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Chapter 12

May 16, 2012

I strode down the corridor.  My head was clear, there was no pain, and I felt better than I had in a long time.  But it was temporary, almost an illusion.

“What you are proposing is madness!”  Laurent had followed me from the room and was hurrying down the corridor.

“Probably,” I smiled.

“Wait, you must wait.  You see, when you fell unconscious I didn’t know what to do.  I said that there was only really one place to turn for help.  It was the Mnemosyne lab that I meant.  I didn’t know then what you have told me, but I have already contacted them, told them that you are here.  They are sending people over.  They could be here already…”

I shrugged.  If I was right about what Mnemosyne had done to me then they would have a hard time stopping me.  Besides, my life was on a clock as it was.

Sure enough, as we entered the reception area there were two heavyset men arguing with the night receptionist.  The receptionist, a young guy with bright red hair, was demanding to know how they had got so far without security calling ahead.  In turn the men were ignoring this question, and instead demanding they be taken to see Dr Laurent immediately.  Neither the men or the receptionist were turned in our direction, and they were shouting loud enough to cover all noise.  As I approached the argument reached a conclusion.

“Listen, I’ve had enough of this, I’m calling security myself,” said the receptionist, reaching under the desk.  The man on the right reached into his jacket and pulled out a gun.  Before he could pull the trigger I grabbed his head from behind and twisted.  There was a dry snap and the corpse fell to the floor.  His partner seemed to move in slow motion, the gun in his hand but his arm pulling it round to my chest so slowly.  I caught his wrist and twisted, the gun falling from the suddenly limp hand.  With a jerk of downward pressure on the arm the man pitched forward towards me, my knee rising up to meet his head with a dull smack.  He collapsed silently next to the body on the floor.

“What the hell…”  Laurent’s face was white, his eyes wide.  The receptionist was slack jawed, prone in his chair as if catatonic.

“Listen, there is no time to explain.  These men wouldn’t hesitate to kill you, him,” I gestured at the red headed receptionst, “anyone that got in their way.  Hide the bodies, call the police, do whatever you want, but don’t feel sorry for them.”

If Laurent heard my words he gave no sign of it.  I walked forward and grabbed his shirt, trying to shake him back to his senses.

“Look, if I get Dr Collins back here, do you think you will have the equipment to reverse the process?  Get him out of my head?”

I had to repeat the question twice before Laurent understood what I was saying.

“I have no idea, but this is his lab, and all of his equipment is here.  If it is something he can do then yes, this would be the place.”

It was good enough for me.

As I passed the security booth I saw what I expected.  The guard – Heinrich I think his name was – was slumped forward in his chair, a bullet hole in his forehead.  This was nothing to do with him, he didn’t deserve to die.  I pushed the thought away.  I didn’t have time for remorse.

 

A group of pigeons stood ahead in the road, pecking idly at something wedged in the gravel.  The Suzuki was tearing down the country lane, on them almost before they had time to react.  In a startled mass of blue and grey feathers they scattered into the air, one almost brushing my helmet as I passed.

Absorbed in my own thoughts I almost drove straight past the small cottage.  With a grunt I slammed on the brakes, almost sending the bike pinwheeling down the lane, a shower of gravel rising up from the tires like a breaking wave.

“Nice ride.”

Jack rose up from the front step of the cottage.  Either he had heard me coming or had been waiting outside for me all morning.

“Is it yours?”

I swung my leg over the bike and stepped down onto the ground.  After so long on the bike I expected my legs to be wobbly, but I felt strong, almost wired.

“It is now.”

Jack smiled and headed back towards the cottage.

“Come on in, I reckon you need a feed.”

The cottage looked neater than before.  It was certainly better stocked with food.  On the table Jack had laid out a joint of roast beef and a loaf of fresh bread, along with some cheese and pickles.  Jack explained that he had not seen Ben again since the night we had arrived.  It was unusual for the owner of the cottage to be away for so long, but Jack said he wasn’t complaining, he’d grown used to his own company.

At the sight and smell of the food I realised how hungry I was.  I had driven straight from Austria to the Eurostar terminal in Lille.  An hour later and I was back on the bike, and headed for Norfollk.  It was the wrong way, taking me away from Mnemosyne, but I knew it was an important stop.

“I was surprised to get your message, I thought you would be in Vienna for longer.”

I looked up from the plate of food I had gathered.  My mouth was full of beef, chewing hungrily on the delicious meat.  Jack’s face was etched with curiosity, but I could tell he was controlling his desire to ask questions.

I had sent him a text message just before boarding the train, asking to meet him at the cottage that morning.  He’d replied to say he would be there.  I was lucky to have at least one person I could trust in all this.

I swallowed my mouthful of food.

“Jack, sorry about the cryptic message.  I’ll fill you in a little, but honestly I think it could be better for you if you don’t know anything.”

I took another bite of the beef sandwich.  Jack waited patiently.

“I didn’t find out as much as I wanted.  Not what I wanted, anyway.”  Again in my mind I saw my fantasies of reaching the lab in Vienna and being greeted with open arms.  The long lost Dr Collins, home at last.  The thought was a bitter one now.

“And I am still in a lot of trouble.  There is something I must do, and to be honest it’s pretty dangerous.”

Jack nodded.  Of course he had been expecting this.

“Just let me know how I can help.  You want me with you?”

I shook my head.

“No, I couldn’t ask that of you, of anyone.  This is something I have to do myself, alone.  But there is one thing you can do for me.”

I reached into my back and pulled out the small envelope.  I’d bought the envelope from a fellow passenger on the train for a euro, and its contents was the entire reason I was here.  Lodged inside was my back-up plan, my insurance against everything going wrong at the Mnemosyne lab.  Inside was the Adstringo algorithm.

I’d thought a lot about what I would need to do on the ride to the train.  I had to break Dr Collins out and get him back to Vienna, somehow.  Doing that meant avoiding capture by the Corporation, while infiltrating the very centre of their operation.  If I got caught I was going to need something, something they wanted badly, as a bargaining chip.

It was the thing they wanted the most, the reason they had gone to all this trouble.  On the train I had pulled the copy Dante had made from me from my pack.  I had studied it intently, searching for a recollection, that flash of brilliance that would tell me what was wrong with the formula.  For over half an hour there was nothing.  The writing remained incomprehensible, the symbols and lines meaningless.  Then my vision had blurred, and when it cleared again the answer was obvious.  Or rather the answers were obvious, as the entire algorithm needed a series of tweaks and manipulations.  It was clear that Mnemosyne were never going to get there on their own.  Franticaly I had gone to work with a pen, filling in the details, modifying Dante’s version of the Adstringo.

“What’s inside?” asked Jack.

“It’s something the people of Mnemosyne want.  Badly.  You need to keep it safe Jack, my life could well depend on it.”

Jack looked worried, but nonetheless he tucked the envelop into his pocket.

“What are you planning?  I can’t help you if I don’t know.”

I shook my head.

“Holding on to that paper is help enough, trust me.”  I grabbed a hunk of beef and wedged it between two slices of bread that were as thick as my thumb.

“Promise me something Jack: if you don’t hear from me in two days burn that envelope and forget you ever met me.  Promise?”

Jack looked unsure.  I could tell he wanted to know more, to do more.  He must have been able to feel my conviction though.  With a sigh he sat back in his chair.

“OK, fine.  Two days and it goes in the fire.  I wish you’d let me help you more though, let me know what you’re planning.”

I wedged the bulging sandwich into my jacket pocket and stood up from the table.

“I know Jack, I appreciate it.”

I made my way to the door and Jack followed me out of the cottage and back to the bike.

“Remember, two days,” I called, swinging my leg over the bike and pushing the helmet on to my head.

Jack nodded.

“Thanks for the food.”

In reply Jack just nodded again, standing back as the bike roared into life and propelled me along the country lane.

 

The Mnemosyne lab crouched in front of me, a darker smear on the murky darkness of the night.  A slick reflection, like light bouncing from wet tar, shone out from the large plate glass window of Dante’s office.  It was the only variation in appearance in the entire building, the rest of the vast complex spreading back on either side like the wings of a prehistoric predator.  Further behind the building the land sloped gently upwards, the dark forest ringing the building, it’s inky depths somehow comforting against the darkness of the lab.  No lights shone in the window, no sounds carried across the bar ground to my ears.

Around me the leaves of the trees shivered with a light breeze, the branches scraping and sighing against each other as if in anticipation.  I knew it was only my imagination, but the whole night felt breathless, held rapt with anticipation of what was about to happen.

Above my head thick banks of clouds obscured both the moon and the stars.  I’d been crouched at the edge of a forest for over an hour.  In that time my eyes had adjusted to the gloom, but even now it was difficult to pick out shapes, to plot my route into the compound.  The air felt heavy and cloying around me, as if it was building up to a storm.  It was restless weather, the type of weather were you can’t sit still, but even then there seems to be nothing to do.  The itchiness of frustrated boredom, of thwarted anticipation, seemed to resonate through the wind.  It was time to move but I waited.  I needed something to happen, there was something I needed to do, but I had no reference point on how to begin.

I closed my eyes and tried to relax.  I concentrated on the feeling of the earth under my fingers, the rise and fall of the wind, the slight refracted sounds of the night.  I focussed my mind on the building in front of me, on the Mnemosyne facility, and forced my mind blank.  I had to remember something about the building, anything that seemed new would help.  The places I had been since the flash: my room, the exercise yard, Dante’s office, Christa’s room; they all came to mind.  But I knew that I should be able to remember more, to recall more.  I had thought if I was here, right outside, that it would come back.  Nothing.

With a sigh I opened my eyes.  Nothing had changed, and I couldn’t waste any more time.  Crouching low I ran across the strip of bare ground around the edge of the facility.  When I reached the wall under the window I pressed myself flat against it and paused.  I strained my hearing for anything, any sign that I had been seen.  The wind continued to sigh in the trees, somewhere in the distance a night bird gave a shriek.  Nothing else.

Reaching into my pack I felt around until I found what I was looking for, three small blocky shapes wrapped in a strip of cloth.  Quickly unwrapping the small bundle I took one of the blocks and wedged it against the wall, dead centre under Dante’s window.

Pressing as flat to the wall as possible I made my way cautiously to the corner of the building and then along the edge of Dante’s office.  There were no doors at ground level here, hence the absence of the security fence.  About fifty metres ahead the fence began, the edge running right up to the wall of the building.  As a feature it was a complete design flaw, the whole purpose of a perimeter fence being that it should encircle the perimeter.

At the edge of the fence I paused again.  I could make out the dark mass of the guard tower, soaring up from the fence about twenty metres in front and to my right.  I fought down my rising impatience and waited.  Once I was through the fence I had to move quickly, but right now I needed to gather as much information as I could, and that took patience.

Inside the compound nothing moved, nothing stirred.  I had expected a guard round, the glow of a lit cigarette, some idle chatter, some noise that would tell of a presence beyond the fence, but there was nothing.  It was not as I was expecting.  Something deep, some forgotten instinct, screamed at me to abort this attempt to break into the compound.

Reaching into my pack again I pulled out some wire cutters and went to work on the chainlink fence.  I worked quietly but every snip of wire sounded like a gun shot to my ears, sharp and clear against the silent night.  As soon as I was able to I squeezed through the hole and pulled my pack through after me.

Again crouching close to the wall I made my way to the first door into the facility.  Pausing there I pulled one of the 8mm hand guns from my pack and tucked it down the back of my jeans.  I held my breath and reached for the handle, turning it slowly.  It was unlocked.  On silent hinges the door opened and I ducked through, closing the door quickly but quietly behind me.

I was stood in a vast room.  The ceiling above me looked like it was probably the height of the building itself, the far wall stood at least a hundred metres away.  The main lights were off, but dim illumination from the emergency exit signs hung over each doorway caste an eerie green glow around the room.  It looked like some form of warehousing facility, but the space was entirely empty.  Glancing down at the floor I noticed a series of lines cutting their way across the concrete floor, the entire web of lines bounded by a dark black rectangle.  Of course, it was an indoor sports hall.

Like a small detonation in my brain a memory forced its way to the surface, blotting out everything around me.  The lights flared into full glow.  I laughed as I dribbled the ball past Jarvis, wrong footed Harvey and then blasted the ball into the net past the keeper’s despairing dive.  The memory vanished and I stumbled forward in the dark, putting a hand out to the wall to steady myself.

Great.  A full memory of the layout of the building, an idea where they would be holding Dr Collins, now that would be a useful memory.  Remembering a five aside match wasn’t what I had in mind.  I didn’t even remember who Jarvis and Harvey were.

Halfway down the hall on the right hand side was a doorway.  Ignoring a receding wave of nausea after the flashback I pushed through the door and into the corridor beyond.  After the large airy space in the sports hall the corridor felt crushingly small, the walls and ceiling pressing down on me.  It rain, straight as an arrow, the far end hidden in the gloom.  As I stepped through the door the sensors tracked my progress and the lights above shivered and thwumped into life.  There was no one here.  No noise, nothing.  It was as if the facility was abandoned.  Again my instincts screamed at me to turn and run.  Drop my bag and run.  I crushed the feeling down and forced my feet to carry me forward.  I needed to get to somewhere I remembered, whether it was my own memory or someone else’s.

It felt like I walked for an age, the lights washing into life in front of me and winking out a short distance behind me.  Still I saw no one.  The corridor branched to the left, then swung back to the right, and abruptly I recognised where I was.

This was the living quarters for the facility.  Many of the staff at Mnemosyne lived at the lab.  It made it easier to become fully immersed in your work.  That and the fact that most members of staff weren’t allowed to leave.  Ever.  For the first time since the flash the true meaning of the perimeter guard fence became apparent.

I made my way to a door to the right, now knowing exactly where I was.  A brass plate to the side of the door told me this was ‘East 64’.  It was Christa Mayhew’s quarters.

 

She was breathing so lightly she might have been dead.  Smudges of grey bled into the pitch blackness of the room from around the curtained window, giving just enough light to make out the sleeping form in the bed.

Her hair was spread around the pillow in a crimson halo, her shapely left arm resting on top of the covers, the skin catching the available light and standing out against the dark bed covers.  Her other hand was tucked up under the large lace rimmed pillow under her head.  The room was filled with a gentle, floral smell, feminine and delicate.  It was the smell more than anything that stirred up my memories.  Memories of this room, that bed.  Memories of a time before Mnemosyne, a happier time, simpler than now.  Oh so much simpler.  It was hot, dusty and dangerous work, but we had worked well together.  Back here, in this place, she had changed.  Or maybe just became herself again, I didn’t know anymore.

I reached out and stroked her cheek lightly, brushing a curl of hair back behind her ear.  She looked so sweet, lying there, so innocent.  There was nothing in her gentle features to hint at what she was capable of.  She stirred slightly at my touch, her hand on the covers twitching and her head nuzzling against the pillow.  Dreamily one of her eyes cracked open.

“Adrian, s’that you?” she said sleepily.

I crouched down next to the bed and nodded.

“What are you doing up, come back to bed,” she mumbled, blinking lazily.  I heard the slap and felt the stinging pain, my head snapping sharply to one side.  Studying her face I hadn’t even noticed the full arm slap until it had connected with my cheek.  My eyes watered with the force of the blow, and as I looked up I saw that Christa no longer looked sleepy at all.  Her eyes flashed with rage, high spots of colour blooming on her pale cheeks, just visible in the dim light.  Her expression was one of alarm and also concern, her hair falling down around her bare shoulders as she sat up in the bed.

“Where the hell have you been?  You can’t just run off like that, I’ve been worried sick!”

The look of concern on her face doubled, her hand reaching out tentatively to stroke the back of mine as it rested on the edge of her bed.  At her touch confusion trilled through my skin and I pulled back, my arm jerking as if in a spasm.

“Shhhh, easy, be easy now,” she soothed, gathering up my hand as if it was an injured bird and clasping it firmly in her own.  She was very warm.

She reached behind her and I tensed again.

“It’s OK, really.”  She moved slowly, flicking the switch on the bedside lamp.  The bright flare of light dazzled me for a second, my fingers tensing around hers, my head sloshing through the wooziness that I seemed to feel in any transition of dark to light.  When my head cleared she was sitting upright in bed, her hand still around mine.  Somehow her hair had arranged itself perfectly around her face, falling down in a tousled and artless way either side of her head, fanning out across her shoulders and over the straps of the light blue nightdress.  Feelings and memories bubbled away under the surface of my mind, boiling in a threatening manner. I had to concentrate.  To hold on to why I was here.

The anger had left her expression but the spots of colour in her cheeks remained.  Which meant that she was still angry, I remembered.  But the light cast highlights in her hair and her features beamed concern at me.  And her hand was so warm and soft.

“We’ve all been very worried you know.  You look well.  Tired, but well.  It’s so good your back,” she said with enthusiasm, moving towards me.  At the last minute I managed to pull back, squirming my hand out from under her cloying and comfortable grip.

“Where is Dr Collins?” I said huskily.

Christa looked worried, and a little offended.

“Oh, not this again.  I thought we went over this: there is no Dr Collins.  You are not Dr Collins.  You’ve been in a nasty accident Adrian, and you need your meds.  Darling, listen.” She leaned forward, the front of the night dress slipping down in a way that I was sure was intentional.  The forgotten memories and feelings within me boiled up in a fury.  My head swam.  Christa reached forward and cupped my chin.

“Listen,” she repeated.  “I know how confusing this must be for you.  The whole time they were treating you here you suffered from the delusion that you were some sort of esteemed neuroscientist, a man named Dr Collins.  That man doesn’t exist, he has never existed.  You are Adrian, my Adrian, and we will make you better, I promise.  The fact that you no longer seem to think that you are Dr Collins is a good step, I really believe that, but you must understand one thing.”  Her hand, strong but gentle, tilted my chin up. “There is no Dr Collins.”

The world titled sideways and I struggled to cling on.  She was lying, I knew it.

“But you tortured me…”

I knew that even the statement was a submission, a request for validation of something I knew to be true.  Didn’t I?

Christa’s eyes went wide with shock and she leaned back, the strap of the nightdress slipping down her shoulder as she did so.

“Tortured you?  My God, they had said the delusions would take any shape, that you would push back against those most trying to help you.  But I never imagined…  I feel sick.  Adrian, I would never hurt you, you must believe that.”

With the words she clasped both hands over her heart, the shrugging action meaning her clasped hands were now the only thing holding her night dress up at all.  She was now sitting directly in front of the lamp, the yellow light washing around her in a warm aura, turning her hair to a deep golden red.  Knees drawn up around her she couldn’t have looked more demure, more caring.  More desirable.

My blood ran hot.  I wanted to believe her, I really did.  How much better to be the confused and delusional lover of this warm and caring beauty, then the identyless lunatic with an eighty year old scientist stuck in his head.  Was this really happening, or was it all a delusion?  If I took my medication would this all go away?

Inside some part of me chuckled, a wry sound filled with admiration and longing.  God she was good.  Yes, I wanted what she said to be true, and I wanted it badly.  More than anything maybe.  And that was why I knew it wasn’t.  I had remembered enough, enough that I was now sure off, to know that.  The girl sitting half dressed in the bed, care radiating from her in waves, was the same woman that had tortured me.  The girl who declared she would never hurt me was the same who had almost knocked my teeth out with a full bodied slap to the face.  I could still feel my skin tingling, and still I wanted to believe her words.

No, I knew it wasn’t true.  Which is why my eyes followed her hand as it pushed under her pillow, not her plunging neckline, as she unclasped her hands.

She could move quickly, I knew that, and she had the small calibre gun out from under the pillow and almost in my face before I could react.  It would have been before I could react if I had been distracted, which of course was what she had been working towards all along.

I grabbed her narrow wrist, twisted and then pulled, the gun flying free and hitting the far wall with a thud.  Always one for the theatric, that was Christa.  She could have emptied the gun into me when I was dazzled by the bedside lamp.  But no, she had to set it all up.

“Get your hands off of me!” Christa snarled, her features no longer carrying the angelic mask, her hair flying around her face like a mane of blood red snakes.

Appalled at the transition I released her wrist.  Christa rocked back on her haunches, her mouth set in a sulky pout as she pulled the covers up around her chin.  The crazy light had already danced out of her eyes, and you wouldn’t have believed the girl crouching under the heaped covers had tried to shoot me less than thirty heart beats ago.

“Christa, are you OK, I heard a noise,” came a voice from the living area.  The voice of a dead man.

I moved quickly to behind the door, scooping up Christa’s small gun and putting it into my pocket.  I held my finger over my lips to signal that Christa should be quiet.  Not that she would have any reason to do as I said, but she sat there quietly under the sheets, her green eyes glowing out at me like twin emeralds.  I pulled my 8mm from the back of my trousers and waited.

“I hope you don’t mind, your door was unlocked so I let myself in.  It was one hell of a bang on my wall, are you OK?  Christa?”

Richter came through the door slowly, his voice nervous at his intrusion into Christa’s privacy, but his concern spurring him on.  As he came through the door I stepped out behind and pressed the gun into his lower back.

“I shoot you here and it takes you hours to bleed to death,” I said quietly.

Christa’s eyes had gone wide, not in fear but in anticipation.  She looked almost eager to see what was going to happen next.  Richter slowly raised his hands above his head.

“Welcome back Dr Collins, we have missed you.”

Christa giggled, the sound carrying pure madness.

“Cut the bullshit.  I know I’m not Dr Collins.  But you are going to take me to him, or people are going to start dying.  Starting with you, and her, and then moving all the way up to Dante.  Do you understand me?”

 

The door clicked shut.  I had snapped off the handle, both inside and out.  Christa was tied to the bed using the bed sheets, a pillow case forming a gag.  She hadn’t resisted.  She’d said nothing, but I had the distinct impression she even enjoyed it.  I knew it would be a smarter move to have killed her, there and then.  If she escaped and raised the alarm it was all over.  But I couldn’t bring myself to do it.  Maybe it was the weight of the half realised memories, I wasn’t sure.  Deep down I knew I was something I was capable of, but I couldn’t.

“You cannot be here!” hissed Richter, his voice low and filled with desperation.

I struck him across the mouth with the back of my hand.  Not that hard, but firm enough to bloody his lip.

“Enough, take me to Dr Collins.”

Richter quivered, his hand flying up to his bleeding lip.

“Now.”

With a bob of his head he turned and made his way down the corridor.

 

We had made our way to the wing of the facility where my room had been.  In fact, we had reached a point about here that my room would have been, albeit a floor or two higher, when Richter paused and turned nervously to face me.

His face was a tormented mess, panic causing muscles to twitch involuntarily, the blood from the shallow wound in his lip leaking down his chin.  He looked like he had aged a decade since I had seen him last, and the grey caste to his skin really did make me think of a dead man.  He was clearly sick.

“Why are we stopping?”

Richter pointed to a large set of metal doors at the end of corridor.

“He’s in there, but please, you have to leave.”

The words were desperate but hopeless.  He knew that I wouldn’t.  That I couldn’t.  Not without Dr Collins.

I shoved the weasely man in the back, propelling him towards the doors.  With a wimper he staggered a few steps down the corridor, almost falling flat on his face before he caught himself.  With a sigh of resignation he pushed the bar on the right hand door, the large slab of metal rotating inwards.  Immediately a blast of frozen air surged through the opening and hit me in the face.  What trickery was this?  Shouldering Richter aside I entered the room and stopped dead in my tracks.

The room resembled a small freezer works.  The floors, wall and ceiling were metal, each surface covered in a light coating of frost.  Down the right and left hand wall marched the front of cabinets, each identical, each holding a small white card in the centre of the drawer front.  In the centre of the room were three large metal tables, each one bolted to the floor.  The bulbs set high in the ceiling washed the room in a strange blue light, making the scene almost unearthly.  The most striking feature of the room though was the cold.

“It’s not as cold as you might think it should be,” said Richter, closing the door behind us.

“For full cryogenics this would be far too warm, but for the preservation purposes we require this is quite cool enough.”  He waved his arm up at the wall where a digital readout declared the temperature to be minus 70 degrees centigrade.  Already the warmth felt like it had been stripped from my body, I knew we couldn’t stay in this room for long.

“What the hell are you playing at Richter.  I said take me to Dr Collins!”

Richter approached one of the drawer fronts and pulled on the handle, the long drawer rolling out from the wall in front of me.  Without conscious thought I had moved forward, now standing on the other side of the drawer from Richter and gazing down into its contents.  I was looking at the frozen body of a man, completely naked.  His skin was light blue, and wrinkled and folded across his entire body.  Liver spots stood out on his arm and his hair looked stiff and brittle in the cold.  His eyes were closed, no horn rimmed glasses perched over them, but if they had have been open I knew that they would have been piercing, relaying the intelligence of the man.  The dead man.

“I have done as you asked.  This is Dr Collins.  The late Dr Collins.”

With a twin thud both of the metal doors to the freezer room banged open, the surge of warmer air hitting my back like a dessert breeze.

“Ah Adrian, back at last.  So good of you to give him the tour Richter.”

The voice was almost uncontrollably self satisfied.  Six guards swarmed into the room, ahead of the towering figure of Dante.  The gun was still in my hand.  In one motion I aimed and fired at Dante, pulling the trigger three times and sending each bullet smashing through his face, the bang of the gun echoing back to me from the metal walls.  At least, the bullets should have smashed through his face, but as the bangs echoed back to me, and I turned the gun towards the lead guard Dante burst into amused laughter.

“Oh Adrian, poor Adrian.  You have been led a merry dance.  Drop him!”

I threw the gun at the guard nearest to me who had to duck to avoid being hit in the head, and launched myself at the man behind.  But it was too late, stabbing agony clawed at my chest and stomach and I went down, twitching and convulsing around the taser barbs.  Ripping one set of barbs from my flesh I tried to push up from the floor but a booted foot caught me in the head and the world went black.

 

Something was squeaking, over and over, a repetition that clawed its way into the blackness with me.  It gnawed at me, seeming to scrape at my ears and burrow into my brain.  My body rocked slightly from side to side, then jolted as it bumped into something.

“Careful you fool,” said Dante.

The surface under my shoulders was hard and cold.  I was flat on my back but moving.  With my eyes closed I could still make out the subtle changes in light level as I passed under lights set in the ceiling.  Suddenly the squeaking noise made sense.  I was flat on my back on a trolley.

“We need him in one piece.  Mostly at least.”

The trolley paused for a second, and I heard a series of electronic beeps followed by the release of an electromagnetic lock.  The trolley moved off again, the accompanying buzz of the door release getting quieter before it was cut off entirely.  The trolley stopped dead with a thud.

“Open your eyes Adrian.  No more games, it’s all over.”

Sitting up was painful, but I did my best not to show it.  I recognised where I was.  It was the lab, the lab they had said was mine, where Richter had brought me to show me the items he had hoped would jog my memory.  Or at least a memory in my head, not mine.  The whiteboard with the equation on was still against the wall, but the large metal work bench had been pushed to the side of the room, my pack resting on top.  In place of the metal bench in the centre of the room there stood large black chairs under a gantry.  I had seen it before, in Christa’s office.

“You recognise these of course?” asked Dante, walking across in front of the whiteboard and standing opposite me.  I noticed with satisfaction that the writing on the whiteboard was no different than when I had last seen it.  They had made no progress with the equation at all.

“Go fuck yourself.”  It seemed as good an answer as any.

Dante laughed.

“Ah, now you are sounding more and more like my old friend than ever before!  Not that prissy wanker Dr Collins, but brutal foul mouthed Adrian.  I have missed you, you must believe me.”

Flanking the whiteboard were two guards, each one had a gun pointed directly at my chest.  I tasted blood in my mouth.  Swilling my saliva I spat on the floor at Dante’s feet.

“I am not your friend.”

Dante laughed again, but he didn’t sound as satisfied this time.

“Ah, not now, but you were, you were.”

I glanced across at my pack, and then down at my watch.  I suppressed the grin that threatened to swarm onto my face.  In my pack were two blocks of C4.  I had intended to place them around the facility to create a distraction and cover my escape.  Each block had been timed to detonate at the 2am, which was in precisely fifteen seconds.  I wasn’t going to get out of here alive, but then neither was Dante.

The door to the room swung open and in walked Jack.  My head was fuzzy, and for a second I almost called out a warning to him.  Lookout Jack, the C4 is about to blow!  But the words didn’t make it to my lips.

“Do you have it?” said Dante.

Jack nodded and reached into his pocket.  He pulled out a folded envelope, the folded envelope containing the correct Adstringo, and handed it to Dante.  Immediately Dante tore into the envelope, his eyes devouring the contents.  He gave a low chuckle and then an appreciative whistle.

“Genius, the man was a genius,” he muttered, before folding the paper and placing it in his own pocket.

The second hand on my watch ticked past 2am.  Nothing happened.

“May I?” asked Jack.

Dante hesitated for a second and then nodded.

“Sure, just no permanent damage.”

Jack walked over to me, his eyes dead and expressionless.  He stopped opposite, his face rigid with repressed rage.

“God, I’ve waited a long time for this,” he growled, his voice thick with emotion.  The world exploded in a flash of multicoloured lights and my head crashed back on to the metal trolley.

“Easy!” cried Dante.  “That’s the most important bit.”

I struggled upright again to see Jack rubbing his fist, his face a study in vicious satisfaction.

“I only wish you could remember what that was for.  But still, felt good all the same.”  With that he turned and left the room.

My head swam, a tooth felt loose, the thick metallic tang of blood rolling across my tongue.

Dante moved over to the metal table.  My pack was resting on top.  Dante reached in and pulled out the Marshall file and the false passport.

“Listen, for the sake of our friendship, even if it is a friendship you cannot remember, I feel I owe you something of an explanation.”

With a flick of his wrist he flung the passport at me.

“It’s a good likeness of you, don’t you think?”  Of course it fucking was, it had been made only a few days before.

“And to think, you found this,” he held up the Marshall file, “and this,” he held up the picture of me, the one I had found under the laminate in my room, together with the note and the warning.

Dante laughed again and shook his head.

“Even after everything we’d done you still weren’t the brightest.”  He walked towards me and held the picture over the file.

“Do you think, Adrian, that if you had found them both together, the picture pinned to the file, that the penny would have dropped?  Mr A Marshall, Mr Adrian Marshall?”

My heart pounded in my ears, my entire body went numb.  I refused to believe what he was saying.  It couldn’t be true.  Dante was laughing again, almost doubling over now in his humour.

“And to think, you asked Jack, my Jack, for a false passport in the name of Adrian Marshall!”  He howled with laughter.

“He almost shit himself I can tell you, he thought you had rumbled it.  But no, not Blunt Instrument Marshall.  Stick a genius in his brain and he still struggles with his shoe laces.”  The laughter was verging on hysteria now, the two guards casting worried glances at each other.

How could it be true?  Suddenly things I could remember slid sideways, locking together in new ways that I hadn’t thought possible.

“That’s right Adrian.  The man you read about in here is you.”  He flung the file at the wall.  “And you used to work for me.  You still do, in fact.  You’re a special guy, one of the few people in the world that this shit works with.” He slapped the arm on one of the chairs in the middle of the room.

“A graft,” I muttered.

“That’s right,” said Dante, his tone patronising.  “Best one we’ve ever had.  God, we filled you to the brim, I can tell you.  Anyway, that also made you the perfect man to bring in Collins.  You could show him the true relevance of our research.  That, and the fact that just about nothing could stop you from completing your aim, back when your brain wasn’t like swiss cheese, that is.”

I felt like I was going to vomit.

“And you nearly managed it too.  Nearly.  The only problem was that Collins died on the way back here.  We’re not sure about the preservation process yet.  Sure, we’re selling it like hot cakes, but only as a stop gap measure until we can get the full product to market.  Anyway, we didn’t know if Collins would keep, so before either brain death or preservation we did the only thing we could, wedged him in your head.”

My skull felt like it was going to crack apart, busting open like an egg, Dr Collins hobbling from the gore into the centre of the room.

“How did he die?” I mumbled.  It didn’t seem important, but yet it was.  Something had to make sense.

“Helicopter crash.”

“I was the pilot, wasn’t I?”

Dante nodded.

“Yeah.  You were busted up to, but not as bad as Collins.  The problem is, without the Adstringo we can’t wipe before we transfer.  You were pretty full already, and with the mind of Collins on top it was always a risk, especially as we did a full transfer.  All we really needed was the Adstringo.  We hoped you’d wake up, I would ask for it and hey presto the job would be done.  But no, when you woke up you were shattered, your mind all over the place.  To start with you couldn’t remember anything, and your fits of clarity were no better as you would not cooperate.  We thought you would heal in time.  Most of us.  Some of us just wanted to torture the information out of you, felt that you were holding it back on purpose.  We were desperate, and then a new approach dropped in our laps.  You wanted to escape, embark on a voyage of discovery, and we felt it was worth the risk to support this, give you the freedom to remember in your own time.”

Dante took the paper from his pocket and studied it once again, the same appreciative whistle escaping his lips.

“And it worked.  A long shot, but it worked.”

“You bastard,” I snarled, pushing up from the metal trolley.  Dante danced back a few steps and the guards tensed, fingers over the trigger.

“We’ve had you on a leash the whole time, every step.  Who the fuck did you think you were, breaking out of here.  We let you go.  Your secret stash of weapons and explosives had us worried, but Cassandra was able to switch those out on the ferry.  You’re firing blanks Marshall, and if you were waiting for a big explosion you are going to be waiting a long time.”

Dante had picked one of the packs of C4 from my pack and was bouncing it on his hand.

“You know what all this means, don’t you?” Dante grinned.  “With this we can take healthy people, in their twenties, even children, and wipe them clean way, creating a perfectly blank host.  The wealthy will pay millions, billions, to be transferred to the new host.  This is immortality Marshall, pure and simple.  This is the crowning glory of the work of Dr Collins.”

My temples flashed with pain.  It was exactly as Richter had said, his words buried in a late summer’s day.  It didn’t really matter, not to me.  I could feel myself dying, I was sure of that now.  I couldn’t cope with this, not with the amount I had in my head.  I felt so full, so overstuffed, the pressure immense.  I knew now that the blackouts, the amnesia, were in part a defence mechanism.  No one could cope with this level of consciousness.  I could feel them, all of them, threatening to crash over me like a tidal wave of identity.  It was so bitterly ironic.  I had spent weeks with no identity, searching desperately for who I was.  The man with more identities than anyone, each life, each consciousness held in check by, what, force of will?  Fluke of brain morphology?  I knew now why I couldn’t remember.  To remember something was to risk remembering everything, and there was no way anyone alive could cope with that.  Even now with the pressure they leaked through.  A man in his late twenties, screaming in terror and agony, French curses and howls for mercy tripping from his lips.  An ancient looking Japanese man in a kimono, his face lined but his conscions clear.  He sat quietly on the mat and didn’t move as they surrounded him.  A great bear of a man, his face slashed with a purple scar that ran through an eye, the ball in the socket white and milky, laughed as he cut a man’s throat.  A young mother wept by her daughter’s bedside as the venthilator stopped, a high pitched whine shepherding her daughters spirit from the world.  I grabbed my temples and squeezed, trying to crush them all out.  Somewhere in there was Dr Collins.  Somewhere in there was Marshall.  Flawed and petty Marshall, huddled in the corner, his house full of uninvited guests.  Somewhere in there was me.

The door opened and closed.  There was a hushed exchange of words.  I wasn’t paying attention.

“Put him in the chair,” said Dante, raising his voice.  Hands caught me up but I didn’t resist.  They could do what they liked with me, I was done.  For all I knew the world would be better off without Marshall, without me.  It certainly seemed that way.

The man who had entered the room was Richter, his face as grey and ashen as before.  He stood over me, hooking up a series of leads to my temples.  With a twist he forced something up my nose, the cold penetrating to the very centre of my bulging head.  I cried out in pain but couldn’t move, the straps now firm around my wrists, ankles and head.

“You shouldn’t have come back, God dammit!”  Richter’s voice was hushed, less than a whisper, but his mouth was pressed so close to mine I could make out his desperation.

“Fight it Marshall, fight it for all its worth.  You can’t fight it and win, but you can fight it and die, with dignity.  With some at least.  You can’t let them bring back Dr Collins, that must not happen.  For the sake of the world, fight it!”

“What’s taking so long?” asked Dante, approaching the chair and holding a glass.

“Nothing, all done,” said Richter, straightening quickly and moving away.

“Is the Adstringo programmed in?”

“Yes Dante,” replied Richter.

“And we have the Dr ready?”

Richter didn’t reply, but he must have signalled something to Dante as the big Albino nodded in satisfaction.  He smiled a sickly smile and raised the glass.  It was half full with ice and a deep amber liquid.

“Your favourite old friend, Bourbon and rocks for the road, the long road?” He pushed the glass towards me.  How I wanted to smash it from his hands, to spit in his face, but I couldn’t move.

“I hate that shit,” I snarled.  It was true, it had tasted like poison when he had served me Bourbon in his office.  Dante looked disappointed.

“Yes, well, you can’t say I didn’t try and end this nicely.  Adrian Marshall passing up a free drink.  Do you know, I am not sure you are my friend still anyway.  Right, Richter, wipe this sorry asshole out won’t you.”

“It’ll take about an hour, maybe more,” said Richter.

“An hour!  That’s way outside the models Richter.”

For once I could hear anger in Richter’s voice, the simper slipping for a second.

“We’ll go as quickly as we can, but we are not dealing with a normal man here, you know as well as I do how much there is in there to wipe.”

Dante grunted, then knocked back the bourbon in a single swig.

“Keep me updated then.  So long Marshall.”  He turned and left the room.

“Initialising,” said a voice I didn’t recognise.

“Fight it,” I thought I heard someone whisper, then a flash and the world went black.

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