I have it
I think, Oh fuck I think I have it. I think this over the sound of metal ramming against even harder metal, a flaccid reverberation bookending my every thought, mesmerism I’ve come to appreciate in the last seventeen hours.
They called Dr. Soliman in to see my little sideshow.
I can’t see his face right now, but the very thought of that wrinkled Egyptian prick sweating bullets on the other side of fourteen tons of reinforced gabion barrier dividers feng shuied with double-paned shock-absorbant palladium glass makes my cock throb inside my black and gold neoprene suit. And that’s saying something because this suit is so tight my veins can only barely innervate my extremities and vital organs to the appropriate vasomotor tone required for consistent blood pressure.
Sweetheart, stop. I know what you’re thinking.
And after six months of planning, replanning, articulating and rearticulating ad nauseam every step of this ludicrous final act, I think I can manage one little subroutine.
Anything you can do I can do
in a literally indistinguishable fashion
It wasn’t easy getting into the observation chamber. The server key Gordon generated gave me clearance to the lower levels of the research wing and from there I just kind of improvised.
Did you like that sweet little number I did on the door system, babe?
Engaging the all-stop mechanisms on the fire doors was last minute improv, but I think it was a stroke of genius. Soliman requested those doors personally. Had us install one twelve feet behind every point of ingress, per the city’s stringent regulatory mandate. Of course, even with his clearance, he still needed a verified signature from the Director of Security to sanction construction.
They call this empty space between doors a “decontamination field.” They tell me it’s useful if one of the chambers suddenly—oh, I don’t know, say—erupts in an inordinate detonation of fire and unstable elements and shrapnel and cryogenic fluid and viscera and bits of fabric and magnetic superconductors and chunks of concrete and teeth. This way, they won’t have to quarantine the upper end of San Benito County, just maybe… the Praxem block would be my ballpark guess.
I feel pretty good about the vial of milky liquid I’m holding in my hands. It has a pearlescent shimmer, a vague iridescence which affects a sort of odd queasiness. Like the thing I am about to taste might kill me, or it might seriously maim me, leave me voiceless, unable to communicate with the outside world, unable to spit or swallow and so drooling like a catatonic freak for all the interviews and witness depositions and testimonies and whatever else I would be forced to endure after voiding every Safety and Regulatory clause of my sixty-four page employee contract and performing what will undoubtedly be called, internally at least, UNAUTHORIZED ACTIONS.
In Gordon’s defense, he’s really telling the truth when he says, “Dr. Soliman, I am so, so sorry, I had no idea he would do this.”
Because in fact, I believe the words I used were: “I just…” and here I got all choked up. Turned on the waterworks. Gordon is exactly the kind of hapless romantic sap that would dilate at the emotional vulnerability required to impart such a moment of weak resolve. “…I just need to see her, Gordon. Will you help me or not?”
The truth is, I needed to see Amara’s Dosage Manifest. This data is confidential. Praxem logs the DM only once: in the individual participant archives.
This way, if a trial is found to have exposure, the results can never be said to have been caused by intentional duplication. This is just one of the countless protocols we instituted for propriety’s sake. Because if we actually did it; if one of the observers managed to cross into an afterlife state and bring their chamber to equilibrium such that communication could be established between states, we wouldn’t want some minor nuance like observer bias bleeding all over our massive funding checks, now would we?
The pounding reaches a fever pitch just as I’m adding the final distilled solution to the IV drip bag. I’m trying not to let my muscles react to the stimulus; one wrong jolt and the dosage goes into the supremely resonant metal floor panels, and my date with Death will be on pause for an indeterminate amount of time, e.g., 5-10 years without the possibility of parole.
Still, I’m rushing the prep phase, whereas typically an intern-level analyst with a polypropylene clipboard and dermally-grafted laboratory goggles reads me an onboarding checklist complete with a call-and-response bias-eradicating Yes-or-No questionnaire to determine my mental acuity and realign the “voluntary status” section of my profile with corporate standards (checked YES every time in triplicate). This is, of course, designed to minimize legal, ethical, and religious liability in the event that the chamber reduces my necessary biological systems to a fine paste.
Speaking of which, when was the last time I ate?
Note it in the chart. I don’t have time to order out.
So far I’ve run through three of the five necessary phases of orientation and prep. My “To Do List” flashes behind my eyes in bold red and green Christmas palette:
Seal the observation quarters
Determine dosage from Amara’s 2A chamber logs
Administer same dosage, as retrieved during Step 2 (above)
- Sync the resonance frequency controller with Amara’s last dated jump, then create a feedback loop on the console to ignore alternate jump destinations in the event of a time-lapse error function (i.e. when the computer says, Sorry Mason, I can’t send you there; that frequency no longer exists or has already been fabricated once during trials, I will use this handy command courtesy of my ex-buddy Gordon to reject the timeout sequence until the program prompts for supervisor override, which Gordan has also so kindly provided. This will put me on the same resonance they used for Amara’s last jump.
- Enter the chamber, strap in, and hope to god they sell breath mints in the afterlife. In all my manic slap-dash cockamamy frenzy this morning, I forgot to brush my teeth before I left the house.
I use my teeth to tear the corner off a Prevantics swab pouch and hammer out a circle on the most accessible stretch of my Basilic vein. The neoprene suit is designed with holes at the pit of each elbow and on the backs of the hands where the veins are most exposed. I slide the syringe-tipped IV catheter into my arm and rotate the drip regulator to the ON position, full slide on the roller clamp for maximum flow. The little transparent chamber just below the plastic specimen baggy fills with the opaque milky substance, and I try not to let myself feel lightheaded.
drip drip drip
Step three is check. Step four to begin post haste. Roll and dose, people. Roll and dose.
Whoever made IV stands mobile is a fucking genius.
The pounding outside the door to Chamber 2A has stopped momentarily. I wonder if they’ve figured out they’ll never, ever, ever, ever break through the safety measures they paid a cool $156 million for, and thank-you-very-much-mister-or-misses-anonymous-benefactor, sir or madame.
Check my watch. 1107 hrs. Amara hit resonance at 1123 hrs.
Sixteen minutes to get strapped.
“The bootup sequence on the console takes roughly three minutes.”
Thank you, Gordon. Your insight in this matter has been revolutionary. I need the timing on this to work flawlessly, or this was all for naught.
Sixteen minus three for bootup leaves thirteen minutes for precursory procedures, which are to include magnetic cooling (eight minutes), atmospheric stabilization (four minutes, but can overlap cooling phase), and my final lock-and-dock sequence, which should take about sixty seconds, all accounted for.
I’ve been practicing at home.
The chair inside the Chamber has two restraint systems: one set for my ankles, and another for my wrists. The ankles are easy to fix. Sit down and strap them on the old-fashioned way. But the wrists are trickier. The backrest of the chair sits at a slight decline, about forty degrees—from what I could figure after trial-and-error at home—so leaning up to tighten the wrist straps is something of an abductor challenge, but it is doable. I’ll have to adjust the straps to the first loop manually before sitting down, then readjust with my teeth once I’m in position.
I need this to happen at ±0:01. That’ll give me sixty seconds to speak the magical words that will make all this work, I think dryly as I punch another set of commands on the keyboard.
I wish it were that easy.
“Mr. Tessler, this is Dr. Soliman. I need you to stop whatever it is you’re doing. Immediately. You’re putting us all in a lot of danger, Mason.”
The voice comes over the intercom with a grating edge that hurts my ears. Photosensitivity to light has already increased to the point that I know I’ve got between nine and ten minutes before complete cognitive blackout occurs. That means my timeline just got adjusted.
“Mason, you can’t possibly expect to replicate Amara’s results. It just cannot happen. The computer system is designed to prevent fraudulent duplication of a trial environment. There are protocols in place—”
Dr. Soliman stops abruptly. I’m guessing Gordon is filling him in on my plan to circumvent all his precious little protocols.
At exactly 1110 hrs I punch the sequence for console bootup and slide the USB drive into the terminal. There’s a panel of switches off to my left that has to be flipped in sequence as the lights come on. My timing is flawless.
“Mr. Tessler, I want you to know that I did everything I could to help you bring her back. I want you to know that because what you’re about to do is likely going to kill you. I don’t want you to die in there with some kind of guilty conscience. We still have other options we can explore.”
“You’re absolutely right, doctor!” I yell at no one since the overhead PA system is set for one-way transmission. “We haven’t explored all our options. I’m about to explore the last option right now.”
Magnetic cooling screen reads all green. Ready to prep the superconductor coils on my mark.
“What do you expect to do on the other side, Mason? Even if you manage to get in there and find her, you can’t bring her back through the chamber. We’ve never seen a result like that, and we have no reason to believe—”
“I don’t give a FUCK what you have reason to believe!”
“—and even if you could, you’ll be arrested the minute you step out of that chamber, you hear me, Mason? I am pressing charges, Mr. Tessler. The authorities have already been noti
I find the switch for the intercom and set it to MUTE.
At 1113 hrs I spin up the magnetic couplings and pair them to each of the eight manifold array triggers inside the chamber. I have absolutely no idea what these do. At some point I heard one of the techs talking about them, so I made a note of it and watched the procedure again the next time around. It seems pretty straightforward.
Here goes nothing.
Now I have a couple of minutes to shoot the breeze. The pounding resumes outside the observatory door.
If you’re out there, I need you to know that no matter what happens, I love you.
I cannot go on living in a world without you in it.
Check my watch. 1116 hrs flashes in electric blue. I take the watch off and set it on the console.
At 1117 I need to initialize atmospheric stabilization, which will trigger a set of ion getter pumps in the epichamber walls, and here’s the tricky part:
My suit isn’t made for moonwalking. There’s no helmet. Nothing to create some kind of local atmosphere (i.e., something for me to breathe) in the event that I don’t make it into the box before the exterior room is voided of 99.9% of every molecule of oxygen within the macroscopic space outside of the chamber proper.
I basically have about twenty seconds to run from the console room to the chamber entrance, turn around, pull the door shut behind me, and seal it before the trigger sequence is completed and my lungs rupture, releasing gas into my circulatory system and killing me within seconds. My tongue will boil. My skin will bloat like a hotdog under water. I won’t explode, but when they depressurize the chamber, I will look very unwell.
And I will be dead.
Three minutes to entry.
The watch on the console flips to 1117 and my brain is rolling at a hundred million miles per second. All engines fire at once. A thunderflash of neural synapses sparking and burning and dying in the ultimate fireworks display, twitching my muscles at just the right times while regulating my heart rate and breathing, and at once I’m high and nauseated and prepared to die if that’s what happens. But I’d rather that not happen.
I finish the sequence and punch the button to execute.
Here goes nothing.
The door to my right that leads into the epichamber is automated to close in the event of depressurization. Yellow lights above the door flash. An alarm sounds. I’m running. My shoulder scrapes the metal edge of the door and I’m through. Thirty feet to the chamber. About 12 seconds to go.
My muscles burn. I barrel forward, overshooting the door a bit.
Nine seconds left.
My hands fumble for the latch.
I’m trying to pull but the goddamn IV made my forearm limp as a bag of soggy Ramen.
The door swings toward me heavy. Slow.
The latch meets the catch.
The seal touches.
Spin the handle.