Both Sides of the Story
by Thom Arrell
Table of Contents|
parts 1, 2, 3
I found myself sitting in a chair. In front of a table. In an otherwise empty room. I felt I had just woken and I had no clue where I was. How did I get here? What time was it? Where were my memories?
In front of me sat a man in a white shirt. I could not see his pants, but if they matched the jacket that was hung by the corner of the chair they would be dark grey. He was eating a donut, but all the time his eyes were on me. Did I know him? Why was he here?
He finished the donut, wiped his mouth and looked at me expectantly. “Do you know who I am?” he asked.
I didn’t. I shook my head.
“I was in Iraq,” he explained.
Was that supposed to tell me something?
“Talked to a bunch of people,” he stated. “See if they were terrorists.”
I looked at him, waiting for him to make his point.
“They call me in,” he continued, “when they need to be convinced. The terrorists, that is, not the folks that call me in. I’m not saying you’re a terrorist, but the fact that they brought me in here doesn’t promise much good. For you, that is, not for me. I get paid for this, you know.”
I nodded again. His words did not make sense, but I felt that nodding was the polite thing to do.
“We got hold of your wife. She is in the next room.”
I did not recall having a wife. Then again, I did not recall not having one, either. But why would he say I had a wife, if I didn’t? I nodded. I wondered what she looked like.
He seemed to study my reaction and then asked: “Why do you think you are here?”
For the first time he had asked me a direct question. I was still trying to understand it all and replied, “There are pockets of gravity. I think you want to find them before they start to expire.” What I said did not make sense even to me.
“I see,” he said, as if I had just said the most normal thing anyone can say.
“Do you want to leave?” he asked.
“They are always watching,” I prompted, “but sometimes they must sleep.”
He looked to the black box that was hanging in the corner of the room, as if it was somehow connected to what I had just said. “How do you know that they are watching?”
I couldn’t recall. Why did he want to know? Who had told me that? I didn’t remember the answer. I just looked at my feet. I was barefoot and there were scars on my toes. I could not recall how they got there. Were those really my toes?
* * *
“Are you cold? Hungry?”
I looked up again and suddenly there was someone else sitting in the chair opposite me. This time it was a woman, who was looking at me with friendly eyes and genuine interest. “Can I help you in any way?”
Where did the other guy go? Was I still the same person? Or was there another me sitting somewhere else in an identical room, facing the man in the dark grey suit?
I found that I was thirsty. “The water flows down the drain when someone pulls the plug,” I said. I wasn’t sure where that came from. I remember thinking of water, and this was the image that my confused mind summoned. All that water. Vanishing. Because someone had pulled the plug.
“You want water?” She understood my mumbling. “I’ll get it for you, I will be right back.”
She left the room and came back with a glass of water twenty seconds later. There must have been a waterfall right outside the door.
As she placed the glass in front of me, she stumbled and spilled a bit of water on the table. It dripped from the edge and the sound of just those few drops made me aware of my full bladder.
“Can I take a pee?” I asked. It was the first comprehensible thing I had said.
The woman watched me with an understanding look on her face. “I can’t make that decision, but I will see what I can do for you.”
She looked at the large mirror behind me, but apart from that she remained where she was, sitting in the chair on the other side of the table.
“The weather is beautiful outside,” she said. I had no idea what that meant, but her voice sounded as if it was something good. I tried to ignore the growing pressure in my lower abdomen and tried to imagine what the world outside this room was like.
“Your spaceship was recovered, but we haven’t managed to make it functional. I am afraid you’re not going anywhere soon.”
I had a spaceship? I had a vague memory of spaceships, but I couldn’t be sure that one of them had been mine and that I did not merely have a general impression of what they should look like.
The woman looked at me as if she was truly sympathetic about my situation. I tried to tell her what I remembered.
“The winds get weary when they fly for a long time. But to get in, you need to be a friend.”
She clung onto the wrong part of what I tried to say. I felt really sorry I couldn’t be clearer, but my mind seemed clouded, and the words did not come out as I intended. “Fly, you said? So you remember your spaceship?”
Not ‘fly’. The spaceship didn’t work like that. But I didn’t think she would understand if I tried to explain. So I just shook my head. The pressure in my bladder was getting hard to resist.
“I like to breathe,” I said, and she nodded.
“I understand. Were you alone in there when you crashed, or do we need to go look if we can rescue other survivors?”
“You can only read one book at a time.” I stated the obvious. “Otherwise you get confused when they end.”
I did not understand myself, but apparently she did. “It seems difficult to steer such a large vessel on your own. Did you receive a lot of training to be able to do that?”
I remembered that it was difficult indeed. But wasn’t that why I had crashed? I wanted to ask her again if I could pee, but I did not have the courage, so I just released it where I sat. My pants grew wet and I heard something dripping from the seat of my chair. The smell of urine reached my nose and I looked down to see where it came from. When I looked up again, the woman was gone.
* * *
On the table stood a glass of water. It was full again, as if someone had forgotten to turn off the faucet. Next to it lay two pills, one pink and one white.
I picked up the pink one and looked at it. There was a ridge in the middle of the white pill and on one side there were little letters and numbers running around the rim. They read ‘SP-117’. I had no clue what the pill was for, but I was hungry so I swallowed it and gulped it down with a mouthful of water. The other pill went down as well. I didn’t even bother to check what it was. It wouldn’t make any sense to me anyway.
When I brought the water to my lips, I noticed the burn marks on the outside of my wrist. Did they try to get inside of me? I rubbed the scars and momentarily remembered the pain. This wasn’t a good place.
Before the pills started to take effect, I briefly considered getting out of there. But when the buzz kicked in, I felt all resolve leaving me. It crawled down the legs of my chair and sat in the corner of the room, shivering.
The door opened and a man came in, dressed in a dark blue uniform with the letters FBI on his shoulders in yellow. He sat down opposite me and looked at me as if I had done something wrong. Had I done something wrong?
“We found out your identity, Mr. Hecket.”
Who was Mr. Hecket? And why did he seem to think that it was me?
“Someone needs to feed my cat,” I responded. I wasn’t sure what a “cat” was, but I had the vague impression that it must be hungry. I had no clue how long I had been there, in that room. It seemed an eternity.
“Your cat? Is that part of the background story you had to memorize?” His words sounded as if he was accusing me of something. When I didn’t answer, he continued: “You are a postdoctoral researcher at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology on the topic of aerodynamics. You do not have a boy- or girlfriend; you live alone and seem to have no close friends. We found a feeding bowl, but there was no sign of a cat.
“Your parents died in a car crash last year and you do not have any other close relatives. Your professor told us that you hardly ever go home and often sleep at work. He admits that he should have said something about that, but you do good work, are supposedly very friendly and seem to be in control of yourself.”
All kinds of emotions ran through my head, but I could make sense of none of them. How could I be sure it was true what he said? I wanted to ask him a million questions, but he gave me no opportunity.
“Your background story checks out. Completely. It was impressive: we could not find any crack in your cover. As far as we can tell, you are who we think you are. We even matched your DNA to the exhumed remains of your parents. No glitch there, either. Everything appears to be normal. Except that we found you in the wreck of a crashed spaceship, in the middle of technology that makes the mouths of our best scientists water.”
The ship crashed? I had worked on that for years.
“Do you think you are able to explain that to me, Mr. Hecket?”
I wanted to tell him everything I knew, I really did. But the pills had blurred my thoughts. “It was difficult. There was so much rain that I got lost.”
The man made a note and waited for me to continue. Flashes of that night now forced themselves to the front of my memory.
“I waited for the dark. Otherwise you cannot see the numbers.”
You have to be able to see the numbers if you want to fly. Haven’t implemented the neuro-connectors, although the basic hardware is there.
“What was the purpose of your spaceship?”
I had to think on an answer to that.
“What were you doing on our planet?”
Now I felt anger rising inside of me. I stood and tried to shove the table away. It was heavy, but I managed to move it a few centimeters.
“It’s also my planet,” I yelled. “You cannot keep me here!”
The adrenaline cleared my head. I suddenly felt pain on my wrist, on my toes. On my testicles.
“What have you done to me?” I exclaimed.
The man stood, made a gesture towards the mirror and said: “Calm down, Mr. Hecket.” Seconds later, two armed men and a doctor came in. The men forced me back into the seat and the doctor plunged a syringe into my arm. The clarity vanished and the room became filled with fog. Before I blacked out, I heard the FBI man say: “He took the pills, didn’t he? Why didn’t they work?”
* * *
Copyright © 2016 by Thom Arrell