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Paige Against the Machine

Reading time: 10 min

woman in laboratory

I raise my hand against my better judgment and a well-honed sense of self-preservation. The team turns and looks at me expectantly.

“You have an idea for what we should test it on next, Paige?” asks Brad.

“Yes, I do,” I reply. “We should test it on me.”

Three jaws drop in unison as six eyes gaze at me in disbelief. Finally, Tessa speaks.

“Um, we’re at least two years away from human trials. The technology is unproven. What you’re proposing is way too dangerous.”

“Yeah,” adds Derek. “The most complex organism we’ve tested it on is a banana. You can’t be serious.”

“Oh, I’m serious, Derek,” I reply. “And that’s true, Tessa. At our current pace of research, we’re at least two years away from human trials.” I take a deep breath before continuing. “It’s also true that our savings will run out in two months at our current burn rate.”

“We’ll find an investor soon,” says Brad without much conviction.

I shake my head. “I think we all know that’s not happening. As Tessa said, the tech is unproven. It’s just too risky for any investors even to consider it.” I look at each of them in turn. “We either go big or go home. We need to test it on me.”

“And you’re sure about this?” asks Tessa. “I mean, really sure about it?”

I look at her and shrug. “No, not really. I am sure that we did not spend the past three years working on this project only to run out of money and shut it down.” I take another deep breath. “Let’s do this now before I have second thoughts.”


Two minutes later, I’m standing naked in a plexiglass chamber—four feet square and eight feet tall. Tessa, Derek, and Brad are outside the chamber, looking at me. I glance up at the emitter above my head. It resembles an external flash unit for a camera, but I know better. It’s the first and only molecular deanimator ever created. It doesn’t react well with inorganic materials such as clothing, so nudity is necessary.

“Hey, Paige,” says Tessa.

“Yeah?” I reply as I look back at the team.

“We’ll all set. I want to be certain you’re okay with this. The molecular deanimator performs well with fruits and vegetables, but we can only speculate what it will do to a human body. It could kill you.”

I nod impatiently. “Yeah, I know the risks. Fire it up already, and let’s see what happens.”

“All right, Paige,” she replies.

Tessa walks forward, presses some numbers on a keypad, and places her hand on a large red button. I take a few deep breaths to calm myself. The reality—and risk—of what I’m doing sets in, but I push it out of my mind.

Tessa looks at me. “Ready?”

I nod.

“All right. Duration is set to one minute. Commencing deanimation sequence. Firing in five, four, three, two, one.”

As Tessa pushes the button, the emitter comes to life and flashes repeatedly in a blue strobe effect. I hold as still as I can for ten seconds until it switches off.

“Deanimation complete,” says Tessa.

I try to tell her that it didn’t do anything, but my mouth won’t move. I try to shake my head, but it doesn’t respond. I attempt to walk forward, but my entire body is locked in place. At that moment, I realize I’m not breathing. If that’s not alarming enough, I can’t feel my heart beating.

Tessa opens the door to the chamber and steps forward to stand right in front of me. She holds one hand in front of my mouth and places her other hand under the side of my jaw. A few seconds later, her eyes open wide.

“Pulse and respiration are zero!” she announces. Tessa runs her hands down my arms, sending tingles through my body. “And her skin is completely rigid like a mannequin! Holy shit, it worked!”

“All right,” says Derek. “Deanimating Paige is one thing. Unless she reanimates, this was all for nothing.”

Tessa nods in agreement and exits the chamber. A few seconds later, I feel my heart start beating. I take a deep breath and smile.

“That was incredible!” I exclaim.

All three of my teammates breathe an audible sigh of relief.

“I am so glad you’re okay, Paige!” says Tessa. “What was it like? Do you remember anything?”

“Everything,” I reply with a grin. “I could see and hear everything.”

“So what should we do next?” she asks after composing herself.

“Deanimate me again—for longer this time.”

“How long?” Tessa asks.

“Fifteen minutes.”

She nods and closes the door.


After that test, we conduct several more—gradually increasing the duration. Each time I reanimate at the expected time with no apparent ill effects. I’m ready to go bigger.

“I want you to deanimate me overnight,” I announce.

“You sure?” asks Brad.

I nod emphatically. “One hundred percent. Let’s do it!”

“All right,” says Derek.

He closes the door as Tessa keys in the duration and places her hand on the red button. She counts down and activates the deanimator for the seventh time. After examining me, she looks into my unblinking eyes.

“We’re going to head home,” she says. Tessa looks at her watch and back at me. “It’s 6:42 PM, and I set the duration to twelve hours. We’ll be back in the morning to see you reanimate. Sweet dreams.” She pauses before continuing. “Well, maybe sweet dreams. I have no idea whether you’ll sleep or not in a deanimated state. I guess we’ll find out. See you tomorrow!”

My three colleagues wave to me and exit the lab, turning off the lights as they leave. I’m left alone with my thoughts in the darkness.


Morning comes sooner than expected. I feel like I lost track of time in my deanimated state. Tessa arrives first, turns on the lights, and sets her backpack on her desk before approaching me.

“Good morning,” she says. “I don’t know about you, but I barely slept after yesterday’s adventure. I still can’t believe we did it!”

The door to the lab opens again, and Derek and Brad walk in.

“Morning, ladies,” says Derek. “You sleep much, Tessa?”

“Hardly,” she replies. “You?”

“Not a wink.”

“Me neither,” says Brad. “Too much excitement yesterday.”

Tessa looks at her watch. “Well, it’s 6:42 AM, so Paige should reanimate any time from now.”

I feel my heart beating again, and my body starts to respond. I smile and stretch before stepping out of the chamber.

“Welcome back,” says Tessa with a smile. “Feeling good?”

“Feeling great,” I respond. “Quite well-rested. So what should we do next?”

“I want to talk strategy,” says Derek. “Now that our technology is validated with a human subject, we should decide on our next move. Like Paige said yesterday, we have about two months of runway left. We need to act.”

“I agree,” says Brad. “But we need to keep it on the down-low for now. The ethics of what we’re doing are still a bit murky.”

Tessa smiles. “I know an investor who can be discreet. She can also be here today for a demonstration. How about noon?”

The rest of us look at each other and nod.

“Sounds good to me,” says Derek.

“Ditto,” says Brad. “Let’s do it.”

“Yeah, I’m on board,” I add.


We hear a knock on the lab door at precisely noon. Tessa walks over and slips out into the hallway, returning with an older woman a minute later.

“Hey, team,” Tessa begins. “It’s my pleasure to introduce Eleanor Morbeck. Eleanor, I’d like you to meet Derek, Brad, and Paige.”

“Wonderful to meet you all,” says Eleanor. “I’ve already heard so much about you.”

“The pleasure is ours,” I reply. “We look forward to showing you our technology.”

“Speaking of which,” says Tessa, “shall we get started?”

“By all means,” replies Eleanor.

Tessa nods to me. I disrobe and enter the chamber, facing the others. Tessa closes the door, presses some numbers on the keypad, and winks at me as she places her hand on the red button.

“Commencing deanimation sequence,” she announces. “Firing in five, four, three, two, one.”

She presses the button, the emitter strobes for ten seconds, and I am once again deanimated. Tessa turns to Derek.

“Derek, would you be so kind as to extract Paige from the chamber?”

Derek smiles. “I’d be happy to handle the merchandise.”

He opens the door, picks me up by the hips, and carries me out of the chamber. Derek sets me down, and Eleanor approaches for a closer look.

“May I touch her?” she asks.

“Absolutely,” replies Tessa. “As much as you like.”

Eleanor nods and squeezes my arm. “Oh, my!” she exclaims. “Paige’s skin feels like a mannequin.”

“That’s right,” says Tessa. “And her metabolic and autonomic processes have stopped—no breathing and no heartbeat. She’s effectively inanimate.”

Eleanor smiles and looks into my eyes. “And she can hear us right now?”

“Surprisingly, yes,” Tessa replies. “She can see us, too. We didn’t expect it, but Paige remains aware of her surroundings even in her deanimated state.”

“Fascinating,” says Eleanor, turning to face Tessa. “Consider me interested, but I’ll need two more demonstrations to seal the deal.”

Tessa looks at her male colleagues and grins. “All right, guys. You heard the lady—we need more subjects.”

Derek and Brad look at each other and shrug.

“I guess I’ll go first,” says Brad as he pulls his T-shirt over his head.

Brad removes the rest of his clothing and walks naked into the chamber, turning to face his audience. Thirty seconds later, Derek places a deanimated Brad next to me.

“Ahem,” says Eleanor, looking at Derek expectantly.

“Oh, right,” says Derek as he kicks off his shoes.

Derek finishes undressing and enters the chamber. Tessa runs through the deanimation sequence again, and soon Derek is standing next to Brad and me—not a stitch of clothing or a heartbeat among us.

Tessa turns to Eleanor and smiles. “Well, that was even easier than I expected.”

I try to raise an eyebrow, but my body doesn’t respond.

“Indeed it was,” replies Eleanor with a grin. “They were all quite agreeable.”

“And our deal is still on?” asks Tessa.

“Yes, of course. Five hundred million dollars for 50% of the company.”

“Excellent,” replies Tessa. “And please accept my former colleagues here as a token of my appreciation.”
Eleanor looks at us and then back at Tessa. “How long will they stay like this?”

“By adjusting the power level, the machine can be calibrated to any duration: minutes, hours, days, etc.” Tessa flashes a wicked grin that I immediately don’t like. “In their case, I disabled the failsafe and set the power to maximum. I’m quite happy to say they’ll remain in their deanimated state indefinitely. The effect is now permanent and irreversible.”

“Perfect!” exclaims Eleanor. “They’ll look quite splendid in my study.”

I want to reach out and strangle Tessa for her betrayal, but my body does not respond. I try to scream, but my mouth remains frozen in an eternal smile.

Eleanor continues. “Knowing you, I assume your research is thorough and well-documented.”

“Absolutely,” Tessa replies. “In addition to our digital records, we have hard copies of everything in the filing cabinet. You can’t be too careful, right?”

“That is more true than you realize,” Eleanor responds with a devilish grin that I immediately love.

The older woman pulls a handgun with a silencer from her purse and points it at Tessa. Tessa’s jaw drops.

“What the hell, Eleanor? We had a deal!”

Eleanor is still smiling and enjoying herself. “Yes, we did have a deal, and now we don’t. Based on how quickly you sold out your friends, I certainly can’t trust you. And with a complete set of records from your research, I no longer need you either. Don’t take it personally—it’s just business.” She waves the barrel of her gun in the direction of the chamber. “Strip and get inside.”

Tessa crosses her arms and shakes her head. “No way am I getting in that box.”

“The alternative, my dear, is a bullet to the head. That would be quite an unpleasant outcome, don’t you think?”

Tessa ponders her options for a few seconds, and then her shoulders slump. She starts unbuttoning her shirt.

Eleanor smiles. “You’ve made a wise choice.”

Tessa finishes undressing and walks naked into the chamber. Eleanor closes the door and places her palm on the red button.

“It’s such a pleasure doing business with you, Tessa.”

Tessa starts to open her mouth, but Eleanor presses the button first. Ten seconds later, our betrayer has joined the rest of us in immortality. Eleanor opens the door to the chamber and picks up the petite woman before walking over and setting her down next to me. Eleanor turns to address all of us.

“I do appreciate the contribution you all have made to scientific advancement. Your research is groundbreaking, and I promise to announce it to the world as soon as possible. As for the four of you, some men will stop by tonight to transport you to my home. I wasn’t kidding when I said you’d look splendid in my study.” She turns to leave and waves over her shoulder. “I’ll see you all soon.”

Eleanor exits the lab, closing the door behind her and leaving us alone in absolute silence.


Several hours pass while the shadows dance slowly across the floor. I wish I knew what Tessa is thinking right now. Knowing that conniving bitch will be right beside me, I feel much better about my fate.

I’m feeling much better about everything. After three years of intense stress and anxiety, I feel the weight of responsibility melt away. The project didn’t turn out quite as expected, but I still consider it a success. Eleanor seems like a savvy woman, so I’m confident our research is in good hands. I can’t speak for the others, but I’m honestly at peace for the first time in a long time. Fame and fortune would have been excellent, but immortality is a worthy consolation prize. Though my arms no longer move, I reach out and embrace eternity.

Copyright 2022 Emilia Vazquez

Photo by National Cancer Institute on Unsplash


Story notes

Most of my ASFR stories center around some form of immobilization rather than transformation. I just like the idea of people being helpless and completely under the control of someone else. This mostly applies to my writing and not my reading, though. I love a good statue or mannequin story as much as the next person.

I’m a lot like Paige. Talk is cheap. Stop wringing your hands and make something happen already! Would I become the first human subject in the world’s only molecular deanimator? Honestly, I don’t know. Would you?

Emilia Vazquez

Emilia Vazquez lives in La Plata, Argentina, with her partner and a tiny dog named Lobo (wolf). When she's not writing or drawing, she's dreaming up new ways to push the boundaries of art.

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