1. Replacements, Part 1
“Can you really replace a human with something that just looks like one?” Thus begins Hibernal’s latest sci-fi story: a story that grabs my attention every time. This first track on “Replacements” features an unknown female voice describing the world into which we will be dropped.
The world is a perfect place. Because of synthetic humans, crime and poverty and hunger are all but destroyed. But at what cost? Can you really replace a human being? Is a human merely the sum of its parts, or is there something more? Sometimes in our eagerness for “progress” we end up losing our very humanity.
Hibernal’s story, then, begins here: a world that is slowly becoming lost, but I have a hunch that it is the same world in which the events of “The Machine” took place, and it may even be many years ahead of that story. We’ll see, though, as I have some ideas about the people we are about to meet.
2. The City Ebbs Away
“It was raining again”. It seems to be an eternal rain in the dankness of the city. In the midst of towering, futuristic monoliths, crowds of sad people trudge through the muck. In the middle of this, Hibernal introduces us to Artimus, a troubled soul among troubled souls. His questionable past is obvious in his sad eyes, and his heavy steps give away the void inside him.
One night, however, he sees a woman standing in line for the shuttle along with the rest of the over-worked, stressed souls (as seen on the cover). Her beauty startles him into something of a stupor, and, yet, the tattoo on her face gives her away as a synthetic human. Why would he be drawn to this fraud? Why would he care?
Yet, in the midst of this moment, he finds that “the incessant hustle and buzz of the city seemed to ebb away, and suddenly, everything was silent, still, like I’d stepped into my own reality.” Indeed, there is something about this synthetic woman that has captivated his very soul.
3. The Restless Man
On the third track of “Replacements”, we begin to get to know Artimus a bit more. “As far as I was concerned, the world would be a better place without Synthetics.” Indeed, even though Artimus had become obsessed with this female synthetic, he himself hated her kind completely. He’s seems a bit “old school”, and cannot bring himself to embrace a future run by cold, heartless machines. Truly, he is a man out of his true time: wandering in his soul and looking, ever looking, for something to fill the void in his heart.
Artimus happens to run into a local police detective named Roegner. Roegner knows that Artimus has an unsavory past, and so bothers him regularly in hopes to get information out of him. On this occasion, the detective is hoping that Artimus knows where a certain female fugitive has gone, and, by the picture, Artimus realizes that the detective is looking for the female synthetic. Immediately, he locks up inside: he is completely unwilling to give her away, and he isn’t even sure why.
“Hey. You need to get out of here.” Artimus has made up his mind. After speaking to detective Roegner the night before, Artimus once again runs into the female synthetic at the evening shuttle. Peering through the huddled crowds, however, he realizes that the detective is nearby, as well. He’s looking for her.
Artimus, however, can’t let Roegner find her. He persuades the synthetic into coming with him to safety. “Her dark eyes locked onto me with a flat stare, typical of a Synthetic.” Yet, even with her synthetic features, she was somehow making his life livable for a time. Artimus was finding peace and meaning in helping her: so help her he does.
5. The Streets in Darkness
On the run, Artimus and the synthetic are fleeing the detective in Artimus’ car. They get a moment of calm here, driving silently through the shadowy streets. Yet, that joy and peace within Artimus wouldn’t let him remain silent. “My name is Artimus”, he said.”I am Sabel”, she replied. Sabel. Her hame is Sabel.
She asks him to return her to her apartment, and he finds that this is in a bad part of town, a part of town to which he’s never even been. His curiosity is obviously on fire now. He tries to help further, but she is only interested in getting away and being alone. So, she drops her off in the dank, dark street. And his inner void returns.
6. The Place Where You Hide
This sixth track on Hibernal’s “Replacements” is where things start to get really interesting. The roller coaster starts here, you might say. Artimus, curious about Sabel’s purposes, decides to follow the synthetic to her apartment. Yet, she doesn’t go to a normal building, but instead enters a “burnt-out old factory”. Artimus, curiosity out of control, follows her at a distance.
“Inside it was dark and silent, but for the sound of dripping water somewhere off in the distance and a faint metallic rattle.” Indeed, soon Artimus finds one lighted room at the back of the factory, and Sabel seems to be working on something. As he nears the room, his pulse races, sweat beads on his forehead, and he can barely breathe. What could a synthetic be doing by itself in an abandoned factory.
He enters the room. Her back is to him, and she is busy clanging away at something. As clumsy as Artimus is, he makes the slightest noise, and Sabel is alerted. Turning halfway toward him, Artimus can see what she is working on: a can of beans. “You’re not a Synthetic. You’re human.”
“Congratulations. You figured it out.” Artimus, how clever. He’d followed Sabel into a dark factory, only to find out that this synthetic was actually a real, breathing human being—a tired, worn one, at that. She was obviously exhausted from being on the run all the time, and she seemed worried that her cover was now blown.
Artimus, however, wasn’t about to let this woman go. “Listen, I can probably help you out”, he offers. He was used to smuggling things. Heck, that’s how he got busted originally. And, yet, it was more than that. He was fascinated with Sabel—even obsessed. Even worse, he wasn’t sure why. So, he laid out a plan for Sabel to escape in the next couple days. He was about to lay his life on the line for this stranger. But why?
8. Time Runs Out
“Roegner’s prowling around the district. I’ve seen him. He’s in one of the apartments now.” Sabel had called Artimus in the wee hours of the morning. She was terrified. She has been found out by the cops.
“Artimus, listen to me. It’s now or never.” She needed out of town right now. RIGHT NOW. Artimus, obsessed as he was with her, wasn’t sure if he could do it. Yet, he manages to get his contacts to agree. It should go smoothly—hopefully.
“I turned back to the road, and suddenly, like an apparition, Roegner appeared in the headlights, gun in hand.” Trying to escape, Artmius and Sabel are both caught. Detective Roegner means business. But, what he doesn’t realize, is that Artimus means business, too. In fact, Artimus will do what he never fathomed he could do—all for a stranger.
A lone shot rang out in the musty black night. Artimus and Sabel had come face to face with Detective Roegner in the warehouse district. The standoff was much like an old Western duel, only Roegner alone had a gun.
“You have no idea what you’re stumbling into, Artimus! I bet you she hasn’t even told you what she’s done!” He was right. Artimus had no idea who Sabel was, really. Had she really left Roegner’s partner to die? Had she really been a criminal? Artimus didn’t care. Sabel and Artimus began to struggle with the detective, knocking him to the ground and grabbing his gun.
“What? What are you doing? Didn’t you hear what I just told ya?” Roegner pleaded. But Artimus had had enough time in prison. He’d had enough of this life. So he did the unthinkable. He murdered Roegner in cold blood. Right there. What had come over him?
10. Fragments of the Past
“You don’t understand why you’re drawn to me, do you? Why you’re helping me?” Sabel and Artimus rushed away from the scene of the crime. Murdering Detective Roegner was not part of the plan, but it had just—happened. Why had he killed the detective? Why had he helped this fugitive?
“There must be a part of you that still remembers.” Sabel finally reveals to Artimus why he is so obsessed with her: they were lovers…once. Yet, Artimus had been replaced. He was not human as he thought, but was merely a soulless machine based on his former self. All this time he had been chasing a synthetic, but now he had to come to grips with the idea that he himself was not what he thought. “You still look at me the same way, but you’re just a fragment of who you once were.” Sabel was still mourning her lover, and now she was on the run from the same people that had replaced Artimus with this empty shell. Sabel, however, stills loves him. Because of that, she refuses to stay in the city, for fear of the people after her.
Artimus had become a machine, taken by others that wanted him as nothing more than a tool or an apathetic nobody. There were no other options. It is my opinion (or I at least like to think of it this way) that Artimus is the same man that we find becoming mechanized in Hibernal’s first album “The Machine”. This man was never named, and he was seemingly lured into giving up his body, freedom, heart, and mind. It follows, then, that Sabel may be that man’s wife, Jane, who leaves in sorrow and disgust in the middle part of “The Machine” (and changed her name because, obviously, no one keeps their real name when they are on the run). At the very least, “Replacements” is set in the same place, only after Machine Co. has done even more damage. Yet, even after all this speculation, there is still more to come in the last couple tracks. What of Sabel?
The evidence was circumstantial, and in the end they couldn’t pin anything on me.” Artimus had gotten away with it. He had gunned down Detective Roegner to save Sabel, and the cops couldn’t charge him with anything at all.
Yet, this really didn’t matter to Artimus. He was still obsessed with Sabel. She always remained in his mind, though the mystery surrounding her had faded. “I couldn’t seem to find the will to leave.” Artimus needed to act quickly, yet something in his mind kept him from leaving the city to pursue Sabel—something that acted directly against his own will and desire.
12. Replacements, Part II
“Can you really replace a human with something that just looks like one?” Sabel, unknown to us at the time, had first asked this question. This time, Artimus speaks the words. His response? “I had to believe you could.” Artimus, as we last see him, is spending everything he has on something unexpected: a tattoo marking him as synthetic.
“Have you ever given something up, only to spend the rest of your life trying to get it back?” It had finally dawned on him. Sabel had marked herself as synthetic because she had finally realized that she IS a synthetic human being. She was in constant pursuit of her humanity, even eating food to try to feel something again. But it was of no use. She was running from the cops because this tattoo was the mark of someone that knew the truth: Machine Co. had changed the entire city (or maybe more) into a population of frauds—human machines that never could find the will to do much of anything.
Artimus’ own problems with will had convinced him of the same things. He was ready to fight the system. He had finally seen himself as the synthetic he really was: He saw that he had been replaced. He was ready to join the resistance, and the first step was to admit the problem: He was no longer his own. You see, everyone in this story is a synthetic. It’s just a matter of who realizes it.
Do you see the ramifications of this story? We all know people walking around out there completely oblivious to the ways they are being used, exploited, and dominated by culture, greed, and greater powers around them. They are perfectly happy being told what to like, what to think, what to believe, and what to do: They are perfectly happy losing their humanity by not living truly. But, I hope, there are more of us that know the problem. There are more of us that refuse to be subhuman. We don’t have to be just another one of the masses. We can look inwards to the light that shines so brightly if one is willing to look. We are more than machines, even organic ones. We are so much more.