I died peacefully in my sleep, due to a sickness that found its way from the famed “Forgotten Lands” all the way up to our bases above it. A death perfectly fit for one of “them”, as the other Khaei liked to refer to people like me. As the last moments of my life drew near, I felt my heartbeat slowly come to a halt, and my breathing stop.
Just a moment after, however, I jumped awake again, as if from a bad nightmare.
Even though my eyes were open, I was still lost in the dark. The darkness was cold; it felt as if my body was almost completely covered in some metal plating. I couldn’t move either of my arms, my head wouldn’t turn and my legs… Well, I didn’t even feel my legs anymore… I couldn’t even be sure if I still had them. In the far distance I heard muffled voices echo. Most of them felt very familiar, but I couldn’t quite tell whom they belonged to.
Was this the afterlife? A cold sensation accompanied by the torture of hearing your loved ones echo in the distance? I smiled to myself, maybe slightly cynically. Wasn’t it just ironic how after all this development through science, we still didn’t know what lies beyond life itself? Of course we didn’t… we couldn’t even figure out if there was something to begin with.
I wanted to get out of here as quickly as possible, and I started to struggle against whatever was keeping me in place, but to no avail; not immediately, at least.
After what felt like an eternity of struggling, a loud and long cranking noise began to resonate, as if big pieces of metal were forcefully being moved by big clunky gears. I desperately tried to scream out as the pain of an electric pulse raged through my body, yet no sound came out of my mouth.
While I was catching my breath, I heard the cranking get louder. It didn’t take too long before it stopped with the whizzing sound of air entering a room. The muffled voices were silenced while the mechanism set in motion a big gate in front of me to open. First a little glint of sunlight entered whatever… construct (for the lack of a better word) I was in; after a while my whole body was covered in the same light of day. I tried turning my head to look around at where I was, but it was still kept in place by something I couldn’t see. The only way I was forced to look was forwards. Right into the green eyes of my husband, standing behind a messy desk.
“James?” I tried, but my words were still silent.
As the doors opened farther, two more scientists appeared next to him. One of them I recognized as Dr. Diandi, the other I hadn’t seen before. The two of them were looking tense, and had a mild grin painted on their faces. James was stressed though, very obviously even; he was rapidly tapping with the point of his pen on the clipboard he was holding. Contrary to the other two, he didn’t seem happy to see me appear from the construct at all. In fact, he seemed sad, devastated.
My eyes dashed around the room. Complex machinery was scattered everywhere. The ceiling was made of glass, the walls and floor were clean white, in the back of the room I saw two gray metal doors that gave off a vibe of being an airlock. I must’ve been in one of the laboratories.
“Procedure complete. Enabling vocal transmission unit.” A metallic feminine voice announced while I felt a mild shock in my chest.
“James? Why am I stuck?” I tried again, this time with sound. My voice was still mine, but it felt… different.
“Kate? Thank the Gods, Kate! I’m… I’m so… I’m so sorry… I didn’t…” he struggled to find the right words.
“How do you feel?” the scientist I didn’t recognize asked me.
I wanted to shake my head, but couldn’t. “Not very different from other times… I just can’t seem to feel my legs anymore… Why?”
“Just routine questions,” she noted that down on her own clipboard.
“What do you remember?” It was Dr. Diandi’s turn to ask a question now.
“Why? Can somebody please tell me what’s going on?” By now, I didn’t know whether I was getting desperate or angry. Both scientists looked at James, then at each other.
“We should give them some time alone, Steve.”
“Fine.” Diandi didn’t succeed in hiding his annoyance with that idea. “Verdinian, five minutes. You better have said your goodbyes by then.”
It stayed silent between the two of us until the door had closed behind Diandi and the other scientist.
“I didn’t have any choice, honey! I didn’t!” he could’ve started crying at this point, but he didn’t, “The Order… They made me do this to you… I couldn’t…”
“James, calm down… Wh… what did you do?” I could already guess the answer, which made me more terrified than anything else.
He tilted his head down and gulped loudly, after which he put down his clipboard and pen on the desk in front of him and picked up some sort of remote control lying on top of it. He turned his back to me and pressed one of the many buttons on it, a yellow one roughly in the middle.
“I’m so sorry, Kate…”
A holographic image appeared before me, which had proven my assumption – and fear – to be correct: my mind was uploaded into “the Subject” after I died. A probe which was forced down to the Forgotten Lands below, to gather as much information as possible for those – by the Gods damned – elitists up here. A probe whose fifty-six previous versions didn’t even survive the Lands for longer than five minutes.
I was the fifty-seventh Subject.
“You did what?”
“I… Please, I didn’t–” The tone in his voice sounded like it was begging for mercy.
“You uploaded me in this abomination of nature! Despite knowing full-well I am highly against this trash existing in the first place?!”
“Don’t you ‘honey’ me now, Verdinian!” Needless to say, I was mad at him, and with very good reason even.
“Kate… Please, the Order forced me… It was either uploading you or being liquidated myself…”
“Do you really believe the Order would kill off one of its current biggest minds?”
“They’ve done so before, Kate. You don’t know the Order like we do.”
I only barely heard that last sentence. I was lost in my own thoughts now. Deafened by betrayal and anger and sadness all at the same time. I probably would’ve punched him straight in his face for doing this to me if I wasn’t held in place in this damned machinery.
He looked down at the ground, defeated and ashamed.
“I’ll fix this, Kate…” he lied in a desperate attempt to make me calm down, “I promise you I’ll –”
He was interrupted by one of the airlocks at the back of the room opening, and Diandi’s voice coming out of it.
“Verdinian! Times up! Time to send it down for its mission.”
“No… sir, just one more minute…”
“For the Gods sake, Verdinian. Hand over the remote.” James didn’t even get a chance to give it to him; Diandi just immediately snatched it out his hands. “You know we can’t keep it after the rudimentary checks.”
“That’s a she for you.” I spat at him, but he proceeded to ignore my existence and look at James.
An annoyed sigh followed, “You get one more minute. That’s it.”
James stepped closer to the machine I was contained in. I tried forcing my head to turn away from him, but to no avail. Instead I was forced to let my non-existent eyes wander as far away from him as possible.
“Kate, I’m fixing this for you. I promise.”
He looked down at his feet when I didn’t respond.
“It does pain me to see you like this, I hope you realize that, honey…”
“I hope it does. I hope it hurts as much as being turned into an abomination like this.”
He was close enough to me that I could spit right in his eyes. And I would’ve even done so if it weren’t for the fact I didn’t have a mouth to spit with anymore.
He sighed, “I’m sorry Kate… Be strong on the Lands, alright? I know you’ll make it through this.”
He paused for a second.
“I’ll miss you…” he whispered
Diandi shattered the moment, “It’s time for this Subject to depart.”
“It’s barely been half a minute, Diandi!” There was anger in James’ protest.
“I’m done wasting time, Verdinian. It’s leaving now.”
He pressed a button on the remote he stole from James, which caused whatever was keeping me in place to release its grip on me. For a split second, I could move my arms and body and head freely again (not my legs; lost my legs), but almost immediately after, I was dragged down by gravity to plummet towards the Forgotten Lands from the Khaei base high in the sky.
“I love you, Kate.”
It was almost a whisper as the air started whizzing besides my ears (or whatever their Subject counterparts were). I wanted to say I loved him too, but I just couldn’t. I didn’t know whether or not I’d still be telling the truth by doing so.