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I'm laying on my back, staring at the ceiling above me, wondering where I am. The sounds are foreign, the smells ominous, like disinfectant and blood. There must be objects around me, I can see blobs, fuzzy outlines of things that should have some sort of shape. It is unclear, disconcerting, discombobulating, what a fantastic word, that one. The colors are all pastel, yet darkness, they blur together and become a swirl of headaches, contorting into visions of my worst nightmares. I see people in masks, chasing me down dark alleyways, faces twisting into horrible grimaces of pain, and people burning, people charred and writhing in agony. I must be dreaming, the only thing that this could be was a nightmare, or a drug induced illusion, and I haven't done any of that s**t since freshman year of college.
I try to swing my legs out of the bed; they are heavy, like lead. I try to lift my hand, to put in front of my face, it is difficult. It's an inch away; I see something black and let out a soft, "oh," and then everything goes dark.
"Seven o'clock, it's seven o'clock. Good morning, the sun is shining, the clouds have finally stopped darkening the sky, and today is the day. Get up, you programmed me to not to back off this morning, last night; August 23rd at ten forty-two pm, I remember it vividly. You said that it was crucial that I get you out of bed at seven o'clock, very important. Get up now.............Get up!"
I roll over under my flannel sheets, rub the goop out of my eyes and look at the time. Clock is right, it is time to get up. I've never known why I named him Clock, he does other things than just getting me out of bed, the most important is cooking, something that my mother never deemed important enough to teach me to do.
"Date?" I ask him softly.
"Well, August 24th of course. It's THE day, get up! Now!"
"August 24th?" I ask, still a bit groggy, "August 24th!" More urgently now. "No, seriously?"
"Yes, it is time to get up, you have been asleep for long enough now."
I jump out of bed. That's odd, I have a strange feeling, like my legs aren't completely attached to my body. I brush it off. Today... Today is the day.
The shower is cold when I first step in, but I don't care. I wash myself off quickly and hop out. The tile is cool and hard under my feet. My head is spinning, maybe anxiety, maybe excitement. I towel myself off and step in front of the mirror. My face looks foreign, like it doesn't really belong with the body that it is attached to. My eyes look hollow and sad, which is strange because this is a happy day.
My head is still spinning, a pain growing just above my left eye. I see a flash in the mirror, something behind me, I turn. It's nothing; the side of Clock must have reflected the sun as he passed the bathroom. I must be delusional. I turn back to the mirror, the face reflected is horrible, black and charred. I stumble backwards and crash into the wall, breaking my grandmothers dancing figurine as I bring down a hanging shelf. I try to breathe but all I can smell is something that is consistent with the stench of burning hair. I look again, my heart beating in my stomach, my face is normal, smooth and pale, not a black spot on it. I go closer to the mirror, look at my face, it's flawless. I touch it, expecting to feel something crispy, but its smooth. My heart rate slows.
I have something to finish before we leave. I go to the basement. It's dark, as always.
"Lights." I command of the room.
They turn on, the fluorescent bulbs buzzing to life. There it is, the book, the thing that has recorded it all. I take it. I'm holding it in my hands and staring, it feels heavy, alive almost, like it could jump out of my hands at any moment and become a living thing all on its own. I take a deep breath and walk to the bottom of the stairs. I'm half way up and remember as an afterthought, "Lights." They sputter and die.
The ballroom is cold and dark. It is lined with red drapes and I feel like I'm in one of the old fashioned theaters that I saw in those old movies. There is a podium in the middle of the room. I'm going to have to climb that staircase to get to it, great. I already feel shaky, and now I have to climb stairs.
There are a few hours before my presentation. I inhale a lot of musty air and feel around in my shoulder bag. I'm keeping the book in there and have been checking every three minutes to see that it is still okay and hasn't for some odd reason spontaneously combusted.
I brought Clock with me. Most of the people here have their robots with them, so it doesn't seem odd, but I felt that I needed him for moral support more than anything. He brings me a glass of fresh squeezed orange juice. I don't know how he found oranges this far from home, but he did.
"Thanks Clock. Wouldn't happen to have anything stronger on you would ya?"
"I thought you'd ask that," he said in his smooth mechanical voice, "Coffee. Three creams, no sugar, just how you like it. Don't say I never did anything for you."
I smile, and his metal lips curl into something that attempts to mimic my own face.
"What would I do without you, Clock?" I sigh. I really don't know how they got along without robots before.
"You'd most likely fail in life," he responds smartly. If he wasn't made of metal I'd most likely try to hurt him, but seeing as he couldn't feel pain and my hand would most likely take the brunt of the hit, I refrain.
"Go make yourself useful," I respond. "Get Dr. Mullins and make sure that I really am on at 3:15, I don't want to be late."
"Stop worrying. I already confirmed, four times. The amount of anxiety you have, you'd think that you had the workload that I do. Everything will be fine." He put his cold, gloved hand onto my shoulder, in what he assumed would be a comforting manner. My knees buckled under the little force that he had just exerted on me. I feel my body hit the floor and hear the shatter of my coffee cup as it collides with the wood floor.
My head is reeling and I roll over, retching on Clock's shoes, he insists on wearing leather shoes and a bowler hat at all times even though the rest of his body is simple metal. My legs feel heavy. With a lot of effort I roll onto my back and raise my arms to my face to wipe off the vomit. They are black, charred, they look like a turkey that my mother burnt on Thanksgiving when I was six. I stare at them, not breathing. I blink, and blink again. The black won't leave, won't disappear like the face in the mirror did.
Clock is hovering over me. I hear his voice, he asks me over and over again if I'm alright. I blink again and the black finally disappears. I catch my breath and the pain in my head once again recedes. Clock sticks his hand in front of my face and helps me up.
"Come on, let's go get you cleaned up. You can't let those nerves get to you like that. Move, quickly now. You are presenting in twenty minutes. Lets see if we can get that smell off of you." He walks away muttering something that sounds oddly like, "What I do for this one. Hmmmmpphhh."
The bathroom is a sickening shade of pepto bismol pink, but the water from the deep sink is cold and gets the smell out of my clothes, with the help of some flowery scented soap that matches the walls.
I walk back into the ballroom. I feel better after vomiting, but still not fantastic. There might as well be a million elephants stomping on my stomach for how good it feels.
It's time. I make my way toward the podium. Here are the stairs. I get myself up them without flaw. I feel as if I have just ascended Everest, not twelve stairs. The podium is to my left, only about forty feet. I can make it I tell myself. I walk to it, now that wasn't so bad. It has a little ledge where I can set my notes, and Clock has managed to get up here and leave a note on some blue paper for me, my favorite color. GOOD LUCK.
The whole room turns its attention to me. There has been some grand announcement about the releasing of life-changing information. They all want to hear this, and I am the one standing up here looking like a moron. What do they care if I fail. All they want to see is me trip and fall on my face. It would be a great entertainment for them I'm sure.
I grab the glass of orange juice that Clock has left for me and down half of it. I take my hundredth deep breath of the day and begin my speech. There are diagrams and pictures, proof that someone has finally done it. The audience is stunned, disbelieving, but their curiosity keeps them listening. They stand, scornful, but by the end of it I know that I have convinced them all. I smile and make my closing statements. All of those hours spent in front of Clock, making him listen to this over and over again have paid off. I sigh, content. Finally it's done. I pick up my notes and the book and step out from behind the podium. I'm in a daze. Its over; I can relax now.
Then the pain comes again, splitting my head almost in half. I feel myself falling to the ground for the third time today. I can only make out bits and pieces of the chatter that has broken out in the ballroom. I hear a woman screaming, a terrible, horrified scream. It doesn't seem real to me, it sounds more like something you hear in a dream as you are just about to wake up. It's distant. Fire flashes in front of my face, I'm having an odd feeling of deja vu, like this is something that has already happened. It is awful, reliving this pain.
All I hear now are fading whispers. Black...........Darkest color I've ever seen............. Charred............ Horrible. And then all of my senses shut down.
I'm laying in that bed again. It feels the same beneath me. I look up and the ceiling is the same, but now it all seems more concrete, more real. The ceiling seems to be a more vivid color of white, the smell of blood is more pungent than last time, and now is coupled with the smell of burning rubber. My stomach flips over. I have gone into full panic mode.
"I"....... I say that a lot. I can't even remember who "I" am..... I don't know my name. Oh God, I don't even know if I'm a he or a she.
My eyes flutter open then shut. I think about trying to move my legs again, but think better of it; I know that they won't budge. I won't lift my hand, I don't want to know what color it is. Instead I lay there, with my eyes closed, listening. There is an ominous beeping sound somewhere around the vicinity of my head. It scares me, but its constant tempo seems to slow my pulse as well. I hear voices approaching, they are familiar, but I... I don't know why.
"How's she doing Doc?" I hear the first familiar voice ask, I seem to know this one a bit better than the other one, it makes me want to smile for some reason. That must mean I'm a she. Yes that makes sense. I feel like a she. There is a pause, a long one, and then, "Not great, Dillon, we can't graft enough tissue to save any of her skin. She was burnt so deep, and her heart is failing. I'm sorry, I really am. How closely we worked together...... You two are like family you know. But I'm sorry, we can't do anything more."
"No." Moans Dillon..... Dillon, yes, that's also right, it's nice to put a name to the voice. I want to smile again. Dillon continues, "she was so close Doc, please." He is in tears now, I can hear it in his voice, "Please."
"I'm sorry, she is only conscience every once and a while, but the morphine will keep her comfortable until......." Dillion continues to sob. "If it makes you feel any better," Doc continues,"I think she really did it. D, she has been muttering in her sleep and we got it all on the room camera, she found the cure. She did it!! And there were remnants of that book that she always had with her in the folds of her jacket, so much for fireproof, but it helped. D, she will always be remembered, and millions of people will live now because of her. And I think she knows that she did it. I wasn't going to tell you, but she's been talking in her sleep every once and a while. I think she was dreaming of an acceptance speech of some sort. She was getting rewards and she smiled, a lot. She kept saying thank you. She will get rewards now, even if she isn't there to accept them, you can do it for her."
"But it isn't fair. Why did the lab catch on fire? Why her? She was so good, she would never hurt anyone, all she wanted to do was help people..... Why her?"
Slowly it was starting to make sense to me, my head stopped hurting, and I sighed happily. It all came back to me. I had done it. I had helped.
The next six seconds went extremely quickly. The beeping noise changed and flattened out, I felt a body throw itself on top of me and a voice scream, "No! Susan!!! Come back to me!!!!!!" I feel a single tear drop fall into the very middle of my forehead, and think, Yes, Susan.... That's right too.
And then I fall into the abyss of nothingness, I feel nothing, I hear nothing, I see nothing, I smile. All that matters is that I helped. That's all that matters.