NINE: THE PERFECT PHYSICAL SPECIMEN
OLIVER OPENED HIS EYES and found himself floating weightless in a world of blue, the color of a cloudless sky. It was if he flew, but could see nothing beneath him but the same blue expanse. It stretched all around him like an endless sea of nothing.
Yet, as he turned, he could see a figure there beside him, unmoving with closed eyes. A bearded man with no mustache. He wore a body suit of black, skin-tight fabric that covered every inch of him but his head and hands. The man was taller than Oliver and didn’t seem to have an ounce of fat on him, only muscle. He was, Oliver surmised, the perfect physical specimen.
There was something familiar about the man, though Oliver couldn’t quite put his finger on what it was. He’d never seen the man before in his life. Or had he? In a dream perhaps?
Whoever he was, Oliver couldn't help but stare as the man floated along beside him. His only movements were the rise and fall of his sculpted chest.
After what felt like an eternity, Oliver tore his eyes from the man and tried to focus on anything beyond him, but there was nothing else out there to see among the blue. The sheer emptiness of it all was enough to make Oliver feel a bit twitchy. It was an understandable feeling being among such an expanse. It forced oneself to realize how small they are in an ever expanding universe.
A few years ago, Oliver’s wife, Elyse, had rented a video for the two of them to watch together. It was a movie made by a British comedy troupe back in the 80’s. It had been about the meaning of life. Oliver liked it alright, not as much as his wife, but it had its moments. In the movie a man steps out of a refrigerator and sings a song about the Universe, how incredibly big it is, and our place in it.
Oliver couldn’t help but hum the tune aloud as he floated in the blue. The notes drifted off to die among the nothingness.
He turned to the man beside him, hoping that having at least one focal point for his eyes to lock onto would keep him from going insane. But, as he turned to face the man, he found that the man’s eyes were open and were staring right back.
The man beside him didn’t move.
Suddenly a light began to shine from each of the man’s eyes like a pair of tiny headlights. The lights grew brighter until Oliver had to throw an arm over his face to protect his own eyes.
Everything turned white.
Then he woke and found that he’d traded one nightmare for another.
Oliver sat strapped to a chair, the bonds made of metal, cold and unforgiving. He could see cables and wires coming out of him in various places. Something encased the top of his head. Like the bonds that held his wrists and ankles, it too had the cold feel of metal, and it squeezed his head like a hat two sizes too small.
He could turn his head enough to see his reflection in a large monitor on the wall to his left. The thing on his head looked like a metal bowl with dozens of wires and cables jutting out of it. They were connected to a bank of controls under the monitor.
The room he found himself in was all metal and blinking lights, everything the color of something his cat might have choked up, if he’d owned a cat.
And all about him; checking wires, pushing buttons, fiddling with knobs, and shining bright lights into his eyes, were a half dozen robots. Each looked just like the other except for a strange symbol painted on each of the robot’s heads.
The robots were the same color as everything else in the room. They were long, lank, boxy in shape, and walked on two legs.
A strange electronic buzzing filled the room and Oliver realized with some surprise that the robots were talking to each other. He was even more surprised to realize that he understood what they said.
“His vitals are good,” one said.
“Yes,” said another. “He survived the stasis ray.”
One of the robots approached Oliver and began checking the wires coming from the backs of his hands.
“Let me go,” Oliver said to it. “I don’t know what’s going on, but I shouldn’t be here.”
The robot ignored him.
Oliver was drawn to the symbol on the robot’s forehead. Was it a number four?
“Please,” Oliver tried again. “Can you at least tell me where I am?”
The robot looked him in the eyes and for a moment Oliver could see the lenses that covered the thing’s ocular cavities rotate and move, like a camera focusing in on a subject. It held his gaze for only a moment and then walked away.
Oliver struggled against his bonds, but they held him fast.
“Tell the General that the human is ready,” Number Four said as another—the number One was on his forehead—scurried away through a door that slid open with a hiss just like in all those Science Fiction movies.
“The General?” Oliver said, his face breaking out in a cold sweat. “Ruin.”
He thrashed about in the chair, but it was to no avail. He wasn’t going anywhere, but that wasn’t going to stop him from trying.
Moments later the door slid open with another hiss, and the General entered the room. He was no longer the hulking creature he’d been out in the Pizza Dude parking lot, the one that had thrown him around like we was stuffed with cotton. He entered in the tall, skinny form he’d worn when he’d first approached Oliver what felt like hundreds of years ago.
“Are you comfortable?” Ruin said. He looked down at Oliver and smiled. It was the smile that caused Oliver’s blood to freeze in his veins.
“Let me go,” Oliver said, his voice wavering through trembling lips. “I don’t understand what’s happening.”
“What’s happening is that I am going to use this device to peer deep inside that primitive brain of yours.” He tapped the metal bowl on the top of Oliver’s head, the sound rang through his skull.
“What?” Oliver was at a loss.
“We, that is, I, hope to find something in there.” he tapped the device again. “Something that I can use to... ” He paused as if searching for the word. “Encourage a transformation out of you.”
“I’ve told you,” Oliver said, tears streaming down his face. “I don’t know what you’re talking about. Some crazy old guy gave me a ring is all; I don’t know how to transform.”
“We shall see,” the General said. Then, turning to the robots, “Start the machine.”
First, there was silence. He could see the General talking and the numbered robots buzzing about, but it was if he was watching the television with the mute engaged.
The silence lasted only a moment.
Next came the pain.
Oliver tried to scream, wanted to scream, needed to scream.
But all he could do was cry.
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