I stepped through that door willingly. Not happily of course, but I knew what had to be done. I had seen the Previous Man snivel and soil himself with fear, and I had resolved that I would show some dignity even as I walked through that stinking door into an unseen room carved out of Hell.
The thing I remember most is the darkness, cold and deep and absolute.
Of course, to call it “darkness” would be insufficient. It was an absence of light that veered on Biblical. It wasn’t just “darkness”, it was stygian, or abyssal, or some other suitable adjective that would drip dread from every syllable.
There was something in the blackness, a thing of soulless malice and frightening intellect. I could hear the brittle-whisper click of its insect-feet on the floor and the rattle-hiss of bad-meat breath. The reek of it, acidic and chemical, made my eyes water.
“Please,” I said. Why I chose that word, I don’t know.
BE SILENT, said the thing. Its voice, like a rusty razor across glass, crisped the edges of my brain. YOU MAY NOT SPEAK UNTIL I PERMIT IT.
I shut my mouth.
Minutes or hours passed, there in the cold dark with a silent monster circling me.
YOU KNOW WHY YOU ARE HERE.
“I… I don’t know…” I said. Terror had made my mouth dry and paralysed my tongue.
YOU STINK OF FEAR said the Creature.
“I am afraid,” I said.
FEAR. AN IMPURITY, A CANCER TO BE CUT OUT the Creature said in that razor-on-glass voice.
“What do you mean?” I asked.
LIKE ALL IMPURITIES, FEAR CAN BE REMOVED.
“You can remove fear?” I asked.
I AM CAPABLE OF THIS the Creature confirmed. I CAN REMOVE ALL YOUR IMPURITIES, AS I HAVE DONE WITH THOSE WHO CAME BEFORE YOU.
I could feel the tears running down my cheeks and the blood oozing from my ears as I listened to its voice.
“Who are you? What are you?” I dared to ask. I would’ve cringed at the cliché if I wasn’t desperately trying to stop from soiling myself.
IT IS NOT YET APPROPRIATE FOR YOU TO KNOW said the Creature.
“Do you have a name?” I asked.
YOU WOULD BE UNABLE TO PRONOUNCE IT IN YOUR IMPERFECT STATE said the Creature.
“Please…” I said again. “Could… could I have some light, please?”
WHY said the Creature.
“It is dark in here, and I… I want to see you.”
SOON THE ABSENCE OF LIGHT WILL BE IRRELEVANT TO YOU said the Creature.
AND YOU WOULD BE UNABLE TO BEHOLD ME.
“Are… are you God?” I asked, stupidly.
ONE OF THEM the Creature said.
“I don’t understand. I don’t understand any of this.”
I DO NOT DEMAND UNDERSTANDING FROM YOU. I HAVE NOT DEMANDED IT FROM THOSE THAT CAME BEFORE.
“The Previous Men…” I murmured. “A month ago, I was somebody. I had a job, friends, a life. And then the Previous Men took that all that away from me, just for being in the wrong place at the wrong time. That scrawny little professor, and whoever the First Man was back then. Two weeks ago, when I was the Second Man, we snatched another man from the street, and I had to force the Previous Man to walk in here. And now that man I snatched, the Second Man, he’s now the First Man and he’s no doubt outside that door explaining to the Next Man what needs to be done. And in another two weeks it’ll be his turn to walk – or be forced – through that door, and listen to a monster breathe in the darkness.”
It poured out of me, and it felt good to give voice to the insanity that had been the last four weeks – literally, the last four weeks – of my life.
The Creature was silent.
THIS MINDSET WILL ALSO BE PURGED FROM YOU it said at last.
“I just… I just want to know what it’s all been for,” I said. I felt exhausted. I wanted to lie down and die, but I knew that the Creature wouldn’t let me.
TO INFORM YOU OF THE PLAN NOW WOULD BE WORTHLESS hissed the Creature. YOU WILL SCREAM, AND RAGE AT ME, PERHAPS EVEN ATTEMPT TO DO VIOLENCE TO ME. I WILL NOT PERMIT THIS. I WILL NOT RISK LOSING A WORTHY ASSET TO CHEMICAL REACTIONS AND FLAWED EMOTIONS.
“And that’s what I am, is it? A worthy asset?”
The hunger in that one word delivered in that razor-on-glass voice punched a spike of icy fear into my chest.
“And the Previous Men? Were they worthy assets too?”
NO. THE ONE THAT CAME BEFORE YOU DID NOT MEET THE CRITERIA. IT WAS EUTHANISED QUICKLY.
“ He,” I snapped “He, not it. ”
GENDER IS IRRELEVANT said the Creature. AGE IS IRRELEVANT. RACE, CREED, DISEASE… ALL IRRELEVANT. THESE CHARACTERISTICS ARE RELEVANT ONLY TO HUMANS. WHEN THE ONE THAT CAME BEFORE YOU EXPIRED, IT WAS NO LONGER HUMAN. WHEN YOU HAVE BEEN REMADE, THOSE CHARACTERISTICS WILL ALSO BE IRRELEVANT TO YOU.
“Remade?” I echoed. I was surprised I managed to speak.
REMADE, replied the Creature. IT MAY NOT BE FOR MANY YEARS, BUT AT SOME TIME, MY LORD WILL NEED SERVANTS. YOU WILL BE ONE OF THOSE SERVANTS, REMADE INTO A FORM PLEASING TO US.
I did not have time to speak again. Even in the pitch black of the room, I saw movement – a shape somehow darker than the darkness – move towards me with frightening speed.
The Creature took my eyes first.
I screamed. I screamed for a long time. I screamed when the Creature drained the blood from my body and pumped the ichor of my Lord into my veins.
I screamed when Holy Xaajsaj, Emissary of my Lord removed the inefficient meat-organs from my torso and replaced them with grinding, hateful machinery.
I screamed when the Creature scooped out my bones and gave me a new skeleton of venomous metal, strong and light perfect for the hunt-death -blood-kill.
I stopped screaming when the Creature gave me my new eyes. They weren’t real eyes of course, but the iron hood stapled to my skull let me perceive the world in ways far beyond my old eyes.
And oh, I beheld Holy Xaajsaj, and its beauty was so terrible and so great that it would have struck me dead had I still been human.
But I am no longer human. I am superior. I am a servant of my Lord.
Now I sleep in deep places beneath the world, sleeping next the others of my kind, the New Men that are being crafted by Xaajsaj and the other Emissaries.
We await the time when our Lord calls us, at the sixteenth chime of the Oblivion Clock.
Mankind shall wail, and they shall lament, and we shall smother them in earth choked red with their demise. Then, and only then, can we begin the true task of bringing purity to this imperfect world.