Trigger warning (eye injury, body horror, grief, strong language, dissociative behavior)
“UV-irradiation in progress.”
My body felt absolutely whacked. Had I lost a boxing match against a grizzly? Somebody said something. I swear, I won’t accept any more bets from Shepherd. No way I’d ever keep up with her chemical implants. I was the one doomed in this drinking match, felt like death already. My head hurt, my eyelids were glued together, and it felt as if I licked the ashtray. Worst hangover ever.
“Printing completed. Surgery completed. Detumescing components applied. Scanning…” That voice belonged to the medical systems. Wait, what kind of surgery? “No active bleeding detected. Starting the decontamination program.” Decontamination? What happened? What was that smell? Did disinfectant smell of garlic? “Oxygen enrichment completed. Irradiation in progress.” Wait, wasn’t I knocked out by Pomona? Oh no, she knew that she got me good. She won’t shut p about it tomorrow. Ugh. I remember a melting shell casing. It must be a bad concussion. What was the drill? I was Koda, on board of Aymon with Mother, Shepherd, and Pomona. The who, the where, the what? Check, so it couldn’t be that bad, could it?
Wasn’t Shepherd going to cave in the corridor? The big kaboom, my kaboom? Did she let the corridor collapse on top of me? Man, if I wake up a cyborg, I will kick her ass. There was a cold hissing in my ear, which startled me.
That was why I opened my eyes. No! No. Bad idea! The light was blinding. Instantly, I pressed them shut but was too late. The flash was blinding. Everything around me spun. Get me out of the blender. My hands flew to my eyes, shielding, protecting. No! “Quarantine program completed.” Shouldn’t have looked, UV radiation must’ve burnt up my retinas. All I could see was the brightness in front of me and the blotchy movements of the afterimages. They lit up with sparks of black, purple, and white. They wiggled, dived, collided, and united to white streaks and stars. It filled everything I could see and feel, and it expanded. Like molten glass, the light cooked everything on its way. “No.” Although I had my hands firmly on my eyelids, a searing pain flashed white behind my eyelids. It pulsed and grew. Why didn’t it stop? How was that even possible?
It hurt so bad. “He’s awake.” Somebody talked over the droning.”Big K? What’s wrong?” Was that Shepherd? A weak “help” was all I could manage. “Are you crying?” Ugh, why were we in the engine room? “I thought you didn’t have any tear ducts.” Mother’s voice boomed from behind me.
I pressed my fingertips onto my eyelids.“Too bright!” Everything was white. Scorching. There was nothing, but the blazing. I pulled myself into a knot to protect my eyes. It did nothing! The light was still there. It drilled into my forehead. Why is it so hot and loud, for God’s sake? My cheeks were wet with acid. It burnt. “Make it stop!” My voice cut deep. How was nobody seeing this? It got worse, blotches united to a sun that stuck in my eye socket.
“Make what stop?” Shepherd’s voice was above the light. Something pressed down on my chest with force. “Relax. Let me see.” Her icy hand forced my head up. My brain was on fire. Everything was on fire. Why didn’t the light stop? Pressure built up in my eyeball. It shrunk, and something moved in and behind it towards the base of my nose. My arms were pulled apart, and I couldn’t touch my face. Ugh. No! Please no- “Make it stop-” I twisted myself to free a hand. “Please! KNOCK ME OUT!” My face cracked. I could hear my bones splinter. It wouldn’t stop. I pressed my face together, so it wouldn’t explode.
Suddenly, many hands held me down, could barely move. My head kept splitting! No. Oh, God! No.”Tears shouldn’t look like… What the hell was that?!” I heard gasps and movement. The hands fled.
Someone poked the light and it burnt the universe. “ARGHH!” It split my brain too.
It tore me from everything. “NO!” This was going to kill me, burn me out of existence.”MAKE IT STOP!” I sat up. I could barely breathe.
“Hold him down!”
Hands over my wet face. It will fall out of my face. Oh god. It moved under my eye. I dug after it. NO! Nonono!
“Stop him NOW!”
I heard the bones grate on each other. I have to take it out! Something was in my mouth. The pressure in my forehead increased. No! Stop it! I won’t die! Not like this. A wave of nausea hit me hard. I won’t go like this!
I will die standing up!
Not like this!
I heard something crack and tear. Hot and thick. It ran down my hands, down my throat. My face fell. I couldn’t hold it in place anymore.
I fell with it.
There was a heavy silence and a blessed, beautiful black void.
The dark moved, and then it brought me voices from far away. “Nothing wrong with the data; I’ve run the calculations a thousand times. Come on. We all checked.” The voices spiraled left and right. “Never seen anything like this.” Thumping and banging echoed from far away. It smelled coppery. “It’s engineered for sure.” A guitar sounded a block away and I was straining to listen to it through the construction site noise. “At this rate it could either repair the damage done or take over what’s left.” Something grabbed me by the waist and yanked me under the surface. I kicked the black waters, but I swam like a brick.
“I told you, this wasn’t your fault.” Somebody snuck up on me, but the dark knew and hissed. “I’ll deliver him from his suffering.” It was a demand, a shameless one. I didn’t like how condescending the voice was. It stuffed itself into my mouth so I wouldn’t call it out on its bullshit. Its words were a noose-shaped promise to me. Suddenly, breathing was so hard. “You can’t do it.” Anger flashed its obsidian claws and fangs dripping with poison. “He wasn’t the sharpest tool in the box before…” Menacing laughter echoed from below. Yeah, fuck you too. I heard drumbeats getting faster and louder. There were a crunch and a wet thud. Something roared, but the void had blood on its knuckles this time. It smacked the voice around, threw it against walls, and the floor, and swept over me. I was happy the voice got what it deserved.
“He’s not the weakest link!” Somebody screamed. I felt the poison move. It brushed against my cheek, my lips. “He never was.” I knew the voice from another life. If I went back, I would carry it with me, back to the world beyond. That was my responsibility.
The darkness stopped me before I reached the point of no return. I knew it was vital. Something I had to do, had to know. “Your feed, all data I pulled from the cleaning company prove it.” Whispers moved up and down with rustling feathers. It came close to me, but its sole purpose was protection this time. “Contamination wasn’t possible.” Its importance flowed softer, friendlier. Pressing, still. “Who infected you, Koda?” The dark shoved me away so I was on my own. It told me I should think about what came next. It would help me the best it could. It purred to me about peace and courage. I could go back if I wanted to. If I never wanted to feel anger, hate, fear, and pain again… I could always let go and rest forever.
“What am I even doing here?” The soft voice was back and I was happy. The void nodded and told me to listen, that it was important.”I know you can’t hear me, still-” Something creaked and clacked and I felt a pleasant cold on my face. “I wasn’t going to be mad at you. You know that, don’t you?” The cold moved to my throat and hands. It was a soft tongue- with delicate shades of- I didn’t know what kind of tongue that was. “Poe says she’s sorry.” The voice was a smooth pebble skipping on the surface of a mirror. The void purred and understood. I wanted to cup my hands around that fragile thing that moved around me and exhausted itself. For me. For my sake. “If you’re in there somewhere, say something rude. Please. Everything would be fine.” I knew that voice. It smiled and submerged into the void. It swam beside me, silently, patiently.
“Shepherd won’t spit into your coffee anymore.” It almost sounded like the beating of wings. “Please say something.” A black pigeon was trapped inside those words. It was so desperate to escape. Then the warmth of a breath was at my ear. “Anything.” I felt my hand being opened and my fingers interlocking with other fingers which were not mine. “Please wake up. The crew-” A squeeze. “I can’t keep on without you-” The breath said something wounded. I couldn’t make it out. The hand in mine was replaced by cold nothing. No! No, wait. It flew away, and I regretted that it didn’t keep me company longer. The darkness came back to pull me under. It said that it was done with the repairs. It said it did all it could for me.
It was my turn to- What?
My turn to do what exactly?
“You scared us.”
Mother Goose talked to me, in a soft tone, calming storms. He must have been talking for a while before I came. I tried to touch my face, but my arm was intercepted by his. “No, it’s too early. There are bandages.” I tried to touch his face instead. Weird. My aim was far off. It felt so different, so new. “You’ll like this one. There is officially a Code Kong Black now. K -Black for short.” Mother smiled at me, but couldn’t hide how worn out he was. Exhaustion traced new lines in his face, dark parts around his eyes, and this nervous tremble in his voice and hands. He changed so much, and I noticed just now.
“Always an eight ball. Always the sticky end.” I sighed; I felt tired too. “Wouldn’t want it any other way.” I closed my eye and breathed. “There is something very wrong with me, isn’t it?” Mother nodded, as I opened my eye. “How many years have I been sleeping? From the look of you, I’ve been ten years in a coma. Wait. I can’t be a cyborg. I feel too shitty for that.” He shook his head and laughed. Mother sat down beside my bed.
Never liked that sickly green in the med bay. Behind him were some pictures of eyes and something moving within, and something that looked like a spider-tree rooting through a brain. No more eyes for me, thank you very much. Were those my organs on digital display mine? “I’ve messed up royally, huh?” I decided not to look at the organs, spider trees, and hairworms inside my eyes. Mother made a sad face.
“No! Don’t you dare! You did nothing wrong,” he said sternly.
“Something rude.” It burst out of me. It was important. “I’m sorry, I don’t know why I said that.”