This is the third part in the series. Here’s the previous two:
Part 3: Same Inside
Harrison daydreamed of being on a boat, carried on undulating waves. Sailors bickered around him, beyond his vision. A hysterical, shrill woman’s voice argued about some issue he didn’t understand. The sound of a slap, and the woman was quiet.
A creeping cold spread out across his back, then his butt and legs. Naked, he wondered who took his clothes, and why. You don’t go sailing in the nude. The weather’s too harsh, and besides, it’s inappropriate.
As he pondered this, something stabbed at his cranium. A sharp pain, as if a white-hot needle burrowed through his temple. He wanted to scream, grab out, rip at his skull. Anything to stop the pain. He wondered if there would ever be an end to it; how long could he continue. Seconds, minutes, hours? God, let it pass. He knew it was ironic; he didn’t believe in god, and yet here he was calling for his help.
A few minutes passed, although he was unsure if it was longer, and he lost control of his legs; they twitched frantically against a hard surface, restrained by straps.
Harrison wanted to scream out, but he couldn’t feel his face anymore, nor his body, or his arms, and finally his hands. Trapped inside a burning brain, his thoughts wandered, tried to recreate the steps that lead him to this strange place. Nothing — dissolved like burnt celluloid. He raced to recreate the images. They were lost, blown on the ether like fragments of ash.
“Who am I? “Where am I?” He tried to verbalise, but couldn’t work his mouth; his vocal cords stubbornly refused to activate.
He couldn’t feel his body, or control his limbs. But from inside his head came the tiniest tremble, and then a pop like an electrical shock. The vibrations ran down the back of his head and through his spine. The agony had dulled; he felt like the day after a heavy drinking session: tired, worn-out like old cloth, but mostly painless.
Slowly, every square millimetre of skin, organ and bone hummed with electrical currents. His lungs expanded and contracted, forcefully dragging in large quantities of air. Iced water flowed through his veins, and his brain crackled inside his mind louder and louder. It was like a massive high, only with no ceiling, no natural stopping point. It could go on for eternity, but he knew, instinctively, that it would stop. Then he would come down. It would end, but he didn’t care; he just wanted to surf that blanket of liquid luxury.
“He’s gonna freak,” a girl said. At lest I can hear. I’m not dead then.
“If he survives,” a man responded.
That voice, that low, gravelly voice, so familiar. The name was trying to form on Harrison’s lips, but they flapped clumsily at the letters as if he’d never spoken before. Then in his mind he saw an image: glowing green eyes, a barrel… a shotgun… M… Mar… Mar…
“Marlowe!” Harrison shouted the word. Launched it into the air as if it were a weapon. He thrashed out his arms, but they, too, held fast against restraints. His hands grabbed uselessly at the air. Fingers flailed like tentacles. It started to come back him. Goddamned Marlowe. That insufferable prick from the Shades. He knew not what he had done, but if he was in the Shades guild, with Marlowe, then it wasn’t anything good.
Words articulated with a frightening speed in his mind, but the neural pathways that delivered speech to his lips slowed their arrival.
Frustration increased Harrison’s thrashing until it felt like he would rip his limbs clean off.
“Should I jab him?” the girl said. Her voice was concerned. For him? For herself? The voice was familiar. Where have I heard her before? I know her. He wracked his brain for memories, for clarity. There was only fog. No way though.
“No, not yet, I want him awake; let his mind figure it out. He needs to learn quickly.” Marlowe again.
“But, what –”
“Are you fucking questioning me?” Marlowe’s voice rose an octave. Grew tight with aggression.
Something tore under Harrison’s efforts. His left arm gained an inch of movement. A flood of potential victory flooded his system and he focused his attentions on his arms. Bunched muscles tightened against the straps. The potential strength in those biceps and forearm flexors filled him with a kind of giddy power. When did he get so strong? And then a disturbing discovery: my hand, my fucking hand is back. Where’d my prosthetic go?
Harrison flexed the fingers in both hands. Such an odd experience, he felt like a child again. Harrison flicked his eyelids, they were definitely open but his vision was obscured. He tried to move his head, but that, too, was held against something hard.
Something clicked in his brain then and he yelled. Bellowed a lungful of frustration. Frantic footsteps shuffled away from him.
“He’s getting there,” Marlowe said with glee in his voice. And something else. Expectation? Hope?
Two more pulses with his arm and the straps, probably cloth, tore away. The freedom of moving his arms about the cool air felt amazing. Pins and needles rushed from his shoulder, through his bicep, up his forearm to the tips of his fingers. Harrison sighed with the feeling of movement as he flexed each finger one-by-one, and then bunched them into a tight fist. He wanted to cry at the feeling of muscle and flesh instead of the cold, distant experience of carbon-fibre and servo assisted pistons.
Reaching over with his free hand, he ripped the other strapping off with ease, freeing his other arm. He ran his hands over his body finding yet more strapping. Tearing these away seemed like such a trivial task. He revelled in the force and strength of those powerful limbs.
As he ripped away the last of the straps around his body he ran his hands over cold skin. His stomach and chest were firm and tough to the touch. The pronounced abdominals and pectorals muscles surprised him. He didn’t remember working out to this extent. A terrible thought entered his head.
This isn’t my body.
Without realising, he shouted out, “Where’s my fucking body?”
“Harrison, calm down. Just breathe.” It was the girl’s voice again. He knew it now. Could picture her round Hispanic face, those luscious lips and dark sultry eyes. And that ass. He definitely remembered those tight, rounded ass cheeks, and how they felt. Esma… what the hell you doing getting mixed up with the Shades?
Esma was a runner, a damned fine one as well, both in looks and ability. She could get anything from anywhere to anywhere. For a price. She managed it through a combination of sexual manipulation and sheer fucking brilliance. But as he thought of her, and their many run-ins as they competed on jobs, and those steamy nights of debauchery after a night’s drinking, something prickled at the back of his mind.
He ran through his last memories, which now came to him in lighting fast flashes:
Marlowe, the Pipes, the car, descending down into the Shades guild’s base, the dark, the torch light, the silhouette… the blast… the voice…
Fuck. The bitch shot me.
Finding the cloth tied against his eyes, he ripped it clean off with a single yank. He blinked, clearing the scum from his eyes. The room was dark, thankfully, but even the modest light from a floor lamp hurt his eyes. Are they even my eyes?
He looked down and checked his chest: muscled as fuck and without a blemish from the gun blast. He couldn’t tell if he dreamt being shot and he was okay, or if had been out for weeks recovering. The Shades of course had the best Wet-Tech around. Their department was spearheaded by his father after all. Now dead of course, he knew that wasn’t a dream. Distinctly remembered clearing up the body with Persephone.
So if this wasn’t Wet-Tech or a dream, then what the hell was this about?
Looking up he saw Esma standing with Marlowe towards the back of a room resembling his father’s laboratory. Posters of organ diagrams and equations lined the white walls. The desks and worktops were littered with soldering irons, tanks of flesh and organic material.
Over to his left on a gurney was a body half-covered with a sheet. The skin was blackened and red and shredded, the head turned away. An arm dangled off the side. A mechanical hand curled into a fist.
Holy fuck, that’s me. This was more than an out of body experience. It was literally a no-body experience. He looked down. Yup, a body, which I’m controlling. Then he looked over at the gurney again. Damn, that’s definitely me.
Harrison dropped his head. The back of it clanked against metal. He was lying on his back, he could see the ceiling: bare concrete with a series of phosphorescent strip lights, thankfully switched off.
Okay, just breathe. Relax. Think this through. You know what the Shades are about and can do, and they know you killed your father and their best wet-tech, hell even Marlowe considered him a fucking patron saint. But why would they do this to me? The idea of transplanting one’s brain into another body wasn’t alien to Harrison. It was something his dad had worked on for years, even saw it work on small mammals, monkeys and the like. But a whole human, that was a shit-ton amount of work. So much planning had to go into it.
Wait! Marlowe said my dad had known I would kill him and even banked on it. If he had that much foresight, what’s to say he couldn’t have had this already to go… The more he thought about it the more it made sense.
But the question that underpinned it all was still to be answered. “Why?”
Marlowe leaned over him. Those damned green eyes swirled like northern lights. Then the bastard grinned, “You’ve a contract, sonny, and if you want to stay alive, you’ll need the proper tools.” Marlowe widened his arms indicating Harrison’s new body.
Esma appeared on the other side of his vision. She wore a pained expression on her face, which creased her forehead; her mouth turned down at the edges. “You still look like you,” she said, “In the eyes; I can tell it’s you.”
Harrison had no response. He wanted to reach out for her, feel her warmth. Remember those crazy nights, but all he could do was sigh.
Marlowe spoke up, “Esma will take you to the physio wing. You’ve got two days to prepare.”
“For what?” Harrison said, not recognising his own voice.
“You’re breaking into Philosophers’ HQ. They have one of the tomes.”
“You having a laugh? That’s the most secure place on Earth.”
“When was the last time I joked?” Marlowe face was stern and grim.
“What if I don’t want to play your little games?” He said it knowing damn well he would follow through with the mission; he wanted those tomes as much as anyone.
Marlowe held up a small black box with a red button on it. “You’re mine now. My tool to do with as I please. Inside your brain is a neural spark unit. When I press this, your brain fries inside your skull. Now, don’t doubt me. I have no problems with killing you right here and now. It’s only because of Esma that I agreed to keep your sorry ass alive. Do this mission and you might stay alive to be useful. Understand?”
“Yeah, I understand.” Harrison would do the job, but he knew that if he was successful and he survived, eliminating Marlowe would be his next object. This was a step too far. Just remember the hate. Keep it front and centre, he thought to himself.
Harrison clenched his jaw and fists and sat up, staring into Marlowe’s altered eyes. “Let me make this clear. I’ll do this job, but you’re a dead man walking. I will spare you no mercy.”
Marlow grinned as if he had somehow won something. “Esma. Get this maggot out of here and get him prepared. That tome must be recovered.”
Great. Fucking great.