Chapter Two - I'm A What?
I wasn't sure if I was awake or not. I couldn't move. In fact, I couldn't seem to open my eyes. Perhaps I was in the place between waking and sleeping. I felt as though I were floating in some kind of cloud. I could neither feel anything solid above or below me. But I could hear people talking.
"I double-checked for any I.D. but couldn't find any, implanted or otherwise," a man said. "And no signs of there ever having been any kind of implants either. No trackers. Nothing."
"That's a relief," a woman sighed. I think she sounded vaguely familiar. Maybe she was the one who had tried to escort me to the low stone buildings in that cave. I couldn't be sure. "At least we know she wasn't sent to sniff us out. Or if she was, it wasn't by the Government."
I heard the sound of fabric rustling. "True that. Overall, though, she seems to be in relatively good condition, all things considered."
I wanted to blink, wondering just what this man meant by "all things considered". Was there something wrong with me? I didn't think so. Well, other than not knowing who I was, or anything that happened before I found myself in the tunnel.
There was more rustling. Whoever all was there had to be moving around, or at least rearranging something. I think I heard the clink of something metal. "Any idea what caused that kind of injury? It's definitely not something you see every day."
What were they talking about? I felt fine. Well, outside of being unable to move. And when I was in that tunnel I'd felt nothing but fear, curiosity, and a sense of disorientation. No pain. No illness. What was going on?
"Whatever caused it, she's had it for a while," the man answered. "And with no external signs, not even scars, I couldn't really tell you. Of course, it's possible that it was done on purpose. A profession could have removed any outward signs."
I heard more clanging of metal, the gurgle of something liquid sloshing around in what I thought was a jar. "I've got her on an I.V. drip for now, to combat the dehydration. Probably best we let her sleep for a while. I'll give her something, just in case of infection, but I don't think that will be a problem."
Whoever they were, they couldn't be totally primitive. Talk of implants and medical equipment told me that much. But who were they? And why were they here, underground? Why didn't they want to be discovered?
For the briefest of moments, I thought I felt something touch my skin, but it was just as quickly removed so I couldn't be sure. "Too bad there's nothing in her pockets or tool belt to tell us who she is or where she came from," the woman commented. "Would be useful. And I'm not about to claim any of those things we found either, as much as we might need them."
What exactly was in my tool belt, anyway? I had no idea. Whatever was in there, they apparently had a use for it. I wanted to ask them about that but felt myself drifting again. After another few seconds, my mind went blank.
The next time I moved towards consciousness, I found that I could actually open my eyes, but that didn't seem very helpful. Everything swam in my vision, leaving wavy streaks of color and dim lighting. Was I going blind? Or was it something else? I blinked a few sticky times and moved to rub sleep from my eyes. Something pulled at my arm.
I heard something moving to one side of me but couldn't focus enough to see who or what. "Go get Garret and Matthew. Tell them she's waking up," instructed the same woman from before.
I tried to speak, but all that came out was random mumbling noises. My tongue felt thick in my mouth. Had they given me something that did this? I tried again, with the same result.
"Sh," the woman said. "Just lie still. The others are coming and we'll soon sort this all out."
I turned towards her voice, straining to make my eyes focus. It took a bit of effort, but it was slowly proving fruitful. Indistinct shapes came together, like shadowy images of what was real. I could tell that the light had a an orange quality to it, definitely not artificial. But why would they use natural light when they had artificial medical equipment. That was the only explanation for how they'd known I didn't carry an implant. They had to have scanned me, somehow.
Footsteps sounded behind me, several sets. One was heavier than the other. "How is she," I heard one of them ask, the same one who had mentioned the medical equipment, and some mysterious injury I seemed to have. But now that I thought about it, he sounded just like the man named Garret who had confronted me at the tunnel.
I watched as three distinct shadows moved into view, settling near the other one that had to belong to the woman. "She's coming out of it," the woman said. I felt her hand touch my skin. "Just give her a minute to restart her synapses. It's not easy to just charge back into action after such long inactivity."
The other, taller figure grunted. Was that the blacksmith I'd seen working the forge? The shadowy image seemed large enough. I thought I smelled smoke and fire coming from his direction but couldn't be sure. There were a lot of things that could account for that smell. Automatons sometimes had it as well.
With a start, I felt my entire body come back to life. It felt almost like someone had snapped a rubber band. I almost jumped from the bed I was on, but didn't. Sitting up, I shook my head like a wet dog. My vision suddenly cleared as well and I could see everything around me.
Four people stared at me. There was the woman from before, the man named Garret, and yes, that blacksmith I'd seen hammering away. The fourth was a child, a girl of about thirteen or so years old. But who were they? And what about the strange room I was in? It looked like a combination medical suite and mechanic's shop.
"Easy there," Garret said as he reached forward to hold me by the shoulder. "Best to start things slow. I apologize if there is any lingering confusion, but we had to restart your system."
What the...? What was he talking about? "I don't know what you mean," I managed to say. This time my tongue seemed to work exactly as it should. In fact, I could feel every part of my body coming back to what I termed normal.
The three adults exchanged glances. Were they holding something back? And if so, what was it?
"What's going on," I pressed as I moved my legs to hang over the side of the bed. "Why are you being so cryptic? There's nothing wrong with me. I feel fine."
Garret cleared his throat, looking rather uncomfortable. "Well, I'm not sure how to say this," he confessed. "And it makes absolutely no sense to any of us, but you're not exactly human."
I did a double-take. "What?" Every muscle in my body tensed.
I saw the woman also tense up, looking rather worried. "Too soon," I heard her whisper as she looked towards the younger of the two men. "Too soon."
I looked at the two of them in rapid succession, back and forth. "What's to soon? And what do you mean that I'm not exactly human? I feel as human as they come."
The blacksmith bit the inside of his lip. I could tell by the way his mouth moved. "This isn't something I can fix," he commented with a gruff voice.
I moved to push back my hair, realizing it was still in a ponytail. These guys were making absolutely no sense. Maybe they were the ones who needed help. That, or this was some kind of dream, a hallucination brought on by that bright light. Maybe I was really in the State hospital, and this all a dream brought on by massive doses of those chemicals they called medicine.
Garret pursed his lips. I could see the synapses firing behind his eyes. Or was that just my imagination. "Let me put this to you in simple terms," he finally said. "You are human, but you're not. Part of you is mechanical. Somewhere, someone managed to change your physiology so that you are now part machine."
I felt my eyes open wide. "Are you telling me that I'm an automaton?" I shook my head rapidly. "No. No. No. No. Not possible! Everyone knows automatons are corrupted! They want to destroy humanity. There's no way I'm one of those!"
The woman leaned forward. "We're not saying you are one. We're just saying that part of you is no longer human. They used to have a term for this kind of thing, something from the imagination of writers of old. They called it a cyborg, part human, part machine."
I backed away from her, scrunching up against the headboard of the bed. "No. You're crazy. I'm not a machine!"
Garret let out a sigh. "Essentially, you're still human," he confirmed. "But someone has taken the liberty of either replacing or coating your skeletal structure with a metal alloy. There have also been some modifications to your brain, probably so that your body wouldn't reject the technology. It's irreversible. The good news is that everything else, your organs, tissues, all that, are still human."
I felt my muscles trembling as he spoke. I did not like what he was saying. It wasn't possible. It was something out of twentieth century literature. How I knew that, I wasn't sure. Just like I wasn't sure about how I knew all those other things, like the smell of fire and metal. How could I know all that but not know who I was, or where I came from? I'd never heard of anyone successfully grafting a human to a machine. It wasn't possible.
"I know you're confused and scared," the woman soothed, "But it's the truth. Garret doesn't lie. And I saw the scans. Someone has altered you. We don't know why, or for what purpose. But whoever did it seems to have wiped your memory during the process. That, or the traumatic nature of the change has caused your mind to block it out."
"No," I whispered. "No." Without so much as a second thought, I pulled my knees in and pounced at the doorway behind me. I cleared the headboard easily, muscles ready to spring into further action as I pelted out the door. I took a moment's pause as I took in my surroundings.
I was on the far side of the forge, closer to the cavern's walls. But I could see no exit from that direction so I sprang forward, leaping over great chunks of rock that had not yet been put to any discernible use. If I'd paused to think about it, I was leaping over masses that were beyond a normal human's capacity. But the only thing I wanted was to escape the possibility that these strangers were right.
I made it as far as the forge, the heat beating against my skin as I collapsed into a puddle of tears. What was wrong with me? And why was all this happening? And why was the only exit I could see the one I'd come here through? I was not about to go back to that, regardless of current circumstances.
I heard them approaching me before I saw them. It was just Garret and the woman, and they approached with caution. I tried to ignore them, until I felt a blanket being draped over my shoulders.
"It's okay," Garret said. "We'll figure this out. We'll find out who did this to you, and we'll figure out who you really are and why this happened. Just trust us. Please."
I turned into his warm shoulders and cried.