Matt Smith is a graduate of The University of York. While living in this charming city, he discovered he had a talent for talking about himself in the third person and thought he might give writing a go. Matt is interested in producing complex and unique narrators, ranging from fractured and unreliable narration to the realm of sci-fi, where inhuman voices test the limits of empathy and understanding. His name is already well known in many circles, unfortunately as of yet he is rarely attached to it. It is a very common name after all.
The Conversion Centre
I couldn’t be sure they weren’t listening, but I had to tell someone.
After careful observation, I had decided on Arthur as the most likely of the ‘patients’ to be a real human. I thought this because he was odd. This might seem like a strange criterion for trust, but that place often felt like everyone had been cast for their roles, like actors in a play. Not Arthur. He was different, unconventional in a way I doubted the enemy had been able to simulate yet. I sat opposite him in the small sitting room just off the main corridor. I’d searched the room several times and couldn’t find any microphones or cameras. Even so I could’ve missed something. It was a risk, but the secret was too large to keep to myself.
‘Arthur?’ I said, my voice barely above a whisper.
Arthur didn’t respond. He sat in a big leather armchair staring glassy eyed at his feet. I wondered what drug they’d given him, Chlorpromazine maybe, or Levomepromazine: One of the dopey ones. Whatever it was, they must have upped his dose. I felt sorry for him, his head was half filled with sawdust when he got there. I looked at him critically, he was skinny, even more so than when he arrived. His wispy hair, which normally stood on end from him constantly running his fingers through it, now lay almost flat. Truthfully, he didn’t seem the revolutionary type but he might still know something. Besides if he were like me, I had to save him; no one else was looking out for us.
‘Arthur,’ I said, raising my voice a fraction.
His head gave a slight tremor as if to shake off a bothersome fly.
‘Arthur! If you don’t listen to me you’re going to lose what’s left of your mind!’
That got his attention. He slowly rotated his eyes around to look at me, head lolling slightly on his neck.
He slurred a little over his words and his gaze drifted upwards and away from my face. I still felt he wasn’t entirely focused, but then focus was hard to find in the Conversion Centre. I pressed on.
‘I don’t think they can hear us right now so we can talk freely. I’m fairly sure I can trust you, and I want you to know that you can trust me. You’re the only one in here they drug as as heavily as me. That must mean you know things, important things. That’s right, isn’t it, Arthur?’
Arthur nodded and I felt a burst of excitement, finally, I thought, after all this time, someone who saw it as well. I shot another furtive glance around the room. Comfy chairs, colourful walls and inspirational posters, all to hide what that place really did. It was sickening. Between every bright shade and motivational platitude was a lie, clear to anyone with a brain. Unfortunately there weren’t many of those around anymore. I looked back at Arthur, he had turned away again, apparently unforthcoming with his secrets. I would have to go first. I took a deep breath and began to talk quickly; I had no idea how long we’d have.
‘Okay, I don’t know how much you know already, but I’ll let you in on what I know and you can tell me what you’ve seen. They look like us, feel like us, even bleed like us, but they don’t think like us. They don’t have brains, just cogs and wheels and little microchips to keep them running. They’ve been taking over for a long time now, slowly, patiently, all the way up to the top. They’ve put us in here because we’ve come some way towards figuring it all out and…’
Arthur snored loudly, interrupting my monologue. I growled an expletive and fought the urge to slap him awake. I restrained myself. That was no way, after all, to cultivate a budding friendship. Besides, he was so drugged up that I doubted he’d be much use right then. I’d have to talk to him some other time. He was the only one I had any confidence wasn’t one of them and I needed to tell someone. The Conversion Centre was designed to make you doubt yourself and sometimes it made even me wonder. They threw you in amongst the crazies and acted like you were one of them. I’d have to be careful though. The moment someone in authority overheard you talking like this, they’d pump you full of drugs like poor Arthur there, and let you spend the next few days swimming across the temperate seas of drug induced calm, incapable of thought, incapable of protest.
The door opened and Nurse Gabel stepped through. She was blonde, pretty and blue eyed, as always dressed in a light blue tunic that clung to her figure in a flattering way. She looked like somebody’s idea of a nurse. As such she was thoroughly unconvincing. If there was one thing the enemy hadn’t understood yet, it was that nobody ever looks like you expect them to. She glanced at Arthur’s inert form on the chair then flashed me a disarming smile. Even though I knew she wasn’t real I couldn’t resist smiling back. Probably for the best, I thought, it was always better when I appeared ignorant.
‘Come on Paulo,’ she said, ‘Dr Hayes would like to see you in his office.’
I stared at her, struggling to keep the guilt off my face.
‘Errmm what for?’ I asked.
‘Oh Paulo,’ she said, swatting me on my arm ‘you’re always so forgetful, it’s for your assessment. It’s the same time every week.’
‘Oh yes,’ I said, ‘I’m sorry, I’ll go over now’
I was actually pretty sure my assessment wasn’t for another couple of hours, but it was always better to play along. They controlled time in the conversion centre, along with much else. They had likely moved my session to prevent me spending too long with Arthur. I followed her out of the room.
‘So Mr Hernandez…’
Dr Hayes addressed me patiently. He wanted to know how much of my head they’d filled with sawdust. He appeared middle aged, (the machines never really age but it would be suspicious if they all looked young). He was bald aside from some blonde stubble around his ears, his eyes were bright blue and full of malicious intelligence.
‘How’re you feeling at the moment? Everything going okay? Nothing upsetting you?’
I could see his cold eyes searching me. Watching for any sign of weakness. I’d been very self controlled those past few weeks. When I first arrived I had clawed at the walls of my cell screaming for them to let me out. They’d drugged me heavily after that. I avoided his eyes, looking instead at his bald head which was weirdly shiny, as if he’d had it buffed with wax.
I imagined splitting that head open like an egg and watching the gears spill out.
I lied, meeting his eyes at last and smiling blandly at him. How calm can you be when you’re trapped in a prison run by totalitarian robots?
‘I’ve been right as rain, feeling healthier everyday.’
He didn’t look entirely convinced and frowned at his notes.
‘So you understand, what we do here? That we’re trying to help you?’
Sure you are, I thought, in the same way Mengele was only trying to help.
I could not reveal even a glimmer of doubt. Sawdust brains do not doubt, they only do and I had to pretend to have a sawdust brain if I ever wanted to make it out of there.
‘You’ve said before that you think not everyone in this world is actually human, that I am not human. Do you know what you meant when you said that?’
He looked at me intently. His eyes, sharp as flint, monitored my face for any signs of weakness. His concentration was so intense that I could hear the whirring of tiny cogs spinning fast inside his head.
I spoke quietly now, and averted my eyes to the floor, away from his penetrating gaze. I tried to look ashamed of myself.
‘A lot of what I’ve said before doesn’t make much sense anymore. It’s hard to even understand that it was me who said it.’
I looked up again and Hayes was smiling, in a way that was clearly supposed to be encouraging but managed to be somehow predatory.
‘I’m pleased to hear it…’
Matt can be reached at email@example.com