I woke in a haze of blurry light, feeling strangely disassociated from my body.
Every movement seemed to take my full concentration, drawing a breath, letting it out.
drawing a breath,
letting it out,
drawing a breath,
letting it out.
As I lay there slowly remembering how to breathe I became aware of a background murmur, voices pinging in my mind. Just like that awareness snapped into clear understanding, the crisp tones those of a man imperiously asking "Why hasn't it opened its eyes yet, have you wasted my time calling me down for this activation?"
Wait, opened its eyes? Almost afraid to be right, I deliberately focused on parting my lashes. The blurred light gave way slowly to a pale white paneled ceiling. My eyes now open providing me a clear view. It was strange, taking long moments for me to comprehend what I saw. My mind traced the entire shape of a light fixture before realizing what I was looking at.
Panic began to fill my thoughts, this was the first thing I could recall seeing; the first thing since, since, dinner, or driving home? I couldn't remember and suddenly being here, lying in a bed and taking in the medical equipment surrounding me it began to make a dreadful kind of sense.
The slight smell of hydrocarbons and motor oil – Carbon 85% Hydrogen 12% Nitrogen 1% Oxygen 1% Sulfur 1% – didn't, and although I couldn't recognize any of the machines specifically it all still lead to a single conclusion. I was lying on a bed, no, strapped to one, the press of nylon straps and thin sheets leaping to mind as I thought about it. I looked down and the world unaccountably did not seem to shift or sway, my breath held steady, pulse even, despite seeing something that shouldn’t be there. Two, disturbingly prominent mounds, that on reflection could only be a pair of breasts. My breasts, rising up right where a flat chest should have been, shouldn't it?
I sat there unsuccessfully processing that, thoughts jumping from Ranma to Heinlein, logic arguing it couldn't be, facts and the ghost sensation of cloth resting on skin that it must, and beneath it all a feeling of quiet pride. So distracting were these thoughts that it took one of the men snapping his fingers in front of my face to draw my attention back from the abyss to the conversation around me.
Curiously enough I noticed both the ceiling and his fingers remained in focus so detailed it was slightly dizzying adding the power of a headache to my response. "Yes, of course I can speak, what's going on, where am I?" Irritation and upset ringing in my voice, my subtly unfamiliar voice, as I found myself speaking with a panicked falsetto.
Ignoring me now, apparently the simple fact I responded enough for him the severe sounding man – Japanese and wearing a finely tailored suit – turned to face another. Tracking his glance, which required a very deliberate shift of my head revealed another man wearing an almost stereotypical white overcoat. "Congratulations, it appears you've been successful." The Suite's tone was dry, something in his posture telling me that congratulations were the last thing on his mind as he went on. "I will want an update on the status of the project by the end of the day." Then with a brisk nod he spun on his heel and was out the door before I could think of blinking.
My indignation rising as I was ignored, dismissed without even a glance. I turned my head, again a very requiring deliberate motion the act seeming almost unnatural to watch the doctor slowly rise out of a deep bow, the clang of the door falling shut in his superior's wake. The doctor was also Japanese; a rail-thin man, with balding hair in a poor comb over and thin glasses, probability of being available 74%. I spoke up. "Well, are you going to say anything?" I said, my voice colder than I remember being capable of, but with just the right level of bite to make him respond.
The man jerked up looking over at me, his face twitching slightly in surprise but showing little reaction beyond that. Still I knew somehow that he was pleased, it was strange. I'd never seen him before and certainly he wasn't smiling but as I lay there, looking at him I kept fixating on details; the crinkle of eyelid here, the twitch of cheek there, and measuring his changing pulse and I was sure, certainty 87.5%, that he was pleasantly surprised. That certainty combined with the need to actually think about it to swallow nervously drove home the surreality of the situation.
"Oh yes, please to excuse me." He said a smile growing across his face. "My name is Sutekina-san." He paused, as if to get his bearings before continuing. "You have been… in tragic accident, yes, we have just to recover your mind done. Please to let us know how you are feel. Is you in discomfort, or of having any trouble thinking clearly?"
After his smooth speech earlier his suddenly stilted English felt wrong, but I didn't focus on that long. Instead I found myself contemplating his request and actually I really was quite comfortable, despite being strapped down, and although my body obviously wasn't original – for some reason the concept that it wasn't mine just didn't process. The pinch of straps wasn't actually painful, and I was functioning just fine without any of the minor annoyances, itches, aches or pains I was familiar with ignoring from my old body.
Sure I was aware of some things that might have been considered annoying, the imprint of the hospital gown's ties in my back, the chill of the air 17 degrees Celsius on my toes, but somehow none of it really bothered me. Certainly they couldn’t hold a candle to realizing that I thought possessively of my current body. It was mine, if not the original, and I couldn't quite parse those thoughts, the problem threatening to drag me down into a silently screaming vortex of frustrated confusion.
Either he was a naturally patient man or the quagmire of these thoughts took no time at all for he showed no irritation awaiting my reply. I settled for shaking my head slightly, the slight pause between decision and implementation as I had to think about doing so troubling enough to bring up. "I seem to be having to think about everything I do." My light contralto voice mirroring the concern and embarrassment at having to admit it quite well. It also brought to mind that this was a very good ploy to engage the scientist's emotional protective responses and aid in creating a bond with my savior. Thoughts of which sent a warm almost happy feeling through my body.
Recognizing that I had answered in perfectly fluent Japanese rather than English to his question was enough to make me almost miss his reply, and only the unexpected ability to rapidly replay, with perfect recall his words, let me catch it. The impression of surprise and sense of accomplishment on his face at hearing his native tongue only increased his pride towards me, 98% certainty.
"Yes, that's a normal issue, even for standard models, it takes some time for the neural architecture to pattern natural reactions and movements into the body. However we've made quite a bit of progress and I don't believe you will have any real difficulty doing so. Now then, do you recall signing up for cryogenics?" His giddiness only tempered by the obligation to explaining as I nodded once more, this time requiring only a little attention to the motion required, too many troubling thoughts in the back of my mind to make sense of all his, and my, physiological responses.
"Well then, good. Your body died in late 2012, from an automobile accident. However the team responsible for the safe recovery and storage of your brain was unusually lucky and competent. We believe you should retain over 90% of your memories once given time to sit back and think, recovering and recreating the mental pathways." Anticipating my next request, the hesitation imposed as I had to think about taking a deep breath to voice it he went on. "Miss Kari, It is now 2031, and while cryotech incorporated no longer exists we took custody of your mind and have now inserted you into a fully functioning and functional cyberdroid."
By the time he finished speaking I had had enough time to think, to realize that I was not nearly panicked enough for the situation and decided to speak up on the matter. "Why aren’t I screaming my head off, in English by the way, I was male, now I'm clearly not, and what is a cyberdroid? Shouldn't I have been resuscitated in my original body or my clone or something like that, wasn’t it the deal?"
"Oh, really?" he peered at me curiously. "I'm terribly sorry, we thought from your given name you were female, and of course well, with only your brain in storage… in any case your contract did not specify the form in which you were to be revived, or limitations. Perhaps something was lost with the merger. Please forgive us for such an unfortunate mistake. Please, can you tell me, are you feeling uncomfortable with yourself, your body?" His words made some funny sort of sense, but I knew they were a lie – 90% certain subject exhibiting facial tick and change in posture, and when I concentrated on it more small clues came immediately to the forefront of my mind. Pulse, respiration, pupil dilation, every clue pointing to a well-planned deception performed by an amateur, and I had no idea why I knew that.
Still, he deserved some kind of response, and I just didn't feel like lying quite yet, even as I did decided then and there not to trust my wellbeing to these people a moment longer than absolutely necessary. "No, actually, it's almost concerning how… comfortable being me feels." Shift in muscle tension indicates subject pleased at response. "You haven't tampered with my mind have you?" That concern, the largest I could think of was at the forefront of my mind. I didn't know how or why I could read him so well, but at least asking the question would get an answer and if he lied or not I would have the truth.
"Oh no, that would completely invalidate the procedure." He answered with admirable sincerity probability 75%. "Why, you don't even have any of the standard overrides or security conditioning for your model. It was part of the test design specifications that your mind and free will be entirely un-tampered with. It is only the hardware that retains any…" I think he might have gone on but a rather harried individual subject under pressure, anxious 80% probable, younger, with much better personal grooming habits entered the room at an indecorous pace. "That’s quite enough information for now. Doctor, why don't you let him adjust for an hour or two and rest." Flashing me an insincere smile, I suspected he hadn't just referred to my old gender out of politeness due to listening in. This time I was almost able to feel myself making the subconscious calculations on his sincerity. "We'll be back to speak with you more in a little while Ms. Ceallaigh, until then just relax, and let us know if you have any problems or are uncomfortable." – Subject gestures of concern false 99% probable.
He virtually dragged Dr. Sutekina out of the room with him, leaving me alone, still strapped down, and left to think about my situation to the echoes of the closing door. I would have expected it to be dull, but surprisingly as I lay there going over what had happened, analyzing it moment by moment, I found plenty to occupy my attention. The first thing of course being my body. It didn't seem an immediate concern, which of course was why I immediately started to mentally panic, something that is surprisingly hard to do when your breathing is steady, pulse normal and without the slightest hint of adrenaline to help hysteria along. I just didn't feel alien to myself. In every story I ever read where this sort of thing happened the protagonist felt upset, out of place, and uncomfortable. But to be honest I just sort of felt right – functioning at peak efficiency no problems detected.
Now, awkward and self-conscious yes, but that wasn't because I was uncomfortable. Despite the restraints, it didn't feet wrong, just off. I had to keep thinking about everything I was doing, I was so unfamiliar with myself, my body.
It was like… learning to golf, stand like this, keep your eye on the ball, swing just so, and if you don't pay attention to each little movement you're going to slice and there goes another ball into the weeds. This was the same, but with a little less swing and much better kinesthesia. I spent half an hour 00:34:12 just moving within the confines allowed to me, but already things were beginning to feel more… natural, less deliberate in execution. Unfortunately this growing familiarity just left me more time to think.
Okay, I'm dead. That's depressing. On the other hand I have a chance now to do all the things I never got around to before I died… Right, that’s a mind bender right there. So, I was dead, but alive, and it seemed like I had all my memories and was myself, though how to know for sure. I decided then and there that is a path I'm not going to travel, true or not. I won't dive down that dark path and drive myself crazy with self-doubt.
So, I'm myself, I'm a cyberdroid, Accept it.
Though just what does that mean?
Just seeing my delicate fingers wiggle from the cuffs holding me to the bed I looked perfectly human. My fingers felt normal as I rubbed them together. The first noticeable difference came when pinching my hip didn't bring a yelp of pain. I knew it hurt, could feel the pain and certainly wasn't eager to prolong the experience, it just didn't keep me from thinking clearly and there was no overwhelming urge to stop. I hoped that was due to my cybernetic nature and not some previously unknown propensity towards masochism. Letting go I traced my hip through the thin hospital gown. It seemed to me I had a normal bone structure and I couldn't hear any whirring, ticking or engines to drive the movements so I assumed that whatever else it might be a cyberdroid was pretty human.
Straining as hard as I could the next conclusion was easy, I wasn't super strong, and not about to break the nylon straps keeping me in place. Just for grins I decided to hold my breath. Counting the seconds silently to myself I realized my count was off, one Mississippi just doesn't match an internal clock for timekeeping accuracy. I could feel the need for air, but it was muted, a desire rather than necessity and I decided to stop at the five minute mark exactly. I had the impression I could have pushed it longer but didn't want to risk injury, or breakage? I wonder which it would be.
My introspection was interrupted by the return of the second doctor, one whose specialty I was beginning to suspect was not internal medicine and definitely not bedside manner.
"Stop that" He snapped out sounding annoyed. "You'll damage yourself. Don't you realize how delicate you are? We just got you functioning don't go ruining our work now." It was official; he was not going on my list of favorite people.
"I'm sorry, I didn't mean to alarm you or anything, I was just, testing myself a little, there weren't cyberdroids when I di- was frozen, remember." I wasn't quite sure why I felt the need to defend myself or apologize but it was still there. A nervous tension floated through my body and a slight sickness in my stomach joining a blush on my cheeks from his scolding.
"So I don't exactly know what to expect, or limitations, anything. Do I need to eat, plug in, visit the little girl's room?" By the last question I could tell with a certain amount of satisfaction I was starting to annoy him and my embarrassed school age blush receded. Focus of subject on unit –Self – increasing, recognition of independent thought reaching acceptable levels.
I think it was my attitude that threw him off balance. Whatever else he was expecting; an interrogation about my bathroom requirements in a biting sarcastic tone wasn't it. I got to watch him visibly pull himself together, a warm sensation in the back of my mind analyzing everything about him as he ran a hand through his hair, subject flustered, 84% likelihood action taken to buy time. Unfortunately he did consider his words before speaking again, clearly more composed and ready to explain on his terms not mine.
"I see, forgive me, you are the first recovery I've been in charge of and I forgot that there are things you wouldn't know." Subject insincere 92% probability. Assuming a lecturing stance he went on. "It would be best to go over what will happen in the next few days and your new body's capabilities. For most purposes you may treat it as you would your own, however be aware it needs far less food. Your current dietary requirements will be met directly through an IV solution specifically formulated to meet those needs. Later some food will be necessary to facilitate the chemical reactions that allow the proper function of your system. You can plug in directly to power some functions, but electricity alone will not support your systems and your model was not designed with that in mind. You are a class 33-S and as such far more biological in nature than most boomers. Your body requires down time for "sleep" an autonomous maintenance cycle. We will be evaluating your… mental return and after testing you will be allowed to leave."
I could feel the sleaziness coming from the man in waves, an uncomfortable oily sensation as he talked at me, not to me. Sure he could be telling the truth – 65% probability, but despite his attempt to exude a feeling of concern and care all I really picked up was calculated grime and premeditated manipulation.
While what he said could make sense, I couldn't help but feel there was something off about the whole situation. It was all too, unpracticed assuming that brining people back from the dead was normal in 2031.
As I pondered that oily feeling in my mind I remembered, or perhaps more accurately recalled my first moments of consciousness, this was the 'first' activation and that to someone high up in this organization I wasn't a person, but a thing, an 'it' and the shifty behavior and lack of preparation began to make more sense.
They hadn't done this before. I was part of a test of some kind and if what the nice balding doctor had said was accurate while my body might be production my mind and getting it in here certainly wasn’t. At best I was a beta test, A butterfly emerging from its cocoon hoping no bugs in the process would be large or vicious enough to eat me before I could spread my wings and fly.