Please Note: This story deals with very dark and disturbing themes. Do not read it if you're squeamish. This is part 6 of the story.
Part One here
Part Two here
Part Three here
Part Four here
Part Five here
Part Six here
The conclusion will air next Sunday.
The first thing he remembered was getting savagely beaten. This was a dull, animal sense-memory, nothing sentient or remarkable in it. In the timeless time he’d been in the terminal, he’d had many an odd bruise or scrape or wound with no memory of how he got it, pain was a constant companion, even in the new order he’d managed to semi-accidentally establish amongst the other residents. This was different somehow, though, since he could see his assailants in his mind’s eye, feel the truncheons and the tasers and the fists, smell the plastic of their SWAT-styled riot gear.
“Dammit,” he thought, “I’d hoped I wouldn’t remember that.” Suddenly, the enormity of it struck him. ’How the hell…?’ he wondered. He could remember things! He could remember things! He quickly ran around inside his own mind. Did he know his name? No. His age? No. Where he was? No. His gender? Yes - which was something of a relief after spending God knew how long waking up in the morning and being surprised by the discovery of his own genitals. He could remember the beating, he could vaguely remember going to meet a plane, though he didn’t remember why. It many ways, it was worse than not being able to remember anything at all. He’d been essentially straight jacketed by his complete lack of knowledge, yearning by the very nature of man’s soul to have some more full existence, which - without knowing it - he’d hoped would set him free. Now, out of the straight jacket, he was still in a very tiny sell that only extended fifteen or twenty minutes in any direction he thought about.
He swam in and out of consciousness, ruminating on this, and in a far off way he noticed a second thing: something clean and cool and yielding beneath his cheek. It had been so long - so far as he knew - since he’d been around anything that wasn’t inherently filthy that it took his mind a long, long time to process it as a kind of pleasant sensation. He was still grimy and encased in filth, of course, and he could feel a pocket full of cockroaches - a midmorning snack - in his pocket. He could vaguely remember putting the roaches in there. He could feel his long, ratty, coarse beard bunched up against his face, and when he moved, it released a sweaty, sour smell.
‘Leather,’ something deep in his mind told him, a deeper memory than any he’d yet excavated since awakening. It was almost like a voice from another mental cell, coming through the wall. Tentatively, he opened his eyes - one was swelled shut from the beatings - but the other worked fine, and he found himself laying on his side on an overstuffed leather couch, a *clean* one!
He looked around. He was in an office. It was clean, comfortable, and entirely too 1970s looking, with lots of dark wood paneling, colored leather, and a big clock made out of a cross-section of a Cyprus tree. The dull far-off memories from somewhere else in his head identified it as looking vaguely like the principle’s office in a private Christian school he’d gone to in his youth, a youth he had no other memories of. Strange, and strangely intoxicating, to be recovering snatches of one’s past when he had no idea who he was. Stranger still to remember a school, but not his own name.
He had no idea how he’d gotten there, but owing to his nearly-doubled powers of retention, he reasoned quickly that he must have been moved here after his beating. But why? And where was ‘here?’
There were several large desks in the room, business-man styled and ponderous. The largest was in the center, facing the couch. There were three men sitting behind the one desk, staring at him patiently. He quickly counted his bones to make sure they were all still there, and when he figured they were, he gingerly moved to sit up, and take more stock of the room. The couch was pressed up against one wall, the desk with the three men, square in the middle. Behind them was a window with tacky yellow shades drawn tight, stained by generations of cigarette smoke. Sickly light filtered through them anyway, unearthly, vaguely stomach-churning.
“What is a man but the sum of his memories?” one of the three men at the desk spoke, the one on the left.
“Excuse me?” He said, head still swimming.
“What is a man but the sum of his memories?” the one in middle repeated in a different voice that was eerily the same. This time it registered, and he was able to recognize it as a question.
“I don’t know,” he said.
“Neither do we,” agreed the man on the right side of the table. They all stared awkwardly at him.
“I’m not really a morning person,” he said, “maybe we could try this again in a less enigmatic fashion, and you can tell me what it is that’s going on here?” The three nodded.
The one on the left spoke, “Humanity is an interesting development. We are interested in the nature of mankind, as is mankind itself. Mankind has long recognized its fundamental difference from the other animals, it’s isolation from nature; humans have long asked deep questions about who or what they are, yet they have never come to conclusions about any of those.”
“If you say so,” he said. He noticed that he wasn’t having too much difficulty following them, his mental acuity was more or less normal, and he was feeling like his old self again, whomever that was.
The one in the middle continued, “One of the more interesting questions to us is one of identity: Is a person merely the sum of their memories, or are they something more?”
“I don’t understand,” he said.
“Are memories like a computer program?“ the one on the right said, “If I take your memories, and put them in someone else, do they *become* you, the way any computer can run a program equally well, or is there some deeper code at work here that makes each individual truly unique?” There was another awkward group-stare in the silence that followed.
“I don’t know,” he admitted.
“Neither do we,” said a fourth man - oddly like the others - who sat at a desk in the back left corner of the room. ‘How did I not notice him before?’ he wondered, vaguely startled.
“Thus we decided to find out,” said the man on the left of the main table.
“It is an intriguing question,” said the man in the middle.
“One that begs an answer,” said the man on the right.
There was nothing remarkable about these men. They were neither young nor old, neither fat nor thin, tall nor short, insofar as he could tell. Their faces were nondescript, and their eyes smiled at him, though their mouths didn’t. They were obviously human…but were they? He didn’t know, he only knew that when they spoke it raised a slight flight-or-fight response in them. Their mouths were all a little bit too wide. Not wide enough to be outside the realm of human experience, of course, but just enough to be vaguely odd and threatening. He didn’t notice it consciously, of course. Their voices were not the kind of thing that would stand out, and they were all different, yet something about their phrasing and diction was offputting. It was like three separate people all doing an impression of the same famous person. He could easily get up and walk over to the desk, but the thought of doing so turned his bowels to water. There was a kind of dream-logic at play here, and he was afraid of what he might find. He feared that below the desk, they were all connected, three massive finger puppets all on the same hand.
‘…but that’s just crazy talk, isn’t it?’ he thought, but he couldn’t convince himself that it was.
Suddenly there was a fifth man, sitting at the table on the left, who somehow he hadn’t noticed before, saying “you have become part of that experiment.” In the silence that followed, he realized they intended him to speak. It had been so long since he’d had a normal human conversation - assuming these people were human - that he’d lost his feel of the normal ebb and flow of such things. But the rhythms were gradually coming back to him.
“And what have you found out?” he asked.
“our initial conclusion,” said the man on the left of the center desk.
“Was that the concept of identity,” continued the man in the middle
“is based entirely on experiental memory, and” said the man on the right
“that there is no inherent ‘you’ in you,” said the man on the left of the other table
“Aside from some genetic predispositions” said the man in the middle of the other table
“That are immaterial to our experiment” said a new man at the right of the other table who He was certain wasn’t there just an instant before.
“So this is all just an experiment?” he asked, already knowing full well that it was.
“Of course” all six of them - seven now, one at a new table on the other side of the room - said in one voice.
He felt something crawling through his hair, a bug he figured, or a worm. He reached up to grab it, and pulled his fingers away wet and red and sticky. “Could I get a handkerchief or something, please? I’m bleeding here….”
“No,” all eight of them said.
“Fine. So why…why this place? Why an airport?”
“It was cheap,” the nine of them said in unison. This puzzled him.
“Why…how…why me? Why us?”
“Practical air traffic has existed for a century in reliable and safe fashion, yet still there are occasional accidents. Several passenger firms were willing to trade certain technologies that would rule out these accidents, in exchange for the victims of the accidents themselves,” the choir spoke in nine-part harmony.
He puzzled that out for a moment, “So, wait, you gave them some hoobijoob that would save their planes, if they’d give you the people who would have died in the crashes?”
“Yes. We also allow them to retain their crews.”
“Why would they agree to such a thing?”
“Aircraft are expensive. Flight crews require much expensive training. It was cheaper this way.”
“So every plane crash in the last however-long-this-has-been-going-on is a fake?”
“So how long has this experiment been running?”
“A very long time.”
“Our initial observations confirmed,” the one on the left of the room said,
“what we anticipated about the nature” the second one next to him said,
“of identity, however as the experiment” the third one next to him said,
“proceeded we came across an” the one at the left of the main, center table said, “interesting datum that popped up” the one in the middle of the center table said,
“randomly which caused us to review” the one at the right of the center table said,
“our preconceptions. In most cases there” the seventh man, at another table said
“was no difference in the behavior of any” the eighth man next to him said,
“of our subjects when we removed their” the ninth man said
“long term memories, they revered to a” the first man said, starting over again,
“primordial cave-man styled existence, violent,” the man next to him said,
“brutish, animalistic. Occasionally, however,” the third man said,
“there were some who popped up who was” the fourth man said,
“different than the rest, one who was gentler,” the fifth man said,
“able to grasp larger concepts even without memory,” the sixth man said
“somewhat more noble than the rest.” The seventh man concluded.
“A lamb, rather than a lion?” he asked.
“yes,” the nine said in unison, “Though generally they died off before they could statistically affect the outcome of the experiment.”
He weighed this.
“I’m one of these lambs?”
“You are,” They agreed. “You are the only one who has managed to survive and shepherd these people in to something resembling a human society. It is a fascinating and inexpertly noble thing you have done, and we can not abide it.” Awkward silence resumed.
“Soooooooo…you’re explaining this to me, and now you’re going to kill me?”
“We do not kill,” they said as one, with a trace of slow amusement in their voices.
“No, of course not, you twist, you torture, you maim, you rape, but you do not kill.”
“We are scientists,” they said, again with some amusement.
“So what is this all about? Why bring me here?”
“We want you to leave,” they sang, actually sang.
“That seems…unexpectedly decent of you,” he said. “Why not just wipe my memories and throw me back in the rat-maze?”
“It would not work. You were able to organize these people based without memories, acting only on your basic decency.” Despite the increasingly oppressive nature of this conversation, their singing voices were strangely beautiful.
“Decency? Not my intelligence?”
“You’re not all that smart,” they sang, again amused.
“So because I did it once, I could do it again?”
“Yes,” they sang in the tongues of angels, or possibly devils, “It is affecting the outcome of our experiment.”
“How do you know this for sure?” he asked.
“Because you’ve done it before,” they sang. This was not, it turned out, his first trip to The Terminal. He had been here once, years before, just another anonymous passenger on an anonymous lost flight that wasn’t really lost. They gave him back snatches of memory from that time. He was shocked, appalled, horrified, it was like finding a different head inside his own skull, remembering himself as a different person, and yet…and yet….somehow the same. Somehow slightly more than the ones around him, not just reacting but acting, concerned for the ones around him in a way that wasn’t social conditioning and wasn’t genetic, but was something else.
In those days, God alone knew how many years ago, he had managed to rally the people in the terminal. There had been no paper, nor food, so he did it with graffiti, spray painting messages on the walls and working out a system of enlightened cannibalism and rat-farming that kept the people alive, somewhat. In his memories, he recalled areas of filthy wall in the present-day terminal that were no less disgusting than any other wall or space, but which appeared to have a thinner veneer of crud and effluvium on them, as though they’d been scraped or sandblasted at some point in the distant past. At the same time, in his other track of memories, he remembered the younger, but no-less-desecrated walls covered with his own messages.
“No,” he said. “What you’re doing here is evil. If there’s something about me that allows me to help these people, I have to do it. If I’ve organized and led these people - twice - then I have some responsibility to them. I’m going to stay, memories or no, I’m going to liberate them, and then I’m going to come back here and I’m going to kill you.”
The laughter of a choir of scientists, or angels, or devils, or whatever they were, is surprisingly, disconcertingly beautiful.
“There is nothing you can say that will change my mind,” he screamed defiantly.
“Your mind doesn’t enter in to it,” they said, “we have complete control over that obviously. It is your soul that is screwing up our experiments. But be that as it may, we have something that we think will make you reconsider.”
“Nothing could,” he swore.
Then they showed it to him, and they allowed him to remember, and he agreed. He agreed instantly to their terms, without reservation. How could he not? How could any man not?
To be concluded next week!
Copyright 2009, Republibot 3.0