Sunday, July 15, 2012

Mech Story: Beginning

[Originally posted at Off Topic Productions Forums way back in the mists of ancient two-years-ago.
[More recently posted to the Acacia Moon Publishing Forum.]
[Another beginning that I'm hoping I might be able to work into something for an anthology.]

Some people talk about defining moments in their lives. Others are dismissive of the idea that a something as complex as a human life can be defined in a single moment of time. They're wrong. Mine was.

I was twelve years old, my father had taken my sister and me to Jerusalem, we were standing somewhere where it seemed like you could see the whole city. I saw planes. They were jets. Jets of the military missile-bearing variety. I don't remember exactly what happened, I remember the fear, I remember a loud sound, and I remember the pain. My whole right side was in the most pain I had ever felt.

Then I woke up. The first thing I noticed was that the pain was gone. But it was more than that, the feeling was gone. I couldn't feel right arm or my right leg. I made a fist, I could feel a sort of pressure as I squeezed my hand, but it wasn't right. Part of it was that I could feel the pressure on my hands, but not the texture. As if my sense of touch had been reduced to simply knowing whether or not something was pressing on me, and how hard it was doing it if it was. Part of it was a quality that even now, five years later, I can't describe though I notice it every day. And part of it was that I didn't feel my fingernails.

I opened my eyes and looked at my hand. My new hand. It was made of some kind of shiny bluish metal. I tested it by wiggling my fingers, the moved like fingers. Somewhat larger than biological fingers, perhaps not as precise, but fingers. I just stared at it. It didn't really register that this thing was my hand.

In the coming days I gradually learned what happened. Sort of. What happened really depended on who you asked. Either the Arab nations got together, set aside their differences, and decided that they weren't going to stand for the oppression of their Palestinian brothers and sisters anymore so they, as quickly and painlessly as possible, overthrew Israel and, out of the kindness of their hearts, gave everyone involved the best medical care money could buy, or the Arab nations got together, set aside their differences, and decided they were sick of having a bunch of damned Jews in their back yard, launched the largest unprovoked attack in history, and then gave their surviving victims medical care in hopes that the US wouldn't go to war against them if they did.

That difference of opinion remains to this day. Ask around.

The war lasted six hours. By the time I woke up it was over. My whole family survived, after a fashion, in what some would describe as a miracle. Because when I think of getting nearly killed on vacation, I think miracle.

It wasn't until we got back to America that I truly realized what had happened. I thought the only thing that changed about me was my arm and my leg. Well, those and a couple of ribs, but you couldn't tell they'd been replaced. I was wrong.

I was disqualified from all sports, I wasn't allowed to go any of the places kids my age liked to hang out. Sometimes the reason given was safety, because a twelve year old is such a scary thing, sometimes the reason was that I might scare the children.

I was one of the fucking children.

But the worst thing was the looks. Wherever I went, whatever I did, every eye in the room followed me. Usually the faces wore a look of complete revulsion, as if I were three week old road kill or some cancerous mass. If someone wasn't staring it was always because they were refusing to look at me at all.

When it all sank in I came to realize that I had been defined. In the moment I was injured, in a single moment, what I was changed. I was no longer another person, I was no longer a student, or a child, or a stranger. I was a mech. My whole family had become mechs.


My father, who had been injured worse than me, lost his job. They made up some reason that was highly technical double talk when what they really meant was they didn't want a motorized monstrosity working for them. On the one hand, I can see the downside of having someone missing both legs, an arm, and half his face in your work environment, especially if he's dealing with customers. On the other hand they're a lot of bigoted assholes and I hope they burn.

He looked for work everywhere, and couldn't find it anywhere. Except one place. The army had nothing against mechs. They were looking for more. After he had exhausted all other possibilities he took a job with them. To understand what that means, you have to understand that my father was a pacifist. He had gone to his first political demonstration at the age of four and his conviction only grew stronger with age. He had spent his life voting for peace, demonstrating for peace, advocating for peace. His first job was working for a lobbying firm whose sole purpose was shrinking the military and devoting the money saved to projects that might peacefully defuse conflicts.

He was a hippie peacenick. He was also a father. So he took the job. He never talked about what he did, we just knew that he was gone most of the time. That, and the fact that it didn't pay well.

Depending on your perspective my sister either got off better than my father and me, or much much worse. She didn't lose a limb, she didn't lose any bones or muscles. She only lost two little bits of her body. Her eyes.

She didn't let that stop her from pursuing her dream. For as long as I can remember she wanted to be a painter, and that's what she's become. She's a great artist, and not that bad of a writer either. In high school she won a national writing contest. It wasn't a contest for mechs, all high school students were eligible. It also wasn't about mechs, the prompt was simply to talk about your artistic vision. Her essay, “My Vision is Augmented,” won a modest cash prize, about enough to pay the water bill for two months, and got her picture in the local paper.

Which would have been better if the letters to the editor in later papers hadn't said how horrible it was to see a picture of a freak in the paper. Didn't the paper understand how horrible it was for them when they were looking through the paper, minding their own business, and they were assaulted by the hideous thing that was my sister's face? Fuck them. My sister is not hideous.

She sells her paintings and, when combined with what our father sends home, makes enough for us to live on. She sells them three ways. The first is in person on the street. The second is at a website called Augmented Vision where she talks about her life and her process, it also has a copy of her essay. The third is on another website, where the only information she gives is the price and technical specifications of the pieces. Of those three –one where you can actually talk to the artist, one where you can read her story and also an award winning bit of writing about her artistic vision, and one where you get no information whatsoever– which do you think sells the most? There's no contest.

No one wants to buy a something from a mech.


While my sister was building her artistic talents I was discovering a serious problem with mechanical limbs. It wasn't about social status. It wasn't about mechanical problems. It was something far more basic: Metal doesn't grow.

At first it was an annoyance, but as the discrepancy grew it became more and more of a problem. I started strapping things to the bottom of my right foot, eventually it got to the point where I added a brick, and then even that wasn't enough. My arm looks absurd. There was nothing I could do about it because there was no way for me to make money. Until now. Today was my eighteenth birthday, I applied for a job with a security firm. I don't know what they expect from me I don't care. I need a new arm and I need a new leg.

There was a brief interview involved, I sat across a desk from a total human in an expensive looking suit. I was wearing a t-shirt and jeans. I can't afford a suit and I'd look silly in one anyway. At least they were my good jeans, which basically means that I hadn't slit open the right side so I could simply put on the left leg and then button it shut. Instead putting it on meant carefully navigating my leg through the hole that was left when the pant leg was cut off, constantly getting it caught on the fabric, and generally swearing a lot.

My sister thinks that must be what angels feel like when they try to get their wings through the wing holes in their clothes. That's my sister for you.

The man in the suit was different from most every natural human I'd met since I stopped being one myself. He didn't seem put off my my augmentations. He certainly noticed them, but he didn't stare nor did he look away. He looked at me, and he talked to me as if I were any other person.

He opened the interview by asking why I wanted to work for his company, I told him the truth: I needed new limbs. He told me that was the most honest answer he'd heard and assured me they could help with that. The rest of the interview went well, and I left pretty sure I would get a job with them.

Unfortunately when I left the room I left the friendly atmosphere, I walked out of the building through the lobby and everybody stared. I walked home and a homeless man called me the bastard child of a toaster. In the elevator to I tried to push the button for my floor and my arm seized up. I tried twice more, twice more the same result. I gave in and punched the damn button with my left hand.

I gave up on using my right arm, got out my key and opened the door with my left. My sister greeted me with a hug and told me her latest project was ready for me to look at. I saw what she was working on and I sighed. The painting was beautiful, the colors were wrong. “We need to calibrate your eyes. I think they're picking up UV.”

“Don't bother, I like the way things look.”

I shrugged and looked for a screwdriver. Right after I found one I realized I never told her what I thought of the painting. As I said it was beautiful, to truly understand how impressive that is you need to understand two things. The first is that she painted our neighborhood, the second is that we live in a shithole. That she managed to paint that, and paint it well, and yet have it look good is a sign that she has more skill than I will ever have.

Once I told her what I thought of the painting I sat down and got to work on my arm. A piston was jammed. I took comfort in the fact that pretty soon I'd have a new arm.


[Original Work Index]


  1. Yeah!

    You might slip in some of the body dysmorphia ideas - the "this is not my proper body" feeling that transpeople, among others, report.

    Why wouldn't the limbs, at least, get an unconvincing pink plastic cover?

    1. Why wouldn't the limbs, at least, get an unconvincing pink plastic cover?

      One of the constraints I wrote this under, and intend to continue writing this under if I can manage to write more, is not contradicting the game Deus Ex.

      This was sort of born out of being pissed off that Human Revolution was being called "Deus Ex" even though all of the news about it said they were explicitly contradicting it at every opportunity.

      That's not to say that this is a Deus Ex story. Ocean's 11 doesn't, so far as I can tell, contradict Deus Ex and yet no one would call one fan fiction of the other.

      Anyway, the details of the way mechanical body parts in Deus Ex work is never really gone into, just the results. I'm running with the results. One of the results is that they can't be covered. So we see people forced to spend their whole lives going sleeveless and showing off their shining metal arms even though they really do not want to talk about it.

      There's speculation in Deus Ex fan communities on why they couldn't have flesh colored mechanical limbs or cover them in something designed to look like skin. That can be an interesting thing to think about, but for my story I'm content to leave it unexplained.

      The narrator would have asked why when he was twelve, he'd have no reason to bring it up now. Everyone he'd know would already be aware.


      This was sort of supposed to be my antidote to something that is Deus Ex* but contradicts Deus Ex. Something that isn't Deus Ex, but does not contradict Deus Ex. Then I had computer problems, and depression, and never got any further.

      So the very short answer to your question is this:
      Because the entire inspiration for this story was that it was set in a world where even that small bit of accommodation can't be done, and the belief that such a world could be home to stories worth telling.


      * By the power of IP ownership and branding.

    2. Fair enough. :-)