Heidrich walked briskly down the open hall, his feet echoing sibilant metallic notes between the polished steel support beams. He wasn't in any particular hurry, though his quick pace said other wise. He figured it was the many years spent living in this bustling city, running to and fro in the almost oppressive crowds, every single person he had ever met always in some kind of urgent hurry. He mentally berated himself for missing this opportunity and slowed to an even walk. The appointment was still a good thirty minutes away, it made no sense to run. Heidrich was determined to glean a small portent of unhurried peace before he found himself busy again.
And, for but a few precious little minutes, he found his peace, and that made him happy. He had never really thought to stop and actually see what he saw every day. The thought had simply never occurred to him. And yet here he was, thirty long minutes away from a procedure that would change his, and humanity's, life for good, at perfect peace. If he had the features he would have smiled. Instead he slowed to a casual amble and clasped his hands behind his back, looking up. He had never really noticed the way the sun shone golden beams through the silicone and glass leaves, the sound the wind made through glittering steel girders. Almost like wind chimes, he thought slowly, purposefully. The sound was most refreshing. Almost made him forget.
Something at the back of his mind started beeping; a soft, insistent sound; and with a resigned sigh Heidrich stopped. He had wanted peace before the appointment, not company, remote or not. And he was just beginning to enjoy the subdued colours of this grand old hall, the sounds and smells he would probably never get a chance to appreciate ever again. A glowing blue icon blinked in the upper corner of his HUD, beside readouts of the current atmosphere and a steady stream of sensory input, and only after a failed attempt at ignoring it did Heidrich access it with a distracted thought.
Gently he perched on the edge of a decorative plant container, the organic leaves brushing playfully against his dorsal smokestacks, and made a point not to look at but past the distinctly mechanical face of his impromptu caller, out towards the ocean, so very far away. Heidrich always did love the ocean. Its deep bass rumble and shining silver waves always made him think of things far too big and awesome for him to fully comprehend. Always managed to make him feel small. He liked the feeling.
"You on your way?" asked his caller sternly, seemingly annoyed. Always in a hurry. Everyone was always in a hurry. Never stopped to watch the ocean.
"Yes," Heidrich answered distractedly. He hated surprise calls. Especially when he was forced to stare at whoever's grumpy old face projected onto the back of his eye instead of, well, everything else. "There's still thirty minutes 'till they start."
He was mildly surprised by the barely imperceptible tinge of worry in his voice. Upwards of fifty people had spoken to him, alerted him to the danger, sugar-coated it with the benefits. He knew exactly what was going to happen and exactly how they were going to do it, down to the micron. And yet that vague feeling of dread remained imbedded in the back of his mind like some sort of fat tick. If Heidrich had a stomach he was sure he'd feel nauseous with doubt and ill with worry.
His caller detected his unease, iris contacting in the fashion of sentimental worry.
"It's alright, Heidrich. Everything's accounted for. The probability of an accident happening is a one in a trillion chance." Though full of mock understanding Heidrich caught, subtle as they were, the undercurrents of uncaring greed flowing from his caller's synthetic voice. He did not care, he did not see Heidrich as a person. Merely as an object, a test subject. Heidrich's cranial vents flared slightly in annoyance. Who was this man to pretend, however badly, that he had the slightest inkling of comprehension?
"Damn it, Gallegher. You know they make those statistics up on the spot." Gallegher merely laughed in response. If anything it made Heidrich feel worse. He tried to look out to the ocean but it refused to make him feel better.
"Calm down, calm down. Worry is a natural response. If I were in your position I'd be scared too." Heidrich snorted. Gallegher wouldn't be caught dead in this position without the knowledge that the tests had gone well. A man of greed and money, that's what he was. Sure, he'd go through with the procedure as well. When he knew if Heidrich was still alive and sane. Gallegher didn't catch, or simply refused to hear, the hatred in Heidrich's voice and continued to talk.
"Just remember after the procedure you won't be bothered by such petty thoughts. You'll be the first, the greatest. In essence, you will be a god. Keep that in your mind and you'll be fine." Heidrich reluctantly agreed, and after the customary goodbyes found himself once again alone in the hallway. The peace he had been feeling only moments before was gone, in its place a deep ache. Gods? He snorted again. What a load of crock that was. Gallegher was full of baloney. Yet something deep in Heidrich liked the prospect, and no matter how out there it seemed, he wanted the procedure to succeed.
Bright light filtered down through the curious blend of synthetic and organic leaves, bouncing off the steel beams and echoing visual notes everywhere. It made Heidrich feel as if this were all a dream, yet for the unreality of it all he still felt that sinking sensation, as if something bad were just waiting to happen. At the end of the hallway the facility shone. Strangely, though there was no ceiling here and the sunlight was given full reign, no light shone on the facility. He stood again with the tired creaking of decades old rusted joints in need of replacing and headed for the facility.
The wind chimed disconsolately at his retreat.
"Put your head up, Mr. Coutoure…there…"
Heidrich felt the curious pressure of the probe enter the port in the back of his head as one might feel their fingernails being cut; with a sort of disjointed awareness. Not pain, just sensation. Men in white coats milled about him as he waited on the table. Though clothing was redundant anymore, some professions demanded it as a sort of tradition. Police wore their blue uniforms, city workers strode around in bright orange and yellow, and doctors and scientists were garbed in long white coats. It just seemed natural. Heidrich himself wore nothing, but with his titanium body there was nothing to see.
Something pinched deep in the back of his psyche, this time bringing with it a millisecond of dull pain that vanished as quickly as it came. He winced uncomfortably.
"We're just getting you ready, Mr. Coutoure. Only a few more minutes." The nurse who spoke to him had a soft, lilting voice, curiously marred by the intervention of her synthetic voice box, that none the less evoked in Heidrich images of fields strewn with wild flowers swaying gently in the breeze. It occurred to Heidrich how strange it was that, even hidden behind these expressionless shields manufactured in some far off factory, one's gender, even demeanour, managed to shine through. For a second he felt proud of his humanity. They can box it all they want but a human is still a human.
He winced as that pinch came again. He realized they were wiring him up, connecting him to the machine that would eventually suck out his consciousness, his essence, his soul, and plop it into the jumble of wires they called a brain. That feeling of dread returned. Why did he sign up for this?
"Will…" he trailed off. The question had come spontaneously to his synthesizer and without warning. The nurse paused and turned to look at him quizzically. A light plume of mist escaped unnoticed from her cranial vents and a rather wicked looking spear shaped plug was clasped gently in her hands. Heidrich mustered up what little of his voice remained.
"Will… will it… hurt…?"
He half expected the nurse to burst into laughter at the absurdity of his question. Pain? There hadn't been any pain here for decades, maybe centuries. Pain had vanished along with flesh and blood bodies a long time ago, that simple, primal sensation now nothing more than a distant memory. But the nurse looked at him, a look in her single camera eye that Heidrich couldn't quite make out, and laid a hand on his arm. Heidrich wished badly for warmth but all he felt was cold steel.
"No, Heidrich. It will not hurt."
And the doctor flipped on the machine, and Heidrich was slowly falling backwards, away from the annoying limitations of the human brain, the only organic thing left in his steel body, the only thing keeping the human race from immortality, and on towards a future he could only begin to understand. The nurse watched as he lost consciousness, and in a single millisecond timeframe before he was gone Heidrich knew what that emotion was, for he had felt it too. It was so simple and yet so removed from his existence: sadness.
Heidrich awoke to the same room, the same doctors, and the same nurse. And yet something was missing from the landscape of his mind, something crucial that he had felt all along, but only realized it had been there when it was gone. Strangely he couldn't grasp what it was, only knew that it was no longer part of him. He looked around at the circle of faces surrounding him.
"Did it work?" he asked. One of the doctors nodded eagerly, his dorsal smokestacks raised in giddy excitement. Strangely Heidrich didn't feel his excitement, though he knew he should. It was something forlorn to him, something he had forgotten. The excited doctor pointed to the computer screen by Heidrich's head and groggily he turned to look, though he did not understand the mathematical equations and graphs proposed to him.
"You're one hundred percent machine, Mr. Coutoure," he babbled excitedly. "With your consciousness transferred to the nanomachine brain, you no longer have any biological nuisances to stall your life. You are, suffice it to say, immortal."
The procedure was a success. Heidrich was the first true machine man, able to live and keep living until he so chose to end it. He should have felt happiness, but he didn't. In the absence of joy he should have felt sorrow, but he didn't. His thoughts were crystal clear against a background of clean, sterile white, and he felt a sort of disconnected discontent. Not exactly an emotion, more of a fabricated feeling. Where was the static? Where was the chaos? It was too blindingly white and he would have hated it. If he could have.
"Immortality," he whispered. Was this the reality of being immortal, no more a man than a machine incapable of the emotions he had taken for granted for so many long decades? The doctors had been right. The scientists had been right. The petty thoughts of an organic brain no longer bothered him, but what good was living forever, if he had nothing anymore to live for? In their quest for immortality they forgot the one thing that made them who they were: humanity.
Heidrich wanted to cry and shout and rage. He wanted to flip the table then huddle in a corner and cry. Instead he got up and walked out of the room like the robot he was.
And as he passed the main window he stopped and looked out, over the impossibly huge sea of silver waves and booming bass surf. And all it could do was look back and cry, its voice the chiming of the wind and its tears organic bits of fluttering leaves.
Humanity had doomed itself.