I still feel like myself. Everyone changes, with every atom in their body switching out for a new one every few years, so why shouldn’t I still be myself?
It’s not like I don’t still have feelings.
Having no regard for such things, some guy with some license signed some document, officially writing me off as a living thing. I was forced to physically stand there and watch, an arbitrary necessity that some other guy insisted upon — I assume to remove all doubt in the first guy’s mind.
Now I’m forced to follow this guy down some empty hallways that once gave me comfort, if just for the promise that someone was going to try and keep me “alive.” Hospitals are hypocrites in building form. When I first came here four years ago, it was because of a bad fall that broke my spine just below the neck. With the new technology available in our rapidly advancing world, they were able to construct me a new one. A new spine! At the time, it was insane and magical, and the only reason I could afford it was because it was still experimental — that, and I was dying. Something about the fluid in my spine at the neck? I was never good at biology. They fixed me back then. I was happy. My family was happy. I was able to go back to school, where everyone was enraptured by the new cyborg classmate.
We step into the elevator. I hope this guy doesn’t think I don’t notice him staring at me. Of all people, he should know I’m not dumb. I stare at my blank-faced reflection in the doors as they close. Perfectly human. Maybe even a little prettier than I used to be. Then again, I might be biased; there’s a reason I got these purple eyes when I was given the option. I didn’t want to change anything else, though. Plastic surgery was weird enough before it involved actual plastic.
We’re outside, and I’m now planted in the passenger seat of the man’s unimpressive sedan. He gets in and finally speaks. “At ease.”
I tense. “Why that phrase exactly?”
He puts the car in reverse to back out of the tight parking space. “The men upstairs are unoriginal. It’s useful, though. No one is likely to say ‘at ease’ in normal conversation.”
I continue to stare silently out the windshield. We pass a few teenagers screwing around by the lake next to the hospital. I recognize one of the Freshmen from Senior year. Tommie, I think his name is. He would be a Junior now.
We stop just there for a stop sign behind a white Jeep, and the streetlamp illuminates us. Tommie’s looking this way. He recognizes me and leans in to the girl next to him. “Is that Lennon?”
I barely pick up the question. I have to wonder if this guy next to me has cyberenhanced hearing too. That would be uncomfortable… potentially dangerous.
He doesn’t seem to have noticed, though. This gives me a bit of a rebel thrill feeling, and so, wondering what might happen, I mouth silently out the window, ‘Help me.’ Unfortunately, we turn so I can’t see them anymore before I can get a reaction. Damn.
I lean back in my seat, heart pounding a little. I hold onto it, which causes the feeling to be magnified. How can they say I’m not human? “Where are we going?”
The guy doesn’t even turn to me — which is fair, seeing as I haven’t looked at him once since leaving that room. “A lot of people have put investments into this technology. They expect to see the results tonight.”
I check my internal clock. It’s already past midnight. Are we late? “That sounds disturbingly similar to a slave auction to me. Call me over-imaginative, but am I seriously getting involved in the return of one of the most immoral recurring human vices?”
The guy finally turns to look at me. I retaliate and make eye-contact. He goes back to focusing on the road, but I get a shiver up my spine at the wistful smile on his lips. “Incredible. But no, this is not a slave auction. It’s not an auction at all. Your final destination has been predetermined. We’re just holding true to our benefactors.”
I’m bristling at the implications of his initial response, but I have to take the branch of a real answer that he offered. “Final destination. What?”
It takes him a few moments to come up with a reply. “I guess your confusion wouldn’t do us any good. Ben Laxley put the most into research on neuron replicators. He’s been made aware of how new this all is, but he still insists on, uh, first dibs.”
I sink into my seat. “Great. So I’m not going to be auctioned off, because I’ve already been pre-ordered.” I turn to him abruptly. “I still bleed, you know.”
The guy refuses to look at me. “Yes, I know. I was closely involved in the engineering.”
My shoulders hunch reflexively. I squeeze my eyes shut, and my stomach is clenched. These are all signs of anxiety. I’ve experienced this before. I don’t understand how so many people can just agree to write me off as “without consciousness” with so many clear, physical symptoms of…everything. It’s not fair. I still feel. I still think.
I force myself to calm down. Deep breath. I still breathe — no, I have to relax. There’s nothing I can do about it right now. There’s nothing I’ll ever to be able to do about it. They could literally just turn me off whenever they want. I’m not going to give them a reason to.
We pass into what looks to me like a rich neighborhood. We must be getting close. I can smell barbecue through the air conditioning. We’re forced to slow behind a limo that turns the corner, so the guy takes this opportunity to take out his mini-pad and flick through some options. I not-so-discreetly lean over to see what he’s doing, but I can’t understand it. I mean, I know it’s English, I know there’s some kind of menu, and I know that he’s doing things and typing something into another thing with text. I can feel it; I just can’t seem to comprehend what I’m looking at.
They can do that to me?
The guy puts the mini-pad back in his pocket and eases us into the parking lot — I mean driveway — of this… enormous mansion. The limo we followed here has already parked, and the woman stepping out has noticed us. She waves discreetly as the guy stops the car a few empty spaces to the left of her vehicle.
He orders me out of the car. I don’t even bother to see if I can fight it. We step out into the night. The woman, dressed in sparkling red (skin tight boots and all), sees me and immediately makes her way over. “Is that her?” she asks in a harsh whisper. I’m not sure if I should feel offended or not. “She’s beautiful!”
I decide to feel offended, but I can’t do anything about it. The guy smiles in greeting and nods at me, a clear gesture. Turning to the woman, I’m forced to smile kindly. “That’s so nice of you to say.”
The guy frowns a little, which makes me think he expected something else. Well, tough. They haven’t figured out how to control my thoughts yet.
I’m forced to follow the pair up the drive and into the building. There’s no one outside to make sure strangers don’t wander in, but I detect three cameras on our way in and at least one deactivated trip wire.
Nobody’s gonna come rob this house of its merch.
It hits me that I’m this house’s merch tonight. Shivers run up my spine.
We make our way through a crowded front room, immediately bombarded with questions and staring and smiles from people I don’t think I need to have met. The guy whispered to me before stepping in that I need to “include compliments and cheerful tones in your dialogue,” which seems to be putting people into this strange, prideful state.
An old woman in a crop top is ecstatic that I’m “so glad you’ve come this far to see me.” I don’t even know where that came from — it started off as a sarcastic thought; I couldn’t think of anything genuine — but she’s just giggling away about how she saved my life with her contributions to cybernetic cancer treatment. And — yeah — sure — I guess the research that went into it did, but she’s acting like she personally stood over me while I suffered for it in the hospital. No. No you did not. Bitch.
We move on. I, unfortunately, am unable to communicate properly with anyone. Whatever that guy did on the mini-pad, I’m hoping it’s not permanent, because I’m starting to run out of ways to pretend I don’t hate the person I’m addressing, and I don’t want to find out what happens when I do.
Finally, the room goes quiet. It’s 2AM on the dot, and I’ve been led to a room big enough to hold all the guests. It really does look like some kind of auction house. I don’t want to be here. I really don’t want to be here.
Maybe I can actually talk to this guy, since he only demanded I treat the rich people with deference. As we’re standing off to the side, forced to listen to another guy give a speech about modern technology, I lean in so I don’t have to speak loud enough for anyone else to hear. “Please don’t make me do this anymore.”
He looks at me in something like surprise, but the response is emotionless. “Do I need to suppress your stress hormones?”
The clinical nature of his words jars me. “N-no. No, of course not.” Wait, what am I saying? I’ve wanted a way to turn off my anxiety for years! But I don’t say anything. I can’t. I don’t want to give him a reason to do anything else to me.
The guy giving the speech finally concludes with, “Tonight is a very special night indeed. All of our efforts have come to fruition — granted, a novel fruit, one which may be further enhanced in the future, but fruition nonetheless.” He looks at the guy standing next to me. “Mr. Rogers, I believe, has brought us this fruit.”
“With me,” the guy, whose name is apparently Rogers, murmurs to me. I know it’s directed at me. I wish I could make myself respond as if I don’t, but I do, and I can’t, so I follow him up the steps and onto the slightly raised dais to the excited eyes of the one-percent. Their greedy, happy faces make me angry. I hate this. I hate everything. I want to go home to my cat. I want to go visit my mom. I don’t want to be here. I’m not a machine.
If only they cared.
Replaced is a part of a two-step program I’m using to keep myself on my mental toes:
- Step one: Every goddamn day, grace the internet with single piece of writing, written that day, in protest of the sense of unmotivated despair hanging over the creative corner of my mind.
- Step two: Keep doing that.
I first heard of this method referred to as “Don’t Break the Chain” in this random YouTube video. Thank you, reader, for being a small part of this, and to chance that brought me to it. ❤