The old man had come to collect the body he was owed. The sound of his frame subtly clanking across marble floors was his child’s death knell, simultaneously silent and an all-consuming roar.
His child heard, and his child feared. It was not a strong fear, but a small, empty one, as silent and loud as his father’s steps. The creature he called his father appeared at the door, a silhouette, gilded in steel of red and gold, marred by the occasional occurrence of flesh.
The child felt small, the way he had felt when he was young, when this same creature before him was less machine than man. The same silhouette would appear, simultaneously hulking and skinny, his limbs spindly, his shoulders broad. Metal had faithfully recreated his figure.
His face was not done the same service. Two eyes, youthfully blue but dull with age, stood proud and afraid in a sea of crimson that had enveloped the man’s visage. He had no mouth, no nose. His ears were neutered, small lumps that had shriveled with age and surgery.
“It’s time, child.”
His boy was a warped mirror of the body he once commanded. His limbs were nimble but muscular. His shoulders remained broad, but his torso kept with the precedent, carrying down, creating a frame that was sparse but well-formed. His face was afforded the luxury of a nose and a mouth, and strong brown eyes, at that moment cast downwards towards the glistening floor.
“Two, look at me.”
Eyes lifted, contemptuous but resigned, containing an anger more towards the future than the wraith that stood before him, demanding that which he was most unwilling to give.
“I know. I know.”
The child stood. Though his father’s face was nothing more than a plate of metal and two eyes, he could feel the metal man frown. That frown had always been the reality-bringer. It was not the frown of a father but the frown of an owner, disappointed with a faulty product. In the end, the boy was no more than a tool. His father spoke again, the tinny but strong voice serving as a repeated gut-punch.
“You are afraid.”
The frown made itself known again, with the cocking of the head and the slight spasm of the fists. “I’ve given you twelve years, boy, to prepare for this. It was not unexpected. You have no reason to be afraid.”
The boy could not argue. He had no case. He knew that the day would come, when his body would be collected and he would be sent on without it. It was no surprise.
It still hurt. It hurt that he knew he would never hurt again. It hurt that his mind would be sent off to drift in the void while his body was commandeered by the iron monster before him.
Silently, he cursed the boy, fourteen years of age, who was swept off of the streets by the promise of twelve good years. That boy was naive. That boy would gladly have died for a good meal. Twelve years of good meals was a gift of God.
He watched his father sweep whirring limbs across the room, caressing the curvature of the walls, negotiating them, praying for purchase. Synthetic fingers found none.
“Do you see, boy, what age has done to me? I cannot touch, cannot smell. I can’t eat. I haven’t been able to feel for three years. I could have been impatient. I could have taken your arms then. I did not.”
The metal man turned, training his eyes on his boy.
“Do you know why I named you Two?”
The boy’s expression simultaneously soured and lightened.
“I’m the second.”
“You are the second. The first boy, he was like you. He was strong. I made him glorious. I thought he was fearless. In the end, he told me I made him afraid. He was afraid, like you are now. It’s not an unnatural feeling.
“The process is quick, for you. You’ll be anesthetized, and then, it’s over. No pain, nothing.”
The boy could not deny the fascinating finality of his predicament. The concept of being finished was alluring. When he was dead, he wouldn’t know it. He wouldn’t be bothered by his demise once it was over. Still…
“I don’t want to-”
“Don’t want to die?”
Servos whirred with intense disdain, eyes narrowed and the red face of death came swiftly closer.
“You don’t want to die, boy? You’re getting a more gentle end than the majority of this world could ask for. If you were still out on those streets, they would be taking you apart slowly, then stuffing you inside a metal casing and working you for eternity.”
The father was entirely gone. Metal had taken half of him and anger the rest as he placed his palm on his boy’s face.
“I cannot feel you. Would you like this? I can put you in a metal box and let you watch yourself be taken apart, if you’d like. If you don’t go insane from the dissonance, you’ll fry the monitor out of fear. Do you want that, boy? Do you want to be like me, slowly realizing you’re trapped in a box, looking out at complete people and craving a release until you go mad, stealing children?”
The demon sighed, a grating sound fraught with forced calm and unbridled tension whipping outward at the sight of his impending humanity.
“Look, boy, there are worse ways to live, than the death you are being given. It’s coming either way. Come to terms, now.
“Better to die than to live in a shell.”