By Judge Anon
Her earliest memory as a cyborg was the cold. She’d felt cold before, cold unlike anything most human beings could imagine, but it had always been at the farm — at home, with her family. Even in the most freezing of evenings there was always a warm core to it, a heart that never stopped beating and filled the humble wooden house with the kind of warmth that only a loving, caring family can give it. And she knew that that same heart beat within her, and that no matter how cold it got, it would never leave her.
But this cold was different. It was sterile, overbearing, everywhere at once, choking all life and drowning all light, leaving nothing but the cold. Try as she may, she couldn’t find the warmth inside her any more. This, she thought, must be what death feels like.
Then her refitted heart started beating in tune with her new secondary one and the cold was soon a distant memory.
Distant, but never forgotten.
“Phew, what a scorcher of a night! Feels like the sidewalk might just melt under our feet, eh, Itsy?”
A quick environmental scan revealed that the temperature was not particularly higher than any other night of the week, but considering that not just two hours ago they’d been dodging security cameras and laser grids to liberate an invaluable diadem from the tight clutches of a particularly paranoid collector, Natalia felt Mabel had earned the right to sweat a little.
“That would be extremely unlikely.”
“Well, I’d still like to stock up on some sodas before we get home. Something soft and cool and–Hey! Speaking of cool!”
An explosion of bright neon lights shaped in the form of letters pierced the night and made a run for Recluse’s eyes. It took her internal translator a couple of seconds to make out the words, and even then, “NEVERCLOSE – 24/7 DRUGSTORE AND VIDEOCLUB” didn’t tell her much. But Mabel was already halfway there by then, so whatever it was, it had to be good.
“C’mon, what do you say? Wanna have a movie night?”
Yes. This was indeed good.
She didn’t have much time for herself back home, but if anyone asked, that was just how she liked it. With so much work to be done for the Motherland, both inside and outside her borders, long periods of idleness made Karakurt feel tense. Guilty. To have so much power and do nothing without it felt like such a waste. But there were two activities that made even her restless hearts take a break. One was spending time with her family. The other, spending time inside a movie theater.
“Circus” was a perennial favorite, a majestic piece of artistry whose plot never failed to tug at Karakurt’s heartstrings, while the superb score roused her spirits to a boiling point. Even if half of her body had been cast in iron, her human parts couldn’t help but sing along once “Wide Is My Motherland” started blaring, glorious and proud.
“Man with a Movie Camera” was always a welcome viewing, the scenes with the workers making the young girl feel even younger and the constant experimentation with camera techniques and functionality reminding her that technology was nothing but a tool, and its effectiveness rested just as much in the hands and brains of the person wielding it than in the quality of its materials, if not more.
But in this Olympus of motion pictures there was one film that stood atop them all in Karakurt’s heart, a single masterpiece of the seventh art that remained her favorite through the years, whose very name evoked such a multitude of disparate feelings, equal only in raw strength and staying power, that the young agent took every possible chance to rewatch it, to inmerse and forget herself for an hour or so in a maelstrom of emotion.
Once she was awarded her new body, Karakurt stopped watching it.
“So? See anything you like yet?”
The store had a surprisingly thorough selection of titles hidden amongst the usual gaggle of action explosionfests and slasher bloodbaths, quality pieces created to withstand the test of time and convey their message to anyone who would listen. But Natalia’s eyes zoomed into a small, lonesome corner of the shop where a handful of black and white covers formed a door into a fantastical mute wonderland of yore.
“Silent films? This is impressive.”
“Huh? You like those?”
Trapped within the plastic covers, King Kong roared in defiance at the buzzing airplanes and Maria stared through cold, metallic eyes while Charlie Chaplin made a funny face and an idea hit Natalia. A sudden, hopeful notion that seemed to come not from her brain, but from somewhere else. Her eyes darted around the covers looking for it while her mind started screaming something about her cover and looking suspicious, but for the first time in a while she didn’t care. The object of her desire was nowhere in sight, but it didn’t matter. With steely determination she turned to face the clerk, only to find herself staring at a regrettably all too familiar sight.
A man with a gun.
“S-stop! Stop right there!”
Now she understood what that whispering chatter her sensors had picked up earlier was. Just another victim of american decadence and hubris, reduced to robbing stores to purchase more of whatever poison ran in his blood. On another night, she would’ve regarded him as pathetic, even pitiful.
“The purse–Gimme the purse!”
Now, he was an obstacle.
“No dice, player. You can keep our money if you want, but the purse comes with us.”
Mabel played it cool as usual, one hand on her hip and her face turned into an unbreakable mask of dismissive superiority, though in her defense, it was rather hard not to be smug after pulling what they had pulled just hours ago. And besides, it worked. The man’s wild, hazy eyes raced to meet Mabel’s and stopped there like some twisted mockery of love at first sight. Your classic junkie-meets-thief story.
“I ain’t playing! Gimme the purse!”
“Oh, I know. Only problem is, I am playing. Wanna know what’s the name of the game?”
“Wha-what are you talking abouJust gimme the damn purse!”
In a lightning-fast movement that not even Mabel’s eyes could follow, one of Natalia’s bladed arms pricked the junkie on the shoulder, striking a nerve point that caused him to open his hand and release the gun, which was stolen away by a second arm before the would-be robber had even winced in pain.
“Distract the Basehead While the Cyborg Assassin Disarms Him: The Game! And I just won!”
Confusion, anger, fear and about half a dozen other emotions trampled and piled up onto each other inside the man’s drug-addled brain for a handful of awkward moments creating a maelstrom of conflicting feelings that were immediately dispersed the moment his attention focused on Natalia and her arms as they played with his gun, twirling it high above her head. A rather ridiculous gesture, she thought, but also an effective one, as the junkie’s mind and body were overtaken by one of his two basest, most animalistic reflexes.
“Now, would you like to see what kind of games my friend here likes to play?”
And it wasn’t fight.
After his hasty departure, Natalia walked right past Mabel and her post-action quips, the rude interruption having served only to bolster her resolve. Boldly she stepped towards the counter as the clerk rose from his hiding place, still shaking like a leaf during an earthquake. Had he seen her? Did he know? Why should she care? Only one thing mattered anymore.
“Y-you saved me! A-are you cops or something?”
“No, no cops. Just wanted a movie.”
“Oh… Oh, sure! Take anything you want, it’s on the house. You, uh, picked anything yet?”
“Actually, I was wondering…”
She told herself that her new body came with new responsibilities. More energy meant more work to be done. Better tools meant harder, longer missions to undertake. Idleness to be reduced. She still took some time to visit her aging parents every chance she got, but the chances grew thinner and thinner with each year. And of course, movies were completely out of the question. Not as an order, or an imposition, but as a personal choice. Although the exact reason eluded her.
The time thing was more of an excuse than an actual reason, something she used to rationalize her choice. It wasn’t that she couldn’t watch them, not really, but rather that she didn’t want to. And the whys of that were not a subject she liked to explore. One of her handlers had tried to and gotten nothing but a stern look and a handful of even sterner words for his troubles.
But when left to her own devices, every now and then the notion would start bouncing around in her head. Had she finally outgrown such childish entertainment? Had the real world surpassed whatever wild fantasies the human mind could imprint on film? What was it? How could something that had brought her so much joy and excitement just vanish from her life like that? Why had she let it happen? What’d gotten into her?
What’d become of her?
It’d been years–decades since she’d last seen it, but now that she had, everything was suddenly as clear as the black and white of the screen that bathed her in its crisp, warm light. And she remembered the warmth. The warmth it had brought her so long ago, the same she had denied herself for almost as much time, and she understood the reason why. A stupid, silly reason, born out of angst and fear.
“Wow. That was… certainly a movie.”
Natalia all but played deaf to Mabel’s words, enthralled as she was in the rapture of epiphany. She’d been afraid, yes, afraid of herself. Of her body. Proud and honored, but ultimately afraid. Because her body was as mighty and unstoppable as a siberian wind, but also every bit as cold. Even in the most heated of battles, the cold never truly left her. It couldn’t. It wouldn’t. And she feared it’d grow to consume every last bit of herself.
“Pretty heavy stuff, too. I mean, that one scene was… Woof.”
Which is why she’d made that decision. Because she didn’t want to know if the battle was already lost. If she could even feel that warmth anymore. In the end, she had chosen ignorance over the possibility that her new body had rendered incapable of feeling the emotions that were stirred inside her by the film. For if that’d been true, it’d meant that the cold had won. That soon, she’d never feel the warmth again. And only now, after all these years, did she realize–
“And you first saw this movie when you were…?”
“Eight! I was eight! I remember mother covering my eyes during the steps scene, she was horrified, but father pushed her hands away and told me to watch–to learn what others had done for my country so that I, too, would one day be ready to show such courage and determination in the face of certain death!”
“… You REALLY like this movie.”
“Truly, there is nothing in the world like ‘Battleship Potemkin’.”
What a fool she had been.