With the loud ring of a bell, the door to the shop swung back and hit the wooden stop nailed into the floor. Hit it hard. Sofie winced and rubbed her palms against her thighs. Nettie said she’d only be ten minutes, half an hour tops. Of course, in the time she was away a customer was bound to turn up.
All right, she could do this. It was probably one of Nettie’s regular clients, here for a not-quite so legal upgrade on their reclaimed flesh. They’d be as nervous as her. More so. Simple.
Sofie wet her lips and put on her best smile. It was more of a rictus. “The proprietor is currently away from the premises. My name’s Sofie. I’d be happy to help in any way I can.”
Her explanation was swallowed up by the hard boots of the woman striding into the shop’s small space. The dull light of the afternoon dipped further as the tall form of a reclaimed man blocked the open doorway.
“Why is it so dark in here?”
Sofie jumped to her feet, the action almost automatic at the woman’s barked question. Shit. Someone from the administration. She recognised the voice from official daily broadcasts. Eileen Corsen, commander of the unit that kept the vast protective dome sealed against the out-world. Sofie had no idea her friend was quite so well connected. “Nettie…I mean Engineer Jolan says it’s best for her equipment.”
Corsen squinted. “Turn the bloody lights up. The enclave is running on full power. No need to scrimp.”
“Yes, of course.” Sofie—her heart beating hard—scrambled into the narrow passage behind the curving shop counter and flicked up every switch she could find.
Light flared around the interior. Sofie preferred the shadow. In the half-darkness the hint of clean skin was something sweet, a delicate promise. In the full glare of the radiant lamps hanging from the curved ceiling, the reclaimed spare parts Nettie dealt in were…disturbing. Hands, arms, legs, whole torsos sat on shelves or hung in neat rows from metal hooks. The thin glass box with newly moulded faces, complete with hair and eyes was something Sofie never wanted to look at in full light.
The special, locked box—the one that held more intimate parts—Nettie kept in the safe. Sofie didn’t want to begin to think about that.
Sofie drew in a breath and planted her hands on the counter. The smooth wood was cool and calming against her skin. It was pointless trying to point out that Nettie was the engineer. No one argued with a woman like Corsen. “How can I help you, Commander?”
“Zed’s malfunctioning.” Corsen snapped her fingers and the reclaimed man moved forward to stand beside the commander.
With the glare of the light on his skin, Sofie was able to see him clearly for the first time. She moved out from behind the counter as if she were a puppet on strings. Was he the kind of reclaimed flesh the administration took home? He could change her mind about taking someone undead for herself.