I could sense the damage almost at once and the pain followed a split second later. It was much more intense than I expected but duller, as if I'd hit myself with a tack hammer. I withdrew the pencil and glimpsed some bluish grey strands of something...
I could sense the damage almost at once and the pain followed a split second later. It was much more intense than I expected but duller, as if I'd hit myself with a tack hammer. I withdrew the pencil and glimpsed some bluish grey strands of something before my 'skin' closed up around the wound, leaving a puncture that leaked a slightly viscous translucent pink fluid. I was shocked and horrified, as well as bewildered. Without thinking I jabbed the pencil into the hand that Morphingus was even then bringing up in front of his face. He pivoted on his right foot and struck me with a low left jab that caught me just under the sternum.
Vagal inhibition kicked in at once and I bent forward and leaned on the desk, unable to draw breath. My left hand hurt like hell. I looked upwards at Morphingus as he retreated behind the computer desk and addressed the webcam above the flat screen. "Trank! VNS off! Turn down the pain...". The agony I felt promptly diminished until my wound merely itched, which was irritating because I could not scratch. My eyes were locked onto the images of my own reflection in the twin ellipses of Morphingus' sunglasses as he bent down and stared into my face; literally locked on. I could not look away. "Did you think," he asked gently, "that we would build a machine we could not fight?"
"A machine?", I tried to shout... it was no use. No sound emerged.
"Trank, turn on VNS Cranial and C1 to C6"
"A machine?", I gasped. I was finally able to move my neck, lips, tongue, vocal chords. I breathed in and out and then spoke. "How could I be a machine? I hurt!"
"Not any more. Trank dimmed the pain receptor signals for you. Now you merely itch and cannot scratch..."
"Who are you people? Are you reading my mind? What the hell's happening here?" I was beginning to rave at Morphingus, my heart was pounding. Did I really have a heart? I heard Morphingus giving Trank another order and suddenly couldn't use my voice box. My lips writhed in fury as I glared at Morphingus from across the desk.
"Eno, it's time you shut up and listened. I know you're full of questions. you've already been told all the answers and had to be set back each time. This is the sixth time we have tried to instantiate you in a Gleissner robot. On the first occasion we'd given you a translucent skin and when you saw what you were to you started to panic and would have gone insane... if we hadn't re-set you we'd have had to rebuild the whole thing.
Look, you've heard of the Six Million Dollar Man, right? Well you are the Six BILLION Dollar Man, and most of that was for the Gleissner robot, which you have succeeded in damaging every time you've used it so far. On the second occasion you attacked Trank. He barely stopped you in time and when you could move again you turned on me. You fought every time you were allowed to and got set back again."
It was as if Morphingus could see that I was boiling with questions and would explode if not allowed to ask them. Suddenly I could speak again, "SIX!... the sixth time? I don't remember any other times. None of this shit has ever happened to me before. Why can't I move? What have you done to me?"
"If I ask Trank to switch the rest of your VNS output channels on... will you sit down in that chair behind you and give me a little more time to explain?" I nodded and said "All right...". If they really could switch me on and off like that what was the use of fighting? Why hadn't the other five just given up? I stood up and settled back into a plain, tubular steel office chair. Something caught under my left buttock. It was some kind of cable. I tried to sweep it off and found to my horror that it was securely plugged into the back of my sacrum. "What the hell is this?", I shouted, alarmed all over again.
"That is the IO feed that connects your mind to the Gleissner robot. We tried to use microwave tight beam links but even with your skin covered in rectennae there simply wasn't enough band width to make it work reliably. The cable is a dedicated bundle of thousands of optical fibres which carry signals from all the 'bot's receptors, including proprioreceptors, the eyes, ears and haptic senses... the best we could design with millions of sensors per square meter of skin, many attached to sensory hairs, just like ours.
That cable also carries your VNS... er, voluntary nervous system output signals. Trank is in charge of all that. After you attacked him that second time we took the precaution of only having him present in the virtual version of this room. In reality he's in another room.... somewhere else. When you and I took the yellow pill, that was Trank's signal to switch your input feed over from the virtual reality in which you first met us to this one, the real world. Instead of being a CGIed avatar in a virtual world with a true-to-life 'physics engine' you suddenly turned into the real thing. A genuine Gleissner robot peripheral that uses cameras built like human eyes, microphones built like human ears; speaks by breathing in and out and tightening artificial vocal chords, moving a real tongue and lips."
"And... where does this thing lead? Where am I?"
"It leads to the building you saw on the screen... We're somewhere near Groom Lake."
"So... if I walk out of that door now..."
"You'll find yourself in an open plan office space with some gym equipment in it, and outside that..." but I was already up and walking through the door. I walked past the treadmill and the stationary bicycle, following the slick PVC wrapped optical pipeline through a door that led out onto a concrete apron on the edge of a stretch of yellow ochre desert, across which the cable snaked towards a building the size of a large aircraft hangar with a couple of bored looking sentries standing outside it.
"You mean to say... I'm inside that?", I asked. Morphingus and Quaternity had followed me and were standing to my left and right.
"Do you want to see it?", asked Quaternity.
"That's what we're here for," said Morphingus. "If you can survive this... who knows. Maybe this time you'll get to stay in the real world."