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Artificial Man

by Sam M. Phillips

“I want you to put a stitch through here, and then some glue over there,” said the Doctor. “I need you to take more care! This creation of mine will be self-aware. He’s sure to stare into the mirror. He’ll notice any error. Err on the side of caution, please, I want to ease his transition into the world of the living as much as I can. I’m giving life to an artificial man!”

The Apprentice was doing the best he could, but he knew nothing would be good enough for the Doctor. They were both feeling rough and raw; the door of the laboratory had been locked, the top story of the building stocked with medical equipment, it wasn’t meant to soothe the living; they were giving life to the dead.

Sometimes the Apprentice wondered what got into the Doctor’s head. They had bled at least fourteen men dry — and why? — to steal their blood, to create this monster out of mud, to flood the electricity through his form at the height of this storm. They might not conform to traditional science or even a conscience, but they were going to make a difference. They were going to give second life a chance, they were going to see the dead dance once more, and they were willing to go on killing, flying in the face of the law of life.

“Hand me that knife!” the Doctor said brusquely. The Apprentice moved to obey him quickly. A small piece of anatomy needed to be arranged differently. The Doctor cut and moulded expertly, folded the flesh so it would mesh together better.

They never let anything fetter them and their research. The Doctor never let the letter of the law besmirch his good name. He was playing his own game, and he did nothing the same as the others — his so-called brothers in medicine — who said what he did was sin!

A large grin folded his face, and he let the knife trace a delicate line. He was trying to fit the fine features together, so that this, of all his creatures, would be the best. It was a true test of his skill. It was why he was happy to kill. He had turned all his will to creation, to this demonstration of godlike power.

Lightning struck the tower, making the Apprentice cower in the corner. In a former life, he wasn’t foreign to the knife. He had been a butcher, and now he helped the Doctor suture rather than cut. He liked it, but it hadn’t been his choice: his small voice was nothing against the Doctor, who had come into his shop, insisting he drop everything and bring his best pieces of flesh to mesh together into something new.

Few men could resist the will of the Doctor, but sometimes the Apprentice pined for his former vocation. It never got him into a difficult position with the law. He would simply butcher raw flesh, select the cuts which tasted best, and leave the rest of life alone. He had no sins to atone for. Now the law was on their heels, and all the Doctor’s grandiose spiels did nothing to ease his worrying. He had spent the last six months carrying bodies into the laboratory.

Nothing seems real anymore, thought the Apprentice. Wouldn’t it be nice to escape? How he longed to drape his cape over his shoulders and walk away, but the Doctor insisted on having his way. They were bound by blood now, and the Apprentice had no idea how he could leave. Perhaps he had come to believe in the mad plan: that they were going to create an artificial man. If anyone could, it would be the Doctor. He was no impostor but rather a caster of a grand spell. Who could tell what ingenious schemes and insane dreams inhabited his head? He was convinced he could reanimate the dead.

The Doctor smeared lead paint across his creation’s face to keep every trace of taint from his skin. He put the paintbrush back in its pot and said, “That’s the lot! He’s got every feature a creature could ever dream of possessing. This man has my blessing. All my testing has not been for nothing! Do you think I’m bluffing?” the Doctor asked, his face basked in lightning glow as he turned, wanting to know that the Apprentice believed him a learned man.

“I can see it is the best,” said the Apprentice, knowing the question was a test. Leave the moralising and all the rest to free men. There was no room for sympathising when he was in thrall. All of the men they had killed had filled him with nothing but disgust, but he had to trust the Doctor, there was nothing more to it. He couldn’t fit back into normal life now that he was covered in sin.

The grin returned to the Doctor’s face. He burned to create a new race of artificial men. Then he would rule, and this fool would help him. He looked at the Apprentice, trying not to let his vision swim in bloodlust. Why must he keep him alive? He wanted to dive down into the man’s body and rip out all of his shoddy organs to fuel his fire. To cut and sew was his only desire. He would not mire himself in morality — not when it was in his power to overcome mortality.

Finally, the Doctor pulled himself away from staring at the Apprentice, no longer caring what a nice time he would have rummaging through the slime of his guts.

“Help me with these struts!” the Doctor commanded, and handed a tool to his fool of an assistant. He didn’t have the luxury of getting someone different. It was a torment, but it meant at least he was obeyed. The Doctor swayed on his feet, impatient to complete his task. Was it too much to ask to be a god?

The Apprentice trod on the Doctor’s feet in his hurry to complete his part. The Doctor let his hand dart, knife still in hand, but wasn’t able to land the blow. The Apprentice ducked below the cut, able to know the Doctor’s intention. The Doctor dropped the knife and struggled with his invention.

Retention of the power of lightning was difficult, but the tower was built to gather it, and now they just had to fit the struts to the apparatus. The lightning would provide the impetus to animate their artificial man. Can the dead become the living? All their work had led to this moment. It was a torment in the final seconds.

“Fate beckons!” the Doctor cried. “I will not be denied!”

He had tried every method to achieve his goal. Now he just had to believe in the role of fate to deliver him to his destiny. In his mind things couldn’t work out differently. He had worked diligently for years and he wouldn’t let his fear get in the way now. He didn’t know how he could fail.

“People will tell the tale of this moment for years to come,” he said. “People will know we have done something great to reanimate the dead.”

Will they care about all the men we’ve bled? thought the Apprentice, trying to convince himself they would not. What have you got yourself into?

Not for the first time he considered throwing himself through the window. He didn’t know what death held, but he was willing to gamble, if only he didn’t believe the Doctor would scramble down the stairs and scoop him up, pour his flesh into some grotesque cup.

With an abrupt movement, the experiment was brought to a head. They were really going to create the living dead. Dread filled the Apprentice as the Doctor threw the switch. He watched the body of the monster twitch.

Which way will this all go? the Apprentice thought. He didn’t know, but he was caught in thrall. He couldn’t stop or stall the rise and fall of energy coursing through stitched veins and inert tissue. The issue was decided. The Doctor had confided his secrets in him; now he had to swim in the same pool of fate.

How I hate to be so lost, he thought. He wondered at the cost of being caught. They had fought for so long for this, but was it wrong? There was a prong of guilt which he had felt for a long time. This was a crime. They had crossed the fine line between conscience and science. Even if their research made a difference, the cost was too high. He couldn’t deny it.

The Doctor was lost in a fit of ecstasy, enveloped in his fantasy. It was easy to see why. The Apprentice watched the monster try to open an eye.

Things are meant to die, thought the Apprentice. It is vice and folly to play god like this. He tried to think fast, knowing he might miss his chance to stop this dance of death.

The monster took a breath, its lungs heaving, receiving its essence from the lightning. It was fighting to live, but the Apprentice didn’t want to give it the chance. He picked up a large scalpel. He was going to foil the Doctor’s scheme.

He moved as if he were floating in a dream. He watched the stream of blood flood from the Doctor’s neck. He was happy to wreck the Doctor’s life as had been done to him. He watched the body crumple and swim in a spreading pool. The Apprentice was tired of being called a fool. The Doctor had been cruel to him and now he was dead.

The Apprentice threw the switch and turned his head. Dread filled his guts. The support struts were being knocked away. The monster had come to life, and now it wanted to play. The Apprentice tried to escape but could not get away.

His vision went grey as the monster picked him up to squeeze.

“Please!” he begged, trying to ease the tension, but there was no comprehension on the face on the monster.

The Apprentice knew he was an imposter, unworthy of love. He saw the white face staring down from above and all he could feel was guilt from the blood spilt by his hand. He felt drool land upon his face. Looking up he knew there was a blank space behind that face, a space to find a new potential for the beast. The least he could do was try to turn the Doctor’s lie of life into something more than murder and strife.

The Apprentice felt the knife fall from his hand. He did not hear it land on the floor, for the monster’s grip was tightening more and more. The Apprentice gasped, his lungs raw. The monster didn’t understand the store of its own strength. Now the length of the Apprentice’s life was cut short, caught in the uncomprehending bear hug, no moral dilemma of father and son to bug him anymore.

His crumpled body fell to the floor and the monster stared at him, confused. He poked at the body, inert, and was surprised to feel his first emotion: hurt.

Copyright © 2019 by Sam M. Phillips

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