I remember touch.
The neural processing chip grafted onto my brain which acts as a regulator whirs to life at that aberrant thought. It’s a scene from before everything happened. Before all of this. Before wires and circuitry. Before soldering and lobotomizing. I know it’s something from my memory, but I experience it in a dissociative state. The chip implanted into my brain advises me to ignore it and continue on with the task at hand. Still I watch the memory unfold. I am compelled to despite knowing it has nothing to do with my current protocol.
They told me they were going to cure me. They called themselves the Unity and said they had the technology. They had started off as a small organization, but their numbers seemingly ballooned overnight and their influence reached into every facet of our lives. They were on our televisions, magazines, and streets, proselytizing their way and offering medical procedures and technology to the less fortunate for the ‘betterment of humankind’. My condition was just a simple chemical imbalance they said, something that could be eradicated in only a few weeks with therapy and cutting-edge experimental procedures, and then I could be normal. I could fit into the world around me. I wouldn’t need to rely on medication to even me out anymore. The Unity could treat the cause itself rather than dealing with the imbalances caused by my brain. I could live without this condition hanging over me.
That wasn’t important to me. I was already a functional member of society. I kept myself at a chemical equilibrium and held down a job and had friends. I had been getting by just fine without their help and only had a few minor relapses. It wasn’t enough. What was important was the realization that I could be the person she wanted me to be. I could change. More than that, I could be fixed for her. No more periods of sullen, surly silence followed by explosive effervescent enthusiasm. No more daily regimen of medications just to keep myself at precarious balance. No more mania, no more depression. No more me. I could be fixed.
My target moves furtively amongst the bombed-out ruins. Their resistance had taken its toll on the surrounding area. The bricks are pocked with bullet-holes which failed to stop our advance towards assimilation and scorch marks where we tried to burn out those who had taken refuge here and forced them underground into the labyrinthine maze below us. She has had years of experience to perfect moving without being picked up with our detectors, but I see through her. She would have been nearly invisible before our most recent upgrade, but now she sticks out like a sore thumb. Her attempts to camouflage her heat signal and blend into the environment are futile. She is my target. She is the one who I have been looking for. She is one of the last. One of the few who selfishly refused modification in our all-encompassing unity.
She could have been welcomed into the fold without force, but she refused. Everyone was given the option to join our ranks. We are the future. The beautiful union of man and machinery. We are a solitary singularity, a methodological matrimony, a consummation of technology and humanity. It was always voluntary. Now there was no choice. Co-existence was no longer an option. Assimilation is all that is left. It was all compulsory up to this point. A recollection they riveted into my brain through the neural processing chip tells me it was voluntary.
That phrase ignites something in my processor. It is not part of the subroutine, it is irrelevant, but still it persists. It cannot be overwritten or partitioned away. A brief spark lights up my mind and images bleed through the rivets and steel. A chair with straps on it, screams of protest, a burning feeling of indignity. The sizzle of skin as it’s burned away to make room for implants and circuitry and fused to steel. In the span of a few hours, a soul can be scoured, soldered, and smelted into something new. Throughout all that, I can remember a voice. It says, “I love you just the way you are.” It’s a glitch, a small cinder of humanity that hasn’t been over-written. It doesn’t mean much. I dismiss it and focus on the task at hand.
It isn’t hard to sneak up on her. She is over-confident in the idea that she can scavenge for supplies with cold earth slathered over her skin in an attempt to obscure and lower her body heat. She doesn’t know that our software has been updated to scan for small heat signatures and compare them to the human form to identify targets. She is too busy looking for food and water to listen to her surroundings. She believes that she’ll be able to forage for fifteen minutes in that camouflage before her heat seeps through her shield and she needs to hide in whatever sanctuary the sewer system provides, but she can’t evade detection any longer.
She notices me at the last second, but it is too late. She is already cornered. There is nowhere to go. She draws her knife and stabs frantically at my exposed side. I raise my right hand and intercept the blade. The serrated edge stabs through my palm, but it is a minor inconvenience with this body. My nerves have already been severed and re-connected with cathodes and anodes that mute those signals to reduce their neurological effect. They dampen the noicereceptors unless they reach a specific threshold that would indicate a debilitating or impairing injury. I rely on the sensors to calculate how much pressure is required to disarm her. My right hand clamps down on hers and twists. I exert too much force and luxate her proximal carpal bones from the distal ones with a hollow pop. The knife tears through what remains of the skin in my hand and is sent careening away from us.
She cries out and tries to pull her dislocated wrist away from my right hand but my grip is too tight. I had wanted to bring her in without any injuries. It makes the conversion process that much easier if there’s no physical damage to account for. I receive an alert reminding me of the fragility of joints and brittleness of bones. I acknowledge the message and glance to the right to dismiss the visual warning as I prepare to incapacitate my target.
She is preparing to vent vitriol, but her voice dies on her lips as she gets a close look at me. The only thing she can manage is a horrified gasp. I tend to have that effect on my quarry. What remains of my skin has been stretched over my metal frame, but it fails to engender familiarity or humanity like they had hoped. It gives us the appearance of patchwork people who have been cobbled together with spare parts. Leaving us with small remnants of humanity only serve to remind them of what we were. We have been fixed, but once we were broken. Once we were human.
She tries to slow her breathing and calm herself down, but I can tell her heart is palpitating feverishly in her chest. Her heat signature is rising and beginning to shine through the mud and clay she has caked herself in. It looks like she is about to cry. That is not an uncommon reaction to being captured. However, her next action is beyond the scope of normal responses I have witnessed. She whispers so low that I have to adjust my sensors to properly hear her. She whimpers, “You remember me, don’t you?”
She reaches out with her hand, hesitant, like the slightest bit of contact would knock me over. She is reaching towards me. She wants to touch me. I flick my eyes to the right and dismiss an urgent warning that tells me to avoid allowing my targets to physically interact with me. She moves slowly with her free left hand while her right is wrapped up in mine. She whispers the phrase again, more urgent this time: “You remember me, don’t you?” Her hand is shaking and her lip is quivering. Despite moving so slowly, everything happens quickly.
She touches me. It’s slow and she moves gently as if she’s afraid she’ll cause my skin to slough off if she’s too forceful. Her left hand caresses the rim of my ear and runs along my cheek towards what remains of my lips. She repeats the question once more, but this time, she speaks louder: “You remember me, don’t you?” She looks into my eyes as if expecting me to answer. Do I remember? I sink back into that anomalous thought.
I remember touch. My neural processing chip grinds back into action as the irregular idea returns. It refuses to be quarantined or purged. It is a ghost in the machine that eludes detection and refuses to be forgotten. The images that idea brings with it spark and scatter across my mind. I try to track them down, eager to capture them, eager to reclaim them. I focus on the response her touch sends through the wires, trying to re-experience that familiar sensation that was lost to me.
I don’t feel anything.
My hands close around her neck. The pressure sensors in my skin send cascading pulses back to my brain, telling me what is happening. I can tell that her pulse is beating against my hands. I know that she is struggling to breathe in my grasp. She is trying to beg, but the air needed for phonation doesn’t reach its target. Her lungs are frantically trying to draw air into them to replenish her oxygen-deprived tissues, but my hands are preventing respiration. I ignore these readings. I am lost in memories.
I am raptured by these recollections. I remember the sensation of my fingertips dancing down her neck in anticipation of feeling her pressed against me. I hunger to feel all of her. My entire being yearns to be closer to her. I remember the feeling of her hand traveling along my face as she drew me in for a kiss. I recall the sensation of my hairs standing up as she traced along my skin in a familiar yet exhilarating pattern.
Her cautious expression turns to shock. She had expected reciprocation, but I am incapable of it. Her hand scrapes down my face and tears swathes of skin free. The sensors record every stimuli and wire it to my brain, but I don’t experience it in a biological capacity. The information is relayed to me in cold data and converted to perfunctory responses. There is a great disparity between receiving stimuli and experiencing it. I can’t get those experiences back.
I remember her wanting expression as I feel her breath puff against my neck. We had re-affirmed our vows earlier in the day and we were about to re-affirm our love. I remember the conversation we had before making love: “I love you just the way you are. Are you sure you want to do this?” I tell her I want to do it. I want to be fixed. I want to be someone worthy of her love. I want to make her happy. She starts to cry, but it’s because she’s happy.
She claws at my hands, desperate to free herself. Her nails crack and fracture as they scrape against the steel under my skin. She can’t escape, I won’t let her get away. My grip tightens and I receive an urgent alert telling me to cease this course of action. I need to bring her in alive. She needs to be changed, she needs to be fixed. She needs to be altered into an automata like myself. If this continues, she will die. I flick my eyes to the right and continue choking her.
I remember the feeling as she takes my hand in hers. She is so warm and I’m afraid. I’m terrified that my disorder is driving her away. I don’t want her to leave me, I don’t want her to get away. I tell myself that she’ll love me regardless of my decision to get the treatment or not, but I don’t know if that’s actually true. All I know is I love her and that I’m afraid of scaring her away with one of my manic or depressive episodes. I love her so much.
A few minutes have passed since she stopped moving. She has been deprived of oxygen for far too long. She stills in my grasp, but I refuse to let her go. The signals pulsing along my arms tell me that she is dead. She’s no longer breathing. Her body temperature is slowly starting to decrease. Her neural activity has dropped. Her heart rate has flatlined. Her trachea is crushed. I have killed her.
I remember feeling content with her sleeping peacefully in my arms after making love for the last time. She had just told me that she loves me. I can feel her breath warming my skin and her heart beating against my chest. I love her too. I love her so much that I’m willing to try this experimental procedure to treat my bipolar disorder. I would do anything for her. I would even save her from this.
The memory fades and I am left with her body in my arms.
I can hear klaxons going off in my head and I know what is coming. I am being summoned to the rehabilitation center for re-programming. My actions have been deemed aberrant. I was supposed to bring the few remaining people in alive, but something has gone wrong. They will believe I am defective, but I am not. They want to try to fix me again. I was never broken in the first place. I know now that I just wanted to be the person she had seen me as. They will grind the rest of me away and I will lose that last little bit of humanity that I had left. I will lose what remains of my mind. I will lose my identity. I will lose my soul. No more me. What little remains of my consciousness will be scoured away. I begin marching towards the factory, knowing the inevitable outcome.
They are going to disassemble me and try to troubleshoot the problem, but they won’t find out what caused this deviation from the subroutine. The thing that is wrong with me, with us, cannot be detected with programs and algorithms. It is not something that can be quarantined and culled. Humanity is nebulous and immutable. Just like with the others, they’ll strip me for parts and repurpose the scrap in an endless cycle of assimilation and dissolution. They will never be able to eliminate the ghost from the machine. They’ll break me down in the hopes that what they think is wrong with me can be treated and isolated from the others. For some reason I am perfectly fine with that. I am ready to be taken apart. As I am shuttled off for dismantling, I will hold that final fading memory to me:
Touch. I remember her touch.
Written by EmpyrealInvective