[Original Novel] Pressure 2: Dark Corners, Part 9
“Even with the lingering shame, there was also a strong determination in me to do justice to this awesome power I’d discovered. I created one clumsy, regrettable creature after the next. Each time hoping for improvement but having to destroy the pitiable thing when it proved no more fit to live than the last. Despair overcame me. I reflected on the intricacy and beauty of nature, compared my own abortive imitations to it and found them severely wanting.”
“That is to say, I found myself wanting. I was a child, handed a box of crayons and told to reproduce a Van Gogh. Most of all, try as I might, I could not stop crying. The shame was so powerful, nothing else made it through. I stopped only when struck with the terrible epiphany that perhaps the nature I aspired to imitate was itself the crude creation of lesser gods, seeming perfect to me only because I had never seen what genuine life looks like. All at once I could see myself as a second order creation, a mistake in a universe of mistakes, fashioned by someone trying desperately to imitate the work of a being as far beyond it’s own intelligence as it was beyond mine.”
“Without warning, I lurched from that reality to another. It was pitch black, frigid and damp, smelling strongly of mold. After several more minutes of stumbling blindly through dark, cold corridors, the passage opened up into a dimly lit chamber. This chamber was impossible to understand. Everything was in some stage of decay. Walls caked with dried blood. Bones, meat and intestines suspended in wire netting from overhead racks. Machines, assembled from bone and resembling looms, in the process of weaving together muscles. Everything stank of death.”
“The central table had a human figure on it, but the anatomy was wrong. One joint was impacted. The eyes were deeply inset, and jet black. The face was deformed, and the limbs were all proportioned differently. Long scars covered the body, encircling joints like seams. From the belly button, an umbilical cord trailed across the chamber into a huge veiny orifice embedded in the floor.”
“I fell to my knees in a fit of hysterics. It was too much, all at once. A place no human was meant to see. The far corner of the chamber was then blotted out by a thick, soupy patch of shadow. The cobbled together thing on the table sat up, got off the table, and without its mismatched feet ever touching the floor it floated across the room and vanished into that dark patch of nothing.”
“This proved to be the last thing I needed to witness before surrendering myself to madness. I writhed, screaming profanities on the blood encrusted concrete floor of that unspeakable place for what seemed like days. When I awoke I was not ten feet from where I was when the ordeal began. Hank was with me, and insisted only a few seconds had passed.”
“I began crying. I don’t blame him for being confused. I was confused too, and scared out of my wits. And nauseous. In large part from what I’d just seen, but it’s also symptomatic of whatever causes the visions. When Hank had his, it was followed by the same feeling. That’s part of the reason why I’m now certain we were touched by the same phenomenon.”
“What I want to know is whether or not it’s happened to you. Hank and I had very similar experiences independent of one another, so I’m satisfied that it’s something external that can affect anyone aboard the Tartarus. But you were outside of the station in one of the prison habitats. That’s why I need to know whether it reached you as well, so we can estimate the radius of effect.”
“You sound so composed, considering.” James struggled to pull a shirt over his head. The fabric clung stubbornly to his skin and made him wish he’d taken the time to properly dry off. “I have a few hours on you”, she said. “Earlier today, I went through all of this myself.” James peeked around the door frame. “With the bathtub? I’m sorry I missed that.”
She laughed, blushed and returned to sorting through what looked like CCTV recordings. “What are those?” Olivia fiddled with the time indicator, speeding through hours of footage in the span of a few seconds.
“Tartarus is packed to the gills with security cameras. One of your buddies managed to access that network using a concealed smartpad. That’s how we knew when Remer and his goons were gone and it was safe to attempt a jailbreak.”
The reminder gave James a start. “Cray? Rod? Where are they? Are they okay?” She put a hand on his thigh and gestured to sit back down. “We haven’t located them yet but I’m certain they’re fine. Just prior to leaving the station, Remer transferred them to cells like yours. Before we brought you in to decompress, Hank and I were trying to figure out exactly which cells they’re in. Then we noticed this.”
She flipped rapidly through video feeds from the hundreds, maybe thousands of neutrally buoyant micro habitats hanging still against the night on all sides of the station. The scene in each was the same. Although some were empty, in every occupied cell the inmate was stripped nude and cowering in the corner.
“That was you, not so long ago.” He shuddered, remembering what came out of the shadow and agonizing over whether it was real or a narcosis induced hallucination. “What’s weird is, sometimes I’ll switch back to a feed I’ve already seen, and the prisoner is gone. Eight in the past hour. I’m glad we got you out of there when we did.”
It was a struggle to reconfigure the furniture within that tight space into something resembling Olivia’s office, but when James described his experiences in the cell she insisted on an impromptu session. As usual the more he tried to get away from the topic of Lisa, the more she tied everything into that. Soon discussion turned to the foundry, in particular the ghoulish abattoir at the lowest point.
“More of a reverse abattoir, right? From the sounds of it, rather than dismembering human remains, they were being assembled.” Where was she going with this? “I think my dream is related to the hallucination in your cell, and to the foundry. Lisa is emotionally dead to you, so you’re trying to rebuild her from the pieces that represent your remaining affection. I picked up on that, and elements of it wound up in my dream. The machinery in the foundry is designed to malfunction because for you it represents frustrations with the way that everything you depend on inevitably fails.”
James rolled on his side and scowled at her. “Is this supposed to be improving my mood?” She reclined and scribbled something invisibly on her notepad. “If that’s all you want I could just prescribe oxycontin, but it wouldn’t be a permanent solution. Tell me about the other dreams you had before this started.”
James rolled onto his back and closed his eyes. “The most recent recurring dream before I started visiting the foundry was the cave dream. Nowhere near as vivid or consistent, but it would pop up every few days during the first month after she left. I woke up naked in a cold, damp, pitch black cave. I’d turn around and look for a way out, but there was only a solid rock wall behind me. No way to go back.”
“So I trudge forward, shivering and miserable, hoping the cave lets out somewhere. Every time I became exhausted and tried to stop, friendly voices told me the cave would widen soon, then open up into fresh air and sunshine. So I got up and pushed on. But the cave never widened, it got narrower. And there was no light at the end, it just got so narrow I felt like it was crushing me and I couldn’t breathe.”
“Beyond that, the cave simply ended. Those voices lied to keep me going, when there was no reason to. It was the difference between stumbling cold and alone in the dark for a short distance, or for many miles. Better to stop when exhausted and wait to wake up, no?” Her answer was not forthcoming. When he glanced over to see if she was listening, there were tears in her eyes.
“I need you not to be obtuse with me.” Olivia, who was normally dispassionate during these sessions, suddenly had inflections of stress in her voice. “It doesn’t take a psych doctorate to interpret a dream like that. Why did you never tell me about this before?” That was equally obvious. “Because I knew you’d react like this. Can we not dwell on it?” May as well have been rhetorical, Olivia was now determined to focus on the cave dream.
“Do you have suicidal thoughts?” James shrugged. “Yeah, all the time. Everyone does though.” More quiet scribbling. “That’s a common misconception held by the clinically depressed. Having frequent suicidal thoughts isn’t normal. You know it’s the most selfish thing you can do, right?”
Passive until this point, James bolted upright and snapped back: “That’s the biggest load of shit. Selfishness is demanding someone live for your sake. That they prolong their own misery just because death terrifies you.”
Stay Tuned for Part 10!