TBOTSG-Chapter 6

April 1, 2024

As soon as he saw me, he let a key fall negligently from his hand and abruptly stood up from the ground. He approached me before Fox could intervene, exclaiming admirably, “What do we have here? A state-of-the-art android!” Then he circled around me, his eyes jumping from one place to another, everywhere except mine. Apparently, he was more interested in how I looked or seemed to be composed rather than who I was. Nevertheless, his strange attention didn’t matter. Something else had caught my attention. A word that the captain had said while looking at me, a word that somehow skillfully escaped the grasp of my memory device.

I looked at my hands, and nothing seemed strange to me: my white skin looked perfectly normal, perfectly human. My fingers seemed to resemble my own fingers—those I was sure I left on the other side of the milky barrier, in a universe from which I now felt I had never been a part of, just like sometimes when we return from a trip, we feel as though we never left. Looking at my hands, searching through every corner of my mind for a trace that would reveal the true nature of my form, I felt a weight. A very real weight this time, like a sudden increase in atmospheric pressure. It was bizarre and suffocating, although gradually I realized that I wasn’t suffocating at all. Just as I was warm, but in fact, only my mind perceived the warmth. Just as only my mind perceived the discomfort of the dryness in the air. Once I realized that the source of all my discomforts was me and the way I perceived reality, which had seemed to constrict me until then, I felt liberated again.

Realization is the greatest weapon against imprisonment. The realization that the world and freedom itself are nothing but an illusion, just like everything that seems unmoving, unchanged around us is, in fact, in constant motion. That freedom is like a religion with the rank of myth—something you lie to yourself that is part of you, but is, in fact, so far away that it can only seem like a surrealist concept—it’s like flowing clocks or elephantine legs. It’s beyond the probable reality of today or now. And yet, once I had that realization, I felt exactly like that: free. My freedom to think had been taken away for a while, but now I couldn’t be diminished in my own mind. And I freed myself from the human aegis and took another form, which I embraced as the messenger of a new happiness. Stepping back a few steps, I realized that my world was not just itself and had never been so.

I realized now, as I felt the smell of freedom, that an energy pulsating from somewhere beyond the end of the bridge, but much further away, was inviting me and telling me that it still cared for me, even now, after so long. And I only knew exactly who I was looking for and what I came to do now, as if a veil had been lifted from my eyes and I could see clearly again. And the image that had formed in my mind was that of the tattoo on his neck that seemed to resemble a rabbit’s head with three ears.

And that’s why when I snapped out of reverie with the stranger’s eyes looking directly into mine, seemingly searching for my consciousness, I did nothing but raise my eyebrows. And this time, my body had completely submitted to me, just like the original one, somehow knowing who the real master was.

“I’ve never seen an android that looks so…” he didn’t finish what he wanted to say, but I knew. And only the way I looked at him told him he was actually right.

The man, who seemed relatively young, with his rosy skin forming only a few fine wrinkles of expression, stared at me as if I were an extraterrestrial being. And, in the end, that’s what I was for him: a being from outside the universe he belonged to. And just as I was a stranger to him, he was to me. I looked at his clothes, which didn’t necessarily seem practical, probably fashion dictated what he should wear, like so many other people from a universe he would never know, and with which I imagined he had little in common. I wouldn’t know how to describe exactly his attire—a kind of combination of skirt-trousers with a Roman toga pulled over a dark blouse with some leather laces. Their colors were as normal as possible—the pants and the blouse apparently of a light brown, which was hard for me to identify in the distorted light, and that toga was electric blue, undulating perfectly in the soft rays of the blue sun. The toga was fastened with a silver brooch on his left shoulder, and its simplicity was somehow familiar to me. It wasn’t as spectacular as the almost living metal in Fox’s clothing, but it seemed tasteful. On his head, he wore a kind of cap whose brim looked like it could be used as a visor if needed. His features were generally human, if you didn’t count the redness of his skin, the enormous eyes, and the cat-like pupils.

Fox, on the other hand, had pulled out some sort of tablet from somewhere and was tapping away at it. I could feel her panic just by the way she fidgeted unintentionally, the way, from time to time, she ran her hand through her unremarkable brown hair. I didn’t know what she wanted to do, and the fact that I felt betrayed brought with it a kind of indifference aimed at her. A sort of do whatever you want, I don’t care…

“Can I touch it?” the guy who kept circling around me without caring if he bothered me asked.

“Please, no,” Fox said, her voice strained with stress. “Tell me if you need something and if I can help you, and then we’ll leave. I can’t stay here even a minute longer.”

I avoided looking at her, but I could see and hear how she searched for something frantically on her electronic device. It was almost evident that I was both the cause and the object of her checking. But, overall, I didn’t care. I found the clear interest, the avid curiosity with which this rosy and strange guy looked at me more captivating. His curiosity was like a kind of currency, a language I could understand. His stares didn’t annoy me too much, the proximity of his face, the hands that were almost touching me and hardly refraining. He was fascinated, but somehow avoiding exactly the real object of his fascination: he was avoiding me myself.

When he finished fiddling with his device, Fox looked at me directly and said just two words: trust yourself. However, it was hard for me to trust someone whom I suspected of something despicable: the subjugation of my mind. I didn’t actually need any confirmation to know that was the case. That her panic stemmed from the fact that I somehow managed to free myself. Trust was the last thing I could have regarding her.

She went to the car and pulled out a cable from somewhere between its front legs, a cable that seemed made of something totally different from the cables I knew. It was made of some kind of silk that sparkled from time to time, as if trying to whisper to me that it wasn’t what it seemed, just like me. With this completely bizarre cable, she went to the

guy’s machine and asked if she could connect. However, he was busy looking carefully at every pore on my face. Or so I imagined, because what else could he see there? After a few technical exchanges, passwords, and questions, the cable was connected, and the light now mysterious, as if a luminescent liquid traversed it in magnificent pulsations of violet and white with a hint of turquoise. The overturned machine had also lit up, and the light completely, as if it were some kind of descendant of a Christmas tree, full of colored bulbs. Sure, some might have had their purpose, but I suspected that most were just for fashion, just like the owner’s clothing.

“How did you manage to overturn yourself on the road?” I asked him. He didn’t answer but went to where Fox was working hard on her tablet connected by another, apparently normal, wire to the machine. He asked her softly but loudly enough for me to hear if he could talk to me. I rolled my eyes and went over to them to see more clearly how Fox sweated in her new skin and to hear her forbid the guy to speak to me, just as she had forbidden him to touch me.

“If he talks to you, it would be good to answer him,” she said without lifting her eyes from the tablet, seeming completely different from my Fox.

The guy turned to me and directly told me his name, as an introduction to our new connection. Thanatos, or Tha, for short. That’s how he introduced himself, lightly touching his forehead in the middle, just above the fine fold between his eyebrows. I thought I hadn’t heard correctly and asked him to repeat, which he did slightly amused, as if expecting my reaction.

“Like the Greek god?” I asked stupidly, my ears still not believing it, and in a mix of enthusiasm and impatience that suddenly made him seem even younger than he had appeared at first glance, he briefly told me where he came from.

“My brother chose it. When he went to university, the first one from our village to do so, and he chose there to specialize in the Teachings of the First World because he had always dreamed of working around a temple. He could never become a priest, of course—except for one exception, now 300 years ago, only women can have that honor—but he could have worked as a clerk or even as a translator of the old texts. Anyway, when he came home after his first year there, my dad already had a child with his new wife, with whom, by the way, he didn’t get along in the end… In the first months of my life, I was already a renegade child, whom my mother and my brother’s mother raised with great difficulty together. Anyway, my brother always took care of me and was like a father to me, and he told me all sorts of legends from the first and second worlds, and when I grew up, and I didn’t want to bear the name my dad gave me, he simply told me Thanatos.”

“You seem very proud of him.”

He hesitated a bit before answering me slightly embarrassed with an “I was” that I hadn’t heard before, because it was a completely foreign sound, a violent noise enveloped me quickly and brutally, almost sending me into a trance—making me try to see something that wasn’t there, giving me a strong sense of fear, of danger, and understanding that the pressure I had felt earlier was nothing but another sign that something was about to happen. Fox and our new friend Thanatos, Tha, seemed to hear a different kind of noise, calmer, slower, because they could function as before, without being overwhelmed, without feeling that their minds were drowned by a huge wave of sound and fear. They seemed to be discussing, with faces transformed by worry, and then they simply ran off in a direction where some kind of internal instinct whispered to me that I would be safe. We left behind the two vehicles that remained there, right in the middle of the huge bridge, still reflecting the blue light—one gentle and in fine undulations, the other sharp and iridescent—and reflecting themselves in the glossy expanse beneath them.

Their charm, however, quickly changed, everything darkening.