Vivify

(You may have already read this. I wrote it in October.)

A young woman walked along a street in the evening, surrounded by the open air and sunset. Her destination was far from any town, across a wide desert. She carried a backpack that, to the casual observer, might seem too empty for the length of her journey.

Scarcely a dozen cars made their way down the road in the three days she traveled. Several stopped to offer her a ride, though she never got in with them. She hated seeing cars. The cars ruined her view of the desert scenery.

A light blinked in the distance. She looked up at it and frowned. Another car. The driver of the approaching car flashed his lights at the young traveler. She moved a few feet off the side of the road and shuffled onward. She looked to her feet, to avoid eye contact with whomever might be in the car.

The driver stopped next to her, but she kept walking. Quickly, he put the car in reverse to keep pace with her and lowered a window. “Need a ride?” he called out.

Her response bore no ill will, just the desire to continue onward. “No.”

“Come on, I know where you’re going,” he said. She stopped walking, and he stopped the car. “You’re one of them, aren’t you? You’re going back. I’ll give you a lift.”

The woman turned and lowered her head to the passenger window to get a look at the driver. “You know what I am and you’ll still give me a ride?” He nodded in what he hoped was a sincere manner, but to her looked as if he planned to harass her the whole way.

She leaned back and slid the backpack off one shoulder and around her front to peek inside. The thick cables leading from the bag to her nape parted her hair in the back, unsettling the dust and sand that had collected after her run in with a previous driver. She had attempted to avoid confrontation with that driver by moving several yards away from the road. That didn’t stop him from driving off the road and trying to mow her down. He saw her as many others saw her: a monster to be stricken from the land.

Alright,” she said, and reached for the door. “Do you know how to get there?” she asked as she sat down.

“Sure do,” he replied, and started to turn the car around. “How much time do you have?”

“A lot less than I’d like,” she said as she closed the backpack again.

“I’m Devin,” he said as hit the accelerator, “What’s your name?”

“Echo,” she replied. He glanced sideways at her with a shocked look on his face.

For several hours, the two of them traveled in silence, except for the radio. Echo had learned long ago that when dealing with those unlike her, she should only speak when spoken to. She rather preferred the silence, especially around new people. She hated answering questions—the same questions—over and over.

“So . . .” Devin started. Echo continued staring out the window. “So, um, I thought the Echo zom—” She quickly turned to him and glared. “Sorry,” he returned to watching the road in silence.

Echo made a mental list of things she hated most. At the moment, the list was short: Cars, questions, people asking questions, and the word “zombie.” She especially hated being called a zombie. “Zombie” implied she should be shuffling about desiring brains for consumption. She clearly did not shuffle, nor did she have a compelling urge to eat grey matter. However, the average person, once hearing “zombie” used to describe those like her, immediately associated such things with her type. The mob mentality arose and the fear of the new and unknown took over.

“Sorry,” Devin continued, “I thought the Echoes had expired.” Echo remained silent, her gaze returned to the night scenery. “I’m a bit of a zombie enthusiast, oh, sorry again,” he apologized nervously as Echo scoffed at the word. “Ever since I was a kid and saw the public announcement about reanimation, I’ve been interested in all those involved. I collected all the information I could about each production type and how the batteries have changed over the years. I remember reading that the Echoes were the first to fully achieve sentience.”
Echo’s face washed over with relief, though she remained looking outside. In her four decades of existence postmortem, she’d never met anyone who understood, however insignificantly, what she was. She opened her bag and glanced at her battery again. Her time was short: if she hadn’t accepted the ride from Devin, she wouldn’t have a chance making it to the facility.

“Yeah, we were,” she said. “After us, Vivifix worked on better batteries and in larger numbers. Echoes were a short run. Didn’t even get into the twenties.”

“If you don’t mind me asking,” Devin said, “What number are you?”

Echo turned to him and said, “Promise not to get all fan-boy gushy on me?”

He raised his right hand, “Promise.”

“One.”

Devin’s gaze quickly shifted between her and the road several times, his mouth opening and closing to form questions but never actually saying anything. After a few minutes, he found the courage to ask, “What are you doing out here? Vivifix says Echo One’s used as a greeter still. You can’t be One. No way. I heard the body for Echo One was an old lady.”

Echo let out a noise of disgust and folded her arms around her backpack. She may be old but she was no old lady. Ever since the day she died she’s been stuck at the perfect age of twenty-two.

Devin continued driving in silence, unsure of what to say. He’d studied Vivifix’s public history enough to know that Echo One was also Delta One, Charlie One, and so on. She was the first body—the first corpse—experimented on. The only pictures the company had released regarding the reanimation projects was of the batteries and other equipment. They never showed the bodies out of respect for the families of the deceased. He had no way of knowing if Echo was telling the truth or not.

Albert stared into his coffee mug and heaved a hefty sigh. He sat in a cushioned chair and examined his reflection in the dark liquid. He refused to accept that he was getting old, no matter how much his thinning hair and aching joints reminded him. He repeatedly reminded himself that many young people drank coffee in the mornings, and with that he could continue the delusion of his youth.
The phone on his desk rang. Albert glanced at the ID on the display and decided to ignore it. It was a call from the tracking team, a call he received every day to tell him that they were no closer to finding his number one target. They at least had tabs on all other units in public, but he wasn’t interested in them. He needed his pet project back; he needed Echo.

The phone ceased ringing and started up once again: the tracking team really wanted to talk to him today. He sighed heavily and set his coffee down. He answered the phone in an irritated manner, “What is it?” His own voice surprised him. In his age, he sounded so much like his father, once again reminding him how old he’d become.

“Good morning, sir,” The member of the team tasked with delivering the news to Albert sounded nervous. “In addition to the usual tracing reports, which we’ve sent you already, we’ve got something interesting.”

Albert scowled and let his annoyance show in his voice, “It had better be, you’ve interrupted my concentration on some very important work.” He was lying, of course. He hadn’t done anything important since designing the structure of the battery connector for Vivified units. Twenty years of his life spent on one project, and once he gets it working, the company hands it over to the younger engineers. Vivifix kept him around so he couldn’t take his brilliant mind to others, and he knew it. They kept him occupied by funding little pet projects, letting him toy around with whatever he wanted.

The young man on the other end stuttered an apology, “I’m sorry, Dr. Weiss, but it’s Echo.”

Albert dropped the phone with a clatter, startling the man on the other end. He quickly picked it up. “Where is she?” he asked, his heart racing. Finally, she was back, his number one concern. Echo, his greatest creation, had come back.

“She’s here. Some kid brought her in. He’s waiting with her in the public lobby.”

“Why wasn’t she brought in? And how did she get onto the grounds without you, the tracking team, knowing she was on her way?” The latter question he already knew the answer to. Echo One never had a tracking device put in her. She didn’t want it, and didn’t need it—until she ran away, that is.

“You know why we didn’t know, and she asked for you specifically. The receptionist has been trying to call you, but I guess ours wasn’t the only phone calls you were ignoring.”

“So she’s still awake. Did they say how much time she has?”

“She wouldn’t let anyone near her battery. She says only you are allowed to see it.”

“Obstinate as always. Call the receptionist and tell her I’m on my way.” Albert hung up before the member of the tracking team could reply. He grabbed his blazer from the coat rack by the door to his office and ran out as fast as his old joints could take him.

Echo sat in one of the many cushioned chairs in the lobby of Vivifix’s corporate offices. She paid little attention to the small crowd hovering around her, asking of her wellbeing. Her only concern at the moment was the battery contained in her backpack. She kept it well hidden from those trying to peek at it.

The battery was a heavy, cylindrical cannister, not unlike an oxygen tank used for diving. A shielded cable attached from her neck to the tip of the battery. Just below that was the focus of her attention: a blinking display, warning of the limited resources within.

Echo’s heart pounded and her mind wandered in panicked circles. She had died before—several times if you count the failed experiments she was the subject of—but she never recalled what it felt like. Did it hurt? Will it hurt this time? In five or so minutes she’d find out. Certainly there must be something left in her brain from when she was first alive to tell her what it’s like. Try as she might, though, the only thing in her head now was fear.

Be logical, she thought, you’re powered by a battery. It’s not going to hurt at all, it’ll be just like turning off a computer. Her panic piqued as she realized that, like a computer losing power, she’d lose her memory. She’d lose her whole identity over again, just as she did when—Just how did I get like this in the first place?

Sure, she knew as much as anyone who read the public (and possibly some private) records of Dr. Albert Weiss’s experiments. Echo One woke decades with the active intelligence of a toddler and a fully grown body of a female adult. She was essentially raised by the science team involved in the Vivification Project, the namesake of the Vivifix Corporation. Foxtrots, Golfs, and other later “versions” of Echoes each awoke with more knowledge of their past lives, or at least the basics of how to walk and talk. Echo recalled herself and others in the Echo line being drooling blobs at the time of their activation.

As Delta One, Echo knew from her studies, she had limited motor functions. She was barely self-aware enough to react to the probing and tests forced upon her. She had seen photographs of herself earlier, as Charlie One, laying upon a table. Her eyes were open, but staring into dead space. She was told her mouth would move as if to scream, but her lungs drew no breath.

Echo shuddered at the thought of what she looked like as Bravo and Alpha; in both cases she was suspended in fluid. The images in the documentation reminded her of the preserved lizards in jars that another scientist that worked with—on—her kept. Her shudder was not unnoticed. Devin immediately put his hands around her shoulders and repeated his concern for her.

The doors to the inner offices of Vivifix burst open as Dr. Weiss jogged through. “Out of my way, out of my way,” he shouted as he pushed through the onlookers to get to Echo. He had prepared for this occasion. He knew that she would come back when her battery was low, and he had created something to help. Dr. Weiss had hoped for many years that she would come back and he could say all the things to her that he had never thought to say before she left.

He leaned forward and rested his hands on his knees and attempted to speak. Words caught in the back of his throat as he coughed from overtaxing his lungs with his brisk walk. He held out one hand toward Echo, and in it was a roll of what looked like an ordinary power cord.
Dr. Weiss stepped forward and placed the cord in Echo’s lap. He took a deep breath, attempting to steady his breathing, and sat in the cushioned chair next to her. He leaned toward her and glanced inside her backpack. “You’d better use that now,” he said.

Echo picked up the cord and examined the ends of it. One end resembled an ordinary plug that could fit into any wall socket; the other was wholly unlike a normal plug, and unlike anything she’d ever seen before. “Is this for the battery,” she asked as she held up the unknown end, “or for me?”

Dr. Weiss responded by tapping the back of his neck. “We’ll plug it in, and then get someone to run your battery to a charging unit. The office’s electricity should keep you alive, if not conscious, while you wait.”

“So I don’t have to die again?” Echo asked.

“If I have my way, never again.”

Devin stared on in awe. His hero as a zombie enthusiast was sitting in front of him now, and he had just helped save Echo One’s life. His heart was close to exploding with the amount of excitement he was experiencing. One can imagine how much his already accelerated heart rate increased when Dr. Weiss addressed him next.

“You, attach this end.” Dr. Weiss held out the wall plug toward Devin. Devin took it in silence, but the look of absolute glee as he performed his task was not unnoticed. Dr. Weiss turned to Echo for some sort of explanation.

“Doctor, this is Devin. Devin, this is Dr. Albert Weiss,” Echo said, “Though from the look on your face, I think you already knew that.”
“Lean forward, Echo,” Dr. Weiss said as he grabbed the end intended for her neck. He pushed her hair aside and warned, “When I detach your battery, you might black out.” He glanced at the battery’s life display. “Which will happen anyway if this doesn’t work.”

“Hurry,” Echo said. She could feel Dr. Weiss’s finger feeling around the nape of her neck. His fingers were warm against her flesh, cementing in her mind the idea of her just being a reanimated corpse. Knowing that her body lacked any true life, could she really have any right to continue living?

There was a click inside Echo’s head as Dr. Weiss unlocked the cable. Her vision instantly became blurry, and a darkness slowly crept into her view from all sides. She intended to call out for him to stop, but her lungs seized as she tried to draw breath. Oh God, I’m dying. She tried to lift her arms to push herself out of the chair, but her arms didn’t respond. The blurry figures standing around her became a sea of blended greys, and eventually all went black.

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