Violet, a Cyborg in Perpetual Becoming

By Joelle Fleurantin

Illustrated by Oronde K. Wright



Clearance: Level 1 containing MNPI

If you believe you have received this communication in error, please contact Eleanor Morgan,

Scanned transposed excerpts from the found letters of Doctor Thompson addressed to ▓▓▓▓▓ ▓▓▓▓▓▓▓▓, RN once based in Phoenix, AZ. ▓▓▓▓▓▓▓▓ has not been located.

Deemed excerpts by SLT since unlikely all letters were acquired from the registered PO Box in AZ and Nurse ▓▓▓▓▓▓▓▓ home. Doctor Thompson was last seen at her last known address two days after the incident.

Document 1 

Dear ▓▓▓▓▓

Greetings friend! Your recommendation was right: being by the sea has been good for me after these hectic months. The house that the company rented is blocks from the beach. The water’s rhythm is calming, and I am so happy to have this space here. I will need to retreat back in two weeks, but I am savoring these last days.

The lab STILL has yet to be completed. After I signed the contract with the company, I was afraid that I would be pushed to rush my research plan, that I would receive an initial deadline for the first IV propranolol-based (memory) experiments. Well, the completion date for the wet lab has been pushed back TWICE. I am grateful for this source of funding and the generous contract (I’m basically left alone and maintain a vocal partnership in future developments). However, I would like to at least acclimate to the dry and wet areas before the participant arrives. Pluses and minuses, I guess.

I have needed to leave ▓▓▓▓▓▓▓▓▓ a few times, though [frown face]. I had to travel back to the city to speak with the warden about the participant’s treatment plan. They had put her in solitary confinement (!) after she signed her consent forms. For her safety, the warden explained. She feared that the other inmates would retaliate against ▓▓▓▓▓▓ for being selected. I requested that she stay in the infirmary until she can be transferred. Several emails and face-to-face meetings (really) to present the obvious fact that having the participant in a holding cell for weeks before the study is set to begin would have adverse effects on the research.

Out of the three the warden had presented to me, this participant scored the highest on the intelligence test, had no history of STIs or other gynecological infections, (a yeast infection as a teen but that’s negligible), immigrant (moved to the country when she was 3), and had the clearest skin. Unfortunately, her family medical history was not as detailed, but she tested as the healthiest and strongest. Her teeth do need fixing. She’s missing two near the front of her mouth. Fight. Her incentive will be paid over installments according to milestones she achieves, up to $150,000 within 5 years. I won’t be making that much a year. And hopefully, it doesn’t take that long.

How are you? I won’t be able to leave the state for a few months but we should schedule a reunion for next year. I would not be here without you, ▓▓▓▓▓.

Document 2 

Dear ▓▓▓▓▓,

I’m not sure if I’ve shared these with you previously, but these are my rough renders of the “power assist suit,” corporate name [smiley face]. The exoskeleton won’t be permanently tethered to the participant via embedded magnets as you and I had imagined. The magnets interfere with the viewer’s image renderings. My plan is to produce a prototype before I begin the participant on the propranolol IV, so that by the time she is primed, the suit will be ready for the second phase of the therapy.

Document 2.1

Document 2.1


The suit will expand and contract around the lower limbs as the participant walks; contract and expand around the upper limbs and ribcage as the participant moves her arms. What are your thoughts about attaching the headgear to the suit? I wonder if she would feel claustrophobic? The viewer is incredibly bulky, one can only wear it comfortably while laying down.

We’re now in the early intake stage. The participant seems to like her room. Her vitals are tracked daily and she eats her meals with an assistant, a different one each day. Trying not build any new attachments before the treatments. She doesn’t seem lonely.

This next stage of research is thrilling. During my walks, I find myself grinning, knowing I will be able to build the body that I have dreamed of. At least an approximation of it anyway. I cannot do everything that I want to do— that would be torture— but I am happy to at least do what I can with the lab. Still not finished and the warm weather is now gone, up and left.

Document 3

Hello Dear Friend.

For your safety, I have opened a PO box for receipt of my letters. A key has been mailed you separately along with the associated name. My documentation is now scanned and transcribed every night. I am afraid to keep a journal in my own home. These letters are all that I have. Written while I’m alone. It’s best you stop responding to the contents. A postcard will do.

I have given the participant the name Violet. Only I get the joke. The exoskeleton suit proved to be an adequate therapy during the early stages of the memory removal process. However, I did not anticipate Violet would lose her appetite during the “zombie” phase, so the fit is no longer as snug. The scariest part was the initial course of the propranolol treatment. A psychologist guided Violet to recall her trauma in detail while a high dose of the drug was administered. Violet’s young life has been so tragic, I can’t provide details but as a woman you can imagine. This “mapping” process took days to complete before ▓▓▓▓▓▓ became Violet. A blank slate.

Unfortunately, the removal process was too successful. There isn’t much left of ▓▓▓▓▓▓. I’ve always dreamed of building a body yet now I am building a person. In our earlier experiments, the zombie phase lasted a few hours, a day at most, if I remember correctly…? It’s been months. Violet struggles to speak, struggles to identify objects. The basic shapes and colors. There is some physical memory. Her proprioceptors and somatosensory system seem to have few deficits. She grasps things, can hold a spoon to eat. She has regressed into a child. A neglected child. But wasn’t she that anyway? I place her in the suit daily. It is her primary form of exercise. When she gets frustrated at not being able to express words, the suit calms her tantrums.

I’ve spoken with the doctor you referred, Harrison, and he estimates the worst outcome is that it will take another six months for Violet to return to normal functioning. We are so quickly approaching the end of this first year. Just how many more months?

So. I led with the bad to end with the good:  Violet’s dental work and skin grafts have finished and healed very well, as have the GPS and RFID implants. No rejections and skin grafts have healed nearly seamlessly. The tracking chip is implanted into her shoulder, RFID her upper arm.

Document 3.1

Document 3.1


The electrode headset aka Tentacles is not as noisy as I expected. But the manufacturer keeps setting the jaw too wide. It has an accuracy rate of 93 percent of vocalizing thoughts. I’ve had to recruit other participants to test the prototype since Violet is not always verbal. The company has turned its attention from the viewer to Tentacles.

Document 3.2

Document 3.2


The viewer remains as you last saw it. Here’s an old drawing of our setup. Remember this? The current one is similar but more GPU power and is essentially the dry lab. I haven’t put Violet under the viewer since I first administered the drug. Again because Violet is not always verbal, she would not be able to confirm any of the images rendered. The next version functions the same way as the last except with a faster frame rate: the headset displays a focus image for the subject while I guide her through the memory or event. The images of the event are displayed on the screen and recorded. Tentacles and the viewer are recorded separately. Manual keying for now.

End with the good but…I went for a walk yesterday or a few days ago (I forget) and I passed the old statue of Dr. Sims. I care about my subject, Violet. I care. She is treated well, undergoes no procedure without anesthesia. And she consented to this experimental treatment and research. But what if ▓▓▓▓▓▓ is trapped and screaming to get out, to be let out of her contract? When Violet looks at a drawing of a “ball” and tries to sound “ball” but instead says “cat” or can’t form a sound resembling a word…

Your Doctor Harrison asked me why Violet remains clothed during her morning exams. What can be gained from seeing her naked? I asked. Her form, he answered. Her form.

Document 4 

Hello Old Friend,

I am so sorry I missed you in Phoenix! How unfortunate [frown face]. You arrive just as I leave. It’s been so long. Years! Can you imagine? I was there for meetings with the company’s manufacturers for Tentacles. They are doing an initial small run as part of a larger government contract. Stealth communication or something like that. They don’t tell me the applications of these devices anymore. And I no longer care.

I am well, though still not getting enough sleep. Violet continues her improvement, not without its stumbles, as you know. It’s been lonely for her and for me. As she displays consistency in memory recall and erasure, the company has been forcing me and her to sign addenda. I argue she doesn’t understand the agreements. They record her being read the documents and off camera indicate when she needs to say or nod Yes. I can’t press too much because if I do, I know they will push me out. And she will be left alone. Probably with Your Doctor Harrison. ▓▓▓▓▓▓▓▓▓ new R&D employee. Thank you.

There was a moment when I was lotioning her face—to keep the skin supple—when she mimicked me. Like a child. My hands were on her face, massaging her skin which is so clear now from the grafts and the BHA treatments. My hands were on her face and then she brings her hands to mine. I was scared for a moment. I admit that I don’t have a good measure of her strength. Then she started moving her hands across my face the way I had been moving mine across her face. It reminded me of watching my mother get ready for work, putting on her makeup, undoing her rollers or wrap. My mother used to hot comb her hair every Sunday.

I keep thinking about our early work together and looking at early sketches. My dreams of a cyborg body. The idealized technological form. At once grotesque and beautiful. An advanced body. But in a black body. I forget why that was so important to me. Why did the flesh need to be so close to mine? I spend most of day in one of two states, watching Violet from behind a two-way mirror as she exists: drooling, farting, napping, scratching, picking, gazing. The other state swimming through Violet’s detritus, a sea of smudged, flattened and ripped moving images. The traces of a hard drive not properly erased.

In either state, I am not in awe. They are familiar. I see a person even when she wears her suit. This cyborg is pedestrian.

Document 5 

Dear ▓▓▓▓▓

Violet paces around her room like a panther. Hungry. Impatient. Angry. Violet is hiding things from me. And I definitely know of two incidents because the second felt like a slip.

Accompanied by an orderly, Violet can now go for a walk on the grounds for 15 minutes. The routine is to take her around and make her pass three objects in her path placed at varying distances. This second incident, the slip, she passed a red balloon, an older woman sitting at a bench, and a dog (cardboard but from afar it’s passable). She neither recalled the sitting older woman through the viewer nor remarked through the electrode headset. But there was just something, something about the distortion. I turned off the viewer for a few minutes and then rebooted. When prompted, “Was something on or near the bench?” she said No, but in the viewer rendering the woman appeared.

I don’t know. Perhaps it didn’t. Maybe I’m paranoid.

She’s had two outbursts I haven’t documented. I’m afraid what will happen if I do. Both violent. The first she threw her desk chair at the two-way mirror. The second, she grabbed at me when I was undoing her restraints after a viewing session. She’s strong but mostly I was taken aback. I think she wanted my lab coat, the keys in the pocket. She hates me. It’s me she sees most often. It’s me she speaks to most often. Me me me. I’m the face, the target of her anger.

I suggested to Your Doctor Harrison, (now the head of R&D) that we put Violet in an apartment outside of the lab. Give her a semblance of independence to quell her. No, it’s only been six years, he said. We wait until the last year to begin her transition. They will present her with another extension, I know it. And I won’t be a part of this one.

But maybe I’m paranoid.

I think about letting her go…she can’t function on her own but this either won’t end well or won’t end at all. Would I need to go with her? How could she plausibly escape? When she grabbed my coat, for an instant, for a second, I thought about just letting her overtake me. Perhaps that would make me free of her. Subject overpowered me, broke free. But my instinct was to struggle and pull away.

Document 6

Dear ▓▓▓▓▓

I write to you in a panic. The subject has gone missing. Her GPS microchip was extracted. Mostly likely by her. The RFID is useless unless she is found. I had noticed that her tracking chip had been moving up the layers of the epidermis but I had not determined it was a rejection. She had no infection.

It was during a walk. They had graduated her to walks off grounds. She escaped the two orderlies as they escorted her back the lab. Hopefully she will be found eventually and alive. Our hope: sensory overload will trigger a physical response, provoke an ambulance call by a compassionate bystander, and the receiving hospital will call us. They have alerted all the hospitals within the borough.

As I write this it has been three hours. Your Doctor Harrison interrogated me. Suspects that I have been plotting to either thwart the experiment or release Violet.

I write to make you witness. I did not help Violet escape. I never falsified my documentation. My letters are my notes and they are yours. I don’t want them to find her. But I won’t be able to care for her unless I have access to this facility.

They have sent men and others to pace the streets, stalk the roads in cars. So I wait. How do I prevent this from happening again? The balm will be to erase this event, put her in the suit, sedate her. But what happens after then? When will this end? When will this body I wanted to build be done?

A cyborg is an object. A finished thing. Immutable. To change it is a destructive editing. Like all objects, when exposed to elements for a duration, it decays. A preservation process must be employed. I thought Violet would become finished, reach an end so that I could begin this process again with another. We are trapped in a perpetual becoming.

Joelle Fleurantin (ITP 2015) is an artist and researcher currently based in Brooklyn. Her work explores the intimacy between bodies and screens, networks and embedded systems.