I don't remember blacking out. Or anything prior to waking up strapped into this chair. At once I discovered my vision was dark and patchy. But I could hear voices drifting in and out of my consciousness. They soon revealed themselves to be engineers or scientists of some kind, "Harry" and "Stan". I tried to minimize eye movement. I didn't want them to know I was awake.
"When were you in Tibet?" Harry plied, punching in his login info to the terminal. Stan was spinning another one of several travel yarns I'd already been subjected to since waking up, evidently one of those people who based his identity around having visited many exotic countries.
"1992. This was business if you can believe it. The Institute sent us to study the EEG readings of monks perfoming various inexplicable feats of physical and mental discipline. Obvious applications for this project."
Project? I very subtly strained to get a sense of what I was bound to. It was very much like a dentist's chair. That was evidently too much. "Hey. Look at the readings." I laid still. Tense silence followed. "How long do you think he's been awake? Tricky fucker. Alright fella, you're not fooling anyone."
I opened my eyes and found my vision had cleared somewhat. Their faces were still difficult to resolve. "Where am I? Release me and I won't call the cops." Took a while for the laughter to die down. "Hey buddy? The cops brought you here. This is a federal research program, we need a steady supply of convicts for it. Not very high survival rate. Do you remember what you did? Strangled all those hookers?"
I didn't. It wasn't that the memory was absent, I realized, but some new sensation of being blocked as I tried to access it. For the first time I noticed the feeling of something other than hair on my head. I wiggled my brow trying to get it off. "Easy, killer. You'll unseat the electrodes."
The pieces began falling into place. I'd done something so reprehensible, the state handed me off to some shady government lab to be used as a guinea pig. I knew I was fucked when they said I'd been convicted of serial homicide. I just hadn't a sense of how fucked until now. "Oh God. Oh fuck. Oh God."
"Make up your mind. Do you want to fuck? Or do you want God?" The blurry one whose voice I recognized as "Harry" thought he was funny. "Anyway, it's no use. There is no God here today, friend. Only us." He fiddled with the terminal and my arm involuntarily spasmed. "Are these the newest motor control routines? No, look at the timestamp. Harry you idiot, you were supposed to take care of this."
Minutes went by as they hammered away at their computers. Finally, at the click of a mouse button, my arm raised up placidly and rotated about the shoulder. Bent and pivoted at the elbow, then returned. The wrist now rotated, followed by a full range of motion swivel of my thumb. Then one by one, each of my fingers touched themselves to my thumb, spread out, then returned. My arm laid back down.
Alarmed would be an understatement. All of this occurred without my input and I could not stop it. "What the fuck have you fruits done to me? How did you do that with my arm? Why can't I see clearly?" The same feeling of blockage behind my eyes clued me in. They were suppressing my vision. Clear enough to perform tests, not clear enough to identify them.
I struggled again to remember killing anyone. Was that like me? I couldn't really say what sort of person I was. I could not remember anything except by sustained effort, and large parts of it were selectively blocked by whatever the two psychopaths had done to my brain.
One of them came over with what looked like a spray bottle filled with pink fluid and lightly misted the top of my head. I couldn't feel it anywhere above my eyebrows. "You know, the brain is essentially a sugar powered, fat based computer. It was difficult to recognize this at first because of the unusual architecture evolution arrived at. Massively parallelized and redundant to guard against injury. It's certainly inspired a fair bit of biomimickry in the microprocessor industry. But that's not our field."
I didn't care. I wanted to tell him to go fuck himself but found I couldn't speak. That, too, was a faculty they appeared able to switch on or off. "Because it is so complex it has effectively infinite possible failure states. Most of which leave you insane, comatose or some other useless outcome. But there are a few which have proven themselves useful."
I thought back to the monks Stan mentioned. Even such a recent memory was a chore to recall. "If you could selectively induce these useful glitches whenever you needed them, imagine what you'd be capable of. Switch off your ability to feel pain and fear during combat. Then turn them back on when they're needed. Become a mathematical savant, photographic memory, even ASD if you need to perform some repetitive task for days on end without losing your mind."
He mentioned defense applications only in passing but it was enough to suggest to me that this was a military project. He sprayed my head again, and wiped the residual fluid from my brow with a napkin. "The really interesting shit comes from linking parts of the brain, causally. For example, fear and pleasure. You'd absolutely love to be terrified. But then some people are like this naturally. What about hatred and fear? You'd feel terrified to hate anybody. Think about how that could improve society. Or disabling the link between inflicting suffering and pleasure. Make it so people feel whatever they inflict on others. The potential to improve humanity is endless."
"But that's not what you're using it for, is it." He looked startled, then checked the computer. Evidently I wasn't supposed to be able to talk yet. It was some small comfort that their control over me was not complete. He sighed. "No, one of the many downsides of this profession. You can harp on about the revolutionary uses of some new technology all you like but the guy who signs your paychecks typically has much more small minded plans for it. In our case, enhanced interrogation."
My blood ran cold, imagining Gitmo prisoners restrained in a place like this, computers invading and tampering with their grey matter. "You monsters. You absolute fucking degenerates. I'd like to-" Harry cut in. "Kill us? I'm sure. Even without your memories you're still inclined towards criminality. Elevated tesosterone, low capability for thinking ahead, poor impulse control. None of this came out in the trial of course or they might've concluded you were helpless, from birth, to turn out this way. The intersection of neuroscience and the court system is one of those things that keeps me up at night. Cutting up guys like you, not so much, because I know you're all guilty of much worse."
My vision grew sharper. For the first time I could see Harry's shit eating grin. He must've seen my pupils contract because he frowned and went back to typing. "That's another remarkable thing about the brain. Very malleable, always repairing itself. Usually a good thing. For our project, a very annoying obstacle. Some sort of implant that adapts faster than the brain, continually inflicting specific damage of the desired type regardless of how your neuronal connections reorder themselves would be ideal."
Stan broke in. "That's Harry's thesis. Mine is that if you reinforce specific pathways enough times, the brain will give up and embrace that new structure. Of course this doesn't allow for the flexibility you want in most cases but for interrogation, who cares if he's crazy afterward? All the better, nobody will believe him if he sues the state."
Harry misted my head again. I began to wonder why. Stan got up. "I'm going to the cafeteria. You want me to bring you instant noodles or something?" Harry waved him off. Stan shrugged and left. Harry craned his neck to make sure Stan had left. Then punched a few keys and glanced around the room at cameras I could only notice now that my vision was clear. One by one their little red LEDs went dark.
"God, I am so sorry. Usually they die before it gets this far. I can only imagine what it's been like for you. I'm gonna release you in a moment." What the...? Was this some kind of fucked up test, or prank? He could see my confusion. If not on my face then on the EEG readings on the monitor. "There is embedded resistance within the government to this kind of research. A movement the goal of which is to disrupt the development of new tortures. I was sent by them to free you."
Music to my ears. The first good news I'd heard since waking up today. "I'll need a fresh pair of clothes, some coffee, some cigs, and you'd better have a car waiting." He frowned, then looked troubled. "Oh no. No, that isn't why I'm releasing you. I was sent to put a permanent end to this project. Simply extracting you would accomplish nothing. They would just continue the project with other subjects."
I had a sinking feeling, even if I couldn't say why just yet. "There needs to be a spectacular failure that discredits the program, and we need to get rid of all of the scientists involved so they don't take their expertise to the private sector or other countries and reproduce this project there." I wanted to plead with him but found my vocal chords were again disabled. "Can't let you identify me if you're captured. Sorry." In my final moments of cogent thought I saw him withdraw a small coin from his pocket, unscrew it to reveal a micro SD card inside of a hidden compartment in it, and load a program from it into the terminal. The English language has no words to express what followed.
Try to imagine a screwdriver or some other sharp object thrust into your brain in slow motion. Imagine your inward, mental experience as it tears through your fragile brain tissue. Disrupting your memories, your grasp of math and language, your emotional regulation. Something like a violent, wildly unstable computer glitch, afflicting your very conscious mind.
Where before it was a unified whole, humming along, performing as it should, suddenly it is fragmented into thousands of separate, panicked sections in total chaos. The sheer visceral madness I experienced was beyond the realm of human experience. I thought at first it must be something like a drug trip, but those are usually reported as beautiful. This was terrifying and incomprehensible.
Sharp angular shapes, tearing of my vision, loud repetitive buzzing and shrieking noises, every possible smell and taste. From moment to moment at random I could either recognize an object or had no idea what it was. I knew I was convulsing in the chair. I mainly smelled burnt toast now, and saw shimmering horizontal lines breaking up my vision, rearranging pieces of it, my shattered mind struggling to make sense of what it was seeing.
Harry said something which sounded sympathetic but it was garbled. I couldn't understand speech. My thought processes had become stuck in a loop, and the loop was tightening, such that my thoughts repeated themselves at smaller and smaller intervals. He got up, loosened my restraints, switched the cameras back on, then made a hasty retreat.
I was feeling everything. Sometimes at once, sometimes rapidly cycling through emotions. I wanted to cry but couldn't. I saw a countdown on the monitor. When it reached zero I found I could finally move my limbs, for all the good it did me. I spasmed violently as I got up, and nearly toppled over with every belabored step as I shambled towards the door. Suddenly I could speak again. When I tried to call out, only bestial bellowing and grunting issued forth.
I reached a mirror, and for the first time understood just how far up shit creek I was. The entire top half of my head from the eyebrows up was missing. My soft, veiny brain jiggled slightly as I recoiled from the sight. I tried to cry and this time it worked. I could not stop. I reached up gingerly as if to touch it, but thought better. Nor was there anything handy to cover it with that wouldn't chafe or put pressure on it.
The random sensory jumble began to subside. I interpreted it as symptomatic of the restructuring process they'd spoken of. When it completed, I did my best to feel out the limits of my mind. It was as if only a tiny island of grey matter was left, and I was stranded on it. Just the parts of my brain necessary for Harry's purposes. Like the brain of an insect, or a machine.
It was bizarrely refreshing. Without the rest of the brain encumbering it, this small, purely computational mass knew exactly what to do. No ambiguity existed. One right answer for every question, only one possible course of action. The mind reduced to a mechanism. Finally the convulsing stopped. I found Harry's spray bottle and carefully dispensed what I now figured for nutrient fluid on my exposed brain. Tucking it into the back of my pants, I again took inventory of myself in the mirror on the way out. Easily 250 pounds of lean, defined muscle. I noted that they'd chosen the right guy for this, then remembered it was me. I would've felt something if it were still possible to.
The corridors were only partially lit. Harry's doing, I suspected. I heard bumping and clamoring in the distance, echoing down the halls and the confused voices of other researchers inquiring about what they believed was a power outage. I came upon one of them focused on an open fusebox. "Oh hey, would you see if you can find some needlenosed pliers?" When I did not reply, he looked up from his work, and his jaw dropped. "Oh. Oh fuck."
I don't know why I killed him except that it seemed impossible not to. The only way forward. The only right answer. Every other choice was blocked, greyed out, unthinkable in a literal sense. He struggled as I reached for his neck, intent on dislocating one of the vertebrae. So instead I began to tear at his abdomen. I felt no pain or stress on my hands so it was easy to rip open his belly and pull out his intestines and stomach over his weak, gurgling protestation.
I was elated. Dismantling him sent ripples of intense pleasure through me. I felt like a tremendous block of concrete or metal, sliding unstoppably along, crushing beneath it soft, weak creatures without even noticing. Everything soft about me had been stripped away. I was a shining metal skeleton, powered by perfect hatred. An angular, cold, relentless machine which only happened to be made from living tissue. The end result was the same, simply because my upper body strength greatly exceeded that of everyone I encountered. One on one, they stood no chance of survival. I realized I could keep doing this for days until starvation weakened me.
Another cried out, then whimpered softly until expiring. I'd strode up behind him indifferent to the possibility that he might notice me as it would make no difference if he did. This one was a guard. He reached for a gun, so I broke his arm in two places. Then as he lay screaming I knelt down and broke each of his small, fragile finger bones while he flailed ineffectively at me. Satisfied that the limb was entirely disabled I set about dislocating his vertebrae. He went limp. Not long now, I thought, until his body assumes ambient temperature.
Human remains littered the hallways, flickering lights reflecting off of still wet blood dripping from the walls and ceiling. My handiwork. My finest hour. I beamed with pride. I was performing my function exactly as intended, at peak efficiency. There was no greater satisfaction I could conceive of. I wanted to share it. I found a woman hiding in a cafeteria cupboard. Business suit, not labcoat. Some kind of supervisor? HR? She was screaming like the others and it grated on me so I crushed her trachea. Then as she lay gasping I noticed she'd stabbed me with a plastic knife. It barely made it a centimeter into my side. I withdrew it, then held her head firmly in place as she gasped for air, and began forcing the knife into her brain cavity through the space between her eyeball and the bridge of her nose.
She began to convulse and grabbed my arm, but could not overpower me. I slid it very carefully into her brain, ripping at the soft tissue, no sudden violent motion as I wanted her to remain conscious for as much of it as possible. Then I began to twist it. Stirring, churning the brain matter. Her eyes lost focus. The lids began to flutter. Her limbs went limp, twitching slightly. I knew more or less what it was like for her and delighted in it.
I passed another mirror on my way to the offices, where the remaining survivors had barricaded themselves. Harry had evidently been so kind as to initiate some lockdown protocol which sealed all of the doors leading outside with magnetic locks, so that the frightened little mice could not escape the cat stalking them through this four story, three dimensional maze. Good old Harry, made me what I am. He knew I was perfect for this.
I could see the contours of my musculature outlined in shadow, the light off to one side very dim as it was on reserve power. I was absolutely drenched in blood, dripping down every curve and crease. It struck me as powerfully sensual. What I saw was certainly a primate, made from skin, muscle, organs and bone. But I saw beyond that facade, to the machine underneath. The grinning, skeletal, single minded industrial slaughter machine which enjoyed total clarity of purpose and the maximum possible satisfaction in its work. I withdrew the bottle and misted my brain.
Out of the corner of my eye I spotted someone making a break for it. Useless, I thought. I am very fast and will overtake him in a matter of seconds. Then, because I am much stronger, I will easily extinguish him. I set off in pursuit, exalting in the sensation of blood pulsing through me, sending oxygen to my muscles as I pumped my legs, powering down the darkened corridor towards my quarry.
When I finally caught him, he did not scream or beg. The determined look in his eye told me something was amiss. I glanced down at what he was holding. Some sort of improvised explosive. In one swift motion, I flipped him over onto it just as he depressed the detonator. The world spun around me. I was thrown up against the wall, my chest and thighs charred from the blast. One of my forearms now terminated in a bloody tangled mess of gore where the hand should be. A bone shard jutted out of the bloody stump.
I found the man's lower body and took his belt. I used that to tie off the stump, to stop the bleeding. I was indifferent to the damage, except to quickly sharpen the protruding bone so that I could still use this arm for my larger purpose. Carefully fanning my remaining hand over the top of my head I found small pieces of glass embedded a little bit into my brain. I did not remove them for fear of blood loss. My task was almost completed anyway.
I heard footsteps and murmuring, so I played dead. "Holy fuck, Alejandro. He really did it. Saved us all. We'll have to drink to him after this." The office refugees. They crowded around me. "So this is Stan's pet. He wasn't kidding, the dude is ripped. Who knew one guy could-"
I did not care to hear more. The intense urge to perform my sole function became overwhelming. I reached out and grabbed the ankles of two men nearest me and yanked. They collapsed and before the rest could react I withdrew the pistol I'd taken from the guard and shot each of them neatly in, or between, the eyes. One of the fallen men screamed, the other cursed and withdrew his own pistol and shot me several times in the abdomen and chest. I felt nothing. A single shot to the head settled the matter. I shot the other in the back of the head as he got up and ran for it.
My own blood began to mix freely with the blood of others as it ran down my body. I felt no pain but could sense my body weakening, one of my lungs filling with blood. 167 to 1 is an acceptable kill/death ratio. My performance met and, I suspected, even exceeded expectations. I wished that the warm feeling of approval could last forever. But it couldn't. Not just because I was dying, but because the brain's cruel tendency to self repair had finally started to restore connectivity between the small piece I was working with now and the rest which Harry had seen fit to cut off from it.
One of the first memories to return was a quote I'd heard someplace. "The most merciful thing in the world, I think, is the inability of the human mind to correlate all its contents." Never more true than now. The metal skeleton was being engulfed once more in living tissue. In softness, feeling and genuine self awareness. I looked at myself and what I had done, and projectile vomited. I cried out in anguish, helplessly revisiting memories of when I was a small boy, dreaming of one day becoming an airline pilot. Of the modest suburban home my father worked himself raw trying to pay off. Uncomfortable, agonizing, unwanted humanity. It had been simpler before. So much easier to be whatever that thing was.
I rejected it. I could not reconcile it with what I had done. I returned to one of the mirrors, knelt before it and began to tear at my exposed brain, digging out chunks of it. The familiar incomprehensible corruption returned. Chaotic, pulsating patterns spread over every surface. Loud alternating tones and screaming, garbled voices competed to deafen me. It wouldn't work. I began to lose precision control over my limbs. Wouldn't work. I would physically disable myself before I could destroy the whole thing. Had to destroy all of it at once. Must kill self, must kill self. Cannot live as this. Only one thing left to do. No other way.
I withdrew the gun from my waistband, stuck it in my mouth taking care to aim it at my brainstem, and pulled the trigger.