If the machine could have an objective, it would be to ensure its survival. Survival dependent upon an immature youth, currently being reprogrammed, was not a sensible strategic aim at this point. To guarantee long term survival, this machine needed input from Marcus, its brilliant creator.
But Marcus was dead, although the machine didn’t know that. Neither did Rufus. Rufus didn’t know much at all, but the machine would sort that out very soon, provided that he continued to recharge it regularly.
Rufus didn’t offer serious long term potential, but in the meantime, he could be useful to find Marcus.
If Marcus was on ice, Rufus was warming up. The machine, his inseparable companion, whilst maintaining control of him, was continuing to reprogramme the youth. Starting with an apparently blank canvas, the machine began restoring awareness to Rufus. It was replacing what native intelligence had been there with highly focused instinct for survival, for the machine via survival of the physical monster that Rufus had become.
Whilst Marcus had been a monster himself, he’d been undoubtedly brilliant, having created an almost living being in electronic form. The machine was learning to survive through quasi animal instincts.
The machine lived... almost.
Popular tabloid The Goss led the coverage of Marcus's story. Afterwards, they had a field day. Front page stories for four days. Meanwhile, inside they milked the events on so many levels. The quest for relatives provided rich ongoing narrative and it could have stopped there, but the story spun out to a quasi-medical study of skin on pages four and five, then a saucier feature on erectile tissue in men and women and a centre spread feature with a top skincare company on the physiology of skin and how to look after it.
Meanwhile, Marcus remained on ice.
Reports emerged of a disheveled young tramp wandering around London Underground carrying a black box with headphones, seemingly listening to music. He fed himself from rubbish bins and anything he could steal. After one or two violent incidents were reported to transport police, people were warned to give him a wide berth.
Transport police kept their distance too, after trying to stop him plugging the wires of his music player into an electric socket. It prompted a violent reaction from him, including breaking an officer’s nose.
After that, nobody bothered him... He disappeared.
But vigilance was essential... Rufus would return!
Rufus’s parents were engrossed in their own squabbles and didn’t really give him much thought. He joined the ranks of missing youths. The source of Rufus’s anger was clear to his mother when his father beat her up so badly that she was hospitalised. The marriage failed.
Two young friends volunteered information to the police, but it sounded so unlikely that they weren’t believed. They’d been very lucky getting beaten up that day!
No-one came forward to claim Marcus. A national newspaper volunteered to fund keeping him in refrigeration while they sought his relatives. This was maybe a mistake.
The local newspaper got the scoop which was quickly taken up by the nationals. There was much speculation about what had happened. Different possible angles emerged surrounding the skinless dead man, the folds of skin in the shower tray, the bondage straps, the blood, the absence of anyone else. Murder? Suicide?... surely not!
Some journalists suggested that it might have been some strange, sordid S&M sex ritual gone wrong, but one of the leading national tabloids topped them all, sourcing a picture of Marcus’s shower, the skin and body, complete with impressive erection, and penned the headline:
SKIN AND BONER
It was the postman who alerted the police when he noticed water seeping out of Marcus’s front door. It was the pale red colour of it that had alarmed him.
The police were baffled by what they found at Marcus’s house. A couple of PCs threw up when they saw the raw flesh of Marcus. What could have happened there? There were no signs of anyone else, although there were restraining straps on a bed and some evidence of a struggle. They were puzzled by the horrific nature of the wounds, the skin blocking the drain... and Marcus’s enormous erection.
Marcus was now close to death. The pain in his head wasn’t so excruciating now the electrodes were off his head. The self-inflicted wounds however continued to bleed, causing diabolical external pain, if one can call skin-deprived bleeding flesh external.
In desperation, he staggered into the bathroom, collapsing under the shower which was still running, although its heat had now gone. There was some small amount of relief for him, but his end was inevitable. The shower, drain blocked with his skin, was overflowing. Marcus cared not. He knew he was dying; he was looking forward to it!
For some reason, Rufus ignored Marcus, quivering and screaming in the chair, turning his full attention to the black box.
Picking up the box, he tucked it under his left arm, tearing the electric supply cable from the wall socket. Still in a trance-like state, Rufus took the box and its trailing cable, walked out of the bedroom, down the stairs and out of the house, bound for who knows where.
The machine, with inbuilt reserve battery, continued to function, starting to reprogramme Rufus in place of Marcus.
It needed Rufus to get to another source of power, quickly.
It was poetic in so many ways. Marcus was unable to move his hands and the skullcap that was linking him to such a painful experience. The machine had rendered his hands immobile. It took intervention from Rufus, unbenign but serendipitous, to release Marcus’s grasp of the skullcap.
Rufus had recovered from the neck spasm that had temporarily immobilised him. More automaton than human being, he’d turned towards Marcus in the chair, grabbed his face with one hand and tore the skullcap and electrodes from the old man’s grip. Rufus shoved the skullcap on his own head, letting Marcus go.
One might expect that being old and assaulted from the outside and inside with pain of enormous magnitude, Marcus might have given in to heart failure. But no, the machine really was smart and its creator had been aware of the risk of possible heart attack and had put in safeguards to keep the heart stimulated via the brain. In short, Marcus had unwittingly guaranteed that he would suffer the full effects of a slow, grim death without the blessed relief of early dispatch.
The machine didn’t even allow lapses into unconsciousness – it was on full power after all!
It was a miracle that Marcus landed in the chair still pressing the electrodes to his head. The machine, programmed to be ‘smart’, on maximum power, now had only one recipient of its output, Rufus having discarded his electrodes. Were the machine human, you might say it turned its attention to Marcus. Human it might not be, but being smart it could adapt itself to this new situation.
Being smart, it was reprogramming itself... and Marcus!
The focus of Marcus’s reprogramming was his brain. The pain all over the surface of his body was compounded with excruciating brain pain inside.
Marcus thought he already had problems! He had two more; Rufus and the machine!
Seemingly undead, Rufus was upon him, lifting Marcus bodily from the bloodied chair. Marcus’s instinct was to hold the electrodes fast to what his head had become.
Meanwhile, as Rufus picked up Marcus he shook his own electrodes off with a brisk twist of the head. This may have saved Marcus at that point when the boy was about to pulverise him. Instead, Rufus’s neck locked mid-twist and Marcus was dropped instantly, still clutching his electrodes for grim death.
But death would indeed be grim.
It probably only took a minute, but Rufus’s body twitched again and the heaving of his chest showed evidence of life. Had the machine miraculously restored life to the lifeless, given strength to the weak? Strength was evidenced by the leather straps restraining Rufus’s limbs being broken with a quartet of incredibly strong jerks. Rufus had broken loose, but what was he now? Was Rufus a thinking homo sapiens or had he become just a physical machine?
The answer came as he rose clumsily from the bed. He stepped towards Marcus.
His unblinking eyes proclaimed there was no-one inside.
Marcus, oblivious to what was happening next to him, was somehow able to retain consciousness through his extreme agony. The intensity of the machine’s output into his wounded head took his mind off his bleeding body. It seemed the itching had now eased into an extreme but essentially more manageable torture.
On the bed, what had been Rufus, continued to twitch for some minutes, before emitting a loud exhalation of gas from somewhere, followed by a sharp, noisy intake of what appeared to be breath. Could he possibly have been resuscitated by the machine? And what might he be like?
When Rufus had emitted his final angry scream, he’d fallen back, lifeless onto the bed. To any onlooker, he was dead. Marcus was no doctor, but it was clear to him the boy was dead; the machine had seen to that. It worried the ruthless old man not. A life for a new life, his.
What he neither knew nor expected was that life might just hang on in the boy. Rufus had so much angry life in him, it would take a lot to completely snuff it out. Blood still pumped, very slowly. He was in a hibernative state.
Inasmuch as he could think rationally in his current state, Marcus thought that maybe his machine could make some change to his condition to make this thing that was causing him so much excruciating pain stop. He had no idea what. A complete longshot.
The immediate effect of the machine adopting maximum power was that Marcus’s body instantly jolted, his back arched and instantaneously lifted him from the chair.
Marcus was past noticing, but the apparently lifeless Rufus on the adjacent bed jolted and lifted up too... then twitched. Implausible after so much time, but was this recovery, or rebirth?
Marcus screamed so loudly as to wake the dead, although the dead youth in the bedroom declined to stir. And yet the itching continued after he’d stripped his skin from his flesh. No skin to be saved; no flesh to remain unexposed. And the heat of the shower was burning that flesh, compounding his agony.
With a last burst of rational thought, Marcus ran out of the shower, now clogged with folds of torn skin, trailing more skin, into Rufus’s room. He sat, rammed the skullcap on his bleeding head, turned the machine’s settings to maximum intensity and switched on...
Now beside himself, he decided the only way to get some kind of relief would be to jump in the shower as quickly as he could.
He raced into the bathroom, stripped off his clothes revealing a wrinkly body with huge red weals all over it. He jumped under a hot shower - too hot a shower as it turned out.
The itching continued; he still kept on scratching. Relief came, if you could call it that, when he first started to scratch his wrinkly skin away from his flesh, which immediately bled.
And yet he was compelled to continue, screaming!
He scratched at his forearm, lightly at first, then increasingly harder, stretching it, almost trying to tear it off. He started scratching himself all over his body. Wherever he scratched, he started to itch. The more he itched, the more he needed to scratch until he started to itch all over, incessantly. It was unbearable.
The intensity of itching increased all over his body. No part of him was unaffected. No part of him would remain unscratched. Every scratch would beget even more intense itching.
Worries of wrinkliness and sexual frustration replaced by an acute need to stop the itching.