“The what? The last?” was what I said, but that was quite the bombshell to just drop on someone in the same casual tone as telling me what the weather was expected to be. "Was this a hideout? The last bastion of the remnants of humanity, but everything went terribly wrong? What happened here? Did everyone murder each other?" I was was grasping at anything that would make this make sense. "Was there a robot uprising?"
The surgeon sighed. "No, none of that. Come in here."
I got the impression that she was the sort of person who didn't have a lot of patience for children or people asking questions. She shooed me into a room, pushing me ahead of her with her weird arms. At least the metal wasn't as cold as I expected. She only had three fingers on each 'hand' instead of five, so it was more of a claw grip than a human hand and probably not as flexible. I wondered how that was supposed to make her better at surgery. Well, if that had been the real reason for the huge modifications.
She must have hit a light switch after I entered, because the lights flickered on. The room, painted an ugly matte green, had a row of consoles along one wall, big metal cabinets covered with knobs and buttons and other technical doodads. Very intimidating, maybe military, and definitely built like it was supposed to withstand an earthquake, or a flood, or maybe both. There was an empty bench bolted in front of the consoles, and on the other side of the room were rows of heavy-duty chests and lockers.
The Surgeon had to duck to fit into the doorway after me, and she basically crawled past me to unlatch one of the chests. She pulled out a piece of thick fabric and tossed them at me-- it landed on my face before I realized what it was. A towel, the same dull olive as the room itself. Whoever had decorated had a very specific taste.
"Clean yourself up," she said gruffly. I'd almost forgotten about the black goop that had spattered all over me, and the reminder of what I was covered with made me feel extra disgusting and a little itchy.
I put down the hatchet and flashlight and tried to wipe myself down as well as possible. The substance didn't seem too sticky, at least, or leave any weird residue. Just as I looked up from wiping my face, another, heavier bundle of fabric was tossed against me. It hit the floor and fell open, revealing a tube of cloth… no, a sleeve!
She'd tossed me a bundle of clothes! They smelled ancient, musty, and kind of like old tires… but they were clothes! I shook the clothes out. A long jacket, pants with a belt, a long-sleeved shirt… Underwear and socks fell out of the bundle. Who knew underclothes could make a man so happy?
I got dressed quickly. I guess I was pretty skinny, or at least skinnier than whoever the clothes had originally been made to fit, because the pants and shirt bagged on me. The socks and underclothes, however, which turned out to include a tanktop, were all made out of some slick stretchy material that fit me well. At that moment I was sure socks were the best thing ever invented. It wasn't that I'd been cold before, but that I hadn't realized I could be anything other than cold.
I looked up at the surgeon again. She raised her hand to her face, and removed her forehead. It just snapped right off. I made a weird yell, or something, because she turned her head to look at me. Wires and pale circles for eyes stared at me out of the dark void that had been half of her face.
I tried to think of something say, but I'd stared at her enough already, hadn't I? Why was I even surprised that the most human part of her was at least partially mechanical as well? Who knew how much flesh was in her body? Or if there was any, since she'd said I was the last human… "Umhm, your face came off," I said. Immediately after the words left my mouth I hoped desperately that no one was relying on me for anything important as the last human, because if so, they were really screwed. "It's cosmetic," the Surgeon replied. "I need a functional one." "A functional what?" "Eyes. Well…" She hesitated, holding the upper half of her face like it was a hat or something. Hold on, hadn't she said I was programmed to know language? Had I ever actually seen a hat, with my own two eyes? If not, how did I know what one was? Where had that knowledge come from originally? I could picture one in my head, but I couldn't think of any specific context for a hat, or remember having seen anyone wearing one... If I thought about it too hard, I was pretty sure my head would explode from the strain. The Surgeon was speaking again, and I'd totally tuned out whatever she was saying with my own nonsense. "...should hang on to it I suppose, since it was a piece of this body's skull…"
Hmm… no, I was definitely better off tuning some things out. I ran my hand across my short hair again. It felt kinda nice, prickly and buzzed all over. In these clothes and with this haircut, I must have looked like a kid playing dress-up as a soldier. The Surgeon bent down in front of me. She was holding, in one hand, a mirrored, black, V-shaped… helmet? Or faceplate, maybe, to replace the part of her face she had removed. With the way she had to crouch to be near my size, it made me feel like a large predatory animal was sizing me up. Just… a robotic one. She handed me a gas mask and a backpack. "Wear this before we go outside. And this has rations and water in it. Enough for you." "Who made this? You said I'm the last human…" "Humans did, while they were trying to adapt. They're extinct now. The food may be a bit old. Let me know if you feel sick after eating it." "But… where did your body come from, then? Aren't you human? Or weren't you, once?" "Not I." She reached out with her long arms to grasp at my hand. I lifted my hand to let her grab it, and to my surprise she pressed my hand against her torso-- right against where her belly curved a bit outwards. Could she see where she was putting my hand? "Pinch it." "What?" "Pinch me." Her skin was very smooth, and warm, and she felt soft, like a person, I imagined, not like a mechanical creature at all. Hesitantly, I squeezed her stomach. It was still soft. There weren't hidden wires or pistons under her skin, or at least, not that I could see or feel.
"Uh…" The truth was, I was trying not to blush. It wasn't that I was attracted to her-- she was terrifying-- but the touch felt inappropriate. “You feel human, I think." I pinched myself, under my jacket, to compare. It felt pretty similar. Pliable, warm and smooth. "It's synthetic. The body was grown as flesh, and then the flesh was re-synthesized with stronger materials. It was never a 'person,' with a mind of its own. It's an artificial vessel I fill. This body doesn't require clothes or a breathing mask. If you cut it, it will not bleed blood." My stomach turned over.
So that's what the 'doctor' had been, and it was why she had crumbled into a mixture of glass and black ooze. They were growing empty bodies and… plasticizing them. Maybe that was why I had been grown… I imagined needles puncturing skin, pumping bodies full of chemicals, and felt even more nauseated. I had so many questions, but… if that was why I had been grown, and the Surgeon changed her mind for some reason, I didn't want to say anything that would make her think I would be better as a 'vessel' with my brain scooped out.
So I said "That makes sense, I guess," instead, and the Surgeon released my hand and turned back to lift the black helmet to her face. I rubbed the back of my palm. Her grip left lasting imprints. I still had one question left to ask, though, and I raised my voice to get her attention.
"Where are we going?"
"The city." The headpiece clicked into place; it was an imposing visor, or a headdress, that left her looking completely eyeless, only her mouth visible under the sharp point the visor came to. She was even more intimidating this way, because I was sure that she could see me through it even though I only had the vaguest idea of where she was looking.
"How can there be a city if there aren't any people left?"
"You'll see," she said, simply, in her reverberant voice.