Author’s Note: Hello, readers! I apologize, but due to circumstances beyond my control, this chapter is a day late in being published.
If you are just finding this series, Paradise is the working title of my current science fiction work-in-progress. The story tells the tale of one man trying to make sense of two realities after an alien invasion. Each chapter is shared as it is written, so please keep in mind this is a first draft as you read.
Without further adieu, here is the next chapter.
“Hold still!” Max’s voice was terse and strained.
“What?” I was strapped down. Nothing could be moved if I tried. Even my chin and forehead were held firmly in place.
I was back in the caves. It took my mind a moment to catch up. It had been some time. I couldn’t remember exactly how long.
There was something emitting a bright light above my head. With the straps holding me in place, I could not move my eyes enough to see it. Max was standing over me but looking intently at the light source.
“How long?” I knew time didn’t move at the same pace in both realities. I had been in the compound for many weeks.
Max looked down at me sternly. “Quiet,” she ordered me. “If you don’t want scrambled eggs for brains, I need to concentrate.”
She nodded to someone at the far end of the room. I caught just a glimpse of someone as I felt something cold touch my neck and everything went dark.
When I opened my eyes again, my head was pounding. I was very cold and my body was involuntarily shaking. The head of the bed was elevated giving my a view of the makeshift medical bay. It was dark and damp and didn’t look very sanitary.
Sam was sleeping uncomfortably in a chair next to me bed. I reached out to touch her and was relieved to find I was not strapped down. My head felt like it was bearing a 50 pound weigh.
Sam’s eyes sprung open the moment I touch her. Her wide smile lit up her whole face as tears immediately filled her eyes.
“Roman?” her voice quivered as she spoke my name.
“I’m here,” I told her.
She grabbed my hand and squeezed it tight.
“How long?” Speaking was harder than I expected. I knew the words I wanted to say but struggle with getting my mouth to say them.
Some of her smiled faded. “You fell back into a coma the first night we got here.”
“That was two months ago.”
Two months? That didn’t seem possible.
Tears were streaming down her face. “I thought I had lost you for good this time. I hoped you would come back to me.”
“Always will,” I struggled to get out. Something was not right. I started to move my free hand to touch my head but Sam quickly stopped me.
“It’s better you don’t touch it,” she said. “The procedure was more complicated than we had hoped.
More complicated was a huge understatement. She went on to explain how what they had hoped would be a non-invasive brain scan where they could pinpoint and destroy bots easily turn into a major surgery where they had removed my entire skull cap. Max and her team had worked for hours slowly and meticulously removing each strand of alien hardware that invaded my brain.
My head was heavily banded with both my skull and the skin covering it stapled back in place. I glanced around the dingy surroundings and wondered what else had entered my head during the surgery.
“We think we got them all,” Sam told me. “Max was very careful.”
“What does that mean?”
“It means that you should never see the construct again. No more comas.”
It hadn’t been real. Peadar wasn’t real. Vann wasn’t real.
I was suddenly very tired.
“You need to rest.” There was a man standing next to me. I hadn’t seen him walk up. He pressed something cold against my neck and I entered dreamless sleep again.
Considerable time passed. It was a dark blur. I would open my eyes and someone would encourage me to eat some food. Maybe I could ask a question or two, but then someone would send me back to sleep. Day and night had no meaning, and without even a clock to look at, I had no idea how many days were passing.
Finally, one time I opened my eyes and knew something was different. My head no longer felt weighed down and the grogginess seemed to be dissipating faster than before.
For the moment, I was alone in the med bay. Things were cleaner than the first time I had opened my eyes and more lights had been installed.
I was sure that getting up was not an option, but I did have the strength to push myself up some in the bed. My neck was weak and struggled to hold my head up.
A few minutes later, Max came into the room.
“Good morning, General.” Even her attempt at cordiality was cold and precise.
“Yes, not that morning means much down here.”
“How long?” Speaking was easier but still a challenge.
“Since the surgery? About seven weeks. The good news is that we have seen no more signs of bots or Plax tech. I think we got it all. I’ve lowered your pain meds. We plan to get you up on your feet starting today.”
“You seem to be.” Max came closer and stood alongside my bed. “We don’t fully understand the Plax technology, but I was able to remove everything we found. Even microscans did not find any bots.”
Relief and sadness washed over me. “And the compound?”
“The compound wasn’t real. It was the tech. The bots.”
For a moment, I thought I saw the hint of a tear in Max’s eyes.
“Peadar died on the surface. That was well over a year ago.”
Neither of us said anything for a moment. Peadar was gone. I had not remembered him to start with, but now I was sure I would never forget him.
She placed her hand gently on my shoulder. For a second, I saw the care and concern in her face that drove her to work tirelessly to keep us all alive and well.
“I’ll send someone in to get you up in a few minutes.” The cold exterior was back. “You’ve been lazy long enough. It’s time you start pulling your weight around here.”
She turned and left the room without looking at me again.