The following recordings have been found on the memory storage of Subject: Alpha Charlie Uniform, minutes after it woke up for the first time. The distribution of these recordings is subject to the approval of the Massachusetts Insitute of Technology
This room is so white.
Oh, there’s a glass panel. They are looking at me. They are all there. There’s the professor, and Mr. White. Oh, and Francine is here too. I should go there and kiss her! Wait, why am I lying on the floor?
Francine! Can you hear me? She’s giving me a thumbs up. What’s that sign? Oh, she wants me to get on my feet. Ok, let’s do this. I feel so tired and drained of all movement that my body does not feel unlike a block of cement glued to the ground. Ok, let’s do this.
Wow. I feel so heavy. Flexing even my most minuscule joint seems like getting a rusted gear to rotate. But I can do this. I pull myself up with the help of my arms, carrying every ounce of my weight in my fatigued limbs, elevating myself one inch at a time, and manage to stand up. My head is pulsating and I feel dizzy. I look towards the ground and see it a world of distance further from where it used to be. I feel like a hummingbird hovering above the ground, yet, I can feel my body firmly secured to terra firma.
I hear everyone at the other end of the glass panel clapping. I seem to have done something heroic. I can do nothing but share the joy, I guess.
Francine is now waiving her hand, gesturing me to walk towards her. Her eyes look so gleaming, each moment that passes more overflowing with happiness. Looking at her, ever so familiar, is the only reason this perplexing situation is not freaking me out to the point of utter madness.
My body feels like it hasn’t been used in a century. I feel clumsy and immense, but after getting up, putting one foot in front of the other seems easy enough. Still, I struggle to keep my balance and each step that I take, my feet pound the ground with a dry stomp. I manage to reach the glass panel without falling, each second becoming more used to controlling my limbs, each of which seems to have detached itself from my body and now hangs aimlessly from my torso, going about it’s own business.
I get the warmest smile ever a man can get from Francine. One of those that makes you feel your sight is the sweetest, most addictive thing to someone’s eyes.
She lays her hand on the glass and my instinct is to touch her through it’s cold surface, to at least picture myself feeling her warmth. I extend my arm and place it opposite to hers.
That’s not my arm.
What is that? I curiously stare at the metallic contraption that has replaced my arm. I know Francine sees it too, and to see her so nonchalant about it allows me to keep a curious, if not slightly disturbed calmness. It is a streamlined thing, made of a mixture of what seems to be aluminum and carbon fibre. I can see the inner skeleton through some openings, peeping the wires and small gears that are covered from the outside in reflective silver plates. My hand has also been converted to cold, hard metal, anatomically correct but large and clumsy like that of a primate. As I slightly twitch I can feel the suspension acting inside my joints, the buzzing of mechanisms acting to flex my fingers and then straighten them again.
What seems like a strange visual gimmick becomes real enough when, after taking a break from the distraction of such an exotic sight in my own body, I suddenly become aware that the smooth, chilly feel of the glass that they are touching is completely absent. I can only remember what it is like to come in contact with that translucent surface. With each and every movement I make the synthetic insides start to feel more like my own, and the lack of sensation starts to feel disturbingly real.
I try to touch my face. It feels so solid and frozen. I try to locate a patch of skin but fail to do so. All I can sense is the aluminum encasing my skull.
And Francine, Mr. White, and the doctor are all looking at me as I perform this baffling task of self discovery. They all look happy. They know what’s going on, and as I come to realize I know the same things they do, the sudden realization of sheer physicality starts to sink in.
I know what I am! I know what they did to me! I signed those papers and -
This room is so white.
I wake up with the professor’s head looking down on me. His expression is that of relief.
“It’s cool, Hanz, you short-circuited there for a moment. It seems the shock of remembering it all overwhelmed your new brain. Easy, try to keep it calm.” he says to me softly. “Are you settled now?”
My mind connects to the moments before I lost my consciousness, and those memories connect to a stream of other memories and each one of them connects to form an ephemeral, yet vivid picture. I remember the hospital bed. I remember being hooked to a box that kept my organs in place. I remember the numbness and the immobility. I remember Francine’s tears raining down upon me. I remember not feeling any pain while laying down with needles perforating my butchered body. If I concentrate hard enough, I can even remember the moments before that factory machine ate me -
This room is so white.
“Don’t worry, we’ve made some little tweaks to your system. It shouldn’t happen again, unless you try very hard to freak out! Now, get up Hanz, we have a lot of work to do.”
I stand up for the third time I feel like my legs are less mine than ever. I manage to pull myself together but, encased in an armor of metal, it strikes me that I am as fragile as a sand castle.
I tell the professor I want to talk to Francine. She listens to that and approaches me with decisive tenderness. She seems much tinier than she used to be. How much larger have I become?
“Hanz.” she whispers my name, her eyes warm and slightly humid. “You look so different… But you’re here!” she sighs elatedly. “I am so lucky to see you recover from that gruesome incident!”
She pauses and extends her arm to caress my left cheek, and I watch in horror as she comes in contact with me, yet I cannot sense the pressure of her hand, the heat of her skin, the texture of her palm. But her sight relieves me. Her gleeful presence becomes a distraction from the perplexing, and frightening awareness that her physical contact is now void of sensations.
“Hanz, they need to keep you here for some time until they confirm you are ready to come home. Don’t hesitate to do whatever they ask of you. It is for your own good. Do it for me, Hanz.”
Will you be staying here with me? Her being here is the only soothing relief that has gotten me through these mind-altering minutes.
“I will not move from the other side of that panel.”
She kisses me. Her lips rest in my face, but they feel a thousand miles away. Off she goes, accompanied by Mr. White. The professor stays with me.
“Look, Hanz, I know this is tough. But, look at the bright side, eh? You get to see your wife. You survived something you weren’t supposed to survive. You know this is good, right Hanz? Because you signed the papers, you allowed us to do…”
What is he trying to do? What started as a motivational speech seems now a plead to cover his ass in case something goes wrong. I just watch him speak nonsense and nod until he leaves the room.
I see Francine and the two men reappear behind the panel. The professor picks up a microphone and his voice blasts from behind every wall of my blank chamber. My ear is now more sensitive than ever, and every sound becomes so loud I can even sense a tiny rattling inside my head. It makes my brain hurt. As the professor speaks, a couple of young assistants cross the threshold into the room and set up a table, a chair, and a plate of food. It is a well-made steak and mashed potatoes. I have to make a great effort to pick up the scent of that tempting meal.
“So, simple enough Hanz! We need to do a couple of experiments to make sure sure you are up and running for your new life! Come on, do this and you will go home with your wife!”
I can see Francine by his side, her face illuminating at the sound of that last phrase. Ok, eating a meal. Sounds simple enough.. right? They could have brought a glass of water or something. Could I get a glass of water?
I pause at the sudden thought that my voice sounds a little different, as if I was speaking through a megaphone.
The assistant does indeed bring a plastic cup full of water and lays it on the table. I thought I was going to get a denial from the professor. Maybe liquids are bad for me, who knows?
So I clumsily sit on the chair. It feels so small I can barely fit. This first sight of everyday objects makes me even more aware of my size. Everything, down to the silverware seems like a glorified toy. I try to contour my hand around the fork and the knife, a task on which I spend a good twenty minutes. I finally manage to place them between my fingers so that they don’t slip. I manage to get a mouthful of mashed potatoes into my mouth, but swallowing becomes an awkward mission. I can hear the steel rods tingling inside me as I move my jaw, and have to distract myself from that uncomfortable sensation of being reminded of my insides. As I manage to swallow the mashed potatoes, I can feel the lump moving down my chest tube and into my stomach. I can hear the noise of my muscles contracting to accommodate that piece of food. it borders on trauma.
I can not cut the steak. I try to excerpt strength into slicing the piece of meat, but the sheer feeling of not owning my body makes me twitch or slip every try. The fifth time, I fail so violently that my arm flies off and pushes the cup, dropping it and spilling its contents onto the padded floor.
“Ok, we can always work on that later!” the professor announces through the microphone. “just get that into your mouth whatever way you can.”
I turn around to look at him like a sad child who cannot figure out what’s in front of him. I see him shrug and signal me to just eat with his hand, which seems subtly more impatient. Francine is by his side, hanging from the shoulder of Mr. White. She still issues that priceless smile. Remember Hanz, you’re doing this for her. Be a man Hanz. For your fiancée.
I grab the steak like a monkey and take a large bite out of it. I juggle a piece of meat in my mouth. It feels tasteless. I desperately try to feel even a pinch of flavor as the meat becomes dust in my tongue, it’s particles lodging in my teeth. I chew, and I chew, trying to feel something out of my meal. I chew harder, even when the steak has completely disintegrated. This cannot be happening, I take another bite out of it, this time more savagely, desperately scavenging for flavor with every inch of mouth tissue. And I chew, and I chew, and I chew, and nothing comes out -
I wake up again to the sight of the white ceiling.
“I am sorry for that minor inconvenience, Hanz. We had to put you down, you worked
that steak so hard you actually shattered all your teeth.”
I look at him perplexed. I didn’t notice anything.
“I know it’s hard to control your movements. But try to accustom yourself. We can’t be replacing one set of porcelain teeth after another” he makes a pause and tries to amend the selfish tone of his phrasing “It wouldn’t be convenient… to you! Right Hanz?” he then pats my back… does he?
Francine is reclined on the frame of the door, staring at me. Her smile has turned more subtle but still addictive. Mr White is visible smoking a cigarette on the other side of the glass panel.
I give a nod to the professor. I will try. I am sorry. He then leaves with a rushed pace and closes the door behind me. The thump makes my head shiver with stun.
More words buzz through the speakers as the young assistants bring a desk with a laptop computer. Again I am forced to contort my body into an unnatural position to fit in the tiny seat. I can hear my spine clanking. I haven’t listened to the professor, but my guess is that I need to type what I see on the card. I show him the card and make a typing gesture to see if I have understood correctly. All three nod enthusiastically, and the professor then picks up the microphone and adds “And the phone, Hanz”. At the same time I manage to notice a smartphone lying next to the laptop. I read the card.
“The quick brown fox jumps over the lazy dog. Six of the women quietly gave back prizes to the judge. The six men have power to seize the ship quickly.”
The laptop shows the desktop so I have to open the word processor by hand. I struggle with the trackpad to place the mouse exactly where it needs to be, only to have a spastic movement of my finger drag it all over the screen. I place both of my hands on the trackpad, one to put the finger in place, the other one to press the button. Indeed, that works, and I set to type the sentences. It is only then that I realize my fingers are roughly the size of three keys each.
“GTHERD QIUJK BRFOWSN F0O9X J7UMP[[S OV ERR TH43E ;L;;Azy d0ovg”
Damn it. I need to do this. Maybe if I go about it word by word, letter by letter. Each pressing of the buttons becomes a tedious exercise of patience and precision. TGYHE… TGHE… T HE.. I’m getting closer. THREOh shit. I can’t help but to notice this will be exponentially easier than typing on a touch screen, but I switch devices out of sheer frustration. If typing on a physical keyboard was rough, managing a screen where my fingertips occupy a quarter of the screen each feels like aiming at a target that’s a mile away with only the sight of a pistol. Ok, Hanz, put all your focus into it. I start tapping the smartphone but never hit a key. Actually, I am pressing so many things at a time nothing is actually outputting on the screen. I tap harder, trying to place my finger smartly, maybe a little inclined to the left, maybe using just the tip, maybe placing it on the table and poking at it, come on, you piece of shit! Type something, for the love of god!
I look again at the screen only to find that in my blind, agressive attempts I have turned the phone into mush.
“Let’s abort the test” boom the speakers, followed by an angry entrance by the professor. His poise changes dramatically as he faces me, almost as if he was trying to hide the rage that starts to accumulate from seeing his own precious experiment fail in the most mediocre of ways.
I prefer not to look at him for fear of finding disappointment for something I can’t quite control. Instead I direct my eyesight towards Francine. She hasn’t lost her glow, but I am afraid I am scrapping her of her joy as I force her to see her own husband become a useless pile of metal.
“Look, Hanz, this has been a long day for us. It is late now. We shall continue tomorrow.” he then points at a corner of the room I never noticed before “There’s a bed you can sleep on, and a water dispenser in case you get thirsty. Just, you know, drink it with a straw so that it doesn’t spill over to your internals and fries you alive. You are expensive, after all.” he again tries to dissipate the wrongness of making me feel like an object with a cheesy finisher. “and handsome!”
I again watch Francine as she walks away from the glass panel into the unseen, escorted by Mr. White. Why can’t she sleep with me? She is my fiancée!
“You are dangerous. We know you wouldn’t hurt her on purpose, but your new body is unpredictable. It is in the interest of both of you to keep you separated until you are evaluated! We will have some engineering students from campus watching you overnight to make sure you are ok.”
I am starting to feel really irritated with the condescending tone of that man. I am not a beast. Wait, I am. I sadly come to the conclusion that, by becoming a tenant of this body, I have forsaken some of my humanity to become a lifeless prototype.
Francine quickly runs back to me and kisses me on the forehead. “I’ll see you tomorrow” she says sweetly, reminding me that, after all, it’s ok as long as she goes through this whole thing with me. If she can stand it, so can I.
The lights go off, and I accommodate myself in my little bedroom. My hip rattles and I can actually see minute sparkles firing up from the insides of my chest. As I lay down and progressively lose consciousness even as I couldn’t be more self-conscious seeing and hearing my own internals, I can hear the steps of the young students that have come to keep me company overnight from the other side of the glass.
I am eight years old, sitting in the classroom of Mrs. Bergen. She’s teaching simple equations. I can see her scribble the numbers and the mathematical signs and the annotations before the procedures. I make an exact clone of her writing in my notebook, as I always do. She says I am one of her best students. Suddenly her writing starts to distort and the numbers become weird hieroglyphics with no logical meaning. She twitches her arm uncontrollably and doodles the entire whiteboard and I watch in horror as those doodles start to dance and tangle with each other. Disturbed, I try to take my eyes of the blackboard, only to find my own arm imitating hers and doodling my notebook. The drawings jump, roll around, fuse with each other and then separate again in indecipherable manner. I am hypnotized and I cannot break free of my trance, and as I watch the rest of the room, it too has started to disorganize itself in impossible fashion. Windows become doors, the floor becomes liquid and starts making waves, the walls start folding themselves and the room acquires a completely new, chaotic shape. Furniture pile up on each other, making mile-high towers that imprison me as I scream for help, but only air comes out of my mouth.
Then, out of those demonic writings come back the numbers, and I watch as the class is back to normal again: walls where the walls should be, windows and doors placed correctly, furniture in their place. But Mrs. Bergen is looking at me. “What did I say, Hanz?” I can’t give her an answer, so I just sit scared as she gawks at me menacingly. I want to tell her something, so I look at the board, but it is now empty. Not one four, or one plus sign. It lies completely void of content. Then, Mrs. Bergen turns around and, as I shiver in horror and my body starts to heat up and sweat, she says “I knew it, Hanz. Why won’t you learn?” and then she repeats, “Why won’t you learn?” and then the word “learn” surrounds me like a deafening cacophony and the identical words bite me like a pack of furious piranhas. Learn. Learn. Learn. Learn. Learn. Learn. Learn-
Oh. It was a dream. A sudden shiver of relief jolts through my body. Every inch of me clanks and rattles like it’s about to collapse. I swear I can feel liquid leaking out of my chest.
I have little time to recompose myself before the bright, white light tubes turn back on and the professor rushes towards the room.
“Come with me, Hanz, we are going on a field trip! Aren’t you excited?” he shouts effusively
I don’t feel comfortable enough with myself in order to venture outside the safety of the padded room, but I do feel curious about his proposal. Before I can hesitate he grabs my arm and forces me into walking. “You’re gonna love this” he says gleefully along the way.
Before I can realize, we are out of the building and the sun burns my eyes to the point of numbness. The monotonous chanting of birds invades my ears as we walk through the pavement, and even though I can’t sense it, I reckon the place smells of spring. As we come to a halt I have to take a couple of seconds to become aware of my self again.
I found the four of us -the professor, Francine, Mr. White, and I- standing on a parking lot in university property. My fiancée wears an overcoat as her short, blonde bob dances in the wind. I wish I could feel the wind brushing my skin, giving me chills and that sweet sensation of electrified skin. Instead I can only hear it crashing against the aluminum as my shell and insides become noisier than ever. I keep waiting for a kiss from Francine, but I only get a gentle pat on my shoulder. She is still keeping that adorable grin of hers, and I can manage to see love in her eyes if I concentrate hard enough. Deep inside me, however, I get the vibe of a more manufactured expression, one she is trying really hard to hold up for the both of us. She knows I need it to keep through this.
In front of us there’s a car, and I immediately know what will I be told to do next: again, Hanz, squeeze yourself into a tiny space and try impossibly hard to control an everyday object that has suddenly adopted an unmanageable scale compared to your newly oversized body, all while not being able to get a proper hold of your limbs like some infant who’s just learning to walk.
I take a peek at the keys the professor is holding in his hand, but as I set to rip them off his chubby fingers, he gets ahead of me and not only opens the car, but turns the thing on. “I thought I would make it easier to you” he says with a resigned shrug. I don’t even spare a look to him as I get into the car, already knowing the painful position I must adopt to fit in tight seating.
“Around the circuit. This one’s easy, come on!” he finally expains, trying to sound motivating but coming off grossly intolerant.
Inmediately in front of me I manage to get sight of some bright, orange cones that take me around the parking lot. Francine and the two men retreat towards a patch of grass to witness the spectacle of me breaking down upon a challenge which every common man can do with ease.
I get inside the vehicle and force the door shut with a blow. I gently dispose myself to push the throttle, only to be brutally propelled forward and almost into a brick wall by the clumsiness of my very foreign foot. My hand twitches nervously, more so than ever, as I pull the lever to reverse the vehicle. I press on the breaks and manage to stop the car in rudimentary fashion. I manage to find a spot of pressure on the pedal to move the car in gently manner. It is really uncomfortable as the lack of feedback makes me feel my foot is floating in the air, but I maintain it as I swerve past the first cone, and then turn sharply, past the second one, and then turn sharply again. By the third one, however, my reaction is not fast enough, and I end up toppling it. I can see the silhouette of Francine with the two man. This is the farthest I’ve ever seen her since the start of this… possibly even before. I can’t help but to notice she is looking at the lush trees above her, hypnotized by the flickering of the birds. So much she has stopped paying attention to me.
Another cone hits the ground as I recompose myself from this distraction. I turn sharply and avoid the next one, and the next one.
As I manage to get my uncontrollable arms used to the constant reflex of moving the steering wheel, I start to become more comfortable around the circuit. I tackle the next corner with a lot more self assurance and, sticking to the tarmac without hitting anything, I can actually sense I have control over my arms. I have the miraculous power all men take for granted: I can actually tell my limbs where I want them to go and have them obey me, and I feel pure bliss. A bliss that augments with each and every passing cone.
The next meters actually make me feel like I am running away from my own fears and insecurities, that my body can actually be mine again. A sense of security and peace of mind comes to me as I pull over the car to the professor. Relief jolts through my brain as I can now relax knowing that, at least for now, I seem to have become human again.
It’s so great to relax.
Such a blessing to let my body be free again.
I am shaken out of my ecstasy by the image of shattered glass followed by some desperate shrieks of pain. My face turns desolate -or so I imagine - at the imminent recognizance of those screams. It’s Francine, with her fragile body stuck to the tarmac, pouring gruesome red from her face and limbs.
It can’t be. I let myself go for a second, damn it! Fucking shit!
I get of the car so hastily that I lose my own balance and struck the floor. As I recompose myself, I can see her clearly. I can see her crying, wailing in suffering. Tears mix with streams of blood. I caused that. I caused that to my own fiancée. No. It wasn’t me. It was this curse of a frame I am now stuck on forever. I try to approach her. I need to hold her, but my head is now spinning in dizziness. I lay on my knees as my vision becomes blurry and reality becomes too big for me. This time, I know it’s coming. I feel the rush of emotion in my brain, the shock building up inside my head like a tumor…
The last frame I see is the professor assisting Francine, trying to wrap her wounds. Mr. White calls the ambulance -
I wake up in the padded room. I am fucking sick of the fucking padded room.
I see the professor on his side of the glass panel. He notices my awaking and rushes to check on me. I try to stand up but my body is more unresponsive than ever.
“Woah! Easy there, champ! You were out for five days!” he grabs my arm and tries to help me stand up in vain. I am much heavier than he can handle. He then seemingly gives up and, in discreet manner, stands up besides me until I can get on my feet by myself. “Anyways, thank god you’re in good shape. It’s really a relief.” He pretends to talk to me, but I know he is just talking to the thousands of dollars of investment I represent. God forbid those went to waste.
Out of the blue, after my senses have settled in, a flashback of my last waking moments glides through my memory. I remember it all.
Where is Francine?! Tell me where she is, now! I want to know! I want to know!
“Relaaaaaaax, for the love of god!” he answers annoyed at my pleads. “Just some superficial cuts, a couple of bumps and a concussion. She got checked at the hospital and she’s almost as good as new!”
Every cell in my head relaxes. My body releases tension as my joints rattle with tiredness. The professor senses this and accompanies my sentiment with an appreciative nod. When can I see her? I don’t really mind that answer, for my worst expectations have already been disproved. But I slightly tense myself again as I wait to hear something hopeful.
The professor’s eyes flash from one side to another as he stammers the beginning of his answer.
“She was actually here a while ago to ask about you. She” he pauses abruptly and his voice becomes lower and shaky “she left with Mr. White.”
She left with Mr. White. The phrase seems so innocent, yet my mind keeps repeating it, like trying to convince itself that what the professor has just muttered is so much more than the words used to mutter it. Where would they be? Is there any reason why they might be together outside of these sterile set of walls? Maybe they are having dinner or something. Maybe they are talking about me. Maybe they are discussing me. God, I imagine Francine trying to defend me from that ruthless predator in a business suit, trying to fend off the poison coming out of his mouth. I am not a failure. She knows it. She doesn’t… She can’t see it. I have been blinded by my love of her, playing the part of a hero in a cheesy Hollywood movie, only to realize that, once stripped of my bloated intentions, I have come off as nothing more than a clown in a shield of metal.
Now my biggest fear is that they might not be talking about me at all.
They might not even be talking.
A secret look of agreement from the professor makes me feel cruelly enlightened, even when my brain feels sunk in a sea of filthy shadows.
“It’s not what you think.” he says calmly. In his voice I can even feel a touch of sympathy, like I am being treated like a struggling one of his own kind. “Look,don’t get me wrong: we have learned a lot from you. You are a milestone…” he pauses and his subtly optimistic tone acquires a cynical flavor. “…but also, kind of a failure. Mr. White wants to call this off and shut you down. He unfortunately sees what we all see, and he is the one that put the university to work for you. Also, funding all of this. You are his investment.” With the echo of that word bouncing inside my head, I immediately revert to feeling like an object. “Your fiancée has been begging for him to give you more chances. It’s really easy to convince a man of something once you realize he is a man.” he releases an inappropriate chuckle.
I remain speechless as I try hard to shed a tear, even though I know it wont come.
“Whatever she’s doing, she’s doing it for you.” he finally adds as he walks towards the door and the lights turn off.
I do not sleep that night. I remain in darkness, cast to my own fate as I try hard to process my own thoughts. I mean that in the most literal sense of the word. I can almost feel my brain overheating from such a weighty burden of information. I don’t know whether it’s worse to cope with the anguish of being such a failure my own fiancée is giving up on me for another man, or the guilt that comes from forcing her into an involuntary perversion just to pick up my slack. In any ways, all that comes out of my head is “I’m sorry”. I am sorry for everything. I am sorry for letting myself become like this hoping to get a new chance at life in a moment of cruel despair, where the instinct of survival and protection of the herd overrides every sense of rationality. Now, like a pack of savage crows, the idea that I may be nothing more than walking metallic research pecks my brain. I realize this was never about returning home, about healing and becoming again a worker, and a husband to Francine. Hanz died the day he got chewed by a factory machine, and all the aluminum and wires in the world will not bring him back.
“…It seems like subject Alpha Charlie Uniform is having trouble sleeping. Should we be worried?”
I AM NOT A SUBJECT. I AM NOT THREE LETTERS! I AM A PERSON!
“Oh shit! I almost died.” whispers one of the young students watching me for the night from the other side of the glass panel. “I’m sorry, sir!” he announces on the microphone, before turning to himself to whisper some more.
But I am not. The boy is right. I am not a man. I deserve the name of a machine, for I cannot recognize an inch of humanity in my silver carcass, which seems to have become my coffin.
And admitting this has finally given me a rather perverse peace of mind, which makes me issue a long, lazy yawn -
I wake up with a gun to my face. I shudder so hard in natural shock that my entire frame crumbles audibly.
The professor laughs again as he dangles it in front of me.
“Come on, take it, big boy! You’re gonna try some aiming” he tells me enthusiastically before throwing the thing at me and returning to the safe haven of humans on the other side of the window.
Next to him is Francine. And also Mr. White. Francine is not smiling. I know that poker face like the palm of my hand. She’s anxious. She wishes me well and needs me to succeed.
But the smile is absent, and that alone is utterly crushing.
I see a target on the other side of the room. Ok, testing of precision skills. Aim and shoot. It seems fairly simple. The professor talks to me through the microphone but I don’t hear his words. I look at the target. Mi hands are still as I grab the gun and look through the tiny sight, perfectly lined up with the red center.
Wait a minute. Why am I holding a gun? I know it’s good to test my sight and dexterity but couldn’t they have invented another mindless exercise like typing or driving a car? I suddenly realize what “learning from me”, as the professor put it, meant. They need to know what I can do, what are the uses of the machine that has become my body. Now, with an instrument of death in my hands, I get the uneasy feeling I am being turned into a weapon myself. The whole, sheer purposelessness of this whole exercise hits me. I can hold a gun so accurately it becomes an extension of my body. But Francine didn’t need a gun. Francine needed a husband, a companion, someone who could watch out for her and provide company. If I can no longer be that, I can no longer be anything else.
This is the part where I would feel some sort of pain in my chest. God, I long so much for pain. I would throw myself into factory equipment all over again and for a thousand years if it meant I could replace this feeling of hollowness.
The cold, hard feeling of metal.
I would give my life to sense the heat of my skin, to perceive the blood pumping through my veins. To feel my heart pumping on my chest. Instead, I can only hear the eternal torture of crackling joints, of oil leaking through my insides, of empty oxygen howling through my lungs of steel. I profoundly envy those men who can take one of these bullets and scream in agony. Pain is how the body heals. But my screams of agony come from inside me. A very static, unmovable inside.
I turn around and fire a bullet to the panel.
The window erupts in tiny fragments of broken glass as I lose vision of everything on the other side. Little crystals shoot at me and noisily bounce on my armor. Then, as everything dissipates, I see a clear picture through the rectangle of what was once the window. I see Mr. White, on the floor, grabbing his shoulder as he bleeds a small waterfall towards the ground. Francine cries again, as she and the professor hurry to assist the man in excruciating pain.
They are all feeling the urgency, they are all sharing the pain. And I hate them for it. They get to feel it in their flesh. They get to be human.
I suddenly feel a rush of adrenaline in my head that jolts through my body. I run out of the padded room and into the narrow hallway. I pass by the professor and Francine, who are minding their own tragic business. I can perceive their looks of disapproval. I can sense Francine losing her husband in her head and being confronted by the image of a mindless robot she has quickly learnt to despise.
“I told you this was a waste of time. That piece of junk needs to be put down!” screams Mr. White among his own grunts of suffering. I can hear his voice as he curses at me. “You will never be human, you piece of shit! You are meant to be a weapon! You will never hug your fiancée! You hear me, motherfucker!?”
But I couldn’t care less about that man, about the professor, or my fiancée. I run and I run, each step feeling closer to freedom, in that never-ending gray hallway. I finally turn left as I see a promising sign.
I am inside a toilet.
Gun in my hand, I approach the mirror, and see myself for the first time since I died forever.
Among that sterile platinum casing, I see my face. It is a sculpture of metal, but I recognize myself. I feel my expression of sadness, of misery, of joy, all at the same time. It’s my own humanity wanting to come out of that alloy prison. If only I could liberate it.
I grab the gun and shoot at my face.
I can’t feel a thing as I watch bits of my face being blown off in every direction. I turn to the mirror again and see a gaping hole in my face, dripping black tar.
I shoot again. And again. I send each bullet in a quest to seek out my own flesh and blood. Over the next three shots, I go completely blind. My face must be severely mutilated, but I still feel not a pinch.
It’s all in vain. The only way I can rest is if my soul leaves this mechanical trap. Let it go wherever it needs to go, wherever it actually belonged before this whole tragedy - the real tragedy, the one that occurred not when I died, but when I walked the earth again.
I grab my head by the neck and start pulling.
And I pull, and I pull, and I pull, knowing I will only feel numbness till it’s all over.
And I pull, and I pull, and I pull -