Greetings, fellow Fridaylings! On my part, another week survived (I think), although I did have a fascinating chat-visit from a couple ladies with the Jehovah’s Witnesses this week. They were polite, but I didn’t realize that “the kingdom” was that nigh. Yeesh; I better start writing that book as I’ll be getting burned off the face of the Earth here shortly.
Anyway, to get on task, these five days have been like clearing a 50-inch hurdle for a 65-inch woman with the raw vertical jumping ability of, say, a Spanish slug. I am in utter awe and stupefaction how some bloggers are so prolific. For instance, poet Bob Okaji, with his 30/30 Project (from August) to benefit poetry publisher Tupelo Press (here). Then again, I follow several of you big-time bloggers who could nearly put Scheherazade to shame with your dedication.
In any case, back at the Frightful Fiction Ranch, today’s sacrificial offering: it’s a bit longish (sorry, I did, er, chop it down some, but it could use more now that I re-re-re-read it). Comments, critiques, patronage, Indulgences, loving hates, helloes, hems, haws, hollers, and haw-haws always taken into consideration. 🙂
Disarmed and Dangerously Perturbed
GENRE(S): Futuristic science fiction/dystopian, cli-fi
What can I say in my defense? I’m wired for sloppy, stupid humor. In fact, my therapist and I can’t help but giggle about my propensity toward the scatological—as in, “I should do this” and “I never should have done that.” Pretty soon, and I’m shoulding all over the place.
Anyway, there was this one extraordinary day at work. It started off a good day. I am a worker drone at . . . well, let’s just say an extraordinarily wealthy global prosthetics factory on the coast of Atlanta. We’ve been in the Fortune 50,000 ten months’ running. We’d just received a rush order from Guinea-Bissau for 22,500 specialized hybrid noses to assist with breathing in a drastically changed climate.
Now, before you picture lathes and fine-grit sandpaper and rabbets’ edges humping one another on work benches, I should explain. For the most part it was take your one productivity tablet in the morning, set the program running, and call me in the mid-afternoon. Sometimes I could even sneak off to the break room with the VR glove if I thought the bot was patrolling a different section of the building. Her routines were semi-predictable that way. You only had to have hands and arms—fingers especially if you boiled it right down to it—and a little training—to sustain in this line of work.
So, there I was. I swirled my index finger in the correct ZX pattern to unlock the tablet. The proprietary software, Hands-On, which I (and probably others) nicknamed Hans, kicked in, greeting me with an affected accent of some kind, “Hell-o, Mai-ster Bhandgaresheek,” bonking only on the Mister part. It didn’t give two damns whether I identified as a male or not. That is to say, its workforce diversity protocols were dusty. At best.
I began my day running a program to assist in nose-making. For all the silliness you could make of my profession, it was secure: there was no shortage of work, especially for countries affected by what the old-timers had called climate change or those afflicted with the persistent twin gonorrheas of war and hatred.
Mijj was looking over my shoulder a lot, which was to be expected. I was teaching her how to use the software so she could become a limb designer sometime in the next decade or two. Then I could retire at 92 like everybody else in the global economy. Yet I’d put enough away . . . hell, maybe even at 84 or so I could tell this place to sod off.
What with the second 4-D printing revolution and the simultaneous clamping down on sales of said printers to the commoners, assuming any of us could realistically afford the expense, it wasn’t incredibly difficult to order up even custom appendages. Organs were of course harder to manage, even with invasive surgery with micrometer calipers and such to measure the exact specifications of, say, Gojira’s left kidney—and probably a process best left to surgeons, not the sub-peons who are too lowly even to be dribbled on by peons. Subs such as myself.
“Pay attention,” I’d just directed Mijj to the specific keystrokes, which should have prodded her VR headset to both record and flag the audio and video, “to this maneuver.” I continued, half–tongue-in-cheek.
I think I even wibbled to my left side, in her general direction albeit avoiding her young person’s liquid jeweled gaze, and winked. “I call it the reverse cilia McTwist, but you’ve got to have some years behind you before you even attempt it ’cause. . .”
And then it happened. I’d violated rule numero uno when working with prosthetic-architectural software. Besides bragging. Never, ever cross two serrated beams when sculpting.
Even for a task as simple as noses.
Worse than the grand botch itself, whose aftermath was nothing but a raw stone minus cuneiform scratch-rolling around in my dirt-path mind, I woke up alone and in a discard pile of wistful prosthetic do-overs. Up popped a thumb just there, some grotesque Pollyanna’d approval of a job well done or well liked, I thought with some sarcasm. Then about a couple meters away someone got a leg up on someone else, if only that leg were actually connected to someone. Instead of just jutting out at an odd angle among the heaping helping. Most likely they’d measured the Q-angle wrong; why they didn’t let the computer do it, I’ve no idea. (Hey, I knew my stuff. Too bad the perpetual powers-that-be-not-me didn’t recognize my upward mobility and give me a promotion. At present, I was stuck, in effect, picking other people’s noses. Yuck, right?)
So, I seemed the only sentient in the room. Alone with all of my empty being-ness in a hollowed-out box of night with only a pinhole of starlight (okay, it’s ultra-high-efficiency solar lighting that doubles as a mosquito zapper and trebles as an air freshener) shooting through one corner.
Damn it. I was lodged somewhere slightly nasty, slightly dramply (that is, damp and dribbly), between the workspace and the landfill. Or the water pipe into the Atlantic, if the rumors were true. One had to wonder where the occasional bobbing limb, say elbow to digit-tips, came from if not one of our factories. You can imagine the rescuers’ faces when they hauled out a mere fragment of a man.
I don’t know how they could’ve overlooked me. Mijj had been there by my side, hadn’t she? You’d think she’d have alerted the bot. Or Supervisor 25. Or somebody. Why wasn’t I en route to a medical center? Blood couldn’t have been good for business. It tended to muck up the operations aspect.
Except . . . when I twisted to look around further, although my range of motion was hampered, I saw no telltale crimson-kissing-air trailing down me. Not even any oily cocoa patches lying about like innards-rust.
Maybe they’d purposely paired Mijj with me. Instead of the early retirement ProsCorp had been urging, now they had this. Their employee was effectively wiped from the records, discarded with the phthalate husks of so much other detritus. I had no one at home to claim me, few friends, and a toxic set of parents—mom, mom, mom, and dad, as I used to affectionately call them, before the first divorce—I couldn’t stand and who wouldn’t come asking even if alerted to my demise.
When I attempted to boost my voice, I began to rub up against the mirk of my futility. Not only could I not squeak out a solitary syllable, but I couldn’t scratch my own scalp even if it had been relocated to my forearm. Which, it very well could have been. For when I looked at myself, all I could see was my left upper limb, as if my eyes were level with the plane of my own arm. The reddish hairs looked like dead, drippy animal hooks at this snake-belly angle.
Christ, I can’t believe it! Now, not only am I lost-lost, but I’ve been stripped of my stereoscopic vision. Parallax my frackin’ ass.
I couldn’t even crash a rather flat-footed plantar fascia model (which was supposed to be enhanced for some famous athlete, but some human dummy evidently goofed in the execution) into the business side of a half-skull skein, in effect a boot into a human face. (Okay, mostly human; we do aim for realism.) Suddenly I remembered some old scrap about that, but I tried to focus on myself again, in whatever form or composition I now was and with any present limitations. My therapist Necine—the sadist in me was wishing he were here instead of me—probably would have called it mindfulness, all base sensation and stimuli coming pell-mell. What’s that parable about the amygdalae? If I had a ’dala for every limbic system joke . . .
So the light coming into the room started undulating. Shadows slid into themselves then shimmied out again, like some kind of belly dancers made out of paper, or maybe jelly, and flailing in one of our regular East Coast galestorms.
Also, my sense of smell seemed absent, because I probably should have picked up on something: frying wires, indefatigable plastic, last week’s takeout sushi, something lumbering around. But there was no trace, as if my own nose and mouth were clogged or disconnected altogether.
Wowie, did this suck.
My internal chronometer, such as it now was, told me about 55 minutes had ticked down the drain since I had presumably blacked out, probably writhing and freaking myself out on the workroom floor before reaching this destination, somehow. How embarrassing.
Movement was the plan to get someone to notice me or to have any hope of pulling myself up out of my now square-shaped predicament.
Fortunately, I didn’t feel excessively pinned down by any of the polymer piles in this temporarily bleak house of mine, although I tried like the dickens to move.
Looking hard, I concentrated on one digit at a time since my hand seemed the most mobile, not to mention reliable, at this point. It was my leftie. Good, old faithful leftie.
I commanded my thumb to wiggle. I ordered it to waggle. Instead, what happened—or rather, what didn’t—felt like an itch inside the sesamoid bones, but still no positional change.
So I couldn’t hail an AutoOtto anymore. No big whoop.
What about the all-important head honcho: the master metacarpal? I zoned in on my index finger. It was so close, I felt rather than viewed each arid triangle of dry epidermis, its droughty patch interrupted by patchy oases of fine hairs. In my mind, I saw myself pointing at anything. A sign, the tablet screen, the sky. Hell, the latter had already fallen as far as I’m concerned.
When you can’t even move a finger and you’re lying in a darksome heap and left for a dead dump of refuse, things probably can’t get a lot worse.
And yet I was exhausted. My elbow ached as if I’d played a six-hour singles tennis match with the VR unit. My hand was clamped in a sort of gnarled C formation.
I had to get out or go crazier trying.
Voices bounce off the outside of my insides.
Wake up, idiot! came from within.
As I was screaming in my head, I simultaneously realized I had been snoozing, no drool. Curiously enough, I wasn’t hungry. Probably because this ordeal had supplanted any inconsequential bodily lusts. For the time being.
I looked across the sweep of my arm. Still, I couldn’t crane my neck to see anything other than the arm. Even my abdomen wasn’t visible.
Crap, am I buried alive? The light was too streaky to give enough clues.
I summoned more will-power and attempted to ungrasp my clawed hand. I couldn’t walk around with that thing gnarled-over forever. Children might think I was a werewolf or stylized human tsunami or something, not that I was totally averse to keeping the kiddies at bay.
There’d been a time, seven years ago . . . no, make it eight-and-a-half. Or was it 12? Anyway, I had thought about being a parent.
But good partners were hard to find. I loved my dog Mina instead; rescued her bag of bones from the side of Highway 67-B2. Some jerk’d left her for dead.
Speaking of which, damn, I’ve got to get out of here! She must be starving, even with the house-bot there. Gees, I hope it thought to let her out to do her business when I didn’t come home, when was it . . . yesterday?
It seemed like a full 24 hours had passed. If I could, I would’ve scratched something onto the wall to indicate my perception of time. Would days even be allowed to pass without any notice of me? At some point they had to open or empty this tank out, didn’t they? Or did they? It looked pretty full. Perhaps I was already cargo bound for some country or landfill or Mariana trench for all I knew. Nobody’d miss my stinking corpse.
My hand, my hand, my kingdom for a godddamn working hand.
Day two had presumably dawned. I couldn’t yawn, stretch, scritch, scratch, or unfurl the faux fruit roll-up of my left claw.
My body longed for the simplest of comforts: the freedom to ambulate oneself, orient one’s body in space and time. But, for less-than-better or much, much worse, I was now a missing person and an amputee. Rightie was gone forever.
I sniffled a tear. Or what seemed like it. No smell came like it usually would, or else I stifled it. Whenever I cried, I got a mental image of sawed-up pearls of onions and a trail of blood. The last time—only time—I’d been home over the years to visit . . . My dad Larry had just flipped out and threatened Louise, mom 2, with that knife. The cutting board is not a great place to argue, let me tell you, about finances or anything else.
Suffice it to say, she let him have it, though I believe it was an accident, for what that’s worth.
A part of me likes to believe he got a finger replacement from us.
But I wasn’t familiar with his insurance situation. Knowing this planet and its current leadership, he’s still got nuttin’ but a nub.
Speaking of which, I had to try again. It would be such a victory to even flinch. To have a glimmer of a twitch of a flutter of a tremble in my hand.
If only I could break the monotony and . . . I felt it. It was lightning in the limbic, as it were, but it was there. I was sure of it.
My pinky finger had a tic. I presume it was my pinky and not my face, but the wires were admittedly a bit wonky. In the lacking light, I thought I saw a strafing of shadows, a subversion of the air around me, which felt kind of thick.
I wanted to whoop for joy but lacked the lips, tongue, and everything apparently.
So I hummed within instead. I was on the move, but I needed to rest again already. It seemed I was able to learn better that way. I didn’t know how much time had spooled out onto the floor, for my chronometer was off again.
Could I even begin to entertain the dream of getting out? Now that my finger had spasmed, perhaps I could duplicate that if I kept at it.
In my mind, I worked my fingers into open-palmed oblivion. It was agony, but it was effervescent.
Each time I tried, it felt like a victory over Fate.
“Hey, Brynn, over here.” Supervisor 25 beckoned, holding her knock-stick out and gesturing, no, not at the molds used to make enviable Roman noses or—pride of the factory—prostheses of Dolly Parton’s breasts for those well-off enough to afford them.
With a shove and an extended eeeeek the slurry box opened its maw and welcomed in a playful light.
I wish I could say I was excited or even grateful to have it strobe across the contents of the crate and any companions in arms therein.
As I peered down into the monstrous rubble of plastic, shavings, wires, nuts, and what’s-its, I was gripped with a biley feeling sloshing a pendulum arc in my stomach pit. It was like I was looking in a coffin and discovering the Shock Theatre of shocks: my own face would be there. Some sort of mirror or something, I could hope.
Pushing aside a spare facial skeleton that the Façade Unit had tossed several days ago owing to a jaxxed up zygomatic bone, I clamped out the sound of my own racing heart.
Would it be here? Could it?
Those lips and the mandible that resulted in a Class II malocclusion were there and made to chomp down on my remaining right hand but caught a cuff instead. I let them hang, and I began to pick up pace, chuffing things aside, to and fro, as fast as I could for a person with one arm (which would soon be remedied, believe you me).
I was desperate now. Could Supervisor 25 see it and, what’s more, how would I be punished? At the time of my goof, it had been at least five days since there’d been a workplace accident—reported anyway. And now I’d broken the record.
I’d lost a lot more than my workplace (and actual) seniority mojo, of course.
By the time I got within about a half-meter of the bottom of the box, half my body already hanging over the edge like a kid rooting through a toy box for some tech truffle or another, I had begun to despair. That and sweat. A lot. The box was practically weeping its sides off with the condensation of my scent.
I fought to not gag on the rancid smells and hoped maggots weren’t wriggling around just out of view, to the point that when I’d reach up into the light, I’d find them runneling into my right wrist.
But I never expected to find what I did, of course, though there were assurances all around that I’d be patched up and right as non-acidic rain, with a brand, spanking new ProsCorp arm, of course.
Inside, down to my viscera, I felt they were all laughing.
When my eyes fell on it, I didn’t know whether to be astonished or to weep my good eyes out.
Silently, pronely demanding that we stare at it there, in a midden of modern biomechanical and technological waste from ProsCorp’s many errant projects, my missing arm. And when it saw us—I don’t know how else to say it—it actually seemed to recognize us, or at least me. Its owner. I got the feeling that, for a few moments, it was weighing its actions. Does it even move? Does it continue to lie there as one would expect it to, an inert appendage?
Nope. It did none of that. If you weren’t there, you’d probably think “what a loon” if I had related the story to you.
First it began to shake the material around it, an aftershock-y kind of effect. It struggled to unroll its fingers. It was as if it had been grasping something tightly, but there was nothing in its fist. Apparently the cut had instantly cauterized the wound. It stank to the stratosphere, but it didn’t look gangrenous. In fact, the whole arm looked ashen, some kind of forgotten ghost that was fading further to obscurity.
But I—that ego compartment that nested Russian doll-like within me—wouldn’t let it. That’s probably why I was persistent enough to find the damn thing when I could have just gotten a newer, better arm.
It called to me in dreams. Can you picture it? A severed arm trilling like a husky Siren in the night?
True to form, it struggled, rose up on its elbow, and, improbably, gestured.
That was just like me, though. To be angry at the world. A smirk hooked the right corner of my mouth and raised it.
I’d just flipped myself the bird despite my arm being wholly detached from my body for these last four days. It was a strange world indeed.
I had to wonder, though. How’d I taught myself that universal gesture minus a brain? It was going to be interesting to find out.