Thursday, September 26, 2013

The Silent Room: Part 9

Number 11

Number 11 woke from what felt like the hundredth ever-changing nightmare. The only thing that stayed the same was that in each and every one he was being chased by spidery men dressed in long black robes, the words "Eight Watchers of the Ancient World" whispering in the shadows.  Maddening villains.  It felt like days had passed, and yet the sun was only just now rising.  Sitting there in the early dawn light, he slumped against the wall and wished, wished so hard he hurt with it, that he could fall asleep and just simply sleep.

He supposed vaguely that he could just let them catch him in his dream. That maybe that would end the dreams.  But then... he could hear their voices as if in memory rising in chant, "He will take the program. He must!", and he would struggle on away from them. He had let them get close once. Let them almost take over.  It had been so close, the moment of acquiescence rising within him like the tide drawing toward the moon.  He had felt almost like he would burst with the relief of it.

And then he had caught sight of a face hidden within the dark folds of one of the hoods. An unearthly face, gray and drawn, with a bony nose beneath strange burning eyes.  Eyes filled with anticipation and glee and banked fire that promised to eviscerate, incinerate, his very being.  The chill that had swept through him had been enough to draw him suddenly  back at the last, gasping as though he breathed in air from which all the oxygen had been burned away. He had wakened to find himself in a darkened attic room in this empty, forsaken land.

Looking out, he saw that at last the sun had risen just enough to fill  the world with a dim grayness and a drifting early morning mist. Time to get away from his dreams, he thought. If he couldn't sleep restfully, he certainly wasn't sticking around for another restless battle. Shaking his arms and shoulders to rid himself of his exhaustion, he stood and headed for the doorway and its ladder down to earth.  

Thursday, September 19, 2013

The Silent Room: Part 8

Number 11

Number 11 woke slowly from sleep.  The steady thrum of a heart beat faded slowly away into nothingness as consciousness returned.  When he finally opened his eyes, it was to find only the disorienting combination of utter silence and a darkness so complete he wasn't sure if he was waking or sleeping. He opened and shut his eyes, trying to find even a ray of light somewhere in his surroundings.  The cocoon of darkness closed in on him and for a moment, with the steady thrum and unreality of dreams still caught in his memory, he feared himself to be a grown man trapped in the suffocating envelope of a womb.

He had read a story about that once. About a man who was sewn into a synthetic womb and kept there for month after month, year after year of experiments.  What if he had been sewn into a synthetic womb while he slept? Ice clawed at his throat.  He tried to think of details from the story, but the where and the when and the why of the story slid sideways away from him, scattered into the darkness like the clattering toenails of so many invisible rats running for cover.

Hazily, as if through cobwebs, the memory of a darkening attic in the fading light of the sun came back to him.  Maybe he was still there.  He strained his eyes for any hint of light- a star standing out in the door frame, a tractor beam flashing across the fields.  Nothing. He refused to cave again to the madness of his nightmares and continued to strain his eyes.

At last, when he had given up and begun to think he would have to wait through all the slow hours until dawn might come, he noticed  a dim light emanating from beneath his left sleeve.  Sliding it up, he found a watch he didn't remember being there earlier. Its face glowed with a pale green-white light. It read 7:00 pm 9-9.  Holding his arm up and out from him, he used the dim light of the watch face to illuminate the room.  He found the slant of the roof above him and the vague outline of the door frame off to his right. A deep sense of relief washed through him.  Beyond the door frame was complete and utter darkness.   He sighed. The clouds must have come in to cover up the stars.   He let his arm drop back down to his knee, careful to keep his sleeve rolled up, and simply stared at the watch face.  Maybe he could let it lull him back into the oblivion of sleep.

The 9-9 of the date rearranged itself in his mind into a neat squat 81.  It had a weight and solidity to it, that was stronger than the wafting balloon sensation of the nines alone.   How odd.  He had never thought of numbers that way before, he didn't think.  He let his mind wander on from the 81, thinking of other numbers, tripping his way through the familiar numbers of the times tables and feeling the new strange weights of these numbers too.  His eyes slid shut and his thoughts drifted gently on, the numbers the times table giving way to simpler strings of 1's and 0's   At first they were only a few solo numbers scattered here and there and then as they carried on, they grew into forests of 1's and 0's, all rushing through his mind faster and faster. Suddenly he found himself emptied out into a narrow hallway.  Shadows hung around him heavy and think.

Number 11 pushed out with his hand as though shoving away a tapestry and found himself standing instead in a dark and dreary  room made mostly of stone. Above him  the ceiling disappeared, its repeating arches nearly obscured by darkness. He was not alone.  His attention caught on the man to his left.  The man sat slumped in a wheelchair garbed only in the faded green fabric of a hospital gown.  His head rested against his chest in the uncomfortable weight of a medicated slumber. Drool wet the front of his gown in a large ever widening patch.  His feet were bare and blue in the chill of the room.  On his head, which had been shaved clean, were plastered  layers of monitoring and control patches. Led lights glittered across the surface of the patches is ever shifting patterns.  He wondered what they were monitoring. He looked closer.  The man looked familiar. Did he...

A sound drew his attention away.

At the center of the room eight shadowy figures stood gathered around a Watching Table. Their dark black hoods hung low, obscuring any view of their faces. From where he stood, he could now hear the faint mumbling noise of speaking voices, although the longer he listened the more the sounds settled into a single equal strand of sound.  As though, really, the figures were all merely eight representatives of one mind, speaking together in collective unison.  His mind struggled to put the pieces together.  Eight. Collective. Unison. He pushed against the shadows clouding his thoughts, seeking an answer.  Was he watching the Collective of the Watchers at work?

Something in their attention seemed to shift, and they stiffened abruptly. As one they raised their right arms to hover eerily above their heads.

"No, it is not possible. He cannot do this."   The voices of the robed men rose, their attention focusing in taught as a bow string. 

"We will break his power. One cannot drain us so. We will not allow it!"

Number 11 felt the man to his left  begin to twitch, as though he was the target of a thousand competing commands. He hardly knew where to look, who to watch.

"He will take the program. He must. He doe not have the antidote within him. He cannot break our hold."  The last words echoed like a somber shout of command in the stone arches.

"Together then!"

As one they brought their hands down upon a single spot within the Watching Table.

He saw them shiver and appear to be pressing forward into the very table itself.  Suddenly he felt as though his head were caught in a vice grip of curved nails boring down into his skull, his body stretching thin as though he were being dragged forcefully into the body to his left.. He began to scream, as his vision faded down into a diminishing circular tunnel filled only with pain.  . The last image as he blacked out was of the Watchers disintegrating into a black mist and disappearing into the table.

Friday, September 13, 2013

The Silent Room: Part 7


Grenfelder had been sitting with his eyes closed for what seemed like hours, trying to ignore the ever deepening hollow of hunger in his gut from not eating and the nearly unbearable itch of his head and wrists where they were strapped to the wall, when he began to get the distinctly prickly sensation of being watched. He opened his eyes slowly in the half light, letting the wildly spinning world settle into into one solid image.  When his vision finally cleared, there was now a blue flashing light on the wall above the door that had not been there earlier.  As he stared the light slowly began to expand from a rather fuzzy blue ball into an ever larger image of an orange haired doctor. As she resolved into sharper edged image, she looked to be standing just inside the door of his cell. Idly he noticed that her top knot was a bit askew and her white coat hung just a little off kilter.

"Ah, there you are," the soft tinkling voice echoed inside his head, followed by a laugh. Her laugh was brittle with an almost hysterical relief laced over its surface. Over her shoulder he could see numbers counting slowly down toward one on a large digital clock.  He wasn't sure if seeing this doctor was a good thing or a bad thing. Perhaps, somewhere in between beating him, starving him, and chaining him to a wall, they had also slipped him something with hallucinogenic properties.  He hoped. If they hadn't and his mind was making up its own images, it wasn't boding well for his chances of standing up under torture.  Good thing there wasn't much that he could tell them.

"One moment while I adjust the app," she lifted her hand and moved it about in mid air. Then she let it drop abruptly where she dusted her hands together, pleased. "There we go. Now, I've only got a minute or so yet.   Can you get to that desk over there?"  She extended her arm and pointed at something off to his left. Following the direction of her hand with his eyes, he found a squat fat wooden desk sitting against the wall.

"That wasn't there before!"  His voice was rusty with dehydration and disuse.

"I used the program visual manipulation app downloaded to your chip. The same one that lets them manipulate your world perceptions for imprisonment, actually.  You are still bound, but your mind won't recognize that when you are in the sim.  You can get up quite easily now and walk over to the desk. Never mind all that about the hows and whys though. You have to get the envelope in the drawer."

"Huh?" Even as she spoke, he realized that he was no longer bound, and he dropped his arms down in front of him to begin rubbing at his wrists where the bands had held him fast.

"The envelope. In the desk drawer. Get it. If you can get hold of it before the simulation ends, you'll be able to read it even after the rest of the visual manipulation disappears. A kind of technical programming loop hole thing. "  A ding sounded behind her, and she startled abruptly even as her image began to shudder and shrink, " Now get the envelope!"

The last was said fiercely, nearly at a shout, a moment after the image of her had shuddered out of existence.  He stared dazedly at the blank wall where she had been standing, then looked back at the desk.

What kind of a dream was this, anyway?  Had she been real?  He had been prepared for torture, wheedling, that kind of thing.  But help of some kind from a scattered doctor? That he hadn't been prepared for.  Maybe it was a trick they were playing. Well, even if it was, it was more interesting than sitting here.  He got up slowly and made his way to the desk. The desk had a single drawer with a brass handle.  Carefully he grasped the handle and slid the drawer out to find a slim white envelope inside it.  He reached out and picked it up.  Even as his hand closed over the paper, he felt the room begin to spin.

He closed his eyes for a moment and focused in on the smooth texture of the envelope in his fingers to steady himself, only to feel the paper slipping slowly away.  His eyes snapped open as he made a quick lunging grab to catch back the falling letter, only to wrench his neck and arms painfully against the straps holding them to the wall.

He groaned to find himself back in the holding cell where he had started.  The doctor had said the letter might come through with him.  He wondered if it had.  He glanced down to the floor. Nothing. He glanced toward where the desk had stood.  Oddly, the letter still hovered in mid-air near where his hand had been in the sim.  "Sure enough.  Visual manipulation and technical loop hole thing at work," he muttered.

It reminded him of all the strange stories his father used to tell him about creating your own personal dreamworld with only a string of code or opening boxes with your mind. He should have guessed they weren't just stories.  His father never did anything without an intention behind it.  There had been a trick to that one.  Something about...  He set to work trying to see if you could open an imaginary envelope hovering in mid air with only your mind.

Thursday, September 5, 2013

The Silent Room: Part 6

Dr. Adelheid

Dr. Adelheid stood alone in her office. 

Her long white coat swung softly in the currents created by the ventilation system as her hand rested on the edge of the ornate oval frame of the mirror behind her desk. Methodically, she thought through the codes and the list of "proposed signs for partial immunity", the same as she did every night as she fell asleep. At the end of that, she took a moment to review her doubts and emotions. One last chance to look for any reasons not to go ahead with hack..  Was this really the moment?  Was it really worth risking everything?  Had she really taken every possible precaution?  If she ran out of time, if anyone of the upper echelon of Watchers had their eyes turned in her direction... 

She thought again of the disturbance in the Resting Commons that afternoon.   The patients had been decidedly restless. And they were never restless. Ever. They were too drugged by chemicals and false images to do something as dramatic as twitch a finger, let alone be restless.  But this afternoon, for the space of a few minutes, they had not only twitched their fingers, they had slightly, so slightly she had almost missed it, shifted positions in their chairs. In all her years of working for the Institute, that had never happened before.  

If there was a window past the Watchers’ absolute control, then it would be today and only today that she mind find it. Tomorrow the new prisoners would all have been moved on. With one last deep breath to gather her composure, she started.

 "Initiate Time Out."

The heavy clunk of the door lock sliding into place sounded behind her. A beep notified that the countdown timer had started.  In the mirror she checked the door to make sure that the bar glowed blue.  Sealed for fifteen minutes.  Already that was down to 14 minutes, 52 seconds.  

She pushed back the fear before it had a chance to take hold and pressed the button hidden on the side of the mirror.  A wave of energy washed out into the room, creating a reflective bubble around her.  For as long as she stood in this energy bubble, provided the Sensors hadn't noticed the energy surge and set out to break down her door, anyone watching through the monitoring cameras would see only that she was spending a great deal of time standing there, hand on the frame, studying herself. Vanity was of course not one of the best traits to be accused of having, but at least it was a forgivable one in the catalog of forgivable and unforgivable.

Mirror image in place. Check.  System hack, pending. 

The mirror shimmered silver for what seemed an eternity, the silence of the room nearly drowning her with its thickness under the steady counting of the clock.  Another twenty seconds had passed.  She waited for the hack to do its dirty work and give her mainframe access.

Then the words she had been waiting for flashed on the screen.


Below that a faintly silhouetted keypad glowed at the bottom of the mirror screen. With shaking fingers she typed in the codes. The words flashed faster this time.



Small squares representing the video feeds for each of the holding cells lined up, covering  the screen.  So many squares. Too many squares. Somehow she held the rising bile at bay over how many there were. There would be only a lucky one or two that reached the safe sanctuary of her guarded halls. She couldn't give them their lives or their minds back, but she could give them care and kindness.  And she could watch and wait and hope, hope hard, for a day like today to come, when maybe just maybe, she had a chance to make a difference.  She forced her mind back to the task at hand and put the images on slideshow. She had one shot at this…  13 minutes 38 seconds.

When she reached the end of the feeds the first time without finding even a hint of a possibility among them, she had to fight back waves of overwhelming fear and guilt, She hadn't seen what she needed to see. What  if she wouldn’t see it? What if it had never been there to see in the first place, and she had taken all this risk, abandoning her patients to the Watchers?. She forced herself to take a deep breath and center herself. Then she went back to the beginning of the images and started again.  9 minutes 21 seconds.

On the third pass, with 2 minutes 19 seconds remaining on the clock, she finally found a sign. Two gray blue eyes staring back at her through screen.