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Today's Story by Robert Drake

Never before have I been welcomed so coldly, so summarily, so utterly without sympathy.


My memories, as all memories, are things of deception.  Like a prism, they have split solitary events into spectrums of meaning and comprehension.  I search myself for truth but without a present or discernable past I am left incomplete.  Is there any hope of ever restoring sanity to infinity?

My story begins, as many do, with a journey.  For three months I lived on a supply starship, friend to pallets of vacuum-frozen foodstuffs and newly wrought repair widgets.  Even with induced sleep cycles, the voyage was dreadful.  Physically I survived, however tenuously, on tasteless paste rationed to me thrice daily.  Emotionally, I sucked upon raw expectation like a starving penitent.

The crew were a dreadful breed – uncouth, thoughtless, like sailors of any age.  A single weekly game of faro with the Captain and First Officer left me without most of my stipend and with plenty of time to myself.  I cycled between boredom and distress seemingly by the minute.

My excitement was understandably acute as the supply barge finally pulled up beside Research Station Eta-Rho-Lambda.  Decontamination prevented my immediate boarding, a maddening delay, but the literal cleansing became an act of ritualized absolution.  Within the chamber, the lights went dark and pressurized nozzles beat like distant drums.  With my senses in disarray, I closed my eyes.  This trip was the pinnacle of my academic and scientific career.  Whatever memories thought to accompany me as stowaway were chemically neutralized by a renewed sense of equanimity and purpose.

As I descended from the airlock, a hand gripped my arm and pulled me into the research station. Blinded and assaulted, I recalled my father standing above me, his imperious stare demanding my place and purpose.  As usual, I had no excuse.  My knees buckled.

In a moment, my eyesight returned along with my bodily strength.  On account, things were as I expected them – cramped and unadorned but functional and clean.  The hallway, slightly large enough for a formal dinner table, was awash in chamomile light.  The precise angles of metal and wielding suggested Pythagorean interior design – years in academia had acquainted me with the style.  Less familiar were the two personages that stood before me in greeting.

Here I refer upon my notes taken perhaps an hour later as I rested in my quarters:

To my great surprise, Dr. Arkady Tuculov personally greeted me on arrival, assuming his wordless presence could be described as such.  Never before have I been welcomed so coldly, so summarily, so utterly without sympathy.  I write this with no small amount of distress.

I admit to being unprepared.  I am familiar, of course, with Dr. Tuculov’s great contributions to the field and, indeed, his genius inspired my own research.  And yet, I have never seen a picture of the eminent scientist.  As his assistant introduced us, my surprise was palpable.  His annoyance, or perhaps disgust, was manifest.

That stare, that grip – I will never forget our silent handshake.  Dr. Tuculov is not a man accustomed to humanity, that much is clear.  His eyes are too soft for either madness or murder, but they are too focused, too unforgiving.  They are like a man battling a recent memory: dominated and hopeless. Physically, his body is a crumbling church arranged upon glacial bones draped in corpse shroud.  I suspect, however, that beneath the trappings of a dying man there is an iron resolve and devilish passion unhindered by mere flesh – the resemblance to my father is uncanny.

With our meeting thusly unpleasant, it was a relief that his assistant, Dr. Steya Gorbekhin, was cordial.  She provided the introductions that Dr. Tuculov did not and arranged to have me quartered near the laboratory.  It is perhaps fatigue or nostalgia for friendship, but in her I sense a kindred soul or at least a gentle hand.  She too is blessed with a potent stare – hers an azure panacea to my loneliness and abandonment.

My notes run dry for many days – I suspect fraud is present in more than just my wounded psyche.  Try though I might, I cannot remember Dr. Gorbekhin in the slightest.  I write so fondly and so warmly of her, and yet I recall nothing.

Over the subsequent weeks, I was introduced to my duties and my coworkers.  This facility, so far from Earth, was dedicated to researching new methods of interstellar propulsion and communication.  How we intended to breach the known barriers of time and space I was never quite privy, but the work seemed important, momentous even.

Thankfully enough, I did not see Dr. Tuculov until almost a month after my arrival.  Amongst my co-workers, his presence was regarded as a state secret.  Indeed, discussion, beyond the barest of pleasantries or the absolute necessities of our profession, was strictly verboten.  I was depressed to find myself friendless, or nearly so, even weeks after my arrival.  My journal mentions a growing friendship with Steya.  I remember nothing.

A month after my arrival, Dr. Tuculov returned.  After weeks of abandonment, his office, located off the main laboratory, had seemed a relic, a thing unknown and forgotten.  This new presence brought a terror, before latent, to the fore of my existence.  Like my coworkers, I lived in deathly fear of a gaze hidden behind nothing more closed shades and a locked door.

I soon came to understand the nature of my coworker’s dread.  The day after his reappearance, Dr. Tuculov appeared amongst the researchers.  Seemingly without word or gesture, he chose one of the scientists to accompany him.  This man was never seen again, and his work was taken up by another.  The process was nearly automated – a few shuffled papers and the man ceased to exist.

That night I dreamt of my father lecturing me from an oaken podium kept beside the dinner table.  He read, or sung, I could never decipher which, from a thick book wrapped in wrinkled cloth trimmed with silver thread.  The words were foreign to me – thoughts in a language I did not know, scribblings of a script I had never seen.  I understood only that these words were important, that someday I would know them, and that they made us loathsome.  In this quiet, Carpathian village beneath the dog-head peaks, we were despised and this book meant everything.

Some weeks after Dr. Tuculov’s arrival, I was called into Dr. Gorbekhin’s office.

My first review – Steya went over my data and formulas.  At first I was disappointed that Dr. Tuculov himself was not to take part but then I recalled the man and his infinite capacity for terror.  As for Steya, she a perfect crystal, tuned to focus our efforts as Dr. Tuculov would have them.  What miracles has he wrought with our labor?  Given so narrow a dominion, I have no concept of what we work toward, only that we grasp at secrets that have eluded man for ages.

As I left Dr. Gorbekhin’s office, Dr. Tuculov entered.  His acknowledgement of me was indistinguishable from delusion.  As I departed my eyes were drawn, furtively of course, to this man who bore terror so easily.  He looked no different than at our first introduction – the same withered frame, the same inhuman stare, even the clothes were unchanged.  The only new accoutrement was a black binder – his notebook.  It was so utterly plain, so non-descript, and yet it was unique, positively unmistakable for anything else.  Perhaps the binding was thicker than normal, perhaps the pages seemed silken, perhaps the contents have driven the very essence of this stupid, plastic thing mad.  Perhaps I have been driven mad by it.

As had become routine, my father again visited me in my sleep.  He had been a hunter in his youth and became well acquainted with the dark forest glades and lost mountain streams of our homeland.  As a surveyor for the district governor, he frequently returned to his ancestral haunts often for days or weeks at a time.  Only rarely was I allowed to join him amongst the primeval peaks and war-engorged forests of my country – breaches of routine I both relished and feared in equal measure.

My father – I feared.  His discipline held sway over my shoes, my satchel of supplies, my breathing.  Neither insolence nor incompetence nor insouciance had any place on the march.

The land itself – I loved.  Beyond the village walls, themselves a hundred years old or older, we entered a new age or rather many ages.  Roman garrisons, beside machine gun bunkers.  Medieval forests, scared with primordial revolution.  More recent rebellions could be seen and heard and smelt amongst wars too old to have ever taken names.  My father and I traveled time and space – him as guide, myself a frightened child too cold to say anything.

I remember the dreams clearly and my journal notarizes them.

These dreams torment me with guilt and shame.  Every mile walked, every imperious glare, every night spent on the cold flats of our country was meant to train me but I failed.  I never took up my father’s mantle as tracker, hunter, surveyor, or bearer of the book.  I failed him and now I fear him more than I ever did in my youth.

Dr. Tuculov has chosen another to follow him, to disappear into the forest – his fifth this month.Am I to fear or worship this madness?

Trapped as I was between the horrors of night and the nightmares of day, I must have found solace in Steya’s arms.  Whether it was or passion or sheer idiocy, I managed to blind myself to the contagion that spread amongst us.  I ignored it and let myself become overcome.  I was a fool.

It is known that a bacterium may grow and reproduce until eventually causing symptoms in a single host.  These symptoms begin subtly, almost imperceptibly.  Indeed, the bacterium, now an innumerable swarm, may infect another before symptoms even appear in the original host.  The deadliest of infections spread from body to body exponentially leaving those who remain healthy fearful that they have already been infected and the symptomatic hopelessly incapable.

I speak of this as analogy.  Dr. Tuculov’s abductions can be described in no other way.  Silence, rigid obedience, absolute dedication – we insulated ourselves from each other to prevent infection, but it continued to spread.  Day by day more fell to a madness passed through words unspoken and nightmares too quiet to ignore.   The only question is whether Dr. Tuculov was the first bacterium, or the first host, himself a victim of something worse.

In our self-imposed quarantine, work became an escape but also a means of subversion.  Each day, invigorated by thoughts of mutiny, I gluttoned upon statistics and data.  Rebelliously, I improved my coworker’s numbers, reworked their formulae, created new variables to test.  I became a megalomaniac for data points and meaningless graphs.  My dedication won me Steya’s admiration, my journal makes this clear, yet all I remember is the tormenter himself pausing ever so briefly over my work as he chose his next victim.

Despite my diligence, the true purpose of our research was impossible for me to fathom.

Are we working on a new propulsion system?  These experiments all suggest massive energy expenditures but where and how and to what aim?  The numbers are unfathomable.  All my questions would be answered if I could just see Dr. Tuculov’s binder.

I asked Steya but she says nothing.  She just smiles gently and puts a finger to my lips.  A second word and I see only anger on the verge of erasing the only love I have in this damnable place.

It is hopeless.  Tuculov will never show me his notes and I will never see them otherwise.  I must forget this obsession.  I intend to apply for a transfer as soon as I am able.

My journal speaks of reasonable complaints and lucid solutions, but the twisted mind finds solace in rationality above all.  Indeed, I was a model patient.  Instead of succumbing to manic fits, I was the personification of peace.  Like a true neurotic, I washed my passions away through enforced serenity.

Predictably enough, my mimicry was unraveled.  I played at sanity and I lost.

Steya is gone. She skipped breakfast.  Our weekly review was postponed.  Our evening liaison has passed.  I have not seen her at all today, a third dinner missed.

Dr. Tuculov says nothing.  My peers know nothing.  No transport ships have arrived.  She must still be on the station.  What has he done to her?  I must find her.  Tonight I will search.

Was I such a fool as this?  I am embarrassed by myself.  And yet, I risked my career, my everything.  She must have mattered to me greatly.  Now she is just a name written in a handwriting I cannot trust.  Are we really the same person or am I just a husk sharing a face, a similar past, a vague recollection of self?

That night, I explored the laboratory alone.  I remember the fear well – paranoia born of darkness rather than dread of consequence, a more pressing, more instinctual, more biological terror.  Beyond the sweat and shadows however, my memory, detached as it is from a cause, is indistinguishable from a long forgotten movie.  I see myself sliding a key over a lock, I hear a door unlatch, I remember entering the lab, empty and unbearably desolate.  I see it, hear it, remember it, but I feel nothing. There is no relation between myself and my actions– none.

My first foray into treason was quickly aborted – some sound, perhaps imagined and certainly harmless, sent me scurrying back in shame.  My Steya surely deserved a better champion.  The next day I again attempted to make good on my bold desires – I managed to log into my computer, briefly, but the sight of Dr. Tuculov’s office was too much for me to bear.

Day three, day four, day five through ten – I developed a tolerance to shadow.  My father’s habits became my own.  I grew accustomed to the light, the lack of light, the nervous tension, the shamed excitement of morning.  My peers were too blind to suspect anything.  Dr. Tuculov chose new victims and said nothing.  I lived in rapture.

On the eleventh night, I again entered the laboratory.  I sat at my console, intent on searching for personnel records.  Awash in blue light, I began my nightly labors.

In a stray moment, my eyes wandered.   There, on the desk in Dr. Tuculov’s office, was the black book placed for my discovery.  For an era or longer I was frozen – never before, not once since my arrival, had I seen the binder separate from its dread owner.  The effect was a sudden, abject realization of consequence and purpose and an absolute fear, stomach-born and skin-felt.

Perhaps Steya armed me with enough desolation and loneliness to overcome my terror?  Or did academic pride enrage my curiosity?  Or maybe my father ordered me into Dr. Tuculov’s office?  I doubt I ever knew why and I shall certainly never know again.

My entrance was cautious.  I did not trust luck, fate, or karma to protect me from the monstrosities of Dr. Tuculov’s lair.  Worst of all was the smell – cigar ash blown about by frosted mountain air – an unmistakable horror.

Dr. Tuculov – my father – both guardians of secrets.  That they should be so alike – coincidence or something more?  More questions without answers.

And what did I find in that black book?  What did I win for my efforts?  The answer lies beyond the horizon.  It is a memory just out of reach.  I know that I entered Dr. Tuculov’s office and I know that I opened his black notebook.  Beyond that, I remember nothing.  It is something I can see, something I can touch, and something I cannot grasp.

In my journal, a single entry remains.  It is undated.

Roughly cylindrical, about the size of an alter, impossibly hidden.  It is the nexus of two colliders forming an infinity.  Surely, they have been present since this research station was built, but I never would have discovered them myself. The magnets and sensors are embedded into the very flesh of this station. The machine is a heart and the colliders a network of veins.  It is a marvel of engineering and its purpose promises even more.

Thus my journal and story end nearly simultaneously.  How and when I came to be imprisoned here, I am left to guess.  Perhaps for my sedition? Perhaps for something worse?  Solitude has brought me introspection but no answers.  Sadly, I have no memories left to recall.

Even so, the day is peaceful.  It is the night I fear.  As always, I dream of my father.  He died young – a victim of whatever esoteric religion drove him to burn down the village church.  The pitchfork that removed him from this world freed me to pursue a new life.  My mother, a forgotten person for much of my youth, became my closest friend and counselor.  Her affection protected and encouraged me.  And yet, even as I succeeded academically, I suspected I had been tainted, cursed.  I found a natural home amongst numbers and exotic formulae – perhaps the sins of my father still in my blood?

Now, of course, I know that was true.  My father’s death freed me of nothing.  I live now as he did – alone and driven by a madness I cannot fathom.  But what did I do?  What church did I burn to the ground?  What pitchfork has robbed me of life?  Have we both a black book to blame for our psychosis? I am left with nothing, not even myself.

“Time is a formulation of multiple dimensions interacting to produce the perception we acknowledge as the passing of time.  Our research has produced a methodology whereby we manipulate this formulation – the term bend is simplistic – to create, temporarily and constrainedly, a new existence. Further research will allow for functional results – instant communication or travel across any distance.  As yet, certain difficulties have arisen. We expect these to be resolved shortly and without additional causalities.”

Dr. Tuculov refused to elaborate and suspended the interview without further comment. His assistant, Dr. Mikhail Brodovich offered the final word.  “We have the means to change a great many things.  You should know that, but of course you can’t.”

We expect a more detailed report to be released in the coming weeks.

Steya Gorbekhin – Senior News Journalist – NSR


Robert Drake works in IT and hopes to be replaced by a robot.


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