His eyes shot open. The light filtered in, and his pupils dilated as if he had never opened his eyes until now. He could see nothing but white all around him as he struggled to focus his vision, a blurred nothingness of staring straight into the high noon sun. What felt like an endless string of drawn out moments passed, and there was nothing but the white light.
There were voices now, at least five of them. But they weren't saying anything. Or rather, he was unable to understand them.
Too far away, he thought, and yet the distance was impossible for him to judge. They seemed to be coming from everywhere and nowhere all at once. Some other language then, but the concept of language itself seemed foreign to him, unsure of even his own native tongue. Still, the white remained.
He instinctively tried to lift his head, but found it restrained. His arms and legs as well. Something was holding him down to the cold steel he felt under him. His fingers ran over the smooth, cool surface of his prison, praying for an edge. Some understanding of scale was all they sought, but for their limited reach, they were denied even that. No edge. Just more steel.
His body felt surprisingly relaxed. His muscles seemed to float in place throughout. There was the slightest hint of pain just above his left forearm, but it was so faint that it barely registered. And even now, as he focused his thought on the feeling of it, the pain passed entirely. His head ached at the temples, and that too passed the moment he felt it as if it had never been there to begin with.
The white began to slowly subside, giving way to the faintest of hues. Contrast began to filter into his vision, but still his eyes could make no sense of his surroundings. A few moments longer and he would be able to see clearly. He blinked several times, desperately trying to rush the process. The voices he heard, though still muffled were just slightly clearer. He still could not make sense of what they were saying, but their origin was clear enough. They were speaking English.
As he strained his eyes and his ears to focus, to pull him out of this purgatorial blank-slate understanding, his mind was allowed to wander for the first time. The questions came to him. The answers were there almost before the question was asked. But they seemed vague in some way, as if they were only hinting at the truth, something more akin to instinct than to knowledge.
Where am I?
I'm on an operating table in a laboratory.
Why am I here?
They've altered me.
Who are they?
They're the ones who brought me here. They're greedy.
The voices now became clear. He could hear every word they were saying. There were six of them, not five as he had originally thought; Two women, four men. One of the women, the older one, was clearly in charge, as they all spoke to her, and she responded in turn with her approval or disappointment, depending on what they told her. They were discussing brain patterns and muscular dystrophy. They spoke of cell regeneration and sensory input. They seemed to be comparing notes on something they had recently accomplished. The older woman, for the most part seemed very pleased with their results. He focused on the voices one by one as they spoke. He was surprised that he already knew their names. He found he could identify them as they spoke.
"So the operation was a complete success." This was the older woman. Linda Cartwright. This was not so much a question as it was a statement.
"Yes ma'am." Gabe Evans. "Everything seems to have gone to plan."
"How are the patient's vital signs?" Cartwright, again. As if she cares.
"Vitals are all stable." Jessica Stahl.
"We ran into a bit of a problem during surgery." Wayne Petrie. "The patient woke up about halfway through."
"But we were quickly able to subdue him." Nick Firenze. That weasel.
"He woke up!?" Cartwright's pissed.
"His memory of the incident has been wiped clean." Joseph Clarke.
"What about the rest of his memory?"
"We believe it to be intact."
There was a brief pause and the tension in the room mounted, the anger in Cartwright's voice still hanging heavy in the air.
"You had better hope it is, Clarke." she said as coldly as she could manage. There was no response to this. The other five seemed to know better. "Now then, let's have a look, shall we?"
He heard them shuffle their papers and their feet, their footsteps approaching where he lay, getting louder and louder. His eyes had focused now, the white was gone. But he still found himself staring into a bright light hanging above his face. He could make out the tiles on the ceiling beyond the light, but for the time being, there was nothing else in his vision. Suddenly the questions came back to him, and with them, the answers.
What are they doing?
They're coming to check on me.
What have they done?
They've altered me.
What are they going to do?
They're going to die.
And then it dawned on him. The one horrible question he had not yet asked, the reality of it hitting him like a train. He had been so concerned, so focused on his whereabouts that he had not even considered the most vital of questions; the driving question of existence. The fundamental understanding required for basic human survival.
Who am I?
But to this, there came no answer. No knowledge, no understanding, nothing.
Who am I?
He asked again, hoping the response would come. He was met with nothing but bleak, horrible silence. As if to test his mind, to make sure it still worked, he questioned further.
Who is Linda Cartwright? The answer came instantly and all at once.
Graduated from Yale University 1967, PhD in neurology. Mother of three boys, Zachary, Peter and William. Married to Robert Cartwright, two years her senior, PhD in biogenetics. Unfaithful to her husband twice. Parents Edward and Patricia deceased…
The information flowed through his mind as if he had known it all along, and had only now tapped into some sort of database in his memory reserved specifically for Linda Cartwright.
Who is Joseph Clarke? He asked, testing the limitations of his knowledge. Again, the information flowed through him, teaching him everything there was to know about Joseph Clarke in an instant.
PhD in cognitive neuroscience. Never married. No living family members. Five sexual partners since adolescence. No children. Strong dislike for the Asian race…
On and on it went. He felt overwhelmed. Within the time it took the approaching scientists to take a single step, he knew them each entirely. Their lives past and present were known to him. Those closest to them were known to him. Their dreams, their desires, their pet peeves were known to him. He desperately tried himself again.
WHO AM I?
Nothing. No matter how hard he tried, he couldn't tap into that memory bank. It was as if he had never existed to begin with.
They were closer now. He heard one of them stop and hit some kind of button that let out a shrieking beep when pressed, while the rest of them continued walking toward him. He felt the steel table he lay on jerk into movement. The light above him floated up and out of his line of sight above him as the table made the change into verticality. He could see them now, but cared little for their appearance. All of them wore glasses. One of them had a beard. One… no, two of them had grey hair. One of these was Linda Cartwright. Each of them wore long, white jackets with the typical putrid green scrubs underneath. They looked evil. He felt they were.
Cartwright was the first to notice that he was awake. Her eyes widened in what seemed to be an equal mixture of fury, confusion, and fear. And as he locked eyes with her, all of his fury, confusion and fear mixed with hers. This woman was responsible for his being here. And for that, he could never feel anything but hatred toward her. He wanted her to pay for what she had done to him. He wanted her to be on this table in his place. He wanted to spray her brains all over the walls of this fancy room, with its fancy equipment and fancy computers.
And just as soon as the thought crossed his mind, and before she could even react to the knowledge of what was about to happen to her, Linda Cartwright's head exploded. Her face was splattered like an apple thrown at a concrete wall, fragments of brain and skull plastered everywhere around the room. The fancy equipment, the fancy computers, even her fancy colleagues were covered with what used to be Linda Cartwright.
And now it was their turn.