by Justin Meckes
Table of Contents|
parts: 1, 2, 3
Larson slid off the sofa and dropped to the ground. It had now been a month since the new regimen had began. He crawled to the center of the cool floor in front of his wall screen and lay on his back. The glass tiles were cool against his damp skin. Kim looked up from the table where she was watching an ad on her tablet.
She said, “Joseph?” After standing and approaching the back of the sofa, she said, “What are you doing?”
“I told you. I’m hot.”
Kim rounded the couch, saying, “If you’re feeling that sick, maybe you should go to bed.”
“Why would I feel sick?” asked Larson as he sat up. “Why would I be ill here?”
“I don’t know, but you’re acting like you’re sick.”
Larson got to his feet, saying, “I’m in a climate-controlled housing unit that is completely filtered such that not a single virus can get to me. I have one partner and I’m locked away in a cell. How could I get sick?”
“Maybe you’re stressed.”
Larson laughed. “You’re right about that, but there’s nothing here.” He counted off on his fingers, “No viruses, no bacterias. So, tell me, what are they doing to me?” Before he could get an answer, he yelled, “Unit! What’s the temperature?”
The female voice replied, “60 degrees—”
“Stop!” Larson didn’t let her finish. “Either she’s lying, I’m in another experiment, or I’ve somehow gone mad.”
Backing away, Kim said, “She’s not lying.”
Larson took a deep breath, then began to shake his head. “You can’t lose your mind and then all of sudden think it’s too hot. You know that, don’t you? You don’t just imagine you’re feverish.”
“They’re trying to help you, Joseph.”
“Why don’t you have it?” He approached Kim as he spoke. “You and I have been together since it started. They’re monitoring it.”
“I don’t know,” said Kim as she backed toward the sofa and fell into it. “I’m taking the same supplements you are. Maybe that’s why.”
“What are you?”
“You’re not hot at all?” Larson glared at Kim, who stood up from the couch and began walking around it.
She said, “It’s a little warm.”
Larson shook his head. “It’s 60 degrees!”
“You are going mad.”
“I’m not,” said Larson. “Unit!”
“Yes?” said the voice.
“Can you tell me what exactly Kimberly Dutton is?”
“I’m just like you!” cried Kim. “I don’t know what’s happening.” Kim breathed heavily, standing on the other side of the couch.
Larson reached out and grabbed Kim’s arm. Twisting her hand, he dragged her into the kitchen as she screamed in protest. Frantically, Larson drug her around the small space, searching for something sharp to use to pierce her skin.
“Wait!” cried Kim.
Larson relaxed his grip, but did not let go.
Kim wriggled out of his grip slowly, then pulled up the sleeve of her skin suit. After bending her arm and digging her finger into her elbow, she pulled her own skin back to reveal a portion of the mechanism beneath. Before Larson had the chance to speak, the outer door slid open and M1 entered the room.
Kim screamed, “He’s gone insane!” and scampered away, cradling the arm Larson had been holding.
Larson breathed heavily as M1 approached. She withdrew a cup from the cabinet and added a supplement disc before filling the cup with water.
Kim shouted at the android, “What are you going to do about it? He nearly tore my arm off!”
“I’m giving him a sedative,” said M1 as she handed the cup to Larson.
He threw it across the room and moved away.
M1 said, “Do you want to do this involuntarily?”
Larson sat down on the couch and again buried his head in his hands. Moments later, a pair of security droids entered his residence. They were each a foot taller than Larson and equipped with large pincers on one hand.
Larson stood as they moved toward him. “Stay away from me.”
The droids were remarkably agile. One jumped over the back of the couch as the other rounded it. Larson darted in one direction, then pulled back. But they were on him. He punched, flailed, and kicked until the droids were able to bind his chest, arms, and legs. One of the droids held his head still with its other hand.
M1 approached and expelled a needle from her third finger. Larson, wide-eyed, tried to shake his head as he screamed, but he was unable to move as M1 moved closer and injected a clear liquid into his neck.
* * *
After waking up in his bed, Larson sat up abruptly. His head was pounding. He grasped at his scalp and tried to make it stop, but let go when he noticed he wasn’t hot anymore. After climbing out of bed, Larson moved across his bedroom. He stopped at the doorway and said, “Unit, temperature?”
“70 degrees Fahrenheit.”
Larson leaned against the doorjamb, relieved. He exhaled deeply, then looked up again. “Kim?”
He turned and went into the bathroom. The door was ajar, but he looked into the shower and behind the door. “Kim!”
Larson walked into the living room and put his hand on the door that led to the weight room. The frosted glass cleared. She was not there, either. In the three years Larson had occupied level 09 room 001, he had not been alone. Kim had always been with him. In fact, she had been there before him. Just as a part of Larson felt a sense of relief, the outer door slid open.
M1 went for the cabinets, opened one, and withdrew a cup. Larson began shaking his head. No more, he thought. He stood quickly and hurried into the small gym, adjacent to his living room, where he retrieved a weight bar. He walked out of the room holding it on his shoulder.
M1 was filling the cup with water as Larson approached. She turned and said, “What are you—”
Larson swung the bar and snapped the android’s metallic neck. Screaming, he swung again and M1’s head hung by optic cabling. Larson swung at the droid’s sturdy body again and again until he’d nearly exhausted himself. As he pummeled the droid, it flitted and fluttered, mouthing unintelligible commands. After the droid ceased hovering and fell to the ground, Larson turned to look at the wall screen. It was now blinking red as an alarm sounded.
Larson took a few steps forward and launched the weight bar like a javelin. Instead of bouncing off the laminated glass, the bar shot straight through the screen, splintering it in a spider web-like pattern. A howling wind entered through the hole.
Rushing to pick up one of his armchairs, Larson backed away a few feet before running forward and ramming the screen. Each time he struck the wall, the fractures deepened until a large portion gave way in shards of broken glass.
Larson kicked away the last remaining pieces of glass and tossed the armchair into the ocean below. The sea was choppy and raging. Whitecaps crested and pushed against the tower before emitting a foamy spray.
Clouds darkened the sky, but there was a break in the distance, which allowed Larson to see something he could not believe. An orange sliver of the sun illuminated a distant mountain range as if the forest that covered them were on fire with light. He also saw a city on the coast with buildings that rose up just like the Pharmacon.
Turning back at the sound of his unit door opening, Larson scarcely had time to process what he’d seen. But, if nothing else, he knew there was not supposed to be sunlight. Humans were trapped in the Pharmacon with only a distant hope of prevailing over an earth that had turned on them.
We will prevail...
These were lies.
There was the sun.
Larson shouted, “Stay back!” as the security droids entered his unit and began rounding the sofa. He looked quickly over his shoulder out at the choppy sea. The wind whipped against his suit as he looked out over the city. Larson believed that what he was seeing was an inhabitable world. The bots surged forward at LR-091 and he jumped.
* * *
Larson washed ashore some time later and woke up feeling as though he was engulfed in flames. His fever had returned, and he found that he was now much sicker than he had been without M1’s interventions.
Scrambling to his feet in the sand, Joseph Larson soon made his way to a promenade that was filled with many others, who stared at him as if he were some kind of alien. Larson continued walking, wearing only his skin suit, until he was in a downtown district of some kind. Here he found that there were ads that he was very much accustomed to, playing on screens many times larger than his own and on the side of tall buildings.
Overcome by his fever, Larson staggered and fell against an edifice. He shook his head as he stared out at the world before him. As his vision began to blur, Larson realized that the people he was seeing were no different from the ones he’d watched in his so-called history episodes.
His mind began to reel just as he noticed that he was overly parched. Larson finally collapsed on the busy sidewalk. Emergency technicians were flown into the scene. When Larson was revived, he watched a technician drop a supplement into a cup. The technician told him to drink, but Larson slowly shook his head and closed his eyes again.
* * *
On level 09 of the Pharmacon, the android Kim watched a projection of Larson being transported to the hospital. As he went, she was witness to the moment when his heart flatlined. Although this was not the first time she had seen a test subject die, this time seemed different. Larson had been a magnificent specimen and had endured a great deal of experimentation.
As she turned the screen off, the unit door opened and a newer M-model entered the room. M2, as she was known, stood on two legs and, although reminiscient of M1, was constructed much more in the fashion of a humanoid.
Kim turned in her seat and said, “When will the next LR-091 arrive?”
M2’s head turned and she began scanning Kim before saying, “The next trial begins momentarily.”
Copyright © 2018 by Justin Meckes