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The dream was starting to take its toll on him. It was deja vu in its most dreaded and complicated form; the repetition of a horrible act that he had no control of and no ability to comprehend the meaning that surely must be there.
There must be a meaning. Without meaning…it was just a play without metaphor, without a higher message, just violence. Pain. Desolation.
The dream always began in a clean white room. So clean, so vastly bright and terrifyingly bare, he felt all the more unreal for being in the center of it. The room was empty, bitterly lonely and filled with the smells of disinfectants and soap. All that existed anywhere in his world: these white walls and bodiless lamps defined only by their bright beams of heated white light. The sound of wind also pervaded his every sense. There was nothing else but this sound, and it always started out quiet and then grew and grew to a deafening howl. Once the wind started picking up in speed and tone, the true horror of the room would then sink its weight into his thoughts. It was when the wind was at its peak, burning his ears with its unrelenting roar, it was then that he began to realize that he was not whole. He was not standing, he lay in pieces on a great table that stretched, impossibly, as far as his eyes could see. Farther, even, than the length of the room.
For what seemed like hours, he lay like this. A head disconnected, next to his neck, his torso, all of his limbs. And there, just in his line of sight were a few of his organs, in neat plastic bags, ready to be placed into their proper designation. His arms in their various segments, his legs, too, splayed out in such a haphazard way. He was aware of every piece. Painful moments stretched longer than the ends of the table, for so long that he wondered what it must feel like to breathe again.
It was near this point in the dream, it was here he forgot the wind would simply stop altogether. The howl and impatience of the sound would simply become nothing more than thick silence. This silence became his undoing. He would rather the wind encompass him in meaningless tone than this impenetrable silence. In the midst of the silence, he wondered how long it would take to put himself back together again. Found himself in the middle of intricate plans to escape…noticed, finally, that his hands and his feet were not on the table, they weren’t anywhere to be found. How was he to escape if he had no feet? How could he put himself back together again if his hands were missing?
He began to realize just how insane and pointless his thoughts were when he realized he was not alone in the room. Probably never was. There were several human faces around him, poking him, prodding him. Faces connected to intact bodies. They looked like him, but he could not identify himself as one of them. They were something else entirely. Either that, or he was some other different creature altogether.
But it was still silent. All around him, still silence. The fully intact, fully formed bodies that gestured to each other and flapped their mouths open and shut into formless words and pulled those mouths taut into incoherent grimaces and smiles. They continued to poke and prod at his pieces with pencils and fingers, and he could feel every single touch.
Did they ever mean to put him together again? Was he forever on display? He tried to move, tried to regain breath, tried to make any sort of a sound. They all began staring at him.
That was worse than silence. They gathered around him closer and closer, pointing to his head and gaped, smiled and applauded. Incredulous and fearful they were, all at the same time.
They wouldn’t stop staring. Why were they staring at him?
It was then that he would wake. Expecting to breathe again, to find himself in his own bed, to be whole.
But today would begin differently. He woke sprawled across a concrete floor, wrapped in wires and lying in some sort of an unidentifiable, sour smelling liquid. Pulling wires and electrical cords from around his arms and legs, unwinding them from around his neck, he finally found the cause for his gulps and struggles for even the slightest bit of air into his lungs. Trying to stand up, he realized that fastened around his chest was a harness, one that didn’t seem to let him get very far from the brick wall that he found himself uncomfortably pressed up against.
Standing, finally free of the loops and snares of the wires, releasing himself from the harness (oddly enough, the harness was firmly secured into the wall), he looked about the room he was in. He gathered that it was some time in the early morning, due to the scant amount of light pouring in from the room’s small windows. The room was full, red brick wall to red brick wall, almost past its capacity of computers of various sizes and makes and models. None of them seemed to have a spark of life in them. Carcasses of technology that looked as menacing and unexplainable as the wires that were once coiled around his throat.
He satisfied his curiosity for a few minutes, flipping on and off the light switches, examining the power strips that connected all the computers. Rifling through drawers and finding a flashlight, he wandered out through doors and hallways and soon located the breaker box. Very quickly, he realized that the entire building was one useless, lifeless entity of wires and shells of machines. Solid concrete mixed with brick walls, the same coils of wires running from one end to the other, it was unmistakeable that the building was built for safety and security.
Flashlight still in hand, bright light still lighting his path, his feet finally found their way to the menacing iron front doors of the building. They gave way for him easily enough, perhaps the vanished power source for this place was unable to keep them closed. Without a moment’s second thought, he walked through the open doors and into the streets. Everywhere, there was chaos. Broken windows, trash spilled out into the road, ugly disarray everywhere his eye could see. Some structures stood erect even though they were battered, other structures had been reduced to mere piles of rubble. But no people. No animals, not even a bird. Not a single sound but the fall of his own footstep. Maybe on a different street, in a different part of town, he would find some other person to speak to.
Someone to ask what happened, surely there was someone?
As he continued to move, he realized that nothing looked familiar. Leaving the safety of the brick building of computers behind him, he moved swiftly down what was left of the street, wracking his brain for some sort of memory to trigger. Some sort of an explanation as to why he had woken up there. Nothing looked familiar.
As time went on, it was obvious to him that there was no memory locked in his brain to free. He had no idea where he was; even more disconcerting, as he stopped to stare at his own reflection in a fractured window pane, he didn’t even recognize himself. Who was this person that stared back at him?
A flash of a sudden light caught the corner of his eye and he turned, forgetting his own sorry predicament. A street lamp flickered on and off, and all throughout the street, he noticed various store lights and the lights of several homes flickering on and off. As if deciding whether or not they wished to return to this world, or simply return back to death. An electrical hum all around him slowly gurgled into life and then died again, as various machines in the lifeless streets struggled to come back to life once more.
An odd thing occurred; his body began to surge along with the rush of the returning electricity, turning on and off again in unison with the lights and hum of machinery around him. Electrical jolts spasmed up and down his forearms, spreading into his fingers and stopped. The electricity would surge on again, and the spasms would rise and travel up his arms and into his chest. His eyes clouded over with strange colors, and he stumbled back, falling over himself and toppling into the middle of the road, momentarily blinded. He sat, crouched in a heap like this for several minutes, wondering the cause. Maybe he had hit his head, and his body was recovering from a concussion as well as amnesia. How long would he be blinded? Even if he could miraculously stumble into a hospital, what medicine would he even know to look for?
As swiftly as it had started, the lights and whirring of electrical pulses stopped completely. Everything was dead silent again. His eyesight returned, the pulsing in his arms and chest stopped, he stood. The electrical hum dead, the street lamps dead, the houses around him dark, bleak and full of shadows once more. He took off at a flat run down the middle of the street, all the while looking for some sort of a clue as to where he was and where all of the others might have gone.
The town was larger than he had expected. Streets gave way to sprawling mall centers, subdivisions, as well as elegant and trashy houses, store fronts of all kinds mixed in with the rubble of countless buildings. All broken, trashed, every sign pointing to the fact that something of apocalyptic proportion had taken place in this town. As if his worst suspicions even needed to be proved correct, he soon found himself stumbling upon a hospital. He was now winded and his strength had evaporated. The initial adrenaline to push him into a run had died completely.
As if foretelling what might be inside, two ambulances were crashed into each other on the front lawn of the hospital, their fenders and metal frames wrapped in eternal death’s embrace. No living thing, not even a single corpse was in either vehicle, he soon learned. Neither was there a single person afoot as he pushed through the front doors and into the very belly of the building. The halls were littered with beds, some upright some overturned. Needles littered the ground and lining the shelves along the walls were rows and rows of test tubes holding a brightly colored fluid.
There wasn’t much else to be found here, he finally decided. Looking into each and every room, he found that the place was quite empty, save hundreds and hundreds of empty test tubes that lay scattered about the floor. He surmised that the fluid once held in these tubes must not have served their purpose. Coming to an exit, he left the building and found himself in a dry, extinct garden full of dust and grey dirt that lay behind the hospital.
Standing there, aware that questions were starting to arise in his head once more, questions that could only be answered by panic and fear, he noticed there was a familiar sound. And, if he wasn’t mistaken, he could identify a certain smell, too. He walked in the direction of the sound and smell, still doubting his senses. Walking between houses and leaving most of the buildings behind him, he came to a sort of park. That sound, that smell…he was correct.
A stretch of sand started to unfold before his eyes, and a tide lapped hungrily before him. Littered about the beach lay countless bodies of fish, seals, rotting corpses of several other denizens of the sea, spreading from one expanse of the beach to the other. The tide mindlessly pulled at them, bringing some back into the tide while simultaneously depositing several more of its dead onto the shore. The salty smell of the sea was laced with the stench of rot, a smell that filled the air around him. Was there some sort of an answer in this? He couldn’t help but wonder if his identity was mingled somewhere in the vacancy of the town, the death of so much sea life, the utter chaos and shattered buildings of the streets.
But why should he be anyone important? Maybe it was only important that he seemed to be the only survivor. If that was the case, then…what made him different?
The spasms of electrical pulses began to uncoil their sickening curves into his arms once more. He looked behind him and saw the street lamps of the park flicker on and off again…buildings off in the distance joined in echo. His eyes once more began to cloud over, this time, surges of purplish and pinkish hues spread across his vision, and he jolted in alarm at the uninvited colors. A sharp pain invaded his foot; realizing he must have stepped on something, he crouched down and clasped at his foot, unable to see, but finding with the tips of his fingers that something very much like a sharp piece of glass was jutting from the bottom of his foot, and a sticky ooze was flowing over his hands. A sticky ooze that would most certainly be identified as blood, but he couldn’t be sure, not without his sight. Sitting like this in the sand and grasping at his foot for some time, his sight finally returned.
His sight returned in rivulets of color, seeping into the clouds of pink and purple shades that threatened to define his whole world indefinitely. It was only when everything appeared to be of normal hue did he begin to inspect his foot.
His hands and his foot were, indeed, still covered in blood. The sole of his foot throbbed with a mind-numbing ache, and when he pulled back his hands and looked, he found, as he had suspected, a shard of glass impaled in his foot. However, there seemed to be no more flow of blood.The bleeding had stopped. The blood on his shoe and hands had dried. And when he removed the shard, expecting the worst, there was no flow of blood to follow. He took off his shoe, noted the deep slit where the glass had invaded, and removed a sock that was also shredded.
Inspecting the bottom of his foot, it looked as though nothing had happened. In fact, there wasn’t even a scar to mark where the piece of glass had been. The pain completely vanished; it was as if there had never even been a wound.
“You’d better get back to base.”
A voice, decidedly female, matter of fact and clipped with precision resounded somewhere near him. Frightfully close to him, in fact. He whipped around and became even more confused when there was no one to meet. His eyes told him that he was still alone.
“Back to…where? Base? Who are you?” he retorted, some part of him almost relieved to find another human contact, even if it appeared to be only a disembodied voice. “Where are you?”
“This is Cleo. I’m back at the base, where you should be, right now. The base – you know – the brick building you left earlier – I was there all along, you just didn’t know where to look. And that’s quite a nasty wound that you sustained,” she answered.
He continued to turn round and round, trying to find the source of the sound, ludicrous as it must have looked and fruitless as it was, he still hoped to find someone.
“How am I able to hear you…? Sustained? I sustained a wound? How was I able to sustain such a wound?” All these questions he asked in all directions, confirming to himself, still, that he was quite alone.
“Some confusion is normal, I can assure you. Everyone has been fitted with a communication device, yours is standard issue. I can direct you back to the base if you wish. However, now that I consult my sources, it doesn’t look as though anyone else besides you is out looking for survivors. Your work would be invaluable if you continued with your scouting.” Her voice sounded professional, cheerful to the point of falsehood. It’s cadence sounded rehearsed, or perhaps her words were read from a crisp list that sat beside her on her desk.
“Cleo…?” he began, once she had finished speaking. The sound of her voice, he was quickly learning, came from inside his own head. It was very disconcerting, to say the least, to have a voice other than his own filling up the inside of his head. Taking a few deep gulps of breath, still sucking in the salty brine of sea and the stench of the dead, he fumbled his way back from the shore, stepping his way through the corpses that littered the beach. He replaced the shredded sock and the battered shoe he was still holding. All this was done in a haphazard, lopsided way as he began walking slowly and deliberately, not knowing where he was going. Leaving the beach behind him, he pulled himself back towards the park and hospital and looked about the town once more.
Odd as it was, lights were on in every single building around him. The street lamps all throughout the park hummed in their vibrant luminescence, unaware that they were illuminating the broad daylight. Somehow, their mechanism had become faulty. Useless.
“Yes?” Cleo answered after some time. False pleasantries seemed to have vanished from her voice.
“Am I supposed to know my name?” he asked her. He so desperately wanted to know what was wrong with him…who he was. He never meant to sound so blunt, the question had rolled off of his tongue so easily. So much for being an invaluable scout. What use was he if he couldn’t even remember who, or even where he was.
“I can’t remember my name.”
“As I have said,” she answered him, not even skipping a beat, crisp tone once more resumed, “some confusion is normal. Your name – if my records are correct – is Cole. Once you have come back to base, there are some memory exercises I can recommend to help you, if you so wish.”
“My name is Cole? What’s the name of this town?” he wanted to ask so many more questions, but didn’t know the correct ones to ask in order to gain meaning of the waste he found himself in. “I’ve been through most of this place. Where else can I go to find anyone? It seems that everywhere I look, I’m alone here.”
There was a pause, and he could have sworn that he heard a few blips and bleeps and clicks of what seemed like various thoughts falling in to place. Perhaps the communication device that connected the two of them was shorting out, reconnecting again…
“Suffering from quite a bit of confusion here, too, Cole. Now that the power is finally up, after that last storm, I can-“
“Storm?” He quickly intercepted Cleo’s train of thought. “What storm?”
“The storm – yes, it’s one that’s been cycling through here for some time. We’ve been hard pressed to keep everything running and surviving. I’m glad to see that you’ve made it through the last storm. Midhaven seems to be where we are at…”
“Midhaven?” Cole intercepted again before he could stop himself. All he seemed to be doing was parroting every last thing that she said. Lumbering slowly through the park still, he came to the end of the green grass and he stopped short. Stopped right before heading onto the hospital grounds again.
“Yes. Midhaven.” Cleo confirmed. “I’m slowly gathering bits and pieces of information, here, hold on. It looks as though the last signal received from the occupants of Midhaven came from an underground bunker, not too far from where you’re at now. You’re near the hospital now, I see? No one was in the building, that you could tell?”
Cole now walked around the building, scanning the windows and glancing up and down the expanse of the parking lot, still seeing no one. “No one’s here. Where is this bunker, exactly?”
“Continue on from the intersection that lies in the front of the hospital, and then turn down the street, to your right. It’s only a little ways from there, hidden in the basement of a very large Methodist church. I don’t think you’d be able to miss it.”
He continued moving in the direction her voice spoke of. A thought struck him: what did obeying this voice actually mean? It was only then did he begin to wonder about the validity of the voice that was in his very head. Could Cleo be leading him into a dangerous place? He didn’t even know enough about his own situation to even guess about what kind of trap could be waiting for him there, if any. Best proceed with caution, he suspected.
“And don’t worry,” she began anew, before he could finish visualizing what sort of doom could be waiting for him at the Methodist church. “Just describe to me what’s going at all times, and if I can foresee any kind of danger for you, I’ll help you through it. Have you noticed anything odd, so far?”
“There was the sea…I was at the beach when you first began to talk to me. It was littered with hundreds of dead fish, seals – ” he faltered, unsure if this piece of information was even pertinent.
“Daringer’s Disease,” interrupted Cleo. “named after the ill-fated scientist that first discovered it and contracted it. Or some have named it “Poseidon’s Curse”. It’s at the top of the list of our concerns. Experts are working, still, to find a cure, but many deaths have already resulted from it,” she told him in his ear.
“Many have died? That translates to…how many…exactly…?” he asked slowly.
“Most of this town,” Cleo responded quickly.
“Then how am I still alive?” Cole countered back. “I must have never caught the virus. Or am I somehow immune to it?” Before him, just to his right, just as Cleo had foretold, there loomed a large sign stating to him that this was the Methodist church in question. He didn’t go in through the main doors, but instead chose a set of doors that led into the ground at a slant, just outside of the church walls, leading, he presumed, beneath the church.
“That’s a question we can go over when you get back to base,” she answered as he thrust open the doors and was met with pitch black shadow. “Memory exercises can help you with that, as it’s not really something I can go over with you right now, over the communicator. Are you in that bunker, Cole? You should be there by now, I think.”
“I am. I’m at the top of the stairs…” he answered, only to be met with silence at her end.
“And?” she queried, after some time. It was odd…he noticed that he couldn’t hear her breathing. Only silence translated over the communicator between pauses. Over the course of their entire conversation, he couldn’t recall a single moment when he had noticed an intake of breath. “What do you see?” She finally continued. “Have you gone down the stairs yet?”
“No,” he answered sharply, unable to put into words the fear he felt of walking down into the black shadow that could be concealing nearly anything. Ashamed to put into words the terror he felt of that dark.
“I know what’s wrong – their lights haven’t come on yet because the lights are most likely triggered by motion sensors. Keep on moving down the stairs, the lights should come on as they sense your movement.”
Against his better judgement, Cole did as she said.
Maybe he actually was contaminated with this “Daringer’s Disease”, and Cleo was directing him right into a trap that would cleanly dispose of him. He tenderly placed each foot down the stairs, imagining monsters, efficient machines of execution, or perhaps even a waiting human that might administer his death. One footstep, one at a time, each foot met with pure pitch black. As he looked behind him, the daylight above him was slowly swallowed in the jaws of the bunker’s doors.
Suddenly, the lights did click on, just as Cleo had said they would. He was standing in a metal room, large and vastly empty except for a few metal tables that held a clutter of broken shards of various kinds of what must have once been computers. A half open, brightly lit closet that displayed ammunition and weaponry lay at the end of the room. All around him lay dead men, stretched out in various formations, as if enacting some sort of gruesome play. A performance that had finished it’s final act some time ago, and each player was frozen in its own unique, grim way.
“Are you downstairs yet, Cole?” Cleo’s voice broke the silence. “It’s okay if you’re afraid of the dark. It means your survival instincts are functioning just as they should. Fear means that you will live, and I can-“
“The lights are on.” Cole interrupted her prattle. His own growing fear wasn’t exactly a subject that he felt very comfortable discussing at this moment.
“What do you see, Cole?” she asked.
Cole studied the room. For a moment, the sound of his own heavy breathing was the only sound that filled his head. Four men lay very close to the stairway that led to the outside world, but they all displayed bullet wounds, or deep, crusted wells of blood that blotted their clothing. Each and every wound was in a backside or in the back of a head. All four of them, trying to look behind them, their necks turned at odd, nearly impossible angles, surprise etched into every line of their expressions. He followed their gaze to one man in a corner that sat, limply holding a gun in his hands, head craned to one side, his brains and fragments of skull sprayed alongside dull ribbons of blood on the glossy wall behind him. Cole suspected that he’d find an expression of peace on those features. But, coming closer to the corpse, he noted that the features were caked in blood that streamed from his closed eyes, and dark red rivulets dried beneath his nostrils, plastered to his chin and neck, ending in a dark, caked gush of black that dried in an intricate pattern down the front of his shirt.
Walking his way further into the room, he became aware of an indiscriminate amount of bodies littering the ground all around him. Indiscriminate because nearly all of the remains were in pieces. Some of the bodies were whole and lay on their backs, clutching their sides in vain as their entrails spilled all about them from their gashed guts. The same surprise was echoed in all of their features. Garish and exaggerated surprise and terror inscribed even in the features of two heads that lay close to the bodies that they sorely missed, their mouths still open, completing their final expression.
Through the thick electric buzz of the lights overhead, the room was filled with the echoes of the horrific sounds that must have exited those lips in final desperation.
“No one is alive. It appears there was some fighting that took place between them-“ as soon as Cole had spoken these words, he noticed one lone corpse on the floor, sprawled out upon his belly, reaching for a table beside him that held the remains of about three computers. Each computer was smashed and laying in pieces. The corpse lay, facing downward, his belly impaled by a long blade that jutted from the middle of his back, one of his hands still grasping the hilt in death’s defiance. Creeping in closer to him, getting a better look, Cole noted the same crusted blood that leaked from his closed eyes and nostrils, identical to the other man that sat in the corner.
“There appears to be two main culprits, each of them died by suicide. The rest are victims. I don’t know how many there are, exactly. And I don’t know how long they’ve been dead, “ he finished his statement.
“I see,” was her crisp response. “The two culprits, the suicide victims, have they bled from the eyes and nose? Does their flesh differ in color from the others, noticeably at the wrist and at the pulse points of the neck?”
Cole stepped back just a little ways and examined the scene. The entire spectacle in sight, it looked like a photograph of some biblical pageant, portraying Old Testament violence in kitschy, modern fashion. Bending forward once more, he noticed that the man that lay on the floor actually did sport some odd colors, purplish-blue, if he was going to put a name to the hue. And, yes, the colors were focused at the pulse points of his neck and his wrists. Walking back to the other man that was propped up in the corner of the room, he noted the same dark bruises of color at his neck and very noticeable splotches at his wrists.
“Yes. Both culprits are just as you have described. Did they have Daringer’s Disease?”
“Yes, Cole, good guess.”
A distracted frown played across his lips at this quick quip from from Cleo…
“There’s no need to by snarky -“ he answered her.
“I was in earnest,” she interjected, without even the slightest bit of humor coloring her voice. “Now,” she continued, “Can you tell me anything more about the subjects?”
Subjects. It felt so cold and distasteful to speak of them so conversely; subjects to be studied and poked and prodded, calculated and filed away for future analysis. He fell silent; unable to reply, unwilling to add further data for the research project of the spent corpses that lay spattered in various formations and fragments.
All of a sudden, the ground shook beneath his feet. Concrete, ironclad bunker that it was, the structure careened under his senses. That odd surge, that all-encompassing electrical wave undertook his limbs anew, and for a brief moment, he found himself wondering if his sight was soon to disappear, as well. The lights flickered around him in the bunker for one terrifying second, but turned themselves back on again, stubbornly. The electrical surge disappeared from his limbs, but only for the time being; Cole was certain that the predictability of the electricity was not to be counted on.
“Cole-“ Cleo’s voice burst into his ear, loud and full of impatience, cutting through the confusion that was welling up in his head, her words buzzing and blurred alongside another searing electric pulse that undulated through him with each breath he took. “You have to go, you should be at base before the storm starts up again. It’s starting to cycle again.”
Cole surely didn’t need another word of encouragement from Cleo. As fast as he could command his shaken limbs to go, he retreated up the stairs and out of the cellar doors of the Methodist church. With a resounding slam, he clapped the doors shut. Running out into the street, he noticed that the lights were fading fast, all around him. His body ached, his nerves swam with the current that started out as a barely perceptible buzz, but soon rose to painful proportions as he continued in a dead run.
The sky was beginning to blacken, swirls of black clouds were conspiring to take over the sky, and wind was beginning to build to howl of warning. As he passed the hospital once more, he could hear angry waves crashing against the beach. The smell of the dead carrying with each crash, he could almost imagine the ocean rising in angry turrets, threatening to come closer and closer to the hospital and all the buildings of the town.
“I don’t quite know if I will recognize the building if I see it, Cleo, can you-“ he called out to his guide, his eyes blind to nearly everything around him, save the troubling signs of impending disaster.
“You’re nearly here, Cole. Just keep running in that direction, and I’ll let you know when you are near the building. Hurry! There’s no telling how fast the storm will progress.”
The lights of all the street lamps overhead and the lights in all the ramshackle houses were flickering as he ran, stubbornly holding on to their task of illuminating the day, warding off the dark clouds that threatened to engulf the sky. His every nerve palpitated with the shuddering electrics.
“Cole, you’re here. Turn to your right, you’ve made it, Cole-”
Cleo’s voice was noticeably different. A kind of tinny, robotic gravel to it, husky with an unknown interference, grinding into his ear with impatience.
The lights around him stubbornly shifted on and held their ground as Cole finally found the brick building he had first emerged from, some hours ago.
“Cole, you’d better hurry. There’s no telling how fast the storm will progress. Cole, you’d better hurry-“
The voice in his ear was clearer now, not a hint of disintegration from before, but unnervingly repetitive. Cleo spoke his name a few times more as the iron doors of the building opened for him without even a suggestion from him (he imagined Cleo, inside, had operated this action for him) and made his way down the hallway. He searched each and every room. Found no one. Not even the slightest mention of another human. No voices. No hum of socializing, there was nothing to hear save the hum of electrical things, clinging to life.
A crack of thunder from outside resounded like a gunshot, and Cole jumped, unsettled by a sound that was foreshadowing something he couldn’t quite lay his finger on yet. Some impeding disaster that he had no memory of.
“Cole-“ Cleo began again.
“Where are you?” He broke her off before she could finish what she was saying, tired of going in circles, confused at the sudden knowledge that he was still just as alone as he was when he first woke up in this building, earlier.
There was no one here.
“The computer room. I’m here, Cole. You need to hurry. There’s not much time left.”
The computer room?
Cole timidly retraced his footsteps from earlier that day, down corridors and brightly lit hallways, finding his way to the center core of the building, doors hidden behind wires and thick cables and ropes of electrical cords, bound across the ceiling and held in place with luminescent tape he hadn’t noticed, not before in the gloom of the absence of light.
He found the computer room, finally, it was behind doors that he had left slightly ajar, the last time he had stepped through them and out into the hallway. The lights surged one more time, nearly threatened to cease their glow, and his body was racked with a surge of pain more frightening than before. His body was on fire with electrical pulse, every tissue and fiber alight with the sensation. He half expected to burst into flames, and it was quite difficult to get the mental image of that occurrence out of the subconscious of his fears.
Cleo buzzed unintelligible words in his ear; his vision turned to milky colors that foamed across his eyes. As the lights fought to shine (through the haze of the colors he could barely discern perceptible fluctuations of the overhead lights, flashing on and off at a maddening speed), Cole shoved his way through the doorway and clasped his head in his hands and closed his eyes as tight as he could, willing it all to stop. Wondering what exactly it meant.
Why was his body tied into the power surges? Was this a side effect of Daringer’s Disease? Was he dying in this very moment?
Cleo’s voice rang in his ear. Clear, precise and not without a hint of fear and impatience.
Cole looked up and found the lights bright and steady in the computer room, as well as several of the computers alive with calculations and activity that burst across their screens.
“Where are you?” Cole asked for the second time, a question that he was getting tired of asking.
“I’m in front of you, Cole,” she answered him.
Cole scanned the tables and rows of of chairs and computers, and nothing in that room could have hidden a life form. No closets, no corners that lay in the shadows. No one was waiting in there. No one to meet him, no one to answer him.
A peculiar thing, though – the computer just in front of him – Cole noticed that it’s screen contained lines of dialogue.
“Can’t you see me?”
The computer’s dialogue continued, and Cole leaned in – noticed that those very words ‘Can’t you see me’ were added to the lines of dialogue, just as Cleo had spoke them to him, in his head.
Cole sat at the computer and scrolled back through the dialogue, noticing that his words were among the dialogue. Cleo’s words, all there as well. Everything that had been spoken between them was there, right from the very first sentence spoken between them.
“This…this is you?” he asked, gesturing with a pointed finger at the monitor of the computer in front of him, realizing just how immensely absurd he looked, motioning in this way when no one was there to see him.
“Yes. I’m part of the inner networkings that make up you, Cole. Hadn’t you guessed it, yet? Cleo…Cole…they’re anagrams.”
Cole stood up and stepped away from the computer and against the far wall of the room. It was rather distracting, to say the least, watching Cleo’s words and his own mirrored back to him in real time.
“You’re part of me?” he asked.
“Yes. They created you as a way to help with the aftermath of the storm. We’re hardwired into each other, which is why you experience so much pain and disorientation every time I turn on and off with the electricity. I’ve been fighting especially hard to survive, to remain on before the storm hits…just so I could communicate with you. You have many bugs, still, I’m sorry to say. Bugs that have been there since the very first day they created you, but at least they were able to make you independent of me, and capable of functioning, dependent of electricity. They had hoped that you would be able to function not just after the storm had left, but for many years to come. As a benefit to science.”
Cole remained leaning against the wall, not really caring to contemplate all that was being spoken to him. In the light of things, he considered that he was taking things rather well. Everything Cleo said made sense, he supposed…there really wasn’t much of an alternative but to believe her.
“They created a fail-safe in you. You shut down whenever the storm hits full cycle. It’s only in the beginning stages now, and I’m glad that you made it back here in time.”
“Who are ‘they’? Who made me?” Cole broke his silence, so willing to buy this whole explanation, part of him unable to believe. Wondering now if he ever really, truly, wanted the gaps of his memories to be filled. What could there possibly be to remember? Did anyone want to remember how they were assembled?
“The scientists of Midhaven. They did their best to create you, installed some of their own memories alongside the most advanced robotics, making you a more human replicant, capable of understanding emotions and drawing from personal experience. Only, the bugs in you, I think there are several in me, too-“
“Bugs, you keep talking about bugs, what bugs?” Cole asked her, coming towards the computer screen now, just a little at a time. Unsure how to interact with it. Still unclear as to how it was part of him.
“Well, you suffer a complete amnesia each time you go into fail-safe mode. It’s necessary that you shut down, as the elements could very well harm you if you remained in the storm. When you shut down, I do, too. It takes quite a while for us to reboot, and we start from scratch each time. They tried to fix you. They never fixed you completely, not in time. They were able to make some headway with me. I’m your backup. Even though it takes some time for me to load. And I do have trouble remembering much from previous reboots. Only the core of the first installment of information remains firmly intact.”
“Each time,” Cole repeated her words, struggling to comprehend her words.
“Cleo -“ Cole asked after a moment, stopping himself as he uttered the name, and finding the strength to continue the conversation with an entity that he didn’t quite understand yet. The unfolding story that she wove clenched a spasming knot in his stomach.
“Cleo, so, you’re telling – you’re telling me that we shut down each time there’s a storm, and then, when we reboot, we start all the way at the beginning…how many times have we rebooted?”
“That’s correct,” Cleo answered him, “and it’s hard to say how many times we’ve rebooted.”
Cole began to pace around the room slowly. Another clap of thunder sounded outside, and the lights and computers shook and were very nearly snuffed out. Cole held on to the end of one of the tables as he shuddered with wave after wave of electrical pulse that wound throughout his nerves.
“Cole – you and I will power down soon, as soon as the winds reach a certain velocity, or the temperatures drop, or the tidal waves begin to flood the town again, any one of these occurrences will trigger an immediate shut down. We must survive so that we can be here when survivors inevitably show up. We may be of some help yet, and we have a duty to them. Secure the doors. In one of the corners of the room, you will find an apparatus that can secure you to the wall, as well. The building is structured to be safe and secure, but it’s always better to be prepared. Just in case.”
Cole did as Cleo instructed him to do, remembering this very harness from this morning, fastening it around his chest, seeing it as familiar now, knowing that it would appear unfamiliar to him once more, once he woke up again.
“Are there any survivors, out there, somewhere? If so…how can I be of any help to them, if I can’t even remember my purpose when I wake up again? Where to begin…what am I even looking for? Will the storms ever stop? How long have they been going on?”
He poured forth several questions at once, and Cleo responded with blips and various chirping sounds as she, seemingly, poured over these questions herself.
“I don’t know,” was her simple answer.
“What happens if the power doesn’t come on next time…what if I don’t have you to guide me back here, when I – when I might escape from here, next time?”
The computers died. The lights blinked out completely, the computer room restored to it’s previous gloom. Electrical hums gave out completely to pure and terrifying silence. His body suddenly felt cold, his limbs heavy as ice and his breathing seemed to congeal in his very lungs.
Outside, a howl of a wind began. Light at first, and then persistent and violent. As his eyes became lead, he thought there was something about this sound that he remembered. Some sort of a troubling memory that he never really wanted to return to, but he couldn’t help but start it up once more, as the sound of the wailing wind filled his ears.
The dream was starting to take its toll on him. It was deja vu in its most dreaded and complicated form; the repetition of a horrible act that he had no control of and no ability to comprehend the meaning that surely must be there.
There must be a meaning. Without meaning…it was just a play without metaphor, without a higher message, Just violence. Pain. Desolation.
The dream always began in a clean white room.