Fall from Grace
As we fall from grace,
And we touch death's hand too soon.
As we fall from grace…
Through the eyes of another god
Decide to end your life.
The sky is a deep blue ocean stretching far and beyond – calm, unfathomable, welcoming. There is no horizon; nor even a notion of such. Through this abundance of color and pure sensation, I am flying, and the wings behind my back catch wind, letting me glide gloriously. Forward and higher…
The wind whispers to me softly; its touch feels like silk to my bare skin. There is something odd about this feeling, as if for a long time, I have been barred from it, but now here it is, in all its… completeness.
The sun is my ultimate goal, and as I rise I begin to see it grow in size and brightness. I won't close my eyes, nor will I blink or flinch. I am invincible. Being untouchable myself, I'm about to touch the sun. Elated and curious, I reach out for it.
But something is wrong.
Just a little too late do I realize that my wings are but a contraption created by an inventive mind. They have not been designed to withstand the heat. The next thing I know…
The blue sky has turned to a black gaping void right before my eyes. I see an ocean below, and, despite the breathtaking height, my fall does not kill me right away – I don't even hit the surface that hard. Instead, I sink, being swallowed by the water and slowly dragged down to the unforgiving maw.
It is a very different kind of self-awareness for me now; it feels… real. The water is ice-cold and sobering; it's like thousands of needles piercing through my skin. Where I have skin, that is. For my body, too, feels different now. Still, I don't give it much thought, or have any intention to do so; all I can do is give myself in to the drowning.
I know that I'm dying. And in this moment of truth, I don't mind. The thickness of water comes crushing down upon me, its weight overwhelming. I can't feel my body anymore; I try to draw a breath, but to no avail, and my head explodes with violent throbbing. I am nothing but a watcher now, my consciousness lingering helplessly in an unresponsive shell that used to be my body. It all is becoming more and more distant, and then my mind finally slips into darkness.
When I snap back into consciousness, I hesitate to open my eyes for a moment, confused and unsure of what I will see. I struggle to think, and when I get myself to focus at last, I wish I didn't. The ugly realization dawns on me and settles like dust.
I have no idea who I am, let alone where I am.
I have no choice but to open my eyes, so I venture it. The daylight strikes me, apparently intending to knock me back out, but I am a stubborn fighter. All around me is blinding white. My sight is slowly adjusting, but, as color and contrast return to my surroundings, on the foreground of it all colorful spots appear and start blinking. Before I realize what it could possibly mean, I manage to slightly get myself up on my elbows.
That's when I see my arms. Carbon-black metal. Myomer muscles, just as black. Cyberarms…
I clench my fists, then relax back, hearing soft, unobtrusive mechanical noise made by servo motors in the joints. Then I move my right arm up and let it hang in the air. Perfectly responsive. Not even trembling, despite my overly weakened state.
I try to move my legs from under a white sheet covering me from my waist down. It feels… hollow. I already know what I will see before I remove the sheet and uncover it. Both my legs are black polycarbonate prosthetics, just like my arms. Sleek and nicely shaped, all four limbs are very fine pieces of cyberware. Expansive, too, or so it seems.
Now I figure that the colorful spots clouding the rims of my vision are actually icons; they blink back into existence to stay, letting me read them clearly, informing me that all systems are now online and fully operational.
The systems of my body… their HUD projected directly to my retina. I dwell on the idea for a while, and it feels weird and familiar at the same time.
I proceed with examining my body and take notice of scars on my bare chest. Those wounds had healed long ago, but the form and the layout of the scars are quite peculiar. It looks like I was pierced with spikes, and then patched up, the holes closed up with metal braces. There is also a long scar crossing my chest, as if I once underwent some serious surgery. To stuff me with cyberware, no doubt…
As I lie there, alone in the sterile white room, I can't help but wonder how much of me is still… human.
An idea strikes me, and I start cycling through the interface on my retinal display – the process is highly intuitive for me, or maybe, it's just that I have caught a glimpse from my damaged memory, and it has been enough to know how it works. I find what I look for, the system status information, and I'm astounded by the sheer amount of tech registered in there.
However, none of it feels new – I have had these implants before, although I can't say for how long. Which doesn't bring me any closer to remembering who I am…
I sit up on my bed and look at my arms again. It's like I want to do something, but I'm not sure what. It happens before I know it – in a split second, two blunt-tipped blades extend from my forearms with a sharp click, like that of a gun ready to fire.
Nanoblades. Razor-thin, efficient and deadly. Their surface is matte, covered with tiny scratches. They have been in heavy use; and I have a feeling there is more built-in offensive stuff in my systems yet to discover.
I surely look like a weapon. Someone's weapon of choice.
All right… I'm augmented. And I'm in some kind of hospital. What else can I discern?
I hide the blades back (the mechanism is curious – I guess it requires a nerve impulse, so, basically, an act of will). There is nothing around to see my reflection in, so I raise my hands and touch my face, the sensors on my fingertips making contact with 'actual' skin of my forehead, providing immediate feedback. As my fingers move down, to my temples and cheeks, they stumble upon two protruding patches of plastic near my eyes. Another implant.
I can feel that my beard is shaggy and untrimmed, and my hair has grown long enough to cover my ears and touch my neck. Though I can't remember anything about my grooming habits, something tells me it shouldn't be the way it is. It seems I have been here for quite a while, unconscious and forgotten.
Before I can make any more conclusions, the door opens, letting inside two people clad in medical uniform – a man and a woman. They are not surprised by my sudden awakening, but rather concerned, as if something doesn't go as planned.
"You should stay down," says the man and gestures, as if trying to stop me from doing something stupid.
I obey and lie back down, unsure of what to expect.
"How much do you remember?" the woman asks. She doesn't look at me, going through something on a tablet in her hands.
I hesitate, then answer with a sigh, my hoarse voice grinding its way through my dry throat. "Nothing."
The two doctors (presumably) exchange glances, which I cannot decipher. The man studies me with his thoughtful eyes, but seems reluctant to come any closer.
What do they see? I wonder. A man or a weapon?
"Not even your name?" he asks.
I shake my head. "I was hoping you'd tell me."
The woman is taking notes now; matter-of-factly, she responds. "We were unable to identify you."
I think that there might be some clues stored in my system – unless it has all been wiped out, as a result of failure or ill intention.
Silence. They are waiting for my questions, or so it seems; and I have so many that I don't even know where to start.
"What is this place?" I manage, finally.
"A rehabilitation facility. For augmented people," the man says. He speaks with an accent I can't quite place.
I frown. "Rehabilitation? From what?"
"So you really don't remember anything about what happened?" he asks, and I start to feel like I'm a lunatic asylum patient.
"I don't, I told you," I say with a touch of impatience in my voice.
"You had been rescued from the Arctic Ocean, after the Panchaea facility collapsed."
So, the drowning wasn't a dream… Or, I somehow relived it in a dream that felt too real. The memory of icy void and imminent death washes over me. They are one now, the memory and the ocean.
"How the hell did I survive that?"
"You were clinically dead, but the cold and your Sentinel implant served you well – we were able to reanimate you."
At least, my memory is not a complete ruin: I recall that Panchaea was built with the purpose of countering the effects of global warming.
"How long have I been out?"
"For about a year."
A year? I am taken aback, but try not to let it show. I have lost the whole year of my life, and worse – all of my life, if I don't get my memory to work properly. Or, is my amnesia also a protective measure, like that Sentinel implant..?
"We will do all we can to help you in your predicament," the man says, reassuringly. "But for now, you need to rest. Please, stay still." He presses a button on a remote controller, and with a buzzing noise, a robotic manipulator draws near me from behind. Before I know it, I feel a sting to my neck and an injection pouring into my bloodstream.
What the hell? Haven't I just woken up?
Suddenly, the reality dissolves, giving way to a comforting unawareness, and all my protesting is gone.
I woke up in my chair, my head resting on the top of its back, and the light in my office at first looked dim to me. I checked my optics, but it adjusted automatically, switching modes, which I must have forgotten to do before I… Fell asleep? Blacked out? Or, was it a system reboot?
When you're half a machine, the amount of possible reasons doubles. I thought I would schedule a visit to a L.I.M.B. clinic, just in case. I was sure the reason was trite: I didn't have enough sleep for a while, with all that unrest around Sarif Industries and all that urgent business I had to see to.
And I had that dream…
I looked at the monitor of my computer that was in hibernation mode, awakening with a touch on the mouse and showing the feed from security cameras. I was planning to check the footage from when the riots in Detroit started and to devise supportive security measures. But before delving into the task, I opened the browser and typed in the search field:
I wasn't much into the Greek mythology, but remembered enough of it to put a name to that winged guy I was in my dream. I barely started reading, when a knock on my door came.
"Come in," I called out.
The door opened, and Athene, Sarif's secretary, let herself in, lingering on the doorstep.
"Sarif asked me to check on you. You didn't answer infolink calls," she said, giving me an analyzing look.
I didn't want to admit my little weakness, so I kept silence.
"Are you all right, Adam?"
"Functional," I said with a shadow of a grin.
That kind of dark humor tended to make people feel uneasy. Sarif Industries was always a progressive company and, as one might expect, employed quite a number of people with augmentations, but those were mostly neural – neat and almost invisible tech. That wasn't the case with me. Noticeable by their nature, my augmentations had utterly changed the way I looked, moved, and carried myself. There was also that deep, subtle change people apparently grasped on some level of their consciousness when they talked to me. It didn't bother me much; and besides, it was only a matter of time before more augmented employees flooded the halls, offices and labs of the company.
To her credit, Athene didn't flinch, her polite expression not changing the slightest. Only, she was now looking through me, rather than at me, which, with my eyes being hidden behind the eye shields, was easy.
"He wanted to discuss something. Seemed excited," she went on. "Would you come to his office?"
"Sure. I'll be there in five minutes."
I knew David Sarif well enough to say that 'excited' was his permanent state, rather than something he was at the heat of the moment. That being said, he had more than his usual share of excitement to cascade upon me when I entered.
"Adam, here you are! Have you seen the news?" He rose from his chair and somehow seemed taller than he was, his eyes sparkling.
"Not yet. What are they lying about this time?"
"Humanity Front? It's done with. After the Incident, as they call it, the public needed a scapegoat so desperately, and the version with a virus seemed so plausible, that the organization's reputation is totally destroyed – along with Taggart's. The uproar is incredible. Human enhancement companies are the victim now. When the dust settles, people will flock to us." He smiled triumphantly.
"So they bought it?" I asked. The lie under discussion was not Picus's. It was ours.
"Every single word of it. How could they not, after you saved the day? You really should check out the newspapers, Adam. They go on and on about how Sarif's augmented employee showed up to stop the madness, and how he escorted out both David Sarif AND his opponent. You are the knight in the shining armor!" he proclaimed, his enthusiasm burning so brightly that other sources of light seemed redundant, pointless.
"And you are the manufacturer of the armor," I commented with a wry note in my tone.
"Exactly!" he said, although I knew he was rather thinking of himself as a mighty king, the conqueror of the world. He rubbed his hands, then gestured with his one augmented hand. "With all that said, this was the best PR campaign I could ever wish for. A total triumph!"
"I'm glad it all wasn't for nothing." I looked aside and caught a glimpse of Sarif Industries' emblem at the top of the wall behind my boss – a white wing on the dark background, spread and ready for the glorious take-off.
Sarif went on, slowing down a bit to put a proper accent on these words. "I want you to know that I really appreciate you supporting me on this delicate matter, son."
Why does he keep calling me that?
It never bothered me before… Before I had become his project.
"I was just doing my job." I shrugged, shaking off my old resentment triggered suddenly by the simple word. I wasn't going to ever bring this up. Business was business. Besides, my respect for the man survived against all odds.
"Of course you were. That's why I know I can rely on you. You know what? You deserved a reward."
I wouldn't miss this chance, so I got straight to the point. "There is something I want. If you need to test some experimental mil-spec augs, I volunteer."
"You want more?"
"Yes. More offensive stuff."
Sarif fell silent, considering it.
I pushed for it, my tone shifting slightly; I was challenging him. "What's the matter, boss? Now that I ask for this, you have second thoughts?"
I had my reasons to be bitter about it, for we both knew that 'saving my life' was just a convenient excuse, that more than half of the tech he had put into me, taking advantage of my being gravely wounded and unconscious, was meant for entirely different purposes.
He didn't bother to ask my opinion before forging me into a weapon. I had no choice but to get a taste of it, get used to it, grow fond of it. It was only natural for me to want more, if 'natural' was any good a word here at all.
"Well, if you're sure about this…" he shrugged.
I didn't doubt my sanity – never had any reason to – but for a moment, I wished Sarif did. For that moment, I wished he fully realized the implications of having made me an unstoppable killing machine. But he was always a dreamer, my boss. The earthly notions of responsibility or ethics were merely a nuisance for him.
I knew he wouldn't refuse me. After all, I didn't support him out of blind loyalty; it just so happened that my goals were in line with his dream.
"I can think of something that won't even require a sick leave," he suggested.
"I would like it this way, too."
Triumphant as we were, we still had work to do after all the disturbance and damage 'the Incident' had done, so I went back to tasks at hand. When my day was over, I came back to my company-paid apartment at the Chiron Building, hoping to finally get some sleep. I didn't fall into it right away, though: as I was lying in the darkness, slowly drifting on the edge of awareness and oblivion, I was thinking with contentment about how well everything had worked out.
In my restless sleep, I try to hold on, but feel I'm slipping down again – down into the dreamless, shapeless nothingness. Sometimes, I steal a meaningful piece of it – silhouettes, faces; they come and go, as if I'm watching a movie in a fast-forward mode. They are my anchor to reality, but I can't catch up with them. I can feel a commotion going on in my head, as if something is being processed in there, and the feeling is disturbing. Then, suddenly, I'm awake, greeted by the blinding whiteness.
As my eyes adjust, I look around and see the familiar interior of the hospital room. I have already awakened here for… I'm not sure how many times. My damaged memory has failed to register all these times properly. All but the first one. And it's so different now.
The woman I have already seen is standing beside me, taking notes on her tablet. She has been watching me coming to.
"My name's Adam Jensen," I say, more to myself than to her. "I remember now…"
"Good," she nods; her expression doesn't shift. Having finished with her notes, she leaves.
I sit up, completely disoriented and confused. These two realities… How…
Although my memory is largely restored, I find it hard to believe what I see. The discrepancies are overwhelming. I know I am still human enough to be prone to losing my mind, so…
I notice a steel bracelet on my wrist, the glow of its indicators reflecting on the polycarbonate surface of my cyberarm. I move my arm to confirm my guess, and the servos respond just fine, but once I try to activate the nanoblade, I hear only a hollow click. It doesn't work.
They've put an inhibitor on me. I can't use my offensive abilities, can't hack a lock or a system, and my infolink is dead. It looks like I'm a prisoner here.
A wave of irritation washes over me; as a regular abuser of my augmentations, I hate this helplessness I feel now. Good thing they haven't paralyzed me with an EMP generator…
The security measures are in place, though: near the entrance, I see a watchful eye of the camera looking down on me. The window on the other end of the room has no bars, but is likely to be wired with alarm triggers.
The woman returns, bringing the other doctor with her.
"So, Mr. Jensen… Welcome back," he smiles politely and comes closer to give me an examining look. He is more relaxed than before, now that I'm not of any threat to them. "Would you tell us more about yourself now?"
"What do you want to know?" I ask cautiously. If there is any hope to get out of here (and to put back together a puzzle of my memories), I need to show them I'm willing to cooperate, without giving away anything that can be used against me.
"Let's begin with what you were doing at Panchaea."
"Care to introduce yourselves first?"
"Of course. I'm doctor McFadden, and this is doctor Rafiq. We need to make sure you are well before we can move you from the intensive care."
To a prison cell? At least, the interrogation isn't so bad.
"All right. I am… was Sarif's Head of Security. My boss was to visit Hugh Darrow's conference at Panchaea, and I was accompanying him," I begin. This is not quite accurate, but not a lie, either.
McFadden nods, and I see a flicker of recognition in his eyes. He must have already noted the manufacturer of my augmentations.
"You remember what happened at that conference?" doctor Rafiq inquires.
"Yes," I hesitate. "Many augmented people went crazy and started attacking everyone."
"Did you?" she challenges me.
I don't flinch. "I wasn't affected." There would hardly be any survivors if I was, I think grimly, but keep it to myself.
"You know why?" Rafiq pushes.
"No idea," feeling uncomfortable without my eye shields on, I still manage eye contact with her. That's a lie, but I sure as hell don't plan going into details on the conspiracy with Tai Yong Medical biochips.
"What happened next?" McFadden asks.
I tense. This is where my memory fails me, so I decide to tread this path carefully.
"I remember protecting my boss and some of my colleagues from attackers," I say evasively. I don't want to mention Darrow as a culprit, my talk with him, or me jamming his signal, not before I find out more.
"I remember the drowning," I respond, and the memory of it sends shivers down my back.
The dying… After having come back from the dead twice by now, I'm qualified to say the experience is… gripping. When I woke up for the first time, the world was the same, but I was not. The second time, I was the same, but the world?
"Nothing else?" McFadden says, giving me a feeling that he expects me to say something specific.
"All the rest is vague," I shrug. "I might need more time to remember the details. Maybe, you can help me. Tell me more about what happened to Panchaea."
"No one really knows. That could have been an accident. Or, someone might have caused this 'accident' on purpose."
This was one of the options Eliza, a rebellious AI, offered me back then, when she was guiding me on my mission. To bury the truth under the waters of the Arctic Ocean, along with everyone involved. Could I..?
I can't believe it, but I can't be sure of anything, either. Why would I do that? It's not really a solution. And I'm not suicidal. Well, maybe, sometimes I am, but the only expression such an inclination could ever find is me taking all kinds of unnecessary risks to put my abilities to a test. But to end it all like this? That's too much. Besides, Panchaea, with all its augmented workers going crazy, was left without maintenance, so an accident was very likely.
I try to keep cool and not to let my doubts show. "Do you know what happened to David Sarif?"
"I don't know about the man himself, but I heard his company had gone bankrupt, like many other human enhancement companies. After… you know," McFadden explains, watching my reaction.
I can only frown. "After the Incident?"
Doctor Rafiq narrows her eyes. "How do you know what the press calls it?"
Damn it. I know because Sarif told me; Sarif, whom I haven't seen since Panchaea's collapse. And he did so after we came back to Detroit… where I never came back to because I have been in a coma for almost a year.
Was it all a dream? Well, the Icarus part obviously was, but all the rest? It felt so damn real…
Again, Eliza comes to my mind – with the cards she laid down on the table before me. She offered me to shape a message, to choose what to tell the world about what caused augmented people's frenzy. To choose which card to play… I know what I had chosen. Or I think I know. Had I been played? Or Eliza really believed it would work out?
"A wild guess," I manage. At least, my self-control doesn't fail me when everything else does. "So… does anyone know why the augmented lost control?"
"Not really," McFadden shakes his head. "There were some rumors, but I didn't follow. We had a lot of work to do back then."
…It didn't work out. Our message had drowned in terror and panic, if it reached the receiving end at all. Darrow wanted to make the world fear augmentation technologies, and I, being locked up in a prison posing as a healthcare facility, have now a strong gut feeling that, in the end, he has won.
"Do you have a family? Maybe, you want us to call them?"
"No family," I reply shortly. I don't ask them to let me make a call myself; even if they do allow it, they will surely be listening to the conversation, so it's of no use to me.
They pause; Rafiq takes some notes again.
"Let's leave the recent events for now," she says without looking up. "Do you remember your past well?"
"Not really," I admit. "I remember well enough my time at Sarif, but beyond that… There are blackouts."
I restrain from sharing at which point my intact memories begin: my first 'death' during the attack on Sarif Industries. My life before that seems so distant, almost unreal. It's like I've always been what I am now.
"Don't worry, Mr. Jensen," McFadden smiles in a reassuring manner. "We've seen some good progress with you. I dare hope you will recover fully."
When no more questions are left to ask, the doctors leave me, promising to arrange for my transfer. Once I'm alone again, I run a quick check of my augmentations on my HUD. Warnings of limited functionality pop up; still, no malfunction detected.
Why do I have this strange feeling that something is wrong? It's like I've been tampered with…
I scan my body for any clues, but everything looks as I remember it. The irony is not lost on me: I have no job, no home, no money, and I'm stuffed with implants that cost a small fortune.
It's the second time these implants save my life. When I woke up for this second time after cheating death, I was the same, but the world was not. Or… was I? And what is it worth now, my life?
That promising future for myself and those like me, Sarif and I returning triumphantly to Detroit, the company thriving… That never happened. I imagined it and believed this dream so hard that it has shaped itself into a reality in my distressed mind. But the reality is this one, where people like me are ostracized; where we will always be nothing but freaks, unnatural and unwelcome.
I have dreamed a dream. Now, I'm awakened to a nightmare.