This is chapter 8 of my current science fiction work in progress. At the end of Chapter 7, our main character Rick, or Roman depending on the reality, was told he was sick and had been drugged.
New chapters are posted on Tuesdays.
It was a bright room. I knew that before I opened my eyes. I hoped I was back with Sam and Max and Menton. I knew that I was not.
My first attempt at opening my eyes, all I saw was white. White light, white ceiling, white walls, white everywhere. I closed my eyes again. It was too much.
Several minutes later I tried again. It still was way too bright. I was in a bed. White rails, white sheets, white blanket. My arms were tied down with white wooly cuffs around my wrists. I could not see them, but my ankles also seemed to be strapped. The room was large enough that I could not see all of it. Still, I was certain I was not back in the bunker. This was another new place.
Not willing to leave me alone and awake for long, moments later I heard the door open. In walked Vann with a young, dark haired woman at his side.
“Why am I tied down?” I growled through gritted teeth.
“Relax, my friend,” Vann cooed with his fake smile. “You are not well. Our aim is to correct that. We cannot have you harming yourself in the meantime.”
“What is this place?”
“This?” Vann glanced around the room. “You are in our Core, the reconditioning center. Everything is fine. Just relax and you will be yourself in no time.”
“I am myself now!”
“I know you feel that way.” Vann patted my shoulder. Had my hand been free I would have ripped his arm off his body.
Turning to the young woman, he continued, “I think a level four will fix the problem. Are you capable or should I remain?” He did not even fake cordiality with the woman. He was cold and demeaning.
She, in turn, kept her gaze fixed downward, never making eye contact with him. “I am capable.” She spoke barely above a whisper.
“Good. I will be back to check on your progress.”
The young woman did not move until the door had closed again. She moved closer and adjusted the blanket around me.
“Are you comfortable?” she asked in a much louder voice than she had used with Vann.
“Seriously?” Now I wanted to hit her.
She continued straightening the blanket around me. “They are listening.” The words came out so softly that I almost did not hear them.
“Who?” I asked her.
“Please be silent,” she whispered. “Blink once for yes, twice for no.”
I was confused.
Louder again she said, “This process only takes a short time. Then you will be allowed to rest again. You may be back in your own room yet tonight.”
I did not understand anything, but I remained silent.
“Do you know me?” The whisper came again, so quiet it could easily be missed. Her mouth did not move at all. I blinked twice in response.
“I know you,” she continued. “General Pierce. They consider it a great victory to have you here.”
I opened my mouth to speak, but she grabbed my hand tightly. Her eyes told me that silence was the only option.
“My name is Jasmine. You saved my father. I will help you, but you must do everything exactly as I say. Do you understand.”
I blinked once.
“Good.” Then louder she continued, “It is best if you can lie very still. Things will go much quicker if you do. Any movement sometimes stops the reconditioning probes.”
She walked away and came back pushing a machine that looked like it had a light on an extending arm coming from the top. The end of the arm was an open circle with three rows of tiny blues lights. She positioned the circle above my forehead.
“I need you to close your eyes,” she was whispering again. “You should be unconscious for this part. It’s important that they do not see any movement or reactions.”
I blinked once my understanding.
Jasmine pushed a few buttons on the machine and it started to hum. The lights got much brighter. I closed my eyes obediently.
“We have about fifteen minutes.” Her whisper was a little louder but not much. “The light from the reconditioner messes with their viewing displays so they cannot clearly see your mouth move. It is important that you move as little as possible and barely open your mouth.”
I opened my mouth barely a crack and whispered, “I understand.”
“Good. I am sure you have questions. I will try to tell you what I can.”
“What is this place?”
“We are in their core,” she told me. “Primarily they do reconditioning here, but they can also heal physical wounds if someone is injured.”
“What is reconditioning?”
“You don’t remember?” She seemed momentarily surprised. “I suppose that makes sense. Reconditioning in the way they control our minds. They can delete or change memories and completely alter our personality.”
It was hard for me to keep my eyes closed.
“You are not reconditioned?” I asked her.
“No, here in the core they do not need the pretense. Those of us who work here know what they are.”
“What they are?”
“They are Plax. Surely you remember Plax if you remember anything.”
“Vann and the other.”
“No.” That could not be right. “I just saw a Plax. They have four silver eyes and can run on the ceiling.”
“You have seen one? Not many of us have. Not in their true form, that is.”
“Yes. You saw what they really look like. They are shape shifters. They can make themselves look like almost any creature. In some of the mods I hear they look like animals from Earth.”
Dozens of questions flooded in to my head. I struggled to remain still.
“Why are you working with them?”
“Not by choice. They have my little brother and sisters. They have all the children. We work to keep the others safe. Though once we turn eighteen we are not allowed to see them again. I work to keep them safe and I hope they really are.”
“How long has it been?”
“I am twenty-one now. I have not seen anyone under eighteen since I turned.”
A little bell rang out on the machine.
“I have to turn up the brightness. This may be uncomfortable.”
She was right it was.
“Try not to squint. I do not think they can see but we must be careful.”
“I’ll do my best.” The lights were so bright that my eyelids offered almost no protection. Reflex was trying to make me turn away or cover my face.
“Tell me about the mods.” I thought the distraction might make it easier.
“We do not have much time left,” she told me. “When I am done I am going to give you a mild sedative. I have to give you something because they will check. You should remain alert enough to know what is going on. It is very important that you act like everyone else going forward. They must think that the reconditioning worked. It would be very bad if they knew what I was doing.”
“I will,” I assured her.
“I’m sure it will be hard,” she went on. “You must smile and interact with the others. They want the appearance of paradise and harmony. That includes Vann. You must act genuinely happy to see him.”
“That will be more of a struggle.”
“It is important. There is much more at stake than just you and me. You are special, General. You have a gift they did not think possible.”
“Gift? What do you mean?”
I heard the door open again and Jasmine quit speaking.
“Just a few more minutes,” she called out.
The little bell on the machine rang again and the lights turned off. Jasmine leaned in very close. “Act like them,” she whispered. She pressed something against my neck. I felt myself slipping away. Things did not go completely dark, though. I could still hear and comprehend what was going on. I heard footsteps and knew that Jasmine had left the room.
“They should leave them alert enough to walk.” It was Gregg’s voice. “I hate touching them.”
“I carried the last one.” Todd was there too.
“Very well,” Gregg exhaled. He slid his arms under me and picked me up. I was able to open one eye slightly and hoped they would not notice. They carried me out of the room into a hallway. Without turning my head, I could not get much of a view. There were several other doors. At the end of the hallway two doors opened. They stepped into a small room. I guessed it was an elevator though I did not sense any movement. A small display appeared, and Todd pressed his hand against it. Then a single door appeared and opened. Moving through the door, I could see we were outside and it was nearing dusk. Outside I recognized the little building with the locked door. I was right. It did lead somewhere important.
They carried me back to my room and put me in my bed. Gregg laid down on the other bed and Todd left.
I wanted to sleep but could not get my mind to quiet. I had not learned enough. Something sinister was happening and people were expecting me to be part of the solution. If only I could somehow restore my memories, so I would at least know what battle I was fighting. I did take solace in meeting Jasmine. I was not alone. Paul may not be himself, but now I had him and Jasmine. If no one else in the compound was real, at least I knew they were.
At the first glimpse of light I hopped out of bed. Gregg was awake and watching me.
“Good morning,” I called out to him. I forced a smile even though it felt unnatural.
“Good morning.” There might have been a bit of suspicion in his voice. It was best I not oversell it.
I showered and changed into a new outfit and headed out to the dining area. Gregg stayed at my side until we were approaching the dining area. Todd and Vann were waiting near the entrance.
“Good morning, friends,” I greeted them.
“Good morning,” Vann replied. “Are you feeling better?”
“I feel great,” I told them. “Was I unwell?”
Vann studied me closely for a moment. I stood strong with my beaming smile.
“No, I guess I was mistaken,” he finally said. “Please forgive me.”
I continued on to one of the tables while the three of them remained at the entrance. I had passed the first test.
Gregg stayed with me another two nights. Now that I knew what he was, I found it impossible to sleep with him in the room. He did not sleep either. Every time I glanced his way, his eyes were open and fixed on me.
The third night I came back from the vineyards and only my bed was in the room. I had passed the next test.
Even with Gregg gone, I found it difficult to sleep. Was it possible that what Jasmine said was true? And if so, what was the dream about the bunker? I needed more answers.
It was several more days until I dreamt of the bunker again. I decided that exploring was temporarily out of the question and that Paul should probably be left alone for a while. I did not want to do anything to put either of us under further scrutiny. I poured my strength into working in the vineyard. The vineyard did not seem very large but amazingly, each day I went out there were always grapes to be picked and new vines to be tied up.
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