sky is the limit

NOW

A ding from Steel’s tablet alerts her to a notification of a new MESSAGE, that she quickly checks — ”Get Teal off the train” — she makes a split second decision and jumps Teal. 

There’s a scuffle, both women clearly skilled in combat, but Steel manages to get the upper-hand and scratches at Teal’s wrist, dislodging the chip which drops to the floor. She swiftly kicks it under the seats just as their compartment door slides open to reveal an animatronic conductor. Teal punches Steel in the face then clambers past the conductor and bolts. 

An alarm blares across the train. Steel holds out her own stolen chip to be scanned and then takes her seat next to the window again.

Wiping blood from her mouth, Steel leans back in the seat and looks out the window, smiling as she sees Teal jump off the moving train and then take off along the tracks as a couple of drones come swooping down in pursuit.

A ding from Steel’s pocket alerts her to a notification on her tablet. She checks it quickly and her smile widens.

THEN

SKELLEFTEÅ ARCHIPELAGO, SWEDEN. SUMMER OF 2000.

Steel and Teal are swimming in the sea, never talking to each other but watching the other out of the corner of their eyes. 

SKELLEFTEÅ ARCHIPELAGO, SWEDEN. AUTUMN/WINTER OF 2000.

As the forest is set aflame with the colours of autumn and leaves fall steadily around them while they continue to silently compete with each other, Steel and Teal are joined by two more girls, MAYA and SAPPHIRE. Teal starts talking to them immediately, but Steel remains silent. When Maya attempts to engage her in conversation, Teal tells her not to bother because Steel ”is a mute” and Maya takes her literally at first, asking Steel if that’s true. Steel shakes her head. Maya says if she was it wouldn’t be a problem, because she speaks some sign language. Teal, always eager to excel at everything, demands she teach her. 

When the first snow falls, Maya has managed to teach the other three girls some basic sign language, but they want to learn more so they ask Miss if they can add sign language to their language studies and download an app for it on their tablets.

SKELLEFTEÅ ARCHIPELAGO, SWEDEN. SUMMER/AUTUMN OF 2002.

During their studies with Miss, the four girls are now signing fluently with each other, thus able to communicate silently and discreetly with one another during their lessons without Miss catching them. 

One day, when they’re outside, playing in the fallen leaves like any other children, they hear the boat’s motor approaching and immediately forget about the leaves and become alert. It’s Miss, with two more girls — CAROLINE and TIFFANY — which leaves only one more bed empty in the dorms.

NOW

HAMBURG. WINTER OF 2020.

Steel blinks the memories away as the train pulls into Hamburg Central Station and gets off, making her way from the station as quickly and discreetly as possible. Locating the homeless hub of Hamburg, where those living outside the system congregate, Steel manages to get a hold of someone who can give her a lead on the target, which points her in the direction of a Schwarz nachtklub (an underground club). 

When she gets to the club, she spots SAPPHIRE (mid-20s) across the room and follows her line sight to a pretty woman at the bar. 

This is HELGA (mid-20s), a sweetheart with a Liberal Arts degree who now works as a nanny. Steel plasters on a charming smile and moves in, locking eyes with Sapphire briefly over Helga’s shoulder and receiving a death glare in return, before focusing entirely on flirting. 

THEN

SKELLEFTEÅ ARCHIPELAGO, SWEDEN. SUMMER OF 2005.

It’s been three years since Caroline and Tiffany arrived, and the last girl has yet to be brought to the island; the bed next to Steel’s still as empty as ever, and the girls are eagerly exchanging theories about the last girl and why she hasn’t been brought to the island yet… then, finally, SKY arrives. 

The other girls gather around her curiously, studying her with calculating eyes. She locks eyes with Steel for a beat too long, then smiles at her. Teal then begins to grill her, but Miss steps in and tells her to let Sky settle in and get accustomed to her new home first. 

As Steel is sitting by herself reading her book of fairytales, Sky comes up to her and attempts to start a conversation, asking her about where she’s from and what her family was like. Teal appears and interrupts them before Steel has a chance to say anything, telling Sky they’re not allowed to talk about before. 

Later that evening, as the others have all gone to sleep, Sky makes a second attempt and shows Steel her family photo and points to each smiling face, telling Steel a little bit about them, starting with her parents and then moving on to her siblings, saying her parents named all their children after the three robbers in her mum’s favourite storybook ”When the robbers came to Cardamon Town” — Kasper, Jesper and Jonathan — ”I was the youngest, so I was supposed to be Jonathan”, she says. ”But then I turned out to be a girl, so they ended up calling me Jona instead, but on my passport it actually said Jonathan, so, officially, I’m Jonathan!”

Steel signs ’No, you’re not’, but at Sky’s confused look she remembers that Sky doesn’t know sign language, so instead she says: ”No, you’re not. Not anymore.” 

Sky smiles, and says: ”Oh, yeah, I suppose… you know, that’s the first time I’ve heard you speak?”

NOW

HAMBURG, WINTER OF 2020.

At the end of the night, Helga takes Steel back to her place. As things begin to get heated, Steel gets a flash of 17-year-old SKY in Helga’s place and has a minor freak-out, but eventually Helga manages to distract her.

When Helga has fallen asleep, Steel carefully disentangles herself from her embrace and moves away. She gets out of the bed, careful not to wake up Helga, and pads out into the living area where she’s left her rucksack. She takes out her book of fairytales and opens it. As she flicks the pages, an old photograph falls out. It’s a faded old photograph, a family photo: two adults surrounded by their four children, all smiling faces — Steel isn’t one of them. 

Steel puts the photograph back between the pages of the book and then puts the book back inside the rucksack. She sneaks closer to the bedroom doorway to make sure Helga is still sleeping, then starts working out methodically and quietly.

THEN

SKELLEFTEÅ ARCHIPELAGO, SWEDEN. 2007-08.

Instead of their daily tai chi, the girls are told they’re going to start their training in combat and Miss introduces them to Guy, who is going to take over their physical education from this point on. The straight girls begin to titter and twitter, whereas Steel, Sky and Teal roll their eyes at the other girls’ sudden silliness. But Teal is eager to get started with the training and takes to the martial arts and kickboxing like a fish to water. 

Steel, like the other girls, discover that she’s got a natural talent for the various techniques as well, and the harder they train, the more into it she gets, until she’s sunconsciously competing with Teal — as usual. 

Sky is the only one of the girls who doesn’t seem to enjoy the combat training, commenting mildly at the end of the first session that she preferred tai chi.

Sky continues to struggle to fit in with the other girls and what they’re doing, the practical lessons in particular, such as combat training and target practise, not at all comfortable with the idea of violence or taking another’s life. Despite this, she’s become quite talented since they started learning. When she and Steel are sparring however, even though they’re both clearly very adept, they’re also careful not to hurt the other. 

Teal, who has been watching them coldly for a moment, comments on this and challenges Steel to a sparring match, so she gets a chance to really test her her strength. Steel shrugs in agreement and they begin to sparr, but it quickly escalates into a full-on fight that leaves both girls bruised and bloody — but also strangely exhilirated after the others have broken them up. Sky immediately begins to tend to a cut on Steel’s lip, shooting a sour look over at a grinning Teal. 

Steel looks from Sky’s frowning face to Teal’s grinning one, slightly conflicted.

NOW

HAMBURG, WINTER OF 2020.

Workout finished, Steel stands up and stretches slightly. Helga suddenly speaks from the doorway behind her, startling her. They smile at each other and Helga leads Steel into the kitchen and starts preparing some nutri-powder breakfast, asking Steel if she prefers porridge or egg flavour. Steel says she’s a vegan and Helga laughs, thinking it’s a joke but when Steel says ”Sorry, force of habit” she realises Steel was serious and asks in surprise if she’s ever had real eggs. Steel nods and says where she grew up they had hens, but she only had eggs once before deciding to become a vegan. 

Helga just stares at her in disbelief — being a ”picky eater” is clearly a rare luxury. Steel quickly changes the subject, and manages to suss out Helga’s connection to the target: she’s a nanny to his two kids. 

Helga smiles a little and says she had a good time and would like to do it again some time, eyes glittering expectantly…