A Kind of Redemption

They made him –

No, let’s start from the beginning. Let’s start with D-5913. D-5913 is not the protagonist of this story, but he is something like the protagonist, in some ways.

D-5913 is a man. D-5913 moves through the world, interacting with all that’s around him. He grows up, aware of his past and believing in some kind of future. He lives in a small terraced house in north London. He has a younger sister who likes to go bowling. His mother is loving, but she dies; his stepfather does not die.

When he’s 21, he ends up on the street. He is not on the street for long. The reason is that he had probably stolen something, or killed someone, or done something else that meant that he probably would have ended up as potential recruitment fodder anyway.

He is thus a mix, like most people, of specificities and generalities. He enjoys the taste of apples; he is a Spurs fan; he likes the smell of earth after rain. He doesn’t like classical music. He doesn’t enjoy nightclubs, but he enjoys the possibilities they contained. He hasn’t been to any for a while, of course.

These days, he mostly stares out of a window. There is a sense of nagging claustrophobia. His cellmate has lost a lot of weight; a little more each time he goes away. And every time he returns, he sits on his bed, trying hard to act normal. D-5913 thinks that he looks less normal with every trip.

They made him –

The room is grey. He focuses on that. He doesn’t know why he has to focus on that, only that he had a nagging sense that it is somehow important to do so. He thinks about sensations, and the sharpness of them; that which is in the mouth, in the body. That salt red taste.

He hasn't always been D-5913. He’s been D-5816, D-9159, D-0182. The number isn’t important; only that he is a number, rather than a name. Names are complicated; they give the person a kind of shape in the mind, which makes it harder for the jobs that need to be done to be done. But numbers make him ideal. They make him a hook on a wire, to be removed and replaced at a moment’s notice, wearing through in mind and body.

The rooms he moves through are grey. They are the product of a mind that thinks functionality and efficiency are a sort of mental cost-cutting. He moves under regulated, mandated light and shade, heading to a cafeteria, an exercise yard, a laboratory.

At first, he tried to escape. This didn’t work, so he tried to make a rhythm for himself, to keep him from going mad. But rhythms impose regularity on chaos, and here all was regularity, monotony. He’d look up and wouldn’t know where he was. He’d look down and the crisscrossed floors would intersect with the light.

The accident was inevitable, in the end.

There is something in his mouth. He doesn’t know what it is. He can feel it; can it feel him? Did it have colour, reflection or light?

The men look at him without seeing him. They don’t realise they are doing it, but they do it all the same. They made him –

“We just want to run some tests.” Dr. Halliwell smiles at him. It is a broad, comforting smile, the kind his stepfather used to wear. D-5913 moves his chair back slightly.

“It’s nothing, really.” Broad hands. Greying, salt-and-pepper hair. Careful, precise stubble. “It’s such a fascinating accident, really. I know you’re in a lot of pain, and you must feel bewildered, but this could be your ticket to an early release. I know you’d like that, right? Your file said you were on the streets, down on your luck. But here, we can really make a difference. Get you up on your feet, get you working – “

There’d been a Christmas where his stepfather had come to find him. He doesn’t know how he managed it. He’d been shivering under a bridge, staring at the fire the others had set up. A barrel. Such a cliché. He’d been thinking about how he knew what a cliché was, and how little and how much knowing that mattered here.

His stepfather hadn’t said a word. He hadn’t noticed him until he was above him, towering down. There was that broad, comforting smile on his face. So he’d scrabbled backwards and put his hands over his eyes and nothing had happened, no pain, so he’d opened them and he was gone, and it was just the fire and the cold water all over again.

He doesn’t know if he imagined it or not.

And now he is on the floor, and the sky is dancing, and there is something that he once would have called red, but can’t any more.

And he wants to scream but he can’t, he just makes a small pithy sound. It all keeps slipping in and out. He remembers that they said “male vocalisation”, but now he doesn’t know what it meant to say something. But something has happened. An event has occurred and a seal has been placed on the top of things. What was it, now? What was it?

They made him –

So they take him to another grey room. It is getting harder to remember where he was. They've patched his head up, but not quite enough. They want him in that sweet spot of comfort and pain, where he is most useful. They were very apologetic about it all, but they didn’t stop.

There is someone else in the room. No more Halliwell. Someone called Ortega. A different face. They keep frowning at him, like they can’t see him.

That Christmas, he’d wanted to put his hand in the fire. But he put it in the cold water instead, and that just made it worse.

Their eyes are glassy. They are frowning more, confused. Someone says something to someone else. An entity speaks to another entity. Movement takes place between atoms, and for some reason he can see it all. Atoms in the shape of a tongue.

He doesn’t understand. He doesn’t really remember where he is but senses something else instead. Like he doesn’t have to believe in a future but can see it, can see the design of it, even before they can. The inevitability of things. And it is horrible, but it is so comforting. So final. A kind of redemption.

They put something in front of him. A pie? A pie. A strawberry rhubarb pie.

And so it begins again.

He has a younger sister who liked to go bowling. He kept thinking about that.

They made him chew.

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