Five months passed and the boys continued playing and enjoying themselves from morn till night, without ever seeing a book, or a desk, or a school. But, my children, there came a morning when Pinocchio awoke and found a great surprise awaiting him, a surprise which made him feel very unhappy, as you shall see.
Everyone, at one time or another, has found some surprise awaiting him. Of the kind which Pinocchio had on that eventful morning of his life, there are but few.
What was it? I will tell you, my dear little readers. On awakening, Pinocchio put his hand up to his head and there he found—
He found that, during the night, his ears had grown at least ten full inches!
You must know that the Marionette, even from his birth, had very small ears, so small indeed that to the naked eye they could hardly be seen. Fancy how he felt when he noticed that overnight those two dainty organs had become as long as shoe brushes!
He went in search of a mirror, but not finding any, he just filled a basin with water and looked at himself. There he saw what he never could have wished to see. His manly figure was adorned and enriched by a beautiful pair of donkey’s ears.
I leave you to think of the terrible grief, the shame, the despair of the poor Marionette.
He began to cry, to scream, to knock his head against the wall, but the more he shrieked, the longer and the more hairy grew his ears.
At those piercing shrieks, a Dormouse came into the room, a fat little Dormouse, who lived upstairs. Seeing Pinocchio so grief-stricken, she asked him anxiously:
“What is the matter, dear little neighbor?”
“I am sick, my little Dormouse, very, very sick—and from an illness which frightens me! Do you understand how to feel the pulse?”
“Feel mine then and tell me if I have a fever.”
The Dormouse took Pinocchio’s wrist between her paws and, after a few minutes, looked up at him sorrowfully and said: “My friend, I am sorry, but I must give you some very sad news.”
“What is it?”
“You have a very bad fever.”
“But what fever is it?”
“The donkey fever.”
“I don’t know anything about that fever,” answered the Marionette, beginning to understand even too well what was happening to him.
“Then I will tell you all about it,” said the Dormouse. “Know then that, within two or three hours, you will no longer be a Marionette, nor a boy.”
“What shall I be?”
“Within two or three hours you will become a real donkey, just like the ones that pull the fruit carts to market.”
“Oh, what have I done? What have I done?” cried Pinocchio, grasping his two long ears in his hands and pulling and tugging at them angrily, just as if they belonged to another.
“My dear boy,” answered the Dormouse to cheer him up a bit, “why worry now? What is done cannot be undone, you know. Fate has decreed that all lazy boys who come to hate books and schools and teachers and spend all their days with toys and games must sooner or later turn into donkeys.”
Pine’s eyes were open before her brain had fully engaged. Confused, she stared at the furrows of the waves molded into the ceiling plaster. Where was she?
I told Sebastian I wanted to leave the island. He refused. He—
He attacked me.
I’m lying down. Pine tensed, trying to sit up, but wide bands across her body kept her immobile—even her head was firmly strapped down. She wiggled her fingers with relief. At least I’m not paralyzed.
Voices rose from the opposite end of the room. Pine tried to turn her head, even just a little but had to be satisfied with straining her eyes instead.
Four figures—two men and two women—stood around a long table, peering down at the pile of metal on it.
Two of them had their backs to Pine. From their movements, they appeared to be human. Of the other two facing Pine, one was Sebastian.
The other was Paloma.
A quick rush of relief cut through Pine’s confusion. Paloma is here. She’ll know what’s going on. She’ll help me. Just as Pine was about to call out to her, the man and woman stepped away from the table and Pine finally saw what had held their interest.
A sentient android lay on the table, its eyes wide and mouth locked open in horror. Pine couldn’t tell if it was male or female, alive or dead. Its skin had been peeled from its head and body, exposing its complex metal skeleton and synthetic musculature. Although it was immobilized, to Pine’s synadroid eyes, it seemed to vibrate.
The androids. The androids that staffed the island. The android that had warned her on the boat. They’d been made here, from sentient androids. Synadroids like Pine.
Terror, purer than anything Pine had felt before, burned through her body like jellyfish venom. It was all a lie. There is no freedom for us.
As Pine watched, Paloma peeled the last part of the android’s skin down and off its foot, like she was taking off a sock.
“Ha!” She held it up triumphantly. “Perfect. This’ll net us a fortune. Did you see how I did that? All of them need to be done like that, not like the butcher job you did on the other one, Sebastian.”
Sebastian smirked. “He struggled.”
Paloma raised an eyebrow. “That’s why you use the safe word, Seb. Fine if you want to leave their pain sensors on and have some fun, but at the end of the day, we’re here for the product, not your depravity.”
“I’ll make it up to you later.” He winked suggestively, and Pine didn’t miss the lewd look that passed between the human couple. They moved away to stand together against the wall while Paloma and Sebastian strolled to the next table, Paloma twirling her scalpel between her fingers.
A strangled cry tried to force its way from Pine’s throat.
Paloma’s gaze snapped up, her scalpel poised over the skull of the next hapless synadroid.
Don’t move, don’t move, don’t even move your eyes.