“Never get full of yourself, my boy” Mum used to say, “pride always goes before a fall”.
If Daniel still had his original ears, they would have been burning with mortification. How was it that he was the only person, in the known Universe (which had grown significantly larger over the last few weeks) that got worse (and not better) at stuff, the harder he tried and the more he practised.
Daniel had graduated from “extreme conditions” to “extreme environments”. They had stopped melting and freezing him, and started bathing him in vats of acid (or base) and crushing him under immense pressure. Whilst he had started recovering from the first lot, with a degree of aplomb and even style, he just couldn’t seem to hold it together with the second lot.
“Just relax, Daniel. Your body already knows what to do”. Elder Bren had meant to help, at least Daniel thought she had. But she was inclined to talk in hopeless riddles. His body, clearly, did not know what it was doing.
He had thought that being scraped off the floor with a shovel was bad, but being sucked into that infernal vacuum cleaner was by far the worst. In each instance of being dissolved or pulverised, the molecules of Daniel’s silicon body had scattered into a cloud of gas, and had refused to reassemble without a lengthy visit to his electromagnetic sarcophagus.
Chemistry, was definitely not his thing. He had always been considered too inept by his schoolteachers to be allowed in the science lab (let alone participate in any of the experiments). If something unexpected was going to happen, it usually chose to co-occur with his untimely presence.
As he was engulfed by the thick, black containment bag, Daniel wondered if, as a gas, he smelt, like the lab often did when he walked past the open door.
He could hear Quorn and Halt arguing again, as they wheeled him, in the bag, to the sarcophagus. Something about incompatible software interfaces and the frozen depths of tenth hell.
“So Daniel, what did you learn today?” Elder Bren’s eyes sparkled with humour. How was Daniel supposed to answer that?
“Um,” he chose prevarication.
Elder Bren just sat there, watching him, waiting for his answer.
“When submersed in acid or alkaline solutions, I become a gas?” that seemed safe enough, and true enough.
“Ah, Daniel. Do you? Or does your body?”
“Um,” he was sure that this was a trick question. “My body?” he guessed.
“Indeed. You are not merely your body, Daniel.”
“No Daniel, you are not.”
And that was that.
Walking back to his room, Daniel got the distinct impression that he had missed the point. Completely.
He pondered the thought during his shutdown.
If he was not his body, what was he? He had to agree with Elder Bren that he couldn’t be just his body, because that was long gone, and yet he still was himself. Or was he? He had his memories, he could think, he still had feelings (mostly of frustration and inadequacy, but those still counted).
As had become his recent habit, he drew his attention inside his body. Tonight, for some reason, the cobwebs of energy seemed different. They hummed faintly, and were more luminous than before. There were colours, where before there had been just white light. He was drawn into the patterns and pathways. They were hypnotic and compelling.
“Daniel.” He was roused by the central computer.
“Daniel.” He felt like he was swimming up from the bottom of a really deep pool.
“Daniel.” This last was louder and much more insistent.
“Yes?” Finally he regained control of himself.
“Daniel, you need to evacuate the base. There has been an accident. The main power station has exploded and the base is on fire.”
“What?!” The door of his room slid open.
“Follow the red stripes to the evacuation pods. You will need to run.”
Paradoxically, the calmness of the voice the computer was using propelled him into panicked action. He hovered at the doorway, and saw the flashing line halfway down the wall, leading right.
As much as he tried to recall, in the days that followed, the next hour was an indistinct blur. He had only taken a few steps when the lights dimmed to an uncertain twilight. His lifeline dimmed, faltered, and steadied. He ran at full tilt through the deserted facility, following the flashing lights which shone only a meter or two ahead of him. He twisted and turned through countless, identical passages, to the scream of the emergency sirens. Never once did he meet another person.
Finally, the lights stopped at a large metal door. It slid open as he turned into the passage. It led to a small room, with another door. He stopped at the second door, nonplussed. The door behind him sighed shut.
“Airlock activated.” He felt stupid. The door in front of him opened onto what he took to be the bridge of a small space craft.
“Please take a seat Daniel, and strap yourself in.” He fumbled the seat belts into place, and felt himself being pushed back into the seat as the craft accelerated away from the surface of the moon.
The wall in front of him disappeared into transparency, revealing a star-studded sky.
“Emergency shields activated.”
The space craft rocked alarmingly and was engulfed in a huge ball of flame, that took anguished moments to clear. After that, he was swamped with the silence and darkness of space.
Copyright Kim Magennis 2015