"Requiem For a Cyborg"

By Christian R. Bonawandt

Eventually the doctors, nurses, and military personnel left the room. After four hours of prodding him and hooking sensors up to him, they said he was free to roam the compound, try out his new body. There was no risk; he was equipped with mediocre legs and weak arms while his brain adjusted to his new robotic senses.

That was exactly how he felt, as he made his way down the white, fluorescent corridor -- robotic. He knew how this hospital should smell. It should be sterile, with a scent that evaded description, suffice to say it was icy. But his olfactory senses didn't give him that feeling; that one came from memory. What he smelled was essentially nothing. His brain registered something that pulled the description from his memory banks, but in the area that was supposed to be his nose, there was nothing.

One would suppose that if the brain were told it smelled something that the conscious mind would be fooled, and the person would believe he was smelling something. Experiments on brains in which the body is suspended in a sensory deprivation tank proved this.

But a cyborg body isn't deprived of senses -- it has simulated ones.

And it made everything so unreal. He could tell the floor underneath his robotic feet was cold. He could even call up a virtual screen that would tell him the temperature in Fahrenheit, Celsius and Kelvin to the hundredth of a degree. It wasn't the same thing as feeling it.

He would never again flinch while stepping on a cool tile floor in the middle of winter without his slippers. Nor would he enjoy curling up to wipe grains of sand from between his toes after a long day at the beach, or the relaxing shower that washed away the sea salt that saturated his hair and skin because he no longer had toes, hair or skin. Just a stiff, un-stimulated metal shell. Would they even let him on the beach?

They told him such things happened in war. That many others had suffered the same fate. There would be a rehabilitation program, he was told, that would include group therapy, and new combat training. But those people weren't soldiers. They were pencil pushers, paper jockeys. They didn't charge no man's land, dodging bullets and laser fire. They never fired blind from a foxhole with a short-range pistol because the platoon had run out of rifle ammo and heavy artillery.

And they had never thrown themselves on a grenade in an effort to save other men.

As a reward for his valor, he had been granted this "bionic conversion." In reality, all they did was place his brain inside a vaguely human exoskeleton. What little remained of his body, outside and in, was discarded like trash. He was now a cyborg. One of dozens in this army, but that was of little comfort to someone who didn't ask for it, who didn't want it, who would have rather died that this.

He ran his thick fingers, the shape of which reminded him of Vienna Finger cookies, over the men's room door as though trying to scratch it with the nails he didn't have. Rather than feel the rough, hammered-effect paint on the tips of his digits, he received a vibrating sensation in his joints.

Inside, he almost considered not turning on the lights. As soon the door closed behind him, and darkness set in, his eyes -- no, his optic units -- switched over to nightvision. He could have also gone for thermal or infrared. He flipped the tiny trigger on the wall, snapping the black protrusion clean off.

Like an epiphany, the lights came on, and he decided he didn't want to see himself in the bathroom mirror. He wasn't ready for that yet. Besides, he knew what to expect. He had seen fellow soldiers in new cyborg bodies. Because he was still adjusting, he would have no armor, no weapons and no scheme. His face would be skeletal, sunken cheeks that made his camera-lens eyes stand out. His eyes would be glass, no pupils, nothing to indicate life or health or emotion. If he wanted to glance to the side, he'd have to move his whole head -- it would complete a 270-degree arc.

Instead, he ran. Down the hallway further, past the rooms where home-grown organs were transplanted into soldiers not quite as wounded as he had been, around the corner and past the facility where those same organ were grown.

He clobbered the door to the stairs and went down to the first floor. His metal hands made sparks against the stainless steel railing. His joints wheezed and whined like sound effects from an old video game. No one would stop him. Outside of the hospital were armed guards that marked a four-mile perimeter, and beyond that was where this all started.

The guards within the hospital walls said nothing to him as he darted between them. It was obvious he was a new convertee. That didn't stop them from staring. He would have closed his eyes, but they didn't close. He hadn't been told what to do when he wanted to sleep. The image of the two men in blue uniforms, with their fleshy, fragile and precious bodies burned in his mind. They had no idea the value of their frailty.

As he exited the sliding double doors, he registered the difference in temperature. But he couldn't feel it. God damn it, he couldn't feel anything! It was all there, but he felt nothing. He dropped to his knees. He heard the scrap of his knees to the pavement, but there was no dirt and rough pavement pushing against his flesh making the hair stand on end and the skin white from strain. Just the sound and the knowledge of what was missing.

Taking in a deep breath, he cried out. But the cry meant nothing. The breath went into a bionic lung that filtered the air and sent it to his brain. It had nothing to do with speech, which was emulated through a speaker in his neck.

Again he inhaled and screamed, as though desperate to make the two functions work together. He could have yelled ad infinitum. It wouldn't have mattered. He'd never run out of breath, he'd never gasp for air. His limbs were powered by a battery instead of converted food and oxygen. He'd never feel the tightening in his chest as he hollered at the top of his lungs. His voice would never get horse, his muscled would never strain after a good workout. He'd never sweat before meeting a girl -- hell, this new shell didn't come equipped with the only thing he could ever offer the opposite sex.

Then he felt something. Against his right calf, a warm and precariously soft sensation touched him. He looked, found a slinky, orange-and-white tabby cat stroked its cheek against his smooth, alloy leg. It must have been a stray one of the soldiers kept around. Why, off all the living things in the area, was it drawn to him?

Slowly, carefully, he scooped it up in his arms, then stood. The dirt on the pavement crunched beneath his feet. The feeling was dull, but the sound was clear and beautiful. Around him, in the early morning, with the sound of gunfire thankfully still for the time being, there was life. Sunlight spilled between lush, green leaves that bobbed lazily in weak wind. Although faint, he was pretty sure something was chirping.

The cat adjusted itself to fit neatly in the niche created by the cyborg's arms and chest. The purring beat a subtle rhythm through his body. It was a rhythm of life. Precious, beautiful life.

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