“Is this what dying feels like?” Jenny asks, her voice seeming to echo off the walls and to be swallowed up into nothing , both at the same time.
“That depends,” he answers, “what are you feeling?”
Didn't that used to be a simple question, she wonders? People would ask how you're feeling and you'd say “fine” no matter what you were really feeling. No matter how horrible your life was going, it was just the thing you'd say. How about, “Yeah, I got crushed under a train today, so I'm pretty lousy. Thanks for asking. And how are you?”
What was she feeling? Nothing. There was a big void where the connection between her body and her mind used to be. Now, she felt like floating, but without the sensation of moving. Even floating in water you could feel the wet. This was more like falling asleep when the world starts to fade into audio mush and your legs seem to sink into your bed. Except there wasn't even that connection of legs and bed or of sound and pillow. Here, it was nothing.
“Hard to say,” she finally answers, lamely.
“Some people say it's like flying,” he offers.
“Dying is like flying?”
There's a short pause. “No, not dying. You don't die. You wake up.”
So I'm asleep? She means to ask, but no words come out. Actually, she can't feel her mouth and tongue anymore so she's not sure how she's even having this conversation. Should she ask if he's God? Would that be rude? If he is, then she ought to know it. She was going to ask.
She was, but she never gets the chance. All at once, right when she was about to, everything comes snapping back all at once, and “everything” means “everything and then some”. Her mind reconnects with her body, her arms and legs come back to her, her head and her eyes get together, along with her ears. She can feel it all and too much and it hurts! The black nothing snaps into technicolor lines and circles, the quiet mush of noise turns into static and deafening booming sounds.
“Jenny! Jenny, just hold still!” someone shouts. It's not God, or whoever he was.
“It hurts!” she screams and throws her hands to her ears. Something is wrong about that. It doesn't go quiet and her hands don't cup over her ears. She feels them move, but nothing happens. She closes her eyes shut, but the light and colors keep coming. There's a flash and pop! And then it all goes from falling apart to rock steady.
“Jenny! Jenny, did that fix it? Can you hear me?” he asks. He doesn't sound like God at all now. Just some guy.
She opens her eyes and looks down on him. He's a squirrely little man with thick glasses, a lab coat and a flashlight that he insists on shining into her eyes. She tells him to knock it off and tries to swat it away. Her voice comes out like a distant thunder it's so low and the man jumps back like he's scared. It's all pretty fuzzy, but she realizes that he really is afraid. Of her.
A woman who's also in a lab coat is cowering behind him and then off behind her...is Jenny. She's lying there in a hospital bed with tubes and wires and all that junk they hook you up to when you ought to be dead and they force you to live like they're all Doctor Frankenstein and you're their “monster” she whispers.
She looks down at her own hands. They're huge. Even though they're black metal and powered by twisted tubes, she can feel them like they're hers. Then she remembers. Donor card. She was a proto-donor. This was a mecha-ki; a robot body.
She staggers on her feet, but the lines in her vision tilt to one side and a warning light flashes in her peripheral vision. Better than her real body, it keeps her steady on her feet all by itself. She bet there was no way she could have jumped in front of that train if she had been in this heap of metal. It would probably have forced her back off the tracks.
“No!” she yells with her big man-voice. “Why didn't you just kill me!”
The man and woman laugh. “That won't due,” he says, “you'll get plenty of chances to do your planet proud before you die!”
“The Marines need strong girls like you,” the woman says like it's supposed to cheer her up. “You want to say goodbye to your skin?” she asks helpfully.
Is that what they call people in this place? Skin? She looks down at herself again, this time really looking at the damage the train had done. She's messed up, sure, but not as bad as she would have guessed. Could these people have saved her? Was this the only way? She knew they needed new recruits for Venus all the time. Was this how they got them?
The lights in her eyes start going nuts all at once and her ears start picking up on radio chatter. A message flashes up to report to Enlistment and gives her directions. She hesitates when the two doctors step aside and gets a shock of pain to spur her on when she waits too long.
This isn't waking up, she decides. This is dying. And the way these mechs are built, that could end up taking a very long time.