The Machine By Beth Jones

Here is another short story from Beth that was published and included in a short story anthology last year, with all proceeds going to charity. If you would like to purchase a copy, you can do so here: https://www.amazon.co.uk/Machine-Green-Moon-Anthologies-Greenwell/dp/1095483927

The Machine
By Beth Jones

‘Injuries not compatible with life’.

That phrase was running around my head relentlessly as I sat in the waiting area of the therapist’s office, watching the rain make little rivers down the window before falling silently onto the ledge below. This was my first therapy session after the accident. Or at least I think it was. I wasn’t really sure of much. I might have been here before, but there was definitely a glitch in the matrix of my mind that was blocking out random things; who won the world cup in 1966, what that place was called that I went to on holiday when I was four, and what I had for breakfast on the day of the accident to name but a few. I had replayed that day in my head a hundred times, but always only to the same point, then nothing. Why couldn’t I remember?! ‘Injuries not compatible with life…we need to stop this…we are going to turn the machine off now…you need to let him go…injuries not compatible with life…’

I jolted as the receptionist touched me on the shoulder. Tried not to look like I had just woken up from another dark daydream. ‘Pasha will see you now’, she said, trying not to look amused at my startled glare.

Pasha didn’t really look like a therapist. He was tall, chiselled and wore a snappy suit that made him look a little overdressed for a therapy session. To be honest, I wasn’t really sure why I was here – why did I need therapy? I wasn’t depressed, I wasn’t mentally ill, I was just having a little trouble with my memory after the accident – I think something had got jolted in my brain, some wires had got crossed and accidentally deleted some stuff, but I was functioning. Pasha ushered me in and directed me to a large green leather wing backed armchair that enveloped me as I sat. He watched my every move with intensity. There was a pause before I realised that I was holding my breath. I exhaled and tried to look relaxed – lesson one, don’t look like a psychopath when sitting in a therapist’s chair. Silence.

‘So’, he said finally ‘I have read your file. You have had a pretty rough ride. How are you feeling?’

I wasn’t sure how to answer this, because I wasn’t sure how I was feeling. I was getting used to being still here I suppose. Everything still looked the same. Everything was still the same as before. I think.

‘Yeah, good, you know, just adjusting to life’, I said quickly, not wanting to let my guard down. ‘To be honest I’m not sure why they sent me to therapy, because I feel OK. I don’t have any pain, I’m not really suffering in any way, which is surprising considering what they told me in the hospital about how bad it was. The only problem I seem to have is with my memory. It’s a bit…sketchy’.

‘Tell me about that’, Pasha said calmly, touching his index fingers together at his chin.

‘Well, I seem to have lost bits, little things that have just gone, and then from the day of the accident, there’s nothing. Little bits maybe, but nothing that makes any sense. I remember coming round in the hospital. I remember how quiet it was. But I don’t remember leaving. I remember the face of the specialist who saved my life, Dr Yanich, but I don’t remember what he was a Dr of, or how he saved my life, and then….’ I paused. That phrase was running around my head again. Injuries not compatible with life. What did that even mean? Why was I obsessing on it?

‘Please continue’, said Pasha. His face seemed concerned. I didn’t like this, it suddenly felt wrong. Maybe this was progress, this was the first emotion I could remember feeling in a long time.

‘Can I just nip out, nature calls’. Oh my god, did I actually just say that – that is such a lame way of getting out of an uncomfortable situation.

‘By all means – you are free to come and go as you choose, how you use this session is up to you’.

I hurried out of the room, not quite sure why I was freaking out, but something wasn’t right. If only I could remember emotions properly, maybe I would make more sense of this whole thing. I didn’t need the loo, I just didn’t want to be in there all of a sudden. Pasha wasn’t right, this whole thing wasn’t right. The receptionist glanced at me over the top of her computer monitor. It was kind of an odd look, but she didn’t move. I stood outside the door of the room and listened. I don’t really know why, but something compelled me to. For a minute or two there was nothing, then I heard a telephone speed dial. There was a brief pause, then came Pasha’s voice, in a low tone.

‘Yanish, it’s me. Yeah, he is here with me now. No, he’s not in the room with me, what do you take me for! I haven’t got far, but I think we have a problem. He remembers your face. He remembers the lab. You said that you had erased the memory. This could be catastrophic, and you know who the agency will blame, Yanish?! You need to fix this!!’

He hung up the phone as I strode back into the room. I smiled the best ‘blissfully unaware’ smile that I could muster. What the hell had that conversation been about? Something was very wrong about this whole situation. Who was this Pasha? What was this office? I needed to go.

‘Ah, better?’ asked Pasha, an odd, twisted smile on his face.

‘Yeah, much’, I said quickly. ‘Listen can we do this another day, I’m really tired today – I guess I’m still getting my strength back’.

‘Erm……sure’, he said, moving to the door, ‘just call me again soon, I want to keep a close eye on your progress.’

——–

I arrived home about an hour later. The traffic was all messed up again. The bus ride had taken so much longer than usual, and it was full of angry people late for meetings. There had been mutterings on the bus of another attack. I turned on the TV and sure enough the rumours were confirmed with wall to wall news. Another attack on the capital, the 38th this year, had taken place whilst I had been sat in that office. This time it was a bus into a crowd of people. The newsreaders were all describing the loss of life in too much detail, with a split screen of pro war demonstrations outside the parliament building. You had to admit that by this point, they kind of had a point. The country was under attack! How long could we stand by and let it happen. I sat in my chair and watched the story repeat on a loop every minute. I wasn’t really watching though. I was trying to make sense of the session with Pasha. What was it all about; the phone call, the smart suit, the receptionist? It just wasn’t right.

Injuries not compatible with life. What was that?

“………How many have we lost captain?! I need these figures now!!!”

“Sir, twenty-two sir, and four civilians. We have two crew and two civilians down, children sir. Injuries not compatible with life, sir!”

“Where are they?! Take me to them now!!”

“……………There is nothing more we can do for them, colonel, we are going to have to turn off the machines………….”

“…………. We have to make this disappear colonel. These men; our men. These children. None of this was meant to happen. This. Their blood is on our hands. Fix this. Do you understand?!”

——-

I jumped awake to a loud banging on my door. It was a little after 8pm. How long had I been out? I sprang up from my seat and moved to the door, checking the peephole nervously. Eve, the receptionist from the therapist’s office – what was she doing here? How did she even know were I lived? I opened the door and she looked at me straight in the eye, as she had done in the office. I knew what that look was now. What emotion it showed. Fear.

‘Don’t say anything, just let me in…. Please!’ she whispered.

I moved to the side and let her come past me, glancing around instinctively. I shut the door and turned to look at her. She was standing firm, but I could see her hands were shaking, her arm outstretched, holding a file. In the top corner the number 39 was written.

‘This is your file. This is you. I know you are different. I know you remember; I saw that today. Please, read this.’ I started to speak, but she cut me off. ‘Please! Please just read. We don’t have much time!’

I moved towards her and took the file out of her hand. Placing it on the coffee table, I sat and opened it. The first page was a mugshot of me, with my name printed underneath – John Edward Harris. My heart lurched. That was my name! I hadn’t been able to remember it since the accident. I mean it had been there on the tip of my tongue, but I could never get it to come out. I don’t remember anyone ever addressing me directly since the accident either. What was this. I turned the page and skimmed the summary ………battalion………civilian reconnaissance…… navigation error………IED……casualties………INJURIES NOT COMPATIBLE WITH LIFE…………Subject 39…………reanimation commenced. The report was signed Dr Pavlov Yanich – Chief Homo-robotics Research Engineer. I felt sick. What was this?!

Eve touched my arm and I leapt a mile out of my chair, like a startled cat. I had almost forgotten she was there. So many thoughts and emotions were filling my mind all at once, it was like a dam breaking down. My friends in the battalion, the sands of the desert, my colonels face, then…yes… England! England won the world cup in 66! Some fans are on the pitch; They think it’s all over: It is now! It was Spain where I went on holiday at four – Barcelona. My mum held me up in the pool so I could pretend I was swimming. I took my wife there for our honeymoon …wait, what?! My wife?!! I have a wife! She was there! She was there when I died. I remember her cries. Oh my god my beautiful wife, Shannon, she turned off the machine! She had to say goodbye to me…

I fell backwards into the chair as if I had been shot. My whole body felt contorted and wrong. WHAT WAS THIS?!!! This nightmare. Who was I and how had I not remembered all this before? I could hear myself wailing and moaning, the room spinning round me like a merry-go-round. As if in a dream, I saw Eve come towards me, brandishing a screwdriver. I instinctively put my arm up to cover my face as she plunged the weapon and drew it down my forearm like a knife through butter. I cried out in pain… But it didn’t hurt! In that moment, time stopped, and everything was still. I looked up at Eve, her eyes wet with tears.

‘I’m sorry’, she sobbed. ‘I had to make you see!’

I looked down at my arm, where the screwdriver was still lodged. There was no blood, although my skin was ripped in a 5-inch gash. Under the skin I could see something glinting in the light from the TV. I reached out my hand and pulled back a fold of skin and was greeted by metal. Circuits and wires took the place of flesh and bones. I continued to pull back the skin, expecting to feel pain with each movement, but feeling nothing, but cold, dark dread.

We sat in silence for a long time. Then finally, as dawn broke, Eve spoke.

‘You are part of a programme now. A multi – national specialist weapons unit, sanctioned by many governments, in secret, to instigate war. They used your body as a transport system for terror. They want to start a war, and the only way they can do that in democracy is to have the people behind them. They have got the people behind them through terror. These terrorist attacks. They aren’t real. This is them. These terrorists. They are all like you. They had no more use for their bodies. They were broken beyond repair. They fixed you. They brought you back. But for their own means’.

I tried to take this in. This couldn’t be real. ‘No, no, no! You have got this all wrong!’ I said, bewildered. ‘I was in an accident, but I recovered, I just suffer from amnesia!’

‘No!’ snapped Eve sharply. ‘You are suffering from parts of your living memory coming back! They were supposed to erase it, but yours has broken back through! That is why I found you!! I saw that today in the office – I knew you remembered! You have to help me. They are using you, and others to start a war. They will vote on it in days, unanimously between the main governments, and it will be the final war. This could be the end of us all. I have seen their experiments, their reanimations. They have used you. They have used us all to gain power!’

She slipped a photograph into my hand. A young boy of about 8 years old. ‘Please help me, they have my son.’ She said. I looked at the picture. I recognised the boy. He was the boy I held in my arms as the IED exploded.

‘He’s alive?!’ I asked hurriedly.

Eve nodded, tears flowing down her cheeks. ‘They are using him as ransom. I continue to co-ordinate their attacks, they keep him alive, I stop, he becomes the next attacker. Please, we don’t have much time. You are number 39, but you have remembered! Please help me stop this.’

I paused. Clarity descended on me. I still had so many unanswered questions, but there was no time. I was a machine. But I was no longer their machine. Because a machine doesn’t feel. Science was good, but not that good. I was a soldier, and this was not happening on my watch. I stood and moved to the door. I looked back at Eve.

‘Take me to Yanich! Take me to Pasha! They want a war – I will show them war.’

Disclaimer: This short story is solely the property of Beth Jones. It is strictly forbidden to copy any part of this review, unless you have the strict permission of both parties. Failure to adhere to this will be treated as plagiarism and will be reported to the relevant authorities.