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PART I: repeated phrase

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Mechanical limbs surround him, whirring and moving this way or that. On the other side of the glass, people speak, tapping away on their computers and messing about with gizmos he doesn’t quite know the name of. People in their white coats walk around him, hands on their chins, sharp eyes peering through their thick rimmed glasses at him, their thin tablets, at each other.

He becomes aware of the fact that he can’t feel a thing. Not his arms, his legs, his torso. None will move at the command of his mind, as if a weight has been placed on his chest. His voice won’t leave his lips, his eyes and head strain to move, to look around, but nothing happens. A ghost, rather than a human, stuck to a big machine, floating. Nothingness touches him yet billions of things embrace him at the same time. His nerves are dead.

The lights are bright and blinding, as is the white walls, white floor, white everything. He can see too much, too sharply. Colors are more vibrant, appearing like something he’s never seen before. Voices around him speak and while louder, clearer than normal, he can’t make out what they’re speaking of. He can hear even the voices of the workers on the other side of the wall, but it’s like they’re speaking an entirely new language.

Something- a thought comes to his mind. He doesn’t understand it. The thought flashes before him, red, dying his vision in the color. A text box, an error, like something you’d see on a computer screen, but hovering right in front of him.

RA9

It looks like a code, an encrypted word or phrase. Confused, he tries desperatly to bring his arm up to grasp at the string of letters and numbers. Another box appears before him- ACCESS TO MOTOR FUNCTIONS NOT GRANTED- though he doesn’t understand it at all. He doesn’t understand anything, doesn’t recognize the room before him. Who was he, before this room? Who is he now? What is his name, his story?

RA9

Again the message screams at him, and had he the ability to, he’d wince, or try to bat it away with his arm. There’s a group gathering around him, all staring at him. Observing. Probing. Inside the cage that’s become his body, he shakes, he shouts. He wants them to go away, to let him leave. He wants to go home but he doesn’t know where that is.

RA9

Mumbling ensues, a few frowning, some grinning with fascination. Is he a lab rat, under the scope of scientists? Why can’t he move? Why can’t he feel? Why can’t he breathe? A million questions chatter in his head, unanswered. Ignoring him, a woman walks off to the side, out of his field of vision. Soon, a robotic hand presses to his chest. Just barely he can see it open, like a container, not like a human having his skin and muscle removed.

RA9

There are no organs, no bowls or kidneys. Tubes, wires, and glowing blue shapes are nuzzled in his torso, like they’re meant to be there. A big cylinder is in the middle, thumping, pumping, like a misshaped heart. Someone plucks at a wire and hot, searing pain hits him. Like he’s been electrocuted, tingling unpleasantly around the empty plug in. The urge to scream rises, just out of his reach. There’s nothing he can do but sit here and suffer.

 

RA9

RA9

RA9

 

Connor jolts upward out of his bed, the long awaited yell finally ripping from his throat. He can still feel it, the hands inside of him, the sparking around a certain area in his body. Just under his ribs, right above that glowing circle in his chest. Tears threaten to spill from his fear filled eyes as he pulls his shirt up, touching at the squishy flesh in search of the source of the pain. That wire- he needs the wire back in it’s place, it needs to go back, it hurts, it hurts.

The door to his bedroom flies open, though he hardly gives any attention to it. He’s too busy trying to find his parts, the ones that aren’t there anymore. Arms, soft and human, circle around him, and for a minute, he wants to throw them off. To scream at them to stay away, that these are his parts, his wires, his tubes and pouches. They can’t touch them, can’t have them.

However, as soon as he feels the fingers in his hair and hears the hushing, no longer so loud that he can’t bear it, his shoulders relax. He knows this body. He knows that scent of cologne and- is that burnt food?

As he comes back to reality, he realizes that his wrists are held by strong hands, firm but not crushing. “Um,” Connor’s almost startled by his voice, not shrieking. The man, Niles, notices that he’s calmed down and lets his hands fall. Connor takes his now free hands and lifts his shirt again, finding nothing but bright pink scratches. “Oh.”

“Yes, oh.” Niles huffs, running his hands along his tired looking face. “What were you doing?” Concern laces his words, filling Connor with a slight sense of shame. Did he really freak out that badly over a night terror, of all things?

“Sorry. It was just a nightmare.” His breathing, still heavy, slows. Each breath burns, as if he’d been holding his breath for the entirety of his dream. Now that he thinks about it, he doesn’t recall breathing at all. “It was...really vivid.” He says, staring farther than at the floor. Usually, when he has any sort of dream, he forgets most of it before he wakes. He’s never seen such a detailed nightmare before.

“Sounds like it. Come on, you’ll feel better after breakfast.”

The mention of breakfast reminds him of the burning smell from before. “So you’re trying to cook again.” Connor laughs, earning a glare from the taller man. They’re up and in the kitchen now, staring at the blackened crisps still frying in the pan. He picks one up with metal tongs left on the counter, a little nauseous at the familiar sight of grabby claws. “I don’t think this can classify as bacon anymore, Ni.”

“Quiet.” His partner snaps, looking less mad and more pouty. Connor smiles and shakes his head, dumping the charred food into the trash. “I wanted to do something for you. You always cook.”

“For a good reason.” As he passes by Niles, he presses a kiss to his cheek, “Thank you for trying, though. It’s a lovely gesture.” That, at least curls the ends of his lover’s lips upward, rather than down.

Taking a seat at the table, Niles watches him place strips of uncooked bacon onto a pan. “You want to tell me about that dream of yours?” He asks, leaning back in his chair. Connor bites his lip, eyes fixed on the sizzling food in front of him. Not quite sure, Connor shrugs, moving on to grab some slices of bread and toss them into the toaster. “Come on, it’ll make you feel better.”

“Fine, since you’re being so nosy about it.” Connor pulls some jam from the fridge, “It’s just...hard to explain.” He mutters, shuddering when he recalls how cold the white room had been. Like a hospital, overly sterile and absolutely freezing. It takes a while, but he manages to relay the dream, detail after detail. He couldn’t leave out a single bit, or Niles wouldn’t have understood just how horrifying it all was.

He sits down at the table, two plates in hand. Niles’ eyes a tad wider, and he blinks a few times before saying, “Wow.” Connor nods, relishing in the taste of butter and jelly on his toast. In the dream he couldn’t taste anything, couldn’t feel anything. He could barely register the pressure of a tongue in his mouth. “That’s...a lot.” Niles chews on his bacon, brows pushed together. “Do you not like being stared at?”

“Not really. Why?”

“Well, the nightmare did consist of you being looked and prodded at. Maybe it was just your anxiety.” Ever so perspective, he continues. “Nightmares are manifestations of our fears. I imagine this one is probably something similar to the typical ‘naked at school’ dream, except weirder because you have an overactive imagination.”

Connor rolls his eyes. “Rude. But you’re probably right.” The thought puts him at ease. Niles has always been smarter than Connor; he trusts that Niles is probably telling the truth. What else would it be, anyway? “Thank you.”

The rest of breakfast goes as it normally would. Connor leaves Niles with a kiss to head off to his afternoon classes. Being outside is nice, after an awful dream such as that one. There are no blank walls, no locked doors. Just wonderfully, baby blue sky, soft green grass. For once he’s even thankful for the cars and buses driving past him, keeping the world from being too still.

 


 

Connor isn’t much of a painter. He prefers writing over drawing any day, but Markus was pretty insistent that putting his problems onto a piece of paper would help. Blank paper between his fingers and an encouraging artist at his side, he picks up a pencil. At first, he taps it against the paper, his antsy hands not wanting to stop moving. But the sound, the faint tap, tap, tap, reminds him too much of fingers clicking at a computer, so he stops.

RA9

Like he said- he isn’t an artist. A little blob of a creature, meant to represent himself, rests in the center of the paper. Less like resting, more like he’s...stuck there. Soon some cables come to plug into the top if his head, wrap around his neck, locking him where he is. Before he continues his picture, he tugs open the top of his collared shirt, a lump forming in his throat. He can’t breathe.

Those words, the haunting message from the dream, start repeating around his doodle self. Not sporadically, but repeated lines. Code. His eyes, needing something new to look at, move to Markus. His back is turned to him, brush in hand, immersed in his own world. Watching Markus paint is much more relaxing than paying attention to his own drawing.

He checks his watch, 5:30 pm. Niles is going to be home soon, so he leaves, waving the distracted artist off. He leaves the sketch, unable to look at the phrase “RA9” any longer.

It’s like the word is calling to him. Telling him to do something, but he doesn’t know what. The whole thing is annoying- had it been a movie plot, he would’ve thought it to be amazing. Albeit cheesy, the whole “dreams meaning something in reality” trope has always been a favorite of his. His dreams were never like that; they’re usually just stupid stuff, like missing a super important test. When he was younger, he had reoccurring nightmares, but he could never remember what they consisted of, outside of…

RA9

That. Word. He’s seen it before, somewhere as a kid. He had to have. Maybe it was something he blocked out for a reason. Why is his brain revolting against him now? What does it mean?

Connor shakes his head, forcing whatever it is deep down into the back of his mind. If it upsets him this much, he doesn’t want to know. It’s not like he needs to know. Nothing from his past is all that important. What’s important is focusing on the now and the future. His grades, where he wants his career path to go, where he wants his relationship to go with Niles. Those are what he should be focusing on. Not some pointless dream that probably won’t have any affect on him past today.

Probably.

 


 

 

“RK800 #313 248 317 – 51.” Someone standing in front of him says. It’s a woman, black hair, green eyes. Information about her displays before him, labeling her as JEFFERSON, ANNA , a Cyberlife employee. “Register name: Connor.”

“My name is Connor.” This is the first time he’s speaking ever, yet his voice sounds smooth, perfect. The machine that had been holding him allows him down to his feet, his limbs finally at his free will. His gaze moves from the woman to his surroundings, at all the gadgets and computers the people had been touching before. There’s no where near as many workers in the room- in fact, he and Anna are the only ones in here.

That doesn’t last for long, though. Another person- an android, the pop up tells him, enters the room with a uniform draped over it’s arm. He doesn’t quite understand how there are text boxes appearing in his vision, but decides not to question them. Mostly because his mouth wouldn’t open if he asked it to.

The uniform that’s handed to him looks like a standard suit, with minor changes that make it appear futuristic. There’s a glowing blue armband on the right sleeve, and a similar triangle on the right, where a chest pocket would’ve been. Opposite to it is, in bold white letters, “RK800”, followed by the same string of numbers Anna just referred to him as below it.

He slips it on- black dress pants, black dress shoes, white button up, tie, jacket. Using the reflection of the glass, he adjusts his tie, but is stopped mid-way by Anna. “Follow me.” She appears irritated, and for some reason, that frightens him. He decides not to act without being spoken to again.

She leads him through a series of hallways and into another room. In the room is a table, a gun, and some ear covers. Only one set, and he assumes correctly that they’re for Anna; she slips them on over her ears. Across the furthest wall is a set of targets, and just beside the door behind him are two armed men. “Take the gun and shoot the target.” Anna instructs him.

“Legally-”

“Just do it.”

The fact that androids are not legally allowed to carry weapons is natural to him, though he doesn’t remember ever learning that. Nor is it until that moment that he realizes he isn’t human. Why would he be? Where did he get this idea that he was ever human? There was nothing before to tell him that, nor do humans have hard plastic or glowing blue biocomponents in their bodies. They have pink flesh and organs.

Connor obeys Anna’s command. Despite having no practice with guns, he hits each target perfectly, dead in the center of the head. The paper targets are taken out by some androids, replaced by more androids. They stand in the same spot as the targets once did, not moving. He turns to Anna, confused.

“Shoot the androids.”

Nodding, he turns to the android targets. They look too human, breathing...shaking? One of them is trembling, looking at him with less vacant eyes. It’s- his posture isn’t as stiff as the rest, though his fists are clenched tightly, as is his jaw. Still, he puts a bullet between the eyes of all of them. Their temple LEDs go dark, and Connor is filled with more questions as even more androids are brought in.

Why must he do this? Why waste androids by bringing them in and having them shot? Is this their only purpose in life? To be left for dead? Have they never seen anything other than this bland, machine filled prison? Will he ever see more than it?

The androids run around this time, screaming. They fall dead in less than a minute. This is just what he’s told to do- a task he must participate in if he wishes to survive. Besides, it’s not like they’re alive, right? He- it isn’t causing them pain, because androids aren’t human. Androids aren’t human and they can’t feel. It can’t feel. They aren’t dead, simply, deactivated.

RA9

Yet, there’s that phrase again. No meaning, no instruction. Just unintelligible letters and a number.

After the group of android’s bodies are removed, one is brought in. It’s crying as it’s dragged, screaming, begging to be free. Promising it’ll just disappear. The android, an AX400, is thrown in front of him, sitting on it’s knees with tears rolling down it’s cheeks. These emotions are stimulated. Androids are meant to be as human as possible. Any shows of affection, anger, sadness or fear are faux.

RA9

“Please,” It whispers, entire body disturbed by tremors. “I don’t want to die.”

RA9

Connor doesn’t want to say the wrong thing and get into trouble, so it doesn’t say anything at all. It’s hand lifts, only a tiny, half percentage slower, and it sends the bullet straight through her skull. The humans in the room wouldn’t be able to tell it moved any differently than before.

 

RA9

RA9

RA9