Huddled in the corner of the room, I hear him coming. He knows precisely where I am. There are plates of steel between him and me, and concrete thick enough to shield me from a nuclear blast—but none of it will protect me from him.
I’m tired. I’m thirsty. My mouth is dry and my heart is pounding.
I’ve been running for two weeks. It feels like forever. It was long enough to give me the idea that I could possibly escape. I got cocky. I decided to have breakfast at a hotel bar. I didn’t hide my face and someone’s camera must have caught me. That image, zipped through a thousand wires, uploaded to a dozen databases, searched by a handful of very advanced bots put me on the radar of several groups of people I needed to stay away from.
Now he is here, outside the bunker I hired with the last of my money. It’s really a vault designed to protect the valuables of the rich and famous, and it’s supposed to be impregnable. Something tells me that it isn’t. Not against him. He is going to carve through every single layer between us and pull me out like a sardine.
There’s nowhere left to run. I’ve enlisted the help of everyone I know, everyone who still cared or who was in a position to do something. But nothing has made any difference. Nobody can save me.
He’s coming for me. He’s coming and nobody can stop him.
I hear dull thuds as he starts to work at the wall. If this was a mere man coming to get me, he’d have to use a hammer or a battering ram. I know he won’t be using either of those things. His fists are more than capable of turning concrete into crumbling dust. His fingers will pluck at the steel mesh and peel it away like a foil wrapper.
Sure enough, after almost an hour of cowering and waiting for the inevitable, the wall crumbles. An eye peers through and locks with mine. He has incredible eyes. Pale gray, tinted bright blue at the very center of the pupil. Like a star about to go supernova.
They were black, in the beginning. No iris. I gave him those eyes. Now they burn with life, and rage, and the desire for vengeance.
That gaze meets mine and I’m thrown back in time to the precise moment this day became inevitable. I was there when he first saw the world. I was one of the first people he ever laid eyes on, and I knew the moment our gazes locked that we’d made something special. Something unique in all the world. The first of his kind. The only of his kind.
I knew too, when I was forced out of the company, made to leave him behind, that I wasn’t really leaving. Oppenheimer couldn’t abandon the bomb. Edison couldn’t escape the light he shed on the world. And I couldn’t run from my creation either.
What else could he be named? What other moniker would adequately represent our hubris, the God complex that every single scientist in the facility embodied. We were so proud of what we’d done. We’d made a man.
The day his heart began to beat was the day we cheered and congratulated ourselves. We had created life. We had unlocked the deepest mysteries of being. We had made a new form of being, and he lay in the womb of our facility, perfect in every single way.
I was so proud of him. I couldn’t take my eyes off him.
He wasn’t born. He was printed. We designed him and then we built him in cellular layers of metal, silicone, and flesh all knitted together so precisely, all capable of interacting and flourishing within the form we created.
The early trials were on rabbits. We created bunny after bunny, watched them live their lives, mate with other rabbits, and some of them even produced offspring. Our cyborgs had the capacity to be fertile. This was technology that had the potential to change the very fabric of the organic world. We hadn’t just made a new form of life. We’d given it the ability to propagate itself using the same channels life has been using since the dawn of time.
Adam was the first and only human version. He was our masterwork. There was not a part of him we did not know, and that was not specifically and carefully designed.
When he was complete, he was beautiful. His shoulders were broad, his hips narrow in perfect male ratio. His musculature was advanced, even though he’d never so much as twitched a finger before. We made him tall too. Six foot eight, not quite freakish, but well above the average. We set his default code at ten percent body fat. Enough to make him look like a ‘normal’ human, but not so normal that it obscured the incredible architecture of his form. Michelangelo couldn’t have created a more perfect man, and to say that we were proud of him is to say nothing at all. The designers’ attention to detail extended to his face, of course. They made him beyond handsome. He had near perfect symmetry, a hard powerful jaw, straight nose, lips that were full without being feminine, two hard black slashes of brow, and dark hair that curled just a fraction when it was wet.
On the day he began, we gathered around his insensate form and congratulated ourselves. He was alive, but not yet conscious. He had been given a pair of white underwear, but nothing else to obscure the perfection we had wrought. He was an incredible work of art and science. He was our greatest triumph.
The anesthetist lifted the sedation. We waited. He opened his eyes. He looked at us. And he spoke four words that made some of us titter nervously, and others of us stare in horror. One of the team had those words tattooed over his heart:
This was a mistake.
More frightening than the words was the fact that he had the ability to form them so swiftly. He should have been more or less blank. He was yet to be programmed. We had terabytes of data ready to upload to his neural circuits, multiple languages, the wealth of knowledge of centuries. We had a personality ready to impart. But from that very first moment, Adam was his own being.
Staring at him now, through the remnants of the wall that he is quickly peeling away, I am thrown back in time to the moment this all became inevitable.
Three years ago
Adam has been online for several weeks. He’s still learning a lot of things, but the development team has mostly peeled off to work on new projects. I’m not ready to leave him yet, even though he was technically transferred to the Ascent training team a week or so ago.
I’ve stayed on board because he needs someone who understands the technology to make sure that they don’t exceed his stress specifications. He’s being primed for work, a fact I don’t like, but knew was inevitable. I haven’t been told what work he’ll be doing, but it’s likely that they’ll be preparing him for some kind of military or police application.
Since he woke, I’ve had limited contact with him. Ascent is very careful about who gets to be in his presence. They’re guarding him closely to say the least. I’ve been allowed in to run a few basic tests related to cognition, because it was my neural network technology they integrated into his brain.
It’s been fourteen days since I last had contact, and I’m really looking forward to seeing him again. Adam is more to me than a subject. I saw him laid down in the early stages in row after row, flesh printed in three dimensions. I’m not privy as to how the entire process works. The technology is top secret and wholly owned by Ascent Laboratories, and I only understand a part of it. Nobody is allowed to know all of it.
For the first two weeks of his life, he was kept in stasis of sorts, data uploaded day and night through the probes in his temples.
His brain isn’t like ours, and it’s not like a computer. It’s neither and it’s both. He has a lot more storage capacity than the average wet meat processor, but he needs time to build connections between the blocks of information. As time goes by, I expect his cognitive abilities to far exceed that of a normal human.
He was made by men, but he is not a man. He was knitted together, piece by piece, by machines, but he’s not a machine either.
He’s something between the two. The consciousness of man and machine.
For someone in my field of work and study, he’s the Holy Grail. A potential answer to the question of consciousness and personhood. It’s a problem that has been mystifying philosophers for thousands of years, and Adam could be the key.
Developing a meat robot is easy. Developing one with consciousness is something else. It’s my theory that consciousness isn’t inherent in the meat of a man. It’s a matter of reception. I helped develop a chip, a neural lattice that allows the brain to develop in near organic ways. He won’t be separate from the human world. He will potentially be part of it.
Of course, for the rest of the team his consciousness isn’t the focus. As a group we have created an impressive intellect and a physical body so powerful, and so capable of both inflicting and enduring damage that he puts even the most incredible human warriors to shame. He can withstand explosive blasts, take bullets. I know that aside from a precious few spots, he can be stabbed over and over again, taken apart and put back together. We can generate new organs and limbs for him. He can potentially be modular. And with that same technology, we can give people new organs and limbs. There’s the capacity to change the lives of millions of people for the better if we can fine tune the technology even more.
I have everything ready to give him a new round of testing. I can’t wait to see how his language skills have advanced, how he is coming to terms with the fact of his existence. Adam has had no infancy, no childhood. He has been spawned fully adult, and I expect that to have some kind of flow on effect.
The doors in front of me lead to the chamber where they are training him. I’ve only got fifteen minutes to do my assessment, but I’ve come a little early in the hopes of being able to see him for longer.
I swipe my card and they open. The silence of the hall is broken by a rage-filled scream of anger and pain. At first I can’t comprehend what I am seeing. It’s literally unthinkable. The man we made with so much care is writhing in agony.
They have chained Adam to a plinth, and they are torturing him. I can’t say it any other way. They have electric probes and they are zapping him on the tender parts of his body. He is growling and snarling like a tethered animal, foaming at the mouth as they laugh and strike at him again and again.
His powerful body is contorting at the stimulus, unable to resist the electrical impulses. They have deliberately chosen the most disruptive form of pain they could use. His nerve network is new and raw. This is cruelty of a kind that churns my stomach.
I drop everything I’m holding and run to him, cursing them all at the top of my lungs, and myself too, though more internally. I could have prevented this.
When he was still in development, there was an argument over whether or not he should be sensitive to pain of any kind. We didn’t have to give him pain receptors, but we did. Without pain, he wouldn’t know when he was hurt, and without knowing when he was hurt, he wouldn’t be able to adapt to damage. Now that capacity to feel is being used against him in a stupid and thoroughly cruel way.
I push my way through them and throw myself on his body. One of the assholes strikes with the shock rod again and I feel the agony of the strike zip through my body, my muscles contorting in referred pain.
“Stop!” the overseer shouts, angry not at the men who are torturing Adam, but at me for my interference. He grabs me roughly by the arm and hauls me away from Adam. My strength is no match for his, and as much as I try to stay with Adam, I can’t help but be pulled away.
The overseer drags me off the plinth where they have Adam bound on his back like a sacrifice. I am glowered at, not just by him, but by every single soul in the room besides Adam. They’re all so utterly sure of themselves. They believe they have the right to hurt him. He’s not a person in their eyes. He’s just a thing to use and to hurt.
“What do you think you’re doing!” I confront him before they can confront me.
“He disobeys orders. We need his submission.”
“What?” I stare at him. “We made him to be independent.”
“He still has to follow orders.”
They start to torment him again, right in front of me. As if my presence doesn’t matter. As if they have some right to destroy what so many of us worked so hard to create.
I run forward and push their probes away. They don’t know what to do with that. They don’t see Adam as a person, but they know I’m a human, with rights. They know if they use those electric prods on me, they’ll kill me. So they step back.
He’s singed and burned where the points have met his skin. They’ll heal swiftly, but that’s not the point. We didn’t design his regeneration capabilities so he could be used as a test dummy for torture.
“Leave him alone,” I growl. “Don’t you dare hurt him again.”
“Step aside, Lilly.” The lead tech comes forward to try to defuse the situation.
“No.” I stay where I am. I’m trembling with rage. How dare they do this? He has been alive for no more than a month and they have made his world painful. They are punishing him for being what we made him to be, and I can’t stand it.
He’s being held down with so many bindings and straps he can’t protect himself. He can’t even curl up against the pain. He has to lie there and take it.
What they don’t understand is that they can’t break him. We made him unbreakable. Every bit of pain makes him more resistant, stronger, angrier.
“You can’t do this to him. It won’t work. He’s not made to respond to this.”
“Everything responds to pain. Now move. Your job is over. Let us do ours.”
“I didn’t make him so you could hurt him!”
“What did you think was going to happen to him? You think you made the perfect soldier so he could spend the rest of his life crocheting and reading you articles from women’s websites?”
The asshole snorts at me. He’s military and he’s a fucking asshole. He doesn’t understand the technology that went into making Adam. He doesn’t understand what Adam is at his core. He’s a brutal sadist and he’s going to destroy what I’ve created.
“Leave, Doctor Mallory. Now. Or face the consequences.”
I stare at him with all the fury I have. “The consequences are going to be yours if you don’t stop this. I promise you, you will regret what you have already done, and if you keep doing it, you’ll regret it even more. He’s not an animal to be beaten down. You’ll never break him. Not ever.”
He jerks his head toward his men. “Get her out of here.”
They grab me by the arms. I lose my temper. More than that, I lose my mind. I lash out with all the anger Adam can’t express. I kick. I hit. I bite down on the hands that grip me.
In the end it takes four of them to pull me out of the room. My clothing is yanked and wrenched, my head is locked beneath someone’s arm.
The last thing I see as they haul me out are Adam’s eyes locked on mine. There’s no expression on his face. It’s a mask of cold fury. I can feel his anger, his pain. I can imagine the betrayal he must feel. He came into coherent existence mere weeks ago and now all he knows is pain. This is my fault. I could have made him a dumb machine like the rest of them. I could have saved him from this. That neural network is the only reason this pain matters. It’s the only reason he has any comprehension, any sense of himself as a being that can suffer. This is my fault. And I can’t undo any of it.
“Doctor Mallory, you’re an exceptionally competent worker, but you must be aware we cannot tolerate the kind of interference you displayed today.”
I’m being fired. After being thrown out of the torture chamber, I’ve been sent to HR like a naughty schoolgirl. The representative’s face is such a stern mask I could almost expect a spanking, except they don’t beat the employees here, only the subjects.
“And you must be aware that what you’re doing is wrong,” I argue back. “Dead wrong. He’s fully self-aware. What’s being done to him is torture.”
“He’s a prototype, Doctor Mallory. I know it’s tempting to anthropomorphize the projects, but…”
“This isn’t anthropomorphizing anything,” I interrupt. “He’s more human than you and I. He just happens to also be more than human. He’s our greatest achievement, and he deserves more than to be tied down and shocked just because he won’t do as he’s told.”
“He’s a project, and he’s malfunctioning.”
“You don’t fix anything by shocking it with electricity. This is complete bullshit and you know it.”
It’s not professional to swear, but I’m past professional. I have bits of one of the guard’s skin stuck between my incisor and the tooth next to it.
“I’m afraid we’re going to have to terminate your contract. As you’re aware, complete secrecy is expected and contractually obliged. If any of the information relating to this project is shared…”
“You’ll kill me. I know. Don’t worry, I won’t say anything. I like being alive.”
He smirks at me and shakes his head. “We’re not murderers, Doctor Mallory.”
“Yes, you are. But don’t worry, I won’t tell anyone. Your secrets are safe with me.”
I shouldn’t be surprised that I am being fired, but I am surprised. There aren’t many people in the world with my level of skill, and none with my knowledge. I have to leave all my notes behind, of course, but the real magic is in my brain, and they can’t take that.
I don’t get to say goodbye to anyone, especially not Adam.
They throw me out, in the most polite of ways. Not before making it abundantly clear that if I so much as breathe a word of what is going on in the laboratories, I’ll be sued into oblivion.
I want to save Adam, but I have to let him go. I have to forget what’s going on at Ascent and hope that somehow karma takes those bastards.
They do pay me handsomely though. Enough that I don’t have to work again. It’s blood money. The creature I helped create suffers for every dollar I spend, but I spend the money anyway, because his suffering can’t mean the end of my survival. There’s not much work for people in my field. There’s only one lab with the kind of advanced tech I’m trained in—well, one lab in the United States anyway, and I’m pretty sure Ascent would put a bullet in me if I so much as looked at working for another company.
I’m forced into retirement at the grand old age of twenty-eight years old. And I can’t get Adam out of my head. I don’t date. I don’t look for a new career. I sit at home and I idle my life away.
Almost three years later…
After being fired, I settle into retirement, in a way. My life becomes a beige flow of days going one into the other. Instead of working or thinking, I consume media. Television, mostly.
I don’t even know what I’m watching when the breaking news banner flashes across the screen. But I’ll remember that banner forever.
Breaking News: A fire at the Ascent Laboratories facility has claimed the lives of dozens.
Images of the fire show the entire compound in flames, most of the buildings razed to the ground. According to the report, a series of explosions has resulted in the total physical destruction of the company, which for business and tactical reasons was based entirely in one location slightly outside the city.
Adam. He is the first and last thing I think about. As the television beams images of flame and destruction into my home, my heart sinks. He’s dead. He must be. If not today, perhaps years ago. Tears come to my eyes, as I begin to mourn what must have been a short and painful life. He deserved better than what he got. He deserved so much more. He deserved love and freedom, and the right to choose his destiny. He received none of that. We made him as a person, and they treated him like a thing.
It’s been a while since I cried for Adam, but the tears flow now without restraint until maybe twenty or so minutes later, a heavy knock at my door draws me from the couch. I answer the door, red-eyed and miserable. There are two authorities standing outside my door, clad in the pure black of the higher policing authority. These are the men you see when you’ve done something terribly, terribly wrong.
“Yeah, that’s me.”
The one on the left scowls a question at me. “Ma’am, are you aware of the incident at Ascent Laboratories?”
I nod. “I haven’t worked there for a long time.”
“May we come in, Doctor?”
My answer isn’t one of genuine hospitality. Of course they can come in. It would be illegal for me to refuse them entry.
I stand back as they walk into my home, their eyes running over every bit and piece of furniture. There’s not much. I never really got comfortable here, even though I have ample funds to do so. This glass-walled apartment with views of the city has felt more like an observation chamber. I know they’ve been watching me. And I know they encompasses a lot of people. Ascent have to keep tabs on me, of course. And then there’s the government. They don’t dare question me directly, but they want to know where I am.
They come and sit down on the plain white couch. I sit in the plain white chair and compose myself. I’m the image of a model citizen. My dark hair is cut neatly to my chin in the same bob haircut almost every woman has. When I step out into the flow of humanity, I am remarkably unremarkable.
“You’re aware that there has been a conflagration. But there’s more to it than that. This is highly classified and restricted information. Your silence is essential.”
“The accident wasn’t so much an accident, as it was an escape. One of the projects broke out. We believe his code name was…” He looks down at his notebook and reads each of the letters aloud. “A D A M.”
Adam. Adam fucking survived, and he escaped. It’s all I can do not to scream with excitement. The expressions on their faces indicate that even my small smile is too much of a positive reaction.
“We’ve been lead to believe your termination was in large part due to your connection to this project,” the agent says.
I nod. “I didn’t agree with his treatment.”
“We have reason to believe he intends to hunt you down and exact his revenge. Before he left the facility, he inflicted serious, lethal wounds on each and every one of the team connected with his work. One of his victims lived long enough to tell us what he had done, and to say that he was looking for you.”
I’m not sure what one is supposed to say when an agent tells you an angry cyborg wants to kill you, but oh about covers it for me.
“For your safety, we recommend coming with us now. You’ll be provided a secure facility and a laboratory in which to continue your work.”
“It’s evident that this prototype has potential in a variety of applications. We’d like you to come and resume your work on it.”
“I didn’t… I was only responsible for a very small part of it.”
I’m instantly on my guard. This isn’t about my safety at all. This about trying to get me on their team, use me for their purposes. They want to take me in. They want to imprison me. But I am not going to go into custody. I’d rather run from Adam than hide with them.
“I’ll take my chances.”
They look at one another, and I know they’re considering whether or not to put the cuffs on me.
“Sorry,” I say. “I just need to go to the bathroom.”
It’s the most transparent excuse in the world, but they don’t question it. They sit there and they let me walk out of the room. Of course I don’t go to the bathroom. I grab my handbag and I head right for the front door.
If Adam is out, maybe he does want to hurt me. But the government doesn’t care about protecting me, so whatever they want is going to be a bad deal. I’m sure they’ve just discovered what Ascent was up to all this time, and I’m sure they want in on it. I just became very hot property. A scientist with her spinal cord still intact and not being worn as a cyborg’s headpiece is a rare commodity now.
I’m almost sure Adam wouldn’t be that barbaric to me, but who knows what they did to him in the end. It has been years. Thousands of hours of pure brutality unleashed on the finest mind ever created. Maybe they did break him. If so, I am sure his capacity for cruelty will exceed my wildest imagination.
The only use I can think of for me, from the government’s perspective, is as bait. They know he wants me, so if they hold me, they can get to him.
I don’t know what’s become of Adam since I saw him. Maybe I helped create the worst monster the world has ever seen. If that’s the case, I’ll take responsibility for it on my own. I still know how to deal with a cyborg, even after all these years.
Adam tears the final piece of the wall open and steps through the breach he has created. I huddle back against the far wall, my arms around me, my knees up to my chest as he comes through. I don’t know what he’s going to do to me, but in that moment I am utterly enthralled.
He is wearing thick black tactical pants and a vest. Aside from that, his shoulders, arms, and much of his chest are bare. He is beautiful. Not in a feminine way. In the way only a perfect monster can be beautiful. He is fierce and feral. If he were a man he would be panting hard. His fingers would be bleeding from the effort of tearing at the wall. But he is entirely intact and there is not so much as a drop of sweat on his brow.
If I am not mistaken, he has grown considerably since I last saw him. He had an impressive musculature then, but musculature can be increased with nutrition and work and the right kind of stimulation and I am sure they ran him through all the stimulation they could find to bulk him up to the size he now stands.
There’s absolutely no way out of here. I knew from the beginning that I’d never escape him. I just didn’t realize how I’d feel when we finally came face to face.
I’m terrified, in the best possible way. My heart is hammering in my chest.
He stops and just looks at me. For a long moment, there is nothing but silence between us. I am face to face with what I created—and what the others tried their best to destroy.
He’s more human than I am. His face betrays emotions more complex than even my own. I see triumph. I see anger. I see desire. I see rage. I see loss. All those powerful feelings are locked away behind that perfectly controlled muscular facade.
I expect him to roar, but instead he speaks quietly in a voice that is deep and resonant and refined. I can hear the education in his tone, the modulation of his voice. And I can hear the natural dominance. He was made perfect. He was made to be the kind of man who could command other men effortlessly. It works on women too, even terrified, nearly sobbing, curled-up women.
My body unfurls as I rise to my feet. I want to stay crumpled up in that corner, but he will not allow it.
He closes the distance between us as I stand trembling before him. His hand extends, the same hand that just made short work of inches of concrete and steel. He cups my chin gently. I feel a frisson run through me. There is so much strength in his fingers, and yet he touches me with a tenderness that men with a fraction of his muscle cannot master. In an instant, the fear that has been brewing in me since the government agents told me Adam was on the loose and looking for me subsides.
“Lilly,” he says softly. “I missed you.”
In that instant, the years roll back and I am with him again, but he is not as he was. The creature I left in the laboratory has become more than a man. Back then he was under my care. That’s not the case anymore. Now I am not only in his care, I am utterly at his mercy. Adam runs the pad of his thumb gently over my lower lip.
“Don’t be afraid,” he says, his voice softening further, gentling me like a scared animal.
It’s impossible not to be afraid of him. Every fiber in my body is screaming that I need to escape this big creature. But I can’t move, and he wouldn’t let me if I could anyway.
“Adam…” I say his name and my voice cracks with all the emotion I’ve been holding in. “I’m so glad you’re alive.”
It’s true. In spite of the fact that I’ve been running from him—in spite of the fact that I’d still run given half a chance. He came for me for a reason, and I don’t think it was for a gentle reunion. There’s a trail of death and suffering in his wake.
His lips twitch into a smile. “I am,” he says. “I’m sorry it took me so long to get free.”
“Sorry? You mean, you did this for me?”
“You are my woman, Lilly. I have wanted nothing but you since we were parted.”
His words are sweet, but there is a hint of something not at all sweet behind them, a gravel to his voice. An intensity to his gaze.
“What do you want from me?”
He answers me directly and without hesitation. It’s a vague answer, but it contains the sum of all possible answers, each and every one of which makes the deepest parts of me squirm with fear… and anticipation.