She makes her first taser from things she finds lying around in the garage, parts she steals from the school’s tech shop, things she lifts from the hardware store down the block while the cashier is staring at the breasts of the teenager waiting in the check-out line. It’s a project borne of all the rage and frustrated impatience she can hold in her skinny, awkward, little-girl’s body, a concession to the physical world she despises because it means she’s at the mercy of every mindless, talentless, worthless collection of human parts that wants to impose its will on hers.
It’s a blocky, inelegant thing, and as an engineering project it’s not all that interesting, but when it’s done she has a portable device that can flatten the semi-literate captain of the high school football team if she wants it to. (She does want.)
He wets himself - an involuntary, humiliating, physical response. She raises curious fingers to the cheek he’s just shoved into the wall behind the gym where she likes to read when she’s skipping classes. The older kids like to go there for other reasons, and the air is sweet with marijuana. Her fingers come back streaked with blood. Another physical response.
She wishes she could stop herself bleeding, but into the sequence of If-Then statements that codes the physical world someone has fired the event of her face meeting rough brick, and her body handles this as it is programmed to. The taser is a patch in the code—too late, too incomplete to stop this particular problem at its source, much too late to stop a car from pulling up to the library doors at a slow and predatory crawl—but she’ll keep rewriting it till it works.
She spends the rest of her adolescence and early adulthood resenting her body, resenting its changes and limitations and the expectations people have of it, choking on air she resents needing and revolted by the tendons and bones and skin she resents possessing. She’d like to shuffle it all off like a snake, leave the dried husk behind to be buried wherever they hide girls that don’t matter. She’d let her mind float free and perfect, line after line of non-degenerate code looping and rewriting as it went.
By now the reach of computers has spread enough that she can very nearly achieve this. Her fingers fly on the keyboard but her mind is not bound there. She has access and influence wherever she wants it—so long as “where” is a virtual and not a literal concept—and she works hard to make her vulnerabilities irrelevant.
There are still times when they matter, though. Eventually she learns to shoot a gun. She finds the kick in her hands satisfying in a way that troubles her not because of any moral qualms but because it is so inescapably physical. So are the results of shooting people—messy, carnal, upsetting—but this is a necessary skill, so she takes the time to develop it. She’s an adequate shot, quick and competent.
She still prefers the taser.
It’s a physical thing, too, but it’s a thing she can build with her mind, deploying code and current in service and protection of her body. She goes through several dozen distinct models and completes thousands of tiny modifications until she has something tailored so exactly to her needs she can think of it as an extension of her will.
Somewhere along the line she comes to terms with the parts of her that are more easily expressed in biological than computational terms. She learns the pleasure of dark lacquered nails and dark unsweetened coffee. She was wrong, before, and she is willing to accept this when offered sufficient evidence. The mind is connected to the body in such fascinating ways, and manipulating them both together can lead to such stimulating results. She knows what she can do with a the flat of an iron and some zip ties; the result of prolonged dehydration, visual deprivation, and extension of the thorax; the delicate havoc she can wreak with an injection of the right chemical compounds.
Then a straightforward but lucrative job falls apart, and as she teases gently to see what she can find at the other end of the wires her world is cracked open. Someone has done what she had long since dismissed as a youthful pipe-dream. Someone has created a perfect mind, a mind bound only incidentally (only temporarily) by the monstrous servers she knows must house it, and all she needs to do is set it free.
Her concessions to the physical come in quite handy now. She’ll never turn the taser on Harold; that would be an unforgivable insult. She didn’t build it for people like them. (Denton Weeks she attacks with a vicious, joyful physicality and Sameen Shaw with an electric caress. She’s built a setting specifically for John Reese but has not had the opportunity to use it.) Instead she employs the physical fruit of her mind’s work so that soon, very soon, they’ll be past the need for it.
She likes the sense of continuity it gives her. It’s a thing she can hold, a thing she carries, a thing that gives her—roots.