A Conscious Choice
Written for the Eight Thousand Suns in New Eden catagory
I am the destroyer of lives and a savior of humanity. Each day I throw away basic human decency and shatter the souls of other people. I rip their very souls from them and I do this at their request. I am a monster convinced of the greater good. Is one person more important than another? Is it an individual’s choice to destroy themselves or my responsibility to save them? Can I tell someone that they cannot sacrifice themselves for those they love the most? Should I?
I am a monster.
-Luka PellanI looked at the mural that covered the waiting room wall. The letters were graceful curves of white against the vibrant blue glow of a plasma planet deep in the velvet black of the Great Wildlands. It was as beautiful as it was morbid and it covered the entire back of the waiting room wall. The only thing that marred it was the simple, white door in the lower left corner. That was the door that everyone walked through, under the words of horrific truth.
I know those words by heart. We all did. I sometimes dreamed about them. Not exciting dreams. Not nightmares. More, dreams where they burned themselves into my mind. I could not answer the questions posed. I had met no one who could answer them. The weight, some days, was enough to crush me as I walked through the door to lead the next person to their destruction.
Across from the mural is the front door to the clinic. The entire front wall is glass. The mural can be seen from the hallway. Sometimes, as people walk by they stop and read it. Some may admire it. The words possess their own frenzied beauty that can only be gained by honesty.
I watched a woman approach the door. She stopped in the middle of the hall. Tall and slim, her dark hair was mere down across her head. High cheekbones and darkly lashed, almond shaped eyes gave her more beauty than any woman deserved. She stared at the words. I could almost read along with her, I knew them so well. There are tiny movements of head and eye that people make as they read. As they hit each phrase I could read it in their body language.
Sometimes, when they read those words, they don’t come through the door. They stand and read them. Sometimes they read them again and again. Their hand may lift. Their foot may move. Sometimes they move towards the door. Often they look at me. At that time, I look back. I don’t judge them.
Do they think that I will chase them if they leave? Do they hope that I will beckon them in? I cannot make this decision for them. I cannot help them make the decision they wish to make. I can only wait. I can be neutral. I can only be a witness to what inner struggle they may face.
She read the words. Then she read them again. I could see the flex of her throat as she swallowed and the tension that knotted her slender frame. She took a step, paused, and took another. They were long steps. Graceful steps. She had the grace of a dancer as her arm lifted and she pressed her hand to the door.
The doors do not stick. They do not swing. They are beautifully balanced and immediately flowed open to the small pressure she placed upon them. They are an invitation to some and a hungry maw to others. She paused on the threshold and then stepped over it. I could see the knotted muscles of her fine jaw. She had made her decision.
The words of Luka Pellan are not there to shame or upset. They are there so that people will know the choice that they make. So that they will know the choice other people have also made. I could see her decision in her eyes. It was in the clench of her jaw and the tension of her frame. I was not there to torture her. I was here to accept her decision.
I flowed to my feet. My gown sweeps down to the floor. It is a pale blue edged in white and gold. The sleeves extend past my hands and my hair is swept up in a simple, silver hair net. I was not so tall as she but I was tall enough that she was not uncomfortable. In many ways we matched each other. Our height and coloring are similar. Our builds are not identical but not so far apart as to be startling. In some ways she could see herself in me. An imperfect mirror. That was why I was selected to be the one who met her on this side of the doors.
“Yes.” Her voice held a rasp to it. A pleasant imperfect rumble.
“Welcome to the Inferno clinic. I am Fay.” I curtsied low. It is an archaic tradition, I know. Yet, it shows them that they are not just another patient led by another faceless clinician. We are both people. I respect the decision that she is going to make. Often, people wonder what their doctors and nurses think about them. What other’s think about them. Rena Senn had no reason to care about my opinion. But knowing that my opinion was at the very least, respectful, would help.
We cannot share our thoughts with each other. Oh, we can speak them. We can write them down. We can bare our souls as openly as we do our bodies. But those thoughts are always wrapped in our own mind. Those who we share them with must believe what is shared because they cannot experience it. That is why we add ritual to our words. In body, in speech, in movement, and in tone, we share ourselves with those who walk through our doors.
“I am your clinician. If you would like another we will have someone else assigned to you.”
“You’re fine.” Her response was brusque. “What do we do now?”
“You have signed all of your consent forms. Your appointment is for your transformation. Your team is being assembled. You will all have the same timers.” Coming to the clinic is the last step. The evaluations, the testing, the psychology, all of that is done before they reach us. It is a small mountain that they have to climb without any encouragement. We do not call them. We do not write them. They must seek every step.
“Do I meet them?”
“No.” The teams would not be decided until all of the current candidates finished their after testing.
She thought about that. “I won’t care, will I?”
“You will not.” She would be beyond that, her mind too occupied with thought to quibble.
I watched her think about my words before she asked, “Will I care about anything?”
“When you have time.”
“I guess thirty days is not a lot of time. I can ask you questions forever, Fey. Let’s go.”
I led her through the door. I scanned the words of Luka Pellan as I passed under them. Rena keep her eyes in front of her. She was both pushed and pulled along this path. She wrapped both dread and determination about her like a cloak and walked under the words in complete honesty.
The next room is different from the first. It is a foyer that branches off into several hallways. I took us to the left. We passed soundlessly across the dark blue floor. The walls where a deep cream, separated by doors outlined in gold. Three doors down I stopped us and palmed open a door. I could hear Rena’s breath quicken as she looked inside.
The room itself is not disturbing. it is circular with a deep, white chair in the center. The injector is installed in the headrest of the chair. It was both a lounge and an examination room. The monitors are all retracted into the ceiling and floor. A couch is against one wall and a single door leads to a bathroom beside it. It is the potential that the room encompasses that scared her. It was the knowledge of choice.
At any time she could leave. She could turn and walk back down the hallway and go. I would not follow her. All doors that led out would open for her. Some make it all the way to this room before they bolt. Rena stepped over the threshold and relaxed. She had made her choice.
There are no cold metal tables and vats of preservation fluid. All of that is available if needed. It rarely is. We are far past the days of experimentation and frantic moments of existence. The modified Inferno would change everything about Rena but it would probably not kill her. Not unless you counted the death of the person that she was now. Was that counted by the person who would be born in this chair?
“Do I sit?” Rena stepped towards the chair but stopped to look back at me.
“You do. We’re ready to start whenever you are.”
“If I got up?”
“That is your choice. No door holds you here, Rena.”
“Fay, nothing is choice. Nothing.” Rena closed her eyes and walked to the chair she settled down in it and let it take her weight. It is a comfortable chair. Almost too comfortable but not quite. Her dark eyes held mine in a silent challenge. I met her gaze and waited for her terse nod. She was not challenging me. She was challenging her own decision. She was an intelligent woman. “Do you want to know why?”
“If you want to tell me.”
Her laugh had the same pleasant rasp as her voice. “They call you priests and priestesses you know.”
I smile. “I do.”
She blurted out, “Do you worship it? Worship what beings we become?”
“No. There is nothing religious.”
“Is it just a job?”
She took a deep breath. “That’s good. I… I think I am ready.”
She had to be ready. It was a small but subtle difference. She closed her beautiful, determined eyes and I asked the sequence key. “Are you ready, Rena?”
Her lips twitched and her jaw clenched as she struggled to unlock it. “Yes.”
“Vocalization accepted.” To myself, I told her goodbye.
I killed her. With a simple push of a button a needle slid out of the chair and slipped into the point where her spine and brain met. It pumped its modified Inferno deep into the brain stem. From there a wave of chemicals would carry it out into her brain and change her.
Rena’s mouth opened in a silent scream. Her body was still. The needle paralyzed her for now. All but her face. We had learned that giving people a way to express their pain helped them to endure it. She’d not remember it. Not in an emotional way. She was well on the way beyond that. Rena was well on her way to becoming who she now is.
We are often asked if we are some type of cult devoted to what we do. We are not. I am simply a woman, like anyone else. But I once sat where Rena is now and I could not make the decision that she made. I sat in the chair and I was consumed by fear. I did not want to die. In those last moments I knew that I could not kill who I was. Not to pay off my debts. Not to change the future. Not to be used by the whims of a Capsuleer’s industrial empire deep in uncharted space.
At the moment my vocalization was accepted I broke down. My mind snapped under the pressure and I met insanity. At the very edge of my existence I could not face that I had almost killed myself. And so I retreated into insanity for a while as my mind tried to accept that it had almost killed itself.
My reasons were not good enough. My personality not proper. In that one moment I understood that I was endlessly weak. I knew that I would never have the strength to become more than I was at that time. And during the months that they pierced my mind back together I wished to redeem myself.
That was why I was here. That is why I watched every agonized spasm as Rena’s brain burst into activity. I watched the monitor which told me things were normal. The Inferno had fully populated through her brain. The lilac traces through the holographic image of her neural pathway was beautiful. Blossoms of pale blue formed as synapses burst into existence, fueled by the nutrient broth that had housed the Inferno. That was one of the simplest solutions to the burnout. Fuel. Without fuel the mind consumed itself.
Rena’s eyes flickered open. She gasped and gasped again. She had never stopped breathing. The paralysis made it feel that way. As it wore off she started to suck in air at a furious rate. Her body felt that it was suffocating and it took a while for her mind to take control of her automated responses. I waited still as her thrashing slowed and her eyes cleared. Her lips moved a few times.
“I...” she sounded as if she had never had water. Her tongue darted across her lips and they moved once more. “I am Rena.”
“You are. Would you like to lay down?”
After a moment she said, “Yes.” Her voice had its rasp still. She stood and moved like an automaton. Her body knew how to move and her mind knew how to move it, but that was all. She might regain her previous dancers grace. She might not. Perhaps, I would make a note in her file for her. A suggestion when she came back to us for therapy. For now, she learned what walking was, not just how to do it, in the dozen steps it took to cross the room and sink down onto the couch.
She would sleep and then need to eat. As long as the Inferno was active her calorie count would triple. Tomorrow, she would be assigned her team and by the following day she’d be off to some part of the cluster. But for now, I helped her to the couch and soothed her pained brow.
My name is Fay Isbel. I am a monster.