A FORGOTTEN COLOUR
Fea stretched and climbed from her pod. She rubbed her aching eyes.
Must save credits for supplements.
A message flashed on her cuff.
30 – OVERSLEEPING.
80 – WORK TIME LOST
120 – SOCIALISING.
Most of the other pods were empty which meant she was late, again. Sleeping this much was not good. Missing most of the working cycle meant no credits. She would never make it to ground at this rate.
She got in the lift. Her loose tooth wobbled as her tongue probed at it, and as the lift door opened, she pushed it out and discarded it. Her mouth tasted nice, like metal. That was the fourth tooth this month. She would end up a blob of slimy skin at this rate. There were stories about those that never made it, those that just crumbled inside their saggy skins at their work posts.
Mia was already at her post when she walked into the bay. Mia was her best friend, although having friends was not allowed. They had never spoken to each other, but they had exchanged smiles and a small note with their names on. Last time they met, they nodded and smiled at each other, this was the socialising she had been punished for. Rows and rows of other workers stood in their bays, all already earning their credits.
The overhead green light flickered, and went off, plummeting them into darkness. An alarm could be heard in the distance and then the UVB light scanned the room, bathing them all. At least she had made it in time for this. The alarm started again then the light dipped, and the pale green light returned.
Fea registered at her workstation, fitted her headpiece and starting typing in her co-ordinates. The machines started up, she could see the metal glisten in the dim light through her eyepiece and could feel their rumble deep beneath her feet.
She liked the darkness of below. The blackness around the machines pulled her in, and she imagined herself as one of them; strong, working, moving, synchronised perfectly with the other machines. They felt cool and clean, they had a purpose, they never tired and their skin didn’t flake, they didn’t ache, and their hearts never gave in. The repetition was soothing, dependable.
She wished she were a machine.
It was possible to exist with the machines, she had heard stories of those who did, of those that went in with their minds and never came back.
She had promised to make it back to ground, but it had been so long. She had kept reminding herself of the vibrancy of the past. Everything was muted now, but she was used to it.
An image hijacked her thoughts, and she closed her eyes to expand it. She was small, looking up at someone, and they were pointing at a distant horizon. She followed the finger and watched. She could not make sense of what she was seeing or the warmth that flooded her body. She shook the memory away.
Who are you going back to ground for anyway?
Maybe it would be easier to stay, to give up the hope. She would never have enough credits.
Easier, yes… and no more pain…
In and around…cutting through…slicing… bending… cool liquid pouring in… taking up the clean spaces between the metal… the cool hard steel…the glimmers of silver… the smooth surfaces.
She could feel it going inside her, making her bones strong again, and taking her over. She could feel the machine; the machine could feel her. It wanted her. Her surfaces felt smooth, and she could feel their clean lines merging. Her outer edges moved, changed shape, she was now long and cylindrical and she pumped hard through a slick hole, smashing rock, obliterating. She became as sharp as a knife, then ridged like a drill. She stopped seeing and began to just feel.
The cramp hit hard, dropping her to her knees. She felt her bone crack on the floor.
Maybe this is what happens….
Her headset was removed. Her heart raced, then stopped, then raced again.
Yes, the bones have to go before the machine takes over…
She hit herself in the chest and coughed, spewing up a dark liquid onto her chin. She rubbed it away with her hand and inspected it.
It’s ok…you’re just changing…
“You’ve been in too long.” Mia knelt beside her. Fea took a while to adjust to the light. She glanced at her cuff, she had worked for over 2000 credits, 500 was the recommended maximum.
“I’m ok.” Fea tried to get up but couldn’t.
“No, you’re not, look.” She pointed towards Fea’s mangled legs.
“Have I changed yet?” She bent forward to touch her skin.
“Am I a machine now?”
Mia looked around at the other workers, but they were all immersed.
“I don’t know what to do, what do you want me to do?” Mia was panicking; she could hear it in her voice. “I’m going to lose credits for this.”
“It’s OK Mia, this is how it happens.”
Mia watched as Fea probed at her mangled legs and the bone that jutted out from the side of her knee. She retched as she dipped her fingers in the pooling darkness. Mia pressed Fea’s alarm and ran back to her workstation.
The machines told Fea that she was going to ground. She looked up at the lift ceiling and smiled. The wires and vents of the ceiling seemed to smile back at her. The journey upwards took at least three dips in and out of consciousness. She tried to remember what would be waiting for her. None of that mattered now. She was a machine. A beautiful machine.
Finally they stopped. She opened her eyes and waited. The lift opened. Within one breath the air went from frozen to searing heat as the sun scorched the ground.
She felt part of everything now.