He felt himself roll over face first into a pair of wet boots as the van took another sharp turn. He guessed left, but he had already lost count of how many times they had turned. How long had it been? 15 minutes? 30? A simple rag tied over his eyes and the fantastic piece of meat buried in his aching skull became useless at marking the passage of time. That and the horrible panic creeping up his spine. He was losing hope that there was some way out of this, some way to spare his life, or at least to spare the pain that would come before.
He tried to swallow the fear back down. Get a grip, he told himself. Try to stay alert. There were five of them in the van at least, the four who had grabbed him out of his bed and the driver. Possible a sixth sat in the passenger seat up front. The thing that unnerved him the most was that he hadn’t heard one of them speak. They hadn’t said one word since he was roused so violently from his nightmare ridden sleep, yet he knew who they were, and more importantly, who they were working for. At the thought of this the terror he had been holding at bay threatened to drown him again. He started moaning through the gag that was tied around his mouth. He felt a boot dig into his ribs, and started to roll around, kicking with his tied legs. He heard a grunt and felt another booted foot connect with his head before he swam into blissful, forgetful darkness.
I thought I made myself very clear. Unharmed. Look at his head, he’ll probably have concussion. How am I supposed to work with a man whose faculties are impaired?
You big men had a problem with restraining a man who was already tied up?
Enough excuses. He’s here now, thank you gentlemen.
Cold voices. A swinging lightbulb in a dark room. The smell of old damp wood, and burnt metal. Unpleasant things, swimming out of the darkness, but still better than leaving it.
His head began to register the pain, pumping into his head, blood feeding the nerves and waking them up. The room rolled into focus as he opened his eyes.
The man in front of him was not particularly monstrous looking. He was dressed in plain black trousers and a crisp, clean white shirt, the sleeves of which had been uniformly rolled back. Thinning brown hair, short and uniform. He was cleanly shaven, and a benevolent, almost grandfatherly smile played around his mouth. His blue eyes were an unfathomable distance away from that smile, destined never to meet it.
“There we are. Glad to have you back with us, Robert. I was thinking we could talk for a bit, would you mind terribly?”
The man in the chair stared back at the man standing up, stared into his eyes, looking for any sense that a human person with a soul resided behind them. A single tear gathered on the corner of his left eye, spilled over, and left him to seek a safer home, as water is wont to do sometimes.
Robert started to struggle against the cables holding him in place. It was an animal’s reaction, survival taking over the motor functions to flee danger, done with no forethought, no hope or thoughts of failure, just simple brain stem behaviour.
His captor regarded the display. He seemed indifferent, the predatory animal in him knowing the prey is trapped, by his design. An image of a spider flashed through Robert’s head and left just as quickly, leaving no footprint on his mind’s terrain.
“Do you know why you’re here?”
“Why are we here? Not an easy question to answer definitively. What is here, anyway? We know, or presume to know, about our biological prologue, from cells to complex structures, to reach a developed intellect capable of self study and reflection. The first time in recordable history that this has happened, as far as we can tell. And we, as the self confirmed pinnacle of evolution, intelligence wise, have no other direction to turn to when asking questions than to ourselves. So we search, we explore, we scientifically pursue answers to these questions. We evolve, both mentally and technologically, as a response to hurdles crossed in this search, to find better, more precise results in our probing. So what does the accomplished scientist think on his deathbed? Has his search, his findings during his life have a answers for him at the end? I won’t insult your intelligence by referencing archaic visions of paradise earned by following doctrine, but what happens to the mind? Is it switched off by the interruption of electrical impulses to the brain, the unrecorded data stored within lost, erased? Or is it dissipated, redistributed as energy into the ether in a karmic cycle? Or are we still un-evolved, a slightly more intelligent animal than the one we share our corner of the universe with, holding a sharpened stick up to the darkness, half hoping to touch something, half terrified it will be snatched away by the unseen and the unknown…”
Robert snapped awake, the sheets already damp. He looked at the backlit clock on the bedside table. 03.41 stared back at him. He had laid down little over an hour ago, and already the heat had pulled the sweat out of his body. He sat up and ran a hand through his hair, the dream brushed away. Too long. He had cut it once since he had arrived, almost 8 months ago. He hadn’t had time to remember to groom properly, his brain taxed by other things. He rolled out of the single bed, knocking over stacks of handwritten journals. He took a few steps to the fridge and opened it, staring at the barren shelves lit in dirty orange light. He grabbed the second last bottle of water and drank deeply. Hydration, he told himself, was key in this climate. Kept the head clear and sharp.
The phone in his jeans pocket buzzed on the floor beside the bed. He looked at it while it rang, the cool air from the open fridge drying his back. Then he stepped over to pick it up.
“You better come over here. There’s something happening with the machine.“
“I’ll be right over. Don’t touch anything, and write down everything that happens, no matter what.”
The Blue Ridge Project: A Novel
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