[Foreword: this is a short story that I wrote at the end of 2012 or the beginning of 2013 (I've got a crap memory). I recently submitted this to the annual Monash Creative Writers' competition and lo and behold - attained third place and a couple of free books. FREE BOOKS.]
It was like seeing you for the first time in my life – and in a way, this was true. You were no longer you. You were different, a complete stranger once again. In fact, you weren't even human anymore.
"Hello," you greeted me, your voice giving off a monotonous robotic lull. My heart bounced a little faster and my throat became painfully dry. You couldn’t remember anything, could you? You couldn’t remember what we were.
Standing pathetically wide-eyed and speechless, I felt a sudden pang of vertigo. Around me, the blue-grey hues of our ship’s walls blurred into a whirlpool of grief. The real you only exists to me as a scattering of images in a distant mythological past that was no longer relevant. The man standing in front of me now is a mere shadow. A fake. A flawed imitation.
It didn’t matter that you still had that jet black hair, those viridian green eyes and the same distinctive brush of freckles across your cheeks. My insides lurched with pain as you flashed me his smile – because your gaze, however personable it meant to be, emitted a peculiar vacuous quality only seen among the machines. There was no trace of your former humanity.
"Hello," I finally managed to muster, coming off rather brusque. Not that you would care about it.
"I am John."
So they changed your name too.
"Nice to meet you Lisa."
Your eyes perused our tiny vestibule, finally pausing at the MAC-10 on my desk, the weapon partially obscured by a black duffel bag carrying all sorts of contraband. You glided over, picking up my pistol for a curious examination while I stood there looking at you in much the same way. Maybe worse. Like staring at an animal in a zoo, pitying a thing for living a life of controlled artificiality.
"So are you a soldier too?" you asked coolly, green eyes darting back to me. "Fighting the war against the Rebels? The R-nines?"
"Yes. Ever since I can remember,” I say. My eyes came to rest on your incomplete left arm. A colourful array of wires, red, green and blue, ran across your fingers, convoluting at the wrist and spearheading into a mass of gold electrical chips at the elbow. I felt sick again.
I had to ask you. "How much of you… How much of your body is… android?"
"Eighty five percent."
Your reply is immediate. Clinical. Unmistakeably robotic. Registering the shock on my face, you let out an unnerving grin. "It was a major breakthrough for Doctor Kio's team. They had never attempted anything of such scale before and yet here I stand as proof of their achievements. Faster. Smarter. Better equipped than any other android. I am the first step of the solution. With others like me, Lisa, we can win the war."
Sense of disgust.
Horror. Anger. Outrage.
But you are not android.
You are not.
YOU ARE NOT.
A glacial layer of sweat had formed on my forehead and I turned my face away, trembling like I had during the maze incident back on planet Orkos four years ago - he and I trapped underground surrounded by at least a hundred wandering guerrilla R9s. Now I couldn’t meet your eyes. His eyes. Without being reminded of when I believed it was the end. Bits of coagulated blood around his ears. Vermillion speckles of dirt all over his cheeks, with the left side smarting from a fresh laceration. He had reassured me. Held my face with calloused hands. Looked me in my eyes.
I’d never leave you. Never.
Everyone lied to me. I realise it now. I realise that the brilliant Doctor Kio - the man people dub the saviour of mankind, the people’s hero - had played me and everyone else on earth for a complete fool.
This had never been a rescue mission but an experiment transcending all ethical boundaries – an experiment which, despite the possibility of presenting us with victory in a century long war, could set humanity back eons more than the war ever will. Tampering with bodies and messing with memories until humans are no longer humans but machines built to kill.
We would be the price of our own victory.
"John...” I say, but end up whispering. He swivels around mechanically to face me. “I need to see Doctor Kio. Right now.”
"Alright," he answers, eyes flicking immediately back to my gun, appearing fascinated by the way the polish shone under the lighting as he tilted it at different angles. I linger for a moment. Taking in the face of someone I once loved and trying to discern which 15 percent of him that was left.
It wasn't there.
I walked out of the room, not looking back. And not intending to.
Her behaviour was abnormal. Not like the others.
Emotional. Rash. Unbalanced. The program taught me how to see their moods.
Her tone was cold. Her eyes were watery. Her mood, visibly shaken. She had wanted to cry.
This gun is heavy. Seems too heavy for a small person like her.
It gleams under this phosphorescent blue lamp.
This gun has interesting features. It has been altered in many places. Fitted with new functions. A silencer. More stable points. But not the best there is.
Her bag seems heavy. It holds weapons. I scan it and there are fifteen small to medium sized automatics. Eight generation six grenades. One old Heckler and Koch MP5A2 with a chipped handguard.
I scan across a photograph in the side pocket. I slide it out, careful not to rip it as its edges are worn. It is of her and a man.
That man is me from another time. I am sitting next to a young looking Lisa at a bar. Frothy drinks in front of us. We are smiling at the camera. She looks nervous, but happy. We both look happy. As the program has taught me to recognise happy.
I turn the photograph over.
In a desperate world full of hate,
You gave me love and hope from the
very first day we met.
I do not remember being David. I do not remember Lisa from a time before.
I return the photograph to the pocket, sliding it in carefully to avoid scratching its already abrasive surface. I pick up another automatic.
Now this gun seems quite effective. Good stabiliser and ...