The next morning, I awoke again in the compound. For a few minutes I pondered what the other me in the bunker would be doing. Was I unconscious there again? There was no way of knowing.
I decided it was best to not bring attention to myself. I went back to keeping the stern look on my face and went back to work in the vineyards. As much as I was enjoying the food, I forced myself to go back to only eating three bites. Rations existed for a reason and there was no excuse for me to be a glutton just because food was available.
Paul’s six guards were more vigilant at keeping us apart, but I caught Paul glancing my way frequently at noon meal. When I could get even reasonably close to him, I would call out a word that I hoped would be familiar to him. Mical. Football. Menton. Something had to click.
Each night after first rain I made my way back to the barn hopeful of seeing Paul.
For two weeks I was in the compound and kept up my new routine. One night while waiting in the quiet dark barn I sat with my back against the crate contemplating what else I could try to reach Paul.
“Sir?” A voice came out of no where and I sprang to my feet. Paul was there and had scared me half to death.
“Peadar?” I whispered. In the darkness I didn’t see him, but he was only a few feet from me. He had come naked as I expected he would. “I brought you clothes,” I told him.
“They will see,” he objected.
“Not these clothes.” I retrieved his outfit from under the crate and he put them on. I felt more at ease once he was dressed.
“I keep mine hidden under the carpet in my room,” I told him. “You might find a better option.”
“Thank you, sir.”
“You can stop with the ‘sir’ business. Are you fully back?”
“Not fully, sir, er, I mean,” he stopped talking.
“Ugh. Sir is okay if that’s what you prefer.”
“I do, sir, thank you.”
“Do you know who you are?” I asked him.
“Some. I remember you. And Mical. And Menton. There are some gaps, but every day I am getting new glimpses of my past. Thank you for working to bring me back.”
“Everyone thinks you are dead.” After the words were out, I realized how abrupt they would hit him.
“Everyone? You have had contact with the others?”
“Yes, well, sort of,” I told him. I started to explain to him the dreams or waking hours in the bunker.
“And I am dead there?”
“We think so,” I told him. “Menton says you threw me clear of a grenade blast. There was nothing left of you to find.”
Peadar sat down hard on the crate and it creaked loudly in protest.
“I don’t remember,” he said slowly. “Do you think I’m really dead?”
“I can’t say. I don’t know what this place is for sure. What’s the last thing you remember from the other world?”
“I remember we went to the surface,” he told me. “It was dark and cold, the sky was red. There was something we needed, but I can’t remember what right now. The Plax had come out of nowhere. We were surrounded. Then I was in the reconditioning center.”
“Whatever they did this last time was more successful. Do you remember anything?”
“Not much.” Even in the dark I knew he hung his head. “What I do remember is a vague blur until a few days ago. When you kept saying ‘football’ it got the bots in my brain to get to work on repairing the backup. I may have lost some in the process.”
“I hope not,” I told him. “I have already lost so much of my own that we need everything you know.”
“I will try to remember, sir.” Peadar stood back up at attention.
“At ease, soldier,” I told him. “None of this is your fault.”
His silence told me that he believed that at least some of it was.
“I know where the reconditioning center is,” I told him. “But I’m not sure how we can get in.”
“There is a door to an underground facility. Much more high-tech than our bunker. The door is sealed, and I don’t know how they open it.”
“Where are we now?” My comment about him dying was weighing heavily on him.
“I honestly don’t know. Max thinks it might be some sort of neural construct we are connected to. She says I might have bots in my brain.”
“Maybe,” Peadar agreed. “But that wouldn’t make sense for me. Even if deactivated for a time, my augmentation bots would set out to destroy any foreign bots the moment they were reactivated. They wouldn’t be able to keep me in a neural construct. It was a possibility that the Hyatt prepared for.”
“Then what is this place?”
“Maybe this place is real and the other is the construct.”
I thought of Sam. What if she wasn’t real? I did not remember her before my first night of dreams. My heart wept silently at the thought of her not existing.
“The other place must be real,” I insisted. “Sam. Max. Menton. They have to be real.”
“The people are real. I remember them. What I am saying is maybe they are the ones in a construct. You might only connect when you are exhausted enough to really sleep.”
His thought process made sense. I had not been back in the bunker for two weeks. Every night of those two weeks I had slept little with my plan of hopefully finding Peadar. The times I was in the bunker, when I returned to the compound I was never missing time. But when I went to the bunker, often considerable time had passed.
“If you are right,” I didn’t want to imagine that he was right. “How do we get them out? Where are they?”
“Before my last reconditioning, I had been thinking a lot about this place. There is no way this compound is on Earth. Everything was dead, the sky still filled with debris. No one has seen Earth’s sun in years and yet we see this sun every day. We can’t be on Earth.”
A cold chill ran up my spine. I hadn’t considered that we might not be on Earth.
“What about the others?” I asked him.
“I expect they have to be here. Maybe in the underground facility you saw.”
“I did meet a girl there. Jasmine I think was her name. She was one of our people.”
“So, there might be more of our people down there,” he said.
“Then our first priority is finding them.”
Peadar and I decided that we would only meet every third night. He felt it was important that I try to sleep. Sleep while in the compound was somehow the gateway to our comrades in the bunker.
Of course, sleep was a great concept. Actually sleeping was different matter entirely.
A thought started to grow in my mind that the compound was the construct. No matter how hard I worked in the vineyard, no matter how much I sweat out in the sun, come darkness I was seldom tired enough to actually sleep.
Part of my mind tried to play it off. I was a soldier. We had been fighting the Plax for years. My body could have adjusted to needing little sleep.
When I was in the bunker, though, I always felt tired. My body had been damaged several times, and the aches and pains were very present.
If the bunker were reality, then most likely Peadar was really dead. Somehow the Plax had found a way to salvage his consciousness. I kept that thought to myself. I knew Peadar was already thinking about it too much. There was no sense in my adding to his anguish until we had clear facts.
The next night that we met I took him to the entrance of the reconditioning center. There were no lights around it so we easily were able to inspect it up close.
“There has to be some sort of electronic signal that releases the door,” Peadar explained to me as he careful explored the door edges. “It’s almost perfectly sealed. There’s no way we can pry it open.”
There was nothing else to the small structure. Had I not seen the door open, even distinguishing what was the door would have been difficult. The remainder of the exterior was smooth.
“Do you remember them having any type of control?”
“No, I was unconscious when they took me in. I’m guessing the door opens automatically when you are coming out.”
“We will have to conduct some surveillance,” he suggested.
“I was thinking the same thing. There’s some thick underbrush over there.” I pointed to the area just beyond the pool with the black liquid. “I think we would have a clear line of sight from there.”
“How should we work this?” Ever the soldier, Peadar looked to me for direction.
“You can’t be missing during the day. Your six ‘friends’ would quickly notice if you disappeared for anything length of time. I probably can’t be missing a lot, but no one has ever questioned me when I have gone exploring during the day.”
Peadar only nodded in agreement.
“We’ll meet here every third night rather than in the barn. The first night, I will keep watch from first to second rain. The second night you will. The third night we can watch together as we share intel.”
Author’s Note: Thank you to all you dear readers that are traveling this journey with me. You are almost caught up now with how far I have written, so I have to get busy at writing more content.
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