Chapter 1 Asylum
Content Warning: gore
Only a monster could sleep through that.
In what must have been a desperate attempt at escapism, Michelle remembered with a laugh how her university friends had said that about her. It was back in the 21st century, back on Earth, back when she watched the entire Saw series with them. Or, more accurately, when her friends had screamed their heads off every time Jig Saw appeared on the screen. Michelle slept soundly on the couch the entire night.
The second she woke up the next morning, that’s what her friends told her. Michelle, only a monster could sleep through that! It was a joke of course, the sort of thing young women squeal when they’re teasing one another. Although, being privileged middle class women, there was also an air of truth to it. Those movies had the worst, most grotesque, images they had ever seen. Michelle sleeping through it was the most morbid addition to that night, which gave her friends nightmares for weeks to come.
Even though Michelle had laughed at their joke, deep in the back of her mind was the worry that maybe, just maybe, she was a monster because she had slept through it—and woke up pretty well rested.
How Michelle wished she were back in that time and place. The thought of her friends and their innocence made the tip of her mouth go up into a smirk.
If only Michelle’s friends knew, as Michelle herself knew now, what monsters really looked like. What morbidity actually was.
Even though Michelle already knew the answer, she tested the restraints again. She lifted her left arm, where a cool, thin metal band was tightly keeping her bicep in place. The answer: she was bound to the hospital table, if it could even be called that. It was more like a metal slab that was equipped with the bare minimum for scientific mutilation: restraints.
Michelle couldn’t see if there was anything else on the table, or anything nearby for that matter. The room was sanitised to the point where the white walls, cabinets, and everything else was blinding. Being in this room was the opposite of being in darkness. After a few minutes, her eyes adjusted so she could see, but just barely. The lights reflected off the white surfaces, obliterating every detail by the time her eyes saw it. Every time Michelle visited this room, it was tiny daggers piercing her pupils.
It had only slightly improved when the Ants gave her new eyes.
Only now could Michelle vaguely make out the shapes of the Ants in the room. Not the kind of ants you would find on Earth, but a kind of alien that Michelle found reminiscent of that particular insect. The alien species in question had a name for themselves, no doubt one impossible for Michelle to pronounce. But, with the universal translator being what it was, there was never any need for Michelle to attempt it.
The second Michelle had arrived in this experimental facility, roughly five months ago (by her estimation), the Ants had installed a universal translator into the base of her skull. Connected to the auditory complex in her brain, it helped her communicate with the Ants, her bunk mates, and the Blue Skins. What it didn’t do—what it couldn’t do—was pull English words out of thin air.
The names of other species, especially the unpronounceable ones, caused a buzzing sensation in Michelle’s head. When Michelle heard unfamiliar names, her translator buzzed, and a substitute name got produced based on Michelle’s current lexicon.
As a result, most of Michelle’s bunk mates had names similar to whatever animal or organism Michelle thought they looked like the most. Again, not because that was actually the name of their species, but because the universal translator provided the closest English word for Michelle’s benefit.
As far as substitute names went, “Ant” actually did fit Michelle’s captors.
From what Michelle could see, the Ants walked around her slab with sharp instruments in each of their eight hands. Occasionally, Michelle noticed them looking down at her the same way a child looks at a birthday present before they rip the wrapping open.
Roughly human sized, they had the same jet black exoskeleton as an Earth ant would have. Attached to each of their four thoraxes were a set of arms. It didn’t appear these arms shared the same brain, as the sets of arms would work independently of the other arms. It was jarring every time Michelle saw them working.
There was one Ant in particular that stood in the corner, each of its four sets of arms completing a different task. One set was signing off on a report, another set typing results into a computer console, and the final two sets testing what appeared to be a hand saw.
This multitasking Ant was called A431-B. Or B for short. She was the Ant who appeared to run this experimental facility. Kind of the equivalent of a queen ant in an anthill.
Barely looking up, B ordered another Ant to tighten the restraints on Michelle’s forearms. No doubt, she’d noticed Michelle testing their limits, and wasn’t satisfied.
B casually mentioned, “We don’t want her flailing about like last time.”
Her voice sounded both gravelly and robotic. Like, if a rock was thrown in a blender and given a mechanical voice box. Amused, Michelle imagined what that would actually look like. Probably a cartoon . . .
But, in real life, the voice belonged to B.
“Now,” B added for emphasis. If Michelle didn’t know any better, there was a modicum of fear in her voice. But why? Michelle had a theory . . .
Roughly a month ago, again by Michelle’s estimation, she had been tied to this very same table, with the same restraints, and the same swarm of Ants around her. B leaned over Michelle with a spoon.
The first eye came out with a sickening POP which Michelle was somehow able to hear over her own screaming.
Before B could reach in and scoop out the second one, Michelle had managed to get her arm free and knock the spoon onto the floor. From the TINK TINK TINK sound it made against the floor, Michelle estimated it went across the room.
B was not in good spirits to say the least.
Michelle’s free hand flew to her empty eye socket, and she panicked as she felt the wet blood on her fingertips. Fearfully, her index finger explored a centimetre into the socket . . . there was nothing to stop her finger from going all the way in.
One of B’s underlings rushed to sanitise the spoon again, while several other Ants swarmed to restrain Michelle’s arm again. Michelle could only see half of what was going on in the room, as her field of vision abruptly ended where her lost eye should be. She had to turn her head to the blinded side to see B backing up slightly, surprised by the sudden lack of control.
The underling brought the spoon back. Michelle knew they only sanitised it because they didn’t want to deal with infection. Nothing humane about that, just being practical.
With more zeal than the first, B ripped out Michelle’s second eye, and Michelle heard the terrifying sound as the ball plopped into the basin beside the slab.
Shortly after that, Michelle felt poking and prodding at her scalp, as they jammed new, bionic eyeballs into her sockets, hooked them up her optical nerves, as well as the bionic portions of her brain.
The migraines that followed that month were blinding, a little bit ironic considering they had gone to all that effort to give her new eyes. The migraines themselves had subsided earlier that week, and she hadn’t noticed a large difference in her vision. As far as she could tell, her vision was still 20/20, and nothing special . . .
She had theorised with her bunk mates what the Ants were planning, although no one was certain. If anything, it seemed like a failed experiment up until this point.
Was that why B sounded a bit frightened? Because the experiment might be a bust? Or because when Michelle had broken free of the restraint last time, she had shattered the illusion of control B had?
An Ant named A534-F approached Michelle, implementing B’s orders. Everyone called her F, and she was famous among the other detained subjects. Unlike the others, she actually seemed to . . . care? Not that it was worth much.
F used her second and third set of arms to tighten the restraints on Michelle’s upper arms. She tightened them so much Michelle could feel her blood circulation being cut off. Her fingertips started to tingle.
When she was finished, F looked over her shoulder at B. It reminded Michelle of the way a preschooler checks to see if their teacher is watching before doing something mischievous. She pulled a little needle out of her lab coat pocket. From previous experience, Michelle knew it was filled with a mild sedative. Michelle and her bunkmates rarely got any form of compassion like this, and Michelle was positive F wasn’t allowed to give her any relief. In what can only be described as Stockholm syndrome-induced thankfulness, Michelle conflated these tiny milligrams of kindness to almost saintly proportions.
After F injected the sedative into Michelle’s neck, a sense of haziness started to overcome her. The world gently circled around her in a pleasant dance, swirling the pain away from her body. She forgot her anger and resentment at how she had been abducted from her time three centuries ago. From a planet thousands of light years away. Brought here to be a human lab rat.
Even in her drugged state, Michelle knew B could know what F had done. So, summoning as much thankfulness as she could, she stared into F’s eyes. All the thankfulness she could muster was in that stare. It might have been the drugs, but Michelle could have sworn F smiled back at her.
Another Ant circled around to Michelle’s neck and put a cold brace over her throat to hold her in place. The sense of peace she had dissipated into panic. Even though Michelle willed herself to calm down, her body had an involuntary reaction, associating everything around her with inevitable pain.
Many Ants circled around, each with a set or two of hands placed somewhere on her body. There were at least four hands on her head, detaching the metal plate that was placed over the bionic portion of her brain.
A tear fell from one of Michelle’s new eyes. Removing the skull plate shouldn’t have hurt, but the sensation of a metal plate scraping along her scalp sent ghost pains all throughout her body. Pain might have been worsened by the knowledge something was going to happen. It was going to hurt. They were going to mutilate her.
They were going to play with the bionic portion of Michelle’s brain. Parts of her brain were chopped up with knives and replaced with metal and circuitry. She couldn’t feel her fingers. They were numb. Tingling gone. She had no idea what was going to happen. Her eyes were scooped out with spoons. Lost. She was broken. Damaged. The sense of peace from the sedative had already gone away. It wouldn’t even eliminate the pain entirely. She was going to get mutilated. Had no idea how. Uncertainty led to panic which led to pain.
“She ready?” B asked as she walked over to Michelle.
The others in the lab nodded. There was one Ant on either side of Michelle’s body, holding her hands so her forearms were slightly lifted off the table. If the Ants weren’t cold blooded, Michelle would have felt comforted, having her hands held like she was a little girl.
Suddenly, Michelle’s leg kicked up. B took a surprised step back, no doubt remembering the one time Michelle’s arm got loose.
“Sorry,” one of the Ants at Michelle’s head said. No doubt, the one prodding at her head had hit one of the nerves, causing her limb to move involuntarily.
Before B even had to order it, there were Ants at Michelle’s feet, pushing them into the table. Michele felt lightning hot pain course through her body as the Ant working on her pain stabbed and prodded the electronic connectors in her skull. No doubt making sure the bionic portion of her brain was still connected to the natural part.
Then, like the calm before the storm, everyone in the lab went quiet. The pain in Michelle’s limbs subsided. If this were Saw, Jig Saw would whirr in right now to deliver an ultimatum of some form.
This silence was broken when B turned the saw on. As the saw got louder, Michelle thought this sound was much more ominous than Jig Saw’s scooter. The Ants holding Michelle’s hands gripped them as tightly as they could.
Michelle’s legs started kicking for real this time, but the Ants restraining her were surprisingly strong. Considering there didn’t appear to be muscles under their exoskeletons. Granted, Earth ants could carry up to 50 times their body weight, so . . .
When B’s saw contacted the skin on Michelle’s forearm, just below the elbows, she wondered just how much worse the pain would have been without the sedative. The feeling of slicing metal, combined with the prodding at the head, mixed with the sights of black Ants swarming around her in the bright white room, created pain so intense Michelle’s new eyes went pure white, blocking out all stimulation.
Michelle wished that she could sleep through this the same way she had slept through Saw.
Only a monster could do this to Michelle.