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The Castaway

by Sergio Gaut vel Hartman

Translation by Carmen Ruggero

Part 1 appears
in this issue.

A la versión original

“The imminence of death forced me to transfer, nothing else,” his words were acrid. “Or it forced you... or it forced us. As you can see, it no longer matters.”

A sound of pained voices engulfed the words my ex-body spoke, and finally drowned them. The doors to the depository opened, the aides entered, disconnected the tubes from a dozen corpses, loaded them onto a ridiculous looking electrical car with a minimum of effort, and left the place impregnated by their lack of interest. Minutes later, they returned with another dozen bodies discarded in recent transfers.

“They didn’t see me,” I said.

“They’re not interested.”

“I could have been a thief, a maniac...”

“Our organs are not good enough to feed the dogs. And as far as biological experiments, they use fresh meat cultivated in tanks; sick bodies are no good for anything.” He stirred on the cot. I was afraid he would die just then. He noticed my discomfort: “Calm yourself,” he said. “It isn’t time, yet.”

“How long?” The question, unexpected even by me, affected him.

“How long? I don’t know. Hours, two days, one week, six months. Who can predict how hard a body will cling on to life... even one without a soul? “

I didn’t feel I was anybody’s soul, much less one belonging to such an obstinate body, although I had to admit, its judgment was sound. The doctors’ conclusions concerning longevity of the old body had been final. But doctors don’t have an obligation to accuracy in their prognoses. Does anyone know of a doctor punished for a wrongful prediction? The aides left the depository carrying their macabre shipment; the doors closed behind them, and I went back to reality.

My first body gazed with disinterest at the dust particles suspended in the stream of light. Darkness drifted through the depository. It was impossible for me to determine how long I’d been there.

“I must go,” I said.

“That’s true,” he affirmed.

“Before it’s too late.”

“The door is unlocked.”

“I can come back.”

“It depends. And not on me. Unless... you’re interested in coming back. “

“I mean: it only makes sense if you were to be here when I return.”

My old body shrugged his shoulders, almost with indifference. “Yes — no... who knows? Am I God? How should I know the exact moment? If my reasons to stay alive are finished, I’m not angry enough to carry out that which began in my head, when I decided to transfer myself. Perhaps I cling to life because the bodies are separate entities and act independently of each other.”

“The bodies act independently of each other,” I repeated like an idiot. “You could take advantage of your last hours writing an essay on the theory of vegetative reason.”

“The bodies act independently of each other,” he repeated. “Your body is doing it right this moment. Why don’t you go away once and for all?” He spit out his words as if provoking me.

“I am not a beast; I can wait until you calm down.”

“Excuses, pretexts,” he said. “Your reasons for remaining in this place next to me waiting for my death don’t have any value whatsoever. You transferred yourself to another body to be free of me, not to carry me as your load. I’m not your old, invalid father. Do you see anyone else doing what you’re doing? The bodies die alone; it is right for it to be that way.”

My ex-body’s voice raised its pitch as his words became more passionate. That created a clear contrast with the last sigh from the body that had perished just a short distance from us.

“I do not know how else to proceed,” I said, lacking conviction in my tone. “I can wait a few minutes. I have come to understand that we are part of a whole; that it is my obligation to cry for you, to feel pain.”

“How pretentious! But I value your gesture, although we both know that it serves no purpose.”

I bowed my head. The floor of the depository was covered with dust and excrements, except where the discarded bodies impatiently moved their feet. There, the floor was polished and the darkness fought to overcome the stealthy brightness that descended from invisible sources.

I began to anxiously expect the next round of aides. I made a mental note of those who had died and tried to figure out the timing between each death based on those who were moaning, but I immediately abandoned the idea. I felt pessimistic about it. The reasons for my presence in that place, or my inability to leave, simply leave, became more and more difficult to determine. I myself had laid out a trap. The body caught my mood and tried to be constructive.

“I don’t believe I’ll die today.”

“I could come back tomorrow,” I said stupidly.

“It is a good idea. But I don’t know if it will be tomorrow, either. Perhaps it’s not worth the trouble.”

The light faded, and darkness overtook the depository. The points of reference had disappeared. For all I knew, I could have been inside the depository or in the heart of a nightmare. I took strength thinking that it is possible to wake up, even from the worse nightmare, but my first body’s broken voice brought me back me to the reality.

“...keep walking in the same direction your nose is pointed...”

It had to be now or never. I started on my way out but before taking even three steps, the rage of a body that had fallen in front of me told me it wouldn’t be a simple task.

“Stupid idiot! Pay attention to where you’re going and show a little respect for those who are dying.”

“Sorry. I want to leave this place.”

“To leave?” the body asked, laughing offensively. “Only after you’re dead can you leave this place.”

That confirmed what I had begun to suspect: the trap, working successfully, had left me standing on the wrong side of things.

“I’ve just been transferred,” I said. “I came to say goodbye.” I tried to grasp the dying body but he got away from me, mocking me. When he spoke again, I realized that he wasn’t the same one; another one occupied its place. The game began to awaken an interest in those condemned.

“The one who transferred out of my body didn’t come to say goodbye. The idiot left me alone in these painful circumstances... “

“The one who transferred from me,” said another one, “signed an authorization for them to inject me with something to accelerate the process.”

A harsh scream brought a new degree of complaints. Groans and moans were being heard now out of every corner of the depository; the old bodies around me were dying, or pretending to die, just to mortify me.

“What good is it?” wailed a female’s voice. “Would it make us different, improve us in any way? If that dog were to come to say goodbye...”

“...she will regret it,” a ghastly choir finished her sentence. The discarded bodies rocked in their canvas cots, producing rough textured sounds, rattling wood and dust; the sounds scattered throughout the depository, fleshing images of death, the true and absolute death; the one we cannot dodge like skillful acrobats.

“Where?” I asked. “I don’t see the exit.”

“Push on with all your might,” insisted my first body. “Push on without reservation; we are going to die anyway.”

I plunged toward the exit with all my strength, but the bodies were quick to react. They rose from their cots in what seemed like a fit of madness and surrounded me, blocking my way. I felt the pressure of something hard, metallic, searching for my flesh and the ferocious bite on my arm from a set of broken dentures. I lost all sense of moderation and began throwing punches in all directions. But trying for the exit was useless. I was in the dark and surrounded by bodies that had no future and had closed in on me.

What followed was a trail of puzzling memories. Perhaps I fell and was crushed by the infuriated bodies, or I received a blow to the head. Perhaps not. It is impossible to reconstruct the facts that lead to my present situation. I am only certain of waking up in the dark, in the silence of the depository. Some of the plastic tubes carrying nutrients are connected to me, and hundreds of discarded bodies surround me.

“It was the only way out,” said a familiar voice coming from the darkness near me. “It was a sure shot. You suffered no mortal wounds... “

“I do not want you to feel sorry for me,” I interrupted. “I want you out of here before it’s too late.”

“I need some things to be clear,” said the voice.

“There’s nothing to clarify,” I answered. “It is dangerous. I can see that for the first time: we are identical, of course, the same model of body. Just one question: did my first body... die?”

“I am here,” my first body’s frail voice comes from somewhere near, to my right.

“All is in order, then.”

I sit up for the new body to know I am addressing him. “Now I am going to count to ten, and when I’m finished, you will be outside of this damned place, living your life, our life.”

He moves his head, not yielding to persuasion. I understand that the trap has been set, and who knows how many more of us will fall before learning the trick that allowed us to outwit it.

“It seems,” says the first body raising his voice above the putrid atmosphere, “that he who wrote our ending refuses to modify a single line of it.”

“Perhaps he is a Greek,” I reply ironically, “an amateur, imagining Destiny with a capital D.”

“What are you talking about?” my new body seems disturbed. “Are you making fun of me? Is that how you repay my affection? Anyway, I am staying until I get some answers. I don’t necessarily have to explain...”

I stop listening to his words although I continue to hear them, as they blend in with the humming sound of machinery and the heartbeat of the bodies. It’s hard for me to imagine what wounds had influenced the decision to make a second transfer in such a short time and for that reason, I begin to inspect the body carefully and meticulously. I notice an ugly gash across my chest and when I press on it, I feel a sharp pain on the left side.

“Have the almost dead caused this much damage?” Korps, in defense of its reputation, has rendered a service and the new body validates the procedure as it wakes up. Perfect closure, though nothing comes free.

The door opens and the aides come in. Strangely, there are no dead bodies. They seem bewildered for a few minutes, vacillating between two worlds, but soon they return to their routine. They bring newly discarded bodies which they place on canvas cots, and connect plastic tubes to the veins of the unfortunate ones.

“Take him away!” I force a command. “He has no business, here.” The pain intensifies, I lose strength; my voice is dull, incapable of reaching its objective.

“They don’t register the discarded ones,” says my first body.

“Save your breath,” says the new body. “I am going to get you out of this filthy pigpen. My ex-bodies are not garbage.”

“We are garbage,” says the first body. “I beg of you: get out, before it’s too late. Out! It sounds melodramatic, but I can’t think of another way to make you react. You are going to be trapped, imprisoned like us...”

The new body is startled. The aides close the door behind them, the depository returns to darkness, and as gloom overtakes the space, our moans, those of the discarded bodies, and the protests of the ones just transferred are mixed until they become indistinguishable from one another.

Story copyright © 2007 by Sergio Gaut vel Hartman
Translation copyright © 2007 by Carmen Ruggero

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