Chapter four: ghost

           

Cyborgs don’t feel pain. At least not in the way humans do.

It is necessary, for full integration, to effectively cripple the limbic system. Heart rate and body temperature regulation being unnecessary and inconvenient for the owner of a cybernetic body. Body functions are primarily regulated by a part of the interface devoted to internal systemic regulation, homeostasis, artificial data storage and preservation, making organic processors redundant. But the most important reason for threading atom thin wires through the soft pink blob of the hypothalamus and pulling, is to stop the pain.

The pain is, primarily a byproduct of the structure of artificial nerves, which gather much more data than an organic peripheral nervous system. This surplus of information will be interpreted as extreme physical discomfort by the organic mind.

 Being first plunged into a cybernetic body one will be incapable of processing any meaningful information from environmental sensors. An extended period of unconsciousness follows while neuro-regenerative agents are being filtered into the patient’s CBF supply.

At first, movement will be erratic and motor control will be limited, an anticonvulsive must be administered in large doses, reduced eventually to a constant chemical cocktail which maintains neurological stability and grants the ability to use the interface’s primary form of conscious control, fixed hallucinations. This is called Zed.

The first thing she was aware of was the cold, a cold that isn‘t a cold of skin, a cold that goes down to the core of you, not deadly, not problematic, but ubiquitous. She was in some kind of fluid, it oozed around her body. Her face could have existed anywhere within three feet of her brain and her skin felt dead, sparkling with the worst pins and needles she had ever experienced.

“The first state is a state of thought that occurs in our intellect;” Kimba read aloud from a very old book, “the second state is a state of love that occurs in our will. As the second state begins and progresses, a change takes place in our minds. There is a reversal, because then the love in our will flows into our intellect and leads and drives it to think in agreement and harmony with what we love.” he looked up, closing the book and walking close the glass.

“You awake Saaga?” a voice whispered in her ear. She jerked and opened her eyes. Dark shapes moved past the glass. Their voices were muffled. Someone laughed.

 Saaga put forth one hand, her palm collided with solid glass. She saw the figure place his hand across from hers. 

Her body was weak and clumsy, like she was operating a marionette.

“good.” it was Kim, “see, she’s doing very well.”

The other man spoke but she could not make out his words.

“Well if all you care about is your investment,” he sniffed, then cut off her audio link. There were a few rushed, frustrated words, and the other man left, Saaga watched him disappear into the fog.

She tried to speak but found that her mouth was inoperable.

“I’m just testing motor control, you’re doing just fine.”

Clumsy phalanges found her face and touched a hard, steel cold form of a skull. Her hands hid the light from two cold orbs set into eye sockets, slicing it to ribbons, her jaw hung and clacked weightlessly, teeth on teeth. Her fists struck the walls of the tank she had been imprisoned in, in fear and rage and silence burned all around her.

“ The nanites aren’t finished Saaga, be patient, my dear.”

She pulled herself towards the edge of the glass, chords and wires tugged at her body, looking down she saw her left hand, cold, skeletal remains. But here and there, white residue had begun to gather, growing, slowly to cover the masses of wires and overlapping black mesh muscles.  Following her arm up to her chest she saw only gleaming, bare ribs and an open void straight through to her iliac crests. The black, barbed coil of her spine arched bravely into the gaping cavity where her intestines weren’t and down further there was nothing but a deep red shadow where her legs should have been.

Something inside her head was screaming.

“Shhh,” Kimba put one finger to his thick lips. “Its okay, your okay. Go to sleep.” he must have drugged her because the next moment she heard the clink of her bare skull against the glass.

“What’s your name?” a patient voice came through the darkness, deep and clear without the fluid barrier.

“Colonel Saaga H. Fleischer... Seventh… airborne.” the words seemed to float through the blackness.

“Not anymore, my dear.”

“What?”

“What’s the name of your home planet?”

“I…” she couldn’t remember, it nagged at the surface of her brain. But the words wouldn’t come.

“What’s three plus two?”

“five.” she answered quickly, these questions were getting stupider.

“And what’s your mother’s name?”

It was a long time before she answered, “I can’t remember, it’ll come to me.”

“It’s ok…” a long moment of silence. “I’m bringing your interface online, try not to panic.”

It was most akin to the sudden feeling of falling that comes at the tail end of a dream. A sudden, collision with two hundred and six graphine bones, a pull of muscles in six hundred and thirty nine directions, stitched together with nanofibers and glues and constant, aching friction.  There were wires in her brain. She wanted to stretch and shake off these pinching shackles but she found she could not move from the prone position she found herself in.

“I hope you don’t mind, I made a few aesthetic alterations,” 

“What?” Saaga asked and she was surprised to discover that she could speak albeit weakly. Her voice was dry and mechanical, “no saliva.” she observed out loud.

“Yes, well, there are more efficient means of lubrication.” she heard him walk close beside her. “Can you open your eyes?”

Her eyelids were sluggish and everything moved in a blur of white.

“You have to calibrate the retinal input matrix with the vision centers in your brain.” he instructed patiently.

“You speak Nazan?” she observed and for the first time realized that her mouth wasn‘t moving properly, “but…” her teeth ground together at odd angles.

He took a long, hissing mechanical breath valves in his chest clicking, “no, your speaking Golgathan,” he turned her head towards him, once again, the green lens gleamed in his left eye socket, “try to focus on my face.”

“How can I speak a language I don’t know.” patches of numbness chased each other around her body.

“It’s,” Kim stared blankly past the floor, attempting to explain the complexities of neuro-linguistic engineering, “a very slick bit of programming which converts electrical impulses in the speech centers of your brain into a phonetic code, much more elegant than the grunting whimpers you were using when you came in.”

“But, before, on the ship…”

“You could understand me?” there was a creaking noise, “that’s excellent”

Another creaking sound from the other side of her body.

“Can you feel my hand?” he asked.

“no.” he made a sound that might have been worry, “is that bad?”

“It’s ok,” she heard the gentle whir of delicate equipment, then the whining of a rotary tool, “I can just recalibrate…” she felt her head jostled.

A wave of sensation spread suddenly from her collar downward, prickling and sparkling down her body. Nipples, lips, groin, fingers. Kim‘s soft, acrylic skin was cool against her own where his fingers wrapped her wrist. The sheet over her legs was woven from millions of  nanofibers, the air was heavy with carbon monoxide and some invisible force pushed her body down. Saaga opened her eyes.

“There’s… gravity, where are we?”

Kim grunted mechanically, “not gravity.” he said the word with contempt, “you’re polarized to the ship‘s EM field, it allows for all the convenience of weight, with none of the… side effects. Can you focus?”

“Yes,” she blinked, crosshairs and guides moved across her vision, “what’s a…”

“Oh sorry,” Kim laughed, “you’re a bit cobbled together, the eyes came from a dead guard agent, top of the line, I’ve been saving them for a special project. They’ll need reprogramming, a good starter project for you.” he flopped over her, placing the silver tip of his tongue in the corner if his mouth.

“Look left.”

“What? Ah,” Saaga flinched, as he fearlessly placed a finger on the outside of her right eyeball, there was a click and her vision went black, appearing a moment later, much clearer and without the guides.

“Better?” he leaned over her like a sculptor would lean over an unfinished statue. He flashed a genuine, enthusiastic smile and dashed back to the screen he had been working at.

“I can’t move,” her voice was weak.

“Baby steps my dear,” he moved around outside of her field of vision, he seemed full of energy and passion, almost manic in his delight. Saaga found that she could move her eyes enough to see the surrounding room. The shadows hid endless secrets, bins upon bins of parts and tools, jars glowing softly, wires looped from the low ceiling, hands and feet hanging by exposed bones pale in the soft light. And amongst a huddle of screens, her doctor, with his great white teeth, and the long locks of black, woven hair, and the green light in his mechanical eye.

“you are a type five, fully integrated anthro bionic Cyborg,” he said from the darkness, “you are operating a type six thousand Lawrence cortical interface, capable of processing three hundred billion operations a second, you can survive vacuum,  poisonous atmospheres and temperatures up to eight hundred degrees Kelvin, you can crush diamonds in your teeth.” he came close to her, placing a glowing tablet on her stomach.

“Lovely.” Saaga smiled, it felt strange, how the artificial muscles tugged at the skin around her lips.

“Yeah,” Kim poked the tablet, “way cool.” he reached one hand behind her head and unscrewed something. “Alright, I’m taking you off automatic ventilation. I need you to inhale.”

“How do I AAH!” she felt a horrible pressure in her chest as the machine which had been filling her O2 reserves and emptying her body of built up carbon monoxide suddenly turned off. The sudden outward rush of air forced her head back, her reflex was to clutch at her throat but she found that she was still paralyzed.

“Calm, Saaga, just inhale, you can do it.” Kim’s arm was around her shoulders, “it has to be you, control it,” her wide blue eyes flashed with red warning lights as she lost consciousness. Deftly Kim cradled her in his arms and placed his mouth over hers. Regulating her pressurization valve was only a matter of elevating O2 levels, and another cyborg was the perfect breathing machine. She gasped, and with a few shuttering wheezing clicks, she started breathing normally. Her head lay across Kim’s arm, eyes at half mast, blonde hair, copied from her memory print, splayed on the steel, pale and soft.

“What happened?”

“You went into lockdown, breathing, can be difficult at first, you’ll get used to it, remember, you don’t have any muscles.” that last phrase tugged on her soul. 

Moving the tablet to her chest Kim activated a new system.

“You should be getting motor control.” he frowned into the light of his tablet. “Try to squeeze my hand.”

Saaga looked down at the delicate digits, sticking out flat and stiff from her palm.

“I can’t.” she gasped, tucking her lips between her teeth. 

“patience.” he lovingly massaged the tendons in her palm, forcing her fingers to jump and curl inward. He tapped on the tablet again, his fingers moving faster than she could see. With a jolt, Saaga felt her back arch, her stomach clench, her arms curled close to her chest and her feet kicked at the operating table.

A pathetic whimper of discomfort came from her throat, she felt Kim’s hands on her, forcing her to relax, forcing her hands open.

“Hey,” he caressed her, “sh, sh, sh, you’re doing fine, honey bee. Just relax, can you open your eyes for me?”

Saaga looked up at him, exhausted. She opened and closed her fingers, testing them. He took the tablet away and she tried sitting up but that caused her head to swim. She tried to move her legs and they responded sluggishly, her movement felt jerky, unnatural like the recoil on artillery fire. She felt Kim lift her and carefully reposition her onto her side, the changing weight distribution pinched and pulled at her insides, she grabbed clumsily for the sheet and curled herself into the fetal position. Desperate to account for all of her extremities.

Kim’s fingers ran down the length of her spine, scanning, carefully mapping nerve fibers.

“Good,” she felt his strong fingers change from analytical to tender, rolling over the contour of her waist.

“I feel awful.” she blinked.

“That’s ok, you just need some sleep.”

“I forget how to sleep.” she muttered.

Kim chuckled, “I’ll give you a reminder.”

The drug coaxed her into unconsciousness, the strange dream of steel and wire faded away into a long, black, uninterrupted shadow.

On the far shore of sleep she woke in fear. A thing of steel and science and riveted, stapled, plastic. A perfect beauty, with all the illusions of flesh. A machine, hacking out the will of programming. A soul, sealed in the inescapable box of this cold robotic frame. She couldn’t hold onto the whimpering shriek, a sound which vocal chords would never reproduce, the sound of her brain screaming.

Her hands, her hands were gone, the pain receptors which had endured torture, and the muscles which flown fighter planes since the age of eleven. The scars were all gone, the memories, the touch of someone’s hand, the rough, hard grip of soldiers, stronger than her. The shame and fear of rape and the gentle urgency of love. She would never be touched again.

A dream about saws faded into a single sound. A mechanical whine, the clicks and groans of her body. The tug of plastic on graphine, on steel, the shifting, grating friction of carbon on iron, on oxygen, on a tiny scrap of flickering conscious flesh.

“Saaga?” Kim’s voice was urgent, accompanied by the hiss of a hydraulic door and a sudden burst of light.

“Don’t tell me you heard that?” she mumbled. Pushing herself up onto her elbows, resting her forehead on the cool steel table.

“Damn near half the ship heard it.” he scoffed, tenderly crouching down to look at her face. “How you feeling?”

“Nauseous, disoriented…” a shallow bowl appeared before her eyes seconds before a stream of oily, yellow fluid escaped her mouth. It floated for a second before it was drawn into the base of the bowl.

“Magnetic vomit.” she observed.

“Yes!” he smiled, “there’s going to be some residual organic crap in your body for a few days, just… try to get it all out.”

Saaga grunted, spitting into the bowl and rubbing at her nose. A few gentle swirls of red marred the thick fluid.

“So I’ll never smell blood again.” she observed, considering how much more enjoyable her previous occupation would have been had she not been encumbered by olfactory data. She gagged as a second wave of fluid escaped her mouth.

“Why would you want to?” Kim removed the bowl and disappeared into one of the many recesses in the lab.

“I don’t suppose you’d get it.”

“It’s not that I don’t understand, Saaga.” there was a sound of running water and a few clinks. “It’s just really human, you know?”

“right.” she slowly managed to settle herself on her knees, her forehead pressed into the table.

“Are you hungry?” he called to her.

“Do I eat?” she asked.

“What?” Kim frowned down at her, holding a bowl, “of course you eat, child.” he looked incredulous. “Sit up.” he watched her struggle to right herself. She swayed precariously, grabbing his arm, a bit harder than she intended. “Your brain requires nutrients and minerals to function.”   

She took the offered bowl, it was filled with something that looked suspiciously like what she had just gotten rid of.

“What is this?”

“Food.”

Saaga frowned down into the bowl in disappointment. “But what is it?”

“It’s delicious.”

“Looks like machine oil.”

Kim shrugged, “you can live off organic protein, if you have to. You’ll have to download a patch for your nutrient processing software and you’re not going  to like it anymore, I promise.”

Kim stood by and watched her patiently as she took a curious sip. It ran down the corners of her mouth she choked and gagged.

“You have to hold your breath to swallow.” he instructed patiently. She felt like an infant on a mother’s tit, with barely the physical ability to feed herself. 

The liquid was at first flavorless, but slowly, something came to life in her mind, and the taste, or was it taste? The synesthetic polysensory rush of evidence, was like nothing she had ever felt. The fluid was delicious in a way which played out like music and rainbows and sex. She tilted the bowl up to her face, savoring the sweetness and how warm it tasted, though the bowl in her hands registered the same temperature as the air around her.

“It’s called Nectar.” Kim chuckled at her appreciation. “and it’s everyone’s favorite.” he flopped in front of the large jumble of view screens in the corner, littered with bits of machinery and blanketed in soft florescence.

She suddenly found that she was starving, and suffered the indignity of licking out every corner of the bowl. It was during this process that she first discovered the wonder of a cyborg tongue.  

Saaga placed the dish down beside her, eyes wide with strange wonder as she explored the interior landscape of her teeth. Hard, cold and sharp.

“Good, now I want you to try to stand up.” he disappeared, and returning leaned against a beam, watching her intently.

Saaga moved herself to the edge of the table, one foot  dangled in open air, then two. The silky nanofiber cloth fell away from her chest. She looked down and touched her breast, “I see what you mean.”

“What’s that?”

“Aesthetic adjustment?”

“Oh no,” Kim smiled, “you’re polarized to the center of the ship, the magnetic nodes are distributed evenly around the body with some… uh… discretion.” he blinked and shrugged.  “you had quite a bit of scar tissue, I took the external measurements from your dna, ideal fat distribution, muscle mass, you weren’t exactly in the best shape…” he meant it artistically and intended no offense.

“Where are my clothes?” she gathered the cloth at her chest.

Kim laughed at her, ”I’ve seen it, don’t worry,” he tapped at his computer and a perfect mirror image of Saaga appeared on the largest screen, “I need to have a look at your… structure, anyway.”

Slowly Saaga dropped her feet to the cold steel floor, she tripped only once, an indignant state which Kim coolly watched her recover from, her bones seemed to shake against the downward pull. But there she stood, after only a moment’s difficulty, reflected in the gleaming surface, skin new as an infant’s, eyes blue as earth’s own sky. Breathing steadily, Homo Bionica.

 But her poise only lasted a moment, Saaga staggered into a short chair, uncomfortably, and minimally shaped, a magnetic anchor for Cyborgs to hang their bodies on. Kim passed one delicate hand over his mouth, watching her intently, she looked at him, standing up, her hands instinctively hiding her mouth and groin. Kim rotated one finger slowly in the air and Saaga turned around. Kim gazed upon her for a long moment he thought to himself that she resembled Botticelli‘s Venus in that pose, lead white skin, eyes of tempera and lust.

“Good,” He crossed the room in a few long strides, “sit.” Saaga pulled herself into the chair. Kim opened a drawer in a shadowed cabinet. She watched him walking, noticing, for the first time that most of his lower body was not even really humanoid, the metallic straps and rivets which crossed his chest wound down to thin, robotic legs which did not even attempt the illusion of flesh, but showed open places in his thighs and ended in spikes where his tibias should have been.

Do cyborgs have sex? She wondered, letting her eyes linger on the tangled mass of hardware at his groin.

He returned and stood in front of her with a pair of scissors open in midair, the tip of his steel, barbed tongue showing and his brow furrowed. Deep thought and speculation played across his features. Saaga looked into his face, her hands folded on her lap, he looked back, at the pigmented nano polymer and the complexity of robotics and neural integration. He moved the shears toward her face and Saaga closed her eyes in fear. Tsssssssssssszt, went the little blades, Cool metal brushed her forehead, and the soft fibers of artificial hair fall across the bridge of her nose.

“There,” Kim was smiling in satisfaction, “Pygmalion.”

“What?” Saaga asked, opening her eyes.

“Your done.” he smiled, assessing her through the green lens.

“Am I?,” she whispered, oddly numb.

“There are some things you should know.” he placed his hands on his hips, “you owe your life to Golgotha, and your body, to captain Nash.”

“Am I expected to serve under him? I have no allegiance to your...”

“You think that hardware in your head is free?” he laughed.

“But?”

“You have to work for your brain Saaga, the galaxy runs on debt, not honor, debt, smack and carbon. It’s just how things are, he’s an honest man, he’ll grant you freedom once you’ve paid your arrears, till then, he has every right to take back his property.” his voice dropped with gravitas.

“If that’s how things are then,” Saaga folded her arms. “I’m brand new in the galaxy, you said it yourself, you’ve never seen anything like me. How am I to know anything of your customs, or economics, I’m already enslaved, some birthright.” she narrowed her eyes, snakelike.

“It was this or death, Saaga, you want freedom, you know where the kill switch is.”

She caught her breath, it was a bit like pressure breathing, pulling five g’s in a nosedive over enemy territory with an atomic payload and nothing to lose. 

Of course she knew where the kill switch was, every cyborg did, at the very core of their being, a single thought which in a moment, without pain or the passage of time would close shut the doors of eternity.

“Nothing may circumvent the right to die,” he laced his long fingers through each other, “but when at all possible, you should choose to live.”   

There was a long silence, “I…” Saaga’s voice was beginning to clear up, “I’m sorry.”

“You’re doing fabulously, if it’s any consolation,” Kim’s green eye piece glinted mysteriously.

“Thank you.”

Kim looked as if her were about to respond but he stopped, looking suddenly distracted, “I… have to go. I’ll be back in a bit, try to get some rest.” and without further formality, he left, a hydraulic door slamming shut behind him.

 
 


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