Welcome to the Machine


J. David Norman

© Copyright 2012 by  J. David Norman 

 

 

Photo of a man in an alley with an open wound.


A man in a near-future society, driven by delusions and hallucinations from a brain implant gone wrong, convinces himself that he can become the first android by inserting metal and circuitry into his body at random.

Charles Davies, squeezing his eyes shut despite looking away, rammed the freshly-sharpened knife into his own thigh. He had become accustomed to withholding the screams during his "upgrade procedures." Whimpering quietly in the dim lighting of the grungy dead-end alleyway, he dragged the recently-sharpened knife towards his knee with a rip, his scream echoing around him as he left a wide opening in his flesh. Warm blood bloomed around the rough incision and pooled onto the concrete beneath him, the intense pain already subsiding to a numb throbbing. Tears mixed with dirty sweat on his face and dropped quietly onto the green tee shirt he had stolen only a few hours earlier.

A blur of cars flew by the opening of the alley with a dull hum, their headlights briefly sending lines of light spinning across the wall as they passed. He bit down on his bottom lip to curtail his moans and sobs, focusing his eyes to his lap. Charles peered at the cut filled with dark blood, then grabbed a small metal pipe from beside him, found earlier while searching through the garbage. With a shaky hand he shoved it into the open wound. The pain was reborn like fuel on a dying fire, igniting the agony. Fortunately he was operating under the cloak of pre-dawn, when it was less likely that people were milling about this side of the city, and even less likely to investigate the screams of torment coming out of the dun alley.

*****

Charles awoke with sunlight on his eyelids and buzzing in his ears. He blinked rapidly, shook the sleep out of his head, and covered his eyes with a dingy hand. He wondered for a few moments why he was leaning against a bright, hard plastic dumpster. Suddenly images of cutting his own body flashed through his mind. He shot his eyes to his leg, spotting the open wound, dark with dried blood. He focused harder on the swollen wound, seeing the metal glinting through maroon flecks. Several flies were whizzing around him, focused on the exposed gash as much as the garbage.

He cursed under his breath, then reached into his pocket while leaning on the other hand, feeling gingerly for his tools. As he gripped the roll of green thread he had stolen a week earlier, his other hand slipped on the damp concrete. He fell to his elbow, barely twisting his leg in the process.

Biting his lip and squeezing away the tears from his eyes, he shoved himself back up against the white dumpster, noting that it was his blood he slipped on. He wiped his hand on his shorts and again carefully pulled needle and thread from his pocket. Vision blurring, he fought off the urge to pass out again. He knew he had to complete his upgrade before it was too late.

The needle threaded back and forth across the open wound without precision. A couple of times he had to rethread due to it pulling back out of the already-rotting flesh at the edges when tightening it closed. Finally he was able to tie off the filament, leaving a bulging, painful area streaked with blood.

Charles admired his work, staring at the bulge with a feeling of contentment. It was done, though not as easily as the small circuit board pilfered from an old-fashioned radio and installed into his chest a week earlier. That was the first of his personal advancements. He remembered from his mental implants a few months earlier that anything installed takes a while to activate in tune with the human body, so he was still waiting for the radio to be fully activated within him. Hopefully something as simple as metal for advanced movement will more quickly integrated.

*****

The brain implant needed "exercising," according to the surgeon after the procedure. Certain neural connections had to connect naturally. His handheld was installed with a program designed to sharpen cognition, memory, and reflexes, and he was directed to use it three times per day under penalty of international health laws. At the time Charles did not see the need in some silly IQ games devised for children, instead focusing on his work at the factory. He had been a machinist for years, using grinders and drills to shape metal bits for ship engines and hulls. The doctor warned him that his implant could be redacted if he didn't follow instructions properly due to public safety. Use of the mental training program was being recorded to ensure he followed his directions.

Charles could scarcely recall growing more and more obsessed with the lustrous metal that he had worked with on a daily basis, to the point of rarely leaving the machine shop at all. Every afternoon at his work station was sterile bliss as the sunlight streamed through the building windows and caught the metal sheets perfectly to flash deep into his eyes. A couple of weeks had passed, and as he was loading a new sheet to carve and drill, red and blue light abruptly splashed across the glass double doors at the factory entrance. Two police officers entered and spoke with the receptionist. All Charles had to hear was his own name drifting down the hall from the muffled conversation to know that they were coming to have his precious mind graft removed.

Fear had flown through him like water from a tap as he quickly maneuvered his way through the back doors and headed toward his apartment to hide out. A block before arriving he had noticed across a hoverbike across the street marked "911" in bold numbers. He stopped, cursing in frustration and catching his breath from the two blocks he had already traveled.

From then on he had hidden in a couple of abandoned houses, as well as stolen food and other items while the occupied houses were empty for the day. Over a week passed as he contemplated how he could successfully become fused with the metal, literally heart and soul. It was during one of the more recent break-ins that Charles had decided to find the needle and thread that would be needed to start such a grand process. . .a process that would be the beginning of a new world turned to metal and the rust of the weak scattered to the winds.

*****

". . .of here and sleep at the shelter or somethin', huh?!"

Charles pushed himself off the ground, his vision gradually focused on a man hanging out of an alley doorway. The man had the look of a fat angel standing there as the light from within streamed around him, an angel yelling something about finding a better place to depart this mortal coil than behind his night club. He tried mumbling that it was as good a time as any to start exercising his leg implant, but found his mouth too dry and weak to form anything but a raspy squeak.

He looked down just in time to see metal blossom from down the left leg of his bloodied shorts. Small sterling plates like manufactured opaque crystals glistened and shifted across his knee and down his shins and calf. His eyes widened in joyous horror as he witnessed himself transforming into a new being, something beyond any human or animal form ever created.
He grabbed the side of the dumpster and attempted pulling himself up. His heart felt close to bursting out of his chest as if he had just finished a race instead of just recently waking up. As he pulled, so did the stitching in his chest for the motherboard implant, and pain pulsated from it like a supernova, overwhelming even the throbbing of his leg as metallic growth poured down his body. Charles lost his grip on the slippery surface of the dumpster, crashing the side of his face into the building's brick wall and stumbled down the alley.

His left leg that had been upgraded felt weighted by a hundred pounds or more of refined lead, and more began to twinkle and pour down his right left as well. He staggered maladroitly through the empty pathway between the towering ziggurats of the city, and after what seemed an aeon his gleaming body spilled out of the alley.

*****

Mr. Takahashi unlocked the backdoor of his nightclub angrily at having to take out the previous night's kitchen trash. He knew he had told the other kitchen crew at least five times to make sure it gets done before they leave in the mornings in just the last two weeks alone.

As he swung the bulging black bag into the dumpster, he spotted a leg smeared with blood laying on the ground on the opposite side. Oh man, that better not be a murdered body back there. . . he thought apprehensively. He walked around nervously and saw a ragged, bearded drifter laying down, one side of his pants stained almost completely black with dried blood.

"Hey man, are you alive?" he yelled at the body. "You should get out of here and sleep at the shelter or something, huh?!"

The body shifted and rose partly from the ground, startling Mr. Takahashi. "Okay now go on! I'm sure you can find a better place than at my night club to give up the ghost." The blood-soaked guy mumbled incoherently to himself, sat up relatively straight, and his eyes grew wide in alarm seeing the blood covering his pants and leg. "Come on, I'm sure you'll be fine. I don't want to have to call the cops to get you out of here, buddy."

The man pulled himself up, but immediately collided face first with the brick wall of the night club. Mr. Takahashi watched him continue limping and falling, thinking this guy would certainly not make it all the way before kicking the bucket. He had the appearance of someone that had just been beaten to the very brink of death, and then chunked in the garbage to rot like the bag he just disposed of himself.

As the bum finally reached the opening to the sidewalk and street, Mr. Takahashi turned to go back in, relieved he didn't have to go to the extra trouble of dealing with whatever that was all about. With a sigh he passed through the doorway, ignoring the faint sound of screams and twisting metal as the door slammed closed behind him.

*****

Charles tumbled in past three women, one of which shrieked at the sight of him. He offhandedly assumed it was his glorious metal form that shocked her as his foot then slipped off the edge of the sidewalk. Agony shot through him as his body was jarred against the murky pavement. Incandescence grew quickly in his range of view as a hovercar hummed directly towards him. In a flash the front bumper smashed into him and appeared to Charles to melt deep into his chest, as if they were both made of liquid metal. He thought he could feel his legs sparking under the car as he was propelled down the street.

Just as suddenly as he was struck by the hovercar, the merging of man and machine was thrust into oncoming traffic. He had barely a second to register his body merging together with a second hovercar behind him, realizing with euphoria that this was what was meant to happen, this is how he had to become absolute metal and machine. Only this fusion could complete the process, and these complex mechanical vehicles were making sure it happened, as if it were his destiny.

The last thing he saw was dark liquid metal splashing around him. Liquid shards saturated his field of vision as he was absorbed, and thus transformed, into his new metal form. . .a god among men.

*****

Mr. Takahashi picked up two glasses from a small table near the front of the club. He glanced at the wreck outside as he wiped a damp towel quickly across the tabletop, but froze as he focused on the horrifyingly sickening sight in the street. Two hovercars were smashed into each other and had fallen the ground, the glow of their plasma flux engines gone out completely except for one that was flickering, like an old neon sign. What shocked him was that compressed between them was the mangled, twisted body of the hobo from the alley, his bearded face hardly recognizable splattered with so much blood. Oh, well, he thought as he set the glasses on the side of the bar, at least I don't have to deal with him, and his suffering has come to an end.

 J. David Norman is a self-employed Web enthusiast, book worm, and blogger, juggling all three each night until the sun comes up. If he could one superpower of his choosing, it would be Super Concentration to help focus on his writing without being distracted by his cat or the Internet.

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