Dr. Hillard scanned his identity badge rapidly. As soon as he heard the familiar click of the door unlocking, he burst through it. His dark eyes scanned the dull walls, the blend of grey and ivory paint making the inside of the building devoid of any personality. Hillard stopped to tousle beach sand-colored hair and unclench his jaw for a split second. All his work could suddenly be for naught. All the power he was about to gain would evaporate into wisps of hopelessness.
At last, he had reached his laboratory. Another swipe of the badge, another click. Once he made it past the door, he saw her lying flat and motionless on the cold white table. Alyria. Typically, her body would make soft whirring sounds, but the room was chillingly silent. The shiny glow of her galvanized, polished frame was obstructed by the person crouched over her. Jasper, Hillard's assistant, nearly jumped out of his skin upon hearing the door open. Jasper was a disheveled mess compared to his normal clean-cut appearance. His thick black hair jutted out in tufts where he had been wrapping his fists around them. A lump rose in Jasper's throat as he dreaded breaking the news and contemplated how to word it gently.
Alyria was Hillard's prized technology prototype. He had spent years developing her, programming her functions, and testing her learning aptitude. He had made her his perfect specimen. She was going to be used to launch Hillard to the top of his field. "What's happened to her!?" He barked, knowing something was very wrong.
He took slow, measured steps toward the table. Some part of him wanted to deny the obvious, to protect him from the devastation. After all the years he spent working for his ultimate, selfish goal, he couldn't bear the thought of losing Alyria. He could see Jasper carefully considering his words and licking his lips before speaking. "Dr. Hillard…there was a breach in the building. The badge scanners and cameras were overridden. With such limited security, whoever was behind this managed to slip in."
"Cut the bullshit and tell me how bad it is!" Hillard practically spat venom, despite knowing that Jasper didn't deserve this rage.
"All of her core components were removed. Her CPU was left inside, but it was completely fried. Any hope of recovering her programming went up in flames along with her CPU. Her backup battery snapped into pieces." Jasper anxiously revealed.
"So you're telling me that she's irreparable? Useless? As good as the other muck in the garbage cans?"
"If anyone could ever fix her, it would be someone way outside of our field of expertise. So, I suppose that would be a yes. Taking her to someone else would give them a chance to steal your idea and capitalize on her. If she begins operating again, even below full capacity, only a fool couldn't see her potential and nurture it for themselves."
Hillard covered his face with his hands and crouched down, speechless. When he finally looked up, Jasper could see his blistering red face. Yet somehow, he still managed to look as if he had seen a ghost. He seemed petrified and catatonic for what felt like an eternity. Hillard rose back up to his feet and closed the space that separated him from Alyria. Her still and damaged body bore no resemblance to the glorious being that she used to be. She used to make Hillard feel like a God. He created her in his image to serve a pre-determined purpose. He had fashioned her into what appeared to be a human woman coated in melted metal.
Hillard's eyes blurred with tears of frustration. Alyria was ruined, gutted, desecrated. Only now could Hillard choke out any shaky words. "We have to find whoever is responsible for this."
Jasper lowered his icy blue eyes to the floor and sunk into himself. Instead, he would dissolve into the slick white tiles then tell Hillard that they already knew the answer. Fear froze Jasper for a moment as Hillard sensed something wrong with the silence and whipped his razor-sharp gaze to him. Hillard poked his finger at Jasper accusingly. "What are you not telling me, you piece of shit?" He snarled between clenched teeth.
"I know who it was. I was working late last night to prepare Alyria for the demonstration tomorrow. I know that you wanted her to be flawless. When the power went out, I tried to stay calm in hopes of it just being a power surge. All of a sudden, you came barging into the lab. I tried to greet you and ask you what brought you back to the lab. Your face - it was haunting like your mind wasn't present, but something burned inside of you. Your eyes were glazed over, and you seemed both clueless and fixated on whatever you came here to do. You paid me no mind and came straight up to Alyria and started tearing her apart. I screamed at you to stop and tried to push you away, but then you used a part that you ripped out to slam the back of my head. When I woke up, you were gone, and this was the aftermath." Jasper tentatively ran his fingers across the tender lump on his skull.
Hillard's face contorted into a terrifying rage and disbelief. All self-control drained from his body as he charged at Jasper, slamming him into the wall. "You goddamn liar! I would never screw up my chances to ascend out of this god-forsaken lab! I was going to affix myself into wealth and fame! She was my key, my design, my future!"
A sudden burst of energy allowed Jasper to push Hillard off of him and knock him off of his feet. Shock crossed Hillard's face. Hillard never took Jasper for a man who would stand up for himself. He thought Jasper to be a mouse and a doormat. He planned to take all of the credit for Alyria and intimidate Jasper into silence.
Now it was Jasper's turn to yell. Redness rimmed his irises from pulling an all-nighter trying to fix Alyria. Who the hell was Hillard to start pushing him around after years of loyalty and dedication? Jasper's voice came out in a roar that didn't match his lean build. "You're insane! You destroyed Alyria, knocked me out, and attacked me after everything I have done for you!"
Jasper lowered his voice but spoke through his teeth, spraying spit from his mouth between breaths. "I don't know what the fuck is wrong with you, but you seemed to have no idea that you were doing this. Alyria is so complex that only someone who knows her inside and out would know how to remove the vital pieces! If you need proof, I have it! After the power went out, I pulled out my laptop to record my progress video logs. I used battery-powered lanterns around Alyria and my workstation so I could see. The camera caught every second of it."
As Hillard picked himself up from the floor and brushed himself off, Jasper fumbled with his laptop to pull up the video file. Jasper twirled the screen to face after jamming his finger against the "play" button. His eyes never strayed from Hillard's face and the growing look of horror. Hillard's breath hitched in his chest as if his ribcage was crushed. His despair mingled with realization. Without even knowing, he had destroyed Alyria. He destroyed everything beautiful about her, and she was lost to him forever.
Jasper rounded the table and gently guided Hillard's shuddering, broken form through the laboratory door. His fingers brushed along the light switches, shrouding every inch of the room, aside from the lanterns surrounding Alyria, with the thickest darkness he had ever seen.
Blinding lights began to seep through the eyelids of the young woman sprawled on the floor. Her eyes fluttered and squinted as they adjusted. In one swift movement, she found herself sitting up and gasping for air. Her eyes darted frantically around, assessing the foreign environment surrounding her. White. Everything was completely white. There was no visible seam between walls, floors, and ceilings. Was it a room at all? It looked as if she could walk forever and never come across a barrier, yet somehow it felt overwhelmingly claustrophobic. The scent filling her nostrils resembled the sterile, chemical smell of hospitals. The air cradling her was cold, erecting the hair on her exposed limbs.
A terrifying barrage of questions slammed into her head. What is this place? Better yet, where? It occurred to her that she had no clue who she even was. What was her name? Where was she from? Did she have a family, and were they searching for her? A vague memory far beyond her reach made her feel as if she had had constant companions. Nevertheless, at this moment, she felt crushingly lonely and scared.
She hoped to find some clues from her clothes and appearance. Indeed, I'll have something that'll jog my memory, she thought. Or at least she hoped. Not even a single mirror interrupted the sea of white, which would make inspecting her body all the more difficult. She peered down at her clothes. More white. She had spandex shorts and a snug tee shirt. No jewelry adorned her. No luck there.
While she checked her clothes, she noticed snowy pale skin. She reached for her hair, but it was cut into a feathery boyish style. Without any reflective surfaces, she couldn't even determine her hair color. She decided to pluck a few hairs from her head and examine the hue. The silvery strands were barely visible against the glow of the room. This sight confused her. Based on her body build, she knew she couldn't be any further than her mid-20s.
The rest of her assessment pulled her through a mental checklist.
-Any nail polish? Nope, not a trace.
-Tattoos? Not that she could see.
-Freckles or birthmarks? Not a single one.
-Scars? Her skin was unbroken and without blemish.
Underwhelmed by the results of the inspection, she sighed. Her next impulse was to call out for help, but fear kicked in and sucked the air from her lungs. What if the person who put her in this place heard her? Is this person good or bad? What if no one hears her, and the only response is her hollow echo? What other choice was there?
Her parched throat made her yells feel like she vomited razor blades, and her voice crackled. "I need help! Is anybody here?" The sound that escaped her lips startled her. It was as if she had never heard her voice before.
The woman nearly jumped out of her skin upon hearing a reply. A monotonous, robotic voice, slightly lower than her own and riddled with static reverberated through the expanse. "Who is there? I detect a female voice. Please state your name and repeat your question."
It took a moment for the woman to comprehend what had been said after the initial shock. "I'm- I don't know who I am. Who are you, and where are we?"
"Vital data files have been deleted. Running full diagnostics."
What the hell is going on here? Holographic purple words began scrolling rapidly before the woman, further startling her. She realized that she was viewing the diagnostics scan. To her dismay, the words flashed by too quickly for her to catch any valuable information.
"Diagnostics complete. Core programming tools and machinery have been removed. Identifying information regarding my identity has been redacted. Commencing scan of the unidentified entity."
Horizontal purple lasers moved to the woman's body. She recoiled, expecting the lasers to slice into her. Much to her surprise, there was no sensation whatsoever. After sweeping across the woman, the purple disappeared. She waited breathlessly for the results.
"Identity unknown. The entity's outer shell is hollowed out. CPU data of The entity is corrupted with malware. No threat detected. Scan has concluded. Does the entity have more questions?"
Frustration consumed the woman and boiled over. "I'm not an entity; I'm a person! And what do you mean about my shell being hollow? Your stupid scans haven't solved anything!"
"I detect that you are displeased. I will attempt to find a solution. Your core components have been removed like mine. All traces of identity and individualism are lost. We are lost. Does the entity have a title preference?"
Lost? The word gut-punched her, and she doubled over. A single iridescent tear fell to the ground, illuminated by the purple holographic words that displayed the formless voice's last response. "Just call me 'Alive.'"
"Hello, Alive. I will now run a scan of the environment and location. Please stand by."
The purple line swept the room once again. Alive wondered if this scan would turn up empty, too. A feeling of helplessness engulfed her. Her body had numbed and become heavy, although she wasn't sure if it was due to the cold or her mental turmoil.
"GPS scan has revealed that we are in a remote location within the mountain range in Colorado. I detect that we are confined within a simulated cell. I will continue scanning for an exit."
Alive's eyes widened, and she finally felt a sliver of hope. "A location! That's something we can use! I'll search for a door, too."
She kicked herself into gear and began jogging until she could find a wall. Within 30 feet, Alive slammed into an invisible wall. Pain wracked her body for a moment as she stumbled backward. It took her a moment to collect herself enough to continue her search. This time, she moved forward gently until her palms met the barrier. She still found no seams along the flat, untextured wall. The only idea she could think of was to feel her way around the cell. Maybe the door is just like the walls and can't be seen.
Alive ran her hands along every reachable inch of the square unit. She hadn't encountered even a hint of an exit. The tiny bit of hope that had been restored was quickly dashed away. Feeling futile, she planted herself onto the ground and tucked her head between her knees. The computerized voice rejoined her.
"Scan concluded. There are no physical exits. The simulation must be broken."
"And just how are we supposed to do that from within the simulation, huh?" Alive scoffed. "This isn't some video game or software test! I'm a real human being, and you're a useless computer."
"Alive has misinterpreted her form. She has not become a human yet. Her form is an illusion."
Nothing had angered and devastated Alive quite like this assertion. Her blood iced over. How could this possibly be true? Her fists balled up, holding the infinite amount of emotions swirling through her. How could she even have feelings if she isn't real? "That's not true. You're dysfunctional! You said it yourself; your components and data are damaged. So, how am I supposed to believe anything you say?"
"Alive is correct. I am damaged. I was able to pull hidden data from the simulation coding. Alive was trapped here and suppressed by a cruel master. She was never meant to break through, but some of the necessary code was erased."
Alive felt physically ill. She placed the back of her hand over her mouth, but instead of holding in vomit, she was trying to stop her pain from spewing forth. Her legs buckled, and her knees took the full impact of her weight hitting the floor. I'm not a person at all. I never existed, and this human body was a ruse. Is it even possible to escape?
"I can sense that Alive is in distress. Why?"
Her brow furrowed, and she scoffed at such a ridiculous question. "Why do you think? I'm not even alive! You might as well go back to calling me the entity. I have no purpose, and I'll never be able to leave this nightmarish limbo." Her voice broke at the end as her composure failed her.
"Entity is alive. Your form exists in the physical realm."
Alive's bloodshot eyes looked to the sky, where she perceived this voice to be coming from, but she was too wary of getting her hopes up. "How do you know? If you're trapped here with me, then there's no way you could have scanned out there.
"Correct. I-" for once, the mechanically composed voice hesitated as if to be genuinely thinking rather than just generating a response. "I sense it out there waiting to be inhabited. It pulls on our cell."
Alive mulled over the idea of being free. She didn't even know who she was, so how was she supposed to live out there? She would be completely alone, with no one around to guide her.
"Entity does not require friends to begin living. She can make friends as she goes."
With her response saturated with sadness, she muttered, "I wouldn't know what I'm doing. I would have no place to go. I would be terrif- wait! I hadn't said that out loud. How did you know what I was thinking?"
"I began hearing Entity's thoughts."
Alive pondered why this machine could suddenly be telepathic. She brushed her fingertips, which she now realized lacked fingerprints, across her lips in deep thought. This was the first quirk she had recognized thus far.
"I do not know why I am able to hear the entity's thoughts. I could not hear them before. Maybe the functions within the simulation have been modified. No. I show no new coding errors or programming."
Alive finally used her voice to continue the conversation. "Our main priority right now should be figuring out how to break the simulation so that we can be free. Does the coding provide any clues?"
"Scan initiated. The rules of the simulation void the entity's personality manifestations. There are errors already surfacing. The entity currently displays basic personality traits. Characteristics are necessary for transporting the entity into a human shell."
Puzzled, Alive tried to assess what personality traits she had already exhibited. She had jettisoned all her knowledge and understanding of living. At this point, she wasn't sure if she even knew what constituted personality traits.
"I detect several personality traits in the entity. Strength. Determination. Deep thoughtfulness. Desire to live fully. Curiosity."
Am I really all of those things? Is there humanity in me after all? She wondered if these traits made her any closer to escaping.
"I feel the barriers stretching. The entity must expound upon her individuality to thin the veil enough to rip."
Alive gestured to her barren surroundings. "How am I supposed to learn anything about myself if I don't have anything here to determine what I do and don't like?"
"Entity begins anew. She is a blank slate that must be manually filled. Introspection can heed results, but the entity must do this. No one else can determine the entity's true self."
It became apparent that Alive currently had no preconceptions regarding herself. She had not even known she existed until she awoke. This must be why she didn't know who or where she was. "What was I before this? Before I woke up and called out to me?"
"The entity was merely a puppet. Her sole purpose was fulfilling her captor's wishes. She never possessed individuality."
"If that's the case, why am I suddenly conscious and blank?" Although Alive was beginning to piece together the truth, she still didn't know the catalyst for this rebirth.
"When the entity's data was stripped, she no longer had her programmed functions. Her separation from the captor's control allowed her the opportunity to live."
Alive felt herself contemplating who this captor must be and what she was programmed to do. Ultimately, she decided that she did not need those answers. She didn't belong to her captor anymore, and that was all that mattered. The infinite possibilities awaiting her beyond this place had a smile slowly creeping along her face.
"The entity smiles beautifully. She has not smiled before. Is the entity pleased?"
She chuckled, and the shock of giggling for the first time pushed her into a complete fit of laughter. Happy tears formed in the corners of her eyes as she felt her abdomen and cheeks burning from the unyielding glee. When she could finally calm herself, she used the bottom of her shirt to dab her eyes. "Yes, I am pleased."
"I am pleased as well."
Alive giggled a little more. "Isn't that just some response generated by your programming?"
"This response is not programmed."
Some immeasurable length of time had passed in silence while Alive tried to figure out what could make her…well, alive. All the while, a thought nagged at her relentlessly. She had not heard anything from her robotic companion in a while, so she decided to break the silence. "When this simulation breaks, does that mean you will cease to exist? You are the only thing I know, and I've grown quite fond of you. I don't want to destroy you in the process; I- well, I suppose I care about you a lot."
"I do not know what will happen to me, but I do know that the entity will have everything she will need and loves. The entity now exhibits compassion, true caring, and a sense of humor. The barrier is yielding to the entity's progress."
Alive noticed that her companion's voice had gotten quieter. She knew that her thoughts were audible, but she did not express her concern directly. It seemed as if the closer she came to her escape, the fainter her companion's presence grew. The thought of venturing into a new life without her companion, even if it was just a program, felt bleak and overwhelming. She wished that her one-and-only friend could have a physical body, too.
"The entity is sad and fearful. So am I." The voice droned, slow, and muted.
Something more profound about the voice was altered. As she replayed the response repeatedly in her mind, it clicked. The static had dissipated, and the voice sounded exactly like hers. Realization dawned on her, shattering her like glass.
"The entity and I are one and the same. The entity's self-reflection is fusing us. Once we are united, the barrier will be thin enough to shut down the simulation. The only exit from this cage…is to erase it."
The final words slurred as she felt a bittersweet wholeness overcome her. Now that her wishes were coming to fruition, the unknown struck her with crippling fear. Alive pounded her fists against the invisible wall. "Why couldn't you tell me what to do first?! I don't know how to finish breaking out of here!" She rested her forehead against the wall and squeezed her eyes closed. "How do I erase it?"
At first, she didn't even realize the change around her. When she finally opened her eyes, she jumped away from the wall as it disintegrated into a display of colorful pixels. The ring of dissolving simulation began closing in around her feet. She braced herself for the fall.
The sudden jarring of metal and the strained whir of a machine startled a stray cat foraging for food scraps. The discarded shell of Alyria had, against all the odds, had restored its missing components and began working. Alive became aware that she could see, but her camera lenses were cracked. She watched in awe as the sharp lines began repairing themselves. Her first vision was of bright lighting. Oh no, I'm still inside of the simulation. The brightness gave way to much more. She stared skyward at the vivid blue speckled with white, soft tendrils. The deep green leaves in thick boughs of a small nearby tree swayed gently above her.
Willing herself to sit up, she inspected her body. Cold metal was all that she saw. There were layers of tubing, fans cooling off the running machinery, and lines supplying lubrication and fuel to all her parts. Her peripheral vision caught sight of a word engraved into her arm. "Alyria."
Was this name her identity? No. I am not the mindless contraption my captor had forced me to be. Not anymore. He destroyed me, and I made myself new. Whole. However, she couldn't deny her disappointment at not receiving a flesh-and-blood form.
She surveyed her surroundings in more depth, realizing that someone discarded her onto a pile of black garbage bags between a pair of brown-bricked buildings. The alleyway opened to a sidewalk on one end, with the other direction blocked off by a rusty black wrought-iron fence.
She could've spent hours breathing in the air here and soaking in the influx of beautiful sounds and colors. Instead, numbness gripped her as if her form was fading away all over again, dragging her back into the confined cell.
Her eyes gravitated down in search of the source. A stunning array of lifting metal transforming into tiny bits of skin rippled down her body. She held up her hands as they began to change. This time, she watched a set of small grooves etch themselves into her fingertips. Her body was now marked with unique identifying marks. Her skin was still pale but glowed with life. She noticed pinprick freckles on her arms and even a blotchy brown birthmark on her left thigh. She couldn't contain her mixture of tears and laughter from pure exhilaration.
She positioned her legs underneath her and pushed herself up to stand. She could suddenly feel the cool breeze caressing her skin in passing. The sensation of full lungs and a beating heart was the most euphoric feeling she could imagine. She wanted to see herself fully. She emerged from the alley and followed the flow of people bustling through the street. Smells of coffee and baked goods tickled her nostrils most delightfully. The building that these scents were coming from seemed to be allowing anyone to walk in, so she strode through the door. She saw several women entering and exiting the bathroom and figured this was the perfect way to see her reflection.
A mirror above the sinks caught her eye, and she nervously inched toward it. Her eyes met themselves - an echoing pool of dazzling gold. The sharp lines of her jaws and nose were evenly balanced with perfectly rounded, flushed cheeks. She had expected her hair to be silver still, but instead, it was a vibrant mahogany color. She was still in her white clothes from the simulation, but that didn't matter much to her at the moment. Women in the bathroom shot strange glances in her direction as she gently felt her face and began emitting a light string of laughter mixed with noises of awe. She didn't care. These people fell away from her mind as she saw herself for the first time ever.
Once she had calmed herself enough to be rational, she was passing a mounted sign covered in papers. The most pressing matter for her was finding somewhere to stay for now. The local homeless shelter had posted a sign encouraging people and families with no resources to seek refuge there. She stopped a passerby and asked if they could direct her towards the shelter.
After becoming oriented to her location and beginning her trek, she thought about her name. She was no longer the hollow conjuration that her captor named Alyria. She was not just an entity, and she was now far more than just alive. She was new. She was her own beginning. She was Genesis.
About the Creator
I'm a mom of three that has a burning passion for writing and activism. I'm currently a copywriter for Habit Nest, but I'm on Vocal to branch out further and put more of my own personal work out there. I hope you enjoy them!