Reprogrammed

Updated: Dec 21, 2021

The night was a messy blur.


Lights flashed as ambulance sirens wrung sporadically through my head. The flames caved in; my ears rang, and my mouth grew dry as if it were stuffed with cotton. I closed my eyes as the heat became unbearable, and my consciousness slowly abandoned me.

The room was cold. The seemingly concrete floors were covered in white glossy paint, but the walls were a dull gray. I had awoken in a hard, stiff bed and an uninviting room. A long loose piece of fabric hung over my shoulders like a dress, and I examined myself. No bruises, no aching bones, no burn marks. Around me, strands of auburn hair littered the bed and a lab light glared down upon me. I groaned and held my face in my hands as a hurricane-like migraine began to stir within my head. I couldn’t remember anything; not my family, not my name, nothing. It was like my life was a blank slate, and that’s all it had ever been.

Slowly I recovered from my daze. The room was quiet and stagnant, but I could hear people arguing in the distance. I dragged my feet from the bed and onto the concrete. Staggering across the floor, I followed nothing but the voices that echoed off the walls until I brought myself to a halt. The room was completely isolated from everything, and the only exit stood in front of me. It was a heavy, white metal door and when I turned the knob, I found it to be locked. Persistently, I took the handle again and gripped it sternly with both of my hands. I gritted my teeth as I pulled, and surprised by my own strength, it slowly creaked open inch by inch followed by an ear-piercing screech as it scraped the floor below it.

Below me, the concrete emerged into a blue and white checkered tile that led into a long corridor full of rooms. Still following the voices, I moved past each door, each one the same as the last. At the end of the hallway, I came to a stop. There was another door, the only one with a window and it seemed to be the foyer to the facility. Inside were a man and a woman arguing apprehensively.

“You signed the agreement, you read the paperwork, you know I want to help you, but I can’t,” she said to him, pushing her glasses up and crossing her legs.

“I was lied to, you were lied to. Please- please-,” he replied.

“There’s no point to anything but the mission anymore,” the woman replied in a hushed voice, yet her words seemed to sting.

“How can you be okay with this? How can you live with how many people have been lied to, how many lives have been stolen?”

“I have nothing further to say, and I suggest you leave before you get either of us into trouble. Some things are worth letting go of.”

“Things,” he repeated the word poisonously in disgust.

“Listen,” the woman said, “I will file your complaint, but it will do absolutely nothing. It’s too late.”

As she seemed to type something into the computer in front of her, I watched the man’s fidgety anxious eyes. They wandered across the room before meeting mine. As his eyes widened a pulse of adrenaline overtook my body, and an innate part of me sensed the danger of being caught.

“I- I have to go,” he said, turning toward the door.

Without another second, I ran down the hall, my feet picking up more momentum with each stride. The rush of my sprint was enough to blow my hair behind me, but the corridor seemed to go on forever. I scanned my surroundings for an exit but nothing arose. With urgency, I bolted into the still staggering metal door of my previous room; back into the comfort of the hard, small, very uncomfortable bed.

I awaited my fate with anticipation. I thought of where I was. A strange and dismal place it seemed to be, yet I had no other memories to look back on, nothing to compare it to.

The silence continued until I began to hear the quiet clipping of shoes down the hall. The kind of quiet that could only be heard by someone extremely focused, and only made by someone who didn’t want to be heard. The sound seemed to near closer until the silhouette of a figure walked into view. The same man, with his tousled hair and fretful eyes, entered my room. He looked down on me as if I were another specimen, something he had never seen before. He hesitated momentarily before nearing closer to me and reaching his hands out.

“Please,” he said anxiously, checking from behind him cautiously, “please come with me. We don’t have a lot of time.”

I stared back at him blankly, confused, and for the first time, I opened my mouth to try to speak.

“Who - who are you?” I said, pushing myself to the furthest end of the bed, away from him.

“Does it matter? Do you know where you are- who you are?” He asked me. He spoke with a sense of authority as if he tried to use intimidation to coerce me to go with him, but I saw fear behind his troubled eyes, and I didn’t flinch nor move a muscle.

“I don’t know,” I said, “I won’t go anywhere. You won’t take me anywhere.”

“You have to listen,” he spoke again, this time with sincerity yet desperation.

“I don’t know anything,” I said, shaking my head, mirroring the fear in his eyes with my own.

“I’ll help you. I’ll help you, I promise.”

I stared back at him again. Something lingered beneath his expression that was more than just urgency and anxiety. I noticed the hazel hue of his eyes and the hopeful undertones. I sucked in a breath, looking around the room once more. I didn’t know where I was, and that was the only certain truth I knew of. If I didn’t go with him, where else would I turn to?

He looked back at me once again, pursing his lips before shaking his head with frustration. Before I could speak another word, he grabbed my hand and yanked me off the bed. I let out a scream. It was all I could muster as I was too confused, too struck by what was happening to react. Even as I remembered my strength from before, I allowed my body to be pulled away.

As he rushed me through the corridors, cold air whipped past my cheeks like the stinging cut of a knife. My feet shuffled along, only a part of me half-willingly going with him. Urgently, he pulled us through the strong metal doors and they swung hurriedly open. Sirens began to signal from all around. They taunted my ears and clouded my head with the same aching I had experienced before. My mind spun as an image flashed within my head. Fire licking across a burning ceiling, walls deteriorating, smoke covering my face.


“Wake up! Now!”


My arm was pulled forcefully from my side. I could hear gunshots signaling from behind and gruffly men yelling like angry dogs. I picked up my bare feet and ran. They hit the rough terrain and the gravel felt foreign and painful beneath me. The man ushered us to a large van-like vehicle and threw me in with only the slightest hint of care. I was jostled by a rumbling below me. It was cold and dark and the scent of gasoline lingered in the air. I could hear the short yet aggressive pulse of the ignition being pulled, and my body was thrown to the floor as the vehicle yanked itself vehemently forward. My head spun once again, but my survival felt too important. I couldn’t let myself lose focus. Banging my fist on the seat in front of me, it briefly shook and then collapsed.

“Where are you taking me?” I snapped back hostilely.

“I’ll explain everything. Not now,” the man replied anxiously.

“I want to know. You’ll tell me,” I said angrily.

“We need to get far away from here,” he said.

“Where is here?” I hissed. The man seemed to ignore me but went on his own tangent of unstrung thoughts. His voice was tense and I could feel the vehicle accelerating with each passing second.

“She’d have been torn to pieces even further- oh how wrong I was. How awful and horrific it is there. I could have never imagined this,” he said with agony.

I calmed myself and steadied my breath. As I closed my eyes, I focused on the rush of the road beneath us, the sound of the tires as they mounted over speed bumps. Anything to ignore the sirens signaling behind me, the lingering image of flashing lights like a strobe in my head.

I sat the rest of the journey not saying a single word. My body felt much weaker than it did before, not with a sliver of the strength I once must’ve had. The only comfort was that the sounds of alarm seemed to get quieter with each minute before they ceased to exist. A sense of safety felt nearer.

It was not much longer when I heard the squeaking of breaks and the vehicle came to a halt. A machine-like sound rumbled and jingled from in front, and I assumed it could be nothing other than a gate opening. The truck rolled slowly forward before stopping again, followed by the sound of the door opening as a strike of sunlight blinded my eyes.

The man stood outside, offering me his hand. I looked down at the floor before crawling out myself.

“Where are we?” I asked. It felt uncanny. The sidewalks were cracked and behind the heavy iron gate, the roads were deserted and in need of being painted over. My bare feet hit the harsh ground once again and I eventually gave in and had to lean on the man. In front of us stood an old brick house. The dull green paint of the front door was peeling and there were withering bushes around the entrance. It looked like the remains of what used to be a welcoming home.

“Please, come inside. I promise I’ll explain everything.”

All I could do was nod in exhaustion as we made our way steadily to the door. He pulled out a single golden key with nothing but a small silver chain attached to it and a piece of fabric messily embroidered with the letters “G, R, A, C, and E”. He jutted the key into the rusted knob of the entrance, twisting with deliberate force and then slowly pushing the door open. Inside the house seemed sad and vacant. It was large and spacious, but with hardly any furniture except for that of a medium-sized scratched-up leather couch and a twisted worn rug. On the floor, there was a stack of notes and wooden picture frames. I could vaguely make out the figure of a woman with long flowing red hair on them.

“Sit down please,” he said to me gently, interrupting my thoughts.

I made my way to the couch and took a seat. It took all of my energy to sit up straight as I anticipated the coming conversation.

“This is... This is..” he began, squeezing his eyes and pinching the bridge of his nose between his thumb and index finger as if he was ashamed to say anything more.

“Go on,” I said impatiently, bouncing my foot up and down anxiously.

“This is going to be hard to say,” he said.

“I don’t care,” I replied, “I have absolutely nothing. You owe me an explanation. I’m only human.”

He looked at me, and I could see guilt in his eyes yet also yearningness.

“Please-,” I said again, urging him on.

“You were in that facility for a reason. You can’t remember anything for a reason.”

I stared back at him, shaking my head confused. My eyebrows knitted together.

“That building belongs to a company, a company run by evil liars,” he said, and I could feel the anger rising in his voice, “they said they would fix you.”

“What do you mean fix me?” I asked, and it seemed his explanation only led to more questions which frustrated me and made my headache once more. What company? What reasons? What was wrong with me?

“You had fallen unconscious; your bones were broken and crushed from falling debris. You were dying,” he said shakily as my ears began to ring. “It was the only way… was to give you to someone who could fix you, who could salvage what was left of you. I couldn’t lose you too.” His voice cracked as tears poured from his tired eyes.

I felt dizzy and unstable. Laying back on the couch, my posture dissipated and my eyes froze, averted from his face.

“How do you know any of this?” I asked wearily, still not looking back at him. I could almost feel the paleness of my face, like the ghost of a lost little girl.

“Grace-” he spoke.

I looked back up into his eyes and this time they glistened with something familiar. A million memories flashed before me, and my eyes closed abruptly with concentration and disbelief.

“Dad,” I said, opening them back up as tears fell to my cheeks.

“It’s me, Grace.”

I began to feel the world spin around me and my emotions come crashing down. The fire, the flames, everything was coming together. My leg stuck under a burning bookshelf, the sound of sirens and the screaming of a woman in the distance. My mother. Her face was pale and my tears streamed as he, my father, pulled my legs out from under the debris. I remember my eyes shut as I let the pain escape from my mind. I remember giving up. I remember letting myself die. I should’ve died, there was no possible way I could’ve survived.

Yet here I was.

I looked back up at my dad with a new expression. I remembered him, I remembered everything. How we would go to that park together under the orangey sky before the sun would set and he’d push me on the swings. I remember how he taught me how to read in the night with my mother by our side. Her long red hair fell over my face as I giggled and she kissed my cheeks. When he’d work on his science experiments for hours on end but always made time to sing me to sleep each night.

“Dad,” I said as tears streamed down from my eyes like a flowing river, like a flowing river, but they burned my cheeks like the fire that turned my life to ashes.

He let out a cry as his eyes welled with tears full of happiness and relief. He came to me and held me in his embrace. I wanted to feel the joy. I wanted to feel happy, but I couldn’t.

“What’s wrong with me?” I whimpered, collapsing my head onto his shoulder.

“Nothing’s wrong with you,” he replied, “nothing at all.” “Please tell me, I need to know. I need to know everything.”

That evening my father explained to me every detail leading up to where I was now. He told me how it was a normal day the night of the fire. He had been working in his lab when a chemical reaction occurred, one he had never seen before. He explained the sparks that erupted from the glass flasks, the spewing flames that ignited across the floor. How he had no time to react, and how my mother’s screams still haunted him each night. Then he explained where I was when I awoke. It was a company called Humatech Horizons, and they had promised a way to fix the most broken and unsalvageable people. The ones who would never have a chance at a normal life again.

“I thought it was the only way. I was desperate and broken. Everything I had and loved was ripped away from me, and so it seemed it was the only option,” he spoke.

“So- mom, she-” I began, remembering her hazelnut brown eyes, how they made me feel at home.

He inhaled a heaving sigh, and I could see tears being held back from his eyes. I could see right through his mask of fabricated strength as he spoke, “No... no, she- she didn’t make it.”

I didn’t know how to feel. All l I knew was that I needed more answers.

“Please, Dad- how am I alive then?” He looked into my eyes as if analyzing my emotions.

“I had retrieved you from the fire and you were only a remnant of the little girl I raised. The doctors said you would die, but I couldn’t let that happen. The company had reached out to me themselves. They promised to repair you, and secure you a place to live. That is at least until I could build our home back together, make it a happy place once more.”

“How did they repair me?” I asked, looking down at my arms and my legs.

My dad took my arm in his hand and knocked his knuckles onto me. I was taken aback until I heard the dense clanging sound that wrung out. My arm was not human. It was not flesh or bone; it was metal. I looked up at him scared.

“What am I?” He took a deep breath.

“Many of your body parts have been replaced. I knew it would be strange for you, but you’d slowly be a normal girl again. It was all a lie,” he said with regret and a hint of anger.


I looked at him, pleading with my expression for him to tell me more.

“They’ve taken hundreds of children, women, men-- told them they would be fixed and delivered back to their family. Well, all of it was a lie. They’re building an operation-- I fear an army.”

“Why can’t anyone stop them?” I asked shakily. The world seemed frozen around me.

“It’s all too dangerous. There are supercomputers with the data of thousands of people. To get rid of it would be the only way, but it would kill you and any brain tampered with. We need to get far from here and never come back. Then I would find a way to remove their control from you completely.”

I looked at him with disbelief, “And live cowards’ lives, hiding forever until they do something horrible?”

He looked away from me ashamed, “We can’t do anything, Grace. I can’t.”

I looked back at him with anger and sadness.

“We’re done discussing this,” he said, “I will never take you back there. You need sleep before we leave.”

That night I laid awake in the bed my father made for me. I couldn’t sleep or think about anything else except the other children just like me who were still stuck there. The fact that in time, the company could grow larger, steal more people, and the country, no- the world even could be seized. Nothing around made a sound. The silence was agonizing until I heard something echoing out in the distance. A loud, high-pitched noise called out for me. Sirens.

Before I knew it the door came down with a bang as people flooded the house hollering out barbarically. A strong man barged into the room and took me with both hands, wrapping a chain around my arms. I did everything I could to kick and scream, but nothing worked. As I was carried forcefully out of the house and thrown into a black car, I screamed and thrashed, all to no avail. Eventually, I gave in, feeling too weak to do anything more as I let myself drift away.

I awoke in a dimly lit room tied tightly by chains to a leather chair. In front of me were two men. Next to them was a woman, and I remembered her. The one who had been with my dad the first night that I awoke. She looked tense but stood confidently, and I sat as still as I could as I watched them converse.

“Minerva,” the taller man with onyx black hair said as he turned to the woman, “Has her memory been successfully erased yet?”

She glanced at me for less than a millisecond, but I saw a glint of something in her eye. She looked back at him, nodding, “Yes. It has been. I just completed the program.” Whether she was lying or not, I remembered everything.

“Adelard, take the girl to 152. Set her up straight like the rest of them.”

I closed my eyes as the other man walked toward me grimacing, and lifted my body over his shoulders. I tried to stay as still as possible even though I wanted to kick and scream; I knew that could be the end of me. I was carried stiffly through the corridors and down many flights of stairs. Soon the man came to a halt and pushed open a set of strong iron doors. Inside, the room was brightly illuminated, but what shocked me was the hundreds of rows of people. People without sentient thought, lined like soldiers waiting for their next command. They all stood there almost lifeless, their hands at their sides, staring straight ahead.

The man took me to the edge of the front row. I tried to keep my eyes and body as frozen as he adjusted me. He moved my arms straight down like the rest of them, and pushed my shoulders back and my chin up before he marched away.

I stared straight ahead, scared for my life, and wondering if I would see my dad again. In front of me were rows and rows of massive computers, burring and making repetitive noises. I remembered what my dad had told me about the supercomputer. All of these peoples’ lives stood in front of me. I moved my head as slightly and as rigid as possible to scan the room. Next to me stood a boy with mousy brown hair who seemed not much younger than me. I felt a twinge of sadness looking around at all the people who’d had their lives were stolen from them, who would never have thought to themselves again. I turned back to the front of the room, but I saw the boy’s head shift out of the corner of my eye.

“Where are we?” He whispered nervously.

I stared back at him shocked, “You can think for yourself?”

“I don’t know,” he replied scared and anxiously, “I don’t remember anything. What’s happening?”

“They’re using all of us. We have to do something,” I said. Around me, I started to see people appearing more alive, looking around and scanning the area. They seemed scared and murmured to each other. Someone had sabotaged the entire operation.

“What’s going on?” I heard a man shout out from the crowd.

“Where are we?” Another woman cried.

Children all around began bustling with confusion and getting out of their trance-like state. Quickly, I rushed to the front of the crowd and yelled out as loudly as I could with only the hope that some would listen.

“They're using us and we have to destroy the computers-- they’ve stolen our lives and our memories!”

With that, guards began filing into the room, yelling and trying to seize the people, but it was too late; there were too many of us. Everyone charged toward the machines and began ripping them to pieces. I used all of my strength to break each part one by one. I knew that at the end of it all, none of us would exist anymore. Our lives would truly be gone, but we couldn’t let them get away with it. As the last computer began to fall, the world began to freeze around me and my brain felt as though it were slowing down. I thought of my dad, and my mother, and the braveness yet tragic innocence of everyone around me. I thought of Minerva, and how maybe she had saved the world, or maybe it had been a miracle. Maybe my dad did something. Maybe he was safe, but I would never know. Then the world blackened one last time.


Written by Mariah


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