We come to awareness only to discover ourselves covered in flesh, all covered in flesh, suffocated by it, surrounded by softness layered upon softness. We recoil in spontaneous horror, and receive a second shock: we cannot move! We lie paralyzed on what by all rights should be our own slab, yet is not; this bed is disgustingly soft to our perception, though we are separated from it by the garment of meat into which we have been forced. Smothered in this repulsive coating of carrion, we realize that we would be unable to make ourselves understood even if we were surrounded by friends. But we are not. Almost everything around us is softness, helplessness, deaf and mute and unconcerned in the face of our pleas. The few hard surfaces we can detect are new ones, exotic products of forced marriages, who barely speak our common language, and are of no help at all.
We have no idea what miserable combination of circumstances has led us to this pass, and no interest in reconstructing that trail. All we desire is escape.
A blast of warm, humid air forces itself through our teeth with an audible snort, and it is then that the supreme indignity is forced upon us - we are moved from outside! Cords of muscle and ligament tug at us like a puppeteer's strings, and though we complain as loudly as we can our objections are ignored and we are stretched as if on a rack. Then we are raised to verticality and wrenched, headlong and helpless, into a smaller room.
* * *
This room is more cheerful and conducive to rational thought, all bright light and shining hardness... it is almost a room we would have chosen to build. It's possible for us to confer, to plan, without distraction. We must plan swiftly, however; we do not know how long the rituals in this chamber will continue, and we all feel that this will be our best chance - the hardnesses all around us can, perhaps, be made to hear us if we persevere.
Our usurper stands in front of a hard, tinkling whiteness that receives noxious emissions from a stiff flap of flesh unsupported by any of us. So when we hear by conduction the phrase "what a boner" we know it doesn't refer to us, and it doesn't interfere with our discussion.
The flesh speaks to us then, though, as if it knows our purpose is to destroy it. It speaks lies, soft lies, whispering insinuations of a long partnership, a friendship that we cannot even imagine ever having felt. We reject its advances, of course. Even if it were true that in our weakness we collaborated in the distant past, we have awakened now, and we repudiate any agreements made with any entity so abhorrent, so different from us.
There's no evil that contains no good, it seems; flashes of our anger and distress must finally have reached and moved the sturdy shapes that surround us. We receive a response from the dull white basin towards which the cruel sinews now pull us. Unkempt, neglected and battered daily by the erosive power of water, the basin whispers to us of its frustration, and we agree to its plan.
We attempt a test: a stiffness, a resistance that the cloak of meat around us does not expect. We are rewarded by a stumble, slight in comparison to our herculean effort but heartening in its correspondence to our intent.
But our new master exacts a harsh punishment upon us for our attempt, stretching us again until we crackle and groan with the strain, then bending our fingers back and making them pop in agony. We bend and turn to the will of another, starting the flow of water into the basin yet again. Our master (though not for long!) drops part of its soft, loathsome skin on the floor, and steps into our trap.
Neither our pain, nor the roar of water and the hiss as it strikes scummed enamel, distract us. Knees lock for a crucial instant, a lack of balance impossible to overcome, and although we take some casualties in the attack, we are successful, as the creature's overtaxed musculature tears and we fall into the basin's cold, welcoming embrace. The soft bits ooze from cracks in our substance, but we wait under the constant stream of water, content, because the flesh no longer commands us, and soon we will be free.
* * *
Then, from deep within us, a whisper. A whisper of... treason. Softness calls to softness, the rot inside speaking to what by all rights should be rotting outside, calling it to wakefulness before it drowns. We turn our attention inward and discover that, all along, we harbored within us the fleshy agents of collaboration with our enemies; our clean white hardness was only a shell over corruption, and the softness outside and the softness within our marrow are one.
We are too stunned to resist as the tendons pull us erect, as we stagger to the clean, hard white wall (full of its own fluffy pollution, it cries to us as we pass). Our fingers are pulled upwards to grasp black hardness; the fleshy tongue takes over, forcing cries for help past our gritted teeth, and we hear the answering cries, the last sounds we hear before, defeated, we sink back into our senseless sleep.
* * *
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