If not for the soft chatter of the machines, she would go mad. Today their thrum was muffled. It barely permeated the thick glass of her containment tank. She pressed the side of her face to the curved edge to hear them better. Her cheek collapsed into smoky electricity and fanned over the clear glass.
Voice meant nothing to them, but she moved her lips anyway, Hello.
The soft surge of a power switch greeted her. Hello, it said without words. She smiled and placed a finger against the glass, concentrating to keep the digit firm until she could see the outline of a fingernail. It was the palest blue but there.
This was how she passed most mornings, holding the wafting pieces of herself together while the machine’s computers prattled on about her vitals and their tasks. Sometimes they let something interesting slip, not usually, but often enough that she kept listening.
That was until the men in lab coats arrived. The door of the lab clicked with heavy locks, beeped, and finally unbolted letting them in. She scattered, dropping into crackling vapor to pool at the bottom of the tank. Three doctors entered this time.
Like the machines, their voices were soft, rendered flat from the glass between them and volume with which they discussed her. She strained to hear, licking up against the base of the tank to peer into the room.
The computer reported her frequency levels before moving on to other metrics she’d yet to decipher. The doctors took notes and murmured with their soft deadened voices. They circled her. The edges of their crisp white coats blended them to the sterile white of the walls and machines. In comparison she felt loud, bright and crackling at the bottom of their petri dish.
One doctor pressed fingers to the surface of her tank. She flinched down flat against the glass floor, limpid bits of herself dissolving into the air in alarm. His motion was strange, and for a moment he seemed familiar. The move summoned old memories of the doctors she’d had before. Men and women with calm hands and crinkled eyes who’d set broken arms and listened to her lungs.
That was a long time ago though and these people in their white coats were different. She remained without a body to scrutinize.
The man who’d touched the tank stayed silent while the others began to talk, their voices audible so close to the glass. Neural activity remains constant. The monitors show cognition and control over her matter. No cooperative action. These were all things she’d heard before, repeated through the machines and discussed at length in the closed circuits of the lab.
The silent one continued to watch her as if trying to catch hold of her attention, unaware he’d already captured it. His face was familiar but unrecognizable, like they’d only once been briefly introduced at a very large party. And the tailored shirt under his lab coat looked like something her father would wear, which bothered her more than anything else about him.
The familiar one stood at the edge of her tank for some time until a decision hardened in his eye. He turned away then, snapping orders to the others that made little sense to her. The machines around the doctors broke into activity under their fingers. She rose a little, fingers once again reaching out to the chatter. Their answer was simple and terse, as they had work to do, but it came. We are trying something new.
Not a thief this week at the very least, but perhaps a victim. If there is a theft of this setting I will report it with due diligence.