Reads: 134

In dark halls with a hand

Shadows surrounded giant arches of stone in a humid underground passage, a place meant to hold secrets inside which few people would be allowed access. It was a dark hallway lit merely by large torches hanging higher than anyone could reach, nothing lower than that. At the end of the hallway, the sound of water gently echoed from a stream running through an open cave. Where the water branched it dampened the walls, and some of those streams had yet to be corked after they sprang into new holes. The crevices of the floor were patterned in bricks of cold stone too damp for human feet, yet two bare human feet stepped around.

This person was a young girl grown to early adulthood but having a regal attitude about her, and this was true for several reasons. One was her personality as a hardened, non-compliant person who took no time for pleasure over planning. Another was an aspect of authority although she was terribly young. Another was the dampness freezing her feet, yet this feeling offset the discomfort of her right hand, a most broken thing.

It was bruised into an unrecognizable pulp. The skin had exploded with cysts, and the fingers dissolved into each other grotesquely. Visibly it matched the pain it caused, yet her mind remained under control. This much pain did not stall her; she walked confidently, her face grimacing in anger instead of shedding tears.

Her body, as small as it was, nevertheless possessed a tremendous resilience, for she kept herself fit from head to toe — everything healthy except that hand. She could have ran for how fast she walked and how lightweight she was. Her skin was a medium brown with dark hair fallen on her neck, frizzy from underground humidity. For attire she wore knitted shorts and a loose t-shirt which looked rough from their material and how they frayed at the ends, giving an appearance like a commoner having been granted access to these chambers unduly.

On either side of the hallway, wooden doors to separate chambers were closed and locked by bars of iron. They conveniently guided her to her destination where from the only open door emanated a light, tinkering sounds, and a short breeze. A couple individuals made their way inside the room from the enveloping darkness just as she made it there herself, and she stopped in the doorway to behold the facility.

The people of this place named the dark halls "Chambers of Discovery", although that name was not circulated in order to prevent its secrets from escaping. The fact that she could see their actions meant they held her position in high regard. What she saw were scientists, some of the best the world had ever known gathered into one place with many of the assistants holding as much credence and trust as anyone else. They wore tawny aprons; some women hung jewelry around their foreheads, ears, necks, and shoulders without ever wishing to remove them. They had no gloves to hold the sticky vials they carried which had a strange blue substance in them. It discolored their clothes and dried into a solid patch. Everyone had under their aprons a single layer of clothing often with the sleeves missing, and their skin was flaky.

A few electric fans focused towards the center, and another set focused on a area of tables and shelves holding equipment. A complex interplay of electric wires and medicines mixed with their work around the tables. Computation worked on heavy boxes with many connectors going in, and some workers who looked the same as the doctors handled knobs and sliders on a control panel while reading tons of tiny flashing lights. In the center was a single chair fixed to the floor and a light beaming on it from the ceiling, the rest of the room's equipment lit by small candles. The chair, the shelves, and the equipment had a rustic quality of hand-carved wood and misshapen glass tumblers. Above the chair, many electrical wires connected to a large mechanical arm upheld by a suspension frame casting its webbed shadow everywhere. The room itself was shaped like a giant dome where the shelves on the walls barely fit the flat section.

The girl marched to the chair and set herself comfortably on it. Her legs were strapped in a resting position firmly. Her left arm was strapped to her side. Her whole form rested in a tight constraint, and her right hand mangled and useless was propped on the only armrest in a way that made it easy for the scientists to see. One the scientists was a tall, bronze-skinned man with a large scruffy beard and brown hair that had traces of silver coming out. He tested the straps with a firm tug, mulled over the girl for a second, and affirmed to the others, "Everything fits perfectly."

They were already prepared to begin as assistants took vials full of blue liquid and poured them into a reservoir affixed on the mechanical arm over the middle chair. Five needles on hoses protruded from the bottom of it. Once filled, a woman with light fingers found the parts on the girl's body into which to pierce the needles: once into the neck, once under the shoulder blade, and three into the upper arm. The girl remained calm. The woman doctor then diffused the liquid into her body, causing the arm to limp into painless sleep. Below the needles, a thick strap clotted the flow of blood, and her skin turned a faint blue. Her breath halted a few times while the injection trickled down her muscles, and she kept facing forward. The other doctors were silent while they waited for her to relax, which took a minute while the injection dissolved and the blue under her skin faded but not completely. Then she breathed, relaxed, her face lacking emotion.

The bearded doctor observed her discolored skin with patience until fully satisfied by the outcome he tore the broken hand with sharp tools. Unbelievable amounts of blood spilled on him. Other doctors began helping with instructions on where to proceed. To keep her nerves intact, they worked slowly but reserved no care to save muscles or bones. Disgusting puss had filled the hand, and it was so distorted that there could be no recovery. As they worked, the doctors put skin pieces into small containers and routed the blood into small buckets where possible. One container of skin was filled, two buckets of blood. These were taken by a woman weaving her arms beneath the doctors hoping to not disturb their work, replacing the containers with clean ones. Several filled fast in the initial time of work so that already she had a full load. After capping all the containers and placing them on a wooden tray, she took that batch out of the room.

All the way down the halls past the many closed doors, the woman walked to the end only one door was open. The hall opened into an atrium lit brighter and with several more rooms hidden around its edge. In the middle was a lengthy staircase leading to two large doors shutting the damp air inside. The woman headed for the door immediately at the hallway front which shone noticeably from inside. It steamed with a nauseous scent forcing her to cover her mouth while one hand pressed the tray against her belly, so precariously holding it that someone had to help her when she entered. When she was free, she coughed vociferously. The workers here had less problem given their goggles, mouth scarfs, and for being so used to the irritation. The woman went back with a flushed face.

Vats of bubbling fluids glowed blue like the sedatives used on the girl, but some held different mixtures. Men busied themselves stirring and bottling the liquids that were not steaming hot, for only one developed fumes. The vats were built with stone and spread evenly about the room. On one side was a strange machine that looked like a loom, and there someone took a sheet of a gelatin substance and fed it through, creating a nice thin thread. They worked silently, taking the blood and skin, mixing them carefully. Much time passed that several trays where brought in all with brims overflowing with blood.

In the operating chamber, the hand was completely stripped to the nerves, which took only a few hours. The girl gazed onward obliviously not wishing to move her eyes left or right and never needing to, for no pain reached her arm. The bearded doctor pulled down a handful of wires tied together with the ends frayed. Grabbing a separate wire, he connected it to the other set which fed electrical pulses into the computer. Assistants standing by waited for him to test every one, a short time since he could connect several at once all giving confirmation that they worked. A man peering over the computer panels said, "Feedback is normal," and the bearded doctor sighed depressingly.

To keep her hand steady, they laid it in a hanging sack where the mess would not run afoul of their plans. The doctor looked at the girl stoically but upset for the amount work he had to perform, and he muttered, "This is going to hurt." She said nothing but grimaced at the remark. He began inspecting the hand. Other doctors stared at the mound of flesh, pointing out important things, attentive to every instruction the bearded doctor gave. He hardly talked intelligibly.

" one, two, three, four in sets seventeen, twenty-one, thirty. This part of the wrist...for the muscles to delegate responses. Here on the radial, we put a delta set...on these points."

For the next few days, they sat in the chamber preparing for an operation by planning, conferring, growing impatient, and taking frequent breaks. The bearded doctor sat down more than the other doctors either studying the girl's hand or fixing problems with the computer, which worried them greatly. Because they required something from the distillation chamber, they had to wait, but there was plenty of space for them to live. The girl did not move. Her face had a deadened, paralyzed look, yet she could move anything beyond her right arm. She was completely relaxed and on occasion given water to drink.

Finally, the doctors brought in a platter of wires aligned neatly. Each had been laced with a prosthetic skin created from her own by the chemical chamber. On either side were two kinds of wires: one for electrical currents and another for bloodstreams. The bearded doctor was not in at first, and when someone retrieved him with the news, he arrived with his veins exploded in anxious anticipation. When he sat, he was ready; everyone else was ready.

The electrical wires had ends with discolored nubs that the doctors latched onto the hand's nerves. The other ends went into the wires above their heads. If the girl could have felt her fingers, nothing would happen because the current was not stimulated by her body. The sensory nerves had nothing to sense because the current was shut off. The synthetic skin would protect the wires and eventually fuse with her body as if the biology belonged to her, which it partly did. Next they found they found the blood vessels where they inserted the other set of wires, which proved to be more difficult because the fusion of the wires with the body. Overall, the process took weeks on end with barely a break for the eye-strained doctors. Additionally, verifying the connections and monitoring their stability wearied them so much like a horde of beasts straining for water. To do so, they allowed tiny amounts blood to pass through, and the fake vessels often failed requiring replacement ones.

On a nearby stand sat a metal sphere. Tiny holes filled its exterior where a cluster of wires extended, and the wires coming from her nerves were simultaneously linked to it and the wires above. Its size was like a tight fist, its weight like a heavy apple. This device was also connected to the computer and constantly programmed for maintenance, but the doctors needed tons of references to understand it. The bearded doctor wished them to work on their own; thus, he had given them his writings and training on basic programming concepts. A few people dedicated their days to testing the sphere which they called the "core", often throwing that word around to communicate clearly who needed to listen. Basic signals were sent from the core into the equipment they tested to generate commands, and they worked flawlessly.

For as long as they worked everyone had meals evenly spaced, but for the girl the operation hindered her ability to eat. Water helped her survive for a week. Although she had the resilience and training to withstand it, in advance the doctors timed themselves on the critical point where she would break, and someone called out to start extracting her from the chair. Immediately, the doctors balled up wires safely while keeping the main connections on her hand, wrapped the mess, shelved the drugs, and brought in a gurney with a hay mattress to lay the girl on. While others cleaned the room, they took her to the atrium, hand resting on her belly covered in cloths and others' hands keeping them still.

Injectors implanted on the her arm safeguarded her from extreme pain. They lasted a few days at maximum by slowly draining into her system. With a blank feeling, she had no ability to turn her head nor swallow, and this was her time to eat. Food ground into a thin powder came out of the kitchen chambers. A doctor also came with another blue vial and injector, but its effects worked antithetically to the sedative so that when he injected it in her neck, pain slowly returned to her. Her mouth came open with gasps for air as she desperately tried to sit up but unable to, for her limbs were constrained to the mattress. With the ability to swallow better, she eagerly ate all the food, drank tons of water, and it was not long before the neck sedative flowed into her bloodstream again.

From the dining room she heard banter about seeing the sun in a few months and taking a long break once this is over. Some would have their rotations end early because were not critical assistants or because they just cleaned or cooked, lucky ones with easy jobs. On the bearded doctor's side, conversations revolved on what he described as "nanotech", a term she was not familiar with.

Once brought back to the operating room, everything was reset as it was but in a cleaner environment. That was the first of many mealtimes, for weeks went by as they repeated this process.

Meanwhile, her nervous system was recontextualized by mapping her brain to the sphere. By using the anti-sedatives with extreme caution, small bits of pain passed through. She jolted many times but responded clearly to questions by answering on the computer meaning they had a proper connection. Tedious testing tired them all but yielded a full map of the brain to the right hand as if it were normal, but not exactly because of its limited range. The girl tried to understand how it worked; then the sedatives flowed again.

Some holes in the core were empty. The small threads that acted as blood vessels were working as desired, and so the doctors threaded them into the core where the looped back outside. The core contained a small a small battery so that when they released some of her blood, a small electrical current flowed, and when the blood stopped the current continued. They had created an artificial human hand.

Next assistants brought to the bearded doctor tons of tiny pieces with a dark silvery shine, like minuscule metal fingernails. These were linked on each end creating very long threads where the linked sections could slide easily on top of one another. The bearded doctor sighed as he prepared to insert these devices onto the core. Other doctors untangled threads and searched for a place to put them, indents on the core barely anyone could see. Every indent had a computer chip, and when the bearded doctor called, "Pulse nanite ranging from three hundred to twelve thousand," several links in the thread stood on end.

As another test, they let the girl feel the threads. Overcoming the pain, she thought intently on moving a finger, but it was a dissimilar feeling, a sense of too much freedom. They put four glass bottles and instructed her to tap the one filled with the highest amount of water. A few minutes passed while she struggled to select it, but something allowed her to understand contracting and expanding the artificial finger which gave her the impression that more could be done. It came slowly to the correct glass before she tapped it.

Uncountable thousands of threads — the length of each thread could extend twenty-one meters and more than that when strained to the limit. The strength of a thread by itself was nothing, but they locked together at will so that eight hundred could act as a finger, two thousand as hammer. One hundred thousand could hold a person.

Connecting all the threads took months, and the doctors with little rest strained their eyes hard in loosened fervor. They had almost been underground for half a year. In that time not a word was spoken by this girl in the chair. Something possessed her mind in addition to the inhibitions they put her through, a clearance of emotions or an ease that she found after sitting still for so long. She was willing to undergo the operation, and able to by focusing on the few feelings she had of her unnatural appendage — not all the feeling was gone. She never told them. She did not give her story nor exchange any relatable discussions. All her thoughts went to her hand's utility; once a useless contortion, now it had become a peculiar weapon. The doctors themselves maintained utmost focus with an angry comeback at any distractions. As a philosophy of theirs, or their peers, the future required someone with strength unmatched by normal humans, and it required those working on it to be utterly devoted. It was the beginning of the girl's rise to critical wisdom by ritualistically creating a hybrid animal to stand above the others who take their alliance with it. Unusual capacities like the robotic hand were never produced to this scale. The effort through which they trained, read books, fought relentlessly for their arguments, studied the technology, revised it, and all the time taken away from pleasures had forced them to concede any cares of this life as long as the work was not finished. Some of the women were gawking at the new hand with a religious appreciation noted by the way they carved on bronze bracers new images of a woman with many arms. Certainly some doctors worked for a higher order, and generally that was the proposed purpose, but the details on how everyone thought about it was far too variant per person. Assistants to the doctors were more likely to were jewelry or other religious-looking garb, while almost every doctor at least had the same religious viewpoint; in that sense, they were all of the same mind, willing to bring anything to reality no matter how weird but beneficial it seemed.

The new hand needed a casing, a metal-cast cylinder specially made to fit around the ball. The middle was slightly fatter than the ends. The flesh inside was in the process of healing under a synthetic skin wrap, and the girl's wrist was attached to the cylinder tightly. She made painful noises indicating that they needed to re-administer the sedatives. The core was capped by a disc with holes for all the threads to pass through. They put a cable in a hidden socket at the cylinder's base, and it sent an electric current powered by her blood. When removed, the pinhole closed. Suddenly the bearded doctor dumped a bucket of water all over her arm, frightening her. They continued testing the currents, but no complications arose because it was waterproof.

It appeared overly simplistic because the doctors had nearly completed their work with nothing added to it. For a few days, only the bearded on sat by her side, and some of the others left for home. He had to do line the inside of the cylinder with a protective coating that hardened over time, cleanup around the wrist, some other things. He was somewhat paranoid that he might miss something. Nevertheless, he was satisfied.

He took a bottle to his lips. "Nothing but water allowed," he said to himself.

After seven months the construction of the artificial hand was done. After confirming multiple health checks, they removed the sedatives. Her eyes went wild at first, her face contorted. A few minutes of wearing away and the sedatives relinquished their grip on her nerves. The blood clotting band was removed as well, and her breath intensified at tingling shots as if being pricked on her skin. They detached all the restraints and held her right hand since she had no force to lift it. She could not even stand having not walked for so long, collapsed while flailing her left arm, convulsing her lungs when irregular pains settled on her mind increasingly. Robotic threads protruded from the cylinder in pandemonium which was a sign the doctors needed to stop her from hurting anyone, a situation they prepared for by attaching a short-circuiting cable to the socket. Pressing a button silenced the wayward hand, but her agonizing cries continued. She screamed as if she would kill someone, barely able to move. She sprawled on the floor for an hour unattended by the doctors, for they waited for her to regain her resilience on her own. Afterwards they concluded she had calmed down enough to remove the cable. When they did, she lied still. The hand was still; she wanted it motionless for now.

Next came the recovery period of a week with plenty of steak and veal to supplement her strength. Meanwhile, the girl played with her new hand which was a completely different object in her mind with no correlation between thoughts to grab things and actually grabbing them. All her time was spent practicing and inventing new ways to do things.

The threads so often dragged on the floor, and she had to learn firstly retracting the threads back into the cylinder in a comfortable way. Then she could poke at things one at a time, wrapping them around cups in hopes to get some functional stability. It was less useful at the moment because it often wiggled every way the closer to her mouth she brought a cup. At least her left hand was available.

The hallway torches she would look at once in a while until she finally decided to reach for one. The threads swayed from being so high and fell on her face. Second and third attempts led to the same, for it was nearly impossible to understand how they stretched. Eventually with much practice, she did grab the torch mantel, and having observed a firm grip she retracted the threads which caused her to be lifted off the ground. Although it was metallic in nature, through the hand she sensed fiery sparks like the warmth she was used to but not to the same degree. They could not burn her, yet they gave that sensation.

The strength of her hand depended on how she linked the small pieces, for there was a danger of them losing their structural integrity. Side by side, the nanites could form a single unit by minuscule latches which very easily detached at command. Thus, they formed into shapes, and she tried to make squares and spheres with them, but the ability to make a simple shape was way more difficult than she imagined. The best she could do was build a crystalline pattern which more less automatically worked to support a structure. It seemed to happen naturally like it was built for a certain pattern. She tried making fingers like a hand, but the joints were mechanically unnecessary. With the base linking pattern, she found it was easier to create shapes by stacking such a pattern repeatedly and rounding out the edges as if she were sculpting a statue. Then she had a box; the edges were grainy but acceptable. Having done that, it felt cognitively natural, a thing where her mind could replicate it reflexively.

All the time, she concentrated on her hand. She was lifting herself on the walls, spinning the threads in the air, building shapes, and pointing at things with a surprising amount of dexterity. The main limitation was moving the threads for one purpose, for she could not focus on doing multiple things although it was possible. Most of her functions could be done with far less than half the nanites available. She learned to bring a cup to her mouth and not spill it.

Throughout her time she remained expressionless, distrait, as she glared at the workers around her. Hardly ever did she speak. The pain had fully abated since she escaped the operating chair, but she acted as calm as when she sat there, still pensive about the circumstance but unwilling to engage with people. She carried the same gloom that hovered in the damp corridor.

There were fewer doctors left to keep company, fewer people her age or younger who were not allowed to view any of the secret chambers, and none of the maintenance workers, the chefs and caretakers who provided a living for everyone. All who were left were some guards with simple rifles and daggers on their belts, the tall bearded doctor, and a pale woman with less jewelry than the others conversing with him.

By a table the girl discovered a journal about the experiment done on her. She turned it to the first section where it described her. The writing was in her own language.

"Elevated daughter proposed to be Queen, Mistress of the Iladic mountain, H Gevol, Nickname: ______"

"Blood transfusible, skin a common black..."

"Military operations starting with the servitude to General D Bolemeg at age..."

Since most of this information she knew, she did not read it.

"How long do we wait?" she asked the bearded doctor.

"You've recovered very quickly. I suspect you have the next two days before my suspicions give way. Then I have no doubt everything went well — that you're not going insane."

The doctor cleaned the operating chamber. Leftover electrical wires lied on the tables haphazardly and hanging over the chair. Tools needed to be set on shelves. Glass bottles for some of their strange formulas as well as water still contained small amounts here and there and sat idly in every location so that he avoided knocking anything down. The expense and time lost in this project left the facility's equipment in disarray, and no one was left to clean it. Multiple scalpels were randomly found on the floor with traces of dried blood. He had not thought of how careless they were before, and he reluctantly picked up some bottles. He stopped to listen, for he noticed the mainframe was still on, and dispensing the bottles safely he shut down the entire system. The buzz and whir of distant engines dissipated resolving to a dripping noise from outside the room. Mice scurried to their homes. All lights from the machines and candles were off so that only the ceiling light remained shining like a blinding sun.

The girl stood in the doorway to observe. The doctor, who was too busy to pay attention, suddenly turned to find her. He made no attempt to ask questions about what she felt, how she interpreted these events. Her face clearly revealed her apathy. Her right hand made little swivels in the air, and her left hand played with it. Since the right hand had some weight to it, she flipped between holding it too high and relaxing.

"How can these be so light?" she asked.

He busied himself by dismantling the ceiling arm with wires in it.

"Technology," he said, "is more mysterious than mythical things. I've been working on these for a generation — long enough to have kids and ask for a pasture field where I can feed and sell cows. Over time the knowledge I accrued transformed into amorphous wisdom. That's how I explain it, because the more I explain it, the more none of my colleagues understand it. I know what I do, but in practice I'd stutter to explain its effects with accuracy... It's based on atomic structures like the cells that make up your body, and they only need a little power. Nanotech weighs the slightest weight possible — at least I think so. Although they look random, they are meant to bundle together like a crystal, and that happens automatically. You don't have to think about it. It has intelligence that responds to yours and decides what you want to do... You have a very calm attitude to all this. I was certain I tasted bad poison after a week. Maybe it's the water."

"What's a nanotech?"

"As far we know, it's small computers, and that's not a secret. It's more like a myth."

She looked at her hand curiously.

"Unknowable dreams," he said as he unscrewed some bolts.

"So these are nanotechs?"

"I call them nanites. Same thing. And be careful. Those things snap easily if your not trying to keep them together. If that happens, we'll replace them later. It's not that hard, but we have limited time to make them because of how small they are, which means you can't do anything foolish that destroys it. That would properly waste my life."

When he tossed a piece of the thing he dismantled, it banged with an echo. He continued, "It'd be so easy to waste me with how young you are."

"I'm not that young."

He stopped to address her but paused. Thinking of a retort at first, he decided to get bothered by her stern attitude and thought of something else.

"You are aware of how dangerous your mission is? — not for anyone else's sake but yourself?"

She looked puzzlingly at him until he saw her.

"You're aggressive," he said. "Your behavior — and your youth — have put yourself in conundrums told in many accounts I heard — queasy stuff and rather stupid. I've had many conversations with those psychological doctors who call themselves sages about this. They all anticipated you would act like a demented maniac with the treatment we gave you, whether it failed or not. It's my job to make sure I don't lose the brain of my patient, you, to your emotions. I would have assumed in this dark prison that you developed an animosity to us."

"Why would you think that?"

He pursed his lips, about to say something but changing his mind. "Fine, whatever... And you should know my work is far from over if it means you use your hand. As I said, I have to develop more threads to replenish the ones you break, and I'm not very patient to slave at my labor while a gifted person irresponsibly tears her way through the world —"

"Irresponsible?" she snapped with a demeaning tone.

The doctor stopped himself and moved his head to his work.

"I was only suggesting it... I spent a long time here. I hardly know what I'm saying anymore. Tell me, do you feel tired?"


"And I feared bottlenecks...but the compression worked...ugh..." He listlessly continued working ignorant of her response. After a short while, still standing at the doorway, the girl asked a question.

"What is your name?"

"I thought you knew that. Manomul. Didn't they tell you, or someone?"

"I haven't been in the castle yet except once. I have no animosity to you, Manomul."

She said that as if demanding it. Manomul did not seem to agree, although she sounded sure of herself. He discomfortingly ignored her while he cleaned. The female doctor trying to find Manomul almost bumped into the girl standing in her way. Before she got past her stuttering confusion, he told her to do whatever the girl commanded while waving his screwdriver, but the girl walked on her own without a comment. The woman doctor stood surprised turning back and forth, finally noticed by Manomul who held a scowl towards the doorway. He changed his mind and ordered her to take the injectors and wash them.

Submitted: June 12, 2021

© Copyright 2023 horatio.wildebeest. All rights reserved.


Add Your Comments:

Facebook Comments

Other Content by horatio.wildebeest