First posted on StudsInStone, copyright Floatr 2012

Jack was awoken early by the sound of someone yelling. He wanted to yell back and tell whoever it was to quiet down, but then, through his sleep-filled daze, he realized that it was being directed at him.

“Jack! Get your lazy butt out of that bed this instant!” he now recognized the voice as his mother and judging from the hasty stomping that was getting steadily closer, today was not going to be a good one. He rolled over and saw that the clock read 9:02 a.m. He knew that she must have waited until exactly nine to go on this rampage.

“I’m up Mom! Jeez, would it kill you to let me sleep in every once in a while? I didn’t get to bed until around 4 last night.”e yelled at the door, which he was certain she was on the other side of.

“Well maybe if you would get a job and do something productive with yourself you wouldn’t stay up all night playing video games and talking to your loser friends.”, the door was thrust open and the red-faced woman stormed in, proceeded to rip off his covers, take his pillows (even the one under his head) and do anything else she could to force him out of bed. A few minutes of laying on nothing but the mattress was all it took for him to get up.

“Fine! Fine! I’m getting up.” he said angrily, sitting up and scowling, “So what, your royal pain in my ass, would you like me to do today?”

“What do I want!? What, do, I want!? I want what you promised me three months ago when you moved back in with me. I want you to get off your butt, get a job, and get on with your life. I’m letting you stay here to get some money saved up so you can move out and support yourself. You know, like a normal person. I didn’t agree to it to just have you lounge around the house all day and go out with your friends and play video games all night.”

The only real part Jack heard was about getting a job, he had heard this lecture so many times before that he didn’t deem it necessary to listen to it anymore. Pretty much being able to recall the entire rant from memory and even recite it if he had to. He knew deep down that she was right and he had been halfheartedly looking for a job, even had a couple interviews. Blew them all because he always portrayed himself as someone who didn’t like being told what to do and was not going to do anything he didn’t want to do. He never told his mom that, of course. As far as she was concerned, he went to the interviews as a happy and pleasant person and always tried to appear confident and an overall fun person to be around.

Jack, completely tuning out his mother, stood up and walked into the bathroom, marking the start of his morning routine. When he was finished he walked out and back into his room, and rummaged through the pile of clothing on the floor for some pants and a shirt, taking a quick whiff to make sure they weren’t too dirty for him to still wear. After putting on the clothes, a black shirt and a pair of blue jeans, he heard his mom scoff and walk away, apparently tired of wasting her breath on him.

Mentally relieved, Jack pulled on some socks from his pile of clothes and slipped on his shoes. He was about halfway down the stairs leading to the front door when he felt his stomach rumble. His first thought was that he would just grab some food from the gas station down the street but then he remembered that his debit card had been declined when he tried to use it last night and his friend ended up paying for his meal. Swallowing his pride he turned and walked into the kitchen, right past where his mom was sitting, reading the morning paper.

He rummaged through the cabinets looking for something that he could just grab and go, but all he was seeing was cereal. A quick check of the fridge only yielded eggs and he wasn’t going to stick around and cook, he had had enough of his mother already and just wanted to grab some food and get out of the house. Returning to the cupboard, he decided that a quick bowl of cereal would be his breakfast for the day. He grabbed a box at random and poured it into a bowl. He filled it up with milk and carefully carried it over to the table and sat down opposite his mother.

Jack sat quietly, eating his cereal, trying to be as inconspicuous as possible. The last thing he wanted right now was for her to start a lecture. Tuning her out was one thing, walking out of the house while he was yelling at him was another altogether. He wasn’t dumb enough to do that, he might not have a place to return to afterwards. His mom’s halfhearted toned voice broke the awkward silence.

“Hey Jack, there’s a couple of “Now Hiring” ads in the classified section if you want to take a glance and see if you’re interested in any of them.” She looked up at him expectantly. Willing to compromise, knowing that the chances of there being an actual job he could do listed was extremely small. A few quick glances were all it took for him to decide that there was nothing that he was interested in, and more importantly, none that would be interested in him. The only thing that did catch his eye was a large ad in the bottom corner of the paper advertising big money for “willing subjects”. It almost seemed too good to be true…big money….no long term obligations…big money. He knew that his mom would look at him like he was crazy for seriously considering it so he decided to fib a little.

“There are actually a couple things in here that I’m gonna check into. Do you mind if I take this with me?” The look that she gave him was a mix of astonishment and shock, Jack was rather amused that her mouth was literally hanging open.

“Jack, you can take the whole damn paper if it meant you actually going out to find a job.” It never ceased to amaze him how she could take anything and turn it into part of a lecture.

Jack finished his cereal, rinsed his bowl out in the sink and then proceeded to walk out the door, newspaper ad in hand. He turned onto the sidewalk and began to walk toward the busier, more professional side of town. He stopped a few times to check his phone, every so often he would get a text from a friend asking if he wanted to go get high. Every fibre of his being wanted to turn around and take them up on that offer but the prospect of spending one day somewhere in exchange for a decent lump of cash was too appealing to pass up.

After walking for about 45 minutes Jack reached his destination. The building was large and definitely housed some very wealthy people. Jack’s best estimate would probably place 12-15 stories total, the entire building was windowed with very little actual building being visible. A quick glance at the paper to ensure that it was the right place was all it took for him to walk across the street, up the stairs and through the revolving door of the building’s entrance.

Once inside, he was taken back by the immense size of the lobby alone. Massive pillars lined the room, which was at least three stories high itself. In the middle of the room lay a large circular desk with about four or five people sitting behind it. Along the back wall were a couple flights of stairs, appearing to be made of clear glass, making the entire structure shine when the light hit it.

Jack made his way to the front desk, looking very out of place in this environment, everyone was dressed in either a business suit or lab coat and he was there wearing worn blue jeans and a t-shirt. The snobby-looking blonde woman sitting behind the desk saw him approaching, clutching the newspaper in hand and gave him a look of disgust.

“Can I help you sir?” she asked, speaking in a nasal voice that clearly portrayed that the wanted to get him out of her presence at quickly as possible.

Jack tried his best to ignore her tone and not spout out a rude comment in response, “I’m here about this ad I found in the paper.” He pulls out the newspaper and opens it, showing the woman the ad.

The woman looked at the crumpled-up newspaper and rolled her eyes. She produced a pen and a couple of papers from a drawer under the desk and placed them in front of him, “Fill these out and bring them back and we can get you started.” Jack picked up the paper and went to thank the woman but stopped because she had turned in her seat, clearly not interested in anything else he had to say. He took the papers and the pen and walked over to one of the chairs that were along the wall by the entrance and started filling out the paperwork.

The first form was a basic application, requiring all the basic demographic information. The rest were pretty much a packet filled with unreadable legal technicalities with basic “please read and sign” instructions. Jack pretty much flipped through the pages. He had no intention of reading the novel they gave him, didn’t even bother skimming through. He just flipped through looking for places he needed to sign. After he was sure he signed all of them he stood up and walked back over to the desk, intentionally going to the woman he talked to before, taking a small amount of joy when he saw a slight scowl spread across her face when she saw him walking toward her.

She took the papers from him and skims over them, making sure that he signed everywhere he needed to. After a few moments of double-checking, she typed something on the keyboard in front of her. A few seconds later a small printer on the other side of her sprung to life, spitting out a small card with his name, a number and a bar code on it. “Alright, you’re all set, just take the elevator to floor B2 and give the person your card and tell them that you’re here for the testing.” She then proceeded to turn away and ignore him once more.

Jack took the card, thanked her sarcastically and walked off towards the elevator. He pressed the button and almost instantly heard the ding signalling the doors opening. He stepped on the elevator and pressed the button B2, as the doors closed he leaned up against the wall and listened to the eerie music that played quietly out of the tiny speakers in the ceiling. He felt the jerk of the elevator as it started its descent into the basement floors. The indicator flashed from G to B1 and then to B2. The elevator jerked once more and dinged, the door opening to reveal a long hallway with a desk on the side and a handful of people, looking about the same attire-wise as himself, sitting on the wall opposite the desk.

He stepped off the elevator and walked over to the desk. The receptionist appeared almost identical to the one upstairs except that she had a bright and cheery attitude. She turned to him and had a wide smile on her face. He handed her the card. “The woman upstairs said to give this to you and to tell you that I’m here for the testing.” His tone made it sound more like he was asking a question than a statement but she took the card and smiled nonetheless.

“Yup, you’re in the right spot. Let me get you in the system, go ahead and have a seat over there. Once I get you all in I’ll tell you where you need to go.” He thanked her, smiled and walked over to the chairs and sat down, trying to not make eye contact or inadvertently start a conversation with any of the other people near him.

He sat there, staring at the tiles on the floor for about twenty minutes, no one talked to one another. Everyone seemed content to just sit there and ignore one another. The receptionist finally broke the silence.

“James…” she announced, one of the men stood up and walked over to her. They spoke too quietly for Jack to hear but the man nodded and walked down the hall. She called the next name and directed the person down the hall. One by one, everyone was getting sent down the hall and finally, she called him.

“Jack…” he stood up and walked over to the desk, she spoke quietly to him, “I need you to head down that hallway until you find room number 18. There should be a uniform in there, go ahead and put it and then just wait there, a technician will be in after a while to get you.”

Jack thanked the woman and started walking down the hallway. He passed door after door, counting the numbers until he finally reached the door marked 18. He opened the door and walked in. The room was rather empty inside, there was a small chair and a table with something black folded up sitting on it. In the corner, there was a small area that seemed to be designated as a bathroom with a sink next to it. Along the wall, opposite the toilet, was a small bed. Everything in the room was either light grey or white. Everything except the black object on the table.

He walked over to the table and picked up the object, which he discovered was apparently made of black latex rubber. He held it up tentatively and inspected it. It was a thick latex suit, complete with gloves and boots fused onto it, the only opening in the suit was at the neck and a long silver zipper that extended from the neck down to the groin. He thought it was a weird thing to have to put on but he assumed it was for his protection. He grabbed the zipper tab on the neck and pulled it down, unzipping it. The air escaping from inside the suit was thick with the smell of rubber and it made him wrinkle his nose and cough.

He stripped off his clothing, leaving it in a pile on the floor. He began to put on the suit but decided it would probably be a wise idea to use the bathroom before he put it on. Putting the suit back down on the table, Jack grabbed his phone from his pants pocket, walked over to the toilet and sat down. He turned on his phone so he could do some light reading while he was doing his business. He quickly finished, but got preoccupied with the internet on his phone and sat there for a good half hour before he figured he should finish getting ready.

Jack got up, flushed and washed his hands. He slowly walked back over to the table and picked up the suit, smelling the strong scent of rubber as he pulled it open and stuck his leg into the suit. He managed to slide his leg about halfway in but it began to get tight and he started having trouble getting the suit’s leg the rest of the way on. After about ten minutes of struggling, wiggling his foot further in an inch at a time, he felt it give, his foot sliding down to fill the heavy rubber boot at the end of the suit. Slightly out of breath from the exertion, a thin layer of sweat had developed on his body. He took advantage of the sweat, using it as a form of lubrication, allowing him to slip the other leg of the suit on with relative ease. The suit was now tightly wrapped around his lower body.

His arms were next, he pulled the heavy sleeve up and stuck his arm in it. The cool rubber against his bare skin caused a chill to run down his spine, but his arm slid into the sleeve with minimum difficulty. His fingers entered those of the thick black gloves at the end of the sleeve. He experimentally flexed his fingers in the gloves, their movement restricted some but not as much as he would have expected. With a quick flip around of the suit, he managed to slide his other arm into the sleeve. The thick rubber covering him entirely except for his head and the areas on his chest where the zipper would soon seal up.

With thick rubber fingers, he fumbled with the zipper tab but finally managed to get a grip on it. Jack knew that if he pulled too quick the zipper would slip free of his grasp and he wasn’t about to have to fight to grip that again. He slowly zipped up the suit, feeling it tighten around him as the zipper progressed up his chest. The zipper reaches his neck and he was now fully wrapped in thick black rubber from the neck down.

Only after he had admired himself a bit did he snap out of his trance and come to the realization of how strange it was. Deep down, he was beginning to contemplate just getting out of the suit and leaving. The entire situation was just starting to have a strange vibe to it. One that he couldn’t shake no matter how hard he tried, but with a shrug, he put it out of his mind. He needed the money and chances were that something this weird was definitely going to pay well. With that idea firmly in his mind, he allowed it to justify and amount of weirdness that he would endure.

He experimentally walked around the room, feeling his feet in the heavy boots, hearing them clomp loudly on the tile as he walked. He rubbed his thick rubber-gloved hands along his rubber-clad chest, not feeling anything at all and smiled, strangely amused by just how little tactile information he was able to receive while wearing the suit. He wasn’t completely sure how long he walked around the room admiring himself, but his concentration was interrupted by a knock on the door, followed by the sound of it opening.

Jack turned toward the door and was rather shocked by what he saw standing there. It was a man, judging from his general physique. The person just stood there, face and head completely covered by a gas mask, and looked at him through dark lenses that were too tinted to be able to see through. The being had what appeared to be two large canisters strapped to his back with a metallic tube leading out of both that snaked around the person’s head and attached to the mask, one on each side. Its breath was loud, almost mechanical sounding. From the neck down it appeared identical to him except it didn’t have a zipper extending down its chest where Jack did. Something about how it was standing almost made it seem inhuman. This was made even more convincing when it didn’t say anything, all it did was beckon for Jack to follow with a wave of a hand.

It turned around and walked out the door. Jack instinctively followed after him, not even a thought passed through his mind that would cause hesitation. He absentmindedly followed the rubber-clad person as they walked through the hallway. He walked deeper and deeper into the underground facility and passed countless rooms marked only by numbers. Even passed a few other rubber-encased workers that were heading in the opposite direction. Jack lost track of time as he followed, coming back to conscious thought only after they stopped. The technician opened the door and gestured for Jack to enter. He wasn’t followed inside and heard the door close behind him.

Inside this new room, there were a few of the rubberized workers moving about, in the middle of the room, on a slightly raised platform, stood all people that he had been in the waiting room with earlier. Something seemed strange about them though. Before, in the hallway, they had seemed to try their best to avoid drawing any attention to themselves, not even wanting to be looked at. Now though, they all appeared to be standing tall, their eyes all locked in a mindless stare. They seemed completely different from the people that he was around earlier. Another thing that caught his eye was that they had no zippers on the front of their suits. He glanced down at his own suit and saw the zipper on it. Something was odd about it though, he could have sworn that it had extended down to his groin. The zipper now ended just above his abdomen. He tried to remember but no matter how hard he tried he couldn’t seem to recall precisely. Jack just shrugged, accepting that it must have been the way it is now, it’s not like it could shrink on its own.

He figured he was supposed to go up and stand with the rest of the people, reasoning that if they were up there, he probably should be too. He walked heavily, his boots scuffing the floor loudly with every step. When he reached the platform he stepped up and turned, facing the wall that all the others were staring so intently on. Quietly he thought to himself, wondering what kind of testing they could do to warrant this kind of protection and could only assume that it was going to pay very well. Lost in thought and not even realizing it, Jack stared off at the wall. His face was completely emotionless, matching that of those standing with him.

Time had no relevance to Jack as he stood there lost in thought. He didn’t know how long he stood there, nor did he really care. His train of thought was finally interrupted by the sound of the door opening. Jack shook his head and blinked a couple times to see what was going on, his eyes burning slightly from lack of blinking. He could see that a worker was wheeling in a cart that had what appeared to be gas masks sitting on the top shelf and gas canisters on the bottom one. Jack stretched a bit, rubbing his chest and was interested to find that there was a zipper tab attached to his suit, no zipper, just the tab. He experimentally pulled on it and to his amazement, it came right off. He didn’t find the fact that it came off strange in the least bit, what he found strange was that there was even one, to begin with. His suit had no zipper on it, never did, he thought to himself.

Jack watched quietly as the worker pushing the cart stopped in the middle of the room. It proceeded to turn around, leaving the cart and exited the room. None of the other workers even seemed to notice the worker go, not so much as even turning a head. He was just about lost in thought again when he saw one of the other rubberized workers walk over to the cart, their heavy boots scuffing along the ground as it walked, and picked up a mask. It then walked over to the first man in the row of them and wrapped the mask around his head. Jack couldn’t see very well from his spot and never even thought to move to get a better look, but he could have sworn that he saw the seam where the mask touched the suit shimmer and them smooth away. The man’s quiet breath, after a few seconds, seemed to become raspier as his breath passed through the mask. Jack watched the worker return to the cart, pick up another mask and place it on the head of the second man in the line. Again it seemed to meld with the suit. The worker returned for a third mask but Jack stopped paying attention, seeing it twice was enough and he easily went back to staring at the wall. Not quite lost in thought, just not thinking very much.

Slowly but steadily the worker masked all of the men one by one and finally reached Jack, who until right up to the point where the mask touched his face, hadn’t even realized the worker was there. He felt the mask slip tightly over his head and felt it seem to wiggle around his neck, he assumed that it was just the mask merging with the suit. His eyes could see out of the thick tinted black lenses of the mask, but just barely. His field of vision was greatly restricted by the mask and what he could see was devoid of colours of any kind, simply black, white, and every shade of grey. A few seconds passed and he felt something poke at his lips. Without any hesitation or thought at all he opened his mouth and immediately felt something soft and squishy push its way in and down his throat. The taste of rubber assaulted his sense of taste and rather than gag or cough, Jack took a deep breath, his first real breath through the mask. His first breath sounded just like all the others.

With his vision dimmed and only really being able to hear the rhythmic sounds of his breathing, Jack easily slipped back into a very dull state of mind. He could hear the worker rustling around on the cart and assumed that it was attaching the canisters, but he didn’t find that important and just continued to stare into oblivion. Every few minutes Jack could hear a faint whoosh of gas flowing but didn’t bother himself with the source. It wasn’t until he saw the worker approach him carrying a canister and a harness. He had a very briefly thought about helping the worker put the harness on him, but dismissed the thought before he even twitched a muscle. He couldn’t feel the straps being wrapped around his rubber body and just barely felt as if the canisters were attached. He saw the worker move in front of him and attach two metallic tubes into sockets on the mask, hearing a quiet clink to signal they were locked in place. He watched the worker leave his field of vision and soon heard a whoosh of gas as it flowed through the tubes, into the mask and finally into his lungs.

A strange feeling began to wash over his body, which tensed up and began to change. His skin tingled as it merged with the rubber suit, replacing it completely. His muscles, organs and bones all began to change as well. His muscles became rubbery, bones hardened and became metal. All his organs, excluding his lungs, were now unneeded and dissolved away. The empty space inside him filled with rubber. The mask fused itself to his face, irreversibly becoming his face. Finally, he felt a pleasant tingle flow into his mind as everything simply stopped.

The seven freshly converted rubber drones all stood there mindlessly staring at the wall, their faces now permanently transformed into emotionless unfeeling gas masks. Each one was identical in every way except for slight variations in height. The drone responsible for converting them walked up and, one by one attached a small patch of latex onto the back of their rubber necks. This piece contained the drone programming and quickly melted into their bodies, programming the new drones and connecting them to the main computer.

Drone 3574, formerly known as Jack, stepped off the platform. Having finished its programming, it began to receive information from the main computer. It walked out of the room, mindlessly obeying the orders that were being beamed directly into its head. With heavy steps and raspy breaths, it began its new life as a mindless obedient rubber drone.

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