The silent cries of a crowded street filled with passers-by, cars, buses, trams and trains, awake me from a very strange, dream-like slumber. It is like I am not really asleep but more dazed or maybe fazed a bit. My vision is slightly blurry and it takes me several moments until it is normal once more. I see nothing and everything is shrouded in darkness. I don’t know where I am and I can’t see anything or hear anything. The sounds that woke me must have been a part of my dream.
I reach out to feel for my wife, but she is not in the bed. The double bed is empty. I get up carefully and try to feel my way along the room towards the window, which should be to my right. I first walk slowly forward until I reach the wall. It is closer than it should be, but I let it be. I continue to feel along the wall, it is straight and slightly cold to the touch. Several more steps should bring me to the window, but after several more steps I only find the wall continuing. Fear creeps towards me like a killer in the night; it grabs hold of me and whispers of terrible terrors in my ear. I try to discard it and continue on trying to shake the fear that I am kidnapped, lost dying or even dead. My hands suddenly reach the corner of the room and now I am truly lost, there should be no corner there therefore, this is not my room. A small whimper crosses my lips as I crawl into a ball on the floor, the fear getting the better of me and panic is setting in. I feel as though the room is closing in on me, the walls shrinking the directions of the room shifting, spinning around me like I was an attraction in cage for the amusement of the world. I am dizzy and physically ill, my stomach feels like it is about to spew all the food and juices it has back out of my throat and on to the floor and I try to stop myself from heaving. My head is painful and heavy, my hands shake and I try to fight with every breath that I have, the urge to break down and cry like a little child for help.
The panic attack lasts several more minutes, or maybe these are hours I cannot tell and the progression of time feels unnatural to me. When it eventually passes and no evil has come to get me, I try once again to get up. I stumble across the room this time using logic rather than feeling. If I found a way into this room, there must also be a way out. I go slowly along the walls and find a large and heavy tissue along the wall, I assume it to be a curtain and I pull it to the side. Light gushes into the room and I see a window with another shutter behind it, blocking some of the sunlight although not completely, and more importantly the view. I look around the room and finally discover where I am. This is my rented room, I feel slightly foolish for reacting the way I did, but at least now all is clear. This is the room I rented, or it would be more accurate to say apartment that I rented, so that I could get some much needed rest and find the ideal environment to work.
I open the shutter and blink several times as I let my eyes get adjusted to the bright sun and stare out of the window. In front of me stretches the bay area, the view is as staggering as it always is and every single day I give my thanks that I get to come here as part of my work as a consultant, to this incredible hotel, although it is not strictly speaking a hotel and more like a studio run by a chain. The bay area and part of the terrain that is around the property, is a natural reserve which suits me just fine. It means that I am surrounded by nature and that whatever buildings are around at the moment will be the only buildings that will ever be here. This gives me the peace and quiet I need for my sleep, and allows me to conduct my work to the best of my capabilities. I let the sun warm my face and dry my sweat, I quickly feel full of life once more ready to face the day.
I turn and take a good look at the apartment. There is a large bed in the middle of the room and a bathroom slightly further along. Next to the front door on the right is a small kitchen with all the different utensils a kitchen needs. There is a desk next to the wall close to me, which I completely missed in my stumbling along the walls and that is roughly it. Attached to the wall, in front of the double bed, close to the ceiling, is a flatscreen TV.
One strange thought strikes me, that in my dream what woke me up, were the sounds of trains and busses and the like, things that are nowhere near me and are part of the city which is just visible from my vintage point, but not in anyway audible. I look at the time, it is just over 7 in the morning and I resist calling my wife on the phone. She probably won’t be up yet and would be worried if I called her so early. Instead I decide to get dressed, take a shower and leave for a stroll through the reserve, and perhaps get a sandwich or some breakfast somewhere. Although I am far away from the big city, which is close to the bay, there are several shops and residential areas, at walking distance from me.
The birds and critters are up and about having a chipper and a chat before scattering to their ways, it is a blissful sound and I enjoy walking through the reserve this early. When there are no people around and nothing to disturb the peaceful nature of this place. The walk takes me through pathways that I know very well, all the way out into the small town of Creek Hill. It is a very small town that has only several streets and one quite unique one that follows a trail that ascends up a small hill. Most of the bars and larger restaurants are located there and although I have never been inside them, it looks inviting. However, these are real restaurants that have a larger clientele in the evening and most of them are closed for breakfast. So I decide then and there that this very evening I will return to enjoy their menu. For now though I shall take a small breakfast, which I find at a small little cafe. After a cup of coffee, an orange juice and a bagel with some cream cheese I go back to the reserve to work.
It is evening when I finally stop for the day and I go out to dinner at the restaurants on top of the hill. As I walk up the hill I notice that the path is very badly lit, there are hardly any lamps on both sides of the road and it appears that the restaurants are all closed. I mutter a curse for I should have looked when I was here, what the opening hours were. I continue walking along the path hoping that perhaps one of the restaurants is open. Luckily I find one restaurant with the light on, I open the door which creaks open and inside I see there are no tables only an old metallic knight costume, spider webs, several chain mails, swords hanging on the wall and all manner of other medieval things. The light inside is minimal and there is a staircase that leads down. I walk out of the restaurant thinking perhaps I misread the sign and a second look at the window. There written in big letters is the menu card and a sign that states this is indeed a restaurant.
I go back inside and walk down the only way in the restaurant. It leads down a narrow staircase that resembles what I would assume to be an entrance to a dungeon. There are swords and old knight garments decorating the narrow staircase which do not fill me with reassurance. I decide to forget about this strange looking restaurant where there is no one to serve me and no one to welcome me in.
Back outside I notice there is another light on in the window of what I assume is a restaurant across the street. I walk towards it and walk inside. The restaurant is similarly dimly lit and there is a small stand where a waiter is standing. At least there is someone here this time. He welcomes me in and tells me to follow him. I go through a small pathway that leads to me to a small room with several tables. There is no one in the room but at the back of it, there is a passage that leads to the left and on the right a circular staircase that goes up. Other than that the room is empty, there are strange pictures on the walls and red coloured lamps. It is a strange restaurant but I am quickly waited on and the menu has many choices that I would gladly try.
I order prosciutto for starters and tenderloin with green beans and carrots in garlic sauce for my main. The food is excellent which is a very welcome surprise as I was expecting it to be to the contrary, in my defence though all exterior impressions did lead me to that conclusion and I still fail to see any resemblance of a connection between the decoration the lighting the room or quite simply any of it. The restaurant was not empty the whole time I sat in it, there were people who sat at the other tables, but there were always tables free which is always a shame for a good restaurant.
The waiter walks by and stops by my table to ask if everything was satisfactory, I reply that it was and request the bill. He quickly removes the dishes from the table and get me my bill with a complimentary limoncello. I drink the limoncello and leave a generous tip. I am about to walk out when the waiter stops me and tells me that I should not miss the attraction of the place. I stare at him quizzingly but he just smiles and nods towards the passageway. Somewhat reluctantly I head towards it, lights show the way only sporadically, with an occasional black lantern and a red light bulb attached to it as only markers of the path I have to take. I find the passage way opens up to a slightly bigger room where there are three doors. I go to the door in the middle and open it. It leads to a small passageway that leads down. I close the door and try door number one, to my left. Inside I see a normal living room with a large table with several glasses on it. I quickly close the door as I have clearly entered a private residential home.
This leaves door number three which turns out to be locked. My only option is continue on down the passage that will lead to the catacombs for all I know, or turn back and get out of this strange, twisted restaurant. I push the moment’s hesitation quickly aside and reopen the door in the middle. With a deep breath to calm my nerves I walk in and close the door behind me.
The passage leads me down underground. The scarcely lit way makes it difficult to see where I am, but because the passage is so small there is literally only one way I can go. I pass deeper and deeper underground and I start to get the feeling the walls are closing in on me, as though the space is becoming smaller and smaller. I feel like the air is stuffy and humid and becomes more difficult to breath. I notice that the walls have now decorations on them there are gauntlets hanging from the wall, together with breastplates and other knightly attire. Several more feet ahead the passage leads up and I find myself in an open space that is better lit. The open space looks very familiar and I am getting a feeling of déjà vu. I walk quickly out of the front door and see the restaurant that I went to eat in across the street. I turn around and look at the restaurant that I entered first, but left because it was so strange. A smile escapes my lips as I congratulate the restaurateurs on a joke well played.
Back at the apartment I decide to call my wife and tell her about my little adventure. However, there is no answer which is slightly strange because she usually calls me at least once a day and she hasn’t called me yet, and at this time of night she is always at home. Even if for some odd reason she left our home, she always takes her phone with her. It worries me that she is not answering but for the moment there is not a lot I can do so instead of worrying about it, I just let it slide for the moment. The evening is still not finished and she will most likely call before going to sleep. I decide to focus on my work and I am quickly so absorbed by it that I the passage of time becomes a inconsequential thing and it is only when I eyes begin to burn that I stop for a moment to rub them. I look at the time and to my surprise see that hours have passed and it is now way past midnight. I am slightly annoyed that my wife hasn’t called but there is not anything I can do at the moment, to call her now would wake her up. I get changed and want to go to bed when there is a knock on the door.
I open the door and stare at the faces of two police officers that stand there looking at me.
‘Excuse me sir, but we were called here because the owners of this place saw a light burning in the window and thought it might be a burglar.’
I stare at the police officer puzzled and slightly perplexed. ‘I don’t understand, the owners?’ I ask.
‘Yes the owners’ replies the officer harshly.
‘I have been renting this place for a while now, so I don’t know what all this talk about owners is. But I assure you I have every right to be here.’ I try to keep my voice as calm as I can make it. I hear slightly breaking and I feel anger rising. How dare these stupid idiots come in here in this pretext?! They are just abusing their power as usual.
‘Well if you have every right to be here, could you please give some proof that you rented this place?’ sais the police officer smiling.
He most likely thinks I don’t have a receipt or something well the joke is on him. ‘sure, I will just have to find it.’ I go back inside the place and search through my papers until I find the one I’m looking for, stuffed into a small pocket of my wallet. ‘Here you go.’ I say and hand over the piece of paper.
The officer glances at it and hands it over to his colleague who looks it over and then stares back at me. ‘This paper does indeed prove that you rented this place.’ The first officer states ‘too bad it’s a little out of date’.
I stare at the officer not understanding. ‘What do you mean it’s out of date?’
‘Well, if you look at the year that you rented this, it was quite a while back.’ The cop is smiling ‘70 years in the past to be precise.’ He adds, the condescending smile never leaving his lips.
My mind is in an uproar, it runs up and down, flips and falls while my face registers nothing but shock. It is as though my mind is going tilt on the one hand and a complete meltdown on the other. I try to speak, to say something to the two cops that are staring at me with the strange smiles glued to their faces like a piece of melon, most likely thinking they caught a burglar. Shocked I can’t speak, words fail me as I stutter and try to wrap my head around what has happened. I let out a nervous laugh and mutter ‘this must be some kind of joke.’
‘Oh, this is no joking matter sir. Now if you will please follow me, we will take you to the station.’
‘To the station?’ I ask surprised.
‘Yes. I can bring you to the station willingly or we can do this the hard way.’
I stare at the ground while the cops put the cuffs on me and read me my rights. I get nudged forward and they lead me to their car. I try to think to make sense of what is going on but my mind is just going haywire and when it doesn’t it is in a state of shock. One thoughts keeps turning in my head, where is my wife, what has happened to her?
We are at the station where I am relieved of the things that are in my pockets, I have to sign a form that I barely glance at and I am put in a holding cell that has white walls, a large white door with a tiny window in it. There is a small bed and a toilet in the small cell. I sit down on the bed, it smells muffed and damp and a small tremor runs through me, from my head down to my toes, a shiver and a shake and the cold feeling fades slightly. But in my heart the cold feeling remains, an unsettling unnerving feeling that no matter what happens my world has changed.
I try not to think about what happened to my wife, friends and relatives, but it is a struggle that is doomed to fail. I lie on the bed awake and watch time crawl by. There is no clock in the room and my wristwatch was removed so to keep my brain occupied I count the seconds that pass. At first I try to count at steady intervals at what are roughly seconds and so reach minutes, but it is quite difficult to continue counting without fail for a longer period of time. I decide to try and count heartbeats instead. I know that my heart beats at roughly 80 beats a minute so each 80 will be about a minute so 160 beats 2 minutes, 320 will be 4 minutes…
When I reach 15 minutes and 1200 heartbeats I give up. I think about my home and how I wish I was there right now, but if the police were right and I rented the place 70 years ago, does that mean I travelled forward in time?! And if so what has happened to everyone? My thoughts turn around like a carousal, incapable of stopping and too afraid to just give up thinking all together.
It is early morning when I am let out of the cell and given all my things back. The owners did not want to press charges and so I was free to go. ‘But’ the officer warned me ‘you best behave, or we will be there to put you back in your cell.’
I don’t indulge the officer with a response and just take my things and leave. Once outside I don’t know what to do. My first reflex was to call my wife and make sure that she was alright. But what if the police are right and so much time has passed, if that is the case than I can call her all I want and she will not answer. This option fills me with so much fear, that it leaves me physically shaken and I find myself hesitating. Maybe not knowing will be a better option than the alternative, finding out that she is gone, whisked away, together with my family and friends leaving me truly alone.
It is morning when the cops come to open the cell, I haven’t slept all night, my mind wouldn’t let me and when they show up to open the door I quickly stand. They take me to the front of the station, to the front desk where a cop is sitting. She gives a bag that contains my belongings and lists them for me.
‘What is happening?’ I ask them slightly confused.
‘You weren’t charged, so we have no reason to keep you here.’ The cop sitting at the front desk tells me courtly.
I walk out of the double doors that lead outside where the light slightly blinds me as I make my way through the parking lot. It is a warm day, I am tired, hungry and the sun burns my eyes. I decide to go get some food first before heading into the city, I know I will have to see my wife eventually but I am reluctant to do so. The fact that she may be gone is a constant weight on my heart and for the moment I chose to not confront it. For now I can act as though everything is alright and she is still here.
After I satisfy my stomach I can wait no longer and go to the city, a quick cab ride takes to my doorstep. I knock on the door and wait impatiently for someone to answer it. It seems like I wait forever but I resist the urge to knock again even louder, instead I rub my hands and try to keep calm. The door eventually opens and in front of me stands a guy I don’t know. He has black hair and large brown eyes. He is wearing a black T-shirt and jeans, he looks unkempt and smells like stale cloths that haven’t been aired for a long time, or perhaps it is the house that smells like this. It sure didn’t smell like this when I lived here.
‘Yes?’ he asks.
‘Hello, I am sorry to disturb you but I am very interested in your house.’ I say smiling. The guy in front of me stares at me waiting for me to continue. ‘You see, I used to live in this house and I was just wondering if you knew where the previous owners might have gone to.’
‘I am sorry, I have no clue.’ He says shrugging his shoulders. ‘Why would you care anyway?’
‘Well, back when I lived in this house I had some belongings that were lost when we moved and I thought maybe they knew where they went. I was hoping they left you a forward address. You know for their mail when it comes.’
‘Don’ know where your stuff is man, but I moved in here like 8 months ago and the people who moved away took all the shit with them. This place was empty like a crypt man.’
‘But did they leave you a forwarding address?’ I ask hopefully.
‘Oh, now that you mention it I think they did leave me a forwarding address. But that was a long time ago.’ The man stops talking and stairs up at nothing in particular, trying to think. ‘I can have a look to see if I can find it.’
‘Oh yes please. That would be really helpful thank you!’ I respond enthusiastically.
The guy shrugs non-comittedly and walks inside the house. I wait outside. The birds are chirping and the neighbourhood seems to be doing alright. There isn’t a lot of evidence to show that 70 years have passed since I was here for the last time. There are no flying cars, people flying around with private rocket launchers and so on. Everything looks just about normal. There are little things that do show the differences. The billboards that decorated everything back in my time have been replaced with these little projections of animated 3D images. Other than that though very little has changed and I can blend in nicely.
It takes the guy a very long time to get back and when he does at least 25 minutes have passed. ‘Here man,’ he says handing me the piece of paper. ‘I found it in the kitchen under a cookbook.’
I regard the little piece of paper as treasure and thank the guy for giving it to me.
‘No prob’ man. It sucks when shit goes missing.’
As I walk away from there I don’t know what strikes me as more surprising the fact that the guy seemed to genuinely care or that he had a cookbook in his kitchen.
The address on the piece of paper is on the other side of the city. I hail a cab and get there within 15 minutes or so. I arrive at an apartment complex, which is quite a step down from the house I was just in. I go to it and take a closer look at the scrap of paper there is a number there but it slightly blurry. Because I can’t actually read the piece of paper I ring every single bell. Most of the people don’t answer and those that do have no idea what I’m talking about it. It turns out that the apartment complex is an old people’s home and many of the old folks have memory loss and are incoherent, I can hear them utter words that might seem to be a sentence but together they make no sense, it is as though random words are put together to construct the sentences without any consideration for their meaning. It seems that I have reached a dead-end in my search. A feeling of despair and tremendous loneliness assails me and I feel like I was struck strongly in the gut. I find it difficult to breathe and slightly dizzy, I have to rest my hands on my knees as I try to get my breathing back under control.
It takes me several minutes to relax enough so that I can take in my surroundings and it is only then that I notice that something is off. At first everything appears as it always is, the sun is shining the sky is blue and there are several white clouds in the sky. But when I try to focus on the sun the strangest thing happens, normally I won’t be able to look at the sun but now I can. Not only can I look at the sun without being blinded but the sun is just like a large lamp and nothing more. Slowly I find other details that are wrong, or slightly off. The green colour of the grass and the blue colour of the sky are too perfect almost as they were created unnaturally. The real world is much messier, it is never this clear cut, the green is never only green the blue never only blue. It is then that I know what is going on and I remove the mask from my face.
I open my eyes for the first time in a while and find that there is something covering my head. It nearly puts me in frenzy until I find that I need to pull it up above my head to get away from me. I pull it off and see that it is a kind of plastic pad with little buds glued to it. The buds were stuck to my head and I rub my head and eyes several times to get the itching feeling away from them. I am lying down in something that resembles a plastic like bed. The ceiling is shining lights from several places concealed in the blue like ceiling that I can’t actually make out. The light gives off a strange hue that resembles the light that the new lamps are creating, the ones that change their colour seamlessly to suit your emotions.
I get up from the bed and notice that it is slightly round and looks almost like it’s been made to keep me in it; it is exactly my size and height, but does not look like a normal bed in any way shape or form. The place around looks like a room made from a similar material the bed is made of. It feels like a smooth plastic like surface that is very sturdy but still light enough to make it easy to work with. I take several steps in the direction of what I assume is the door, but as soon as I do the bed itself disappears into the floor as though it never existed.
A rustle behind me startles me and I quickly turn around to see a large metallic like thing with no clear limbs floating slightly in the air. It starts speaking to me in an incredible array of languages, none of which make any sense to me until it finally reaches English.
‘Hello’ it says. Its voice is surprisingly low and smooth, not anything like its metallic exterior would hint at.
‘Where am I? Who are you?’ I say trying to keep as calm as I can.
‘You are in our ship as our guest. We hope you will find your stay with us as comfortable as possible. I am toyriarklinad’
‘What am I doing here? What is going on? I don’t understand!’ I am losing my cool and I know it, but my mind is simply not fathoming all the changes that have occurred.
‘Please calm down sir, you are here at your own request. You asked to be brought here several years ago.’
‘I don’t understand, I don’t remember any of this.’
‘That is to be expected after being in the fields for so long. Please drink this,’ The robot reaches his hand to the side of one of the walls and a glass appears with some liquid in it. An arm like appendage appears out of his body he takes the glass and hands it to me. ‘it will help your recovery and the temporary memory loss.’
I take the glass obediently and drink its contents quickly in one gulp. I feel slightly dizzy and suddenly the memories flow back as though they were always a part of me. My name, my life, everything, I know now that everything was an illusion, a simulation that would keep me away from remembering. I was 25 years old when I met my wife we had an incredible life back then. We were so very much in love that everything seemed possible, so full of life, so colourful that there was nothing we could not do. It was five years later that disaster struck and the worst of all happened. I lost my wife in a car accident.
Depression soon ensued and I was lost to the world for many years. Suicide was regularly on my mind, but I was too frightened to actually go through with it. I lived life like an empty shell, I was invisible and everything around me just continued on without me. Ten years later I lost my house and was put in psychiatric care. I lived there for 5 more years when another disaster took place. There was some new energy source experiment that had gone horribly wrong, a laboratory in the USA was trying to grow and create a new sort of bacteria that could take the CO and CO2 from the air and use it for their consumption while releasing normal O2 in the process. This at least was the idea to combat global warming; unfortunately it didn’t work out that way. The bacteria was incredibly successful and was used everywhere with incredible success. However, there was one thing the scientists didn’t count on and that was that the bacteria would mutate and prosper. The bacteria grew exponentially and after completely removing the CO2 from the air, which already had an incredible affect on the plant life, it moved on to other plants namely sea plants. The bacteria adapted to absorb nutrients and things it needed from the very oceans. This meant that all plant life was now a thing of the past. Farmers tried to cultivate their crops in fields that were kept in closed sterile environments but that was of no use. The bacteria seemed so adapt to surviving that it literally could live in the air we breathed and after it moved to the oceans our days were numbered. Food became a major problem and wildlife everywhere slowly became extinct. Millions of humans died from starvation in a period that will forever be known as the dark time, humans did the only thing they could do to survive. They moved to space. They moved into a sterile environment where they could control everything. The essence of food was changed from the organic foods to a controlled synthetic derivative that was given intravenously to everyone. It changed human life forever, but at least kept humans alive.
The fall of humankind because of a genetically mutated bacteria, happened when I was still receiving my psychiatric help. I knew nothing of what had happened to the outside world until much later. My life hadn’t actually changed all that much and when it did I was simply told that it was time to move the facility to a new location. The new location turned out to be a space station that was in orbit around a planet, once considered mine. When I eventually found everything out and had enough therapy that I could live again I was surprised to find that I was 50.
Reality is different when your 50, it is somehow darker then when you are younger. There are more limitations in place that keep you in tune, or in line. It is a strange thing to wake up in a body that is 50 when you feel much younger. But years of therapy have prepared me for this eventuality, what it did not prepare me for was how life itself changed. Gone was everything and everyone I knew and instead I got a metallic decor to keep me company and several metallic structures to keep me tamed. I had no options or say in the matter, it was as though I was told that this was life and I better get used to it, only I didn’t. A group of people couldn’t deal with the closed quarters, the tight spaces and the lack of privacy. They tried to revolt against what they saw as a grave injustice and a violation of their most basic of rights. All of them without exception were subdued and kept in stasis for 3 years where they were subjected to psychological stimulations and reprogramming. I was one of those people and my three years just ran out.
Or so I remembered. I have no way of knowing, that what I remembered was indeed real or just a figment of my imagination. Worse yet it could be a figment constructed by ‘Them’. The same goes for my eyes and all of my other senses. How could I be sure that what I see now around me was real? How can I be sure that what is around me is not just my mind playing tricks on me? And if I really were reprogrammed why did they leave all these memories intact? Why not just erase it all? Surely that was easier than going through all of this for each one of us. The costs of such an operation must be enormous or maybe what is happening all around me is something else entirely.
My head spins with the possibilities and I become slightly nauseous. I feel my forehead becoming increasingly wet with perception and my hands slowly start to tremble slightly. I feel as though a rock has lodged itself inside my stomach and that it is struggling to come out I bend over as the heaving starts. At first nothing comes out except some noises but soon enough water and bile and a goo of sorts gush out of my mouth and onto the metallic floor, leaving me gagging and feeling slightly better. It takes me several more seconds to compose myself enough to stand.
‘Don’t worry the feelings of nausea and all other side-effects will be removed from your system momentarily. In the meantime I propose an exchange of information.’
I can’t answer the robot yet, as my head is still slightly spinning and there is a horrid taste left in my dry mouth, interestingly it is almost as if the robot can read my thoughts for a glass appears from the side of one of the metallic panels, filled to the brim with crystal clear water. I have never seen water that looked so enticing. I quickly pick up the glass and drink. I return the glass to the panel in the wall and am happy to see it is refilled almost immediately. I can’t see where the new water has come from, but it looks like one moment the glass was empty and next it was full once more. I drink several more glasses before I feel slightly better.
‘We have found that upon awakening all individuals suffer from nausea, dizziness and depending on the individual uncontrollable laughter, uncontrollable tears, rectal bleeding, nose bleeding, vomiting, mild shaking of the arms and in certain occasions the legs and in one case out of a million fever. All these should pass momentarily.’ Said the robot in its calm and cold voice ‘if you are ready I will continue on to further explain where you are and what has passed since you have been put in storage therapy.’ I nod my head so that the robot can continue. My head is already feeling slightly better and I am no longer gagging. ‘The intended therapy was supposed to be three years with a clean bill intended upon your removal. However, several problems with the ships in orbit have been detected and through attacks sustained when you were receiving your therapy…’ I interrupt the robot’s narrative to ask who it was that attacked the ships. ‘The attacks were the physical manifestation of anger from those who were left on earth. The ship was damaged during these attacks and repairs were underway although not everything could be repaired in time…’
‘Wait’ I call ‘what do you mean those who were left on earth?’
‘A rough estimate of 100,000,000 humans were left on earth, they mounted the attack as they viewed our departure without them as a grave issue of concern.’
‘You left 100,000,000 people on earth?! How could you do that? Why didn’t you bring them instead of us?’
‘The decision was made by the ruling council at the time. I have no information on the decision that was made all information I have gathered is that the station upon departure had place for an estimate of 200,000,000. There was therefore no room for additional individuals to board it. When the ships went into orbit they were set-up into the station you are now a part of. You were considered essential by someone in the council, that is the only reason that is plausible for allowing you unto this ship.’
‘What about all the others? All the other patients?’
‘They were left on earth.’
‘So you left them to DIE!’ I could not contain my anger any longer, my voice became a shrilling scream and I shouted each syllable out at the robot.
‘There was no choice in the matter.’ Answered the robot matter-of-factly.
‘Where are the people who are running this thing?’ I asked my voice dripping with venom. If I could kill someone with my mind at that moment I would have slaughtered everyone without a second thought that is how far my anger had gone.
‘I would be happy to, but that is no longer possible.’ Answered the robot.
‘What do you mean that is no longer possible? Are they going to keep me here forever? Is that their idea?! Well I will show them!’ I was going to storm out and give whoever I thought responsible hell for what they’ve done. But, before I could do so the robot stood in my way and said.
‘You cannot do that because everyone aboard the station has been dead for the last 10 years.’
This gave me some pause and I was stuck in my tracks. My mouth went dry and I thought that it must be some sort of joke. There had to be others on board didn’t the robot just say there were 200 million people on board?! How could they all have died? It was then that something else the robot said registered and another thought came to me. The robot said 10 years ago, so how long was I in the therapy thing? It must have been more than 3 years. When I finally managed to talk I said ‘What do you mean everyone died 10 years ago?’
‘You were supposed to be in therapy for 3 years. However, due to unforeseen complications you were left in stasis for a period of 25 years.’
’25 years?! But that would that I am now 75!’ I cried in surprise.
‘That would be correct.’
‘But I don’t feel like I am 75. I am quick on my feet and everything works just fine.’
‘That is because although linear time has passed in excess of 25 years for you, your physical body was kept in stasis. All bodily functions were kept to a bare minimum, all dividing cells were slowed down and regeneration protocols were put in place.’
‘Yes, to combat the aging process of the body more efficiently than just slowing it down the telomeres were lengthened, stem cells were isolated from your tissues and differentiated into tissue specific stem cells so that repairs could be made and certain organs regenerate like the heart…’
‘Alright, alright you lost me at the telem something. Just tell me how am I still alive while everyone else has been dead for the last 10 years.’
‘As I stated previously many ships were damaged before they could be adapter into the larger station, this caused some problems but nothing that could not be handled. This did mean that you received a low priority on this ship and were left in stasis. Because of an error to the computer system the therapy procedure you were undergoing was stopped, this was to ensure no brain damage occurred to you. You were removed to an automated health system that kept you in peak physical condition and rendered you more immune to the effects of aging; you have been locked into that system for the last 25 years.
Five years after the station was nearly complete and almost all individuals were relocated to the station disaster struck. The remaining humans on earth were not done with the people who relocated to the station. An unknown number of humans that were still alive harboured a long hatred to the people on the station. The people on the station never thought that the resentment from earth could be so strong and so never counted on the eventuality that they would launch a second attack. No one saw the second attack coming because most of the people on the station thought the means to such an attack were gone and that the remaining individuals would try to find a way to survive rather than fight the station. They were wrong on both counts, the one thing the people on earth had in abundance was rocks and they used those. They spent the last years of their lives building large catapult systems to launch rocks at the station. These rocks impacted the station, ripping it apart, exposing it to the near vacuum that is in space and caused every personal member to die, who was not attached to a health system. You were the only one that was attached to one and the only one that survived the attack. The systems rebooted and you were built a small controlled environment where you could continue to survive. It took a long time to build the station with remains of the broken down station. It took an additional 20 years to do this, at which point you were resuscitated.’
‘But why save me in the first place?’
‘Priority mission one is saving human life.’
‘So I am the only survivor in the world?!’
‘It is unclear if there are no other survivors in the world, although chances are unlikely that anyone survived. Here on the station you are the only living individual.’
Words elude me and I am once again feeling as though I have been punished severely both mentally and physically. I am once again lost and everything I thought I knew is gone in a wisp of smoke. I am gutted and strangely after such a rollercoaster ride of emotions I feel strangely drained and empty. It is as though my feelings were shattered once too many times and I just can’t register them anymore, I am absolutely spent and I just need to rest, to calm down. I feel dizzy again and my body feels weak and fable, I…
…I open my eyes to find I am lying on my back staring at a metallic ceiling. My head hurts. I reach out and find that an area around my left eye and cheek is slightly puffed. I must have fallen and hit my head. I groggily get up from the bed and look around. The robot is gone and there is nothing in the room but the bed and the metallic walls around me. There is a door of sorts that looks like a sheet of metallic paper, in the corner of the room. I walk towards it and it slides open. Outside of the room is a corridor, there are no windows anywhere. I decide to go to the left and walk slowly in that direction for several moments when I come to an abrupt end. The corridor is closed and there is nothing else, it is almost as though it is not finished.
I go to the other side and start walking. Several It is a small corridor with only 100 meters until it also comes to an end.
‘Hey, is there anyone out there?!’ I shout out hoping that the robot at least would come back and talk to me.
The same metallic voice responds from seemingly everywhere around me, echoing through the corridor ‘Yes, what is it?’.
‘Where are you?’ I ask.
‘I am nowhere, the physical robot has been taken apart to use as parts for the station. Is there anything else you require?’
‘I just need to know, what can I do here? I mean I have nothing here anymore. Why continue building this stupid station in the first place if it’s only for me?!’ I ask slightly irritated.
‘That is part of our programming; we need to keep you safe under any circumstances.’
‘But just keeping me protected is foolish. I will die eventually, if not by starvation than by old age. I don’t understand why you would keep me here! I have nothing here! Everyone is dead!’ I can’t fight it anymore and tears run down my face uncontrollably.
‘The programming allows no flexibility in the matter; you are to be kept safe and alive.’
It is not tears anymore I am sobbing uncontrollably ‘but why keep me alive?! What’s the point? Is it to keep me as depressed as possible? Is it to get me to be as miserable as I can?! I don’t understand what is the point? Why keep me here?’
‘I cannot divulge that information.’
I try to think, to calm my nerves enough so that I can figure some things out. If I am the only person alive on this station and I am not crucial in any way to its function or to its maintenance, then why keep me here? What could possibly be the reason? Assuming the computer system is telling me the truth and I am the only person alive why would it struggle so much to keep me alive? There is no way humanity can be repopulated. There is no reason to keep me locked up in a station, is there?
My thoughts circle around and I try to find a way to dig more information out of the robot. There is nothing else here for me, other than asking for answers from the robot. ‘Is there a panel somewhere where I can access your memory banks?’
‘I am not authorized to grant you access to my memory banks.’
‘What?! That makes no sense, if I am the only person alive then there is nothing to prevent you from granting me access to the memory banks.’
‘I am not at liberty to disclose that information.’
‘What are you talking about? What could possibly prevent you?’
‘I am not at liberty to disclose that information.’
‘Is there something else here?’
‘I am not at liberty to disclose that information.’
I’m trying to think, my tears are dry and my despair is slightly lifted as I think about the situation. Everything seems real but what if it isn’t? What if there is something else going on? I try to focus on the things that have happened to me from the beginning of this and it all seems too incredible to be real. I am the last person in the universe. It can’t be true; if it were then the story almost seems too unlikely, the computer too strange and everything around me completely improbable. Why create a room and a corridor for no reason? Why not create only a room? Why if everyone is dead am I supposed to stay alive? I have too many questions and not nearly enough answers. Everything points me to one thing. I’m being played.
‘The trick is up.’ I shout to no one in particular ‘So stop this nonsense and get out here.’
‘I am sorry I do not understand what you mean’ comes the cold voice of the computer.
‘If I am right and I think I am, then you know exactly what I mean.’
‘I apologize; I do not understand what you mean.’
‘You know what I mean alright! This, all of this’ I say pointing at the metal plates surrounding me ‘it’s all fake everything. Nothing here is real!’ I hit the side of the metal bar and it makes a loud thudding sound. A real sound, it feels real and just for a moment my resolution wavers, but instead of letting that moment cloud my judgment, I continue as though the fact that it is real fits in perfectly with what is going on. And after a moment of thought I figure out that it might actually fit in with what I have been experiencing. It is the only way everything around me was so real, that I could feel things and use every single one of my senses perfectly to grasp a reality that is somehow being manipulated.
And the only way it can be manipulated is if it is linked directly to my mind. That is the answer.
I stare around me, at the world I know now to be fake and that is when the world surrounding me shatters like pieces of a broken mirror, tumbling to the floor and splintering off into thousands of shards, each-one reflecting pieces of the made believe world. As the world shatters to the floor it reveals what lies behind it. I find that there is nothing else around me, the light is gone and it is dark and I can feel nothing below my feet. I try to walk forward but there is something that is preventing me, a force of some kind is keeping me stuck in my place. I have no time to be afraid, after the whole ordeal I am merely exhausted and drained.
A voice seemingly coming from everywhere at once, including straight in my head announces a question. It is a deep and dark voice. It has a low timber that under other circumstances I might find interesting but now it sounds hollow to me and ominous. ‘What is fear?’
‘What?’ I ask confused.
‘What is fear?’ asks the voice again.
‘What the hell is this? What are you talking about?’
‘What is fear?’ asks the voice again.
‘You give me some answers right now!’ I shout.
There is a pause before the voice speaks again. ‘I want to know about fear.’ It asks ‘I want to understand fear. What is it that makes you feel fear? Or become afraid?’
I listen to the words that come to me, but I fail to see the relevance. Why does this happen to me? ‘Fine you want to understand fear, but why keep me here? Why me?’
‘You were a randomly selected subject. We are not keeping you here nor anywhere, you are as you have always been in your own bed. We simply communicate with you through means you may not comprehend yet. We have built a link with your mind while you were unconsciousness. This link has allowed us to reconstruct the reality around you as we see fit. To understand fear we have created a template of things we believed will convey fear as efficiently as possible.’
‘I was chosen at random?!’ I call out in anger ‘for a study about fear? Lucky me!’ I shout. ‘Well I refuse to work with you. You can go screw yourself.’ I shout angrily.
There is a small pause when the voice is most likely trying to figure out what to do. Finally after what seems like a very long time the voice says ‘If you decide not to cooperate than we can make your environment very uncomfortable for you.’
‘Great threats, what could be more uncomfortable than what I have already gone through?!’
Instead of answering a light shines into my face and the blackness instantly transforms. To my right and left I can see the sky; a roaring thundering sound is coming from just beneath me. I look down to see what the noise is and am startled to find that I am standing on a large piece of wood that stretches above a large chasm. Way below me there is a large waterfall pouring into the river. From in front of me I can see the tree trunk bridging the two edges of the chasm together. A feeling vertigo assaults me as I see everything around me spinning and I nearly lose my footing. I grab hold of the tree trunk and crawl painstakingly slowly to the edge. Gusts of wind threaten to knock me off the tree trunk several times and my heart doesn’t stop racing until I am finally off the tree trunk. Even then I only manage to crawl away from the edge on all fours, until I am at a safe distance from the ledge and then as though all my energy has left me I just fall to the floor and lie down trying to catch my breath.
‘Is this fear?!’ asks a cold voice suddenly shaking me from my attempt to recompose myself. I was so emerged in the whole ordeal that I completely forgot about the voice, the darkness and the quest for fear.
‘Fuck off.’ I shout at the voice.
‘You could cooperate with us, if you chose once again not to do so the situations you will find yourself in will only be more and more extreme. It is entirely up to you.’
Instead of answering I lift my middle finger up into the air and continue to lie on the grass. The terrain around me slowly dissipates and the dark slowly fades onto the world all around me like a veil. Gone is the grass and the chasm and instead I find that I am now in my bed. My good old familiar room, but although the room looks like my room I know better now. Nothing is real and what is not real cannot harm me. I grab the blanket and pull up to my neck. I am becoming accustomed to the black of night and I can make out the different objects that are in the room, a painting that I put in the room a couple of years ago, my nightstand which has a night lamp on it and the book that I am reading.
Strangely the room looks different at night that it does during the day. There are shadows that come from unknown places and send out their clutches out across the walls. There are noises and creaking boards at night that you never hear during the day. Old pipes, the wind hitting the windows, the rain tapping on the roof, at night each one of these noises has a life of its own and it is not a good life it is an evil sinister life. A life full of anger and hate and evil, it is a life that wants something from me.
I shake my head clear of the thoughts that swirl inside my head and try to remind myself that everything is made up. Nothing here is real…
It changes nothing the noises slowly increase in volume coming at me from all sides of the room, the shadows dance around the room reaching out to me. My heart begins to race and my hands begin to sweat. I try to calm myself by saying that everything is just setup and that nothing here is real, I try to persuade myself that nothing can harm me and that I am perfectly fine and even though my head knows this to be true, there is another part that says that maybe there is something moving out of the corner of my eye. Maybe the things that I think are shadows are something else entirely, or maybe someone is looking at me right now through the window, planning to kill me. I slowly turn my head to look at the window and let out a sigh of relief when I see that there is no one there. Just then a slow moaning sound comes from underneath the bed and I let out a startled scream.
‘Is that fear?’ asks the voice again.
Twice now I have failed to fight fear, twice I knew what I was facing but I was still caught wanting. I know now that the only way to survive this terrible ordeal is by playing into their hand and learning more about the situation instead of what I have been doing. I get up from the bed and ask to the air in general ‘I am willing to help you with everything you need.’ I say ‘but in return I want you to first answer my questions and promise me that when we are done you leave me alone and never come back.’
There is a short pause. ‘That is acceptable.’ announces the voice.
‘Good. First can your turn on a light in this room? Or change the scenery to something a little more soothing?’
My dark room disappears and instead I am whisked away to a tropical beach. There are coconut trees behind and I am standing on a white and sandy beach. The clear blue sea is a few steps from me, the waves playing catch with the sand. It is serene.
‘Does this meet your approval?’ asks the voice.
‘Yes’ I answer smiling ‘yes it does’ I sit down on the sand and for the first time I feel like I can relax slightly. ‘Alright first things first, who are you?’
‘We are travellers.’
‘You travel? To where, by what?’
‘Maybe traveller is the wrong word there is no word for it in your language. We move through space and time freely and without constrictions, so most of our existence is spent by travelling through everything at every possible point in time. We are travellers.’
I don’t know what to make of the answer but decide that it doesn’t really matter. ‘Do you have a certain form?’ I ask
‘A physical manifestation of our presence?’ asks the voice.
‘No, do you prefer if we had one?’
‘No, that’s alright.’ I answer, thinking that perhaps the form that they would chose would freak me out. Satisfied with the first batch of questions I move on to the more interesting ones. ‘Is this real?’ I ask pointing at the island around me.
‘As real as you want it to be.’ Comes the cryptic response.
‘What do you mean?’
‘We created a space around you, a bubble if you will, that allows us to control the passage of time slightly but more importantly space.’
‘Does that mean that everything around me is real?’
‘As real as we can make it, yes.’
‘But then how did I break it in the first place?’
‘You didn’t break it. We did. We thought we could coax more emotions from you if we did that.’
‘Ok this leads to me to the other questions I had. What is this fascination you have with fear?’
‘We believe fear is a key factor in a species. We have never felt fear and find it very difficult to understand. It is one of the only questions we have not yet answered.’
‘What do you mean fear is a key factor is a species? Fear is nothing special right?’
‘Fear is very special.’ replies the voice ‘without fear your thinking process is severely limited, or so we presume. Because we don’t understand fear we can only assume about it. But there are key physical and mental features that are clearly distinguishable when creatures feel fear. Their heart rate increases, the heart pumps oxygen at an incredible speed, the senses are heightened, you are stronger, react faster and your mind is pulsing its neural network at an incredible rate. All these are physical manifestations we have measured in creatures undergoing a process we think is fear.’
I try to think about it. If I am afraid what happens? Well the heart races that is certainly true but do my senses become more heightened? Hard to know, my imagination certainly does. ‘And you think fear is a key to what exactly?’
‘We think fear is the first step to sentient life.’
I ponder this thought for a moment. Could fear be the first step in the development of sentient life? I am way over my head and I honestly have no idea. ‘Alright. I don’t understand everything you told me, but I am happy to at least have the answers. I’ll honour our deal and give you all the answers you seek.’
‘Very well. Please explain to us how fear works. What are you frightened of, what is it that influences fear and how can it be controlled?’
‘Fear is like a gut wrenching experience. Some people start shaking and crying and just breakdown when they are really afraid, others just become all the more powerful. I guess many things influence fear. It is a little personal. Each person has their own things that they are afraid of; it could be anything from going outside the door to fear of the dark. There are phobias as well where people have uncontrollable fear from certain things like closed spaces, open spaces, spiders, insects and another million things. A lot of these are triggered by a trauma or a bad experience. That’s all I know about fear I think.’
‘But why are you afraid? What causes fear to exist in the first place?’
‘Don’t you feel fear?’
‘No, we are incredibly curious but we do not feel fear as you do. We do not have any predators that could threaten us or even any species we could talk to on our own level. We do not know fear, but it seems as though fear is essential. That means we developed without it, unlike any other species we developed without it. This might mean we have a flaw we were previously unaware of.’
‘Well fear is an essential tool to survive. If I weren’t afraid of certain things I might die. For example I am not an electrician and I don’t really understand it. One time I change a light switch and received an incredible electric shock that sent me flying back. I am now much more careful when dealing with electricity and that is all in response to fear. Fear makes us take an action to a possible threat. Runaway for example.’
‘So how can we control fear in other species?’
‘What do you mean control?’
‘How can we manipulate fear more effectively? Does putting people in certain situations trigger fear better? Or do we need to change tactics?’
‘Wait… Do you want to continue inducing fear in people?’
‘Not necessarily, but we want to control it, to understand it, to be able to manipulate it.’
‘Well I guess a lot of times fear has more to do with what you can’t see than what you can.’
‘We don’t understand. Do you mean a suggestive fear, how is that possible?’
‘If you see something then it is immediately less frightening then when you can’t see it. If you can’t see it then your imagination always makes it much worse than it actually is.’
‘So fear is more effective if it confined to just beyond your vision.’
‘It’s not just that though. If you take a situation and really want to rattle a person the easiest way is to let them do it to themselves, while just providing some extra stimuli. Like a strong wind, darkness, an impression that something moves, a rustling you can’t really explain although you try to and so on.’
A change occurred then, not to the scenery around me that stayed the same, but to the voice itself. Instead of being its normal cold calculating self it now sounded different somehow, smug, full of himself or maybe just content. ‘So to perfect the essence of fear we need to use the subject’s imagination against them. We to constrict ourselves not to the visible but to the invisible, we need to hide, to perhaps lure the subject into a false sense of confidence and then blast him with the perfect blast of terror, by inducing movement of objects and things just outside the field of his vision, rustling things that are close enough for him to hear but not understand, noises that will surround him, winds that will further unsettle him, maybe we can find other factors in time.’
I feel a slow nagging impulse that tells me I have done something wrong, a small pinch in my heart that makes me feel dread, but I discard it. ‘It’s not a question of how many factors you use; it’s more a question of how you built it up and how you basically control the feeling than anything else. If you want to create a real feeling of fright you need to built it up and slowly recreate everything to be more and more frightful while all the time letting the person experiencing it, built his own version of the possible horrors in his head. The more you bomb the person with things at the same time the more annoyed and angry he would be rather than frightened. I am sure he will be afraid at the beginning but it will quickly subside because everything is happening all at once.’
‘Very well… we understand. The most efficient form of fear is manifested when there are things that question your judgment or your sanity, by moving little objects just out of the corner of your eye, breathing into your ear and when you turn there is nothing there. Give you a gradual feeling that everything around you has a sinister and ominous character and that nothing is quite the way it should be. Is that how fear can be accomplished?’
‘Yes that is a very efficient way that will work on just about anyone I think.’
‘This is good. We thank you for your information we shall adapt it to our studies. Now to honour our deal we shall leave you in peace.’
‘Wait’ I say quickly. ‘What do you mean you will adapt it to your studies?’
‘We have slightly misled you. We feed on fear and need it to continue surviving.’
‘You feed off fear?!’
‘Yes, we feed off fear ever since the first animal felt fear. The drained feeling any creature has after a prolonged exposure to fear is usually a result of us relieving you of it.’
‘So does that mean, you have been with humanity for as long as it has been alive?’
‘You misunderstand. We have been with everything and everyone for all of time.’
‘What are you?’ I ask slightly afraid of the answer.
‘We are the monsters of old that send shivers down your spine. We are the evil that lurks in your heart. We are the dark that holds you tight, we are the monsters hiding in your head, we are the beasts that ravish the dead, we are the manifestation of everything you fear and now we are much more. We are the creak beneath your bed at night, we are the reason you hold your breath at night. We now are so much more than we ever were all because you opened up the door.’
I don’t know how to respond but, instead of giving in to the feeling of terror that grows underneath my skin I look straight ahead at the blue oceans in front of me and say ‘if you are everything that we fear, or everything that I have ever feared when I was younger. Then you are also the toilet I had to sit on. You are that strange fear I had a few nights ago when I thought I had no connection, a fear so ridiculous that I actually laughed at you when I woke up.’
‘You little wrench, there is nothing we cannot do. We are omnipotent we can do everything we desire. And right now we desire your fear.’ The voice has changed now, gone is the cold calculated voice of a computer instead it is now a voice that you feel rather hear, it crawls into your head and lays itself there like a spider building a net. Sending a creepy crawly like sensation of little insects that crawl all over you, sending little shivers down your skin and making your hair stand on end.
‘There is one thing you have forgotten.’ I call out to the voice.
‘We forgot nothing!’ announces the voice.
‘Yes there is!’ I shout back ‘You have forgotten that this is my mind and here I am king. You have made the biggest mistake you can by trying to convince me that you control everything. But you don’t you can only use things that are already in my head. That’s why this island is the island of Raratonga. An island where I have been before, and there is one other thing that you have forgotten. I control everything that goes on in my mind!’
With a quick move of my hand I remove the trees from the ground and launch them through the air, far into the sea. I have already tested this little theory of mine when they were answering my questions. I have added several little birds to the island to see if the voice would have noticed and do something. To my surprise they did nothing, this meant they did not control everything that happened and more importantly it meant that I could do something to fight their control over me. Even though I could not see them, they at least could not win.
The voice laughs at my display of power. It is incredibly loud and causes my ears to ring. ‘We have not had a challenge like this in a very long time. But this is a challenge that neither of us can win it seems.’ With that announcement everything around becomes deathly quiet. The sea, the sand, the wind everything is still as it was but it is as though the sound has been removed and everything is muted. I look around to see if I can find the creatures somewhere, but just like before they are nowhere to be seen. I am alone on the island.
Suddenly a bony, sharp and painful hand grips my shoulder from behind and the voice whispers in my ear ‘See you in your dreams.’
He jumps up in his bed clutching his shoulder. There is nothing there, but he has the distinct impression that something grabbed hold of him. He is sweating and his heart is racing, he tries to grab hold of the dream he just had but it is already beyond his grasp, flailing just beyond his reach. He tries to clear his head shrugs, for the memory of what made him jump up in his bed is already gone and not even a subconscious memory remains, slowly he turns and it is after only a few moments that he is blissfully asleep once more.