on the creaky wooden dock.

             I’m breathless for her. “Do you ever miss your old legs?”

             Hiu looks thoughtful. “Not really,” she says. “At first I was upset because I couldn’t afford the higher-end prosthetics, the ones that really look like human skin and whatever.”

             She glances at her fingernails, still painted “Titanium Tirade,” then down at her legs. She then looks at me. “But there’s beauty in the metal, too, don’t you think?”


             “True,” Dr. Felt says. “The metallic look is ‘all the vogue,’ as people used to say.”

             He pulls up a diagram on his Snaggle. There’s several human models in a row, each with an increasingly minimalistic set of legs. The last one appears to just be a floating torso.

             “We’re developing our prosthetics to be as free from the bonds of physics as possible,” Felt says. “Pushing the limits, as it were.” He points below the floating torso. “This newest design uses directed levitation to avoid friction altogether. Reverse-Casimir force and whatnot. The trick is getting the artificial electric impulses to line up with the organic ones.”

             He enlarges the torso model. It leaps about on a virtual stage. The motion is captivating, but it’s lacking something.

             “Artistry,” I say aloud. Felt laces his fingers together under his chin and peers at me through the projection. “You can’t see the legs, just the arms. You miss all the mirroring movements and nuance.”

             “Perhaps,” Dr. Felt says, “but there’s something to be said for things left unseen, hmm?” He leans back in his desk chair, and I hear a slight whir as the nanorobotics reconfigure to offer peak lumbar support.

             I have a similar chair back at my apartment. I spent all night in it, replaying Hiu’s rendition of Odile and dreaming about what I would do with legs like those. I didn’t move all night. Funny to think, my great-grandparents used to complain about backaches if they sat for longer than an hour or so.

             I guess Felt mentioning “vogue” got me thinking about the past.


             “Oh, I don’t miss my old voice, Oneira” Michael says. “Because I never lost it. I just made it better.”

             It’s true. Even though my EarRing is an older model, his voice sounds pristine even through a slight crackle. Still, I dig in my ear with that tiny nano-brush that comes with every EarRing implant, hoping to fix whatever electronic problem it has today. Or at least clear out some earwax.

             “My face, too, it’s still me,” Michael continues. “Perhaps Argwin showed you the before-and-after models?”

             I bump my eardrum with the brush and curse. “Sorry,” I say. “That wasn’t for you. Yes, Dr. Felt showed me.”

             “You know, I have a funny story for you,” he says. “Yesterday I gave my opening statement for a new trial. You’ll never guess what happened afterward.”

             I’m too enraptured by his voice, now, to even try to guess. I ask what happened.

             “We had a brief recess, and as soon as the judge announced it, people were lining up left and right to get my autograph. The jury, the people watching … even the defendant was chomping at the bit to get to me. At first the judge worried that it was absurd, even unethical.”

             He chuckles. “But I told her, ‘Well Maria, Your Honor, I damn well can’t help it. The people want what they want!’ She came around to it.”

             “Uh-huh,” I say. The brush still hangs out of my ear, but I won’t notice until after the call is over.

             “A few of ’em tried to get pictures with me, too.” He chuckles again. “Some people are so vain.”


             Hiu also has a funny story for me. We’re at her new apartment. It’s one of those fancy new ones with the semi-permeable walls, where it feels as fresh as the outdoors but stays at a cozy 295 Kelvin. The floor can be soft as grass, or fold down with the press of a button into a carpet or pseudo-hardwood.

             The two-way mirrors — simple windows, from the inside — absorb sunlight and diffuse it around the room, enveloping Hiu’s minimalistic décor in soothing, buttery warmth. It’s serene. I feel good the instant I walk in.

             Hiu gestures for me to sit and finishes making her NutriNeuro smoothie (I eye her fridge with its built-in blender with just the slightest jealousy) before she joins me in the living room.

             “So I went to this house party, right?” she begins, a warm breeze stirring her hair before making its way to me. “Just a little get-together for the troupe after a busy month of touring. We were all drinking and dancing to some popmech.”

             “You like popmech?” I ask with a laugh.

             Hiu giggles too and crosses her legs. The top of her thigh glints in the natural light. “Well, no,” she says, hiding her smile with one hand. “But it was Thetea Greenwold’s party, and she loves the stuff. Don’t ask me why.”

             At this moment, the door opens, and a young person walks in, holding a toddler’s hand. Hiu rushes over, shakes hands with the caretaker and hands them a wad of cash. “Thanks, Havron,” she says, carrying the toddler back to the living room.

             Havron leaves. The walls are so soundproof, I don’t hear footsteps in the hall after the door closes.

             “Oneira, this is Arabesque,” she says. The toddler stares at me with wide brown eyes and starts sucking on a fist. “She stays with Havron while I’m on tour. She’s my little test-tube wonder, aren’t you, baby!”

             She rubs noses with Arabesque, who squeals and laughs, her wet fist leaving dark spots on her tiny overalls.

             After a minute, Hiu puts Arabesque down, and she waddles away. “Now,” Hiu says, “where were we?”

             “Thetea’s party.”

             “Right! Well, the song was winding up, and I was feeling pretty bubbly from all the drinks.” Hiu puts her face in her hands. “Oh, it’s so embarrassing!”

             “What happened?”

             “Everyone started jumping around to the beat of the song. I got so caught up in it, I did too, even though I don’t really like popmech. And then—”

             She puts her face in her hands again. I prod her for the rest of the story.

             “I put a hole in Thetea’s ceiling!” she says. Her face is slick with tears, she’s laughing so hard. “Nobody could believe it. The ceiling was at least four meters high. We all just stood there, bits of ceiling raining down on us, a bunch of it stuck in my hair.” She slaps one of her legs with a hollow clink. “I didn’t think these could even do something like that.”

             Across the room I hear another clinking sound. Before I can even locate it, Hiu is in the kitchen, hoisting Arabesque away from the fridge.

             “Be careful, baby,” she says, her hands on the toddler’s shoulders. “The blender could hurt your fingers.”

             Arabesque pouts and looks away. Hiu turns back to me with a guilty smile. “It’s new, so I haven’t figured out the child safety settings on it yet. Maybe I’ll do that this afternoon.”

             Arabesque stares at me again. She shoves her fist back in her mouth.


             That night I sit in my chair again, this time replaying Michael’s voice in my head. Especially when he said my name: Oneira. It sounds like poetry.

             I replay it. Oneira. Oneira. Oneira.

             Soon it’s daytime.


             Dr. Felt doesn’t answer his phone that same morning. I leave a message, hoping maybe he’s listening to his EarRing through one of those discreet plugins.

             “Hello, Dr. Felt,” I begin. My voice sounds scratchy and weak. I wonder if I’m coming down with a cold or something. “I was hoping we could meet up sometime today or tomorrow. I have some more specific questions now about New California’s cyberkinetic laws and ethics. Uh … thanks.”

             I end the call. Then I realize: I have Michael Janus at my disposal. He’s a lawyer.

I call him, and someone else answers. I recoil at the sound of their voice; I was expecting Michael’s smooth, commanding baritone.

“Yes?” the person at the other end says, their annoyance pinging in my ear like a nasty alarm.

“Uh, hi. It’s Oneira Cavalon. I need to meet with Michael today.”

“He’s not taking visitors anymore.”


The connection goes dead. I grab the EarRing brush and rattle it around in my ear, but there’s nothing wrong with the electronics.

I leave my apartment without locking the door.


Protestors swamp the street outside Dr. Felt’s office. They’re mostly those androgynous youth types, but I see a few older faces. Many of them have attached mobile Snaggle projectors to their clothes, displaying holographic signs: “Mother Nature, Not Motherboard!” and “You Won’t Commit to a Relationship, so Why Commit to Unnecessary Permanent Surgery?”

From deep in the crowd, another sign catches my eye: “Felt Puts the ‘Ass’ in ‘Brass.’” I watch as the owner hurls something at Felt’s window up on the third floor. The object, a bottle, bounces off the glass and lands on the sidewalk below. The paving tile absorbs the shock so the glass doesn’t shatter.

I weave through the crowd, displaying my digital credentials on my own Snaggle to anyone who tries to stop me. I reach the bottle just after the youth does. The teen snatches it up as if I might try to steal it.

I point at the bottle. It’s full of a clear liquid. “What is that?”

             “Who wants to know?” the kid nearly snarls. I suddenly recognize the face as one of the ones from Hiu’s old apartment building.

I display my credentials. “Oneira Cavalon,” I say, cringing at the way it sounds when I say it. I play back Michael Janus’ voice a few times: Oneira, Oneira, Oneira. “I’m here to report on the protest for the New California Gazette.”

The youth stares at me, but finally shrugs. “Parrhesia Raventide. You can call me Pari for short.” They shake the bottle from side to side. “And this is hydrogen chloride.”

I pointedly record some notes in front of them before minimizing my Snaggle display. “Why hydrogen chloride?”

             “Dr. Felt’s office is made of brass, and hydrogen chloride would dissolve the zinc in brass and corrode it.”

I realize the kid is talking about one of my articles from early in the series, but I have to ask. “Where’d you learn that?”

They shrug again. “I dunno. My CraniYUM downloads information so fast, I never bother to see where it’s from. I just know. I have the software updated so everything that comes through is triple-fact-checked.”

             “Huh,” I say.

Pari sets down the bottle and pulls out a syringe, then shoots me a wary glance. “You’re not gonna narc if I shoot up some nanos, are you?”

             “No,” I say.

I see Pari’s friend/lover from before, still standing in the crowd with the “Ass in Brass” sign. Then they trade it out for a sign that says, “Take the ‘anium’ Out of ‘Titanium’ and Let’s Stay Human!”

Pari lets out a luxurious, relieved sigh, and I turn back. “Do you believe all this?” I ask, gesturing at the mass of protestors. “That cyberkinetics make people inhuman?”

             “Well, yeah,” Pari says. “Why else would I be here?”

I nod to the empty syringe. “Isn’t that the same thing?”

Pari snorts. “Obviously not. It doesn’t stay in your system forever, like you old people think.”

             “What about CraniYUM?”

             “It’s an implant. That’s totally different than, like, replacing perfectly good body parts.”

Pari’s speech loses intensity as we talk. First their shoulders slump, then their eyelids lower a bit. “These nanorobotics are sooo good,” they say with another sigh. “Sometimes I need a break from all that information, you know? Every question I ever have is instantly answered, triple-fact-checked and all. Sometimes I wish I didn’t need to know everything all the time.”

Seemingly in a haze, Pari looks at me one last time. Then they pick up the bottle of hydrogen chloride and merge back into the crowd.



I can’t get Michael Janus’ voice out of my head. I have to see him. I have to hear him.

I call seven times, all unanswered. Not even the assistant or whoever answers. I leave seven voicemails.

I show up at his office. I make it as far as the door to the main suite, where two people stand guard outside.

             “Back off,” one says. “Michael isn’t taking visitors. No one’s allowed past this point.”

             “What do you mean?” I ask, anger rising in my chest. I yank my Snaggle out of my pocket and display my credentials. “He’s one of my sources. I need to see him!”

             “He. Said. No. Visitors,” the other says. Her red hair is in a tight bun, her blue eyes glimmering above a sprinkling of freckles.

She’s hideous. Her voice is hideous. I sneer. “I have to see Michael.”

             “We have direct orders from Michael to not let anyone in.”

I try to push past, but the two guards grab my arms and hold me in place while I thrash. The woman leans in close to my ear. “If you try to talk to him,” she says, “I’ll fucking kill you.”

They throw me back. I glare at them and turn on my heel to stalk away.

             “And don’t try calling him anymore,” the first guard calls after me. “If Michael says no contact, there will be no contact.”


I call Dr. Felt. Maybe he can help with this nonsense.

He answers on the second tone. “I can’t talk to you anymore,” he says in a clipped voice. “Goodbye.”

             “Wait!” I say. “You said I could follow you and your patients for the entire year. It’s only been seven months!”

I hear him sigh and start grumbling under his breath. There’s a distant buzz of voices in the background, all sounding very urgent. I can hear the people shouting outside too, in the eighth week of the “Feel, Not Felt!” protest.

             “Dr. Felt,” I continue. “Michael Janus won’t let me talk to him anymore either, and Hiu Bree’s been on tour for the past two months. What am I supposed to write about for the upcoming edition?”

             “Goodbye, Oneira.”

He hangs up. My stomach churns. I cover my ears and start playback: Oneira, Oneira, Oneira.


Hiu Bree is sobbing when I call her the next day.

             “I can’t—” she warbles, her voice thick with tears. “I … I can’t—”

             “Are you okay?” I ask. “What happened?”

             “Oh, Oneira, I’m at the hospital right now. I can’t talk.”

             “The hospital?” I’m desperate to keep her talking. “Are you hurt?”

             “No, it’s…it’s…” She sobs hard. “It’s Arabesque!”

             “Oh, no. Is she sick?”

Hiu cries so hard it’s hard to understand her. I have to listen to the playback several times even though the sound grates on me. But I catch the basic snippets as we talk: back from tour, stretching in living room, Arabesque, I thought she was right with me, kitchen, refrigerator, blender.

My stomach turns. “Shit. Did she get her hand caught in the blender?”

Hiu moans the word no, a horrible low keening sound. “I knew— knew I wouldn’t get t-to her in time if I just walked, s-s-so I— I leapt…”

She breaks down again. I wait for her to finish, listening to the beeps and whirs of the hospital.

Hiu sniffles. “I leapt to save her, but it was too hard and I…I…crushed her into the wall!”

She breaks down sobbing again and ends the call.


Three days later, there’s a knock on my door. My Snaggle-enabled door camera shows me it’s three Visia City authorities.

They demand access to my CraniYUM notes. I refuse. They say Dr. Felt’s gone missing and they’ll get a warrant to hack my system if they have to.

I say fine, get the warrant, and they leave.

That afternoon, I start writing all my notes on paper, planning to wipe my system. I get through six pages.

I shove the papers off my desk in a flurry, then watch Hiu perform continuous fouettés in time to Michael Janus saying my name.


The Followers of Janus come by my apartment every day for two weeks, asking if I’ve heard the Word of Michael. Every time, I tell them to fuck off and slam the door.


I buy a junky old media converter at an apartment sale and download the audio of Michael saying my name. I sync it up to the image of Hiu spinning and play it on my Snaggle nonstop.

Deleting the information from my CraniYUM leaves me in a cold sweat for days.


The Visia City authorities come back, a warrant for access to my CraniYUM and two New California regulators in tow. All five officials pick through my brain capacity files and find nothing other than what’s already been published. Oneira, Oneira, Oneira plays on my Snaggle in the background.

One of the New California regulators points at the projection of Hiu as I’m shooing them toward the door. “That’s evidence, too.”

             “Then get a warrant for that,” I say, and slam the door on both the officials and the Followers of Janus coming up behind them.


I have a plan for these last few notes. They’re handwritten, but I downloaded a CraniYUM plugin that translates handwriting to digital text and uploads it within seconds. I might be able to get it past whatever blockades have been set up.

The New California Gazette crashed. All the articles are gone from the main cache, only to be found in dark corners of the CraniYUM brainscape for outrageous prices. My editor sent me a brief message that popped up the second I opened my eyes this morning: N.C. Gazette is done. Final payment transferred 0.002 seconds ago.

Dr. Felt did disappear, but word on the street — collected by my good friend Pari — says that multiple sources saw Felt ushered onto an anonymous hovercraft and flown out of Visia City at speeds too fast to track.

Pari triple-fact-checked the hovercraft’s design and cross-referenced the audio from its takeoff with its approximate flying speed. The information led to New California government caches, which were blocked.

After the Followers of Janus began soliciting money and killing for the greater good — namely, getting everyone to leave Michael alone, as he originally ordered them — Michael Janus starved himself to death in his office suite.

Hiu Bree’s daughter survived, though Hiu gave legal parentage to Havron and quit the International Dance Troupe.

Pari’s information was not triple-fact-checked in this case, but they might have seen Hiu lurking around her old apartment. It appeared she was shooting up a potent kind of nanorobotics and trying to pry her legs off.


Final words before I upload. Two years after the fact, people have abandoned hope for new information. New California has placed an indefinite ban on cyberkinetic surgery, and more conservative authorities are attempting to criminalize certain types of implants and medications as well.

Dr. Argwin Felt, Hiu Bree and Michael Janus have been wiped from the brainscape. No information exists on any of them, except in the dark corners and, potentially, protected government caches.

If this makes it into the brainscape, I hope that everyone who downloads it starts demanding more information.

I know I will.




        “Oh, it’s so exciting!”

        [REDACTED] can barely contain said excitement. In the small corner of [REDACTED] premiere café, she swings her legs back and forth under the ergonomic barstool and sips a [REDACTED].

        People around us can’t help but stare at [REDACTED]. When I mention this, [REDACTED] laughs.



        It does. [REDACTED]




Anna K Young (she/her) is an emerging writer who specializes in speculative fiction and darkly humorous flash. Alongside a forthcoming novella with Running Wild Press, her fiction has been featured in Cutleaf Literary Journal and Mortal Mag in 2022. Her other work has appeared in Sheila-Na-Gig’s online poetry journal and Crack the Spine’s “The Year” anthology. When not writing, reading, people-watching, or eavesdropping, Young enjoys playing guitar, exploring the local trails, and taking long naps on her living room futon. You can add her on Twitter @AKYwriter.

Artwork “Forever and a Day,” by GJ Gillespie

GJ Gillespie is a collage artist living in a 1928 Tudor Revival farmhouse overlooking Oak Harbor on Whidbey Island (north of Seattle). In addition to natural beauty, he is inspired by art history — especially mid century abstract expressionism. The “Northwest Mystics” who produced haunting images from this region 60 years ago are favorites. Winner of 19 awards, his art has appeared in 56 shows and numerous publications. When he is not making art, he runs his sketchbook company Leda Art Supply.