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Forever Young Chapter III
fymatt
holycydonia
 TITLE: Forever Young III
AUTHOR: holycydonia 
RATING: 18+ currently [some swearing, adult themes, graphic details, gory bits.]
PAIRING: Belldom [although this chapter is mostly Matt still.] With a bit of Chris lovin’.
WARNING: If gore isn’t your thing, I advise you not to read this chapter.
SUMMARY: AU, kind of futuristic. Matt is a rich, popular teenager, living in a world where you connect to network to access everything pretty much. Matt is in a car crash, suffers horrendous injuries and is brought back as a mechanical human [a skinner].
NOTES:  I don’t own Muse, etc. Sorry for the long update, I’m a lazy sod. 
 

Chapter Tres

“I was a ghost in the machine.”
 
The lips, I thought. Focus on the lips.
Because they were normal. Pale pink, washed out.
Curved into a half pout. A glimpse of white teeth barely visible, straight and whole. It was a mouth, a normal mouth.
Just not my mouth.
The nose, too. It was a nose. Following the gentle slope up the face toward the-
No, not the eyes.
Don’t look at the eyes.
No scars. No burns.  It wasn’t the Halloween fright mask I’d imagined. It was… perfect. The skin was unmarked, stretched taut and smooth across the face. A stranger’s face.
And the eyes. The eyes that weren’t mine. Pale, watery blue, too clear, unspeckled iris; black, motionless pupil; and at the centre, a pinprick of amber. Unblinking. Dead.
But when I closed one eye, the eye in the mirror closed, too. Brown lashes brushed against too smooth cheek. I opened the eye, and the mirror eye opened. It was dead. It was mine.
Which meant that what lay above it was mine too. Blackish-brown brows with a perfectly plucked arch, like they’d been pencilled on. A wrinkle free forehead. And above that?
The machine.
Scalp, flayed back. Masses of circuitry, like when Quinn was five and cracked open my new ViM because I wouldn’t let her use it. Wires pooling out of my head. Wires feeding into my head. Silvery filament crisscrossing a waxy, flesh-coloured base.
It wasn’t until the computer fell silent that I realised I was still screaming. But now the screams were just inside my head. 
What else was inside my head?
“Try to calm down,” said the first doctor, the ugly one. The mirror was gone, but I couldn’t stop seeing the face. I’ll turn the speaker back on, but you have to stay calm, for your own good. Let us explain. Can you do that?”
As if I had any choice.
One blink.
I forced the screams back inside myself.
“This is why I didn’t want you to see at this stage,” the doctor said irritably. “Cranial exposure is only necessary until we confirm neurological stability. Once the skullcap is attached and the hair-“
“What did you do to me?
Dr. Handsome shot the uglier guy a look that made me realise who was really in charge. And he was the one who finally answered.
“We saved your life.”
“What did you do?”
No one spoke.
My mother lifted her head from my father’s shoulder. She looked me in the eye. Not the forehead, the eye. She wasn’t crying anymore. “You know about BioMax,” she said. “You remember.”
I knew just about as much as I cared. Which was very little. BioMax, some biotech subsidiary of my father’s corporation, hyped on the vids the year before with some freaky new tech that-
No.”
I knew.
“We had to,” my mother pleaded. “We didn’t have any other choice.”
No.”
“Honey, you heard the doctors, you were going to die. This was the only way.”
No.”
“Matt.” My father balled up his fists, shoved them into his pockets. “Yes.”
“We held for as long as we could,” the pretty doctor said. I felt like he was leering at me, like I was some mechanical puzzle he was desperate to take apart, the try to put back together. Except he’d already done so. “Dr. Drayton” –he jerked his head toward his troll-like partner- “had you on the table for seventeen hours before we made the decision.”
“Before you gave up.”
“We would never give up on you,” my mother said.
My father frowned. “That’s why you’re still here.”
But I wasn’t.
I was a ghost in a machine.
A mech-head.
A Frankenstein.
A skinner.
“The download process was a complete success,” Dr. Handsome said. “Your brain came through the accident completely intact, and we were able to make the full transfer. The body is, I’m afraid, not the customised unit you might have selected under less critical circumstances, but we did our best to choose a model that would emulate your baseline specs, weight, height, colouring.”
He was talking like I was a new car.
Everyone knew about the download freaks, or at least, we knew they were out there; computer brains stuffed into homemade bodies, walking around and looking real, live people. Sort of. The first few were all over the vids for a while, until they got boring and people moved on to something else just as irrelevant, like betting on how long it would be before the prime minister went AWOL from rehab again.
       “You turned me into a skinner.”
Dr. Troll wrinkled his big nose. “We prefer not to use that word.”
But that’s what they were called, because that’s what they did.
Skinners. Computers – machines – that hijacked human identities, clothing themselves in human skin. Except the flesh was just as artificial as what lay beneath. A skinner was nothing more than a computer that wore a human mask, hiding wiring and circuitry underneath a costume of synthetic flesh. A mechanical brain, duped into thinking it was real.
Or in this case: a mechanical brain duped into thinking it was Matt Bellamy.
“You are Matt,” the repulsively handsome one said. “All your memories, all of your experiences, everything you are was simply transferred to a more durable casing. Just like copying a file. Nothing more mysterious than that.”
“Put me back.”
“Matt…” My mother pressed her eyes closed with her left hand, massaging her lids.
“Once we train the neural network to accommodate itself to its new physical surroundings, you should be able to pick up things right up where you left off.” Dr. Handsome was unstoppable. “You’ll see we’ve done remarkable tings with sensation, motion… Of course there are things to get used to, but many of our clients have found life post-download nearly indistinguishable from their experiences before the procedure. And quality of life will certainly be far superior to anything you would have experienced with your degree of injuries-“
Put me back the way I was. I don’t care about the injuries. I don’t care. Put me back.”
One leg, one arm, no skin, I didn’t care. As long as I was human. As long as I was me.
“It’s not possible.”
“Anything’s possible if you want it enough.”
Another of my father’s favourite slogans.
The doctor’s voice was cold. “There’s nothing to put back. There’s no body to go back to. The body of Matthew Bellamy is dead. Be grateful you didn’t die with it.”
And when I wouldn’t believe him, he offered to prove it. Wires were detached. Machines wheeled away. Two men - not doctors; the doctors never touched me - grabbed my sides. They hoisted me into a sitting position. My head lolled forward on my neck, and I saw my hands for the first time. They hung limp in my lap, fingers half curled, nails round and smooth; useless. The flesh was unnaturally smooth, just like the skin on the face. There were no creases and whorls, no subtle shifts of colour or thready blue veins beneath the surface. I wondered if there were fingerprints.
One of the men grabbed me under the armpits and hoisted me off the bed. He looked the type of guy who would have bad breath, and for a moment his mouth was close enough to mine that I could have smelled it, if I could have smelled anything. I was wearing a sleeveless paper-thin blue gown, loose around the armholes. His hand pressed bare skin, or whatever it was. I didn’t care. It wasn’t my body. It was a thing. A thing I couldn’t feel and couldn’t move, a thing I was trapped inside. It wasn’t me.
He dumped me into a high backed wheelchair and fastened the belt around my waist. Then another around my forehead, pressing my head against the seat and fixing my eyes straight ahead. Through it all, he never looked at my face.
The pretty doctor, who got less attractive every time he spoke, told me to call him Chris. He wasn’t actually a doctor, he said. Which made sense. Doctors took care of people, right? Sick, injured people. People. I wasn’t one of those, not anymore. Thanks to Chris. My mechanic.
Call me Chris wheeled me down a long corridor. I couldn’t feel the body, couldn’t feel the seat. It felt like I was floating through the hall, just a set of eyes, just a mind, just a ghost. My parents stayed behind. My mother said she couldn’t see it again. It, she said. My father didn’t say anything, but stayed with her.
“We’ve kept it in cold storage for you,” Chris said from behind me. “Most clients request a viewing.”
It.
We wheeled into a narrow room, its white tiled walls lined by silver plates. Chris pressed his palm into one, and it slid out of the wall, revealing a long, metal panel bearing a sheet-covered lump. A body-shaped lump. 
“You sure?” Chris asked, guiding the wheelchair into position. “This can be difficult.”
I couldn’t stand the computer speak for me, not here. Not now.
I blinked once.
He began with the feet. Foot.
The flesh was red and ruined, gouged. Mottled with deep, black scabs. There were thick streaks of pearl white, as if the skin had been calcified. Or maybe the flesh had been torn and I was looking at bone. The knee was bent at the wrong angle; the other leg was gone, ending just below the thigh, swirls of dried blood and charred flesh winding around one another, like the rings of a severed tree stump.
The sheet drew further back.
I wish I could say I didn’t recognise it, that it was some monstrous mound of skin and bones, broken and unidentifiable. 
It was. But it was also me.
I recognised the hips jutting out below my waist, always a little bonier than I would have liked. The dark freckles along my collarbone, still visible on a patch of skin the fire had spared. My crooked middle finger, on the arm that remained intact, a family quirk my parents had chosen not to screen out, the genetic calling card of the Bellamys.
My face.
The burns were worse there. Pockets of pus bubbled beneath the skin. One side had caved in, like my face had been modelled from clay, and then crushed by an iron fist. The left eye sagged into a deep hollow. My lips were gone.
There was a grey surgical cap stretched over my head.
“The brain?”
I felt as dead as the voice sounded.
Call me Chris sighed. “You don’t want to know the technical details.”
Try me.”
He did. 
He told me how the brain – my brain – was removed.
Frozen.
Sliced into razor thin sections.
Scanned.
Functionally mapped onto a three-dimensional model, axons and dendrites replaced by the vector space of quantum computer, woven through with artificial nerves, conduits that would carry impulses back and forth from an artificial body, simulating all the pains and pleasures in life. In theory.
He told me how the frozen leftovers were discarded. Because that’s what you do with medical waste.
Now I understood: Skinner was the wrong word after all. I wasn’t a thief. I hadn’t stolen an identity; I hadn’t stolen anything. They were the ones who stole from me. They flayed back my skin, reached inside and dug up whatever secret, essential quality made me who I was.
They ripped it out.
They ripped it out – ripped me out – and left me exposed, a naked brain, and a mind without a body. Because this thing they’d stuck me in, it wasn’t a body – a sculpted face, dead eyes, and synthetic flesh couldn’t make it anything but a hollow shell. Maybe I’d lost the essential thing that made me Matt Bellamy, but I’d lost everything else, everything that made me human.
I wasn’t a skinner.
I was the one who’d been skinned.
When we were kids, Quinn and I used to fight. Not argue. Fight. Hair-pulling, skin-pinching, wrist burning, arm-twisting, squealing, spitting, punching, shrieking fight. And once – it wasn’t our worst fight or our last one – after she kneed me in the crotch, I punched her in the face. Her nose spurted blood all over both of us. She threw up. I passed out. It’d the one thing we’d always had in common: Fear of blood. Fear of doctors. Fear of hospitals. Fear of anything that stinks of sick.
But here I was, inches from a dead body. My dead body. Centimetres from flesh that looked like raw meat, a crumpled face, an empty skull cavity. Listening to a stranger describe, in detail, all the ways he’d torn me to pieces. And I didn’t feel sick. I didn’t feel anything.
I don’t just mean outside, like the chair under my arse or my arse or the straps digging into my waist and forehead or call-me Chris’ hand on my shoulder, the same hand that he’d used to pull back the body’s sheet. It was that, but it wasn’t just that. I couldn’t feel anything on the inside either. I wasn’t nauseated; I wasn’t dizzy. My stomach wasn’t clenched; there was no hollowness at the back of my throat, warning me I was about to explode into tears. I wasn’t breathing quickly. I wasn’t breathing at all. I wasn’t trembling, although even if I had been, I wouldn’t have known.
My brain – or whatever was up there – told me I was horrified. And furious. And terrified. And disgusted. I knew I was all of those things. But I couldn’t feel it. They were just words. Adjectives pertaining to emotional affect that modified nouns pertaining to organic life forms.
I no longer qualified.
 

  • 1
Poor Matt. This really must be hard.
I'd rather be dead than a machine, I think.

wow.

your descriptions have left me stunned.

very effective and very well done!

  • 1
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