STORIES Original fiction.

This story is placed here by permission of the author.

Something Gently Tapping

by Simon Owens

I don't know what time the girl stopped screaming, only that it was sometime in the early hours of the morning. I could almost put a face to that scream: brief flashes from the bus ride of a sunken-eyed girl of twenty or so. That was before we had gone into the mountains, before we reached the point where it didn't matter any more if we screamed. Now that she had stopped, I assumed she was dead. I glanced fearfully at my chamber door, wondering when it would open and they would drag me away kicking and screaming.

I was the only one left. In the beginning, this room had been uncomfortably filled until there was only standing room. One by one, they pulled them away, grabbing whoever was closest to the door. It wasn't until the third person was pulled, a teenaged boy, when I began to understand what was happening. Some old man beside me turned and said, " it sounds like they're being eaten alive," and suddenly I knew what was going on.

My mind flashed back to six months before. The American Migration was still a political rumor, and I still had a job. Fourth of July, the night air alight with fireflies and fireworks. An explosion of light in the air and then the fireflies would try to compete with their own little bulbs of luminance. You could almost feel the electricity in the air, that something was just over the horizon, some pressing burden that had something to do with the third world countries practically setting themselves ablaze in northern South America.

My brother and I were sitting on his back deck. His kids were already asleep and I didn't have any kids to worry about. It was an hour of loud silence, the kind where there's no talking but the night is a havoc of explosions. I'm a recovering alcoholic, but his indifference was obvious: he had a beer sitting in his lap. It didn't matter, the craving was still there whether or not there was alcohol in front of me.

A particularly big firework exploded, and almost as if on cue: " This is what it will look like if one of those dummy bombs turns out to be the real thing." He tore his eyes from the sky and gazed into my own.

I didn't have to ask to know what he was talking about. About three times a month a missile would fall from the sky and land without detonating. The only people killed were the unlucky sons of bitches standing in the metal's path. The latest theory circling around then was that they had been launched decades before by the Russians, and over the course of years they slowly spiraled back to Earth. None of the brainiacs, though, could explain why they only landed on American soil. I pictured, in my mind, what it would look like if one of them actually turned out to be a nuclear warhead. I saw the sky light up in the far distance, and I could almost feel the warm wind which would travel for hundreds of miles, right before we would start to die of radiation poisoning.

"It's possible," I replied softly. "God knows there's enough psychos out there to send a live missile out. Did you hear about the person on Thursday who managed to shoot five people before he was gunned down himself?"

"That wasn't a person," he whispered faintly.

"Huh?" I thought that the explosions in the air had caused me to hear him wrong. It sounded like he said that the lunatic hadn't been a person.

He didn't respond at first, just sat there and looked back at the firecrackers. I rotated my chair until it was facing him, egging him on with my body language. He finally brought his face back down and stood up.

"Come with me," he said, and then entered his house. I got up and followed, watching him switch on lights as he moved from room to room.

We reached the office he rarely used. He was a professor who taught biology at NYU. He did almost all his work in the college office, and this one was more for academic show than anything else. He didn't even use the desk computer to surf the web, preferring the one in the living room because it was in front of the television.

He switched on the desk lamp and opened his black filing cabinet. After only a few moments of searching, he pulled out a blank, yellow folder and set it down on the desk. He looked back up to me, his face suddenly pale.

"Three days ago, the FBI called," he said. " They made a request that our director of robotics and I meet them at their headquarters in Albany, but they wouldn't tell us over the phone why we were being summoned."

He reached down and opened the folder to its first page. It was a photograph of a bunch of crisscrossed multicolored wires running over thin bands of metal. It just looked like a random piece of machinery. It could have been anything from a computer to the inside of a clock for all I knew.

"What does this look like to you?" my brother questioned. He looked at me as if I should know what I was looking at.

"Some part of electrical equipment?" I suggested, wondering what this had to do with anything. How we had gone from talking about nuclear holocaust to this escaped me.

My brother smiled at me without the slightest bit of humor. The joke's on you, that smile said, only that it's not really a joke because jokes tend to be funny.

"Look again," he replied, before turning the page to the next photograph.

This one was exactly the same as the last, only shot from farther away. But this wasn't what made the image terrifying. The little blue and red wires still looked harmless. It could still have been the inside of a stove or even something less important, except now I could see what was surrounding it.

"Shit," I said weakly, and then automatically decided that I would have to say it again: "Shit."

"What do you see?" my brother asked, even though it was obvious by now.

"It's--a body." I pulled the folder closer to me to get a better look.

"What kind of body?"

"It's Human." It was hard to believe, but true. Someone had cut open the person's stomach and this is what met them. I could see blood on the outer rims of the cut, but not on the actual wiring. I let out a breath I hadn't known I was holding.

"A pathologist up in the city performed the autopsy. You can imagine his surprise when he cut this guy open." He slid the folder back towards him and flipped the page.

This one was a facial shot. From the forehead down, it looked like a normal face, but the pathologist had removed the scalp, revealing a metal skull. It was sickening in its perversity, and I had to force my gorge from rising. What disgusted me the most was the concept of how real it looked. If the skin had resembled a plastic mask rather than real skin, it wouldn't have been so horrible. Any Hollywood artist can do a plaster molding and achieve the right contours of a face, but what always separated the real from the fake was the completely different textures of skin and plastic. If the scalp was still on, I wouldn't be able to tell that this thing wasn't Human.

I asked the question that I already knew the answer to: "Is it synthetic?"

My brother was shaking his head before I was even finished speaking.

"That's exactly why they called me down to question me. It took me less than two minutes to confirm that it was real skin."

He reached behind and pulled a chair under his legs, and I followed suit. It was a good thing, too, because I didn't know how much longer my legs would support me. In a matter of minutes I had gone from watching the fireworks, to this macabre world where everything I had thought was concrete was now shattered glass.

" Are you understanding what I'm telling you? This skin came from a live person, someone living and breathing." He was reacting to my numbed silence, not realizing that it was shock which was subduing my tongue. I didn't know what to say.

"Shit," I managed to repeat for the third time. It seemed to be the only word in the English language that I could remember. I think that this was the point when my legs would have given out if I hadn't already been sitting. I once again moved the picture closer to me, and looked at the thing for what it really was, a thief. Someone had physically removed a person's skin and placed it on this deformity's skeleton. What was scariest of all was how well the skin fit. There were no wrinkles or any signs to indicate that it wasn't what it appeared to be. It fit the skeleton like a glove.

And then my brother threw in the real kicker.

"It gets worse," he said after I had sufficient time to absorb the situation. Slowly, my eyes roamed from his face to the photograph, and then back up to his face again. I mentally pleaded with him not to go on, but it was all in vain. I couldn't have stopped him even if I wanted to. He reached down to the folder and turned the page.

Once again, it was the same picture, only from farther away. This time I could still see the head, but also the neck and shoulders as well. One of the bullet wounds were in the upper left shoulder, a little red dot in a sea of pale white. But this wasn't what amazed me. It took me less than five seconds to realize what was wrong.

"The skin is different," I choked out. He was right, it was getting worse. The color of the person's face was dark and looked Hispanic. The skin on the neck and shoulders was white, almost to the point where there was no pigment. In a matter of inches the thing had gone from a dark complexion to being an albino. I could only wonder what the skin looked like from the navel down.

"I think I'm going to be sick," I said, even though for some reason my stomach seemed calm. It was like when I had gone to funerals and had been amazed to see the deceased's parents not crying. It wasn't until now when I could fully appreciate the power of shock. It was like the mind had a filter which would only let in so much at a time.

"Are you trying to tell me that there's more than one person's skin on this thing? But why?"

"That's exactly what I was wondering," he replied. "But once we peeled back the skin I was able to figure it out."

He reached over and turned the page. In this picture of the head, the skin was completely removed, leaving only a mass of wire and metal. It now looked similar to the millions of robots which served America every day, a dull, stupid machine which lacked Human intelligence.

" We found out that the skeleton only served as a life-support system for the skin. Without it, the skin would decay and rot off just like on any dead corpse. The metal sends electrical impulses and moisture to the nerves, which keep the cells alive." He paused for a second to let me absorb this information. I prayed that he wouldn't slip into his Biology jargon, leaving me completely clueless.

" One of the first things that you learn in Biology is that once a cell is dead, it's dead, there's no bringing it back to life. That's why doctors can't just take a corpse and wake it back up again. Knowing this, we figured that the people had to be alive when their skin was removed, because once the person died, the skin was useless. Now, how long do you think a person could stay alive while their skin is being slowly--very slowly--peeled off, even with constant medical attention?"

I didn't have the nerve to offer a guess. After a few seconds of waiting and seeing I wasn't going to respond, he continued.

"I would say almost an hour. It seems like plenty of time, but you have to realize how slowly the process would have to go to keep from damaging the skin. Even with the proper painkillers, the person would die of shock before you could get really far."

"So how many different people did it take to cover this one body?" I asked, and then immediately regretted it. I always thought I had the heart and stomach for blood and gore. Needless to say, I was wrong.

"We counted twelve different tones of color," was his response.

My jaw went slack and opened. I shut it with an audible click. Twelve people. The number hurt to think about. In order to cover that one machine, twelve people had suffered and died.

Blackness started to creep into the outer reaches of my vision, and suddenly there was ringing in my ears. With my fingernails, I dug into the crevices of my palm until the pain was agonizing. Slowly, the blackness and ringing started to retreat. It was probably the closest I had ever come to fainting.

I only had one more question.

"Who could have done such a thing?"

My brother looked back down at the photograph. "I have no idea. We don't even know if it was a person who did this, or if all the science-fiction stories are true and the machines are rising up to conquer us�"

It wasn't a surprise when it took me two tries to stand up.

I climbed into my car less than an hour later and drove away, not even really watching where I was going, running on autopilot while I tried to contemplate everything I learned that night.

You would think that it would be hard to forget something like that.

Well, you would be wrong.

In only a month, the American Migration rumor became the American Migration fact. I don't think anyone understood its purpose, not even the ones who got it moving. Our president was a creature of spontaneous decisions, and there were rumors circling around the press that he was easily corrupted. It wouldn't have surprised me if he had set it in motion because of either a bribe or blackmail, or even a combination of both. I don't suppose it really matters now, all that really matters is that on August fifth, the borders of the United of States of America started moving south.

Someone had unleashed a biological weapon in Brazil which killed within one minute of contact. It traveled among the fighting troops and wiped out all four of the quarreling third-world countries in South America. Whoever created the weapon was a genius, for once it had obliterated its intended target, it died when it had no more hosts to feed on. In a matter of days, there were almost a thousand miles of unpopulated land which no longer held any biological danger: a gold mine of land. Multiple wars came close to breaking out instantaneously over who should conquer all this space.

It was some college hippie who first thought up the "Save Canada" campaign to end the dispute. A year before, a power plant in northern Canada had produced a nuclear chain reaction, rendering over eight hundred miles of land useless because of radiation. Every country in North America had investments in that power plant, so needless to say we were all feeling guilty but were unable to help. The hippie's proposal was that we transfer all of our borders one thousand miles south, using the uninhabited countries of South America to settle into. This is where it gets hard to understand: Mexico would move its southern border down into South America, and then would move its northern border down just as far. Then America would follow suit, and in the end Canada would have over a thousands miles of extra radiation-free air and we would still have the same amount of land we started out with.

For some reason the idea became popular with America's younger generation. College kids held political debates, high-school students performed public speeches, and the whole time the press was there to commercialize and build sympathy. Companies were using it to promote their products and it seemed that every site on the internet mentioned it in some way or other.

It didn't take long for the politicians to get in on the action. The presidential election was only a few months away, and all of a sudden every likely candidate was preaching the "Save Canada" angle. They were throwing threats and accusations at D.C, saying it needed to get off its white ass and do something good for once.

Our current president, seeing that his reelection was at stake, panicked. Within three months after it was first proposed, he signed a document which would set in motion what would later be called the American Migration.

It was designed to be gradual, so that the sudden mobility of an entire country wouldn't cause complete chaos. The Migration was going to be finished in half a year, that meant that the border shifted two hundred miles south once every month. One day, the state of Main was part of the United States, the next it was in Canada.

In only three months, my state was taken over. Manhattan threw a city-wide celebration and Albany hosted a welcoming ceremony for several Canadian officials. It seemed like everything was fine. Everyone who was living on land taken over by Canada would just simply call themselves Canadians and keep on living as they did before.

It wasn't long before Canada reached a rude awakening.

In the state of New York alone, there were over half a million people on welfare. A tenth of the northeastern businesses had been government funded, and there was a bridge that was being built across Lake Erie which, when finished, would reach a total cost of twenty billion dollars. As the United States retreated south, it was the equivalent of standing under a building while the support beams were being knocked out from under it; you would be eventually crushed. And since the Migration had been so rapid, the Canadian government hadn't had time to set up a new taxing system, so all these Americans were draining on the economy without paying a single cent. Canada had been forced into a corner, and there was only one escape.

Five months after the migration officially began, Canada started shipping Americans south. It was simple enough: if you weren't Canadian, well then you belonged in America. I got the letter when I returned from work one day. It said that it regretted to inform me that I was an illegal immigrant, and that I had ten days to get my American ass back into America.

Families were torn from homes they had been living in for generations. Multi-million dollar businesses collapsed because ten days was simply not enough time to relocate a corporation which supplied income to thousands of people. Homeless people and senior citizens were loaded into trucks to be shipped and dumped along the border.

Needless to say, the Americans were not happy. Riots broke out in New York City, a multitude of violent men and women set to reek havoc on the country which betrayed them. The Canadian police were there to meet them with their shields and guns. One of the rioters pulled out a pistol and then all hell broke loose. In the end, fifty-six New York citizens and five cops were killed. T.V news coverage showed mothers holding up screaming infants and protesting this brutal act of cold heartedness. The Americans banded together and we fought in the court, but all the judges were Canadian and we didn't get a single vote.

It was all useless. One by one, they transferred us out. I was no exception. I was torn away from my job and everything I've ever known and thrust into a country which was now overpopulated because of all the new Mexican citizens. I think Hell would be more inviting than the world I was thrown into. Depression embraced me like an unwelcome lover, and I could feel myself falling towards the level I had been in when I was a raging alcoholic. It was only a matter of time before the temptation became too great to start drinking again. I had nothing to live for. I wandered the streets of Miami in a daze with no job and less than a thousand dollars in cash to my name.

I went on like this for two weeks, and then I met a man named Jose Fernardo.

With his greased-back hair and old suit, he looked like a Mexican who desperately wanted to resemble a businessman. His English was perfect but heavily accented, and he always seemed to have this goofy smile on his face, like the whole world was funny but he didn't quite know why.

I was reading in the lobby of the cheap hotel I was staying in when he first approached me. It's funny how things work out, where your life is changed forever by a chance meeting in the least expected place.

"You look like shit."

I looked up from the paper I had been reading to see a short Mexican in a checkered suit. His pants only came down to his ankles and I could see he wasn't wearing any socks. Right away I guessed that he was going to try to sell me something. In a matter of seconds he was going to show me a bundle of Rolex watches that didn't work. I couldn't wait, I folded my newspaper in anticipation.

"Thanks," I replied, and then added: "Nice suit."

This only made his smile widen, and I could see that his dental hygiene left something to be desired. A month ago I might have been offended by an insult from such a low-life, but now I didn't care. It was true, after all.

"May I ask why you look like shit?" He moved over and sat into the chair next to mine. His pants hiked up even farther above his ankles when he sat down.

"Sure," I responded casually. "I had my life taken away by a bunch of Canadian ass-wipes." I said it in an indifferent tone, but I was close to crying. I was determined, though, to not break down in front of this man and his cheap suit. I took a deep breath, trying to hold my composer.

The Mexican's face transformed into a look of concern. I've seen little kids who were better actors.

"Ahh," he exclaimed. "So you're one of the deported Americans." He shook his head dramatically, taking on the role of someone severely offended by such a show of meanness. "Such a shame, so many families torn from their homes."

His breath was horrid, and he probably took the look of disgust on my face as agreement. He suddenly made a decision with himself, I could read it in his facial expression.

"What would you say if I told you it was possible to go back?"

Uh-oh, here came the sales pitch.

"And I suppose you would be the one to help me?" I could feel myself being pulled into his act. I wondered how many people had fallen for this little scheme in the past.

"That's right," he said anxiously. "What would you say?"

I could see the hope building up inside of him. I could only wonder if he had a family back home to support, or if he was doing this for his own selfish needs.

"I'd say I'm not interested."

I expected his smile to diminish, but instead it got wider, showing more yellow teeth. I saw determination in his eyes. However bad a salesman this guy was, he was motivated. Maybe it was because of how pathetic I must have looked.

"Well, I guess everyone's entitled to his own decision." He reached into his pocket and pulled something out. "Here's my card, just in case you change your mind." The look on his face showed he thought I would. I took the card from his hand and shoved it in my pocket. Curiosity made me want to study it, but I forced myself not to, at least until he was gone. "Call me if you have any questions."

I thanked him and said that I would. Satisfied, he rose to leave. He began to walk away, but then stopped himself in mid-stride.

"I've smuggled Mexican immigrants across the United States border for the last ten years. It started out as an act of charity and then soon became sort of a business. In ten years I haven't been caught once." He turned and strode away, leaving me in thought. The newspaper lay discarded at my side. The front page showed a bloodied man being shoved into the back of an army truck.

My curiosity had grown too strong. I drew the card he had given me out of my pocket. All it offered was a name and a phone number, not even a simple address. Jose Bernardo the card read. With a small laugh, I shoved it back into my pocket.

Three days later, I called him. I was desperate. I had just come close to taking my first sip of whiskey before thrusting the glass back down. I couldn't let myself start drinking again, it was that simple.

The phone rang and rang until an answering machine picked up. I hung up the phone in frustration and then redialed. This time the phone picked up on the second ring. It was Jose himself, his thick accent giving him away. He didn't seem to remember who I was at first, but after a few reminders I sparked his memory. He seemed glad to hear from me and told me so before asking how he could help me. I changed my mind, I replied, I needed out, as soon as possible. When he responded I could hear a smile in his voice.

"You're in luck," he said cheerily. "I have a bus that will be departing tomorrow."

What a coincidence, I thought to myself, before biting back my sarcasm. I had to keep the upper hand here, or this guy was going to walk all over me. I glanced over and could see the whiskey glass still sitting where I had left it. Just play it cool.

"How much is this going to cost me?" I asked tentatively. This was what it would all come down to: payment. I still had most of my thousand dollars left, and it was all I had to bargain with.

There was a considerable pause from his side, and I could tell he was weighing up how much he could rip me off for.

"Well, it is kind of last minute," he said slowly. "And the bus is already going to be crowded--"

I interrupted him in mid-sentence: "I'm willing to pay you eight hundred dollars, just to get me across the border. After that I'll fend for myself."

There was another long pause from his side. I crossed my fingers and prayed he would accept my offer. It was almost all the cash I had access to now that my accounts were frozen due to the deportation. I had a feeling I would never see my life savings again.

Finally: "I guess that sounds reasonable enough. I'll talk to my driver and see what I can do."

He gave me an address and told me that if I wasn't there by six a.m. sharp, the bus would leave without me. I readily agreed. He hung up without saying goodbye.

He wasn't lying when he said the ride would be crowded. It was a small school bus and three-- sometimes four--people were crammed into a seat designed for two. I was seated with an elderly couple. Their hands were interlocked and I could see the woman was holding back tears. The only reassurance the old man could give was a squeeze to her hand, there wasn't even enough space to hold her. I wondered what they must have lost while being deported, after so many years of living and planting memories only to have it taken away. I turned my head and watched the passing scenery.

The America I was looking at now was not the America I had known. I had been betrayed by my own kind, an outcast because of the rage of society. I cried, I thought, I slept, and then cried again. Five hours passed, and then we reached the Canadian border.

We waited in a line of over a hundred cars and slowly progressed towards the front. From the rate we were moving it was obvious that the Canadians were being meticulous about who they let into their country. Up ahead I could see them searching people's cars, and I couldn't help from wondering how the hell we were going to smuggle over thirty people across the border.

The car in front of us finally reached the front of the line. Through my window I watched the guard as he took the driver's license and scanned it in a hand-held computer. Seconds passed with his hand a blur on the keys, and I could almost feel the tension which must have been seizing the passengers in the car. Eventually a little red light lit up at the top of the computer and the guard handed the license back, shaking his head sternly.

The driver was out of the car in less than a second, but the guard was faster. He shoved the guy against the door and rammed a gun under his chin. He uttered a few harsh words I couldn't hear before forcing the guy back into his car. It did a U-turn and drove back the way it had come.

Our bus moved forward and everyone held their breath. Our driver was cool and composed, though. He reached out and handed the guard a slip of paper. The Canadian looked at it for less than five seconds before waving us on. He didn't even bother looking in on us as we passed by.

We were all able to breath again. The old couple next to me loosened the death grip they had on each other's hands. I looked at my arm and could see that it was shaking badly, and I put it in my lap to try and steady it. It seemed that the worst was over, now all I had to worry about was not getting caught. It only took me an hour to realize this was the least of my problems.

I expected the driver to dump us out as soon as we crossed the border, but I was wrong. We continued along the highway for half an hour, passing a multitude of military vehicles traveling in the opposite direction. One of the passengers called out and asked where we were going, but the driver didn't answer or even acknowledge that he had heard. His gaze stayed straight ahead and passive, as we sped along the highway at seventy miles per hour.

At some point we exited. I had begun to doze and was jolted awake when we hit the ramp. Not far away I could see what I knew to be the Appalachian mountains. We were headed in their direction.

The road became more barren by the second. I think we may have passed one house, but it looked like it had been abandoned for years. The mountains grew nearer and nearer until they loomed above us, and still our driver did not stop. The passengers and I were giving each other quizzical looks, none of us seemed to know what was going on. Already I was starting to get a nasty feeling in my stomach, but I dismissed it as just nerves.

Ten minutes later we turned onto a dirt road overgrown with weeds. I thought it especially comical when the guy bothered to put the turn signal on. From the looks of it we were going to go into the Appalachians. Up ahead, the almost non-existent road wound into a valley blocked by the closest mountain. I was surprised this cumbersome bus could travel over terrain like this. It was becoming more of a path than a road.

By now we were all confused and worried. I could see one of the passengers building himself up to go talk to the driver, who seemed oblivious to us all.

The guy didn't even get a chance to stand up. The bus made one final turn around the bend of the valley and suddenly we were able to see what existed within.

Everyone stopped what they were doing (not that they were doing much) and gasped. I heard a squeal of pain to my side and saw the man had clenched onto his wife's hand too tightly. He was too distracted to even voice an apology. I didn't blame him.

In front of us was a metal dome which stretched hundreds of feet into the sky. It looked like something out of a fantasy movie, with its mirror luminance and perfect roundness. I could see our bus in its reflection as we drew nearer. It was like nothing I have ever seen before, I can't properly describe it on paper. The metal seemed solid, yet shifted and shimmered like liquid. It hypnotized me into a state of childish wonder. It reminded me of the mercury we used to experiment with in high school and college, soft yet deadly in a menacing way. My heart quickened in anticipation.

The bus didn't slow down as we closed in on the edifice. Right when I was sure we were going to plunge into its side, its wall parted like clay, revealing an opening just big enough for our bus. We entered smoothly, and our entrance closed behind us.

We were met by almost complete darkness. It wrapped its black arms around us so that we couldn't see what was held within. I heard the keys jingle as the driver switched off the engine. Miniature lights lit up above us so that we could see each other. The outside was still a mystery.

Seconds passed with nothing but silence. None of us knew hot to react to such a chain of unexpected events. We were all speechless. The old man next to me was starting to grow fidgety, but stopped when the clanking first began. My heart lodged in my throat.

It was the sound of metal striking metal, and it was getting closer. It sounded like something walking by its rhythmic pattern. I pictured in my head perhaps a dozen men walking towards us in steel boots. I glanced over at the man next to me and he looked back with wide eyes.

It turned out I was right about the clanking being the sound of footsteps, but I was wrong about everything else.

One of the women in front of me was the first to start screaming, probably because she was closest to where the machines emerged. Others were soon to join her.

I didn't scream, I couldn't have forced a sound out even if I wanted to. It wasn't fear that seized me when I first saw the robots, but astonishment. My mind raced along a million miles a second trying to put things together which just didn't add up. How I had gone from Jose Fernardo--and his cheap suit--to this escaped me. I didn't know whether to feel betrayed or thankful, it was like my mind had entered a paradox which had no answer.

The astonishment didn't last long though. As soon as the robots ripped off the vehicle's door I was as terrified as the next person. Slowly, almost teasingly, they entered the bus and traveled along its narrow row. When the bus was weighted down considerably by their immense bodies, they lowered in unison and took hold of whoever was closest.

I tried to fight back but their grip was like iron. I beat the machine's limbs with my fists but they only met unyielding metal. Wordlessly it lifted me out of my seat, holding me by my shirt. My feet kicked nothing but air. The world around me was full of screaming and crying.

The machine that was holding me rotated and followed the others off the bus. By now I had stopped struggling and hung limp in its grasp. Already several of them were retreating into the darkness I would no-doubt soon be entering. Almost on a whim, I glanced back at the driver. He sat in his seat and looked back at me without emotion. I saw him reach down and start the engine. When I heard him backing up and pulling away, I opened my mouth for the first time and started screaming.

Now here I was, thirty hours later and all alone. It had been only five minutes since the girl had stopped screaming, and already I could hear them making their way towards my chamber door.

I crunched my body up against the nearest wall, calling to mind those photographs from six months before. I thought about the screams which had been issuing forth for the past thirty hours, and in doing so I wet my pants.

The clanking stopped outside the door, and I could hear the locks clicking off. With a mechanical whine, it slid open and a machine stepped in. It stood there for a second before moving towards me in its slow shuffle. My voice was too hoarse to scream.

I made a run for the door, my only chance of escape, but it was too quick. It scooped me up into its metal embrace, paying no attention to my beating fists. It turned and started shuffling towards the door. I kicked, I beat, I pleaded: it was useless. I was as good as dead.

A minute later I was in the room where the others had died. The machines were lined up around two tables. One of the tables had a body on it and the other one didn't. You can guess which one they took me to.

As I was being strapped down to the table, I didn't fail to notice that the body's skin was different shades of color, just like my brother's photographs. I also didn't fail to notice that every inch of the body seemed to be covered. I couldn't see where my skin would be needed. It appeared that the machine was complete.

But then I saw that there was an opening in the body's head, and the skull cavity was completely empty. My body went limp in realization and I stopped struggling. Shock had hindered me immobile. By then I wouldn't have been able to escape even if the robots let me go. I no longer had control over my limbs.

But of course they didn't let me go. Instead, they cut open my skull cap with a pinpoint laser. After the first ten seconds I couldn't feel any more pain. They removed my brain, and the sick popping sound it made before it left my skull was the last thing I heard before it was placed inside my new body.

Scientists say that we don't use ninety percent of our brain. The robots cut out the ten percent I did use and discarded the rest to be incinerated. Packed with a new hard drive and wireless modem, they placed my brain into the skull cavity and then sealed it shut.

Five minutes later, I opened my new eyes to meet the world.

I started to sit up but five of them immediately pinned me down. Even with my massive new strength the pressure was too great to resist. I was confused and distraught. I thought they would consider me one of them now but I was wrong. They picked me up and drug me back to my chamber. The door locked and I was a prisoner once again.

I sat there for hours on end, not even able to cry because I lacked tear ducts. Days passed with no hope of refuge or escape. A lifetime of information was created, processed, and then stored into my new hard drive. I surfed the internet with my modem but the world I left behind had started to bore me by now. I was a new person, a new machine, a new being trying to contemplate life with no organic food, or water, or sex. Life mentally and physically sucked.

Right when suicide was starting to look inviting, the tapping began.

Oh so gentle at first. It was like soft music with random beats. I hummed along with it, studied it, processed it, and stored it. My thought drive noted that no two beats were the same. It had no pattern or rhythm, but it was beautiful all the same. Why it was so pretty I couldn't decide. Maybe it was because it was so unpredictable. My computer-enhanced brain couldn't tell me what was going to happen next.

Not until the sound intensified did I realize that the tapping was gunfire.

It seems that the humans have found this little nesting place which my creator have built. Each minute the tapping gets louder as they get closer. The machines assembled this structure well, but it's only a matter of time before the humans penetrate its metal walls.

I think about the machine the police gunned down six months ago, before the American Migration, before the world turned into hell. Like me, it had been partially human. I can only wonder if I will share the same fate.

Reading over these filled-in pages, I notice that my sentences have become shorter as I write. Perhaps I've come to the realization that the world is a bunch of bullshit prose with the true meaning hiding within. If there's anything to be learned from me it's this: the only thing that matters in this world is the subject and the predicate. All the other words which surround these two are worthless. It took me thirty-five years and a brain transplant to realize this, but I think mankind's history will repeat itself.

Something is gently tapping.

I fear it's death, but only time will tell for sure.

Contact Us  |  Search  |  FAQ  |  TOS  |  Disclaimer