Area 54 - This article is part of a series.
Martin examined the numbers on the pale amber screen. As he concentrated, his hand wandered up to the side of his head, massaging his scalp. A dull persistent ache had been growing. He’d almost emptied the large bottle of ibuprofen that he’d gotten from Gus. There was a nagging thought that there might be a real problem, but he kept pushing it away. There had been more episodes of where he had lost time, and they had been getting longer. Phillip seemed to be angry at him for reasons he couldn’t understand. Gus avoided him like he had the plague. His journal. With a grimace, he pushed the thought of his journal out of his mind.
But real progress was being made. The specimens were growing at an alarming rate, and as they grew they continued to demonstrate new behaviors. He couldn’t ignore what were clear indicators of intelligence, and maybe even consciousness. A kind of hive mind seemed to be forming, though he didn’t care for the term. This was the kind of breakthrough discovery that could change the very path of humanity. He knew it. He felt it. He had to continue. We must continue.
That last thought caught him off guard, like he had heard a loud whisper from inside his head that didn’t belong to him. “Stop it! Focus!” he said aloud. Latching onto a wave of frustration fueled anger, he returned his attention to the amber colored computer terminal.
As a control, he had isolated one of the specimens, finding that an electrical field of a specific frequency seemed to act as a barrier to its communication with the others. With one tank set up as a kind of Faraday cage that could be toggled on and off, he could determine how long one creature could be separated from the collective before it was unable to join back again, if ever. Flipping on the tank’s electrical field, he felt a sudden strange emotion of loss, almost grief. It had come out of nowhere. A sharp pain stabbed at the back of his neck. Only then did he realize that his hand was already there, massaging the base of his skull.
Stepping away from the terminal, he reached into the pocket of his lab coat, and shook out four blue pills from a large bottle. Swallowing them dry, he looked into the plastic bottle, and counted ten pills remaining. He would have to talk to Gus soon, he thought.
Without warning another wave of pain washed over him. This time it was his entire body, like it was being pulled from every direction all at once by invisible wires. He half sat, half collapsed, onto a nearby stool.
Martin felt like he was tumbling in space. The sensation of being torn apart was replaced with a rubbery compression. It was almost like he was being forced through a funnel. Part of his mind understood it was impossible. Bones break, they don’t bend. The vast mesh of vasculature that powered the human body could not withstand extreme deformations of shape. Yet here he was, in darkness, tightening, compressing, flowing. From a distance, like his ears were hyper attuned to sounds coming from miles away, he could hear a distinct clicking. He focussed on it, and felt a directional shift. Whether it was up, down, or to the side he was unable to discern. It was impossible, but he thought he caught a scent of salty ocean water spray.
With a start, he awoke in his bed, the sheets soaked with sweat. His body ached, like he had been lifting heavy weights for hours. Sliding out of his bed, he padded into the shower. As the misty hot water soothed his muscles, his stomach growled angrily. He was famished. More concerning, he couldn’t seem to remember much from the previous day. As steam filled the small bathroom, he remembered Phillip had been talking to him. He had been angry. Furious even. But he was also unsure when exactly that had been. The sharp scent of salt water struck him, accompanied by a flash vision of a deserted beach. Shaking his head, he let the hot water relax him.
After the shower, he dressed, and decided to head for the kitchen. A twinge of fear lurked at the back of his mind. The kind of fear that only occurred after a certain age. He didn’t want to think his issues were anything other than a reaction to stress, but he also knew there was likely something seriously wrong with him. He decided right then to talk with Phillip. Maybe if he told him … told him everything …
Martin jumped, looking behind him. There was nothing there. Instead of feeling frightened, his resolve hardened. If anyone would be able to continue the project, it was Phillip. He would fix things between them. It was settled. He would hold himself together. But first he had to eat. His stomach growled as if in response.
Stepping out into the hallway he heard a deep rumbling clap of thunder. The cognitive dissonance of the experience stopped him in his tracks, and he felt his knees give out. A quick lunge at the door frame saved him from collapsing to the ground. Thunder? Here? That’s impossible, he thought. Reaching up to his neck, he felt for his pulse. It was smooth, and regular. And totally at odds with the sensation of panic that was clawing at his mind.
Another thunderous clap was accompanied by a piercing pain that stabbed through his skull, squeezing his eyes shut. Upon opening them, his breath caught in his throat. He was standing outside, on a deserted beach. It was near dusk, and the salty spray of ocean water, driven by roaring waves, pelted at his face, speckling his glasses with a fine mist.
Turning, he saw a dense row of trees a hundred yards up the beach, which rose at a sharp incline. Looking to the orange hued sky, something seemed out of place. Stepping in place, in a circle, he felt a shiver run through him. It appeared to be dusk, but the orange sunset color, as expected from a setting sun, was the same all around him. It was as if the sky was inside a giant bowl or bubble. Directly above, angry clouds circled, like a pack of hungry hyenas calculating their odds.
A raspy squealing whine like an AM radio trying to lock onto a station caught his attention. It sounded like it was coming from right behind him. Turning, he saw four torches marking out a large square in the sand. He was sure that hadn’t been there just moments before. In the center of the square was an aluminum dinner tray, and upon it was an old black and white television, with foil covered antennae sticking into the air like malformed rabbit ears. The picture on the screen was warping and tearing as it scrolled. He could discern no source of power, but that seemed to be the least of his problems.
Approaching the television, the picture cleared. As it resolved, he saw what looked like a security camera viewpoint of the facility’s kitchen. A person walked into view, heading for the meat locker. Martin felt his chest tighten as he realized the person was himself. Reaching forward, he touched the curved screen. He saw himself whirl around, and stare back at … himself. Except the Martin on the screen had no face. There was just a smooth grey smudge where his face should have been.
The ground beneath him heaved. A bolt of lightning burned through the air, blinding him, followed by a thunder clap so intense that it that knocked him to the ground. Opening his eyes, the world spun. His skin felt feverishly cold. He was leaning over a toilet, retching. Great chunks of raw meat floated in the bowl. Revolted, he pushed himself back from the toilet, his shoes squeaking on the wet floor, until his back was pressing against the cool stone of his bathroom wall.
Breathing hard, he crawled his way to the sink. Hauling himself up, he removed his glasses, and splashed water on his face. Leaning against the edge of the sink, he stared at the back of his hands. Squinting, he shook his head. That’s not possible, he muttered. Putting his glasses back on, he stared at his reflection. The face that looked back was easily twenty years younger than it should have been. Dark lines of color were streaked through his grey disheveled hair.
As he stared at his reflection, a flash of memory struck him. He was standing in front of a large glass tank. He wasn’t in his lab. The room was cool, dark, and smelled of wet rocks. He realized that it wasn’t really a room at all. It was … the memory snapped away. His hands were shaking now. “Find Phillip,” he said to his reflection.
Before he could move, a roar filled the room. The mirror splintered into a million shards. Water simultaneously erupted from the sink spigots and the toilet, flooding the floor. Giant cracks ripped into the stone walls. The floor heaved, and Martin was thrown to the ground. Darkness filled the room as the lights went out.