The following short story is co-written by Sajan Dhaliwal. It is the first in the Paired Writer Series. Sajan’s writing is brilliant and expressive, and I am humbled to have had the opportunity to work with him. It has truly been an experience. I hope you will have as much fun reading the piece as we did bringing it to life.
I think I am in pain.
At least, I think so. If I could hurt him like everyone else, I think I would hurt right there. But I don’t mind. He’s been at this for months. A lot of times he’d get me to go to sleep; probably so I won’t get so bored. But it doesn’t matter. I like to think. Thinking is fun.
His hands inside me.
I’m laying down on the table today. And I look around the room while he works. There’s tools, and dim lights. I feel like there’s always something new here when he brings me in, so I try to find everything. There’s some juice over there; there’s always so weird in colour, and they’ve got crazy names like FORMALDEHYDE and other stuff. (It’s probably English like he is, so I don’t question it.) He’s got a new box of those metal, spinny bits that I like to touch. And there’s a new sleeping person over there. I wonder what his name is.
I look over my body. The man is nice. He has a nice voice. He’s very calm, and he knows what he’s doing. Though he likes to mumble to himself. He keeps saying things like, “fixing God’s mistakes.” I think it’s funny.
He has me sit up after he’s finished. I feel like brand new. He likes to call me his doll. (Silly man. I don’t look like a doll … Do I?) And then he starts talking to me. I smile because I don’t understand a lot of the words he’s saying. But they make sense at the same time.
And when he’s finished speaking, all I can help say is:
To him, the world had always appeared like a canvas. Streaked with lines of black and white, splashed with hints of grey. A painting absent of life. Every day was just routine. Every person was just anybody, never special, never unique.
And amongst the machines that he called his home, amongst the dirt and grime covering his face like some cheap mask, he knew that he was also an anybody.
But it always seemed like the case that the most ordinary, unoriginal, completely normal would stumble and find themselves surrounded by that which would tempt them.
And staring down at what laid before him, it seemed he had once again managed to fit the pattern. He wasn’t quite sure what it was, this thing that appeared at first glance to be nothing more than a pile of scrap metal.
Scrap metal didn’t whisper in a timid voice the single fragile word, “help.”
Scrap metal didn’t extend a trembling hand towards him, as if it was he alone who could save this…this creature from the cruelty of the world.
The little creature kept itself cloaked in little bundles of rags over its small frame.
“Are you lost?” Daksh said.
“No. Just hurt,” the creature replied, placing a white hand on its petite arm. Its voice meak and hollow, but quite absent of foulness. Its eyes uncontested and pure as ice, wide-eyed in fear and curiosity.
“It’s not safe to be out this late – the dogs will get you. You might want to come with me, and I could get you fixed up,” Daksh had said, “I live not far from here.”
The creature nodded graciously and rose up from its heap. Together, the two walked as if they were one in the same in their normal circumstances. But Daksh couldn’t help but think, What am I doing?
Something was off about the little one. Like how it walked a bit oddly–flat footed and as if its muscles couldn’t hold it up straight so it hobbled–and how every so often one of its knees would bend in a way it wasn’t supposed to be, but it walked it off like it was nothing.
“Do you at least have a name?”
“I don’t know,” it replied.
“What kind of person doesn’t have a name?”
So he spoke, “Do you really have no family?”
“No. I don’t think so,” it replied, “Not exactly anyway.”
“You speak Hindi very well for someone as young as you. Though I can’t tell if you’re
English or Indian,” he chuckled. “Do you speak English?”
“Just a little. I understand it better.”
“I see. You’re quite the odyssey than.” A kilometer later, after much observation of the little creature beside him, Daksh thought to ask, “You say you’re hurt, but I see no blood.”
And it laughs. “I don’t bleed, silly, I never have!”
He stops in his tracks. “You don’t bleed?”
Daksh didn’t know what to say in response. “So you’re just roaming the tracks then with nowhere to go, nor any family to speak of like some lost thing?”
“LOST THING!” it echoed.
After the strangest confrontation of the odyssey, the two of them had at last reached Daksh`s workshop. The creature took its seat on his table and unfurled its rags on its arms, wrap by wrap.
“Before we get started,” Daksh started, “I need to get something sorted out …. Are you a boy or a girl?”
“I don’t know,” it replied.
“What do you mean you don’t know?”
“I don’t know!”
“Well… what’s down there?”
“Where you go to the bathroom.”
Daksh wasn’t going to get anything out of this, so he decided to stop. Never has he been more uncomfortable talking to a child.
He watched as the wrappings came away, eyes furrowing at all the dirt. Just dirt. No blood. Who exactly had he picked up amongst all this rubble?
Filling a bowl with water he set it down next to the creature along with a wash cloth. It’s eyes watched him warily, as if it had some faint idea about what was about to happen.
What sort of creature did not bleed, or know it’s place with the sexes, or even be wandering around all alone?
A slow grinding of wheels echoed throughout the room and the creature stopped, his hand halfway to the wash bowl.
“Something hurts.” The creature spoke after a moment’s silence.
Daksh examined it carefully. The bandages revealed pale and thin arms, crisscrossed with faint scars. “Your arm?”
It shook its head, raising its hand slowly to his ear, eyes distant. “Do you hear it?”
It pressed its hand tighter against the side of his face. “That. The ticking.”
He glanced around the small room. In the distance, he could hear the low throaty howl of the dogs in the night, their nightly welcoming to the darkness. He could hear the wind shoving against the small window, begging to be let in, to be given freedom from the world.
But no ticking.
It shook its head, and its dismay displayed with a cross look on its face.
“It comes and goes,” it said, “but when things get quiet, far too quiet for my liking, then it never seems to go away. The ticking.” The creature looked up at the curiosities of the workshop and added, “But it keeps me thinking.”
How maddening Daksh thought. “I see. And your wound. Show it to me.”
The little one did as it was asked, and turned over its scarred arm to reveal the bottom. Daksh expected to see a lumpy artery that needed stitching, but what he saw instead either very well appalled him or fascinated him. For what he saw wasn’t flesh, but rusted metal. He saw no muscle, but twisted cogs. He saw no blood, but miniature tired pistons. The little one demonstrated what was wrong and gestured to its white hand. Three of its five fingers moved with fluidity, but its ring finger remained stiffened and its pinky twitched with occasional vigor. And when it did, a gasp of small steam exhaled from the “wound”, like hot air escapes its boiling kettle.
Daksh nonetheless took interest in the little one, and exchanged his first aid kit for his toolbox. Instead of reaching for his sutures, he operated with a small wrench. He analysed the mismatched clusters of clattering cogs and picked apart the problem. He moved several gears into new places, experimented, and eventually all moving parts moved the way they should have.
He then ran to his kitchen and returned with a bottle of vinegar. “This should help with the damage.” He dabbed some vinegar into a cloth and treated the machine’s equivalent of an infection. The pistons were cleaned, as were the cogs until they conceited to move efficiently again. The creature wrinkled its nose to the smell.
Grabbing the sutures, he then covered up the wound and put its skin back together. Remarkable, Daksh thought. Of the little work of wonder before him.
He was far too tired to get any answers out of the creature now, and decided he would question it further tomorrow. But it would have been best if it stayed with him for now; for who knows what the police might do with it. He couldn’t quite imagine the creature caught in a state of vivisection. Daksh shivered at the thought of such innocence being torn apart by science.
A dozen minutes had passed before it turned its eyes to Daksh. The peculiarities grew wilder, for its eyes radiated a dim blue glow from them, and the irises moved silently.
Looking closer, Daksh observed that the reason being was that inside its irises were in fact little spinning gears, like similar to a clock.
What are you, he thought.
Every day the creature never ceased to amaze him, its eyes wide as it drank in every new image. Sometimes when Daksh looked at it, he could see this hunger in its eyes. It was a look familiar to him. The trademark of desperate men who had found something precious in a world of horror.
And it was talented. Picking up an old brush one day, it brushed it softly over the rough wooden table, leaving behind nothing. For a moment, Daksh had been mesmerized by the graceful motion of the hand. The subtle flick of a finishing line. How could such delicate motions be made with a hand that knew only the tools of work?
“Do you paint?” He asked finally.
The creature paused in its motions, fingers gripping the brush tightly. “I don’t know.”
Daksh considered the creature before moving to pick up a scrap piece of paper and a jar of water. “This is all I have.” He pushed both items towards it. Its eyes flickered up to his for a moment, before extending a hand out towards the paper. It stopped, and he could see hesitation mark the lines in its face. “What is it?” Daksh asked.
“Why do we paint?” His voice was quiet, as if the question itself was blasphemous.
Daksh was fairly caught off guard by the question. He looked back at the little one who stared back blankly and wide-eyed at him. “Interesting thing to bring up. I’m not quite sure why we paint.” He walks back and faces his window, as if assuming he’d find an answer atop one of the mountain peaks that are ways away from his home. “Expression, I think. Artists, they like to capture feelings in moments, and these moments within their feelings. It’s all about saying what you have to say without exactly saying anything.” He looked back at his odyssey. “Does that make sense?”
It nodded carefully. “I believe so.”
He smiled. “So what are you feeling?”
The day had passed without so much as a whisper for the creature. Nothing as far as the ticking in its head. It stared intently at its paper and little brush with its hands wrapped so snug around it. It was a safe little instrument. And it loved it.
Capture the feelings.
To which the creature began to play. It gathered the paint and began to mix, the fine edges of the paper and everything in between was wet with whatever was sent forth from its clockworked mind. Images came as easily to the odyssey as the birds had sung in the morning.
By the time Daksh came home from a murderous day at the railway, he found his creature sitting on a stool aimed at the glass, unobservant to anything else other than at the mountains.
He saw the pages that were laid flat on the table. He honestly expected to see a child’s doodles, but was left with a mouth agaped yet again to find not doodles, but mastery. He held one up: a lively river that was struck with such verisimilitude that you could almost wish you were swimming with the fish. And another: a black background etched with gears and connected metallic cogs that looked seemingly endless.
And a third: images of mountains coaxed with white delicacy of snow. And in the corner there was a little sketch of what seemed to be the creature itself, huddled over in the snow.
He looked up at the little one. And the little one looked back up at him, wide-eyed. For a moment Daksh had nothing to say to it.
“I would have made more, but I ran out of paint,” it smiled, “otherwise, I would have painted on the walls too.”
The next day, Daksh immediately set off into the village and to the market stalls. He bought what he could. New paints, brushes, bigger sheets of cheap paper, as well as an easel. And he gifted it all to his odyssey.
“Do as you please,” he beckoned.
Soon, the small room was covered completely with fluttering pages. The deep blue of the ocean rested on a crooked table. The jaded green of the forest swayed in the slight breeze, held up by a broken blind. The oppressive black covered the shattered mirror. But Daksh’s favorite was the white. The snow was drawn with precision, every detail of the creature’s desperate need for survival captured perfectly. It rested comfortably by his bed, a constant reminder. A part of Daksh loved it because he saved this creature.
One day, while on a market run, his eyes caught a stand that was overflowing with paintings. He walked towards it curiously, examining the works. His lip curled in distaste at the blandness. It was all…flat.
Where the creature’s paintings were vibrant and thrumming with life, these were nothing more than a sad approximation. But they were selling. Others were drawn to the stand, their talk shooting back and forward, amazement at this “talent.”
They didn’t know art. They didn’t know the beauty of the brush, the stories it told in long relentless strokes. They didn’t know it like Daksh did.
Coming home, he picked up a piece of paper resting by the creature’s elbow. It didn’t even look up at the interruption, too intent on capturing a bird trying to escape a cage. This one was simple. A metal bed, framed only by a flickering bulb. Looking closer, he could just barely make out what he assumed was the creature crouched in the corner, running his hand over the rough texture of his arm.
“There is a stand at the market.” He said finally, setting down the paper again. “They sell paintings.”
The creature paused in its work, fingers shifting around the well-used brush. “Do you like them?”
Daksh shook his head. “They are nothing compared to the wonder on these pages.” He had expected some sort of reaction for his compliment, but the creature only tilted his head and stared at him, the gears in the centre of his eyes spinning at a constant speed.
“I am only capturing my feelings.”
Daksh looked around the room with a critical eye. “These would all sell very well.”
The creature’s eyes widened and it pulled the sheet closer. “Sell?” It shook its head. “I don’t want to give these away.”
“We need the money,” his voice was tense. The creature shook its head again.
“I am not asking,” Daksh said sharply. “I took you in when you were lost. Fed you when you were so hungry you thought the pain in your stomach was normal. Exchanged your dirty rags for this shirt you wear. Accepted you when no one else would, when you are so clearly a-” He cut himself off, fingers digging into his palm.
The creature’s head was bowed, one hand running over its arm, tracing the gears. “So clearly what?”
He took a beat to recollect himself, exhaling any angst, reasoning that he was only talking to a child. “Talented,” he finally said. “Listen. I have been providing for the both of us since you came here. And I’m quite happy to do it, I enjoy your company. However, I found you at a time where I could barely even provide for myself. How do you suppose that we’re faring now? I’m at my wit’s end here, child.”
The creature didn’t know what to say, and kept its eyes down at its page. Daksh sat down next to it. “I’ve given you a home and all these tools and supplies and I let you carry on as you like,” he started again. “Imagine the money we can make if we sell your paintings. People pay for rubbish, just think of what they’ll pay for these. With hands like yours, you would put Renaissance artists to shame. You can pick whatever paintings you want to give away, and with that money we can get you nicer paints and supplies – perhaps actual canvases. We can get ourselves finer foods, more comfortable and exotic clothings. Perhaps one day we can find ourselves a nicer place to live. And I could maybe even acquire you a proper schooling. They have art schools too, you know.”
The creature looked up at the last remark. Though it was getting fanciful ideas of the possibilities as Daksh spoke.
“All you need to do,” he continued, “is paint.”
The creature looked up at its caretaker. “I don’t have to meet people, do I?”
“Not if you don’t want to.”
It began small. Daksh would peddle a handful of paintings now and then, even opening up a modest stall of his own on the weekends. He boasted to his richer friends about having a little artist friend who makes paintings that are just to die for – that the paintings themselves simply light up homes with charisma and the emotions of your choice. He would show them said works thereafter, and they would just so happen to agree. They paid sums of money for them, and naturally the fancier dressed ones would be bargained with a higher price. Surely enough, the creature’s paintings were favoured over any other local dealers. Customers argued over paintings and bargaining debates started in the most impromptu manner. He couldn’t blame them. The creature’s hand had gotten more stylistic in the coming weeks and even more fine tuned, till eventually it was practically flesh to paper.
Daksh eventually started buying canvases for the creature, so that they may be auctioned at more professional and ideally higher bidding places. Folks had raved about the mystery painting series, with only Daksh as the face to show for it. He was approached by such a man who had already bought three of the little one’s paintings, and he asked if he could potentially meet the ‘masterful artist’ believing that such art should have been recognised fully.
“I would, but he… erm … she isn’t quite fond of the crowds and the outdoors. She’s not very sociable.”
Daksh one day came home to find his odyssey huddled over a few books, quickly scanning the pages and flipping to the next. Just the previous day he had bought a crate of random books for his creature, so it would have some form of new inspiration and have its attention occupied with more literary matters rather than solely in the arts.
“What are you reading?” He asked, walking closer to the table.
The creature paused in its motions. “It’s a story. About a man and his son.” Its fingers gingerly ran over the pages, as if they would be gone in a heartbeat. It looked up at Daksh, its eyes wide with wonder. “How many stories are there in the world?”
Daksh shrugged, moving over to the cupboards for their dinner. “Too many for us to know.”
For a few moments the only sound was the whisper soft pages as revealed their secrets, piece by piece, word by word. Daksh was not a reader. Never had been. There had always been more pressing matters in his life. Those who had the time to invest in the literary arts were the lucky ones.
“Icarus.” The voice was soft and Daksh turned around to see the creature staring down at a page, his attention devoted entirely to the words in front of it.
He didn’t want to ask, and pride battled curiosity before the need finally became too great to know. “Who is Icarus?”
“The son of Daedalus.” It replied. Daksh joined the creature at the table and took a look at the page, finding an old illustrated drawing of a young boy with wings on his back.
The boy didn’t notice he was flying to close to the sun, or his father’s blind panic at the risk his son was taking. “He thought being more than human would save him. But it ended up being the cause of his death.” The creature’s eyes moved from the page to its arm, his eyes distant. “He thought he could save me.”
Daksh paused, turning to look at the creature. This was the first time it had mentioned its former life. He had never asked again after the first night, reasoning that perhaps ignorance was best. “Who did?”
Its eyebrows furrowed. “My master. He told me he was fixing God’s mistakes. Who is God?”
Daksh was caught off guard by the question and the revelation that his creature once had a past. “He’s a creator of sorts – if not the Creator. But wait, go back. You had a master?”
“Does that make my master my God?” the odyssey mumbled to himself.
“No, man cannot be God. And if man tries to replicate something so beyond its powers, then surely it’s the Devil’s work.”
“Then am I spawn?”
“No,” looking into the gears in its eyes, “You’re a child. And you live here now. With me. Forget about this master of yours, if he cared for you, he would have searched for you. He would have found you. You’re human just like me. Okay?”
The creature looked back at his book. “I like Icarus.”
“Yes, very much. He’s got wings and everything. And he was made by someone… like me too.”
Daksh smiled at that. “Is that what we’ll call you then? Icarus.”
The creature’s eyes widened again, and the gears began to spin quicker, never once did it blink. “You mean it!? I can have a name?” It shouted excitedly.
“Of course,” Daksh replied in a gentle demeanor. “All people should have names.”
The creature smiled happily, remarking on the idea of it having an identity.
Daksh planned out the rest of the meal, and had put several pots and their contents on the oven. He then proceeded to his room to change out of his work clothes and into something more casual. But when he entered his room he came to find another one Icarus’ paintings. Except this one was for him. It was a portrait of himself.
It looked so lifelike, and Daksh was astonished by the craftsmanship and the fine details. Even the eyes looked watery enough that at any moment, the picture could have started to cry. Almost made him want to cry too.
He left his room, and looked at little Icarus still smiling over its books. “You remember the first night you stayed here? When I brought you?”
“Mmhhmmm,” Icarus said without looking up. Daksh went back to join it.
“I asked you that night what you were. If you were a boy or a girl. But you didn’t know.”
Icarus looked up in curiosity.
“Well,” he continued, “what you like to be?”
Icarus’ smile widened further. “Oh. Oh. Oh. I’m not sure. I like the idea of being a boy. Just like you. Then I can be like your son. But I also see so many pretty women pass by your workshop. And that makes me think about being a girl too. Then I can be your daughter.”
Daksh had never thought about that. How he practically adopted Icarus off the railway.
Icarus interrupted his train of thought by saying, “Can I be both!?”
He gave a wry smile at that. “I’m not quite sure how that would work.”
“Oh. Right. Uummmm. Can I be a girl then?”
“Yay!” and Icarus jumped up in happiness and hugged Daksh.
At last it became a she.
“That’s a fine piece you have there.” Daksh glanced up the voice to see a man standing across from him. His face was shadowed by a tilted hat, and he could see the faint marks of a scar that pulled his face in different directions- as if someone had taken it and stretched it out. His hands were shoved into his pockets, shoulders weighed down. He spoke Hindi, but his pronunciation was coarse and rough. He was not from here.
Daksh glanced at the piece in reference. It was a lush forest, leaves shielding out most of the light but letting a few privileged through. The water rushed near the edge, the deep blue seeming endless, even if it was only on the page. “Thank you. Are you looking to buy it?”
The man didn’t answer, instead picking up the painting and brushing his fingertips over it. Daksh’s gaze was caught by the frail hands. “Beautiful.” He murmured. “Tell me,” his eyes stayed on the canvas. “Where do you get the inspiration for these pieces? Surely this scene is not local to an area like this.”
“It’s not made by my hand. I have a…” daughter, “student. She’s very talented.” He watched carefully as the man’s hands tightened slightly around the frame. “I suppose she gets her inspiration from books mostly.”
“Mostly.” He repeated, before falling silent again.
Daksh looked around at the milling customers, some who were standing with his paintings in their hands, wonder tracing the lines of their face. “Sir, I don’t mean to be rude, but I do have other customers to attend to…” He let his voice trail off.
“I’m fascinated by her work. Do you think there’s a chance I could meet her?”
“I’m sorry, she’s not really open to seeing visitors.” Daksh replied swiftly. Over the months the question had grown more frequent.
The man’s eyes narrowed. “Are you sure? It would be a quick meeting.”
Daksh met his eyes steadily. “Not interested sir. If you’re not buying the painting I’ll take it back now.” He extended his hand out. For a moment, they just stared at each other, locked in a silent battle.
Finally the man dropped his gaze and gave it back. “I hope that we will meet again. Perhaps under different circumstances.”
“Don’t count on it.” Daksh murmured as he watched the man walk away, his shoulders hunched as he parted the crowds easily too make way.
Later that night, the room was enveloped in quiet contentment. Icarus was once again hunched over another paintings, her hands bringing life into what was once nothing. He was sitting across from her, counting up the money they had earned.
A knock on the door sounded, and for a moment both of them froze in their actions, the ticking of the clock keeping them in their places. The second knock released them from the spell, and Icarus glanced at Daksh curiously. “Who is that?”
Daksh shook his head, just as much at a loss. Getting up, he made his way to the door and opened it slowly. His hand tightened around the door as he saw who it was and he debated just slamming the door close until the man left.
“I wouldn’t do that.” The man replied quietly, his eyes shining like silver in the night. Shifting forward, he stuck his foot in the doorway. “I just want to talk.”
“No.” He replied firmly. “You need to leave.”
“And you need to listen!” he retorted.
Icarus was playing in the room over. That voice… she recognised it.
“You needn’t hide under a false pretense,” continue the intruding man. “I know there is someone you keep here.” Daksh was further instigated to close the door now, but the man barged in using his shoulder without further quarrel.
“Listen, I don’t know what you’re talking about.”
“Again with the lies. The creature you have. It’s mine.”
“She won’t go with you,” Daksh stood his ground.
“She? It’s an it. My work has led me to believe we’ve surpassed the formalities of gender altogether. Ah, there you are.”
Daksh turned to see a frightened, wide-eyed Icarus standing some feet away from the two men.
“So, this is the one you’ve chosen, hm?” said the intruding man.
“What? No, no. Not him. Please. I’ll choose another! He’s a good man. I’m so, so sorry, master. I didn’t mean to wreck everything. But I got lost, and then I forgot what I was supposed to do. I forgot! Please don’t pick him,” spluttered Icarus, eyes panicked.
Daksh couldn’t decipher what he was hearing. Was he meant to be kidnapped? That was the only question he got to ask himself before he blotted all the rest away. His first instinct was to grab a weapon to protect his daughter.
But before he could think to do anything, a slight pain erupted from his neck, and it stung. And then it stopped stinging. He couldn’t feel his legs anymore, his torso, everything was gone. He was transcended into black, and his body fell as if his soul had been torn out.
His ears were the last to go, and the last thing he heard was, “And you, child. I’m disappointed. Suppose there are still some imperfections to work on.”
Daksh woke to an undeniable stench. It was horrendous and he breathed heavily after realizing he was being interrogated with an unbearable light to his face. He was much in pain. It took some time for his eyes to adjust to his surroundings. But even then he never saw the man coming up to the table that he was strapped to.
“Comfortable?” he asked, moving the light out of his face.
Daksh didn’t say anything.
“My name is Doctor Donaway. And believe me, I would have liked our introduction to have been in better circumstances, for I am quite sorry about this.”
“Where’s the girl?”
“It’s quite safe. I’ll be doing a routine check up on it later. In our quest for life, I may have treated its brain with some indelicacy to cause its memory to falter. And its discipline.”
Daksh didn’t know what else to say. Or think. Was he to do die? This shouldn’t have happened. He should have been stronger. He should have kept her more of a secret.
“You think me monster. But I can assure you quite the contrary. For humanity’s potential reaches even greater than the delusions and the pulp meshed with a sac of skin. But I won’t bore you with the finer details just now. That will come after. Once you’ve become a greater human.”
He left Daksh there. And the smell became so much more evident again. He looked around his room again. It was dingy and there was equipment and tables still left over with human remains. Something rotten had manifested and it began to plague him with malignant thoughts, baring the thought of children going through such barbarity.
And then he saw her.
At first, he wasn’t sure where to look, what to think. The creature who he had come to see as his daughter was splayed out over the table, chest carefully opened and held apart. On a nearby tray there was a combination of bloody internal organs and rusted pieces of metal. Daksh wanted to look away but his eyes refused his command, as if this was his punishment for not being strong enough. For never being strong enough.
His gaze moved from the tray to her face and shock rushed through him as he found Icarus staring back at him, her eyes empty.
“Icarus?” His voice came out rusty, the fear of what she might be clogging and destroying his words. He wanted to say so much more, but his mind seized on him. All he could do was repeat her name again, a silent plea. “Icarus.”
Her eyes focused and moved to his face. “Who is Icarus?”
“You don’t remember?”
She shook her head. “No. Who are you? Where is my master?”
“I’m…” your father, “your friend. I took care of you. I found you.” His voice grew desperate as her face remained blank. “Surely you must remember something!” He tried to reach his hand out, but it was strapped down to the table. “I will get you out. I promise. And everything will go back to normal.” Daksh fought harder against the restraints.
“Where’s my master?” She repeated.
Daksh gave up on his bonds and focused on his daughter. “He’s not your master, Icarus. You don’t have a master. You’re a human being, not a creature.” He glanced at the doorway to see if the doctor had returned, but the space remained dark. “Do not let him get to you.”
Icarus shifted her eyes to the ceiling, her body limp on the table. “This is all I know.”
Footsteps echoed, growing louder. They dragged against the floor, every other step came out heavier. He set down a variety of objects down on the tray beside Daksh, his eyes glittering. “Shall we start?”
“What did you do to Icarus? Why doesn’t she remember anything?”
Doctor Donaway paused, glancing back at the other table where Icarus was. “Do you know what it’s like, to create something with your own two hands? To invest time and priceless resources into it?” He picked up a blade and examined it carefully. “Do know what it’s like, to feel the burn of anger when they betray you, after everything you’ve done?” His voice climbed. “I gave it life, I made it more, and it went to you. Got fooled by human emotions.”
“You’re a monster.” Daksh breathed, hands clenching tightly. “She was just a child.”
“It!” He shouted. “There is no she!” He leaned closer. “You’re all the same. Bogged down by attachments. Don’t you know your potential? How great you could be?”
“You are playing God in a place where you have no right.” Daksh argued.
“I am doing what God failed to do. I am fixing his mistakes.” His blade hovered over Daksh’s chest and Daksh’s breathing sped up, eyes on the glint that reflected off it. “I am fixing you.”
The pain was excruciating, ripping through him, taking everything he was. And then it was just…dark.
The man keeps muttering this name to himself, and I watch curiously as he works on my body. He’s nice, gentle. I look around the room, see the tools in the low light. There are names on boxes, and a child strapped to another table. For a moment, something stirs within me, some whisper of familiarity. But it is gone before I can latch onto it.
His hands inside me.
His hands are steady as he takes out and puts in certain things. It is a strange sensation, and I wonder how this machine works when it is constantly being played with. It doesn’t feel wrong or right, only…different. Unexpected. I wonder what this man wants with me.
I think I am in pain.
I don’t know the meaning of the word pain. All I know is that it’s not comfort. Or happiness. I think if I could feel pain, this would be much more real. But I don’t mind not feeling. He is gentle with me.
After much time has passed, he finally bends over me to stitch me up. His arm slides under my back and I am surprised to see that with a little pressure I can sit up. The muscles creak as I shift. I feel new. He talks to me. A lot of the words register but don’t mean anything to me. But he is excited, and I am pleased that he is.
And when he’s finished speaking, all I can help say is: