“What the hell?”
It was the wordless scream from Sergio Estevel who last remembered his human form just before falling asleep. There was no telling why such a change happened over the course of only one night. It certainly felt like a dream, a waking nightmare. It had to have been. What was out there was only a figment of the subconscious reorienting all his thoughts and experiences. Nothing else. Yet, the extra dose of surrealism came through observations of his surroundings, contact with specific items, his own body most notably, and the chronological order in which the vicissitudes passed by as casually as the previous day. Such things convinced him the new world he awakened to was as tangible and concrete as he remembered how matter worked. But the similarity stopped there.
Nor could anyone hear his silent screams. He had no mouth to speak of. He was unable to move, paralyzed against an operating table that was pivoted seventy-five degrees from the ground plane. His eyes darted around; the only movement available to him. The room was dark in tone, and any color was stifled except the pale blue light etching the furnishings, leaving everything in a cold sterile lambency. He already missed the bright orange tinge of the sunlight of his youth.
His POV was more peripheral than he was used to, and for a moment, he thought he was looking through the eyes of a rabbit scrambling from a predator. Clearly that wasn’t the case. Flanked around his line of sight stood a series of raised platforms that made him think he was stuck in an autobody shop. His trapping was no different, however they were all in upright positions except for him. To his horror, each platform held some kind of humanoid, but not recognizable as human. It made them look unnatural, as if artificial, a throng of robots on an assembly line still in the process of manufacture.
And they were all identical.
A sudden pivot jolted him from his paralytic shock. The platform he lay upon began to move, tilting forward until he was level with the floor as if he was ready to step off and waltz away. He remained immobile and wished he had some means of bellowing out another cry. He was helpless. And he could hear the surrounding ambient noise; it was that everything else was drowned in silence, intensifying each subtle mechanized sound into an unnerving haunt.
Time was still. He had no idea how much of it elapsed while he first became conscious, but it felt like an eternity, and each passing second drove him further into a state of inexpressible insanity. Had he the choice of euthanasia at this moment, he would have considered, simply to end the torment.
“So you have retained your show of emotions!” A voice shot out. There was no reverb in the room that the hard geometric shapes would have bounced off into a tittering echo. Those spoken words had to have come from within the confines of his mind. But how?
Estevel tried to speak again out of biological habit.
The voice continued, “No. Not that way. You’ll never compete in useful palaver like that! You have to think what you say.”
Some help this intruder was! How could anyone formulate the right words without a…
He remembered his rude awakening when he found himself to be something other than what he once took for granted. What that was he shuttered to guess.
“Come, now. You’re no different than anyone else who mysteriously find themselves here. Rise and Shine!”
No different? Wait…that could only mean…
“W–whaaah…” came a truncated utterance from his own…conscience?
“That’s it. Baby steps.”
After a momentary pause, he uttered, “What…?” He wanted to hyperventilate, but he had no means to do so. He no longer any lungs.
Estevel was too scared to say anything else, dreading what kind of world was about to greet hus eager soul.
“What’s…happened?” He meant to moan what he was trying to communicate, but it all came in near-normal syntax.
“Congratulations on your first sentence out of the womb, Junior! I kid. One moment…”
“Wait…” He was apprehensive, impatient with the questions of where he was, what he was.
Less than a minute passed before he felt a clicking snap across his body. He was freed from the platform and left standing on both feet. It must have been magnetic suspension. He was sure he was also free to move. He lurched forward, but to no avail. Either he had to try harder, or he was still under functional restriction. He wondered how they exerted such control over him, and how long he would have to wait again.
“Wait. Don’t move,” the voice said.
“I know, but you will soon. So, before you trash the place in a fit of rage, let me posit that I advise against it.”
“What happened to me? Why am I here…feeling…not like myself?” Estevel was more perplexed, perhaps a shade despondent, than seething with ire. Through habitual gesture, he raised his hands. He could finally move!
“I’ll explain. And let me assure you that you’re in for a nice surprise!”
“Surprise? And thank you for freeing me. I can…” He froze, stunned as he saw his hands held out in front of him.
“My apologies, but humor is the best medicine in a time of––“
“My God! My God! I’m a robot! I’m a damn robot!” His panic welled back up. He prayed he would wake up the following morning back in bed. His only problem was that this was the following morning.
“Easy now. Remain still! You don’t want to blow a gasket, do you?”
“Can you at least tell me…”
He yearned to express himself aloud, but every word blurting out was enunciated in a smooth calculated calm. The nuances of oral speech, the peaks and troughs of emotive inflections were lacking. Inner dialogue, or its inherent semantics probably needed time to hit the finer notes. It was either that or he was stuck with machine language. Regardless of the severity of his mental state, or what passed for it, Estevel managed to quell the storm milling about in his head.
“Before I introduce myself, I need to check off your dossier. It’s all procedural, so sit tight and try to relax.”
“Estevel scanned his periphery. "There’s nowhere for me to sit and it’s a bit difficult for me to rela––“
“You were born Sergio Enrico Estevel in San Juan, Peurto Rico in the year 2041 AD; died in––“
“Died?” His anxiety resurged and he tacitly wished they dispensed with his rampant emotions as they did with his fleshly body.
“Yes. Please be patient.” The disembodied voice resumed, “…in Toronto, Canada in 2094 AD. Cause of death: asphyxiation, the culmination of a lifelong affliction with sleep apnea…and might I add exacerbated by frequent smoking habits.”
Listen. We brought you back to life. When you were found the next morning, according to your dossier in my files, you were bluer than the sky on a crisp winter day. You suffered extensive anoxia, causing brain damage that otherwise would have been irreversible had we not made a full upload of your mind. We managed to store your consciousness until the time was right, that being eighty-seven years hence. For your information, the current year is 2181 AD.”
“That’s…wonderful you saved my life…sort of. But why so many years in storage?”
“Cultural setback, shall we say in euphemistic parlance. But that’s behind us now. You’ll learn as you go and come to terms with why our world became digimortal. Once you’re rehabilitated and processed for discharge, you will notice the world a much happier place, and I’ll add that the case wasn’t so during the time you were in digital stasis.”
“So, you’re…a robot too, right?”
“If I wanted to be. At the moment, I’m strictly virtual. This state gives me far more flexibility. I have unrestricted access throughout the whole building housing you and all the other resurrectees. I can also zip around the world to any system node. As a robot, you’re able to temporarily jump ‘suits’ wherever you download yourself, with prior arrangements of course. I cannot reiterate enough that it’s a fine new day to be digital!”
The vice around his plasticine head was getting tighter. “This was very sudden for me, and I’m quite overwhelmed. How am I going to survive when you discharge me into a strange new world I couldn't make heads or tails of?”
“Don’t worry. And I read your thoughts. Perhaps we could have made a slight adjustment to your limbics, however, that would have compromised your creative center. We look forward to when you resume your musical career. You certainly made a few striking compositions still enjoyed today among a new generation of inhabitants! Despite our insurmountable evolutions, we are still thinking beings and require the best of aesthetic outlets.”
“Um…I suppose there's a silver lining to this place. I mean…I’m pretty sure it’ll be quite a while before I can return to my work…you know when I adjust and all…”
“Of course! We could never leave you out in the cold. Why revive anyone in the first place if we’re as compassionate as a cog in the wheel? A common robot joke. But no matter. As soon as you’re adjusted and sent on your merry way, you won't believe how big of an improvement the great society you'll be living in will be over the one from your past incarnation. Imagine your previous life, only its best moments magnified without worries, wars or suppression. And you'll be adjusted to it sooner than you think!”
Estevel saw a door at the far end of what looked like an elaborate warehouse shush open. A bright light emerged, the points of its starburst jutting out into the room. Adapting to his new body, and soon with his new environment, he trundled forward, awaiting the next stage of his life.
“And Mr. Estevel?”
He stopped on impulse. The shining light beyond dabbed the edge of his reflective body and shined a brief halo on his crown. “Yes?”