// THE LABORATORY //
The first night, I was given a plastic-wrapped tray of leftovers. The food was sterile and unappetizing.
The bed, too, was hard and unyielding. There were no windows in my cell. There was a simple digital clock on the wall that displayed at the touch of a button. I was not in my home and I yearned to leave.
One of the other buttons iterated through a number of white noise settings. They were mostly different settings for mechanical fans and simulated noise, though I did not recognize them as manufactured. They were all strange, blaring patterns of sound that were unlike anything I’d ever heard before.
I did not find them comforting. I did not sleep. I found a setting that spoke of a forest with chirping birds. It reminded me of the daytime. It reminded me of isolation. It did not help me sleep, but it did pass the hours until the clock cycled around again.
A tone sounded from the wall near the door letting me know that the door was to open.
In came the autumn haired woman with a bland looking tray of food. Some things never change.
Eggs, toast, a small bowl of pineapple… and one of those milk cartons I had struggled to open.
WHEN ARE YOU ALL TAKING ME HOME?
YOU’RE NOT GOING BACK TO THAT PLACE.
YOU’VE BEEN LIBERATED.
YOU’LL SEE THAT IN TIME.
THEN WHY ARE YOU KEEPING ME IN CHAINS?
WE’VE REMOVED YOUR BINDINGS.
I HOPE THAT WILL INCREASE YOUR COMFORT.
When they had brought him to the small cell, they had indeed removed the plastic bindings from about his wrists and ankles. There had been indentations in his skin that remained. They still burned lightly, like the pits of his eyes.
I CAN ACTUALLY GET UP AND WALK NOW, SO THAT’S A PLUS.
AS YOU BECOME MORE ACCUSTOMED TO OUR HOME AND WE BECOME MORE ABLE TO TRUST YOU, YOUR FREEDOMS WILL GROW.
YOU DID NOT FIGHT TOO MUCH DURING YOUR ESCORT.
FOR THAT, WE THANK YOU.
I DON’T PLAN ON BECOMING COMFORTABLE.
MY MOTHER AND FATHER –
WILL COME FOR YOU?
THEY DON’T EVEN KNOW WHERE YOU ARE.
THEY WILL FIND ME.
AND RESCUE ME.
I was not so sure but I wanted to be sure.
YOUR FAMILY KEPT YOU HIDDEN FROM THE WORLD IN SHAME.
IT IS LIKELY THAT THEY ARE GLAD FOR YOUR DISAPPEARANCE.
I DON’T BELIEVE YOU.
My parents loved me, despite my monstrous appearance. Of that, I tried to be certain.
YOU DON’T HAVE TO BELIEVE ME. YOU WERE THE ONE WHO’S LIVED ON THE INSIDE OF A CAGE FOR YOUR ENTIRE LIFE.
BELIEVE WHATEVER YOU WANT TO BELIEVE.
ANYWAY, I HOPE BREAKFAST IS TO YOUR LIKING.
DINNER WILL BE WITH THE CHIEF OF STAFF.
AND FOR YOUR MIDDAY RECREATION, SOMEONE WILL BE ALONG SHORTLY TO ESCORT YOU TO THE LIBRARY.
Perhaps I was to avoid eating food, as to go on a hunger strike. The food did not look particularly appetizing; that feat might be relatively easy to accomplish. Did an insistence against food extend to the information that could be gleaned from my captors’ library?
EVEN IF YOUR PARENTS SHOW UP AT THE DOOR, THEY’LL BE TURNED AWAY.
SO BEST GET COMFORTABLE.
And she left me alone in the small dimly-lit room with a tray of food I intended to ignore and a milk carton I could barely pry open even if I’d tried.
I had always been accustomed to triaging my own boredom, but I had not realized how spoiled I’d been surrounded by my friendly heaps of books.
Mother had not been too strict about the things I kept alongside my bed, and I thanked her for her consideration, a show of gratitude unheard in that comfortless room.
How long could I sit here in the dark wishing for distraction? I thought of the giddy orphans running about the house chasing after dust bunnies. I thought of their laughter and noisy curiosity. I wondered if they’d even noticed that I’d gone.
Perhaps Mother had closed the door behind me and delivered my trays of food as if I’d still been there. To keep up appearances. Not wanting to sound the alarm or to betray any change underneath the school’s scaffolding. I didn’t know. I couldn’t say. I hoped she were looking for me.
I hoped Father was looking for me, too.
Some hours after breakfast, I allowed my questions to get the better of me and fiddled with some buttons and dials on a wall.
I found a television.
I knew what television was like a child knew what dinosaurs were. It was not necessary to have ever seen one in the flesh to understand what the machine was used for.
It was a Mortal’s device to broadcast moving pictures.
They used it to give information to the masses. They used it for entertainment. They used it to pass the time.
I was watching the television when Autumn came again.
I’M SORRY, KEVIN, THAT WE HAD TO KIDNAP YOU.
I HOPE SOMEDAY YOU’LL SEE THAT IT WAS FOR YOUR OWN GOOD.
WE BELIEVE THAT IT WAS NECESSARY TO SAVE THE WORLD.
YOU SAID THERE’S A LIBRARY?
OF COURSE, BUT YOU’LL NEED TO GET FINAL CLEARANCE FROM THE DOCTOR.
YOU SAID, AT BREAKFAST –
SOMEONE WOULD TAKE ME THERE AROUND LUNCH.
AND I SPOKE INCORRECTLY.
YOU’LL NEED TO TALK TO THE DOCTOR DIRECTLY BEFORE WE CAN LET YOU INTO THE REST OF THE FACILITY.
SO, YOU’RE NOT A DOCTOR, YOU’RE SOME KIND OF NURSE?
Her feathers seemed to rumple at my question.
I AM THE NURSE.
I spent the day watching television. The noisebox was jarring and discordant but strangely fascinating. A window into the world of the Mortals that would jabber endlessly if you let it.
I used the small toilet and washed my hands diligently. The soap was liquid, rather than the bar soap Mother provided, and it smelled strongly of synthetic outdoor impressions.
I watched children’s television. Cartoons and puppets dancing about the stage proclaiming the merry joy of living. Morals woven inbetween life’s pageant. The saccharine faces made my own predicament seem a little less overwhelming.
It was about 5:45 PM when Autumn came to fetch me to visit with the Doctor.
It was the first time I’d been in the hallway since they’d brought me in from the car. I had the overwhelming sense that I was underground. The passageways were narrow, and like my cell, windowless. The artificial light was dim but deafening regardless. I thought of the gentle candlelight of home.
The hallway dead-ends into a non-descript door with vertical wall-mounted light fixtures. Autumn unlocks the door and we both step inside.
The room is bound on three sides with bookshelves; the fourth bore a small sink and bar. In the center of the snug room is a solid metal table and matching chairs arranged somewhat untidily. The light, as it was in the hallway, was relaxed but intense in its gaze.
THE DOCTOR WILL BE ALONG SHORTLY.
PLEASE TAKE YOUR TIME TO BROWSE THE SELECTION.
I couldn’t help but notice everything they said was off-kilter from the truth. She’d said that he’d need permission, but here he was, being given full range of motion.
She left the room, the hydraulic door mechanism echoing the last noise of his escort.
Immediately, I noticed the selection of books was markedly different from that which I enjoyed at home. Here was a collection of thick textbooks of scientific interest: Quantum Mechanics. Statistical Mechanics. Linear Algebra. Astrophysics. Molecular Biology of the Cell.
It wasn’t that the subjects had ever been forbidden, just that they’d never been wholeheartedly suggested. But had it mattered? Had it ever mattered?
I am looking through black and white photographs of distant stars when the door sounds and a grey-haired man enters.
I SEE YOU’RE ENJOYING THE BOOKS. GLAD TO SEE IT.
THEY DON’T GET MUCH USE AS OF LATE.
I pause my browsing and look up at him, wordlessly. He has a tired set of blue-ish eyes and a large nose.
WELCOME TO MY HOME.
KEVIN, IS IT?
The pleasantry grates on my nerves; it seemed everyone here was well-versed in at least my name.
YES, YES, YES, YOUR FATHER’S NAME.
BUT WERE YOU IN A DIFFERENT COUNTRY, YOU’D BEAR YOUR MOTHER’S NAME.
MY MOTHER’S NAME IS MARSCAPONE AS WELL.
BUT HER MAIDEN NAME, HER MAIDEN NAME.
What was Mother’s maiden name?
IT IS OF NO MATTER.
WELCOME TO MY HOME.
I LIVE HERE, AND I HOPE YOU WILL FIND IT AS ACCOMMODATING AS I DO.
THESE ARE YOUR BOOKS?
THESE ARE MY BOOKS, ALTHOUGH I HAVE LESS TIME TO PERUSE THEM THAN I’D LIKE.
I’VE BEEN KEEPING BUSY LATELY.
WE HAVE A NEW PROJECT ON OUR HANDS.
He wanted me to ask about it, I am sure, but I felt perfectly cognizant of what the new project entailed.
WE’RE SEQUENCING THE GENOME.
DO YOU UNDERSTAND WHAT THAT MEANS?
I did not.
JUST AS YOUR FAMILIAR BOOKS ARE TRANSLATED USING YOUR FAVORITE TWENTY-SIX LETTERS, WE’RE CREATING A DETAILED MAP OF MANKIND’S BLUEPRINT.
DO YOU KNOW ANYTHING ABOUT WHY YOU ARE THE WAY YOU ARE?
I did not.
IT ALL COMES DOWN TO A VERY LONG SEQUENCE OF KEYS. BITS OF KEYS CREATE INTELLIGIBLE PATTERNS AND INSTRUCTIONS.
I’M SURE YOU’RE FAMILIAR WITH BITS AND BYTES? OF COMPUTER LANGUAGE?
My silence stated that I was unfamiliar with his chosen terminology.
AND THIS IS PRECISELY THE PROBLEM.
YOUR MOTHER HAS YOU SIT IN A ROOM ALONE FOR SIXTEEN HOURS A DAY WITH PULP FICTION, WASTING THE GIFTS YOU’VE BEEN GIVEN.
SUCH A TRAVESTY.
THE WORLD WANTS YOUR THOUGHTS, KEVIN. ARE YOU TO DENY THEM AID WHEN THEY NEED IT THE VERY MOST?
But I did not have anything to say.
I APOLOGIZE FOR LAUNCHING INTO SUCH DISCUSSION SO EARLY ON IN OUR MEETING.
MY ASSISTANT WILL BRING DINNER ALONG TO US SHORTLY.
HOW ARE YOU FINDING THE ACCOMMODATIONS?
I wanted to go home.
THE BED IS LUMPY.
WELL, I HOPE WE’LL FIND WAYS TO WORK AROUND THAT.
THERE’S AN EXERCISE ROOM, AS WELL, TO GET IN YOUR DAILY EXERTION.
THAT SHOULD MAKE IT EASIER FOR YOU TO FIND SLEEP.
I did not want to talk about my health.
I wanted to go home.
HAVE YOU EVER STUDIED THE STARS, KEVIN?
DO YOU KNOW THERE ARE MORE STARS IN THE UNIVERSE THAN GRAINS OF SAND UPON THE EARTH?
I had thought about it, but the dusty view from my bedroom had trampled upon my imagination.
DO YOU THINK EACH OF THOSE STARS IS A LIFELESS BALL OF PLASMA?
HER PLANETS VOID AND DESOLATE?
EACH STAR RADIATING WITHOUT AN AUDIENCE TO SEE THE SUN RISE EACH DAY?
HAVE YOU EVER THOUGHT ABOUT IT, KEVIN?
FROM TIME TO TIME.
YOU DON’T HAVE TO BELIEVE IN LITTLE GREEN MEN TO KNOW THE IMPROBABILITY OF AN EMPTY UNIVERSE.
AND YOU’VE STUDIED ENOUGH FICTION TO UNDERSTAND THAT OUR WORLD IS WOEFULLY PRIMITIVE.
PIRATES MORE REAL THAN COSMONAUTS.
WHEN THEY COME FOR US, WE’D BEST BE READY, DON’T YOU THINK?
It all seemed a bit heady, speaking of extra-planetary invaders. Is this really what the great Doctor feared in his futuristic hideout?
I WANT YOU TO UNDERSTAND SOMETHING, KEVIN.
IT’S CALLED STOCKHOLM SYNDROME.
IT’S WHY YOU LONG TO RETURN TO YOUR ABUSIVE FAMILY.
YOUR MOTHER AND FATHER WHO KEPT YOU IN A CAGE.
YOU’RE KEEPING ME IN A CAGE.
UNTIL YOU’RE READY.
I WANT TO LET YOU FREE.
BUT I WANT TO BE SURE YOU WON’T JUST FLY AWAY.
HOW CAN I FLY AWAY WHEN YOU’VE IMPRISONED ME UNDERGROUND?
I LIKE IT UNDERGROUND. WE MUST HIDE WHAT WE DO FROM MORTAL EYES.
THEY WILL NOT, CANNOT UNDERSTAND WHAT WE DO.
YOU’RE HIDING ME.
WE’VE HID MORE THAN YOU AND LESS THAN YOU WITHIN THE SAFE CONFINES OF THIS FACILITY.
AND WE’LL CONTINUE TO EVEN IF YOU WON’T JOIN OUR QUEST.
I WANT TO GO HOME.
The old man takes this moment to break the conversation and change topics.
I’M NOT SO SURE I EVER INTRODUCED MYSELF.
I’M THE DOCTOR LENARD H. TRELAINE.
I did not care what his name was, I wanted to return home.
YOUR MOTHER PRESCRIBES TO THE STRONG SEX THEORY.
PRECISELY AS MY PEOPLE DO.
TWO WOMEN TO EVERY MALE.
WHAT ARE YOU TALKING ABOUT?
I closed the book I’d been leafing through.
THEY WON’T TELL YOU THE TRUTH OF THE ANCIENT RELIGION THEY LIVE THEIR LIVES BY.
It was all getting too much to bear to listen to the old man shout.
WHAT DO YOU WANT FROM ME?
WHY DID YOU BRING ME HERE?
I WANT YOU TO PARTICIPATE IN MY GENOME PROJECT.
LET US SEQUENCE YOUR DNA AND COMPARE IT TO THAT OF THE MORTALS’.
YOU’RE SPECIAL, KEVIN.
SURELY YOU’VE ALWAYS SUSPECTED IT.
NO, I WON’T DO IT.
IT’S FOR THE BEST OF EVERYONE, ELEVATED AND NOT.
YOU CAN’T MAKE ME.
I CAN MAKE YOU THINK ABOUT IT, AND I WISH YOU WILL.
YOUR PARENTS WOULD KEEP YOUR GIFTS TO THEMSELVES BUT I THINK YOU SHOULD HAVE A CHANCE TO SHARE THEM WITH OTHER PEOPLE.
IF YOU TRULY WANTED TO SEE GOOD FOR MANKIND, THEN WHY DID YOU STEAL ME FROM MY HOME?
WE HAD NO CHOICE IF WE WERE TO TALK TO YOU.
YOUR FAMILY HAS SHOWN TO BE UNCOOPERATIVE.
I’LL MAKE NO SUCH DECISION UNLESS YOU BRING THEM TO ME HERE.
I DON’T THINK THAT WILL BE POSSIBLE.
SURELY YOU UNDERSTAND PLANESMAGICK.
I UNDERSTAND ENOUGH OF IT.
YOUR PARENTS POSSESS A GRAND…GRAVITY HEAVY ON THEIR PLANES.
I DOUBT THEY’D BE ABLE TO ESCAPE EVEN IF THEY TRIED.
IF YOU’D LIKE, MAYBE WE CAN SCHEDULE A VISIT AT A NEUTRAL PLACE BUT –
SEND ME HOME.
I WISH TO GO HOME.
I’M AFRAID THAT’S NOT POSSIBLE.
YOU’RE MY GUEST AND I IMPLORE YOU TO THINK ABOUT THE OPTIONS AVAILABLE TO YOU.
THIS COULD BE A TRANSFORMATIVE POINT IN THE SAD LIFE YOU’VE LIVED THUS FAR.
YOU’RE A BRIGHT B–
I’LL NOT SUFFER YOUR THEFT!
PLEASE THINK ABOUT IT.
And he disappears in a cloud of smoke the color of pitch.