Good To Be Home

After a night's rest, Laura and I had a long talk about yesterday, and about me. I found I had little of actual substance to enlighten her with, though, since I continue to be mostly in the dark myself. She didn't believe much of what I said at first, particularly about me, about what I am, or at least what I think I am. But after a few demonstrations of superhuman strength, and a somewhat comical scene involving me dunking my head in a bucket of water for about five minutes while holding off her flailing attempts to make me stop, I think she finally accepts that there's something just a wee odd about me.

I also asked her more about what happened in the meditation hall, when she passed out (I never did tell her she'd effectively died there for a minute). She said when the door opened, it felt very stuffy, and part of her wanted to get outside and get some fresh air, but she was so curious and in awe of the mysterious hallway...and that's the last she remembers. It may be the hallway just hasn't been ventilated in a very long time and lacks oxygen. Not a problem for me, but it does mean I couldn't take anyone with me.

So I went back alone, and convinced the pastor to let me "meditate" for a while. I told him it could be days, but in fact it turned out only to be hours. I actually had to explain to him what meditation was (not that I'm any expert, but he didn't even know the basic definition). He didn't seem convinced as to the meaning of the term, but was at least convinced I was just a nut squatting quietly in his closet for a while.

Once inside, door locked, the room filled again with ambient light from no discernible source. And she, the voice, was back, asking me where I would like to go. I tried to have a more general conversation with her, but found her to be an idiot savant. She could tell me how long it would take to get from point A to point B down to a fraction of a second, but had never heard of an hour, let alone a day or year. She could recite a hundred different destinations (almost all of which, incidentally, were "currently unavailable"), but didn't remember giving me a lift yesterday. I even discovered she understood, and could discuss in small measure, basic Newtonian physics, but had never heard of an electron. When I tested her memory on a whim, I found she was only aware of the last couple of minutes or so--but that much in perfect detail. Yet despite her eccentricities, her manner was cordial and polite, her recognition of my speech impeccable. (Though I begin to wonder: even though I feel I am speaking verbally through this ethereal plane, am I in fact transmitting thoughts on a more basic level?) In short, she was in no way deficient--as an elevator.

The irony did not escape me that I was impressed by this. I still haven't allowed myself enough certainty in my own superhuman nature to be impressed by me.

Where it became interesting was when I asked her if there was, perchance, a map on one of the walls, maybe hidden behind some bit of junk? In response, she...I can only describe it as, she offered me her eyes, like she was handing me a photo to look at except the offer was felt intuitively, as in the dream the other night where I suddenly took on the other man's view. I hesitated at first, since it felt somehow a move of trust to give her this feed into me, but my curiosity won.

It was disorienting at first, for the map was a full 3D model that looked and felt life-size to me. With the speed that one's eyes normally flick from one bit of an image to another, my very center was flicking about this voluminous space. Here I am at the church. Now just outside the boundary. Now up in my lab. Flick. Flick. But while it was quite large, it was also quite sparse. There was the vast cylindrical chamber containing the city and sky, and then there were a few transport tubes and pedestrian-sized hallways running this way and that in close proximity to this cylinder, but moving away from this central core, they were all snipped off midstream as if the whole ensemble were a giant core sample missing its surround. I noted the maintenance hallway we were in last night ended similarly, so I asked to be taken there again to explore this transition in person.

Stepping out into the hallway, I looked around. There was little to see, beyond the shiny imprint of Laura's fetal body on the dusty floor. The air did smell stale, but not so it bothered me. Leaving the door open out of mild paranoia that I should be stranded in the hall, I started walking. It didn't matter which direction, because according to the map, this hallway ended similarly either way. When the monotony of the hallway got tiresome, I started jogging, then running, and then finally sprinting as fast as I could. I thought at first I would be able to keep this up indefinitely, but did start to feel tired, and particularly my legs and hips started to hurt. I slowed back down to a jog and instinctively rubbed my thighs to push the blood through them, but instead found them quite hot to the touch! I went back to walking for a while until I felt quite fine enough to jog again.

In the distance, I saw a darkness, and soon realized it was the end of the diffuse illumination. I engaged my x-ray vision, but saw little more except that the area looked warm, not so black in the infrared as in the visible. Finally I was there on foot, and found the hallway truly came to an abrupt end not far beyond where the light stopped--close enough that I could still see the terminating wall dimly in the visible spectrum. The wall was some metal alloy, free of rust but not of dust. And true to the soil core analogy, it was the hallway that ended and gave way to the wall at the end, not the other way around. The junction between the two was poorly sealed, as if the hallway had simply been lopped off to make way for this...boundary.

I laughed out loud. A boundary beyond The Boundary. A city in a box in a box! Turtles all the way down. Then I noticed the slight buzzing sound coming from the wall. I pressed my ear to it, and it was quite warm against my cheek. The sound was faint, chaotic. With my ear still pressed to it, I engaged my x-ray vision. I couldn't see much through the alloy, but more than nothing. There were definitely clusters of faint light, heat, blobby nondescript galaxies of radiation at various frequencies. They fell into stripes--dark stripes interleaved with blobby stripes. I thought I heard something, a sound increasing in volume, then suddenly something was flying at my face and I flinched back from the wall before realizing it was something passing by quickly just on the other side. I stood and stared at it for a while straight on, where the uniformity of the stripes was more apparent. And once in a while, zip! zip! Something would fly by, traveling within one of the dark stripes. I never got a good look, through the alloy and moving so quickly. I did manage to slow time before one of them fully escaped view, but found it only a blur in my vision--albeit a slow-moving blur.

Thinking of nothing more to observe, I made the long trek back to my new friend the elevator.

"Take me to the lab," I said, with rather less enthusiasm than I'd once had for this journey. I felt the room gently tilting without leaning, as gravity grew steadily to easily twice where it started, followed by the strange tilting sensation as gravity began to ease off. It grew stronger and eased off again finally to a moment of complete stillness that I assume was the shaft transition just beyond The Boundary. I grew heavy again for a few moments, then so light on my feet they almost came out from under me, again concluded by a dead stillness.

Opening the door, I found myself in a small room which I immediately recognized as one of the small rooms adjoining the scan room. I went straight for that door, but hesitated at actually opening it. Would I open the door and find myself lying on the table? Crazy thoughts I shook out of my head. I made the march into the room.

Just as I left it, just as I left it some days ago when I naively leapt out that door, not to my death as it could easily have been, but to my great confusion.

Two things I had noted earlier on the 3D map. There was a large chamber just outside The Boundary not far from where I landed in the pond that first day. Besides being the only such chamber on the map, it was also the only thing that extended more than ten yards or so beyond The Boundary. But there was no remaining access to it--all tubes and tunnels had been snipped.

Except, and perhaps most intriguing, there were annotated multiple doors or portals or I'm not sure what on the far side. These items stood out on the map as being uniquely depicted, but she (the elevator) could not tell me what they were.

Secondly, and of more interest at that immediate moment, the map described an "observation deck" on one side of my lab, and an "observation hall" on the other. The supposed deck side was where the door opened to open space. I cautiously peered out at the big blue sky, then down over the city--it was really quite beautiful from there--then down, far far below, to the pond, which I scowled at. But the back side of the room had no doors or windows, nor was there any way to get to the other side that I was aware of.

I tried to reconcile this all with the rooms and hallways surrounding my lab as I remembered it. How had it ended up like this, or was this even my lab at all. Perhaps merely a copy, like me?

In what must have been the prat move of the century, I leaned against the wall absent-mindedly--and fell right through it. I slowed time before I'd gone too far, my feet still on the floor but my body leaned back forty-five degrees. Here I was again! Falling backward out of my lab, only this time out the other side; what was I going to land in this time? As I slowly tilted further and further away from the room, I struggled to think of any way to save myself this time but couldn't think of a thing. Quick thinking can't change the laws of physics, and I was pretty committed at this point. With a mental sigh, I decided at best I could improve my landing, so I started to twist in order to see where I was going, and sped up time a bit to give it a chance to take effect. Then SMACK! Even at medium time, I was surprised to feel my cheek striking a hard surface, my lips fluttering about in recoil from the impact, my hair swinging down and swatting me in the forehead.

When I resumed time I found myself lying on the floor of the observation hall, my heels still on the floor of the lab. I sat up. The entire back wall of the lab was now gone. I leaned forward, looked back. There it was again, with my head, shoulders, and feet protruding. A mirage! I rolled my eyes and sighed to myself. Why hadn't I seen through it with my x-ray vision? And how could this be projected with no screen? And...I'd swear I'd touched it earlier, when I was first wandering around the room. Sure enough, when I reached back and touched it, it felt solid like a wall, even though the arm I touched it with was attached to a body passing right through that wall.

I got up, walked back into the lab, and touched the wall. Then pressed on it. Seemed perfectly normal. "Crap!" I thought. I had hardly glanced around the hall before getting back up, and now I can't get back. I grabbed the chair, and touched the wall with it. Perfectly normal. On a whim, I leaned the chair back against the wall. Perfectly normal. Until I let go. The moment my hand left the chair, it promptly fell through the wall.

At first I thought the wall was somehow tuned to sense me. But that didn't explain why I had fallen through just a minute ago. Finally with a few more experiments, specifically getting myself into orientations where I was absolutely physically dependent on the wall holding me up, I determined the wall was, in fact, entirely in my mind. This was, to say the least, disconcerting. As if I don't have enough doubts about what's real and what's not already.

I practiced falling through the wall forward a few times but couldn't eliminate the sensation of smacking my face on it. With some practice at sufficiently distracting myself, however, I found I was able to back through the wall without incident. Once satisfied that I could now come and go as I pleased, I finally set about noticing the observation hallway itself.

Yet for all this faffing about, there was remarkably little to find here. It was really more of a narrow room than a hall, not much longer than the lab. There was nothing in the room but what appeared to be a small digital placard of some sort, stomach high and slanted for easy viewing. But it was dark, and no amount of poking or prodding brought it to life. The room ended in a T with a proper hallway, which then terminated fairly quickly in both directions making the whole space truly T-shaped. Toward the city the hall clearly ended in a doorway, with the words "Watch Your Step" on the threshold. As I approached it, it began to throb. I mused at this for a moment and gave it a swift kick with my heel. It slid open almost silently to the side, and I grabbed the wall to steady myself as I was once again looking into sky and over the city far below. Watch your step, indeed. I peered around the corner at the luminous sky-blue backside of the lab door, dangling freely in the open air.

Back to the other side of the T, I once again found the hall sheered away to abut an outer boundary. But this one was different, thinner, easier to see through, and more hollow behind. I tapped on it and it sounded quite thin. I retrieved the chair, found the hardest, sharpest bit, and rammed it with all my superhuman strength into the barrier.

A great hissing sound erupted. The chair fell away to reveal a sizable dent with a small puncture in the middle. I held my hand near it and realized it was sucking air out, quite strongly.

Peering through, with some caution not to get my eyeball sucked out, I saw the inside of a machine, I cannot tell you what kind. Pipes and plates, in regular patterns, as far as I could see (which wasn't very far in the visual spectrum, but in the fuzzy infrared I could see quite far). No moving parts that I noticed.

The sucking, I realized, was not going to abate, so I endeavored to fix what I had broken. But with what? I went back and searched through the small domain I could reach on foot, but found nothing of potential use. I did see something on the floor, near where the chair had first been, which upon inspection I realized was an aglet full of the decayed remains of the end of a shoelace. This would not help.

I remembered the elevator a.k.a. meditation room a.k.a. storage closet, still mostly crammed full of junk, and was about to dig through it when I heard a loud banging sound that surprised the hell out of me.

Peering cautiously around corners as I went, I returned to the sucking hole in the wall. It was being pounded flat from the back side. Through the little hole I could see something moving, and when I engaged my x-ray vision I was startled by the skeleton and workings of a spider-like robot busily making repairs. Just a moment later I was nearly blinded by a broad spectrum light emanating from the hole, and less brightly through the wall in some frequencies, and simultaneously nearly deafened by a shrill sound I care not to describe. A moment later, it was dark and silent, and by the time my senses had recalibrated from the shock, the damage was flawlessly patched, and the spider was gone. I shuddered to think what would have happened if I'd stuck my pinkie through there at the wrong time.

And so it came to pass that my grand trip home was just another dead end. What I thought was my lab probably never was. Where I expected to find civilization, just more boundaries and machines. I closed the lab door, needing no star in the sky to remind me of that empty place, and returned here, to my real home, with Laura.

It feels good to be here, fire at my back, warm body awaiting me in bed, even a bit of bread to eat. These are not for my body, which seems to want nothing. They are for my soul, which is as wanting as it ever was.

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