22: Return from Shadow

I had no idea where we were.  I’d lost all direction.  Our eyes had been blindfolded, and when the eyes are gone the other senses are sensitive and tense, and loose and free, since the eyes are blind.  We had been most likely taken inside the Ferris Wheel, or the Boundary Failure if you prefer, as there were no other structures around us last time I checked, except for hexagonal trees.  And considering the planet we were on and everything I had learnt from the Atlas contraption, I’d say we were in an amusement park for the insane.  So, calling the Boundary Failure a Ferris Wheel was more than fitting for an asylum.  Well, that’s how it felt without my eyes.

We had been left sitting on a cold, hard floor with a steady droning noise, emanating from some machine close by, which eventually put me to sleep.

When I woke it was dark and I was still blindfolded, which factors in why everything was dark.  I also had no idea how long I had been sleeping.  All I knew was that my sleep was deep, like a coma, where you remember nothing and realise you are at the mercy of your captor for the duration of your absence.  Not a very comforting thought, but I really didn’t have much of a choice.

Someone next to me was breathing slowly.  Without seeing who it was I knew it was Aria.  I heard her move slightly, the way a child does when it wakes up after a long night’s sleep.

“Are you there?”  I asked Aria hoping she was awake.

“Yes,” she answered and yawned.  “I really need to stretch my arms; how long have I been sleeping?”

“As long as I have, but don’t ask me how long that’s been.  I just woke up, too.”

I noticed the droning sound had stopped, replaced by another more vibrant sound.  An almost organic rhythm of squishing and pulsing, which repeated every few seconds.

“Are we alone?”

“No, we’re not.”

Kailo chuckled as he removed the blindfolders.

“Clever girl.”

I kept my eyelids shut, allowing time for my eyes to adjust to the light.  Slowly I opened them, one eye first, then the next.  We were in a cavernous room inside some hexagonally constructed chamber below the Boundary Failure.  Mauve hexagonal panels tinged with red and grey made up the walls.  I felt like I was inside a bee hive.

A small hexagon device had been placed on Aria’s chest, from which a cable ran to an elongated glass tube beside her.  Inside the tube was the image of a throbbing, dark red orb, like a heart inside a tank filled with transparent liquid, but it was an image being transmitted into the tube, not the real thing.  Cables ran out of the tube contraption across the room to a large computer terminal on the wall; the Boundary Failure’s machine heart.  Most likely data storage.  And data storage usually meant blueprints.  But we would need to find a way to escape and rescue Kailo first.

“Why are you here?” the thing inside Kailo asked.  “Not that I’m complaining.  You did after all set me free.”

He looked at Aria and smiled, but the smile was not Kailo’s, it was abnormal, like it belonged to someone else, which it most likely did.  He stared down at her chest and then turned to look at the glass tube.  “Pretty lights.  I might need what’s in there,” he said, his eyes returning to her chest.

“Keep your eyes off her,” I threatened.

He turned to me and laughed.  “Or you’ll do what? Kill poor Kailo, I don’t think so.  You’re all tied up anyhow.  Yes?  So, keep your mouth shut or I’ll shut it for good.”

I knew it wasn’t Kailo talking, and I knew I was in no position to do anything.  It sounded like his voice, but it was different, more pronounced and crueller.  But I had to think of something.  We were here to find the blueprints needed for the Golden Quantum Processor.  I wasn’t going to find anything by letting my emotions take over, I needed a clear head.  The image in the tube was showing Aria’s heart, an Atlas stone, or whatever that thing was inside her chest.  If the entity were to take it, they would literally kill her.

Kailo moved towards Aria, his eyes were still on the tube.  The small pulsating sphere on the imager changed shape, becoming hexagonal.

“You see, it hears me, feels me.  This is my home, my world.  You!”  He turned to look at Aria, no longer grinning.  “You are an abomination.”

I could hear disgust in his voice.

“What are you saying?” I asked.

He turned to me and his distorted smile returned.  “What am I saying?  Shall I tell him what I’m saying?”  I was unsure who he was talking to.  To Aria, to Kailo, or to himself?  “I need what’s inside her, I need it out.  You can’t stop what’s coming, none of you can, this must end.  No one escapes the end.  When the switch is flipped, the lights go out!”

He raised his hand, gripping a blade.  He was going to kill Aria and cut her open.

Desperate, I turned to Aria hoping for a response.  She had escaped worse, why was she smiling and not doing anything.

“Aria do something!  Can’t you stop him?” I cried, while struggling to break free.  But the rope only tightened more, cutting into my wrists.

He pulled the hexagonal devise off her chest and let it drop while proceeding to hold her down by the neck to keep her still.  Aria remained calm, the smile on her face unwavering.

I screamed, “Leave her alone!”

With his other hand he plunged the dagger into her chest.

###

Then the door opened, and I heard her speaking.  “They’re not all responding to the treatment, we’re going to lose them once operational time ends, we won’t be able to bring them back.”  There were others, I heard them mumbling but I couldn’t understand what they were saying.  I knew it was her voice, but she was totally different.  Taller and older, not a girl any more but a woman, supple and fragile, with pale skin and short dark hair.  She looked over to a large led panel displaying a timer, which was counting down. It had begun at 16 minutes and was now at t-minus 10 minutes and counting.  I looked at the woman again, she was tired, needing sleep and seemed to be carrying some great burden.

The room was full of commotion, there were conversations ongoing, but I could only understand one voice, the strange woman whose voice sounded like Aria’s.  “I need to reset it, otherwise we lose all the dreamers.  I need to make contact now.”

I watched as a cloud formed over my eyes and then cleared.  Two men helped her into a glass domed casket.

As they were positioning her I heard her say, “Take me as close to him as you can, there’s still time to save him.”

A man’s voice could be heard over the noise, he was loud and challenging.  He was arguing with her, but I couldn’t understand what he was saying.

“It’s my choice, complete the connection,” she said.

I saw the man close the glass lid over the woman.  The connection was complete.  She fell into a dream.

###

And I woke to see the blade, which had entered Aria’s heart, disappear.  It was as if it had fallen into a bottomless pit.

Kailo screamed as he grabbed his chest.  “What have you done, take it out!”

“Not until you leave the host.  Go now, into the tube or die,” she threatened.  “I’ve no more time to waste with you.”

Screaming, the entity, which had possessed Kailo, fled his body in pain.  Kailo fell to the floor in a state of unconsciousness.  The blade rematerialized and fell to the floor as well, while a dark red puff appeared inside the liquid tube, swirling and twisting into endless incarnations of its failed self.

Kailo slowly regained awareness.  “Where am I? What happened?”

“Welcome back, Kailo,” I said.  “How do you feel?

“My chest’s hurting, feeling a little woozy, but I think I’m OK.  Who hit me?”

“Well you might like to untie us first.  Grab the blade beside you and cut us lose. We’ll talk later and tell you everything, for now we just need to get what we came for and get out of here,” Aria said.

Aria accessed the computer terminal and found the blueprint for the circuit board.  She then proceeded to turn off the heart of the Boundary Failure.  The structure fell silent and the room dark.  We used our torches and slowly made our way out of the structure.  We were tired and weary from all the confrontations and needed to rest, but that wasn’t going to happen, not until we were back safe on the White Squid.
Returning to the portal I dreaded to go back in, but I was the first to do so.  Aria insisted she be the last.  Kailo was still misplaced and needed someone at the other end to catch him as he came through, which I did.  Aria followed.

We made our way back up through the battle-stricken tunnels to the surface, careful to avoid any possible recurrences with strange monoliths or wake any broken sentinels, which littered our outward path.

The White Squid was exactly where we had left it on the small moon.  It looked so beautiful, like a pearl that shines hope on a dreary black night.

Moon Pearl

We boarded the ship.  Aria instructed the ship to take off.

Once in space she set the coordinates for our next destination, the singer in the sea.

In the emptiness of space I paused to collect my thoughts. What had I witnessed as the knife plunged into Aria’s heart?  Was I hallucinating, losing my mind?

We were all too tired to say anything, only Aria spoke.

“Get some sleep, we’re going to need all the rest we can get.”

Kailo and I nodded and the three of us slept.  We slept like babies in their mothers’ arms and dreamt.


Blessed are the dreamers, for they keep the rest of us awake.
Marty Rubin