Her voice woke me up from a blanket-soft darkness.
I had to swim up through the different layers, like oil, like water, flowing together with the eddies. Fixing my attention to her voice, the light guiding me. I moved, drawn to it.
“Tell me your story.”
Her voice was gentle, like a stroking hand. I would have shivered if I still had my skin with me. After my injury, everything became a blur. A pleasant blur, as I floated on medication and other things. When I regained my senses, my body — as it were — was no more. I had to unpack everything. The learning curve was steep. I was an infant again.
“Tell me your story.”
I focused my optics on her. She was beautiful, a slim black-haired Asian lady dressed in a white lab coat. How would she think about me? Would she think I was some monster, an Igor?
“I am Lieutenant Tiana Han Wei,” I found myself saying, wincing at the sound of my metallic voice. “I am thirty-five. I served in the Sino-Russian War of 2110…”
This much I could remember. I wanted to remember my mother’s zhong zhi, glutinuous rice wrapped in steamed fragrant leaf. I wanted to remember Mid-Autumn Festival and mooncakes. I wanted to remember baby fingers brushing my cheeks. Yet my memories eluded me. Were they removed? Why did they remove them?
The lady jotted something down on her notepad as I spoke.
“So what am I?” I asked suddenly, trying to pierce the soft darkness in my memory.
“You are Lieutenant Tiana Han.”
She smiled awkwardly, placatingly.
“Can you touch me?”
Her eyes widened, though she smiled still. An evasive response, that smile. “I am afraid I can’t, Lieutenant Han.”
“Pity, I wasn’t going to bite.”
Machine parts whirled, making clicking noises.
I knew how I looked. I caught sight of myself in the reflection in the hangar. I wasn’t Lieutenant Han anymore, not the human anyway. I was simply awareness now, Lieutenant Han’s awareness re-fitted into something else. A chimera. My injury was indeed very serious. Did I die?
What am I again? A mass of nerves and synapses — my brains? — locked within an alien system, forced to work together again, for survival. What am I? A hybrid? And for whose survival? Mine? Its? Yours?
I heard the lady say something silently. She was speaking to someone behind her. I realized I was being observed, by others. I whirled my optics at them. I saw shadows of figures, blurred as if by glass.
“She seems to be coping well,” the black-haired lady said quietly, as if she didn’t want me to hear her talking. I pretended I wasn’t paying attention, but warplanes are not known to show their emotions. We/it/machines did not have facial expressions. We/it/machines were not supposed to have facial expressions. We were just machines. Inanimates.
I knew how I looked to them. A fighter jet. A F-14 Tomcat, to be specific. An old plane, at least three centuries old. Why did they stick me inside an old body? A ‘she’ stuck in an ancient ‘it’ body. Did pronouns really matter? Why should I care? Why should they care? Was it an act of necessity? To save me?
Because they had no choice?
Am I going to be a machine of death? Or am I going to end up as an exhibit, an useless relic? Just the old fighter jet, from past wars, past victories. No more war hero.
Just an useless relic, test subject and monstrosity.
My wings — my hands! — twitched, as if preparing for flight. My optics spun, watching.
The lady walked away and I descended back into the soft darkness. Someone else would listen to me.
Perhaps I would fly away and would tell people how I was born and reborn my way.
Machine chirped and agreed.
Joyce Chng: Singaporean, gardener, two beautiful girls. Her fiction has appeared in Crossed Genres, Semaphore Magazine and Bards and Sages Quarterly.