Chapter 1

Find her!


Brief seconds of vestigial panic from the very darkest places of her mind and then light and clarity. She felt and saw water all around her. Before her were a tiled wall and decimeters of water where thin light filtered through. The clarity became confusion and again the dark parts of her mind took control and reached out a hand to claw the tiles - the sensation of drowning pining against her consciousness. Yet, she didn’t feel short of breath as she flailed. She didn’t feel her lungs fills with water and her brain shutting down - all in spite of the dark telling her this was the case. No. She wasn’t downing, her senses weren’t lying. Again she reached out with hand, now instead of clawing and seeing a blurry image of something black in water, she felt impact and the shattering of masonry.

She lay on her side, staring at the wall and the ragged hole it now had, watering having first rushed out and now gently pouring into a discovered silence.

Find her.

A hand moved in front of her eyes and she studied it. Not exactly black. Just a darker grey, metallic - muscles of fine cabled nanocarbon. A perfect hand, a pinnacle of someone's masterful craft since it quite obviously wasn’t organic. Where bundles muscles ought to give way to more of it there were jagged edges of pale skin which then ran to cover the rest of her arm. That dark place of hers told her she should be horrified and fascinated and even so, met with this discovery, she felt an affirm calm. This was a truth of herself. Something she instinctively knew; under pale skin and flesh were metal and carbon. A truth like knowing she was female, something that was affirmed at least in human terms when she sat up and saw the same pale flesh covering a pair of breasts, a firm belly and further down a vagina which she considered were only show. Most of her legs were uncovered, now dull darkgrey as her right arm. Otherwise she seemed ‘covered’.

She listed the facts she knew of herself as rose. One: she was female. Two: she wasn’t organic. Three: she had woken up under water on the bottom of some sort of pool.

Four: Find her!

She blinked. Was that the other part of her whispering to her? Was this normal for… a human? Was she human? So many things go on at the same time. Focus. And she stepped out of the ruined pool only stumble and plummet a knee into the tiled floor. The impact rang through her body - no pain though. She frowned stood up again, looking around. A series of small pools set together under a vast arched ceiling where light streamed in, striping through the mist. Gaping she looked up and enjoyed the silence and composed scene of everything. A second thought said: “rebirth…” and the third: “how did we know that?”.

Find her!

That echo of command brought her out of her thoughts. Something had happened to her and it had also scrambled with her head. The difficulty to concentrate made it hard to keep a train of thought running before it got sidetracked. It was hard to even take inventory, was she alright?

Experimentally she flexed hands and arms. She squated and rose, kicking lightly with both legs. Nothing felt wrong at least and she considered that something would tell her if she was about to explode or lose a limb.

Find… She grabbed at the command as it called in her head and tried to wrestle it into the light though she lost and it slithered away with the word “her…” trailing after it like a thin hollow whisper… her.

The bathhouse was empty and steamy, the bulk of it rising to a vaulted ceiling set with blue and white mosaic tiles. Thin ribbons of artificial light, cut through the steam, granting little impression if she was above or below ground. Despite it’s emptiness and sterility she had a fleeting idea of time having passed since she had ended up in one of the many pools set out in the hall. Perhaps automated systems kept everything tidy? Though, why haven’t she been discovered? And pressing hard against her consciousness was one of the biggest questions of all: what was she?

She listen to the little machines in her legs as she strolled apprehensively through the empty halls of pools. Tiny adjustments of motors she had no name for, mysterious fluids under pressure and muscles aching - no, not that, but telling her of their potential. To jump meters up in the air. To take off running with such force that tiles shattered behind her. It was there, the awareness of what she was capable of and it was rising. Experimentally she sprang up on tips of her toes and spun around with arms out stretched, the world passing by in fast paced clarity. A slight crouch and leap, legs out stretched - landing softly and quietly - her weight perfectly spread; she was smiling to herself. What couldn’t she do with this body of hers? Quickly she stepped over to a tiled wall and pressed her fingertips against it, closing her eyes. As with the machines she could sense and listen to inside her, she heard the murmur of different ones inside the wall. Vibrations, movements. Electricity and waves. They were talking…

Hello? she whispered with waves of accented electromagnetism. She felt them weave into the flow beyond the surface of the wall but got no response. Disappointed she eventually let it go and started walking again with arms swinging and flexing, aiming herself at a doorway at the short end of a connected hall.

Are there more people like me? she asked herself

Like what? Machines? Robots? she answered.

I know what I meant…

Yes, but the question still stands. What am I? Why am I?

One can’t be answered without the other.

Am I a human in the body of a machine? If so why is that? Was it lost?

Am I a machine, a tool? If so, to what purpose?

And around and around…

If I’m not human, not machine, am I something else?

… and around…

Beyond the doorway were dressing rooms and showers though made in a far different style than the pools and the bathhouse. Where beautiful tiling and mosaics had covered walls, floor and roof, in here there were only stark white and clean surfaces, the smell of disinfectant hanging in the air. Certainly she had hoped for someone to be here, instead it was just empty and bright. Walking past showers she imagined people washing themselves of sweat, of finishing a cleansing ritual. The clever little machines inside the walls asked through text messages written in the air if she had a temperature preference when she got close. She stayed silent, passing them by.

A room with benches and drawers set into the wall was where she eventually ended up. Knowledge that there would be clothes inside them appeared from some depths.

Find her…

She blinked at the whisper, at this ache it truly was, and movement was found in the corner of her eye. She spun and froze. A fully body mirror. Old fashioned, supplied the depths. She just stared at herself.

She was of average height and mostly covered in skin of some darker shade. Mostly. Fascinated and a part of her horrified she walked up to it, fixated on her face. Most of the tissue, or the facsimile of it - she didn’t know what it could be called, on the left side of it had been torn away together with her hair on that side to revealing the dark dull surface of her skull. Skin around her left eye was gone leaving fine networks of fibers, like the muscles on her arms set against a dull metal underneath.

I have blue eyes.. auburn hair. Brown skin. she noted distantly.

For her inner eye she pictured the sight of her, grinning and dancing in the bathhouse, some torn up fake human knowing nothing about herself. Images of people running and screaming came easily to her.

Looking even closer at what she thought of as the wound she saw under tousled hair - it having fallen over it, it looked more as an impact crater. It had cracked the surface of her skull leaving fractures across it and a ugly crater-like dent close to her temple. Gritting her teeth she reached up to it and gently touched it. Apart from the feedback from her own head repeating across her senses, she felt something caught in the wound. Carefully she gripped and tugged.

Everything went silent and red for a moment as she dropped to a knee blinking frantically. Vision returned to clarity and she was looking at a bullet laying her palm.

Getting a large bullet to the skull would probably mess with your head, she reasoned with newly discovered laconic humour. She got up and studied the wound again. She didn’t know the name of the things she saw beneath the surface of hole in her head and she quietly regreted having a look. However, she knew from the same place everything else seeming came, that it would heal - or repair. Whatever applied in her case.

This could tear through a wall…

Nearly did in my case…

I wonder if it happened before or after the whole skin torn off deal…

For now it doesn’t matter…

Eventually it will…

To her delight she found lots of clothes, even hats and she spent an inordinate amount of time putting together something that she thought looked nice only to realize it would be hard run or hide in some of the outfits. The part of her acting as reason had the final word and she stepped out in a hooded jacket, a simple and covering shirt and pants. Her naked metal and carbon hands she stuffed into her pockets and judging by the mirror, she gave at least a passing impression of organic life. Subjective glances at the most prominent tell tale signs made her set her jaw and frown. Whoever she had been before, she had been quite pretty - even frowning.

Shaded corridors of metal and glass spread out in networks that begged to feel vast and empty beyond the dressing rooms. What made her feel uncomfortable was how very different sections could be from one to another, giving you the awkward impression walking around in a giant puzzle laid down from different sets. Some were more glass than metal, others were the results of great craftsmanship - some person or mind having spent enormous time on murals and art work of exotic scens, mindscapes and ideas. None of it truly felt familiar. Just more undiscovered space to fill into the holes in her own mind. One large swath of corridor made her stop since it was just a tangle of webbed materials; as if it had grown wild and free. Prickling at the back of her consciousness was a sound. Or a sensation of sound, the reality of it not allowing traversal through waves in the air. Cautiously she pressed her hand against the wall to speak with the machines inside.

And she was back, time passed with no recollection. Hands outstretched like talons, teeth gritted and mouth opened she heard herself roaring against a blaring of sirens, something pressing against her. Her mind was hers, with her, inside her, but also over where her hands were pointing. Like metal pressed against naked skin, she felt it against her mind - so clear and present it made her step back in surprise. What was meters away should feel like it was here to be felt and experienced.

Find her!

The command made her press forward, body and mind - both here and there battling against metal, tearing at it like claws rend flesh and bone. Going forward, ignoring the barrage of sounds and warnings and motion of activity of the web material, she saw and felt herself cut into wall like it was made of clay. Becoming herself, or at least a more compact self, she stumbled into the adjoining corridor, wide-eyed and fearful only to drop to the floor in a loud thump. Quickly she scrambled herself towards the other wall, pressing her back against it - staring at the hole she had come through. Wisps of weblike substance was quickly crisscrossing themselves over the whole, weaving it shut within seconds.

“What the fuck?” she asked outloud.


Yeah, but did I blackout?

I don’t know… and her second thoughts went silent.

Just more questions… and the same ones.

She got up and looked herself over. In so far she could tell she wasn’t hurt and listening into this new yet same looking corridor told her she was at least alone. It occurred to her to try something.

She gently pushed a hand forward into the air while letting her mind, like it had been, follow along. Perhaps it is better to describe it as extending. She didn’t just follow, she was with it - in totality. A thin laugh echoed along the corridor when she felt the air stir at her will.

I knows this. I have always known this!

With a bit more snap and some concentration she felt herself bump against the other wall. Shot, flayed, left in a pool of water for god knows how long but at least she could move things with her mind. The world might just be this maze, yet there was solace in this.

It isn’t just a maze, is it?

It’s not… because…

Find her!

I have purpose.

Time passed, as much was true and she felt it, though she felt little need to count seconds, minutes, hours - even weeks and days. The reality was that it had passed because she now knew more. Not about herself or this place, she knew more about how to do things. And this delighted her.

Keeping a solid speed of around one hundred kilometers an hour, legs like pistons and heat pouring of her in waves she ran on walls and floor. One hand outstretched, now and again touching it to sense the machines inside, she had mapped sections of the maze and found a pattern in the insanity they wove. They wouldn’t be interrogated or coerced - they simply weren’t sophisticated enough individually. Instead she just asked what they were doing, which they happily stated - since if they couldn’t tell or know much else, they at least knew their task and purpose. And how long they had been at it.

The mapped shone bright in her head, the new sections fading as she sprinted into the past.

A mass of tangled matter appeared in front her along the curve of the corridor and she lashed out with ease, flinching a bit as her mind clashed with matter - shredding it. Dropping low, skidding along the floor she rolled, got to her feet and leapt. More of it, seemingly endless twisting nets matter reacting to her presence. Sweeping her hands she cut and tore - her mind a weapon sharper than any blade. Tiny machines beyond the threshold of sight whimpered and died until she saw light and she plunged towards it - catharsis at hand.