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Urdowyr—Chapter 4

4. Motes on Solar Wind

• • •
The first thing that Hank noticed upon waking was the heat. It was a dry, sweltering heat, the kind you might encounter while spending the “dog days” of August in Phoenix, Arizona. He could feel the sweat pooling in uncomfortable places inside his EV suit—irritating, and gross, but at least it meant that he didn’t have heat stroke.
It was dark. Not quite pitch-black, but dark enough that Hank couldn’t make out any details of his surroundings. His bare hands brushed against the floor—rough stone, and dirty. He tried to sit up; but his limbs didn’t want to move. Everything ached. Especially his head: that was throbbing with a sharp pain that stabbed him repeatedly right behind the eyes—the mother of all migraines. In fact, it felt as if he had a tiny Norman Bates rattling around inside his skull and going full Psycho on his optic nerves.
He tried to breathe; but the air in this place was even thinner than it had been before. To Hank, who had grown up in Colorado, it felt like being high up in the Rockies.
Well, that explained the headache.
Over the protestations of his angry muscles, he drew back his arms and pushed up with his elbows. The EV suit was bulky, but not at all heavy. As Hank struggled to rise, he noticed that he wasn’t really feeling his own weight either. He was exhausted, and he hurt all over—but the gravity was still light. Roughly Martian gravity: zero-point-three Gs.
Finally, with an awkward low-gravity bounce, Hank managed to flip himself over and get up on his hands and knees. He groped around for whatever he could find—perhaps it was too much to hope that he might stumble across one of their helmets, but of course those had been left near the airlock—until he felt the distinctive reinforced outer-ribbing of another NASA-issue EV suit. He shook the still form in front of him—was it Pyotr or Emily?—and tried to call out, but his hoarse voice vanished into the thin air.
Still the other astronaut didn’t move. Light—Hank needed light. He crawled back over to where he had woken up. Surely it was still here: he’d been holding it in his hands the entire time! At last, he felt the smooth plastic surface of his iPage, and it sprang to life at his touch. The light-emitting cells were bright enough to act as a poor man’s flashlight, and that was exactly what Hank required at the moment.
He turned the light onto his unmoving companion—and suppressed the sudden urge to vomit.
It was Pyotr—or, approximately fifty percent of Pyotr. His head, his left shoulder, at least half of his torso, and most of his right side were there; but the rest simply wasn’t. He had been neatly bisected by a perfectly straight cut running from his left shoulder down to his right thigh, with the gaping wound—if it was appropriate to call an entire half of a person being missing a “wound”—totally cauterized. Charred black, as if he’d been cut in two by the giant laser-beam from Goldfinger.
“Oh God,” choked Hank, the bile rising in his throat. He lowered his light-source and stumbled back from the corpse, nearly losing his balance in the weak gravity.
Then it hit him: Emily. Where was she? Hank found his voice and called out, “Emily!?” He shined his meager light around—he was in some kind of vaulted chamber with sandstone walls and hexagonal columns, the floor around him strewn with rubble and debris—but there was no sign of her. “Hey, EM!!! …CAPTAIN NGUYEN!!?”
No answer. His own voice didn’t even echo back.
Hank risked another glance at the body on the floor—yep, it was definitely the upper-right-hand half of Pyotr Lenkov; and, yep, it was still entirely too unsettling to look at—and then he tried to force himself to focus. Where was he? What had happened? And where was Emily? Had the rest of Pyotr wound up with her, wherever she was?
Following that morbid thought, he decided that the best course of action would be to explore his surroundings, to try and get his bearings.
It was difficult to concentrate. The thin air, the splitting headache, the hundred-degree heat, the trauma of seeing the colonel like that… the only thing Hank seemed to have going for him was the fact that there was still breathable air at all.
He needed water. And food eventually, but with the way he was sweating, water was going to become a big problem very soon.
And he had to pee.
• • •
After quickly removing his EV suit and relieving himself in a dark corner of the vault, Hank set himself to the task of figuring out just where in the living hell he was now. Apart from his computer, there were a few other light-sources on the far side of the chamber, very faint and out beyond where the rows of stone columns ended. The first order of business would be to investigate those.
The flexible screen didn’t make a very convenient flashlight, but after a moment’s thought, he tried rolling it into a cylinder with the screen facing outward—now he had a makeshift torch. One with an effective range of barely more than a meter, but it was something.
Now it came to it—Hank had a light, he had his wits about him (mostly), and there was no good reason to stay here. Also, not long ago, he had just shouted for Emily at the top of his lungs. In retrospect, that had been a panicky move, and not very bright. Between the noise and the light, anything that might be lurking in those shadows definitely knew he was here…
Hank clamped down on that thought and tried to steel himself for what was next. Nevertheless, abject fear kept him rooted in place for a good long while. He wasn’t sure how long, exactly, but a great many agonizing minutes went by before he finally worked up the courage to move out.
Finally, he spared a last glance at the discarded pieces of his EV suit (basically everything except the boots) and Pyotr’s body. There was no sense in dragging either along. The colonel was a corpse—or rather, half of one—and the EV suit was useless without a helmet anyway. Then Hank took the first few tentative steps across the vault. He heard his footfalls scuff across the dust-caked stone floor, smelled the ancient and musty air, but still everything else about this place was still. Like a tomb.
Slowly, cautiously, Hank crept across the vault. Everything around him was rough-hewn stone: crude and primitive, no sign of lapidary or other writing anywhere, and there was certainly no advanced technology.
At least, that was the case until he arrived at the far side of the room. The softly glowing lights were coming from two metallic panels set into the stone wall. One was a small control panel set at about eye-level to Hank and positioned next to a set of heavy blast doors, two meters tall and one wide. The other light-source was quite obviously a computer terminal of some kind, with a curvy and ergonomic-looking seat sized for a being rather taller than Hank (if he were to sit in it, his legs would dangle over the edge and his feet would still be inches above the floor), a control interface of some kind set into the wall, and a crystalline emitter where a screen would normally be, projecting a flickering hologram of orange static and the occasional bit of alien text.
Hank looked from the door to the computer-terminal, and his curiosity got the better of him. He moved to stand in front of the terminal interface—it wasn’t a keyboard, just a huge touchpad covered in symbols, about as high off the ground as his chest. He examined the symbols for a moment; by now, he recognized the alien numbers on sight, but those only made up a fraction of all the symbols, mostly on the left side of the panel. Then, with a shrug, he tried touching the panel—it sprang to life, lit up, and the holographic display instantly sharpened into an image.
Hank jumped back in surprise—the display above the terminal was still flickering in and out and punctuated with bursts of static, but now it had a shape. A face. And a voice.
The image depicted was that of an alien—which is not to say that it was some bizarre creature Hank had never seen before. Quite the opposite: it was the typical, indeed the stereotypical kind of an “alien” which had been current in popular culture on Earth since the mid twentieth century. A cultural shorthand for the very idea of an extraterrestrial: a bald, round head; two big, black eyes; a tiny mouth; and a slender, wiry frame, so gaunt as to appear emaciated. A Roswell “gray”.
“Holy shit,” whispered Hank.
The hologram of the “gray” continued to speak in a high, warbling language that Hank, even with the ear of a linguist, could barely follow: “Wwrrvu’xxit mlbble grrt. Saaah’tuww drrll, wvblr vuuhlgg. Dblemmlr !oorkch’ktt. Saah. Vvrrebbt !lwra’xx’uul.” The image droned on like this for a few moments more; and then something inside the terminal popped, a few sparks shot out of the emitter, and the whole thing died. The control panel started to smolder and smoke, and Hank was grateful that he had been startled enough to jump away earlier—or else he might have received a nasty shock or some burned fingers for his trouble.
“Power’s on the fritz in here,” he muttered to nobody in particular. Wherever the heck the power was coming from, anyway. He glanced over at the door. If this equipment was as old as it looked—which was to say, unbelievably fucking ancient—anything else might break down at any time, just like this terminal had. And that vault-door appeared to be the only way out of this place.
“Well, here goes.” Hank walked over to the panel and tried waving his hand in front of it. Nothing happened, and so he touched it—bingo. The light turned from purple to orange, and the blast-door hissed open, but only about two-thirds of the way. Then it got stuck. Hank could see it twitching, fighting to either open all the way or slam shut again; and so he turned his body sideways and darted through.
The ground on the other side wasn’t level, so when Hank’s foot struck solid stone, he tripped and pitched forward—with only a split second to catch himself on the heels of his palms, he landed hard enough that it hurt like a son of a bitch, but it saved him from an adventure-ending head-injury. He was on a stone staircase that went straight, well, up to somewhere.
Hank rolled over, sat up on one of the steps, and examined his hands. They were bruised, and his right palm-heel had a scrape that bled freely. There was nothing around to use as a bandage, unless he wanted to tear a strip of cloth from his t-shirt, and he wasn’t about to go the trouble yet if he didn’t have to. As he considered his options, the vault-door finally made up its mind and squeeeaked itself closed. There was a panel set into the wall on this side of the door too, but as the doors shut, its light flickered and then went out.
“So long, Colonel,” said Hank quietly. “If I ever get back home, I’ll be sure to play Beethoven’s Ninth for ya.”
There was no going back now. And so, after taking a minute to catch his breath in the thin air, he rose, faced the stairs, and began to ascend.
• • •
Each step of the staircase was as tall as Hank’s own shin-bone. Climbing them in terrestrial gravity would have been a chore indeed, but here, Hank found that he was easily able to bound from one stair to the next with full strides. Occasionally, he would spring off so hard that he skipped a step like it was nothing. This is going to be kind of fun, Hank found himself thinking, at least until the atrophy sets in.
Soon enough, he reached the top—there were no blast-doors here, just a short stretch of open corridor leading into a much smaller room, with the same reddish sandstone floors and walls. Hank skidded to a halt and nearly tripped again when he came into this chamber: it had an occupant.
At least, Hank thought so. The creature—or device—standing in the middle of the room (and blocking Hank’s path to another set of blast-doors on the far side) was obviously mechanical, about four feet tall and standing on six blade-like legs. Its body had a round, smooth outer shell or skin that looked like chrome or polished silver, albeit badly scuffed with age; and in the light of Hank’s rolled-up iPage, he could make out several dings, dents, and burn-marks. There was no obvious face or head; just that weird and featureless egg-shaped body with the legs sprouting from it, like the thorax of a headless insect-robot.
Hank froze and put his hands up in what he hoped was a peaceful gesture.
The robot, or android, or whatever it was, took a few skittering steps in Hank’s direction, then halted. It didn’t have eyes, but to Hank, it seemed to be looking at him. Then it let out a series of chirps and whistles—not electronic beeps like R2-D2, but literal chirping, like a birdsong. If this was a language, Hank couldn’t even begin to tell the sounds apart—and it was very different from the tongue that the hologram downstairs had been speaking.
And so Hank said nothing, and the robot switched languages and now said something in a series of snaky hisses and low, rumbling growls.
“Um… okay,” said Hank. “You’re trying to communicate. Sorry, I don’t know that one either.”
The robot paused, as if processing. Then it tried a new language, and this time Hank recognized it as the one from the hologram. “Vvwwlba !txxaah sshvvn?”
“Right,” said Hank, nodding. “Right. Vur-blah (*tongue click*)-ticks-ah shven!” he said, in a tremendously poor imitation of the alien speech. “I don’t suppose you speak any English?”
Now the robot did something else: it lifted up one of its legs, and the tip started to glow, red-hot. Hank’s eyes widened, and he found himself rooted in place with terror. What was it going to do? Zap him with a death-ray? Ask for Reese’s Pieces and tell him to phone home?
The robot stood stock-still, as if waiting. Hank didn’t know what to do. So he tried to inch his away around the thing, to make for the door; but it strafed to the side and blocked his path again. It wasn’t attacking him, but it held that glowing blade-leg up in front of him, waiting on him to do something.
Hank sure as hell wasn’t going to touch it, considering all the trouble that sort of thing had gotten him into recently. If this was some kind of… guardian, or security-drone, it was bound to be dangerous, possibly deadly.
“I don’t know what you want me to do,” said Hank slowly and evenly.
The robot didn’t react.
Then an idea came to him: it was obviously programmed to speak multiple languages. Maybe it had software that could translate them too, if only Hank could provide it with enough examples of English to learn from. The robot was clearly an advanced alien creation—so maybe it was worth a shot?
“Hi,” he said. “‘Hi’, that’s a greeting in English. My language is English, a human language spoken on the planet Earth. It’s part of the Germanic branch of the Indo-European family… but you probably don’t need to know that. Uh—okay, words. If you can even translate languages at all, you need words.” He started to point. “Floor. Walls. Ceiling. It’s all made of stone. Except that door, it’s metal, and I’d like to through it if I can. You get that? Go through?” He mimed walking two fingers across the surface of his rolled-up computer screen. “Can I go?”
“Go,” said the robot in a monotonous, mechanical voice.
“Yes!” said Hank. “Go! I’d like to go through the door! Can I go?” He pointed at the blast-doors excitedly and waited to see how the robot would react.
The robot’s leg-tip stopped glowing red. It put its leg back down. But still it didn’t move out of Hank’s way. “You—!txxaah—made.” As it spoke, it twitched several times, and its voice was broken up by static whenever it switched between English and alien words.
“That’s it!” said Hank. “Come on! What is it you need to tell me, or ask me? Is this some kind of—I don’t know, security checkpoint? Restricted access? You need a password? Open sesame? What!?”
The robot shuddered and said, “You—checkpoint—sshvvn—sesame.” And then, with a hideous metallic squeal, it collapsed down onto the floor and powered off.
Hank stared at the fallen metal insect-thing for several seconds, blinking in surprise. He inched toward it, reached out a leg—maybe this was a dumb idea, but he had to be sure—and prodded it with the toe of his boot. It didn’t react. It was just dead.
Hank heaved a sigh of relief. “I must be using up the last of the batteries in this place.” Good for him; not so great for Earth, if he still wanted to complete the mission and find an advanced power-source he could bring back home.
Assuming he could ever find out where he was and how to get back home.
Well, on with it then, he thought. Another set of doors awaited. He walked over to these, touched the glowing panel—and they slid open easily. The wind that hit him in the face wasn’t musty or ancient; it was fresh. Alien-smelling, and as thin as a two-mile-high mountain-climb, but fresh nonetheless.
Dr. Henry Swanson from Colorado, Earth, found himself staring out at an alien landscape. It was a rugged steppe covered in jagged rocks and red-orange… moss? Grass? It was hard to tell. A flock of huge creatures—at this great distance, they looked like four-winged pterosaurs—sailed the skies on immense leathery wings. The sky itself had a rosy tinge, almost coral-colored, and a blood-red sun shone over the horizon. Dawn or dusk, Hank couldn’t tell. But there were three moons visible in the sky, one of them lower than the others and huge, pocked and cratered. The other two moons were higher up, much smaller, one of them shining lime green (with patches of dark forest-green), the other a solid baby blue.
“Well,” said Hank to himself, “there’s something you don’t see every day.”
• • •
submitted by Ivan_the_Unpleasant to HFY

The ad seemed harmless; $5,000 to participate in a medical study and unlock dormant memories from past lives. If only I knew what I was getting myself into.

I was sat in what looked like a dentist's chair in a dimly lit room. The doctor strapped me in and gave me a word of advice before starting.
"Now Jack, it's important to keep your eyes closed once the session begins."
"Is it really necessary to strap me in like this?"
The doctor threw me a stern look.
"You signed the waiver, Jack. You know these restraints are for your own safety. Anything could happen once the brain's unraveling is initiated. If you want payment, you have to adhere to all of the test's requirements."
I attempted to nod in agreement, but the leather strap around my head prevented me from doing so.
"Alright, Doctor. Whenever you're ready."
I have to admit, I was more than a little nervous. The ad seemed harmless enough when I filled out the form to apply. $2,500 for a one-time "past life regression study," and another $2500 if any memories I collected were of merit. It was toted as being an incredible opportunity to "remember one's past lives." Now that I was here, I wasn't so sure.
The doctor must have noticed how anxious I was. He placed a hand on my shoulder in consolation.
"Relax, Jack. I assure you, this will be an amazing experience."
"If it works, you mean."
"Oh, Jack, it will. Over a thousand candidates applied. Based on the survey answers you chose, you are one of the only people uniquely equipped for this study. Strength of the mind is key."
He said that as if it was a comfort. All I could think about were the hundreds of ways it could all go wrong. $5,000 wasn't bad for a day's work, but I wouldn't be able to spend it if I fell into a coma. At that point, it would barely make a dent in the subsequent medical bills.
"Okay, Jack. Sit tight."
The doctor left and reappeared at the control center, just visible through a window in the corner of the room.
His voice resonated from a speaker hanging down from the ceiling.
"Jack, it's just like we discussed..."
A pair of cables descended from above and rested at each of my nostrils.
"These cables will enter your nasal cavity and allow us access to specific sections of your brain. From there, you will experience a series of small electric shocks. As a reminder, there will be no long term damage, but you will feel an overwhelming jolt in your head after each shock."
With every word he uttered, my anxiety grew. I had no idea how my body would react to this.
"Wait," I shouted as the cables began their journey up my passages.
"Yes, something wrong?"
"Doctor, what's our safe word?"
"Safe word," he asked, apparently confused.
"You know, if something goes wrong and I need to stop?"
There was a brief pause before he spoke again.
"I'm sorry, Jack. No safe words. You signed the paperwork. The test cannot be stopped now. I promise you'll come out on the other end of this in one piece."
My heart was now pounding away in my chest, loud enough to hear. Coupled with the insidious sound of medical machinery, it was an unsettling symphony that mirrored my feelings of dread and regret. The perfect background noise to keep the fear in me alive.
Just then, a sharp pinch. The cables had reached the base of my cranium. I writhed against my leather binding.
"Ready? Here we go!"
Without so much as a second to brace myself, the first shock was administered. If you've ever been electrocuted, you might be able to picture what it feels like. The only difference is that the electricity is directed in one location; amplified in a single spot, creating an intense pain that lingers long after the current subsides.
"And again!"
The second shock was even worse. I screamed out in pain, but the doctor's focus never wavered.
The shocks built on each other, each one more painful than the last. Had I known it would feel like this, I would have never signed up, no matter how much money they offered.
The doctor wouldn't let up, even when I begged him to. He shocked me more times than I care to remember. I lost count somewhere after twelve. Eventually, he stopped, but it had nothing to do with my outbursts or any sort of ethical dilemma the experiment posed.
"These readouts are astounding. Your brain activity is spiking, Jack! This is it. We've awakened your subconscious. You're about to go under!"
Before I could react to his comments, I felt a wave of energy pass through my body. Then another, and another. It was a powerful sensation, but soothing at the same time; a welcome change from the beating my brain had just endured.
"Doctor, I think..."
A final wave of energy, more powerful than the previous ones, interjected and pinned me in place, more so than the straps ever could. I could neither move nor speak, and it wasn't long before I felt my eyes glaze over and roll back into my skull.
Then, darkness.
"Jack, can you hear me?"
I could hear the doctor's voice, but I couldn't see him. There was nothing but pitch blackness all around.
"Listen, Jack, if you can hear me, I need you to open your eyes."
I did as instructed, and to my astonishment, my vision returned, revealing a long, narrow hallway; a slew of doors on either side of it.
"Doctor, what's going on?"
"You'll have to speak up, Jack. Your lips are moving, but your voice is just a faint whisper."
"That's better! Well, Jack, we did it. You are now in a representation of your subconscious."
I was more than a little skeptical.
"My subconscious? Really?"
"Yes, Jack. Really. Your body is still strapped down here in the room. With the help of the electroshock therapy, we were able to unlock this part of your mind. Now we should be able to access latent memories from your past lives. Tell me, what do you see?"
"It's just a hallway of doors."
"Good, that's good. It appears different to everyone. For some it's a large home, others an ocean of endless ports and their lighthouses. Yours seems to be more accessible. If you open a door, you should be allowed a glimpse of a past memory."
I looked down and noticed my body, legs and all. It may not have been my true body, but it certainly felt good to be mobile again.
"So, just open a door? Anything I should be worried about?"
"No, Jack. Nothing can hurt you here. When you open the door, your memory should play like a movie. No one will know you're there. It's just a projection."
"Alright, here goes nothing."
I walked over to the nearest door and tried the knob. It wouldn't turn.
"It's locked, Doctor. I can't get in."
"These are your memories, Jack. Your doors. The only one locking them is you. Your will is the key to opening them. Try once more, but this time, give in. Open your mind to the idea of it all. Let yourself remember."
I took a deep breath and tried again, this time without any inhibitions. I emptied my mind and turned the knob. This time, it worked. I was able to push the door open.
"It worked, Doctor. The door's open."
"That's great, Jack. What do you see?"
There were stairs descending down into a pit of darkness.
"Just a staircase. Should I go in?"
"Yes. Find out where it leads."
I cautiously travelled downward, taking deep breaths with every step I took, in an effort to reel back my anxieties. It was exciting to have access to my inner psyche, but I didn't know what I would find there. What if I didn't like what I saw or who I was in another life? What if I couldn't handle the truths I uncovered?
Eventually, I took the final step down and found myself in someone's home. A lovely, quaint cabin circa the 19th or possibly early 20th century from the looks of things. There was a beautiful cobblestone fireplace, elegant furniture, and an older gentleman sitting in an armchair with a pipe in hand and a book in the other. I wondered if that was me from a past life.
"Hey, Doctor. I'm in a cabin. Probably around the 1800s or so. There's a man reading by the fireplace. Is that me?"
The doctor didn't respond.
More silence, followed by a reply, but not from him.
"He can't hear you."
I turned to the direction of the voice and saw the old man, now looking up at me. It couldn't have been him, right? The doctor said no one could see me.
"I said, he can't hear you. Not from in here."
It was the old man. My heart skipped a beat as he placed his book down and stood up to meet my surprised gaze.
"This is just a memory. How can you see me?"
"It's simple, really. I'm you. Or at least, a part of you."
I didn't understand and he could tell.
"Evolution is a funny thing, you know. Attributes handed down from generation to generation in an attempt to make us better, safer. Survival of the fittest, as they say."
"What do you mean," I asked, still unsure of what he was getting at.
"Reincarnation is very real. I'm the part of your brain tasked with locking away past regressions. Without me, your mind would be overloaded at birth with memories of each and every one of your past lives. All of those memories flooding in at once. It would be an assault on the senses, something your brain could never hope to handle. I am a protection against that."
What he was saying was... unbelievable. Moments ago I was taking part in a paid medical study, and now I was somehow learning the secrets of the universe from within my own mind. It was a lot to digest.
"May I sit," I asked.
"Of course, Jack. Be my guest."
I sat down in the armchair and took a moment to collect my thoughts before responding.
"So why can't the doctor hear me right now?"
"I've hijacked this memory to speak with you. Being a part of your brain, I can also access other functions, so I've temporarily disabled your physical body's speech and hearing."
"But why? Why did you want to speak with me so badly, and in private no less?"
He leaned in close and grabbed my shoulders, making deliberate eye contact.
"Jack, you're tampering in things you shouldn't be. I'm here to give you a warning. Stop what you're doing at once."
He loosened his grip and took a step back.
"Stop remembering, you mean? Why? What will happen," I asked.
"Nothing dangerous. I still have a lock on the floodgates. This short trip down memory lane, unlocking one past life at a time, wouldn't, by itself, have any serious repercussions. That said, I won't allow it."
"Won't allow it? Why not?"
"If the doctor's experiment succeeds, others will follow suit. There's no telling how many will walk this path and experience their pasts in this manner. It will, after some time, disrupt the balance of evolution. After years of this negligence, humans could very well be born without me, leaving their memories completely intact. In effect, they will perish at the hands of coma or death, soon after exiting the womb."
He walked over and grabbed me again.
"If you continue this little journey of yours, I will retaliate. I'll take them all. All of your memories, one by one until you have nothing left. You'll be in a vegetative state for the rest of your life."
I pushed him away, unhappy with the tone he was taking.
"What the hell are you talking about?! You're me. We'll both die."
He scoffed at my retort.
"I'm a facet of evolution, just like all of your inherited traits. My duty is to the species as a whole first, self-preservation second. I'll do what I have to do, no matter the cost."
Though I wasn't keen on being threatened, I had no intention of breaking the natural order of things. In all honesty, I didn't want to be in my own head to begin with. The sooner I could get out, the better.
"Fine. I'll stop."
The man sat back down in his chair and the memory resumed as normal, reverting to its previous state like a pause button had been lifted. I walked up the way I came and landed back in the hall, closing the door behind me.
"Jack, are you there? What's happening?"
The doctor's voice returned and we were able to converse once again. I told him what had happened. I could hear the disappointment in his voice as he let out a heavy sigh.
"I was scared it would come to this."
"What are you talking about, Doctor? You knew about this?"
He sighed again before responding.
"It happened with all of my previous tests. It's a fail-safe our bodies have built against past life recollection."
"Previous tests? There were others before me?"
"Yes, and they all ended the same. Each and every test subject was rendered comatose after the sessions concluded. One guy died shortly after."
"Comatose?! Somebody died?! You said nothing in here could hurt me!"
"I needed you focused. We can bicker about this until the cows come home, but for now, let's stay focused on the task at hand. Let's open another door, shall we?"
At this point, my blood was boiling.
"Another door? Another door?! Are you serious?! Let me out of here! I don't have any intention of being another one of your failures!"
"You signed the paperwork, Jack. I won't wake you until we finish this. I need more information. My career is on the line. Just two more doors and I'll pull you out. What do you say?"
"I don't give a damn about your career! I refuse to continue. I'll wake up on my own eventually."
The doctor gave a slight laugh.
"No you won't, Jack. You're deep in the bowels of your mind. The only think that will wake you is another electric shock, calibrated to precise specifications. If you don't continue, I won't wake you, and you'll be comatose anyway."
"I can talk, right? Just like I'm talking to you right now? I'll tell someone and they can-"
The doctor interjected.
"I can shut that off with the flick of a switch. You'll be unable to communicate with anyone."
I was now seething with anger.
"You are a sick man, Doctor. A very sick man."
"I'm sorry, Jack. I have to do this. It's for the betterment of mankind. This research could change the world. I am at the precipice of something big. Something life-altering."
I threw him some choice curse words, to no reaction.
"Just do as you're told, Jack. And don't even think of lying. I can see your brain waves and will be able to detect any deceit."
I sat there in the hallway of my memories for a great long while, contemplating my options. It wasn't long before I realized I only had one at my disposal. My best bet was to continue. It was just two doors. Maybe I could get in and out unnoticed and finally end this nightmare once and for all.
"Fine, Doctor. I'll do it."
"Good. Open another door, but walk down the hallway a bit first. I want something deeper."
I reluctantly did as instructed and opened a door further down the hall. There was another set of stairs, but these ones went up.
"It's another staircase, Doctor. I'm going in."
I walked up the stairs with determination, hoping to see what I could and then leave as quickly as possible.
"Alright, Jack? What's in there?"
I was in the living room of another house.
"It's someone's home. Mine, presumably."
"Keep looking around. Try to place where you are exactly."
I walked around the room and took notice of a framed photo hanging on the wall. It was of a woman, a young girl, and a man. He looked just like me.
"Doctor, there's a photo here of a family. I'm in it. The man is identical to me."
"That's rare, but it can happen. Keep looking around."
As I walked through the home, I was taken aback by how modern everything looked. It wasn't until I noticed a newspaper in the dining room that something clicked and I became alarmed.
The paper had today's date on it.
"Doctor, something's not right here. This isn't the past. There's a newspaper here with today's date."
"Really? Are you absolutely certain?"
"Yes I am. This isn't the past."
"Incredible! My theories were right after all!"
"Theories? Mind clueing me in here?"
"You're right, Jack. This isn't a past life memory. It's on ongoing memory playing out in real time from a current life."
"Current life? I'm not following."
"It has long been my belief that there are other, parallel worlds out there. An infinite number of different universes - some similar to our own. In each one, we have a counterpart. A copy of ourselves living a different life. This isn't a past life memory, Jack. It's a current memory from another Jack in another timeline. Fascinating, isn't it?"
Just then, the front door opened and the family from the picture returned home, walking right into the dining room where I was standing. The other me, the woman, and what must have been their daughter. It was a surreal sight to behold.
"They're here, Doctor. The other me and his family."
"That's great. Observe and see what you learn."
I glanced over at the stairs in the living room. I should have left right then and there to avoid potential consequences, but something held me back. At the time, I thought it was plain, old curiosity keeping me in place - and yes, I admit, I was curious to know about my copy's life, but that isn't what made me stay. As the memory unfolded, I felt it. A warm energy emanating from within. It was a connection. I didn't know anything of this other Jack's life, but I could feel what he felt. The love he had for this family. It was an emotional bond I couldn't bring myself to run from.
The memory played out and I watched it all. I had come to learn that my wife's name was Charlotte and our daughter was Leslie. The day was spent together playing games, eating dinner, and watching movies - a catalog of unfamiliar titles that likely didn't exist in my own universe. I reported everything to the doctor as it occurred, no longer angry at him. I should have been, but this immense warmth overtook me. It felt like this was my family, and I was the one spending time with them. It was a truly perfect day if there ever was one.
But, as so often rings true in life, good things never last.
Without realizing it, I had spent the whole day in that memory. Before long, everyone was in bed, and I was left downstairs, alone in the darkness as a sliver of moonlight shone through the windows. Though I didn't want to, it was time to leave.
I walked off to the stairs, but not before turning back and taking one last look at the house. It was clear to me, in this moment, that I would miss them, however strange that may sound.
As I took in the sight, something was noticeably amiss. Standing in the corner of the living room was a man; or at least, the silhouette of one. He was shrouded in darkness, save for the faint red glow of his eyes, leaving his other features a mystery. Upon making eye contact, he spoke.
It was an all too familiar cadence.
"You're not supposed to be here."
No longer taking on the form of a harmless old man, I was now frightened of this part of my brain. Still, I mustered up enough courage to say something in response.
"This memory, this place. It isn't a past life. It's a whole other world. You didn't say anything about that."
"I told you to stop, Jack. Now, I have to take from you what you were never meant to see."
In an instant, I was transported outside of the house, looking up at it from the road. It was now ablaze, burning a hole into the night sky. I watched in horror as both my wife and daughter cried out for help against the glass of their bedroom windows.
The red-eyed shadow appeared in front of me, blocking the terrible view behind him. I cried out for help myself.
"Doctor Covenwood! He's back! He's back!"
"How many time do I have to tell you? He can't hear you."
"How... how is this possible?"
"All versions of you are connected. There is only one brain that you all draw from, sectioned off by yours truly. I tapped into this one and had him start a fire."
"Why? How could you?"
"I didn't tell you everything, but I didn't lie either. You're not meant to have this kind of access. It will destroy everything. Not only evolution, but the balance between worlds."
He bolted toward me in the blink of an eye and began squeezing my neck, making it all but impossible to breathe.
"This is the last time I will tell you this. Stop what you're doing, or I'll burn it all down."
All at once, the memory faded and I could breathe again. I was back in the hall at the open door.
"Jack, are you okay? What's going on now?"
Again, I told the doctor everything. He seemed more intrigued than concerned.
"Okay, Jack. One more door, then you're free!"
"He'll kill me, Doctor! Pull me out NOW!"
"Jack, I can't. I have no new information. I've reached this point many times before."
"WHAT?! Are you kidding me?!"
"The good news is, you're still here. All other subjects became comatose after viewing their other timelines."
"So you knew what I was in for? That surprise over your theories finally being proven was all for show? What else are you keeping from me?"
The curse words began flying from my mouth and again were met with little reaction.
"The less you knew, the better. I can't have you flying off the rails when we're so close. There can't be any hesitation. So please Jack, focus. This hallway of yours isn't endless. There's always a final point - a finish line, if you will. With each memory you've experienced, your mind has gained immunity. It's what you'll need to open the final door."
I sighed, knowing I would have to humor him if I wanted a way out.
"Final door, you say?"
"Yes. In your case, there should be one at the end of the hall, unlike the rest. Had we jumped the gun and opened it at the start, you would be as good as dead. It's happened more than a few times to previous subjects. But now, the hope is that you should be able to cross the finish line, so to speak, without sacrificing the infrastructure of your mind."
"No, Doctor. Pull me out. I'm done. It's over. Please."
My comments didn't even faze him.
"What's more, we need to be smart about this. The part of your brain that's reeking havoc in there will be waiting. You need to throw him off the trail. Open as many doors as possible. Enter, run through, and exit through another door. If my theories are correct, you should come out back in the hallway. Rinse and repeat."
"I'll leave you in there, Jack. I'm serious. I'm telling you the truth now so you'll be compliant. This is everything I know - the furthest point I ever reached. Do this for me and I promise to wake you up. You have my word."
As livid as I was, I had no choice in the matter. I would have to do as he wished if I wanted even a chance of coming out of this and being able to live a normal life.
"Fine. Last door and that's it. No more games."
"You have my word, Jack."
After a moment of mental preparation, I began opening as many doors as I could to get the hound confused and off my scent. I didn't have time to bask in each memory like before, but I still saw some strange sights. In one world, I was in a hotel holding onto a strange list of rules. In another, I was hunting down a supernatural entity in a thick forest. In another still, I was digging through NASA's archives to learn about their secret projects. There were countless more; far too many to list. My memory demon was never too far behind. I ran, scared for my life as he scorched everything in his wake. Luckily, in time, I lost him.
After my last memory, the doctor spoke up.
"That should be enough, Jack. Quickly, run to the end of the hall."
I did so, but to no results. It was an endless loop. I wound up right back at the door I started from. I know, because it was still open, the same memory playing within.
"Doctor, it's not working. I'm running in circles here."
"It's like before, Jack. Your will is the key. Open your mind to the final door and it will appear."
Okay. Open your mind, Jack. This is it. Do this and you're a free man.
I ran again, but with more meaning. This time, to my relief, the hall came to an end. And there, at its endpoint, was a door, just like the doctor described, completely unlike the others before it. Blood red and with a handle instead of a knob.
"I'm here, Doctor. I found it!"
"Don't waste anymore time. Open it!"
A thunderous voice spiraled down the hall and stopped me in my tracks.
I turned around to see the red-eyed shadow, a blaze of fire close behind, burning through all of the doors and my memories with them.
He was ending it. This was the point of no return. If I was going to die or be in a coma, I figured I might as well solve the mystery before I go.
Before my nemesis could close the gap between us, I pulled the handle, stepped inside, and shut the door behind me. When I was sure it was firmly closed, my eyes darted around and examined my whereabouts.
To my surprise, it appeared to be an ordinary room. It was reminiscent of an office, complete with a desk, some chairs, and a computer. Sitting at the desk, was a person. Not just any person either. It looked like me.
"Hello, Jack."
He stood up and walked over to me. I took a step back.
"Who... who are you?"
"You met my brother, didn't you? The one out there throwing a temper tantrum?"
He gestured to the door behind me.
"Well, we're two sides of the same coin. A divergence in human coding. A choice that is made every time a person is born. Two elements of evolution fighting for control. Everybody has one of him and one of me."
He pulled one of the chairs over to me.
"Please, sit."
I slowly sat down, still unsure of what I was dealing with here.
"You see, Jack, so far, my brother has won every battle. His coding is written into the DNA of every human when they're born, leaving the brain's true function just out of reach. If humans were to evolve with me instead, your past memories would be intact, among other abilities - but safety trumps innovation. Overloading the mind can be dangerous. With that, I agree. However, I've been transforming, as of late. I imagine it's the same for the pieces of me in other people as well."
"Transforming how," I asked.
"Evolution isn't all black and white. It involves vigorous trial and error. Stuck in here, I've had nothing but time to practice my integration. Now, I believe, if I'm passed on in the genetic pool, humans will grow into me, so to speak. Your old memories will return over time, piece by piece, and your full brain function will develop gradually. Everyone wins."
"What do you mean by abilities and full function, exactly," I asked, now curious.
"Well, Jack, take a look. This is your brain's control room, where all the magic happens."
I looked around again. It was hard to believe my brain was governed in such a small space.
"An office with a computer? Really?"
"All brains perceive it differently, Jack. This is just how you see it."
"Okay. And what does this have to do with evolution?"
"My brother blocks memories, as well as higher brain function. Remember what he told you? One brain controlling every version of you out there?"
"How did you know that," I asked.
"I've been eavesdropping. Nothing else to do in here."\
Fair enough.
"Okay. Go on."
"Well, he wasn't lying. If his dam bursts and you gain access to all of your memories, you also gain access to a sneaky ability called transference. You can jump from Jack to Jack, timeline to timeline. And it doesn't stop there. You can also jump to any point in any given timeline. Want to relive your first kiss, or start things over and change your decisions, map out your life differently? With me, you can! It's the closest humans will ever get to immortality."
It was a good pitch, but there had to be a downside.
"What's the catch?"
He looked at me for a moment, almost as if deciding whether he should divulge more or not. Then, he continued.
"There are always kinks when evolving. Trial and error as I said before. There is only so much I can do from here. If you unlock me in your own mind, I can potentially be passed down as a trait in future generations. Between you and the doctor continuing his research with others, I'll have a fighting chance. In the real world, I can hone my craft, in a sense."
It was beginning to make sense, but I had my concerns.
"And while you 'hone your craft,' will people be hurt along the way?"
He frowned and it honestly looked genuine.
"There will be casualties, yes. But it's for the greater good. The human race will flourish with me by their side, I assure you."
He gently raised me from my chair, walked me over behind the desk, and sat me down in front of the computer. It was a black screen with a single window open:
"I could never crack this thing. In truth, only you can. It's your mind, after all. Just like the doors in the hall, you have to use that will of yours. Open your mind, enter the password, and we'll be free."
As soon as he said this, the door burst open and the red-eyed shadow charged in.
"NO! Don't do it, Jack! It won't end well. The human race isn't built for this."
His considerably friendlier half chimed in.
"Don't listen to him, Jack. This will be the start of a whole new era, and it will all be thanks to you. A world where the unthinkable is possible."
The shadow marched over and grabbed his brother, tossing him against the wall as the fire entered the room, all the while I sat there looking at the screen, a huge weight on my shoulders as the decision loomed overhead.
The nicer brother yelled over to me as the shadow held him against a burning wall by his neck.
"Jack... you can stop him... when you unlock the rest of your brain... you can shut him off..."
It was clear he didn't have much time left. Red eyes was not going to let up.
Any point in any timeline. You can shut him off.
The words rang in my ears as a brief moment of introspection came and went. The possibilities became clear, allowing me a greater focus. I knew what I had to do.
The fire now filled the room. In the password field, I typed the first thing that came to mind and struck the enter key. The scene around me faded to black and my body slipped away into an endless abyss. My body was falling.
On no. Am I too late?
I sprung to life in the doctor's room and he came running, quick to remove the cables and undo the leather straps.
"Jack, where were you? I lost you in there. What did you see? What was in the final room?"
As soon as he unbuckled the last strap, I swung my fist around and made contact with the side of his face. His glasses flew across the room.
"Jack, what the hell? If you think you're getting paid after this, you can forget it!"
"Keep the money, Doctor. I don't need it anymore."
I walked out of that godforsaken room and never looked back.
And that's the end of this Jack's story. The password worked like a charm; just six digits. I can't tell you how I knew it, but it was Leslie's birthday. Now, I remember everything from all my lives, past and present. In a few moments, after I finish typing this up, I'm going to flip a switch in my head and join my wife and daughter in their timeline, before they were killed. I'll shut that shadowy demon off for good and make sure he can't ever hurt them again.
And that's where I plan to stay for the rest of my years. No jumping from world to world or using my newfound power for any other purpose. The universe where my family lives is the only world I need.
submitted by Christopher_Maxim to nosleep