Jaques sat on the chair, clutching his head. For a moment time seemed to have stopped. Not a muscle in his body moved. But just as one might have thought he wasn't a man at all, but just an incredibly lifelike statue by an insane sculptor, permanently locked in a twisted expression of pain, he moved as another sudden spasm took over his body. A faint light shone in his eyes: a red light, like a warning. Someone might have recognized the light as a signal, telling the world that something had gone horribly wrong.
Jaques was sure he was dying. The pain was worst inside his head. The screaming of the malfunctioning circuits made him almost forget about the unbearable pain in his right arm, right knee and left foot. Images flashed insanely in his mind like a slideshow from hell. He could hardly make out where he was any more. The circuits in his eyes were snapping on and off as his body was loosing power. When he had time to look at the world between his life passing before his eyes, it looked like a mad disco with out of control strobe lights. The humming and screaming inside his head and the rapid beating of his heart were almost like some extremely psychedelic music that completed the illusion.
Jaques finally understood what people meant when they said your life ran before your eyes before you died. But the show wasn't going on as smoothly as he would have expected. It kept on sticking on one point, countless years ago. Sticking on images he'd thought he'd forgotten. Now they kept running back into his memory, uninvited guests among all the pleasant memories. And now they were worse than ever. If the memories had been like this then, over a hundred years ago, he wouldn't have bothered with all that expensive memory treatment but committed instant suicide.
Memories... He saw summers on green fields and colourful flowers. He felt a loved ones hand in his, the soft touch of smooth skin caressing him.
(He saw the vehicle cruising at top speed, skidding out of control.)
He saw the beautiful, pale face of his first love and felt the soft moisture of his first kiss, lying side by side on the grass, watching the white clouds floating above, forming shapes that existed only in the deepest caverns of imagination.
(He heard the screaming of brakes.)
He felt his first orgasm and the warmth of the naked body lying next to him, the light of the moon shining through the window and reflecting from her face, making her skin glow like the skin of a fairy.
(He saw the world going dark as the vehicles ran into each over.)
He smelled the countless roses at his wedding and felt again the excitement and beauty of that day, and especially the night after. He remembered the fun they had on their honeymoon trip, from the bottom of the sea to high orbit.
(He felt the incredible pain when he woke up in the hospital.)
And none of the once abolished memories of pain that came racing back into his mind like vehicles once again out of control could compare with the pain his body felt now.
His mind echoed with questions. How? Why? The biocybernetics had never failed during his lifetime, not for hundreds of years. Cybernetics was the most advanced science in the known world. Nothing could possibly go wrong. Nothing was allowed to go wrong. It must be something else, he thought, desperately trying to find a reason. Maybe a heart attack, or a stroke. Nothing could possibly go wrong with the biocybernetics...
The receiver in his head wasn't working right. None of the implanted enhancement systems were. For a moment Jaques thought he heard someone whispering through it, but soon forgot it. He had enough problems of his own. When he finally recovered from another massive spasm, the memories came again. The memories of his accident, the memories of waking up in the hospital... They had fixed his body after it had literally been torn apart. Anything could be done by biocybernetics... Maybe these memories were trying to tell him something. Maybe they could still fix him. If he could only get to the nearest hospital...
Easier said than done. The time seemed endless as he gathered strength to stand. When he finally tried, he fell on the floor, screaming in agony. He realized he would have to crawl. Turning his head slowly he tried to locate the door through the insane show of lights in his eyes.
Again he thought he heard someone whispering through his receiver, but he couldn't understand the words. Yet it gave him a strange feeling as if the fault wasn't in his receiver at all, but in the person sending the message. He tried to shake his head and forget about it, and winced with pain, feeling as if the sudden movement of his head would rip his neck in two.
He started to crawl.
It took him almost ten minutes to reach the door. A trail of sweat, red with blood, was left behind. The strain was unbelievable. He hadn't felt like this even during his army years, after running ten miles in full gear. Now he looked up. All he had to do was reach up a little way and turn the doorknob, then climb down a short passage of stairs, then through a door and out in the street. In the street there would be people to help him. He'd be taken to a hospital in a matter of minutes. The doctors would save him. They could do anything...
Everyone trusted the doctors. People believed in them, almost like in a god. And until now, they had returned the faith invested in them. No one had died for over a century. Jaques' mind returned to his accident. His arm and foot had been ripped of before he even realized what was happening. The knee in his other leg had been turned into pulp. His scull had been fractured and smashed brain tissue had dripped on his best Sunday shirt. But it was nothing to the doctors. He had been up and running in less than a month.
Jaques reached up to the knob. It felt like his arm was being torn off. Attached to a chain and pulled by a stampeding elephant, he thought. The image made him smile. He could only manage a twisted smile of a maniac, but it was still a smile. There was a click form the doorknob.
The door fell open and Jaques fell with it. For a long while he just lay there, breathing irregular, pulse beating almost at the speed of light. The first attempt to move ended in throwing up. It was dark here, and the flashing in his eyes was worse than ever, but he was sure his vomit was bright red with blood. By now his body should be getting numb, he thought. The rest of the way should be easier.
"Who are you?"
He didn't notice he was shouting before the sudden use of his vocal cords ended in a coughing fit. He was sure someone was trying to tell him something, but he just couldn't make out the words. "Why do you have to whisper?" he said softly as the coughing passed. Down the stairs, he thought. Just get down these damned stairs and you'll be alright.
Inch by inch he started to climb. He'd been right. Little by little his body was starting to grow numb. Even pain had it's limits, he realized. Everything had its limits. That thought led to another, a much more uncomfortable one. What about cybernetics? Everyone seemed to believe mankind had defeated all illness, defeated all the limitations of its frail, physical shell. But now as he lay there in a different world, a world of pain and death where all his great collection of biocybernetic parts didn't mean a thing, or indeed might even have been the cause of his suffering, he began to change his mind. He began to be afraid.
And the screaming pain in his head showed no signs of giving up. His coughing fits spasms became more and more frequent. Every time he coughed his mouth was filled with the taste of fresh blood. And yet through all the pain he was still able to see the door, like an oasis in a seemingly endless desert. Step by step it was nearer, until at last he collapsed again at the end of the stairs. Just one more doorknob to reach, then into the street. He realized he would have to try to save a bit of his remaining strength to call for help.
The whispering in his receiver seemed clearer now, as if it's source was nearer. Maybe soon he would finally be able to understand what someone was so desperately trying to tell him.
Encouraged by the nearness of the end Jaques stood up. It took almost all of his remaining strength, but he did it, and succeeding gave him a tiny spark of hope. Slowly he extended his shaking hand to the doorknob and grabbed it. For a while he stood there, supporting himself against the door, trying to breath deep and gather a little more strength, no, will to go on. Strength had left him a long time ago. He was running on pure will-power now. Finally he turned the knob, and the soft click seemed like an explosion in his aching ears. Slowly the door swung open and daylight flooded the stairway. Jaques had just enough time to get a glimpse of the outside world before the circuits in his eyes finally burst. He felt cool blood running down his cheeks as the world turned dark. But it didn't matter any more. Nothing mattered any more, not after what he'd seen.
He collapsed to the ground, the last image he'd seen playing over and over in his mind, like an old CD sticking in one place. He'd seen people, dozens of people, lying on the ground. Some were twisting with spasms of pain, some bleeding, some maybe already dead. A few of them were desperately trying to crawl forward, maybe trying to find help. But help would not come. In all their eyes Jaques saw a faint red glow, the warning light of the biocybernetic systems. A message that something had gone wrong. The warning light that was never meant to be used. But something had gone wrong, hadn't it? All the cybernetic systems had gone wrong. With horror Jaques realized that there wasn't a single human being left on earth without cybernetic parts.
Now he finally understood the message that came through his receiver, except that it wasn't his receiver at all, but his mind. His mind, boosted by the incredible agony, was now working as a receiver more powerful than any cybernetic implant could ever have been. What he heard was the sound of all the people on earth screaming as a single voice. Screaming just one simple thought: