Skip to content

Chapter 10

February 26, 2012

The wind howled into my face, stinging my cheeks and making my eyes run.  The bow of the ferry churned the dark water into frothy foam, the wake surging past the metal sides in a constantly breaking wave.  Away from the path cut by the ferry the wind whipped the tops of wave crests into white spray, the foam breaking away here and there and streaking across the surface of the water.  Overhead seabirds circled and soared on the wind, their plaintive cries sounding out before being swallowed by the wind.  The birds trailed after the ferry, possibly mistaking it for a fishing vessel, eager for the rich pickings that trailed in the wake of such boats.  Or maybe they made no such mistake.  A few metres away a young boy sat on a green metal bench eating fish and chips.  Between the rolling of the ferry and the ebb and flow of the wind he was struggling with his meal, and the mess around his seat spoke of a feast to come for the hungry birds.

The front of the ferry rose steadily up the incline of the swell and then slumped down into the trough beyond, the tipping motion sending a couple behind me giggling into the railing.  Clinging to each other they regained their balance and shuffled towards the door that led back inside the ship.  Struggling with the heavy metal door they squirmed through, the metal clanging closed and cutting off their laughs.

I stood for there a few more minutes, till I could no longer feel my face and my eyes ran constantly.  For some reason the pain and discomfort felt good.  It was confirmation of being alive.  The roaring wind filled my ears and shut out any sounds or thoughts from within my head.  It was like floating in a noisy bubble, cut off from the world.  Most importantly cut off from myself, whoever I was.

Finally I picked up my bulging pack and made my way to the door inside.  The boy with his fish and chips had gone, as had the food litter that had surrounded him.  It would appear the gulls had made short work of the leftovers.

Inside the ferry the atmosphere was close and muggy, overheated and humid, with the tell tale smell you get when lots of animals are crowded together.  Humans were animals, after all.  The crossing was a full one, and with the howling wind almost everyone was inside.  As a result most of the seats were taken, mostly by families talking excitedly together, or with groups of friends surrounded by their backpacks.  I made my way to an empty seat near the window, struggled past a fat man drinking a large coffee and wedged my pack in the corner.

The fat man slurped on his drink and I stared at the wall.  I’d had a headache since the previous day.  It was dull and nothing more than an annoyance, but it was definitely there.  For a while the wind in my ears had obliterated it, but it was back now.  The feeling itself wasn’t centred anywhere, and rather that acute pain it felt more like a bruise.  That was it: it felt like my brain was bruised all over.  Either that or how an overworked muscle feels the day after a heavy session at the gym.  Eager to distract myself I pulled the tablet computer from my back and switched it on.  Holding it where my hand couldn’t be seen I traced the pattern lock on its surface and the screen faded into life.

“Nice machine.  Apple?”

It would seem my movement had attracted the interest of the fat man.  I shook my head.  No, it wasn’t an apple.


I shook my head again, this time showing my annoyance.  But the fat man was one of those, that great group of people who seem to have no way of telling that the other person doesn’t want to talk.

“What make is it then?”

I glared at the fat man, his face impassive, registering no recognition of my annoyance.

“It isn’t.  I made it myself.”  I realised that was true.  In fact, I could clearly remember making it.  The screen had come from an electronics manufacturer in Japan, the motherboard from the US and the processesor was an experimental model from a friend in San Jose.  It was considerably more powerful than anything similar on the market.  In fact, it was more powerful that most people’s desktop PCs.  The fat man looked impressed.

“Sweet, can I have a look?  Does it have any games?”

I shook my head and intensified my glare.  The fat man seemed to get the message this time, taking a big gulp of coffee and apologising for bothering me.

I shuffled around in my chair, my back to the wall, the tablet where the fat man couldn’t see the screen.  Did it have any games?  It felt frivolous, but I needed something to pass the time, something to distract me from the headache.

Idly I scrolled around the screen.  There was nothing that looked even remotely fun.  It was all dry stuff: notes, papers, diagrams, charts.  I trawled through the personal section again and found nothing.  Without paying attention I found my way back to the Project Clio folder, where something caught my interest.  There was a folder called ‘Grafts’, the name tickling my memory.

For a second I thought you might be one of his assistants, one of his Grafts.

The words were Richard Richter’s, talking about his Father.  Without having been able to puzzle his meaning I had put the word ‘graft’ down as slang for ‘worker’, but maybe not.  I double clicked on the file and a small window popped up, four lines of text following by a winking cursor, with a keyboard underneath.

It separates and binds us

We destroy it at our cost

Those that share it truly find us

Without it we are lost

Well, I had found a game.  Of sorts.  The rhyme was a riddle, and I was sure it reflected yet another layer in the paranoia protecting the contents of the device.  Contents I couldn’t even begin to fathom, even though I held it in my hands.

What could separate and bind us?  A rope?  It kind of made sense, since you could rope things off and also rope people together.  But it made no sense with the other lines.  Why would it be costly to destroy?  How could we share a rope?  No, that wasn’t it.

My next guess was money, prompted by the second line.  It seemed to work.  The haves and have nots were separated, but you could pay people to stand together.  Only a fool destroyed money, and maybe through sharing wealth we could be ‘truly found’?  Even the last line, without it we are lost, made sense.  I typed the word ‘money’ into the keyboard and hit enter.  The word disappeared but everything else stayed the same.  Not that then.

Maybe it was something more prosaic.  I tried ‘love’.  Again the word disappeared and the rest of the screen remained the same.

“Memory,” said a voice over my shoulder.  I turned round and looked over the seat, straight into a pair of dark brown eyes.  The woman’s face was framed with dark brown curls, and she seemed vaguely familiar.

“Sorry, I shouldn’t be prying,” she said, her face flushing crimson as she sat back in her seat.  “I hadn’t meant to look, but I love riddles and couldn’t resist.  When it came to mind I just blurted it out.”

I didn’t want anyone looking at the device, no one.  Anger bubbled up inside me until I realised how futile it was.  Even I couldn’t understand anything on it, and I had made the damn thing!  Besides, it was a good guess.  My face softened.

“Don’t worry about it,” I said, the words almost genuine.  The woman looked relieved, some of the colour leaving her cheeks.

“That’s a relief, I thought you were about to eat me then!” she gave a short nervous laugh.  “My name’s Kelly.”  She forced her hand through the narrow gap between my seat and the fat man’s and we awkwardly shook hands in the cramped space.

“Adrian, Adrian Marsall,” I replied.  It was the name in my passport, it made sense to use it.

“Nice to meet you Adrian, Adrian Marshall.”  Kelly’s voice was warm and it sounded like she meant it.  My suspicion quirked but I pushed it away.  She was just being friendly.

“You going to give it a try?”

From my expression it must have been obvious I didn’t know what she meant.  Kelly sat back in her chair and gave a short amused laugh.

“Relax man.  I meant the answer, ‘memory’.  Are you going to give it a try, or just sit there staring at me.”

I had been staring at her, that was true.  Now it was my turn to be embarrassed.  What had I thought she meant?  What did she think I thought she meant?  I was blushing a little now.

“Er, yeah, sure,” I replied, taping the word ‘memory’ into the tablet and hitting return.  The four lines of rhyme disappeared to be replaced by about a dozen files.

“Bingo!”  Kelly gave the air a small punch and smiled at me.  “Right, I need a coffee to celebrate.  You need anything?”  I shook my head as Kelly rose from the seat and made her way towards the onboard café.  She was pretty, I knew that, but what I most felt was her friendliness, her trust of strangers.  I envied that.  I guess I just wasn’t a people person.

I turned back to the screen.  The fat man looked like he was taking a nap.  Or he had lapsed into a coma, or a cataleptic fit.  It was difficult to tell, he wasn’t moving, but as the coffee cup in his hand hadn’t spilled over it was a fair bet he hadn’t actually died.

The files were all identified with initials of some sort.  The top five all began with BGT, then a space, and then three more initials.  The first one was BGT ANP.  I double clicked the file.

It was a report of some sort, divided into three sections.  The first section was titled ‘Test parameters’.  Three short paragraphs described the test candidate, referred to here as BGT, and the unique features of his brain morphology that made him particularly predisposed to the procedure.  He had both a family history of schizophrenia and other neurological conditions.  While he had never exhibited any symptoms of this illness no fewer than four close blood relatives had been diagnosed with the condition.  This had prompted him to volunteer for the programme.  Embedded into the file was a link.  Clicking it opened up a scanned copy of a document.  It was titled ‘release waiver’, and by the looks of things it involved BGT handing over his brain to medical science.  The typed name at the bottom was redacted, somewhat pointlessly, as the signature was shown and quite clearly read Ben Thames.  The document made my skin crawl.  Only a desperate man would sign such control over to someone else.

A further three short paragraphs described ANP, who was listed as having spent forty years working as an electrical engineer.  There was also a release form embedded in this section, although the wording suggested it was less dramatic in extent to that signed by BGT.

The next section was titled ‘Test Objectives’.  These were described simply.  The objective was to transfer esoteric engineering knowledge from ANP to BGT.  It was noted that BGT had no engineering experience.  How this transfer of knowledge was to be achieved was not mentioned.

The longest section in the report was titled ‘Test Outcome’.  There were a number of multi-coloured diagrams included, they looked to me like brain scans, together with table after table of numbers.  I quickly scrolled past all of these to a block of text at the bottom of the file.

The person who had written this was excited, you could tell.  Where the rest of the file had been very factual, dry in tone and without expression, the notes at the bottom of the file were almost breathless.

‘The procedure was a complete success, without exception.  As you will note above the vital signs of BGT remained stable throughout.  Of particular note was the absolute lack of interruption to the delta waves.  In fact, it was commented during the procedure that it seemed as if nothing was happening at all.  So much so that the entire technical team had been prepared for failure.  We had conducted our two hour examination of the candidate and, while we noted with satisfaction there was no untoward features or demonstrable damage, we expected the next phase of the study to yield no results.

After the scans were completed we presented BGT with a simple electrical wiring diagram.  Initially he recognised nothing, and it seemed that our fears would be confirmed.  However, after studying the diagram for ten minutes BGT announced that he suddenly recognised the symbols and nomenclature.  He said the knowledge seemed to almost swim across his vision, and once there it sat there.  He understood the diagram, a representation of the circuit board for a residential burglar alarm.  We proceeded to present BGT with diagrams and technical data of an increasingly complicated nature, all of which he recognised and could describe.  Finally BGT sat a trade certification exam which he was able to pass with considerable ease, albeit with some errors.  Whether these errors reflect a failing in the procedure, or in fact a deficiency in ANP’s intial knowledge, is a moot point.’

There was a line on the report followed by another short paragraph.

‘We have monitored BGT for the past six months.  At every month our tests reveal no unwanted side effects of the procedure.  The esoteric knowledge transferred to his brain is undiminished, as far as we can reliably ascertain.  In addition we note that other areas of knowledge now fall within BGT’s sphere of interest, areas that we did not note during his personality profiling prior to conducting this study.  What import this might have we are yet to determine.’

So, somehow they had transferred knowledge from one person to another, and by the sounds of it the process had been quick.  Not a training course then, or an apprenticeship.

The second file contained much the same information, except this time the knowledge in question was zoology.  The conclusion was as breathless, if not more, the author almost bubbling over with enthusiasm.

I skipped over the third file, jumping straight to the fourth, the last file beginning BGT (all the others began AJM).  Again the same introduction, except this time the objective was slightly different.  Rather than targeting esoteric knowledge of some sort of another the objective was to transfer ‘the entire sum of collected memory and experience’.  Again the conclusion gushed with positivity, except this time the notes under the line took a turn for the sinister.

‘Initial results, as outlined above, were remarkably encouraging.  The subject retained full control of their faculties, augmented by what would appear to be the entire sum of knowledge and memories transferred from KPT.  The memories were indistinguishable from BGT’s own, and while this resulted in some disorientation there were no initial causes for concern.

Within the first month the subject complained of headaches, and then extended periods of memory loss, whereby events that had recently occurred to them could no longer be recalled.

By the end of the first month BGT was suffering from paranoia, bouts of uncontrollable rage and hallmark symptoms of multiple personality disorder.  On two occasions he was discovered unconscious in his room.  On both occasions he appeared to have battered his own head against the wall until he lost consciousness.  This act was evidenced by marks and blood on the wall together with the injuries to BGT.  When he awoke the subject was calmer but could remember nothing of the incident.

In month two the blackouts became worse, the fits more frequent.  At times BGT was passing in and out of consciousness.  At other times he was lucid but confused about his identity.

While we made preparations to reverse the procedure BGT died of a massive brain haemorrhage.’

My blood went cold.  That was all it said.  BGT was dead, and clearly they had moved on to the next guinea pig, AJM.

The first file described AJM as ex-military with little formal education.  Unlike with BGT the reasons that AJM had volunteered for the programme were not given, although as the files progressed the level of excitement about this ‘candidate’ rose.  The test outcome from the fifth file contained the comment:

‘It is difficult to imagine there being a better candidate available for this research.  Both the structure of AJM’s brain and the fidelity of his neural pathways are quite without parallel.  It is possible that we are documenting characteristics that are common in humans, but I doubt it.  The capacity he has exhibited, together with the segregative abilities of his consciousness, are quite astounding.  That he signed on to the programme with almost no formal education, and has achieved so very much, only boggles the mind.

We have begun documenting key features of AJM’s neural characteristics with a hope of finding a similarly suitable candidate.  To date our searches, which are determined and far reaching, have yielded discouraging results.

Given AJM’s background the initial tests have focussed on the transfer of motor skills, some simple, some complex.  The ability for these skills to spread throughout the entire neural network, delivering near full capability to muscles that have never before performed the action, has astounded our kinetics group.

Following the successful transfer of skills in these first five tests it has been agreed that we should progress to the transfer of memories and experience.  This is not without some trepidation, given the results with BGT, and all other previous test cases.’

‘All other previous test cases’?  I closed the file and scrolled back up the page.  The files started with BGT, so the other test cases weren’t recorded here.  Maybe they didn’t want to document failure, and only began doing so when they had experienced success?

I scrolled down and picked a later AJM file.  More notes of success, more details of how unique it seemed AJM was.  I moved forward to the final file, expecting to read how AJM had killed himself, or how his head had exploded, but was surprised to find more notes of a successful test.  Even the reporter seemed stunned, wondering at how much more they could achieve with a single candidate.  The strange thing was, the reports covered a three year period, and where there were entries nearly every month (if one included the follow up reports), the last file had been edited nearly six months ago.  Either something had happened to AJM, or they had stopped experimenting on him.  Or the records were missing.

Jumping back to the first file I scrolled down to the link to AJM’s release papers.  The document opened and I hit page down until I could see the signature at the bottom of the page.

“Here you go, got you one anyway.”  I jumped in my seat, a clear two inches, causing the fat man to jerk awake with a snort and for Kelly to almost spill the coffee she was holding out to me.

“Woah, not a coffee fan?” she laughed.

“Sorry, I was in another place,” I apologised, tucking the tablet PC into its leather cover and taking the coffee from her.  The fat man, put out by all this, huffed up from his chair and wandered off across the tilting deck.  Kelly dropped down into the seat he had vacated.

“Not long now, they were closing the cafe and bar.”

I nodded, sipping the coffee.  It was luke warm, and tasted as if it wasn’t up to much even when it was hot.

“I know.  It’s better than the tea though, trust me,” said Kelly.

For a while we sat and talked.  Rather, Kelly talked, and I did my best not to seem like some kind of shy lunatic.  I am not entirely sure I succeeded, distracted as I was.  Nonetheless, she seemed to enjoy our conversation, and when we had docked in Calais and were preparing to leave she handed me a small square of white paper.

“Look, I don’t normally do this, but you seem nice, if a little weird,” she grinned.  “Here, it’s my number.  If you want it.”

For the first time she looked unsure, nervous.  I smiled a thank you and took her number.  She grinned back and walked away, tossing her hair over her shoulder as she did so.

The queue to disembark the ferry was huge, so I sat back down to wait.  I slipped the table PC out of the leather cover, some sensor inside telling it to re-illuminate the screen.

There, dead centre of the screen, was AJM’s signature.  It was a little scrappy, the second half of the first name little more than a wavy line, but if you knew what you were looking for it was as clear as day.  There, on the screen, was the signature of AJM.  The signature of Adrian Marshall.

It felt like some sort of second rate Agatha Christie mystery.  One where there weren’t enough characters, so the same person just kept cropping up again and again.  Of course, in those sorts of mysteries there was always a reason that person kept cropping up.  Was there a reason here?

The Suzuki purred its way down the Autoroute, the engine sounding content if a little disappointed at the lack of pace.  It was easy to forget how fast you were going on this thing.  I didn’t want any attention, so I kept checking my speed, making sure it was within the limit.

The sun had long since set behind me, the open stretch of tarmac illuminated by the yellow lights above.  The gentle washing of the light, as the bike pushed from one pool of illumination to the next, was almost hypnotic.  From light to shade, back to light then shade.  I would need to rest somewhere soon, I could tell, but for now I wanted to push on.  It gave me time to think.

Adrian Marshall was as deeply buried in this as I was.  It didn’t take a genius to work out that my symptoms were similar to those of unfortunate Mr BGT from the file.  I’d worked out the most likely reason for this.  I had decided to experiment on myself.  I’d heard of that sort of thing, slightly crazed scientists, desperate to move to human trials, conducting experiments on themselves in order to prove a procedure was safe.  Or not safe, as seemed to be the case in this instance.

I started with that assumption and tried to work things back.  How did Adrian Marshall fit into all of this?  He is one of the lab rats, and a good one too.  But if that was the case, why had I felt compelled to try anything out on myself, if we already had ‘candidates’?  Also, I knew that Adrian Marshall was an employee of Mnemosyne.  They’d sent him to ‘recruit’ me after all.  Did that mean that the notes I was reading on the tablet PC came from Mnemosyne?  That didn’t make any sense at all, as I knew that I must have turned down their offer.  As little as I knew of myself that was something I was sure of.  Marshall had kidnapped me, something had gone wrong, and as a result I was in this mess.  Or something like that.

The detail eluded me, but it seemed clear that the research had something to do with stuffing thoughts from one persons head to another.  That was my layman’s grasp.  How they managed it I had no idea, but even I could tell it sounded like a bad idea.  I couldn’t help but wonder if Marshall was dead.  Not killed in the fire, but driven mental through the weight of whatever it was they were doing to him.  BGT had only survived a handful of tests, Marhsall had been put through over ten, at least ten that I knew about.  How many times had I done it – whatever it was – to myself?

I sat on the bike, staring at the laboratory.  It wasn’t that impressive a sight.  There was a perimeter fence, but nothing like at the Mnemosyne facility.  No guard towers, and the security guards wandering around the compound weren’t carrying assault rifles.  The building was low, just two stories, and square.  The walls were white, except for a panel here and there that was picked out in blue and yellow.  It was a classical piece of sixties architecture.  Blocky, uninspired and utilitarian.

It was nearly four thirty, and a number of the lab staff were beginning to leave the building, heading to their cars and then out through the security gate.  I’d been sat there for half an hour, something holding me back from approaching the gate.  My plan was a simple one.  Approach the gate, tell them who I was, who I really was, and ask to speak to someone, anyone.  This was where I had worked, I could even remember it from the dream with the cash and the gun.  Someone here would be able to help.  They might even be able to reverse whatever I had done to myself.  The BGT records implied it was possible, I had checked last night.  But still I just sat there.

Muttering a curse I got off the bike and approached the guard post, the helmet tucked under my arm.

“Identification,” said the guard in German.

“I don’t have any.”  It was a lie of course, but in this case my false Marshall ID wasn’t going to cut it.

“My name is Dr Collins and I work at this facility.  I don’t have any identification, but if you could call whoever is in charge, the director of the facility perhaps, I am sure they will confirm who I am.”

The guard looked at me, a flat, bored stare, for over half a minute.

“Go away before I call the police,” he said at last.

I’d been expecting some resistance.  I guess I had hoped that the guard would recognise me, that this would be like some sort of triumphant homecoming.  That my colleagues would sweep me inside, pluck something from my ear, and like equalising pressure in a descending aircraft everything would pop and go back to normal.  Whatever normal had been.  Yes, that was what I had hoped, but I had been prepared for this as well.

“Listen, I realise this is unusual.  I am not asking you to do anything wrong, just ring up the person in charge and get them to come down here and meet me.  Or send any scientist from the neurology department; I am sure they will be able to confirm what I am saying.”

The guard was unmoved.

“For a start, there is no neurology ‘department’, this whole facility is for neuroscience.  And you would know that, if you were who you say you are.  Now this is your last chance, clear off before I place you under arrest and call the real police.”

I could feel myself getting desperate.  It wasn’t supposed to be so hard.

“Listen, just call the man in charge.  Seriously.”

The guard leaned forward and glared at me.

“The ‘man in charge’, the Director of this facility, is Dr Liam Collins.  The man you claim to be.  A man I have known for over twenty five years, and a man who most definitely is not standing outside this booth.  What are you playing at?”

It was possible the guard had said more, but I didn’t hear the words.  How was this possible?  Did I have the wrong Dr Collins?  No, this was the address in the Marshall folder, it had to be right.  If this man had known him for that long, how was anything possible?  Why didn’t he know me?  What was going on here?  My ears rung and a pounding started up in between my ears.  Pain ripped through my head.  The world went dark, and then exploded back into light.

The guard was pumping a button under the desk and grappling for a short club on his belt.  My hands were wrapped around his collar and I had nearly pulled him through the window of the booth.  My face was curled up in a snarl but no sound was coming out, just something like a choking sob.  My hands spasmed open and the guard slumped back into his seat.  He took a swing at my head with the club and I staggered backwards.  The club missed my head, but something caught my heel and sent me sprawling on the floor, my pack slipping from my shoulder and rolling a few metres across the tarmac.

“Hey, Heinrich, what’s all this?”

My vision was fuzzy, everything moving in and out of focus, but I could see a pair of neat black shoes approaching across the tarmac.  If it wasn’t for the shoes I’m not sure I would have known which way was up.  I wanted to throw up.

“This lunatic!” grunted the guard.  “Bloody grabbed my collar.  Tried to assault me!”

The newcomer gave a nervous laugh.

“Assault you Heinrich?  Have you looked in the mirror lately?  You’re huge!  Who on earth would assault you.  Maybe he was trying to whisper you a secret, no?”

Heinrich grumbled something and the newcomer crouched down beside me, his face close to mine.  He had dark hair and an open face, green eyes that looked at me with concern.

“Are you OK buddy?  Can you stand?”

My vision stopped shifting in and out.  I thought I could stand.  The man held out his hand and helped me to my feet.

He was dressed in a black turtleneck jumper and blue jeans.  The clothes were simple but had an expensive looking cut.  His hair was cut short, and everything about him, including his small gestures, seemed to scream ‘neat!’

“There you go,” said the stranger, tapping me on the shoulder and taking a step back.  “Now, what’s all this about?”

“He says he is Dr Collins,” said the guard, almost spitting the words to show his opinion of me.

The stranger looked a little shocked.  He studied me closely, his open face taking on a guarded expression.

“Well, that certainly is unusual.”  His face brightened.  “Possibly this is a misunderstanding.  Surely you do not mean that you are our Dr Collins, Dr Liam Collins?”

I didn’t know what to say.  I didn’t even know my first name.  Certainly no one had ever called me Liam.  The only first name I could recall was Adrian.  In fact, it was name Adrian that the albino had used with me, back in what felt like another lifetime in the facility.

I tried to find something to say, but the stranger wasn’t looking at me anymore.  His attention was glued to something on the floor, to something that had slipped out of my pack.  For a second I thought in horror that it might be the guns, or the piles of cash, but I had packed those at the bottom of the pack.  No, it was the tablet PC, Dr Collin’s tablet PC.

On unsteady feet I hurried to the tablet and pushed it back into my pack.

“Where did you get that?” said the stranger, his gaze intense.

“It’s mine,” I mumbled, as if it was the first time I had formed the words.

“I can see that friend.  Listen, you’ve had a nasty knock.  Come with me, have a sit down and a drink, and we can talk.  Maybe we can work out what sort of Dr Collins you are, no?”

The stranger put his arm around my shoulder and guided me past the guard post.  It might have been a better idea to run, to turn and run, but I had no idea where to go.  I had nothing left, this was the final thread, snapped in two.  I was now adrift, fully adrift, and I let myself be guided by the stranger.  The guard objected as the stranger took me through the gates, but the stranger waved him away and we continued into the building.

The corridor inside was bare and barren, not unlike at Mnemosyne, but it wasn’t long before the stranger guided me through a door and into a small room furnished with two sofas and a coffee table.  He muttered something to someone as we passed into the room but I couldn’t make out what, or who he said it to.

“Here, take a seat,” he said kindly.  It was good to be sat down, my legs were still unsteady.  Who am I?  It was a question that had dogged me for as long as I could remember.  The guard had to be wrong.  I was Dr Collins, nothing else made sense.

The door opened and a girl walked in with a tray holding a pot and two mugs.  The girl left the room and the stranger poured two mugs of a light yellowy brown liquid into the mugs.  He took a seat on the other sofa and sipped his drink.

“Chamomile tea.  Great for calming you down.  And if you don’t need it, I certainly do.”

The stranger gave me a half smile, but his expression was still guarded.

“My name is Laurent Dumond and I am deputy director of this laboratory.”

Laurent looked at me intently, but patiently waited for me to answer.

“I am… I think I am… Dr Collins, who works here… but,” I swallowed.  The words wouldn’t make it any more true, but they were still difficult to say.  “But I am not sure, anymore.”

Laurent nodded.

“And why do you think you are Dr Collins?”

I hesitated.  Because I was?  Was that the answer?  Or was it because I was told I was Dr Collins?  Because I could remember being Dr Collins.  That I could remember?  My blood went cold, the hairs on my arms stood up.

“Listen,” said Laurent, sitting forward on the sofa.  “I can see how distressed you are, but I need to know where you got that tablet PC.  That does, in fact, belong to Liam Collins.  I haven’t seen it for months, not since the break in.  Not since Liam disappeared.  I need to know where you got it, because it cannot be yours.  I do not want to upset you, but you cannot be Dr Collins.  Dr Collins was my boss and my friend.  But, most relevantly to this discussion, he was over seventy years of age.”

The door opened and the girl appeared again, carrying a small rectangular photo frame.  Laurent took the frame from her and held it out to me.

“This is Dr Collins.  I think you will agree, you look nothing alike.”

I took the frame from his hands with trembling fingers.  The man in the photo was old, his face lined and wrinkled, liver spots on his skin, his eyes shrivelled and myopic behind the thick lenses of a pair of glasses.  The eyes were bright though, intelligent and searching.  I had seen them before, once healthy and shining, as in the picture, once white and almost blind.  I recognised the man.  He was the Dr Collins I had found while searching the internet in the public library.  It was also the same man I had seen in my head, the man trapped in the oubliette, the man I had rescued in my dream.

“You recognise him, no?”

I nodded my head slowly, the movement causing the room to tip and sway around me.  My hand reached out and caught the arm of the chair to try and steady myself.  The picture dropped from my limp fingers onto the floor, making a dull thud as it hit the thick rug.  Laurent bent forward to pick up the picture, before placing it carefully on the coffee table.

“Drink, it might help a little,” he said soothingly.

I was too confused to even care if it was a trap.  I took a long drink from the mug, the warm liquid almost painfully hot as it coursed down my throat.  It did help, a little.  It seemed to make Laurent more relaxed as well.  He sat back in his chair.

“That’s better.  Now, this is a mystery, and one I hope I can help with.  Who are you?”

The tea had left a slightly bitter aftertaste in my mouth and I took another mouthful to wash away the taste.  Surely but slowly the room was tilting around less, the world seeming to spin more slowly, the sofa beneath me felt more real.

“I don’t know anymore.”  I had expected my voice to be weak, but it sounded strong, certain even in its uncertainty.

“Well, I feel I must help you try to work it out.  You see, I have not seen anything of my friend and colleague, Dr Liam Collins, for several months.  He vanished from this facility on the same night as a daring break in.  The device you carry with you was also taken that night, or so I believed.  Now you arrive here, claiming to be Dr Collins, and carrying a device that I had never before seen out of his possession.  I know that I should call the police, but my instincts tell me there is more here than I understand, and that understanding is key to the mystery, and my best chance at ever seeing Dr Collins again.”

I had nothing to say, nothing to give.  I knew nothing it seemed.  The room had stopped tilting but my mind felt sluggish.  It was like the world was coated in treacle, a thick golden layer that made everything run slowly.  My arms felt heavy, my legs heavy, my eyelids heavy.  I struggled to keep them up, as if weights attached to them were pulling them down over my eyes.

“I believe you, strange as it may sound,” said Laurent, his hand cupping my chin and turning my eyes up to his.  I wanted to look away, but I couldn’t move, my neck limp and yielding.  “I do believe that you are as confused as you look.  But there is also more to you than meets the eye, and that must mean something.  For example, we have been talking all this time in French, and all the time with Heinrich in German.  Your accent is flawless, your command of the language, such that you have used, fluent.  What brings a polyglot here, claiming to be an acclaimed neuroscientist?  Dr Collins only ever spoke English, all the time he was here.  He was quite belligerent about it, in fact.”

I couldn’t keep my eyes open any longer.  As they slid closed I felt Laurent’s hands guiding me down to the sofa.  A door opened and closed somewhere.  His words seemed to flow to me from across a great distance, almost too quiet to hear, like the whispers of a fragile breeze.

“Rest for now, and together we will look for answers.”


From → Story

Leave a Comment

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )


Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: