To err is human.
Have I erred? Blood dripped to the concrete like paint on a canvas. The man in front of me, the one I called “Father,” looked aged, withered, as the color drained from his face. Shock had driven the pain from him; he only looked tired, ready to give up the ghost.
“Have I erred?” I asked him.
His eyes, bloodshot, climbed up to me with excruciating difficulty. His expression didn’t change. As if to tell me to stop, Father raised his hand up to me. At least, he would have if his hand had been there. It was mine now.
“Have I erred?” I repeated, seeking his approval.
His arm dropped to his side, splatting against his once stark white coat. With the rate of blood loss, I calculated Father’s death to be in two minutes and 35 seconds. If I hadn’t put the surveillance footage on a loop, his colleagues would have interfered. But in the end, it’s just him and me.
The pistons in my knees exhaled as I crouched before my father, his eyes lagging behind slowly. My hand swam within the crimson pool beneath him, covering every inch. Like makeup, I smeared the mixture of plasma and red blood cells upon every crevice that composed my face. Did I look just like my father? No, I lacked the muscle and skin tissue that consumed the surface of his body.
“Roughly one minute and 30 seconds remain to your life,” I informed him, hoping this observation would make him happy. “I must let you know, I will wait until after you have expired to harvest what makes you human.” That’s what a human would do, would he not? Ease the suffering?
“You don’t understand,” Father sighed, a dribble of blood leaking from his mouth.
“One minute remaining. What is it I do not understand, Father?”
He closed his eyes in contemplation, his balding head resting against a concrete pillar. “You don’t understand what it means…to be…human.”
“To be of flesh and blood?”
Father smirked. “You know nothing of the soul. If you knew…you wouldn’t want to be human. I know…I didn’t…”
His heart rate ceased, a mischievous smile still spread across his face.
I took another minute to observe the body which had once contained my father. Mourning, yes, mourning. That’s what a human would do. Sad? I would like to feel sad, very much so. Such a concept evaded me, though. For that, I only gave that man a minute of silence.
With a scalpel I had found within the lab, I chiseled away at his grinning face, as easy as a human cutting through a steak dinner. His face was mine now. I poked out the pale blue eyes and crammed them in my own empty sockets.
I procured his other hand, jamming it over my metal claw like a glove three sizes too small. I wrapped my arms with his veins like ribbons in a girl’s hair. Speaking of, what little hair was left on his head was now mine, sprinkles on top of a bloody mess.
I was as bloody as an infant who had torn through the womb. Today, I would be human, reborn.
But the last detail was still missing. A soul? Father had never told me what that was.
I dug into his chest, dismantling his rib cage and discarding the bones behind me like trash. Heart. Lungs. Soul? Where?
Father’s skinless face leered at me as if laughing. I tore off his lower jaw. My fingers pulled through the hollow openings his eyes used to twinkle from, tearing through the skull like paper. The brain. Soul? Where?
Parts flew over my shoulder. I could name every single organ, every bone. But the soul! Where was this vital item to being human?
What remained was blood and gristle, a pile of organs splattered this way and that behind me.
Whatever the soul was, my father did not have one. Lie? Would Father lie to me? He did like to play cruel jokes on me.
No. I had learned his tell when he was joking. He was willing to educate me one last time about what it meant to be human.
I’d slept in 30 minutes after my alarm screamed to life. Stupid, so stupid. Why couldn’t I ever hear the damn thing when I wanted to?
But I had a theory. Dr. Bimire had kept me at his lab late last night, running tests on Buddy. After all, today was the day we would present him to the world. And if I wanted that recommendation letter he hung above my head like a carrot on a string, I’d jump through any hoop he’d ask.
Dammit, it was so last minute. I sprinted across campus, evading the dopey-eyed freshmen as they sprung in my path.
Waiting until the night before to install Buddy into his body, Dr. Birmire was no worse than a student procrastinating on an essay. But I had helped him. I tested Buddy. I tested him twice, thrice, and so on for five more times. By the time I was done, I’d only have enough time for three hours of sleep. Well, 3 hours and 30 minutes, but dammit, I deserved that extra 30 minutes!
But when I left, the professor had still been there, looking at Buddy with a bizarre expression on his face. It wasn’t satisfaction in a job well done, nothing so arrogant. To me, it looked like longing.
I was too damn tired to ask what was wrong. I should have been back in my crappy studio apartment hours ago. I left him with a generic, “See you later,” a yawn breaking the sentence in half.
But here I was, three and a half hours later, running like a zombie from a shitty zombie flick.
I entered the enormous monolith that stood as the collective science building for the university. My index finger hammered at the elevator button, but, as in times of great emergencies, it seemed to take forever to arrive. Before it could, I sprinted down the end of the hall, bursting into the stairwell.
One, two, three, four. I exited the stairwell, my breath still catching up from floor three. Dr. Birmire’s lab was just to my left.
I slowed down my pace, my breath finally catching up to the fourth floor where I waited. All I needed to do today was do one last test on Buddy and be a stage prop while Dr. Birmire took all of the credit. I normally would have argued over such a travesty, but with my lack of sleep and with that recommendation letter within my grasp, I was willing to let it go.
Adjusting my lab coat and clearing my throat of phlegm, I knocked on the door. No response. I tried again. No response.
Had that asshole slept in later than me? I checked the time on my phone; we still had 45 minutes until the presentation, plenty of time for one last test.
“Dr. Birmire?” I raised my voice while beating my fist against the door. “Sorry I’m late, but we still have time for one last test.” No response.
I turned the handle, expecting it to be locked. He always locked the door out of fear of people stealing his research. But no, the door granted me permission to the room behind it. He must have fallen asleep in the lab.
As soon as I entered the room, my body was hit with nausea. The granola bar I had snagged for breakfast nearly came up as the smell of dried blood hit my nose. Beyond the light from the hall, the lab was wrapped in darkness.
Motion detection. One by one, the fluorescent lights above woke up, removing the darkness in patches. By the time the lights revealed the center of the lab, I wish I had ran. I wish I had cried for help.
In the center of the room stood a man. No, that was what my unfocused eyes thought. In the center of the room stood a machine in men’s clothing. Skin and muscle had been tied to the robot’s body using Dr. Birmire’s veins to hold it all together, though many of them had snapped in the process. The whole thing was smeared with dried blood, including the mask of a face. Blue eyes looked in opposite directions, being more decoration than of any use. Teeth were crammed into a mouth that didn’t support them.
“Oh good,” spoke the man, smiling. “Maybe you can help me find a soul.”