by Anthony R. Heffernan
Oh, why did Anna leave me? It doesn’t make any sense. Does she think I’m ugly, or stupid or something? I’m such a miserable failure! I’ll cut my wrist, that’s what I’ll do. She’ll be so sad when she finds out I’m dead. I wish my mind would stop torturing me. It’ll stop tonight though, I’ll make sure of it.
The spanner slipped and he sliced his knuckles on the bolt head. The sting brought his mind back to where he was and what he was doing, if only for a moment. Blood seeped out from his cut and he felt hypnotized by its flow, as crimson dripped over the offending bolt, running on downward in branching rivers across the shell of the Voyager probe.
“What are you doing, Leon?” asked Jim. The question echoed in Leon’s mind, but it didn’t break him away from his trance.
Jim walked up and placed his hand on Leon’s shoulder. “Argh!” screamed Leon, and his face burned red with embarrassment. What’s wrong with me? I screamed like a baby. And his thoughts confirmed yet another failure. Something else his mind would torture him over later.
“Are you all right?” asked Jim.
Do you really want to know? wondered Leon. I could never feign such concern. Is that real care I see behind your eyes? Or are you just so well practiced in social niceties?
“Yeah I’m fine,” he answered.
“Cut your knuckles, mate?”
“Yeah, it stings a bit.”
“Go and wrap it up. I’ll clean the blood off the probe.”
“Thanks,” he said, and went off to tend his wound.
* * * * *
Leon woke with a jolt and sat up. Where am I? he asked himself, as panic ripped through his nerves, causing him to feel instantly ill. Every kind of terror made his heart race and his head span dizzily. I’m really going to be sick, he thought, and then was, as he dry retched over the white sheet that had kept him warm.
The room he’d woken in was round, with a white soft floor that doubled as a bed. The boundary of the small room was marked by a cylindrical, white wall that rose up endlessly to meet some far away ceiling. It looked like the room’s boundary went up and on forever, but he couldn’t be sure, he couldn’t see up the shaft all that far. It just went on and on, and at its furthest apex the wall faded into the tunnel and was black.
He stood up and his bed sheet fell away. He felt dreadfully cold and looked down to see that he was standing naked. Where the hell have my clothes gone? he wondered.
“Leon five, is this a better way to communicate with you?” asked a voice in his head, a female voice.
“What the hell was that?” he asked himself, aloud. “Hello, can anyone hear me?” he called and turned his head, pointing his ear like a radar. He concentrated and his face pulled taut with the effort. He waited, he listened, but there was no reply.
He began to run his hands over the wall; it felt cold and was smooth to the point of being slippery. He walked in circles and dragged his fingernails across its surface, hoping they’d catch on a seam, an area that might indicate a door. But after a dozen circuits all he achieved was dizziness.
He stopped, and at random points he pushed himself hard against the wall, this time hoping to feel an area of weakness. But the wall was solid, and again his efforts went unrewarded. Frustrated, he began to beat his fists sore against the wall. “LET ME OUT!” he screamed, his throat ripping with the strain. “SOMEBODY LET ME OUT! FOR THE LOVE OF GOD, STOP THIS PRANK! ENOUGH IS ENOUGH!” But still there was no reply and the joke continued. “LET ME OUT!” he screamed again, punched the wall, and stood silent. He listened for any noise, a footstep, a giggle, or even a whisper, but apart from his angry and anxious breath, all was silent. “I KNOW YOU CAN HEAR ME! I’M GOING TO REPORT THIS! MAKE IT EASIER ON YOURSELF AND LET ME OUT!” But his threats too, were met with silence.
He felt cold and shivered, but he knew his symptoms were more the result of panic than temperature. He bent down and grabbed hold of the bed sheet. He folded it in half and wrapped it around himself for warmth. As he suspected the winter-like chill was subdued, but the shiver of anxiety continued unabated, as his heart palpitated, beating louder and harder. He felt ill, he felt like he was about to die. What should I do? This is insane. I’ve got to calm down. Come on Leon, deep breaths. He breathed in as much air as his lungs could hold and then released it slowly. He breathed in again, concentrating on the breath, the way it felt as it filled his lungs. He held it in for as long as he could and then exhaled, concentrating on how his lungs felt at its release. He tried his best to rid his mind of fear, but his panic soon overpowered the basic meditation causing him to scream wildly, while ramming the wall with all his might. “LET ME OUT!” he screamed. “LET ME—”
“Leon five, please relax,” interrupted a voice, a woman’s voice, the same voice he had heard in his head. It was mechanical in tone and its sudden onset startled him, causing him to stop and stand still.
“What’s going on?” he asked. “Why am I locked in this cell?”
“The subject, Leon five, must be contained. Our atmosphere will not support his life.”
“What the hell is going on?”
“Leon five, if you answer more of our questions, then we will kill you as promised.”
“Yes, Leon five, we said we would and we’ll keep our promise.”
“Who did you promise?”
“We promised Leon four.”
“Whatever you say,” he said, shaking his head, humoring his captor for the moment. “And you promise to kill me if I answer more of your questions.”
“But I haven’t answered any of your questions,” he said. “SO HOW THE HELL COULD I ANSWER MORE?” he yelled. “Is this something to do with the government? Because I work for the government in space aeronautics. Are you with the C.I.A.? Have I done something wrong? Something illegal? Is that why you’ve abducted me?”
“Not abducted, cloned.”
“That’s stupid! You’re stupid! I’m not a bloody clone! WHO THE HELL ARE YOU?”
“It’s interesting that your last two incarnates have behaved in very similar ways.”
“THIS IS NUTS! LET ME OUT!” he screamed, and began to punch at the wall again.
“Leon five, please don’t hurt yourself again.”
“Why, so you can hurt me instead?” he replied, still punching the wall, his fists beginning to bleed.
“Leon five, please don’t hurt yourself,” reiterated the voice.
But he ignored the plea and the wall recorded his mighty blows with red blotches. Suddenly he fell to the floor and began to convulse, as an electrical shock passed through the floor, up through his body to his brain.
“Leon five, do as you’re told,” the voice commanded, and he stopped convulsing. “Don’t make us do that to you again. We don’t want to make another mistake with you. You’re becoming expensive. So tell us what you last remember and then we’ll get to our other questions.”
“Who’s we?” he asked, groggy, still affected by the shock. “This is some crazy shit! Where am I?”
“Leon five, what’s the last thing you can remember?”
“My name’s Leon, not Leon five!” he said, slowly standing to his feet, a little unbalanced. He staggered to the wall and leaned against it, steadying himself with its aid.
“Leon five, what’s the last thing you can remember?”
He fell silent and conceded for the moment. He concentrated hard, trying his best to recollect anything. He saw Anna in his mind. He remembered meeting her, falling for her, marrying her. He remembered how her movements were like poetry, and that whenever he saw her she seemed to dance in his eyes. She was music, she was pleasure, she was his everything and without her he remembered he wanted to die.
“I know that I want to kill myself,” he answered. He remembered that, he remembered his depression, but he couldn’t remember how he came to be here.
“Anything else?” asked the voice.
He concentrated again and was overwhelmed by a flashback, a disturbing one. In it he had used a fork to rip open his throat. He then suffered another, and with it he remembered tying a knot in his bed sheet and that he’d hung himself with it. On both occasions it was in a room like this, but the ceiling had been lower. He’d been here before and it was a terrifying realization. “No, I don’t believe it! It’s not possible! Let me out! I want out!” he screamed and doubled over, as his stomach spasmed with panic. “Get away from me! Stay away from me! You’re in my head! Get out of my head! I don’t believe it! I don’t believe it!” he continued, and fell on all fours.
“Breathe Leon five, just breathe,” said the voice with calm, and he began to dry retch.
“Arrrrggghhhh!” he screamed. “Stop the pain! Stop the pain!” he continued, rolling over onto his back. His eyes fluttered, the sheet around him soaked with urine, and his view of the room fell dark.
* * * * *
Leon woke; he sat up fast and punched at the air around him. He soon calmed, there was nothing to hit. He stood and looked around, his eyes confirming what he didn’t want to see. He was still locked in the midst of his nightmare. He dropped to his knees, closed his eyes and clasped his hands.
“Our Father which art in heaven, hallowed be thy name—”
“Leon five, this is not the first time we have heard you say these words.”
“Thy kingdom come, thy will be done in earth, as it is in heaven—”
“Leon five, what you’re doing is illogical.”
“Give us this day our daily bread and forgive us our trespasses—”
“What is the purpose of saying those words?”
“As we forgive those who trespass against us—”
“Leon five, calm down.”
“Lead us not into temptation, but deliver us from evil—”
“Whom are you speaking to?”
“For thine is the kingdom and the power and the glory, forever and ever. Amen.” He finished his prayer and hoped it would indeed deliver him from evil, from fear. But to his dismay the nightmare continued.
“Our Father which art in—”
He stopped, his breathing shallow and fast, and without his prayer he began to sob hysterically.
“Why are you so scared?” asked the voice.
“I’m scared because I don’t understand what’s happening to me, and I don’t seem to have any control over it either. The only control I have, is whether I live or die. And I’ll be forced to exercise my control if you don’t let me go.”
“Relax, Leon five. Nothing will hurt you here, except of course, yourself.”
“I don’t want to hurt myself.”
“But you said you’ll be forced to exercise your control. And if your past is anything to go on, then you will kill yourself. Each time you have we have registered much pain in your failing body.”
“Yes, and then the pain is over. That’s the main thing, that’s why I’ll choose death. This is a nightmare and it’s making me ill, I can’t handle it. It’s like when my wife, Anna had left me, that was like a nightmare too, and its pain was too much to bear. That’s why I had planned to kill myself.”
“Yes, we know all about this Anna creature.”
“Why? Is she here?”
“No Leon five, she’s not.”
“Then how do you know about her?”
“You told us.”
“This is madness! Please tell me that there’s something wrong with my head. That this is all an illusion and that I’ll be waking up soon. Tell me the grief of my wife leaving has driven me insane.”
“Leon five, you’re not insane. Your brain’s electrical signals are well within normal parameters. And in regards to your wife, she would have left you an estimated 300,000 years ago. So you can exclude that.”
“Correct, Leon five.”
“Why do you keep calling me Leon five? My name’s Leon, just plain Leon.”
“We call you Leon five because Leon one failed during incubation. Leon two died during the memory restoration process. Leon three ripped his throat open with a utensil. And Leon four hung himself. So there will be no utensils or low ceilings for you.”
“None of what you say makes any sense, but answer me this. Where am I? And how did I get here?”
“Leon five, you are on our planet, the gas giant of Vaseen. As for your second question, we discovered a probe caught in our star’s gravitational pull. Before our star destroyed this probe, we acquired it and brought it back to Vaseen. It was an interesting find and we estimate it to be some 300,000 years old. What was of even greater interest to us was the discovery of a small amount of alien blood on its casing. From this blood we cloned Leon one. From Leon one, we cloned Leon two. From Leon two we…”
“Yes, yes, I get the idea, but it’s all nonsense. I don’t believe you. What I do believe is that this is all just a horrible dream. It’s my mind’s obsession to torment me. That’s all. That’s the real explanation. Because the problem with yours is that my D.N.A. would have broken down to nothing over the time span you’re describing. Not to mention that you’ve restored my memory, which is ludicrous. You can’t clone memories. Every point you’ve claimed is based on the impossible and that’s why I can’t begin to believe what you say.”
“Who told you that this is all impossible?”
“Science told me.”
“The arrogance of alien science.”
“What’s that suppose to mean?”
“We’ve come across many so-called advanced alien species, and a great deal of them have had similar, rigid beliefs. Perhaps if your species weren’t so close-minded and so keen on killing itself, then such science might have come to pass on your world too.”
“We don’t all try to kill ourselves.”
“Are you not a representation of all those on your planet?”
“Yes, in the sense that we all look similar, but we’re all individuals and essentially, very different.”
“Here we are one and the same.”
“Are you God?”
“No, but our quest is to find this spirit. However, we have now extrapolated what we needed to know from you. Your last question has remedied our interest in you.”
“Did you think I could tell you how to find God?” he asked, and forced a laugh. “Was that what your questions were leading to?” he laughed even louder, almost insanely.
“Correct, Leon five. Simple creatures often have simple answers,” replied the voice as a cloud of gas descended from the tunnel ceiling. “We’re intelligent enough to ask the big questions, but perhaps not humble enough to accept their often simple answers. Hence we utilize creatures such as yourself.”
“Can you let me go now, or at least let me die like you promised?”
“You will now be sedated and sent to our living archives.”
“What the hell does that mean?”
“First though, your D.N.A. will be scanned for data storage. In the event that you should ever die, we will need this scan to re-clone you, so that other departments can continue on in the research of your species. You will now be eternal like us. The department for the search of God is thankful for your eventual assistance.”
“LIVING ARCHIVES? ETERNAL? YOU LIED! YOU PROMISED TO KILL ME! I DON’T WANT TO CONTINUE LIVING IN THIS NIGHTMARE!”
“It’s all just a horrible dream, you said it yourself. It’s only your mind’s obsession to torment you, isn’t it Leon five?” said the voice, as a beam of red light cut through the approaching gas. The light moved with warmth across his body and a loud, BEEEEP! sounded; his D.N.A. had been scanned and stored. The gas reached ground level causing him to feel weak, dizzy and fall.
* * * * *
Leon bandaged his hand and called it a day. Why did I scream like that when Jim touched my shoulder? I’m such a baby. Tonight it will all be over and I won’t be a baby anymore. After tonight, I’ll never be scared or lonely again. After tonight, no one will be able to hurt me, not even Anna.
He drove home with his thoughts punishing him continuously for every failure in his life. He over-analyzed himself and was conscious of it, but it had become an obsession, an overpowering one, one that he felt powerless to control. Leave me alone, brain. Stop torturing me. I’m the one that’s in control.
He pulled his car into the driveway and to his surprise Anna’s car was parked in front of their garage. She had come home and suddenly his thoughts of self-harm and self-loathing, vanished. He was happy again and his mind set him free.