If Daniel still had a body it would have been slick with perspiration, his heart would have been pounding, his throat would have ached with his screams of horror. Instead, when he was released from his scheduled shut down, there was nothing. Not even the sound of his breath rasping through his stressed lungs.
Eternity now had a new name. The utter nothingness had completely undone him. At first, he had endured in stunned confusion. The idea of a power outage briefly brushed his thoughts when he remembered the euphemism that Quorn had used. Maintenance mode, it turned out, had left him trapped, suspended in time, and viciously conscious.
The black pit enveloped and froze him, mercilessly. As if the blindness, deafness and muteness were not enough, he was completely disembodied. He hadn’t realised how much he had come to inhabit his new form, and how keenly he was aware of where he ended and where out-there began. That was all lost as he became thought. Ephemeral, drifting like a cloud, he dissipated and coalesced as his memories replayed, unedited in the space that was three long hours.
Quorn and Halt arrived at the duly allotted hour. Daniel met them, bathed and dressed in a fresh set of clothes.
“It would have been nice,” Daniel said, keeping his voice carefully even “if you had warned me that Maintenance Mode would be like being dead!”
Quorn had the grace to look embarrassed.
“If you want my co-operation,” Daniel continued, now riding on the wave of his indignation, “you will start consulting with me – before you subject me to torture.”
Halt opened his mouth. “No,” Daniel faced them both down, “it is not negotiable. You will start by taking Maintenance Mode off automatic and giving me control of it. Then you are going to start telling me what the point of each test is.”
The two scientists looked at each other.
“But”, Quorn started.
“I don’t want to hear your excuses. Get permission, design the algorithm. It’s either that, or you will just have to undo what you did to me.”
They both turned a paler shade of grey.
“Oh!?” the penny dropped. “You can’t undo this? Where is my body?”
Quorn and Halt looked at each other again.
“I no longer have a body? You disposed of it? Like trash?”
“N.. n.. no,” Halt stammered, “not like trash…”
Daniel realised then how much he had hoped that his own body was somewhere in cold storage. Disappointment didn’t begin to cover it.
He couldn’t even glare at them. They had stolen everything from him, even his face. But not my mind, the thought flowed through him, and he knew it to be true.
“I am going to walk, now. In a few hours, you can come and find me and we will start again.”
He didn’t wait to see their expressions. He pushed through the door, and they made way for him. Turning right, he lengthened his stride, and just kept going.
Even though he knew the biology of endorphins no longer applied to him, he felt his agitation fade, the further he went.
Each corridor looked like the other to him, so he had no idea where he was – If in fact he had gone anywhere and not just walked round and round in circles. Suddenly, the path he had taken emptied into a vast atrium. He had pushed through a pair of swinging doors into a huge jungle.
There were trees, and the shrubs and vines and flowers tumbled along a paved footpath in riotous profusion. He was assaulted by the fragrance and stench of millions of plants. Large coloured butterfly-like bugs flitted between flowers, and the air vibrated with the calls, whistles, buzzes and chirps of millions of other insects.
He stepped into the humid warmth, and felt the doors swish shut behind him. He followed the path for some time when he came to a pond and splashing waterfall. Peering into the murky depths he saw flashes of silver, green and gold. He found a relatively flat boulder tucked up against the edge of the pond and sat on it, cross-legged, and allowed the atmosphere to soak into him.
Right, so things were not looking exactly rosy. He had no idea what he was, let alone what he was supposed to do with himself. As he sat with that thought, he realized that was, quite possibly the sum of his entire existence to this point in time.
“Well intentioned, but not focused. Puts in the effort, but misses the point.” He had lost count of the number of times those comments had appeared on his report cards.
His Career Guidance Counselor had cleared her throat nervously when he had come to discuss the results of his aptitude test.
“It would appear, Mister Smith, that ah … ” she rustled through the papers, “um, that you,” it was excruciating to watch her, ” um,” her eyes brightened and a broad smile fixed on her face “that you are very… versatile. And are not confined or restricted by limited interests.”
Daniel’s eighteen year old self had imagined her later that day at the pub with her mates recounting her recovery from the brink of declaring someone without a single drop of aptitude for anything. They would have admired her save, and rewarded her with copious amounts of alcohol.
Daniel was still lost in his reverie when he became aware of a hunched figure in a grey tunic making its way along the path towards him. As the figure drew closer it became apparent that it belonged to someone of great age.
CopyRight Kim Magennis 2015