“Remember, no talking when in contact with the Subject. Use the tablet if you have a question.” The Technician slipped on the helmet of the isolation suit. The silvered front acted like a one-way mirror, concealing the face of the person inside.
The Apprentice nodded in understanding. “The Subject is still unconscious?” The two faced each other, verifying there was no exposed clue to the identity of either one.
“According to Medical the Subject should be out for another hour, but it’s not an exact science. Individual metabolisms vary, so we have to be prepared for the unexpected. Either way, ears don’t stop working when you’re unconscious. We don’t want to take the chance of some fragment of conversation being processed through the subconscious and coming back to complicate the Supervisor’s work.”
The Apprentice picked up the virtual reality headset. “I still don’t understand how this works with the Process. I thought it was mostly based on audio.” The Apprentice gestured toward the ceiling mirror, through the isolation window. “And that was the extent of visual stimulation?”
“Only for the first stage; we’re now in the second stage for this Subject. Remember the three Freudian elements of personality: the ego, our sense of reality; the superego, our sense of right and wrong; and the id, our instincts like instant gratification? They are all used in the Process. The Supervisor uses the first stage to break down resistance, in order to access and redirect our base desires, the instincts we were born with.” The Technician checked the wiring on the VR headset one last time. “Last time the target was the id, breaking down the Subject’s barriers to suggestion by reaching into the basic instincts we have at birth. The Supervisor becomes the Subject’s substitute parent, turning the mind from self-reliance back to dependency.”
“What happens next?” The Apprentice stood by the access door.
“This is where you see a Supervisor’s real skills in action. Stage two attacks the ego, where we define the ways we perceive reality. Once the preparations are complete you can stay and watch a master craftsman at work. You’ll understand why I warned you about revealing too much personal information if you ever have a casual conversation with a Supervisor. They live for this part of the Process, and they never stop working if anyone’s around. Trust me; you don’t want to wake up one of these days on the table in there.”
The Apprentice nodded in agreement. “I get that part. I have no desire at all to become a Subject. I prefer to stay the way I am now.”
The Technician laughed. “Yeah, we all do. Okay, let’s get this beast installed and aligned with the mirror, before the Subject wakes up. Virtual reality, kinda ironic isn’t it? More like virtual surrealism, images distorting the pictures we take for granted.”
“Submitted for your approval: you fall asleep one evening, and wake to find yourself in… The Twilight Zone.” The Apprentice parodied the iconic TV show opening.
“Ok, Rod Serling, that’s a little too close to what we’re trying to accomplish. C’mon, time for us to earn our pay.” The Technician had to concede there were a few parallels to some of the more twisted Twilight Zone scripts.
The moment I opened my eyes I knew something was wrong. The familiar if unwelcome reflection of the black, oblong shape strapped to a table brought back too many bad memories. There I was, the glossy one piece rubber suit encasing my body. As before the wide, tan leather straps wove a spider web of restraint, holding me fast to the medical exam table.
My head was tightly clamped in padding, forcing me to look up at the mirror overhead. The gas mask and hood combination engulfed my head, held down with a wide leather strap going across my forehead, and a chin strap to hold it in place. The view out the eyepieces was a bit odd, almost as if I was looking at a hi-res computer monitor. Maybe that flat effect was an artifact of whatever transparent material was being used to cover my eyes.
What continued to frighten me were the two tubes, exiting the mask on each side. The air had that same flat, faintly mechanical smell, which made it clear my air supply depended on a steady flow in and out of those airways. Turn either one off and I suffocated.
Last time I learned the hard way how well that worked. When I didn’t follow instructions I risked asphyxiation. Whoever had kidnapped me had done their homework. Suffocation was one of my phobias. I’d do anything not to repeat that experience again.
Why me? That question had plagued my thoughts since my previous visit to wherever this place was located. I didn’t have any enemies, at least none I knew of. That was the frustrating part, not knowing who or why I was subjected to this abuse. That last time had really messed with my head. The disembodied voice still haunted me, whispering in my ear. There were times I feared I might be going crazy.
The voice wasn’t present, though the background static hiss was there in my ears. At first I had assumed it was due to poor equipment but now, in retrospect, I believe it’s deliberate, to irritate me or blot out other noises in the room where I’m being kept. I stared at my featureless reflection. Nothing visible was distinctive, to mark me as a unique individual. I was a black rubber blob, an object rather than an individual.
Why add audible irritation to physical discomfort? What were they doing to me? How was it they could kidnap me, seemingly anywhere and anytime? And who were the mysterious they? In the end, what could I do to stop it?
Although it was pointless I pulled against the straps. There were far too many; all were well-placed and cinched tight. Whatever the person behind the voice intended for me, it was beyond my ability to resist, at least physically. Mentally? That was another question for which I had no reassuring answer. The last session in this place had left my mind in a tangled mess.
That eerie voice, what had it done to me? I hated when it whispered a word in my ear, yet I found myself needing its presence. It was loose in my head, running wild through my brain. A word here, a word there, it always caught my attention. Even fast asleep, sometimes I’d wake up when the voice ordered me to repeat some phrase. And yes, I did repeat it, out loud if I was alone. In a way it was similar to instant gratification; I was pleased with myself when I obeyed.
Why did I need that tormenting voice’s approval? Were I brave enough I’d resist to the end. That’s how the hero in the movie prevails. I wasn’t that strong. Gasping for a breath of air when it was cut off destroyed any defiance on my part within seconds.
The rubber suit was a tight fit against my bare skin. My clothes were gone, which allowed the rubber to close around me as if I were in a cocoon. It clung to me like a second skin. The outer layer was a gleaming, polished black, devoid of any markings. The tanned leather straps stood out in stark contrast.
Why did they put me in this outfit? Other than the annoying fact I couldn’t move it wasn’t uncomfortable, providing I lay still. If I fought it the heat from my exertions was trapped against my body, causing rapid overheating. The room must be cooled down to draw off my body heat; otherwise I’d slowly bake in a rubber encrusted oven.
My arms were visible, pinned at my sides by those straps. At the end of each arm was a cylinder of that same rubbery composition, ending in a rounded tube. I still had my hands, though they were rendered useless by some kind of stiff filler surrounding my palms and fingers.
I could just make out my feet at the end of the table. Like the rest of my body they were completely covered in rubber, a single piece from ankle to toes forcing both feet close together. There was a metal plate attached to the table end, with straps that held them fixed in place, toes pointing up.
Dehumanizing, that was the word I was looking for. If not for the slight flexing in the straps when I fought them it might not even be me in the reflection.
“Hello? Is anybody there? Please, let me go. I didn’t tell anyone about the last time; you can trust me…”
“Quiet.” All it took was one word from that all too familiar voice to shut me up. Silence is golden, if I wanted the air to keep flowing. The voice didn’t need to warn me.
“Home.” After I don’t know how long the silence behind that static was finally broken by a familiar voice. I’d been through this before, a long list of words whose sole purpose was to make me feel depressed.
The word was faint, all but drowned out, so much that I wasn’t sure if it was real or imagined. If it was the voice then I wasn’t buying what it was selling. This was in no way my home nor did I plan on changing my residence.
“Belong”, “Comforting”, “Tight”, “Confined”, “Helpless”, I was bombarded by a steady stream that reminded me of my precarious situation. I finally gave into a mental sigh of resignation. Just like last time; the non-stop verbal assault left me so confused the voice became the rock of stability in the rushing current of chaos. If this was my home, at least for now, I wasn’t going to argue the point.
Either the volume was up or the background noise down; it was definitely the voice in my ears. Did I feel safe? No…but then I had to stop and think. Once I began cooperating they, whoever was out there, had not harmed me. I had every reason to hope I might make it through another session the same way. Maybe I was safe, as long as I behaved.
“May I speak?” I asked in a pleading tone. Perhaps I could engage someone in a conversation, maybe learn more about what was going on. If I was lucky I’d find out where I was, or even generate a bit of sympathy.
So much for that idea, I had to move on to “Plan B”, except I had no “Plan B”. I was at the mercy of that voice, and I had no illusions about what would happen if I ignored it. I couldn’t even clench my fists in frustration. The stiff rubber mitts surrounding my hands were too rigid for me to overcome their rigid grasp.
“Repeat each phrase.”
The voice wasted no time moving on to active participation. Constant repetition worried me. Say anything enough times, it starts to become real. I can vouch for that. Those nights I woke up with the voice hammering at me until I echoed the words, “I respect authority” or “I am helpless”, they had an effect on how I felt about myself.
“I respect authority.”
Of course that would be the first. Dutifully I echoed back the phrase, word for word. I’d had plenty of practice. Who was the “authority”? At the moment it was the voice in my ears. The person behind it had the power to force my respect and my obedience. I opened my eyes, staring at my reflection. I was nobody, a thing, not even a person. I had neither the means nor the motive to offer any resistance.
“I have no body.”
That was new. Not so accurate, but I repeated every word.
“I am nobody,” which was paired with “No one cares about me.”
So we were on that motivational track again. I was the dutiful parrot.
“I have no reason to exist.”
That one hit home. I said the words, without any feeling. Was it true? Would anyone miss me if I disappeared? Had I made a difference in anyone’s life? What had I accomplished? I didn’t have easy answers to any of those questions.
The voice kept repeating those sentences, over and over again. Sometimes the order would change, so I had to pay attention. There were pauses, where I’d start to relax, only to have the voice come back louder and more demanding in tone, but always with those same words.
It must have gone on for hours, over and over again. After a long pause I began to hope the constant verbal battering was over. The voice didn’t return, but the lights did go out.
Some Parts Missing
At some point I passed out or fell asleep; I’m not sure which. I had no clue as to how much time had passed. There might have been something added to my air supply, since I was having a hard time concentrating, as if I were awakening from anesthesia. A few deep breaths seemed to help in clearing my head.
There was some light but it was too dim to make out my reflection. I was still in that rubber suit, along with the belts holding me down. For some reason I couldn’t move my arms or legs at all. Maybe the straps had been tightened.
“Gone,” whispered the voice in my ear. “Punished,” came next, followed by “severed.” The whispering continued with an incessant stream of derogatory terms, repeated over and over. I wanted to put my hands over my ears, to shut out that cruel voice.
It finally stopped, but I didn’t receive much of a break. I was positive now something was wrong with my arms and legs. I had no feeling below my waist or beyond my shoulders. I tried to flex my knees or move my feet, but nothing happened. I could barely make out the outline of my black blob in the reflection from above. If only there was a little more light I could see myself in better detail.
“Repeat each phrase,” the voice ordered me. How much longer would this go on? Maybe the goal was to drive me insane from boredom, repeating the same words hour after hour?
“I have no friends.” It wasn’t true, at least I didn’t think so, but I dutifully echoed it back. “No one likes me,” then “I disgust them.” Worst of all was “they laugh at me behind my back.” That last one was a bit much, but I wasn’t in a position to argue. There was a long string of similar comments, all of which I carefully reiterated to keep that voice happy.
Then the tone became darker. “I must be punished,” started a new series, followed by the likes of “I should crawl on the floor,” and “I should be squashed like a bug, crushed underfoot.” Now inside that suit I did resemble a giant cockroach, if there were a few more appendages sticking out. That didn’t mean I wanted to become one.
I was in the middle of repeating the bug message when the lights came up. It took a moment before I recognized what had been done to me.
I stared in horror at my reflection. My legs were gone, except for two stumps ending about halfway between hip and knee. My arms were also missing, except for a short length ending halfway to my elbows. All four limbs ended in those stubby rubber cylinders. While I was unconscious my arms and legs had been surgically removed.
“What did you do to me?” I screamed.
“Repeat. I am disgusting. I am an insignificant insect. I must be punished for my sins.” The voice never wavered.
The Apprentice kept turning between the VR headset repeater and the Subject, lying on the table in the isolation room. “That’s amazing, how the image is cropped in real time.”
The Technician nodded. “I was amazed too, when I saw it in action. Medical adds in some gas to put the Subject asleep, injects a temporary nerve block in the back of the neck to paralyze the arms and legs, and when the Subject wakes up, well, you see the result.”
“The thought of having my arms and legs cut off, wow, that sends a shiver down the spine! And the way the Supervisor links it to some kind of retribution for the Subject’s past history, that’s mind-bending. What happens next?”
“The long term effects kick in,” the Technician explained. “Tomorrow the Subject will wake up in bed, with arms and legs intact. Yet the image of that limbless torso on the table, and the suggestions planted by the Supervisor, won’t go away. Reality starts to blur. It erodes the very foundation of the mind. The subject will be clutching at straws, trying to find some way to preserve a semblance of sanity. That’s when the Supervisor comes to the rescue, reshaping the superego, redefining right and wrong, the Subject’s sense of morality.”
I woke up when the alarm went off. That couldn’t be right; I had come home from work the night before, on Friday. Yet the announcer was reading the traffic report for Monday morning commuters. Where did Saturday and Sunday go?
I sat up. Then it hit me, I was sitting up. I had arms and legs, all firmly attached. The dream was still a vivid picture. The moment when I saw myself in the overhead mirror, still in that rubber cocoon but all that was left was my head and body.
And that voice, whispering in my ears hour after hour, never letting up. I put my hands up to cover my ears, but it kept droning on and on in my head. I was worthless, my friends hated me, I deserved to be left to my fate, a giant, useless cockroach without any arms or legs. I looked the part too, encased in a glossy black resembling the carapace of an insect.
It must be a dream, but it was so real! I was wide awake, for several hours. All the little details typically missing from dreams were there. The feel of the rubber on my skin, the air going in and out of the tubes, the unpredictable voice, the lack of feeling in my hands and feet, it was all real.
The voice would help me, so where is it now? I couldn’t take any more of this kind of treatment. My friends secretly hated me, laughing at me behind my back. I had nowhere else to turn to for support. A psychiatrist or a therapist? They’d see through me in minutes, before tossing me out the door as just one more pathetic nobody. I needed that voice to tell me what to do.