“Bells! Bells! A constant cacophony! Melodic murder! It stabs me, pierces my soul thus.”
Tap tap tap tap.
“Edge of octave, height of audition.”
“They test me you know.”
Michael picks up his ink pencil again.
“Who tests you?”
He slithers up, barely holding his eyes, apprehension hanged in sinews. Pink puckered scars above his ears.
Michael twitches the inkpencil again, jolting from upright to resting on his brow.
“…and who is Father again?”
He springs to Michael’s face, shot out of his pouch by sheer righteous violation. He sweeps his hand to his eyes and pushes with his index fingers.
“Father.” Confident, striding.
“Father!” Expletive, emboldening.
“FATHER!” Horrified, pleading.
The screen flickered and paused just as the first droplet of blood crept from a tear duct. Michael turned to Mary.
“So how do you explain that pattern? That was the third hypno client that day. They all complained of noises, they all speak of Father and they all deteriorate like this.”
“What do you mean ‘deteriorate’?” Mary sliced.
“What do you mean deteriorate? That is subjective. I’ll concede the father belief and its destructive effect are present in all three but what similarities are evident in deterioration? Did they all mash in their eyes? Which ones drew blood? What about no. Seventy-two who had clear gouges on his arms? Is this connected to the abrasions on twelve’s, thirty-four’s and fifty-one’s eyelids and cheeks?” Mary tossed the rumpled case study away.
“What do you want from me Mary?”
“Evidence! Some joined up logic if you’re able. You can’t just show me three clips and expect to form a conceptual model.”
“But it’s not a consiste…”
“I know!” Loudly interrupting “Yes, I have noticed that as well that an extraordinary amount of injuries are occurring across the board.” She paused to close the recordings window and found the subject register.
“But we are working in an enclosed, memetic-influenced, psychotropically-reactive environment. Knowing our level of control, every result of that has its cause from us and implications for further testing. Each separate outburst may represent a different branch of stimuli for the test environment.”
Michael visibly deflated and breathed heavily. “Fine, just trying to think holistically, I thought that was my job.”
Mary took a tab from a small hard plastic case, she chewed the end so ignited the tip which glowed electric red.
Michael turned back to the list of names and numbers.
“So why Father? That irks me. All of them, Father.”
Mary folded her arms.
“You know what the simulations runs, who gives the orders.”
“But the memories are erased. It was built into the machines, stressed in the design brief. To preserve the people as long as possible.”
She waved a contemptuous hand.
“Residuals I’d wager. Something we can prove with more testing.” She nibbled the tab. “Why do you enunciate ‘Father’ like that? Like the subjects?”
Michael turned to Mary and spoke with a thick, laced syrup.
Mary tutted, turned and ambled away while Michael fell into his kneaded arms.
The nature of the Eden chamber and cost of sustaining two live test subjects meant that no more than one could be operated. Planned for early on by Project Leader Loutrec, the hypno clients were conceived to run the Eden chamber simulation indefinitely. Data harvested from the subjects was used to determine the first parameters for the test subjects. As one began to inform the other, the hypno clients were run through different scenarios designed to test the potential stresses of the chamber and ultimately the pressures of colony life.
Employing the sus-an hibernation systems already used commercially by airlines and offworld shuttles, the chairs held the subjects in a serene slumber whilst catering for their biological necessities discretely and efficiently. Commercial sus-an was marketed as a sleeping tool and users reported its effects similar to long, restful hours of dreamless dozing. In truth the chairs actually simulated a state of near brain-death.
Electrical charges are strategically applied to pertinent parts of the brain’s membrane and to the corpus callosum. Synapses contextually linked to higher brain function are overloaded, causing temporary shutdown similar to that of seizure. Unlike a fit though, the effect is total and constant, the electric charges being strictly regulated.
All good and appropriate for making a man catatonic. However minimal tweaking to voltage, frequency and location allow rudimentary manipulation of audio-visual function alongside shape, speech and voice recognition. In short, the project did not rum simulations as much as they wielded dreams.
Michael walked the corridor between incubation lounges. In each room, six individuals wearing light blue gowns lay back in luxuriant recliners. Their wrists were clasped in black bands, meeting in the middle, one flexi-plak band across their neck. They each wore a skull cap helmet that reached down to meet the spine. Each was thin but festooned with wires, plugs and cables. Over their eyes, a visor of green glass was held two inches from their face by black metal, pushing out a cuboid that met the person’s ears. On each ear, two large screws secured the visor to their head, locked in position.
The eyes veiled in green flicked constantly.
Michael continued to amble the corridor, fretting over the secrets agreement he signed and what he would be able to tell the student. The boy had been placed in his sector, Thomas Beckett probably, to shadow and observe. Something to write his thesis on or something. What could he tell him though? Mary was meant to make this decision but had fobbed it off to him, her being sector head and unwilling. Looking at a different row of chairs, he bunched his fingers in desperate envy; they had none of his problems. Then he stopped.
One chair. Its occupant was wrong. Surely.
Michael recognised him, the chin was familiar. A mole just to the left. But surely not.
Then he saw the occupant was weeping. A drop of blood.
Michael jerked upright, noting the chair number and turning dumbfaced. Jacob stood berating.
“Hurry up Michael, the boy’s been there ten minutes.”
Thomas swayed. The yellow halogen was deafening. His blood pumping had blinded him. He felt his roiling ocean of consciousness contracting and sweeping. He was sat in a desert of bitter desolation, his gut toxic and phlegmy.
Michael snorted when he looked through the door window.
“Why’d you hurry me? He isn’t coming out of that sus-angover for at least twenty minutes.”
Jacob giggled “I know but he’s been spouting gold since he sat down, I don’t want you to miss the show.”
“Why’s he here right now, I thought they had the recuperation places at the dock.”
“Dunno, just was pushed through here. Direct request from the boss, guess he wants to keep it quiet.”
“Yeah, cos bumping him in is that subtle, I guess the shuttle staff didn’t notice.”
“Oh hush your noise.” Said Jacob “They know this project exists, just don’t know details. Besides I think they found it funny.”
Thomas was waving slow arcs with his hands and was holding an active dialogue in his metaphysical landscape as it pertained to stationery. All to his hand. He had a normal t-shirt on but no trousers, instead a large pad strapped on his groin with its own sticky bands. His red hair was wild, rent in various shapes from his shuffling hands. With a small frame and a slight paunch in his stomach, his thin arms ducking and weaving put Michael in mind of bewildered duck attempting to navigate jam while drunk.
Jacob chortled again “Gotta admire the boss.”
Michael cocked an eye “How so?”
“Well if he intended this, it’s a good cover.”
Michael had to concede that, seeing the boy burble and gesticulate. Make ‘em laugh.
Thomas blinked slowly, the fog in his brain seemed to be clearing now. He was sat at a tale in a small room, beige-blue walls and no windows. A metal door with a shutter pulled over the glass was behind two men sat before him. One was shorter than the other, blonde hair and a swallow face with thin cheeks. The other had brown hair, wide eyes a little too far apart with a manic glint. Broad mouth with broad shoulders. A real double act, thought Thomas.
“Can you hear me now Thomas? The vitrifier should have kicked in by now.” The blonde spoke gently, a wet cadence.
“Yes he can, can’t you see his eyes focussing?” the brown one quipped. Christ, it was going from cop show to sitcom.
Thomas gasped for air “…fine..”
“Wha…?” Blondie had a blank stare.
Thomas summoned up his energy “Fine!”
“Right, goof. See Jacob? That’s why you ask.”
Dark haired Jacob spat Blondie a look “Well I was never trained to deal with drug users.”
“Urrg.” Sagged Michael “let’s start again. I’m Michael Campbell, this is Jacob Brisco. You are on Prometheus station, at the Loutrec foundation complex. Do you understand?”
Cough. “Yes.” Thomas sputtered.
“Good” Cooed Michael “And your name is?”
Cough. Thomas hacked a throat blockage and spoke more fluently “Thomas Beckett.” He looked in each person’s eyes, to the light, the door and back to Michael.
“Am I being questioned?”
Michael laughed “No no, this is for security purposes. This being a highly secret project.”
“I know, I was vetted.”
Michael looked at his notebook “Well we’re just making sure.”
Jacob shrugged dismissively.
“Now” Michael began “This is a think tank working with highly sensitive materials, before we can allow you entrance or talk with you further, you must sign…er…sign a…”
“Jeez Nancy!” Twitched Jacob “You must sign a life reassurance waiver, the WHUN secrets act agreement and a corporate policy anti-espionage license.”
Jacob produced a tablet with a flourish “All handily complied and laid out on this. Just touch your thumb on the space provided.”
Thomas goggled at the tablet, piano black with a complex logo on the screen and yes, a box labelled ‘thumb here’ in five languages.
“Can I read it first?” he queried.
“No. The nature of the information contained within the documentation requires agreements to its clauses in order to access said information.” Jacob parroted cheerily.
“You have to sign the contract to read the contract” Michael translated with false sympathy.
“But that’s illegal.”
“On Earth it is” Jacob’s glee visibly rising “We’re on the moon!”
“What if I don’t sign?”
“You get the next shuttle home or we knock you out, drag you away and place you somewhere to test on.”
“Kidding, but serious. Sign if you want to stay.”
Thomas reluctantly pressed his thumb on the tablet. The logo expanded to be replaced by sets of folders with inviting names, the project codename dominating the middle.
Michael reached his hand over to shake.
“Marvellous Thomas, welcome to the Eden Project.”