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CHAPTER II: THE MEN WITH THE NEVER-CHANGING SMILES

Posted 13 March 2020, 2.33 pm by Green Mamba

You see them every day. Hell, you're probably one of them. They sit next to you on the bus humming some irritatingly addictive advertising jingle or they sit next to you at work talking excitedly about the latest post by their favorite Exalted on social media or opposite you at lunch jabbering on about how close they are to achieving eternal life.

They're all the same, forever smiling because they always find something to distract them from whatever it was that was troubling them yesterday or five minutes ago. Ask them what it was and they probably won't even be able to tell you. All they're really concerned about is how wonderful life is going to be when they finally make the transformation from human to demigod and attain eternal life.

Fifty years ago when The World was not yet broken, but The End had already begun, it wasn't much different. People spent their days working towards financial independence, but the majority barely earned enough to get by. Their only escape from the mediocrity of life was through artificial entertainment like television, movies, sports, etc.

It was so much easier nowadays. Eternal life was not just attainable, it was almost inevitable. All you had to do was work your time to prove you are a dedicated servant and sooner or later you will receive your well-deserved reward. Transform your body from flesh and bone to bits and bytes and blood and there you go, eternal life. No more struggle to survive, no need for food or water. No more concerns, pain or sorrow, just another perfect citizen in grateful service for receiving the gift of eternal life.

There are those among us who do not see it the same. There are always groups like that, have always been and will always be. People who look beyond the surface and in their own angry, half-baked way stumble onto the truth or some version thereof. Of course they are a rebels, troublemakers or sometimes ever traitors, enemies of the state. They never amount to much. A secret meeting here, a protest march there soon to be stamped out and swept aside before anybody gets the wiser, never to be heard of again.

In a news flash last night, another crowd of misguided citizens was peacefully dispersed and the instigators enrolled in a Rehabilitation Centre where they will be re-educated so that they can become contributing citizens of society again. The area was cordoned off by the authorities to allow them to clean up the mess that the demonstrators had made during their violent rampage.

The Waste Disposal Units crawled down the streets like giant slugs, gathering up the broken, twisted and mutilated bodies while washing away the blood. Only three people were left alive. They were the leaders of the group, so they were granted the opportunity to witness the consequences of their actions before they were shipped off to the nearest Rehabilitation Centre.

They sat in the back of the van reflecting on the horrors of the past two hours. Remembering how the Cybers charged violently into the crowd without warning and started killing the protestors. How their war-blades cut mercilessly through flesh and bone as if it were cheap toilet paper. They looked at their blood-drenched clothes. Blood from their fellow protestors and they looked at each other in horror as they asked themselves, "What have we done?"

The van stopped and the door opened, but all they could manage was to stare at their captors with blank expressions while they desperately tried to hide their fear. Their captors did not care. All they did was smile their horrid unchanging smiles as they dragged them down into the basement of the building. There they were stripped, probed and disinfected with acid that ate away their skin, before they were strapped down onto cold stainless steel tables while they still screamed from the pain.

A man walked into the room with an unpleasant smile on his face and then he hid his grin beneath a surgical mask. He proceeded to uncover some nasty looking utensils on a table near the wall, scrutinized the items momentarily, selected a heavy duty surgical laser cutter and walked up to his first subject.

The laser cutter sliced effortlessly through the man's waist, just above his pelvis. The surgeon didn't mind the screams. He continued to smile underneath the mask and casually continued to cut off the man's arms at the shoulders before he kicked the severed limbs aside and moved onto the next victim. After he finished off the last subject, two men dressed in white plastic overcoats labeled, "Food Processing & Recycling" arrived to collect the severed limbs.

Sometime later the subjects all woke up and started screaming again as they realized that they were locked inside steel coffins with thousands of needles piercing deep into their flesh and their spines.

Outside the Rehabilitation Centre, all the billboards throughout the city and everything with a screen lit up to capture the people's undivided attention. The Boy-thing smiled and The Darkness stirred excitedly before it began to pour part of itself into the steel coffins and the bodies of the three, still screaming victims. Moments later there was only silence.

The first indications of life were when their eyes lit up. A dim red glow to confirm that the transfer of The Darkness from The Abyss to The World was successful. They looked at each other only to realize that the steel coffins are not coffins after all, but cybernetic bodies. Nine feet tall with titanium armor, a high impact plasma cannon for a left arm and a stainless steel war-blade protruding from its right arm. More noticeable and even more unsettling than any of these features were their heads, each with the same ridiculously happy smiling face painted in a vintage advertising art style on its smooth steel surface. Some call them Cybers, but because of this common feature, many call them The Men with the Never-changing Smiles or Smileys for short. For the average citizen, they are something to be admired, the final stage in human evolution, signifying the transition from mortal to immortal. For the people inside, they are prisons of eternal agony and gnashing of teeth.

***

In the beginning there was only darkness
and The Darkness was everywhere
and The Darkness was everything
and everything was within The Darkness.

And then there was light
and at first the light was just a flashing dot
and then the light became words
and the words became The Light

Damage assessment complete.

Commence cardiovascular repair.

Hours, days, months, years, decades, centuries. Maybe even eternity. I can't remember.

Cardiovascular repair complete.

Commencing external damage repair.

My only company, the flashing dot speaking strange words to call me from the darkness of my subconscious mind.

Re-routing motor function controls.

Driving me to the verge of insanity.

Commencing full systems check.

The words disappeared and memories began tugging at my mind like a little girl on her mother's dress just before she wets herself, pulling me closer, dragging me through the darkness, towards the light.

Memories. A life lost in a timeless void rushed through my mind. I screamed; un-screamed. I saw his face. Felt the fire burning in my chest. Falling; floating. Exposed; hiding from death chasing me like a fire-breathing dragon on the hunt. Burning; freezing. Liquid nitrogen racing through my veins at a hundred miles an hour.

Thus I was born from darkness into darkness, resurrected by the sound of rain pelting down on cold hard steel and the putrid smell of rotten flesh that clung to my nostrils like a bad memory. I felt like I was about to hurl, but I couldn't find my stomach. Patiently I waited for my eyes to adjust to the absence of light. Minutes passed like hours until I realized that the comfort of sight was not a commodity worth waiting for any longer.

I tried to stand, but I sank up to my knees into whatever pile of putrid-smelling garbage lay beneath me. Instead, I crawled like a baby for what felt like hours through strange fleshy humps, until finally, I struck solid ground. I listened to the soft hum of distant city sounds while I slowly rose to my feet on legs that felt like Jell-O. Then just when I thought that I had mastered the art of walking like a man, my legs failed me again. I stumbled awkwardly, like someone who had been drinking since the day before, swinging my arms wildly, when suddenly I knocked against something that could only be an aluminum trashcan.

The noise was deafening, disorientating me even further, but one thing became clear. I had gone blind.

The thought had hardly crossed my mind when suddenly the flashing dot returned and became words again.

Retinal damage detected.

Reconstructing visual units.

The words faded away again and all that remained was the distant city sounds and the darkness. The notion that maybe it was just a figment of my imagination was soon discarded by an eerie but painless feeling akin to maggots crawling inside my brain, followed by strange flickering images.

Moments later I was overwhelmed by the visage of my surroundings, bodies strewn across a dead-end street, broken and deformed; a cruel twisted mixture of twisted metal and torn flesh. And then I looked down and saw a strange reflection in an oily pool of water that had formed around my feet from the rain that was still pelting down.

I moved and it moved. I tried to open my mouth to speak, but in return, I was greeted by a most horrid grin, static and unchanging. I lifted my hands to touch my face and what I realized must be my own reflection, did the same. "This was not my face?" I thought. "These were not my hands and yet they moved when I willed them to move. Open, close, open, close."

All that time I never once questioned who I was, even though I was totally lost in darkness and completely disorientated. I never once lost my sense of self, until that moment when I saw what I had become. I tried to remember my name and realized that it was nowhere, although I could still remember being human, flesh and bone and blood. No matter how hard I tried, I couldn't even remember what I used to look like.

If only I had paid better attention all those times that I had looked in the mirror.

All through the night, I struggled with what I had become. A soulless thing of wire and steel. The flashing dot that made words had turned into a strange metallic voice in my head, telling me things that I did not want to hear and showing me strange digitized images through my own eyes. Amazingly, I could calculate the distance between any other object and myself to within an inch. It even had blueprints of myself and it showed me exactly what I looked like inside and out; part man, part machine; more machine than man, with strange weapons and a body that was molecularly bonded to poly-morphing titanium armor. The perfect killing machine.

I asked it who did this to me.

The video clip wasn't very clear, flickering on and off with the occasional blackout, forcing me to imagine the rest. One thing however was clear as daylight and I asked it to freeze-frame the image. A young boy, with eyes so dark that it sent shivers up and down my human spine and triggered all my internal cybernetic alarms. According to my other self, he is the creator of all that I had become. If I were to reclaim my humanity, my soul, then he is as good a starting point as any.

Throughout the city, I encountered others like me, but none of them paid me any attention. It's as if they were either oblivious to the possibility that at one time they were also human or maybe they were simply completely at peace with what they had become.

They marched in small bands of three and occasionally stopped to harass or reprimand innocent bystanders for "not behaving in accordance with the collective".

I continued to make my way towards a massive high-rise that loomed over the city like a fearsome dragon by following a trio that had just apprehended an apparent offender. They entered the building through a tunnel that led down into the ground. There were two guards by the entrance, cyborgs like myself, but like the others they didn't question my presence or my reason for seeking entrance to the building.

The interior looked like the intestines of some ancient creature and it felt as if I was being swallowed by a giant T-Rex. The hallway continued downward until finally, it ended with two solid steel doors resembling an elevator, although I could not distinguish any buttons to confirm my suspicions.

Just when I decided to go back the way I had come, my other-self showed me what to do. Against the wall to my right was a thin oblong slot into which I was supposed to insert a key that is apparently embedded in my right forearm. I had hardly contemplated the possibility that I did not have this key when amidst the sound of tearing flesh and scraping metal, a three-foot-long metal blade emerged from my forearm.

I took a few seconds to stare at its strange design. It had hundreds of tiny indentations and protrusions that formed a mesmerizing digital pattern. I inserted it carefully into the slot and immediately the doors slid open, revealing the inside of a large elevator. Three cyborgs stepped out and glanced at me momentarily before they marched down the tunnel towards the exit.

The doors closed behind me followed by the soft hum of electric motors as I traveled up. I drifted off and became so lost in the events of the past twenty-four hours that I hardly noticed when the doors slid open again to reveal a much larger room than I had anticipated. Standing menacingly in the center of the great chamber was a massive computer-like structure that extended into a labyrinth of smaller machines, spreading itself out, over and into the floor, the walls and the roof.

A young boy sat comfortably amidst the web of wire and steel of the beast-like machine with a grin that surpassed the greatest joy a child could have and eyes that radiated malice beyond my worst nightmares.

Then it spoke with a sound that contradicted every aspect of its childlike appearance, "Welcome to my womb, anomaly," it growled. "We've been expecting you."

I was slightly thrown off by the knowledge that he was expecting me, but regardless I took a bold step forward. Without conscious effort, the war-blade in my arm popped out and I realized that my other-self was anticipating conflict. Hesitantly I uttered the only response that I could muster under the circumstances.

"Who the hell are you?" I shouted angrily.

It laughed. An evil, twisted, wretched laugh that reverberated off every inch of the room and then just as abruptly, he stopped and turned his attention back to me.

"I am your re-maker," it answered. "I have been granted dominion over The World. I live in your heart and all the hearts of all the sentient beings in The World and I recreated you to be my eyes and ears; the hand that swats the flies that dare oppose The Darkness. You are now a soulless thing of bits and bytes and blood and... Wait! What is this!?" it screamed in obvious surprise.

The Boy-thing suddenly looked stunned and stepped forth from his beast-like throne as if to inspect me closer. After a few seconds of enduring his intent gaze, he abruptly turned towards his throne.

"What is this, Belial!?" he shouted. "He is not one of mine and yet he looks the part. He does not carry our essence within him and he walks and talks as if he still has a will of his own."

A moment of silence followed The Boy-thing's outburst and then from all around the room a voice like a thousand hammer strikes all at once nearly brought me to my knees.

"It appears to be one of the defective units that we disposed of recently," boomed the voice. "Unit X312W1 to be precise. My databanks indicate that the upload had failed, so the unit was destroyed and scheduled for recycling. Further scans indicate low-level psychic activity from the human host which appears to have activated the unit's self-repair systems. A slight oversight on my part in the subject selection process. Now rectifying previous oversight."

The Boy-thing screamed, "What the hell are you doing, Belial?" Then there was pain. Pain like I had never felt before as if a pack of wild dogs was tearing my spine to shreds. Every cell in my body felt like it had burst into flames. Reality shifted slightly to the left, bent and then spun around me as if I were trapped in the eye of a liquid fire tornado.

For a brief moment, I saw the entire Universe and my place in it. For a moment, I was again the man I used to be. I had a wife and a child. A child and a name. And then it was all gone. I screamed and screamed, but there was no sound.

There was only darkness.

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They were done for an exhibition a couple of years ago . They asked for something to so with the summer. They are mixed media and oil paint on metal advertising boards - for ice cream.


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Props to Green Mamba for bringing the weirdness

Hmph

80s candy bars were pretty good

only because i traded it for a candy bar in the 80's.

lol we all know you don't have a soul ghoti

my soul for some carbs...

But of course!

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