Excerpt for Into the Vast by , available in its entirety at Smashwords





Into the Vast

DJ Edwardson

Published by Giraffix Media on Smashwords

Copyright  2012 DJ Edwardson


Discover other titles by DJ Edwardson:

Awakening the Sentients

Ascent of the Nebula


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Dedicated to my beloved family.

Thank you for your patience, love,

and support. Without you, this

story would never have taken flight.


S.D.G.





A Note About Terminology


The world of the Chronotrace series is very different from ours. As such, the units of measure, time, and especially the technology used by the characters in these stories may seem unfamiliar to new readers. For this reason a glossary has been provided at the back of this book should a particular term need further explanation.









CHAPTER ONE

Contents


Chapter Two - Ex Nihilo 6

Chapter Three - The Esolace 12

Chapter Four - The Handler 20

Chapter Five - A Dead Node 26

Chapter Six - Beyond the Institute 34

Chapter Seven - The Shifter 40

Chapter Eight - Making Char 47

Chapter Nine - A New Kind of Longing 54

Chapter Ten - The Viscera 60

Chapter Eleven - A Rickety Ride 66

Chapter Twelve - The Novelty of Children 73

Chapter Thirteen - Hogar 81

Chapter Fourteen - Weaving 88

Chapter Fifteen - The Maneusis 95

Chapter Sixteen - Mysterious Lights 102

Chapter Seventeen - Undaunted 109

Chapter Eighteen - Somatarchs 116

Chapter Nineteen - Things Remembered and Forgotten 124

Chapter Twenty - Initialization 131

Chapter Twenty-One - Reverie 137

Chapter Twenty-Two - The Visitor 143

Chapter Twenty-Three - The Chronotrace 149

Chapter Twenty-Four - The Extractor 158

Chapter Twenty-Five - The Miasma Channel 166

Chapter Twenty-Six - The Eyes of Dead Men 174

Chapter Twenty-Seven - A Tempest of Men 179

Chapter Twenty-Eight - Liquid Memories 187

Chapter Twenty-Nine - The Legend of the Eternal City 193

Chapter Thirty - A Silent Conversation 200

Chapter Thirty-One - A Gathering of Thrals 207

Chapter Thirty-Two - Something on the Horizon 213

Chapter Thirty-Three - Dark Lines in the Sand 222

Chapter Thirty-Four - The Whisper Cannon 228

Chapter Thirty-Five - Virid Ridge 236

Chapter Thirty-Six - On the Threshold 244

Chapter Thirty-Seven - An Anomaly 250

Chapter Thirty-Eight - The Embedded Memory 257

Chapter Thirty-Nine - The Annex 266

Chapter Forty - Asking the Right Questions 273

Chapter Forty-One - Developed Minds 282

Chapter Forty-Two - An Exchange of Memories 289

Chapter Forty-Three - The Inner Circle 297

Chapter Forty-Four - Tempus Fugit 304

Chapter Forty-Five - A New Beginning 313

Chapter Forty-Six - A Dangerous Augmentation 322

Chapter Forty-Seven - The Designer 328

Chapter Forty-Eight - The Wind Blows Where It Wishes 337

Chapter Forty-Nine - Into the Vast 343

Glossary 349







CHAPTER TWO

Ex Nihilo


Oblivious to the chill of the alloyed room, three scientists advanced towards the body. With substantial effort they heaved the rigid figure onto the shiny chromium cart floating nearby. Their cargo in place on the naked metal, the cart hummed forward into the corridor and the storage vault door eased shut behind them.

As the cart droned through the endless hallways and intersections of the enormous research complex, the subject’s body began to warm, absolving itself of its ice-blue tinge. The scientists shuffled along behind in expressionless silence, a silence broken only by the occasional muted hiss of metal doors opening and closing as they passed through.

After some time they emerged into a large, domed chamber bathed in soft light. Dominating the center of the room was the articulator, a mass of polished metal instruments suspended from the ceiling by a thick braid of tessellated cables. Another group of scientists had assembled there, awaiting the arrival of the body. All wore long, plastic coats, wrapping them in an argent shimmer. They were close in height and appeared to be of roughly the same, indeterminate age. They watched wordlessly as the cart glided to a stop in the center of the room.

The three figures paused as the column of instruments descended upon the subject. The articulator in position, each extracted a slender cable from the medusa-like apparatus. Several of the machine’s appendages sprang to life, descending upon the inert form. The movements of the machine were graceful and delicate, but the instruments themselves looked like a violent arsenal of death.

They created incision after bloodless incision into the patient. The procedure was like a ballet; quiet, subtle, and contemplative, where difficult movements were made to appear effortless. The metal blossom seemed to dote upon the body, but if there were any sentiment evoked by these attentions it would have been one of insect-like efficiency, which treats both offspring and prey with the same level of exacting care.

The other scientists present had taken their places along the edge of the room, sitting on a thin, plastic bench extruding from the wall. Their eyes followed the procedure with unwavering interest, yet their faces remained impassive.

The dull hum of machines finally whirred to a single note of low, white noise and the bouquet of instruments slowly retracted upwards. The body on the table showed no sign of the extensive incursions into its innermost sanctums. The scientists had performed the remapping procedure so many times it had become a trivial affair.

The real challenge lay in the patient’s recovery. They had never performed this operation on someone like this before, someone whose generational map had previously been altered. It would take quite some time for the full battery of tests to confirm the ultimate success of their endeavor, but they had every confidence the operation would produce the desired result.

Everyone filed out of the room in orderly fashion, dispersing to various and sundry parts of the facility where other projects awaited. Two of them, however, had been assigned to post-op processing. They accompanied the cart as it slid through a pair of double doors into an antechamber containing a photo-filtration unit—an elliptical metal bed with a rounded lid which floated in the air about waist high. The patient, still unconscious, was placed within the coffin-like apparatus. Once the lid sealed, a dazzling riot of vibrant imagery inundated the subject, exploding across the surface of the container, each element passing away almost as soon as it appeared.

The fact that, individually, none of the images were recognizable, or the reality that the patient could not actually see any of what he was being shown, did not matter. In fact, normal eyesight actually presented a hindrance to what they wished to accomplish. The treatment bypassed the imprecise and error-ridden ocular capabilities of the subject, penetrating directly into the mind, though only surface thoughts were manipulated.

Without this intermediate step, the remapping procedure had met with disastrous results in the past. Patients had to have some level of information in order to function, to give them some context from which to operate, otherwise the mind would not hold together. But only those details which were deemed safe were filtered back in.

The two scientists departed to let the machine run its course. When they returned, they accompanied the patient into a long-term recovery room in another part of the facility. They dressed him in gray, nondescript clothing made of seamless fabric. The only feature of note in the otherwise homogeneous attire was a black, plastic name tag with luminous white lettering. It read: ‘ADAN’.

* * *

When Adan awoke, the first thing he noticed was a shimmering gray plane above him. It undulated slowly, captivating him with its movements. Unintelligible sounds resonated around him, droning on and on until they were little more than a constant hum.

A hazy figure broke from the grayness, a halo of light surrounded it. The light grew until it spiked into a pulse of brightness, overwhelming Adan’s senses and subduing the noises into silence.

In the quiet, things came into focus. He could see the figure drawing away from him and splitting apart to either side. Now there was not one figure, but three. Each one looked like a silvery manifestation, pulled out of the background. Soon he could see that the shapes were in fact people and the particulars of their faces slowly emerged. The most distinctive thing about them was their eyes. They were dark and stood out against their pale faces. Their gaze never left him, and yet he could not tell if they were looking at him or through him.

New sounds rumbled nearby. Somehow he understood what they meant this time.

“Can you hear me?” The sounds registered as words.

Adan blinked, but was not sure what else he could do to let them know he understood.

“Excellent. We would like to take this opportunity to welcome you to the Institute.” The tone of the words changed; they sounded a touch higher.

“We need to ensure that your linguistic capacity has been restored,” another voice added, only distinguishable from the first in that it came from a different location.

Adan glanced from face to face, trying to distinguish between them. Occasionally, one would come into sharper focus, but the next moment fade back into a quivering cloud of distortion.

When the voices ceased, Adan sensed he was meant to respond, but found it impossible to articulate his thoughts into actual words. He knew what he was thinking, but the idea of communicating those thoughts with someone seemed utterly impossible. He could not even fathom how he had been able to understand what he had heard so far.

Their words played over and over inside his head. The more he heard them, the more sense they made. It was as if they filled holes inside his mind which allowed the puzzle of his thoughts to form into words of his own. Between labored breaths, one solitary word rose up inside his throat and released itself into the air.

“Time,” he muttered, barely above a whisper. He breathed in sharply as the word escaped; astounded it had actually come from him. And then, almost like a reflex, he repeated the word, louder this time, with a different intonation.

“Time?”

He marveled at how the word had been transformed by the unexpected inflection in his voice.

One of the three figures rustled in place. “I think he wants to know what time it is,” came the voice, and then added, “It’s morning.”

Though Adan had said only one word, this brief exchange meant everything. He now knew that he could speak and make himself understood. Some of the tension inside released as more words and ideas rushed into his mind. Who were these figures? Where had they come from? And what did they want? But then, another, more pressing question occurred to him, overshadowing all the rest. Who was he, after all? He had absolutely no idea what the answer to that question might be.

“Who am I?” he asked, his head pounding with excitement at his ability not only to speak, but to string words together into a meaningful sentence.

“You are a patient here,” one of them said. “Your name is Adan. You have just undergone a special procedure called generational remapping. It is a unique opportunity which you have been given—a second chance at life.”

Individually, Adan thought he understood the words, but together they made no sense. As he struggled to unravel their mystery, a painful pulsing surged through his temples. His breathing became labored. He broke out in a fit of coughing.

The figures shifted position and moved out of his field of vision altogether. Adan strained to hear what they might be saying, but nothing rose above the dreadful thumping inside his own head. His eyes roved about, trying to get a glimpse of them. Panic set in. He was overcome by the fear that they had left, that without them he would slip back into unconsciousness and never awake again.

His voice quaked. “Why can’t I…remember…anything?”

One of the voices responded from somewhere far away. “You’ll be fine. It is impossible to perform this type of procedure without significant memory restructuring. All knowledge of the past is lost in the process.”

These were words which he unfortunately did grasp and they sent him reeling, his mind riven with the realization that he had no memories, no identity, no past. He was no one, just a consciousness, an awareness adrift in some meaningless stream of experience.

The silvery backdrop began to seethe and smear. Clamoring jumbles of sound erupted from everywhere and an inky blackness seeped across his vision pulling down everything inside of it. He wondered if he had been awake at all or if it had all been a dream. Then, even his doubts fled away and the only things left were waves of pain and the cacophony raging inside his head. But still, he fought to stay awake, unwilling to surrender to the encroaching darkness.

Layers of roiling shadows smothered his mind. Crippling pains ripped through his body. He felt he must be dying. That was the only word which captured the sensations he felt. He tried to open his eyes and let the reality of the room jar him back awake, to keep death at bay. But there was nothing left to see, only shuddering impressions in shades of black. Nothing was distinct, nothing fixed. Whether he opened his eyes or closed them it made no difference. In the end, unable to resist any longer, he abandoned the struggle and let the torrents of agony batter him into unconsciousness.







CHAPTER THREE

The Esolace


When Adan came to, he could see more clearly. He was in a small empty room. A cold light glimmered down from the ceiling, reflecting harshly off the metallic walls.

The pallet on which he lay had white, plastic slats forming a border around the sides, making it seem like he was resting inside a shallow box. His head ached and he felt exhausted. He had only vague recollections of what had happened to him before. The only thing he could remember for sure was that there had been an attempt at conversation and a great deal of pain and confusion after that.

Questions crowded his mind, but this time there were no hazy figures to address them to. All he could do was lie there and wait. Even rising up and looking around the room was not a possibility; he was far too weak. With each passing moment, his doubts and anxieties about what was happening to him loomed larger in his mind.

The silence grew deeper, until his ears rang with the dim whine of invented sounds. He was listening so hard that when the soft brush of footsteps swished from somewhere behind him it startled him and he banged his head against the back of the pallet.

A man dressed in a long, silver coat appeared at his side. He had short, light brown hair and listless, dark eyes. He stood there silently, staring in Adan’s direction.

Adan wanted to say something, but the questions fought inside his mind and choked each other out. Thankfully, the stranger spoke first.

“Hello. I’m one of the scientists here,” he said. “I’ve come to check in on you.”

There was a long silence as Adan ran through the man’s words in his head. He understood what a scientist was, but it was the word ‘here’ which made him stumble. Where was he, after all? He couldn’t remember.

“How do you feel?” the man asked.

Adan stared at him, as if that would help him understand what the man was saying.

“Feel? How do I feel?…With my fingers I suppose—if I could move them—oh, wait, you’re asking about something else…I feel weak, but the pain isn’t as bad—is that what you meant?”

“There were some difficulties with your procedure, but they have been addressed. We ran some tests while you were resting and managed to resolve your issues. I’ve come in just to do a bit of follow up. So, if you’re ready, I’m going to ask you a few questions. Is that all right?”

“Yes, yes of course,” Adan said, elated that he finally understood what the man was saying.

“First of all, what is your name?”

Adan paused, somewhat taken aback that the answer did not immediately come to mind. “Um…Adan,” he said at last. The word felt awkward as it came across his lips.

“And where are you?” the man asked.

“I’m…well, I don’t know. I wanted to ask you that question.”

“You’re at the Institute.”

“The Institute…How did I get here?”

“If you don’t mind, I’ll ask the questions. Everything you need to know will be revealed to you in time.”

Adan sighed. Even as he grew more confident in his ability to understand what the man was saying, the cold, matter-of-fact tone of the reply indicated the scientist was not here to help in the way Adan had hoped.

“Tell me about your most recent memories,” the man went on.

“Memories? But didn’t I—didn’t they say…they’re gone, aren’t they?” Adan grimaced, struggling to recall what he’d been told.

“Do you remember any people you may have met? Even yesterday perhaps, or in the recent past?”

“No. That’s what I was hoping you might—”

“Other details, places, events?” The man droned on, firing off his questions disinterestedly.

Adan simply shook his head, dejected and defeated. He was beginning to get the impression that these were not so much questions as they were declarations—painful reminders of his wretched ignorance about anything and everything.

“Fine, we’ll move on. I want you to look into my face. Study my expression. Focus on what I might be thinking. Do you have any inkling as to what that might be? Just say whatever comes to mind. There are no wrong answers here.”

The man regarded Adan patiently, but other than that, as far as Adan could tell, his face was a complete mystery. Adan had no idea what he was thinking or why he was even asking such a bizarre question. Adan could barely make sense of his own thoughts, much less those of a total stranger.

“I have no idea,” Adan said, shaking his head. “I just want to know who I am.”

“All right then, one last question. How long have you been here at the Institute?” The man stared at Adan with the same blank expression.

Tears began to well up in Adan’s eyes. He struggled to hold them back, not wanting to cry in front of this man, to appear any more vulnerable than he already was. He was too weak to cover his face with his hand so he turned away, shaking his head slowly back and forth, rendering his answer to the man’s blurry reflection in the plastic slat on the edge of his bed. He wished that everything would disappear and he could go back to being whoever he was before. But he was as powerless to make that happen as he was to hold back his tears. A moment later the first drops of moisture dampened his cheeks. He wept silently to himself in the corner of the bed.

Why couldn’t he remember anything? A sudden impulse came over him to smash his head against the back of the pallet in order to somehow jar his mind into functioning. Hot tears spilled down his face. Embarrassed, he did his best to wipe his cheeks on the sterile white bedding. Eventually, he risked a glance back towards the visitor. When he did so, he realized that he need not have hidden his face. For the man was no longer there.

* * *

Adan continued to grope his way in and out of consciousness. He had no idea how much time had passed since that first hazy conversation, but his health was improving. He found he could now perform small movements with his hands and feet.

Most of the time, shortly after he’d awake, another visitor would appear. All of them were dressed in the same shimmering lab coats. Sometimes two or three came at a time, but he could never tell them apart. They all looked the same, though it may just have been that his vision was still somewhat blurry.

The visits invariably followed the same pattern: the soft shuffling of feet, the impassive faces, the inscrutable questions to which he never had an answer—questions about his memory or what the scientists were thinking or other strange questions about which he was certain they already knew the answers.

This routine played itself out over and over until one day a scientist visited him who was not like the others. The difference was subtle. If the others had not been so remarkably similar, Adan probably would not have noticed, but this man was a touch thinner, his eyes more focused. More importantly, even before he spoke, there was a perceptiveness in his eyes that wasn’t there with the others.

“You are making steady progress, and I have some good news for you,” the man said. His voice sounded strained, like he wasn’t used to talking.

Excitement tingled across Adan’s scalp at this unusual opening. He wondered if someone was finally going to tell him about his past. He tried to push the thought back so as not to be crushed if the man had come to say something else, but that was all he could think of when he heard the words, ‘good news’.

“While you were asleep, we ran some more tests and we think you’re ready to be briefed on some of the long term goals we have for your treatment. I know you’ve been wondering what plans we have for you, so I’d like to take a moment to go over one important aspect of them. You see, part of what we hope to accomplish—once you are healthy, of course—is to enable you to fully integrate back into society.”

“If I’m going to do that,” Adan risked the interruption, overcome by excitement. “I’ll need to know who I am, won’t I? Is that what you came here to tell me about?” His nerves were on edge. He knew it would probably do no good to force the issue, but he couldn’t help himself.

“You must be patient. Just as you are physically unable to walk, so mentally there are still many things you are not ready for. I’m here to talk to you about how we intend to bring you back into full participation with the world outside the Institute. But if now’s not a good time, I can always come back later.”

“No, no, I’m sorry,” Adan said hastily. “Of course I want to hear about it. It’s just—well, go on. I’m listening.”

He was so desperate for companionship or any scrap of information that when it came down to it, he would listen to anything the scientists had to say. He always tried to make them stay as long as possible when they came, even if what they said made little sense. There was something about just being able to listen to the voice of another human being and knowing that, for those few moments at least, he was not alone.

The scientist continued, fixing his gaze at some point just beyond Adan. “I realize that you lack the capacity to fully understand what I am about to tell you, but I’ll try to explain so that you can at least become familiar with the concepts. While you are not consciously aware of them, there are several physical systems working within your body to enable you to live. They are responsible for things like breathing, the flow of blood, thought processes, and so forth."

Adan could not say how, but this was something which he actually understood, though he had never really thought about it before.

“In addition to these mundane systems, you also have a system within you which we call the bioseine.” The man’s voice brightened almost imperceptibly as he said this last word.

“Unlike your other systems, it is not currently in use. However, at some point in the future, when you are ready, your bioseine will be activated. It can be turned on and off, but unfortunately the very first time it is activated, it comes as somewhat of a shock to your other systems and that is why we need to wait until your health improves before proceeding.”

“What is it? What does it do?”

“It does many things. For one, it will regulate all of your other systems, functioning as a sort of corrective or backup to them should problems arise. It will protect you from diseases and other forms of bodily harm that your weaker, more primitive systems are incapable of dealing with. But that is really only its secondary purpose. The main function of the system is to connect you to the esolace.”

Adan struggled to grasp what he was being told. The scientists often used words he was unfamiliar with, never bothering to explain them. But there was something about this conversation that caused Adan to hope this time might be different. More and more as the man went on, Adan noticed that he actually seemed to be taking an interest in what he was saying.

“The esolace?”

“I know it’s a difficult concept for someone in your state to grasp. The best I can do is to give you an analogy. You notice how we’re communicating right now? The sounds are created by vibrations in the throat. These, in turn, are propagated through the air, causing the transmission of certain meaningful tones which are then perceived by our ears and decoded by the brain. We call this speech. Until now, you have no doubt considered this the primary means of making your thoughts known to others. But it’s terribly crude and inefficient. However, your bioseine, together with the esolace, allows instantaneous communication with others at the thought level. It’s much quicker, less ambiguous, and infinitely more effective.”

Adan marveled at what he was hearing, still wondering if he was understanding the words correctly.

“Once your bioseine is activated, you can join this thought-flow in an instant. The range is, for all practical purposes, unlimited. You no longer need to be in the presence of the person with whom you wish to communicate. Wherever you go, you may always access the thoughts of others through the esolace.”

Adan’s brow furrowed as he tried to wrap his mind around what he was being told. But he was given no time to process, for the scientist continued on at an ever-increasing pace.

“Communication is just the beginning. The esolace allows you access to a nearly limitless repository of information as well. And since the bioseine increases the efficiency and speed at which you can process and assimilate this data, while you are connected to the esolace your knowledge becomes essentially unbounded. Anything you need to know is available and comes to your mind as easily as your own thoughts. It’s a remarkable resource. All knowledge is yours for the asking. And everyone connected to it becomes part of this shared body of information, the collective consciousness of the human race.”

“So I—I’ll be able to recover the information about my past?” Adan asked, his hopes stirring.

The man’s eyes glazed over and all hints of inflection vanished from his voice. “Only what is essential is retained.”

“So the knowledge about my past isn’t in the esolace, then?” The man’s silence was all the answer Adan needed. Frustrated, Adan went on, “Then why—why do I need this? If I can’t find out who I am what good is all this knowledge? What does it matter if I don’t even—” he cut himself off as the scientist turned away. “Wait, I’m sorry. I don’t know what I was saying. Could you—would you please tell me why? Why do I need this if it won’t give me back my past?”

The man paused and stared at the foot of Adan’s bed. Adan sensed he was contemplating whether or not he should even bother answering the question. But then he turned and regarded Adan with a cold, narrow stare.

“Why?” his silver lab coat rippled with an abrupt vibration from what could have been a soundless laugh. “It should be obvious why something like this is needed. It is an invaluable tool. All of that knowledge—just think of it. By ourselves, we could never hope to learn all of that. The esolace has been the key to uncountable advances in society. We are able to do everything more quickly, to organize and work together in ways which never would have been possible without it. Can’t you see why such a technology would benefit you? I would have thought it would have been self-evident.”

The man gave Adan a disdainful look, as if there were something wrong with him.

“Yes,” Adan mumbled, “I can see that part of it. It’s just that…well—”

“What’s in the past need not concern you. The present and the future are all that matters,” the man stated bluntly. He took a step back and Adan felt that sinking sensation he always felt just before the scientists left. “I’m afraid I’ve done the best I can for now. I’m certain you will understand these things in time. Believe me, it will all make sense once you have experienced it. Until then, we’ll continue to brief you on things as we deem you are able to process them.”

The man turned again to leave. Adan knew it would be pointless to say anything more. His feet brushed the floor a few times and he was gone. All was quiet once again.

Perhaps Adan should have been grateful the visit had lasted as long as it did. At least he had been given a glimpse about what lay ahead. But he found himself more dejected than ever. For it was clear to him now that he was never going to be told about his past.

Left alone, he mulled over the things he had been told. And the more he contemplated the uncertainty and helplessness of his situation, the harder it became to fend off the overwhelming despair which rose within. Soon all his thoughts were colored by the deep and abiding suspicion that his life was of no importance whatsoever.







CHAPTER FOUR

The Handler


Two scientists appeared for what Adan assumed was another visit. But instead of coming to his side, they stood and watched as his bed turned and floated towards them. The sudden movement took Adan by surprise.

“What’s going on?” he asked.

“We’re taking you for a new treatment,” they answered, stepping aside as the bed drifted through the doorway and out into the hall.

As the bed conveyed him down the passage, the scientists explained that some complications were impeding the rate of his recovery. For that reason he was about to start a short series of treatments designed to improve his physical condition.

The scientists called it micro-alembic penetration, but said nothing more about it before they arrived at the treatment room. The slats around Adan’s bed retracted and the bed tilted, sliding him onto a leaden slab. Four straps emerged from the side, fastening him in.

“What is this? What’s happening?” he asked, but there was no response from the glassy-eyed scientists.

The slab was suspended inside a wire frame cylinder. Rings set with short metallic studs ran around the edges. The rings began to rotate. Faint blue beams of energy shot out from the studs. Quick arcing bursts sliced through his body, inflicting intense burning sensations.

“Stop! Please stop!” Adan screamed, but the beams kept coming. It felt like they were cutting him apart from the inside. “Why are you doing this? Stop! Please! Are you trying to kill me?”

Just when he felt he could take no more, a chalky vapor flooded the interior of the cylinder, extinguishing the fire raging inside his bones and causing him to quiver involuntarily as the pain subsided.

“You see?” said one of the scientists. “It’s over quickly. The first time is always the worst.”

“First time? You mean you’re going to bring me back here again?”

Despite his protests, they assured him that the treatment was necessary due his unique condition, but they would not explain what that condition was. They brought him back to the room and must have given him something because, panicked and in shock as he was, he fell immediately to sleep.

For the next treatment they did not bother waking him until he was strapped inside the machine. He yelled wildly as the rings began to rotate and the bursts coursed through his flesh once more. Tears poured down his face. But as they had promised, the level of penetration was slightly less than before. The beams of energy were wider and less intense. But it was still incredibly painful.

The scientists were also correct about the effect it would have on him. As the treatments continued, he began to gain more control over his movements. He was still very weak, but he could stay awake longer and even sit up in his bed by himself for short periods of time before becoming exhausted. In spite of these changes, he dreaded each trip back to the micro-alembic chamber.

And though his health improved, the emptiness he felt never went away. He worried about what the scientists had planned for him and why he was even in the Institute in the first place. The riddle of his past weighed heavy upon him. When left to himself, which was most of the time, his mind would invariably drift back to this mystery as he tried over and over again to imagine the life he once had lived. But he never caught the barest glimpse of what that might have been.

* * *

“It’s time for your translation,” the scientists informed him as the bed tilted and slid him into a chair covered in polymeric padding. They had been telling him this change was coming for some time. Now it had finally arrived.

The micro-alembic treatments had ceased. He was strong enough now to take short walks around his room. The progress in his rehabilitation seemed to please the scientists. They informed him that the transition to his new quarters would be the final phase of his recovery. After that, there would be a short evaluation period—a mere formality they assured him—and then he would have his bioseine initialized. He wasn’t sure about that last part, but he was glad to be leaving his small room.

The chair swiveled towards the door. The scientists fell in behind, following as the chair glided of its own accord into the metallic hallway beyond his room.

They moved through several doorways before coming to a stop in front of two wide, alloyed doors. They had to wait a moment before these opened, but once they did, they passed into a small, square room and then stopped again. The chair swiveled in place, facing the entrance they had just passed through. The scientists also turned to face the doors, which whispered shut in front of them.

Adan found it strange that they were no longer moving. And, as there did not seem to be any other exit, he asked, “Is this my new room?”

There was no bed or other furnishings, but he could not think of any other reason why they had stopped like this. The fact that the two scientists were standing alongside him in the cramped space and giving no indication that they meant to leave made it seem all the stranger.

“No, this is an elevator.” one of them said. “We are moving you up to the first floor, remember?”

“Oh, an elevator,” Adan said, though he wasn’t quite sure what that word meant. He had been told there were several floors in this building and that the top floor was where he would be staying, but nothing about an elevator.

Soon the doors opened again. Instantly, he perceived that he was in another place. He marveled at the fact that he had not felt any sensation of movement and yet here he was, clearly in a new part of the building. There was a blue tint to the walls and a subtle, pleasant fragrance in the air. The atmosphere was brighter and crisper than anywhere else he had been. It evoked pleasant feelings inside of him. He began to wonder if perhaps things might turn out all right after all.

As the scientists ushered the chair into the new hallway, it swiveled to the right and into a new passage. Then, another strange novelty presented itself: people. Some walked down the hallway towards him, others passed from behind. Adan stared at them in unabashed wonder. They were so different from the scientists he was accustomed to seeing. The most obvious change was in their clothing. They wore loose, pearl-blue jumpers. Not a single silver lab coat was to be seen. They also moved with an energy and a briskness which the scientists lacked. Passing by Adan’s little entourage, several of them gave quick, curt nods to the two men escorting him. The scientists, in turn, acknowledged the greetings, but only barely. They shifted their gaze in the general direction of the newcomers, but otherwise failed to acknowledge them.

The chair glided to a halt just in front of another set of doors at the end of the hallway. Then it swiveled in place to face another door along the wall. This door slid away, revealing a small, well-lit room. The ceiling was swathed in an inviting glow. The walls were unadorned, but their basic, off-white color gave Adan more comfort than the metallic walls of his old room. Even though this room was just as small as his previous one, it had a much larger bed with no side slats.

Adan’s chair drew alongside the bed, then rose, simultaneously extending itself and inclining into a horizontal position. Though it was done slowly, the unexpectedness of the maneuver made him afraid that he might be tipped out. But the chair compensated for his knee-jerk reaction and smoothly guided him onto the bed without incident.

“This is your new room,” one of the scientists said. “If all goes well, you should not be here long. A handler will be with you presently. Do you have any questions before we go?”

“Yes, what’s a handler?” Adan asked, surprised that the scientists would actually invite his questions.

“Someone who will help monitor you during this final phase of your recovery. We passed some of them in the hallway. Researchers will still be evaluating you, but the handlers will be your primary contacts during the time you are here.”

Adan nodded, excited at the prospect of getting to meet the people he had seen in the hall. He was about to ask another question when the door swished open. A person wearing one of the pearl blue jumpers strode through.

“Here you are,” one of the scientists said, “We’ll leave you now.” They turned and left without another word, practically meeting the handler at the door.

Adan’s attention turned immediately to this new visitor. Though she wore the same, cropped haircut as the scientists, there was something about the way she moved that betrayed her femininity.

The handler walked quietly over to the side of his bed and gave him a brief smile before she spoke.

“Hello, Adan, I’m one of your handlers,” she said, looking him in the eye.

Adan, who had so little experience with conversation, was rendered speechless by her presence. No one had ever looked at him so intentionally before.

“I’m part of the team that will be monitoring you during your brief stay in this ward,” she continued. “If you need anything, all you have to do is ask and we’ll either come to you or answer. Just raise your voice a little and say—‘Support’.”

The room brightened slightly with her change in intonation and another voice answered back. It sounded as if it were coming from right there in the room. “Hello, Adan. Welcome to Generational Sciences,”

“Who is that? Can they see me?” Adan asked.

The handler nodded as the light faded back to normal. “Yes. We can see you from anywhere. So, now that you know how we can be reached, I’ll leave you to yourself. Just let me reposition your bed before I go. I don’t think the researchers left you very well situated.”

Her eyes lost focus and Adan became startled. She was no longer looking at him, but through him, the way the scientists did. As her face went slack, the bed softened and extended itself, tilting to bring one of his legs, slightly akimbo, more into the center of the bed.

After it finished moving, her eyes returned to their previous, lucid appearance.

“There. I hope that helps,” she said and half-turned to go.

“Wait—please don’t leave.” Adan reached out and touched her arm. “I need to talk to somebody. Can you answer some of my questions?”

She regarded him with a mixture of pity and resignation.

“I’m sorry. It is against protocol to answer anything outside of what you’ve already been told at this point. And I’m being called away right now, anyway.”

“Why can’t I remember anything? Who am I? Do you know? Does anyone?” The questions burst forth. He saw her tense up, but he kept his hand on her arm. He didn’t know when he might get another chance like this.

The handler shook her head, “I only know what they tell me. Enjoy your stay here.”

Adan started to say something, but the glazed look had returned to her eyes along with a numbed expression. The conversation was over. As abruptly as she had entered, she disappeared into the hall and the door whisked shut behind her.

In contrast to the hopeful way the visit had begun, he was left with a hollow feeling now that the handler was gone. Perhaps things weren’t going to be that different after all. He was alone again, just like before.

But there was something else that bothered Adan in the long moments after the handler left. For he had caught something in her expression just before her eyes had gone cold. A look of concern had darkened her face, as if something wasn’t quite right. Perhaps he was just imagining it, but he couldn’t shake the impression for all he tried.







CHAPTER FIVE

A Dead Node


Adan awoke with a stabbing pain in his temples. One of the researchers was leaning over him, his hands near Adan’s throat. He wasn’t doing anything to hurt Adan, merely adjusting something, his clothes perhaps or something on the bed. The man withdrew them a moment later.

Peering up at him, Adan wondered if he was actually a researcher after all. He wasn’t wearing a lab coat or even a blue jumper. Instead he wore a black coat covered in dust. And his face was unlike anyone Adan had met in the Institute. His dense eyebrows pressed together, as if he were concentrating or pressed for time. His thick black hair stood out at odd angles. But the most striking thing about him were his eyes. Their light azure color contrasted so intensely with his dark complexion that Adan found himself transfixed beneath the stranger’s gaze, wondering just who this could be.

But staring at the stranger only caused the stabbing in his temples to intensify. Adan shut his eyes, hoping the pain would go away.

Was this some new kind of treatment? Or had something gone wrong in the Institute? Adan had the distinct impression that this man didn’t belong here.

Then he remembered the handler, their conversation, and her abrupt departure. The worried look on her face flashed into his mind. He opened his eyes again and the room was empty; the man had left. The abrupt departure was not unusual, but it did nothing to dispel the unsettling feeling in the pit of Adan’s stomach.

“Support,” Adan called out. He waited for a moment, but no one answered. The pain continued to escalate. “Support, can you hear me?”

The door slid open and a handler stepped inside. At first, Adan thought it might be the one from before, but then he wasn’t so sure. There wasn’t the same buoyancy in this woman’s movements and she didn’t look directly at him the way the other one had; she didn’t smile and her eyes stared at the wall beyond him, vague and unfocused.

“What’s wrong?” the handler asked, pausing just inside the doorway.

“Something’s not right,” he said. “I’m in pain—what’s happening to me?”

A backwash of bile burned his throat. It wasn’t just the pain that turned his stomach; he could take that. It was the uncertainty. Something terrible was happening, he was sure of it.

The handler made her way towards him, producing a thin, translucent rod from a fold within her clothing. She held it above his head where it emitted a soft, yellow light. She studied his face under the soothing patterns it projected onto his skin. Luminous ribbons danced in the air, providing a momentary distraction, but the pain did not go away. It felt like his temples were cracking apart, as if he were back in the micro-alembic chamber.

He cried out in pain. The rod went dark and the handler shoved it back into her clothing.

“I’ll be right back,” she said, and then jogged out of the room.

The moment she disappeared, his left arm began to quiver. The movement was slight, but he wondered if it was a sign of things to come. Soon, the same pain raging inside his head invaded his arm. The limb twisted and jerked in agonizing waves. Adan had suffered spasms before, but these were different. There was a pattern to them, as if they were somehow intentional. He fought against them, clutching his arm, but the violent twitching would not stop.

A moment later the convulsions spread to his abdomen. The muscles in his torso shook in the same throes of torment pulsing through his arm and head. He tried to double over from the pain wracking his midsection, but found he could no longer move on his own; he was completely paralyzed.

To his horror, his torso began to rotate on its own. It turned slowly and awkwardly, dragging the rest of his limp frame along with it. He wanted to scream or call for help, but couldn’t make a sound.

With his body on its side, his feet and legs swung over the edge of the bed while his torso jerked upwards, forcing him into a sitting position. Something else was in control of him now. He had become a captive inside his own flesh.

His legs slid off the bed and his feet hit the floor. His body trembled violently as he slowly rose to a standing position. In an instant, the pain vanished completely. His entire body went numb. He lost all feeling and all connection to his physical self—everything except his sight. For all he knew, he might have been floating at the side of his bed, drifting along in some horrific nightmare.

His body shook continuously, making it difficult to keep what he saw in focus. The room teetered back and forth, but he could make out enough of it to see he was being turned towards the door. Once it came into view, his body rambled in that direction, traversing the room in irregular bursts as if he were being kicked across the floor by a giant foot. The door caromed this way and that until he stopped in front of it.

A long pause followed, in which the quaking of the room settled down and everything grew still. As he stared at the door, he wondered why the handler had never come back. If they could see him like they said they could, they would have to know something was wrong with him by now. Or were the scientists themselves doing this to him?

The door jettisoned open and his body staggered through. The lurch forward was smoother this time, but still disorienting. After a few twitching gyrations, he faced the double doors at the end of the hallway outside his room.

He stared at the doorway, waiting. That was all he could do; he couldn’t even think. His mind was too numb from the horror of what was happening.

The doors flew open and he started moving again. The invisible force controlling him shoved him through the opening. There was no calming blue tint to the walls in this new hallway. A series of paltry yellow lights ran along the ceiling. Several adjoining passages opened off to either side. Another set of double doors stood at the other end. He had only just been thrust forward into this new hallway when, from one of the adjoining passages, four people emerged, heading towards him.

Finally. Help was on the way.

The newcomers were dressed in loose, dark gray coats that went down to their ankles. Each wore a silver band of metal around his neck with a ball of the same metal protruding at the base of the throat. They walked towards him two by two.

Adan had no idea who they were, but he was certain they had been sent to fix whatever had gone wrong with his body. And yet, as they moved closer, they gave no indication they even saw him.

They were talking amongst themselves, though ‘talking’ was hardly the correct word. He didn’t know how he was able to perceive what transpired between them, but he had the undeniable impression they were sharing their thoughts with each other, carrying on some sort of wordless conversation with their minds. That they were doing this was bizarre enough, that Adan could listen in on it was even stranger. It wasn’t anything like regular sounds or voices. And yet, he could not deny what he was ‘hearing’.

Can you bring up the visuals for the subject’s last known position?” came a thought.

It seemed to belong to the first man on the right. But there was more to the thought than the simple message. Along with it came unspoken information about the man’s name, position, and other details. These were woven in, as much a part of his thoughts as the ideas he was expressing, like a sort of mental signature to the message. His name was Jax and he was a member of a security force called the assessors.

I've got the location, but the timestamp is from over two slices ago. That can’t be right,” answered Rip, the man walking beside Jax. Adan knew his name simply from hearing his thoughts as well.

Have you ever had a node go dark for that long?” asked Cal, one of the men behind the first two.

No. The esolace must have gone down,” Jax suggested.

Come on, that can’t happen,” Cal scoffed.

How do you know what is or isn’t possible for the Administrators? How many flat-lines have you been through?” Jax asked, but it was a question to which he already knew the answer. Seeing this, Cal didn’t bother answering.

By now, the men were not far from Adan. He still had no idea why they hadn’t seen him, but he was certain that if they didn’t notice him soon, they were going to walk right into him. He watched their progress with a growing sense of alarm, silently willing them to look at him. At the last possible moment, they swerved to either side and passed him by without ever acknowledging his presence.

Adan remained perfectly still. What in the world was going on?

Though he could no longer see them, the mental conversation between the men continued playing through his head.

He’s gone,” Rip observed.

Okay, Com, it’s a dead node.” Jax’s thoughts were not addressed to any of the men with him, but to another, his commander, who was in another building altogether.

The next thoughts Adan perceived lacked any of the details he had apprehended from the mental messages of the others. He had no idea who they came from, only that this person was not among the four walking down the hall.

You have off-system confirmation?”

Yes, Com, we’ll do a physical scan, but he’s not here,” Jax answered.

All right. We have the facility locked down. He can’t be far,” Com replied.

From the last live feed, we’ve got two slices lead time. He could be anywhere,” Jax reported.

Two slices? That has to be an error. Wait—we’re back-synching it now.”

Look, Com, you sort it out,” Jax replied, frustrated. “We don’t have time. He’s not in his room. We’ll start spreading out using these trajectories. Support can pick up the slack.”

A diagram winked into Adan’s mind. He knew instinctively that the men could see the same image in their thoughts. Four thick, glowing green lines were imposed over a representation of the top floor of the Institute.

Jax, what’s going on here?” asked Tol, the fourth man in the group.

Are you as fresh from the vault as Cal?” Jax responded. “Look, we’ve been compromised. I don’t know how it happened any more than you do, but it sure looks like we have a dead node here. But whatever is going on, the protocol is clear. We find the non-viable and get him back under Admin control.”

Jax turned his thoughts back to the nebulous voice of Com. “Do I have authority to proceed with the physical scan and go off system?”

Adan could feel the tension amongst the four men in the ensuing silence. They were growing increasingly unsettled by the lack of response from Com.

Com? Com? Are you there?” Jax was quickly losing his composure. “Great, there’s something they’re not telling us. I hate it when they do this.”

What do you mean?” Cal asked.

Look, Rip and I have seen a lot. Some of the things that go on in the Institute are ‘overwrite to buffer’ if you know what I mean. We don’t get to know because we don’t need to know. Com does what it needs to do and the assessors clean up the mess.”

Jax, this isn’t the time,” Rip cautioned. Along with this primary thought, however, Rip subtly pushed another message towards Jax, one which he wasn’t sharing with the others. It seemed to say, ‘you better keep quiet’. After noticing this new message, Adan realized that these undercurrents of thought had been there all along, he just hadn’t noticed them.

Jax responded with his own sub-thoughts, “Com is as dark as we are right now, they won’t—”

Are you going deviant, Jax?” Rip’s concern was mingled with the hint of a threat. The intensity of his transmitted thoughts seemed to rise in volume and tone. How this could be when there was no actual sound Adan could not explain.

You know as well as I do that nothing goes unnoticed; they see it all in the flat-lines,” Rip added.

Listen, as far as I can tell, for all their talk about protocol, the Admins in Com don’t really care what we think, just as long as we get the job done.”

Despite the bluster of Jax’s thoughts, he appeared to sense the validity of Rip’s warnings. His next thought was calmer, more composed.

You’re probably right,” Jax agreed. “This is probably just another kill dash nine. We just have to find the non-viable. I shouldn't let myself get so worked up over this kind of thing.”

Jax opened up his mind to the rest of the group.“Our orders haven’t changed. For all we know, Com is blank right now, but the Admins should have things up and running soon. So we’ll just follow protocol and proceed with the physical scan as if we had authorization. Now get on your route and we’ll see you back at the Annex if nothing turns up.”

The green floor plan with the lighted paths appeared once again. Jax and the others, represented by red dots, were moving from Adan’s room back out into the hallway.

Oh, no, a physical scan…a physical scan. I’ve got to do this the hard way.” A new thought flitted through Adan’s mind. It wasn’t from any of the men or Com. Adan had no idea who it came from.

His body lurched back into motion. He was moving fast now. Not quite a run, but close. As he hurtled down the passage, parts of the mental conversation played back through his mind. Non-viable. That word stuck out. Because he could understand their thoughts, he knew the word referred to him. He also knew exactly what it meant. It meant that his fears were true. His life was nothing to these scientists. He was defective somehow, useless. Something to be discarded with the trash. If they even had trash in a place as sterile as this.

But then why go through all the treatments? The interviews? The talk about the esolace and integrating him back into society? Why all this if they just meant to kill him? Because he understood what the kill dash nine part meant, too.

As he reached the end of the hall his body thudded to a halt. The sound of the assessors moving towards him from behind drifted down the hallway. They were still far away, but it sounded like they were picking up speed.

Adan found himself staring at a new set of doors. The map flashed back into his vision. He saw dozens of red dots on it this time, all converging towards his location. His view of the door began to shake in all directions.

I sure hope this works,” came the anonymous thoughts again into his mind.

Adan’s body crashed to the floor. Though he knew that his head must have slammed onto the metal plating, he felt nothing. The scene bounced once as he hit, and all went still. He was left staring at the seam between the door and the floor. More and more red dots sped towards his position on the map. They would be here soon. He noticed a pool of dark red liquid oozing its way out from underneath his head.


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