I was. I am. I am somewhere.
Awareness is a long uphill climb. I stumble a few times along the way, of course.
My head is rolling around, flopping this way and that, and I find it impossible to stop that. But at least I’m aware that I have a head. This was not always the case. Before this, minutes or hours or days or years, when I wasn’t, I had no body, I was a thought suspended in gel.
My head flops and I think a twitch of a muscle in the neck made it flop in a slightly different direction. OK, motor control coming online.
The eyes were a different matter. They drifted on their own, attracted to shiny colors, pure red and pure blue, they seeked those out and locked onto the strange shapes.
The eyes were tracking information on some sort of screen.
Look harder. Do it!
I started the see the world that the eyes were ignoring. It was a world of rubble and rain, dark clouds showed anywhere there was a break in the rubble. The world shook and moved around, haltingly.
This was my body moving around, I realized. But it was a very confusing perspective. I saw crumbling houses that I seemed to tower over. The images had the associated memories of LARGE, BIG, IMPOSING, but as I walked among them all I could think was that these were boxes strewn about an apartment, lifetimes of experience packed away, ready for the move. One of the boxes I passed had crumbling walls and large blackened holes in the ceiling.
No, not just one.
Most of the boxes I passed looked fire-damaged. My eyes did not spend any time on them, they flitted about focusing on the pure-color shapes.
Something was controlling my body, and I was a passenger along for the ride.
I watched the scenery go by for a bit, until we stopped in front of a chainlink fence. On the other side of it was a transformer station, large metal monsters studded with fins and thick industrial wires that linked everything in an orderly web.
We towered over the fence, but our volition kept us back. I wondered if the transformers were being admired, if they were feared, or just necessary and precious.
The body that stood at the fence was four stories tall, at least, and I gathered that it was a mechanical beast. When we crossed the crumbling road I watched the small pebbles, and these danced every time we moved, jostled out of position by the shock waves that we caused with every step.
The display in front of my face had strange markings in the center, while the corners were heavily populated with text and numbers. The language was not known to me, but some of the letters were familiar and a few of the words they made up looked like “missile” or “fuel”. I studied the display as the beast moved, watched which numbers changed and when, thought I identified the speed and direction indicators.
Then the machine turned and in the distance I saw the Pyramid. It was a triangle of bright purple light that stretched from the ground up into the sky, vertically taking up almost all of my vision. The base was blocked by the crumbling buildings and I could not see where it met the ground.
The machine began walking toward the pyramid, whose surface flickered and building-sized letters of black appeared. I could not understand them, of course, but it did not seem like a friendly message.
I felt the machine stop in the middle of the street, the viewpoint dipped and I finally saw a pair of dull-orange metallic hands clasped in a familiar pattern. We were bowing to the pyramid. After a moment we continued our trek for the strange building.
The city we walked through looked like a small suburb, blown-down picket fences separated the yards of mostly-burned family homes. We walked right through the yards, knocking down most anything that stood in our way, from mailboxes to sailboats.
After a few minutes we ran across a four-lane highway and here the residential neighborhood turned industrial, the one- and two-story houses replaced with blocky factories and tall apartment project towers, a clear line of poverty that once meant something to these citizens.
Now the factory stood silent, its walls and ceiling torn down by fire or explosions. The tall projects tower closest to the highway was missing half of its rooftop, the top three floors gutted by unknown and long-forgotten forces.
As the machine passed the tower, a powerful knock sent it skidding sideways and forced the inertial stabilizers to kick in and keep the beast upright. I was surprised by the sudden impulse, it felt like as if a strong gust of wind pushed me from the right. The machine struggled and almost fell down, but in all the commotion the restraints around me kept me safe and secure.
The machine turned toward the source of the kick and I saw smoke billowing out of a long barrel. Suddenly the dull-orange hands came up and clasped in front of the machine, blocking out the tank entirely, and a split second later the ground and the sky below and above the hands was replaced with fire. The shooter had spit another shell at us, but the machine managed to block it.
The view outside of the clasped arms changed and the beast was moving, the rubble became a blur, it and the sky swapping places in quick succession as the beast around me bounded to avoid being hit again. I could feel vibrations of jumps, large and small, as I imagined the beast moving around and over buildings, always keeping a protective shell of armored fists around its upper body, around myself.
What was the damn thing guarding? Me?
A shockwave passed through my body, that explosion must have been a close one.
For the millionth time, I flexed my body against the restraints, pulled my arms against the contraption that surrounded me. As I did, the right arm of the beast that blocked most of my view had now moved away, upward toward the flickering sky.
There was a stumble, the beast messed up its footing and lost balance. Out of instinct I reached out to try to prevent what seemed like a painful tumble, and the beast’s right arm moved, the motion mirroring my own half-hearted attempt to break the fall.
The arms moved to support the bulk of the beast and I saw the barrel once again, stared down the darkness as it was replaced with dark-blue steel, white smoke, and red fire.
I felt the world tilting and the view changed, the machine tumbled and fell onto its back. The view I now saw was the cloudy sky and the rain that fell from it, the raindrops that fell hundreds of meters and impacted on the glass.
The words and numbers were gone from the display, all I saw was the clouds and the rain. The machine had stopped moving, the display was gone. Whatever it was that attacked us had done a good job, at least with that last shot.
I willed body to move, tried to push against the restraints, but with the beast down for the count everything – even breathing – felt like a Herculean effort, the energy required to push my chest open in order to draw a breath was too much.
This is the way I go, I said to myself. It wasn’t so much pity or regret that filled those words, it was relief. Waking up in this strange world, in a body that wasn’t mine to control and inside a multistory monster who mostly ignored me, was too much. Anything that broke me out of this nightmare, I welcomed with open arms.
The light began to dim as the lack of oxygen lulled me away one more time. The last thing I saw were bright blue sparks that lit up the interior of my mobile prison.