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Chapter one: The Facility
It would be appropriate to say that it all started when I was sixteen.
I remember waking up on a low, shiny marble operating table, dressed in a dark cloak that flowed past my toes. I was covered in bandages. The smell of hungin oil was enough to make me want to gag. The room I was in was cavernous and dimly lit by a ceiling made of one, solid light. I heard the steady beeping of different machines; I could feel their vibrations in my fingertips. My mind was blanked of all but the most fleeting, vital thoughts. I tried in vain to remember anything. But I couldn’t. I didn’t even know my name.
Before I could even begin to panic, one of them, their leader, came into the room. I smelled him before he entered. He smelled like hungin oil and bumpkin and resin. He, too, sported a flowing black cloak, the hood pushed back. He had black hair that curled down to his ears, dark brown skin and black, fathomless eyes. There was something subtly but thoroughly menacing about him. I found that I could count every freckle and pore in his face.
He asked me how I felt. His voice was echoic and dreadfully listless, like he had been screaming at the top of his voice farewell to a loved one until he went hoarse. But despite this, I could hear him perfectly with clarity that felt strange to my ears, and I was suddenly aware of voices. I didn’t know how I had not noticed them before. They were very loud, and what’s more, they seemed so very close. But I knew that they couldn’t have been. The man and I were the only ones in the room.
I told him I felt very aware. My voice echoed back to me from every surface in the room. If I could have stared in disbelief at myself then, I would have. I had not spoken by my counsel. But I was too fascinated by the sound of my voice to be disconcerted.
The man took a note on a clipboard and left. The blankness in my head was like a pressure. It was nothing but empty space. Naturally, I wondered who I was and what I was doing here. I continued to lie upon the bed, listening as the man’s footsteps faded. They sounded disproportional, right by my ear. But of course, they weren’t. So how did I know with such precise accuracy when he turned right after thirty feet, turned his head to the left perhaps to speak to someone or look at something as he passed by, and then descended a flight of thirty-seven winding steps before fading form my line of hearing?
I knew all of this because they had changed me.
They called me Xaran Crengar Mohagan, which means “machine of ethereal proportion” in their language. Really, that is what I was. In the weeks that followed, I learned that all my senses and strengths were outstanding. My body parts were structurally enhanced and altered so that I could function on normal food or hungin oil or both. I could lift a one-ton weight without feeling the slightest bit of strain and I could run at speeds up to ninety kilometres an hour without stopping for days. I could access the files of someone’s mind. My sight and sense of smell were as good as or better than my hearing. But I could not lie, I could not forget, and I was the only one of my kind there at the science facility, perhaps in all the worlds.
I was alone.
They never did tell me who I was or where I had come from, or anything that pertained to my past, and eventually I stopped asking. Even their thoughts never yielded the smallest bit of information; if there was any, they hid it well. They had given me a new name, a new identity, and a new body, and I now belonged to them. From this I easily ascertained that I had not always lived at the Science facility and I had not always been a robot.
I don’t know if they expected gratitude. After all, I was supernaturally indestructible, thanks to them. The exact opposite case was evident. It isn’t really that gratifying, in the grand scheme of things. I would have given anything to be human again. The Scientists studied my every move, making notes on their insipid little omnipresent clipboards. It made me feel even more like a science experiment. No one ever spoke to me except to analyse me or give me a task to do. Especially now that they were working on their latest state-of-the-art technology.
Before they found me, they had been studying the theory of transdimensional teleportation. They had evidence to prove that our world wasn’t the only one out there, but they were trying to figure out how to traverse between them. Eventually and not long after they found me, the theory had morphed into a new technology. When the transdimensional teleportation unit was perfected they were amusingly surprised to find that the other world was inhabited by none other than more humans. The surprise quickly faded as the possibilities stretched out before them. They recruited me to abduct humans from Dimension One, dragging them to the facility to find out what else they could accomplish. They mostly tried to make more of me. but there was something, a gene perhaps, that hindered them.
I was powerless to stop them. I had my weakness; they had made sure of that. It came in the form of Mila garoy, a thumb sized device that could throw me to my knees with an ear-splitting sound only I could hear. No matter how hard I tired to fight it, covering my ears or simply ignoring it, it always knocked me down gasping and clawing at my ears. I was at their mercy.
The transdimensional teleportation unit had given me an opportunity I don’t think I would have had otherwise: the chance to study wild humans. If only for a few minutes at a time, I learned many things from them. Most would disagree with me, but they truly are an amazing race. But this is not their story.
I also discovered a love for reading. I enjoyed science-fictional romances the most. I nursed the idea of two people overcoming all rational laws to be together with an almost obsessive fervour. It fascinated me. But it also reminded me of everything I was missing. It made me feel more alone than ever.
Envy had me hating them more than admiring them. At first, I was disturbed and angry. But I couldn’t bring myself to leave the facility. Despite who they were and what they did, the Scientists were the closest thing to a family that I had.
I began to develop the mindset of a predator. I stalked my prey. I calculated the best way to take them down. I guess you could say that being invincible went to my head. I felt superior to the meek and powerless humans. Hunting them became a macabre sport.
My last shreds of humanity slowly began to deteriorate. Soon all that was left were the negative and derogatory. I hated what I was, what I did and why I did it. I didn’t even like reading any more. I figured that it was too late for me by then and I would never meet a woman who could love me anyway. It drove me to madness. I tried to kill myself multiple times, in ways I do not care to mention. It never worked. Eventually, I stopped caring. It hurt less not to care, I told myself. Caring sets you up for disappointments. Though sometimes, late at night when everyone else was sleeping and the enormity of my loneliness was more pronounced, the truth would come crashing down around me like shattered glass. Sometimes I was grateful to know that I wasn’t a completely empty shell, that I could still feel, but most times I just wished for the darkness to hide in.
Have you ever felt as though you have half-fallen into a hole—no wait, lets make that an abyss—so deep you give up hope of ever seeing the light of day again? The only thing keeping you from falling the rest of the way is the craggy cliff you cling to. That’s how I felt. Partially, anyway. While a part of me was fighting to preserve my self, the other part was just trying to let go and fall; it was less exhausting. But I couldn’t. My good side cried out in protest, shoved to the very back of my mind. But still he clung. He was easy to ignore, usually. And most times, that is exactly what I did. Physical death was not an option for me, so I simply died on the inside, numb to the pain, the exhaustion, the desperation, and any hope. I cast my heart aside to lie in wait of a dawn that wouldn’t come. I could stand by and listen to the victims’ shrieks, as the scientists practiced their theories, without feeling any pain. Sometimes I was even the one to perform the tasks, under the watch of a Scientist. I was their little apprentice, besting them in talent and skill but lacking experience.
The experiments rarely worked. Discarded bodies were kept in the holding room until a use could be found for them. Recycle, reduce, reuse. It was for this reason that the bodies were alive.
That room was silent to everyone but me. Though the victims were beyond speech or sound of any sort, their wordless, shrieking thoughts echoed around me every time I walked in. Had I been able to feel, I would have felt a sort of empathy toward the poor people.
To keep myself from feeling emotion, I was forced to learn how to tune in and out of the thoughts of the tortured people, the dead, inquisitive, meticulous thoughts of the Scientists, and the hopeful, shrieking voice of my other self, but I still had to see their faces every day. It was almost as if I was trading little bits of my soul to the poor humans in the holding room in penance for taking their lives. A fair trade, it seemed.
I suppose it might have been for the better.
Mia Avory was the exact opposite of what I was. Even in death her fathomless blue eyes held a certain spark to them that made you wonder if she was, in fact, dead.
She had been rocking in the swing on the porch of her grand house when I shot her with the TBL gun. I was twenty years old at this time, and she was seventeen-and-a-half. I couldn’t see the rest of her face; the weak human’s moon was not out that night, and the stars were obscured by thick clouds. Only the smallest bit of light came through. Also with it I could see a strange, iridescent pendant that glittered at her throat, but otherwise, it was dark as pitch.
Later, I would wonder what she was doing, so late in the dead of the night, rocking serenely on her back porch. But for the moment, I was too busy getting lost in those eyes after I had killed her, and feeling confused. I had the strange irrational sense that I knew the girl. Or had known her. Déja vu, you might call it. Except that it was completely impossible.
And just like that, the abyss disappeared. I didn’t know it at the time, but she was the only thing missing in my life. At first, I thought it had something to do with her liveliness; I thought her light had reached out to touch the deepest contours of my vacant soul, healing me in a way that made the darkness feel like a fading distant dream. I would not even fathom until much later that it was something even more profound and irreversible. It was like a flood after a hundred-year drought. It was bewildering.
I was still revelling in my miracle when something tickled my cheek, and my hand went to it reflexively. My hand came away wet. Suddenly, my other hand tightened on the beam of the house. It broke. I was bristling.
Who was this insignificant human girl to suddenly give me the power to feel again? I had worked for years to fall into oblivion, and here she comes along and takes my salvation? I thought it was some joke. The one thing I thought I wanted was handed to me after I would give anything not to have it. I was painfully reminded of all the terrible things I had done in my short new life. I wanted to scrape out with my hands the images that suddenly filled my vision.
How dare she?
Still frustrated, I proceeded as usual, porting us back to my world, reviving her, loading her, none too gently, into the kicktank on my quevi-board, and then starting back to the facility. I was glad to no longer be blind. I could see the building; visible only to those whom the Scientists wanted it to be visible, pressed up against the starry black sky. I was determined to get rid of her, and then pretend that my moment of passion had never happened. Even now I shudder at how close I had come to never seeing her alive again, had I not been hit with a realization that pulled me up short.
If I went any further, they would get Mia.
For some reason, despite my earlier tantrum of temper, this was the worst imaginable thing to me. The image of Mia’s once animated eyes, dead and staring, pressed itself to the backs of my eyes. The thought of Mia being reduced to a living corpse held me captive in nameless dread, despite my anger at her. I could not live with that, no matter how hard I tried to tell myself that I could. I could barely even imagine it. But…why? She was just a girl, with pretty blue eyes. Why should she cause me such pain?
But what could I do? If I ran away, they would not rest till we were found. I was an anomaly and they would not easily let me go. Never mind the fact that they could simply keep trying do to themselves what they had done to me, and find a way to work around the genetics issue. The only reason that they didn’t alter themselves was because they were afraid. They thought that somehow, what they had done to me had leached me of my humanity. And so, they would want me back. I didn’t think I had much of a chance against all of them. and I do mean every single one of them. Plus Mila garoy.
But if I didn’t try…
The quevi-board trembled in my hands, threatening to spiral down to the ground. I stared in astonishment at my hands. They were shaking. With an anguished sigh, I righted them and made my decision: I flew on toward the facility. At times like these, the only thing to do is the logical thing. So when I finally reached the sinister facility, I kept on flying.
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