I hate this hellhole. I despise each shred of its wretched existence. From the top of this prison dome, to the tunnels underneath the place I call home, every grain of surrounding matter defeats me. I feel myself crumbling under the weight of my past choices. There is nothing left I can do to add an ounce of life to what I have become, or to bring back what I once was. All has been lost.
I know I shouldn’t be this way. Considering my current position, you would think happiness would overwhelm me. When I was selected to be an environmental analyst at the GryphynDome center of Athennemor, I was absolutely sold on it being the opportunity for the ages. Two years doing exactly what my job title suggests: analyzing the environment on the planet Athennemor. Being an environmentalist back on Earth, the thought of twenty-four months in the large dome structure the Gryphyn Company built on the water planet intrigued me immensely. A new world, filled with new terrain, new creatures, and new opportunities.
I was aware of some of the obvious downsides of being gone from my home planet for two years. I would be leaving my wife, Elizabeth, and our four-year-old daughter, Rebecca. Left behind were also my friends and other family members, but those were infinitely easier to let go of than my wife and child. Either of them could light up my darkest of days, and bring peace and a smile to my darkest rage.
It was one of the most difficult decisions my wife and I have ever had to make. While I hated being away from the two loves of my life, I decided the opportunity in front of me was too great to decline. Not only was it exciting for me, but the pay was enough to almost allow us to retire when I returned home. “Jeremiah,” my wife would say, “Do what you think is best, for you, for us.” With video communication, I would be able to talk to my wife and daughter daily. I missed the two of them like I’d miss my lungs if they were gone.
I knew this position would take its toll on me, emotionally and physically. Many long nights I’ve spent sending out waterbots into the planet’s liquid surface that covers about half the height of this dome structure. These miniature submarines, as I like to call them, can swim impressively fast and gather water samples from hundreds or even thousands of miles away. They can also take pictures of the terrain or any possible signs of life it comes across.
The planet Athennemor is not that different from Earth, atmospherically speaking. It comes with the same breathable air and the same basic temperature. The main difference is that Earth has land, and Athennemor has none; also, Athennemor’s waters are toxic. The skies can produce clouds, but they’re always bright white and puffy, and they never rain. At night, stars can be seen in the sky. During the day, the three suns shine brightly in the heavens.
I’ve seemingly wasted a plethora of hours looking at raw data and numbers, trying to figure out what it all means. Six months have passed, yet we’re barely less clueless now than we were at the start. We know that an ounce of the surface liquid would be adequate to completely disintegrate a large human body in a millisecond. That’s not new knowledge, however. Several Gryphyn employees died due to the liquid during this dome’s construction. While the actual name of the substance is cestamus, it was labeled ‘hydrodeath’ by GryphynDome employees.
The toll has definitely been taken on me, but infinitely more than I had ever imagined. Two weeks ago, I was happy. There was none of this ‘hating-the-hellhole’ type stuff. I loved my job. Stressful, frustrating, tiring; of course. But it was my passion. Then, out of the blue, the worst thing that could have happened got its turn: we lost communication. With everyone. The main thing that had kept me going was my wife and child. Now I can’t even speak to them. This resulted from a fire that was started by the overheating of a power generator. The fire roared through a quarter of the complex, killing two employees and wiping out three-quarters of our remaining food supply. So here we are, a month’s space journey away from Earth, with inadequate food for the six of us remaining to survive another year and a half. I can’t contact my wife and child, and we can’t contact Gryphyn or anyone on Earth so they know we’ve had a disaster. We’re hoping that our company will notice that they can’t communicate with us, which would be easier if there were only one of these complexes in the universe. Contrarily, there are thousands just like it on other planets. Our fear is that, in a year and a half, the Gryphyn transport ship will arrive on schedule and find a pile of bodies dead from starvation.
I’ve hit an all-time low today, emotionally speaking. It is my daughter’s fifth birthday, and I can’t even sing to her or tell her that I love her. I sat in my room and cried in my hands for an hour. I lifted my head out of my hands and stared at my wet palms. Something inside me clicked at that moment; whether it was a good or bad click, I didn’t know. My mind became reckless and irrational. I’ve always been an optimist and have loved to be alive. But, for that minute, I didn’t want to live another wretched moment. I didn’t want to suffer for months and then end up starving to death. I didn’t want to live without my loves. In my irrationality, I decided to take drastic action.
I hopped on the elevator and took it to the top floor of the dome: the transport bay. The landing platform was an a hundred foot wide and long square with a six foot wall lining its perimeter. I bolted. I wanted this nightmare over, and I wanted it over now. I reached the nearest wall, jumped up and lifted myself on top. Twenty feet below me was the venomous waters of Athennemor. I stretched out my arms to either side, and prepared myself for a nose dive. The end could be now if I wanted it to. And at that moment, I did.
For whatever reason, I looked up into the bright blue sky. Just short of the horizon was a lone cloud, quickly being blown in my direction. For the first time in a few weeks, I smiled. My mind regained its rationality, and I became calm. I thought about my daughter. She loved to watch the clouds, and she often pointed out what she imagined as animals and creatures in the clouds’ random puffiness. Lions and tigers, or something more exciting like a unicorn or a dragon. At that point, I decided I wanted to live. I had let go of hope, whatever little we had, but now I gripped it with all my might. I wanted to see my daughter again. I wanted to see her grow up and fulfill her dreams. I desired greatly to be with my wife again. I lowered my arms and started to turn myself around.
Then my lack of coordination caused the most horrifying second of my life. While attempting to turn around, my left foot kicked against my right. My body fell to the side, and I slammed my right shoulder against the top of the hard brick wall. What happened next I tried to stop, but I simply couldn’t. My body began to turn over the top of the wall. I reached for anything to grab onto, but nothing was there. All the years of my life replayed themselves in my mind’s eye. I knew I would never again see my wife or daughter. I looked up to the sky, and the cloud was now directly overhead. As I fell, I smiled for what I knew was the last time. I braced myself for impact, and hit the water. I felt nothing more.
“Am I in Heaven?” I asked the figure whose face I couldn’t make out.
“You almost were.”
I was lying down on a linen bed in the medical wing.
“I saw you fall. You flew right past my office window.”
I looked up. It was Sara Garnes, the boss. I was suddenly aware of a great pain on the backside of my head. I felt the area; there was now a large bump covered by a bandage. I then had a realization. “I’m not dead?”
Sara smiled. “You’ve inadvertently uncovered quite a mystery. Those workers died by falling in the water. Yet here you are, after falling in. And your only reason for being in a med bed is because you hit your head on a rock.”
“No part of me was affected by the cestioplaks?”
The room was still spinning.
“Strange huh? You’ve been out for about a day. In the meantime, some of us did some experiments. We sent things into the cestamus that we knew had disintegrated during testing during the first six months. All of them are still floating in the water, disintegration free. Now some of the other employees are going out for a swim.”
“What in the world? Did the substance change or something?”
“We don’t know yet, but it would seem that way. You’re still a bit woozy, aren’t you?”
“How could you tell?”
“It seems to me that people who are a little woozy are a little less likely to lie, would you agree?”
“Do you recognize this?”
In her hands she held an alarm clock.
“It’s a clock. What’s your point?”
“Not just a clock. Notice this little hole?”
I squinted. “I see it. What is it?”
“It’s a camera. This clock was in my bedroom. Someone’s been spying on me; someone’s a peeping tom.”
“And you think it’s me?”
“What do you think?”
“You don’t seem like that kind of person…”
“That’s because I’m not, even being wifeless on this rock.”
She peered into my eyes. “Are you telling the truth?”
“Okay,” she sighed. “I believe you. Just keep your eyes and ears open would you?”
She smiled. “Anyways, back to your new mystery. But you don’t worry your pretty face about it for now. I’m going to the surface. You stay here until you’re recovered.”
Like that was going to happen.
After she left, I stood up. Too quickly. I stood their until the room completely stopped spinning, and then I slowly made my way to the door. The hallway was clear, so I made my way out to the elevator and down to the testing lab. It was empty. I sat down at my usual workstation and activated a waterbot. I piloted the robot through its camera. On the monitor, it listed the current liquid status as “Toxic Level 4”, as it has been for the entire time. Level 4 is reserved for liquids labeled as extremely hazardous. What on Athennemor is going on? I thought to myself. We’ve been testing this stuff for months. What could cause it to change like this?
“There you are!” It was Sara, standing at the door to the lab. “Shouldn’t you be resting?”
“I’m fine. I don’t want to be left out of all these weird happenings anyway.”
“I suppose. Anyway, everything seems to have changed. We’re looking into whether the change is seasonal or fluky. I even touched the water myself. It’s completely safe.”
“Then why is its status still Toxic Level 4?”
She paused. “What?”
“That doesn’t make sense. Maybe the bots are screwed up.”
“Should I send a farm?”
Farms are actually somewhat like ant farms. We send out a waterbot with a chamber full of ants. The bot then allows some of the liquid into the chamber, and with the chamber camera we can then see the effect the liquid has on living beings. We’ve done this before, and the liquid seems to almost make the ants disappear instantaneously. Testing in different areas of the planet’s water surface helps to determine that area’s toxicity.
“Might as well,” she replied.
The farmbot, as waterbots are called on these insect suicide missions, swam out about a hundred feet from the complex. I pressed the “fill” button, and liquid slowly poured into the chamber. I don’t know what I was expecting. Part of me expected the ants to fry. Part of me expected the ants to float. Part of me expected to wake up.
The actual result is that the ants simply floated. There didn’t seem to be any effect on them whatsoever. The bot returned and the ants crawled back into their container.
“I guess then that the bots are broken or something,” I said. “Or something is just not working. Whatever it is, it’s our freaking luck.” I kicked the trash can from where I was sitting.
“Calm down? Are you serious? We’re stuck here. Our food supply is running out. We probably won’t last a month. Our equipment is defective. Entire bodies of water seem to be toying with my psyche. My stupid dream of traveling the universe and colonizing new planets. Now all I wish I had was five minutes to hold my daughter and kiss my wife.”
Sara placed her hand on my shoulder, and sat down quietly in the chair opposite me.
“We’ve all got families and friends we left behind. Some of them I may never see again. I left my entire life back on that rock. And none of us can yet explain the water changing or the equipment’s behavior. We’re all living with the fact that we may not make it off this planet. But you must hold on to hope.”
“Why? What’s the point?”
I looked up at her, and then back to the floor.
“She wouldn’t want you to kill yourself. She would want you to fight.”
“Kill myself? Who said anything about that?”
She paused and bit her lip. “I saw you fall, remember. Your daughter and wife want to see you again. God in Heaven knows I want to see my husband again, and I’m willing to fight all of space and time just to touch his face once more.”
My dreams have been mysterious of late. They’ve brought me vivid images of people I don’t know. Yet part of me feels like I’ve known them my whole life. The same people keep appearing in my dreams, like they’re trying to tell me something. The same people are usually doing the same things. The same older woman is always sitting in a rocking chair crying, staring out the window at the stars. The same middle-aged man is always hunting deer in a dense forest, peacefully, until he turns the rifle in my direction and fires. The same beautiful young woman is always presenting me with a gift that I never get to open.
“Couldn’t sleep either, huh?” Sara said, as she walked into the dining area where I was eating a bowl of cereal.
“I haven’t had a good sleep since the fire. Too much to think about.”
She poured herself a bowl of cereal, and sat down across the table from me.
“Why did you choose to come here, to take this job?” I asked.
“Sometimes I ask myself the same question. I used to know. Now I’m not sure.”
“I’ve started to think I was selfish in coming here. Leaving my family, and the responsibilities, leaving all of it behind to chase some personal dream. I should be back there taking care of them.”
“You did what you thought was right.”
“At the time, I suppose I did. I should have looked farther ahead, questioned the company more. Talked to more people. Maybe this could have been averted.”
“There was no way---“
“I know. I just wish there had been.”
“Your reasons weren’t totally selfish were they?”
“With the pay you earn here, you’d be able to support your family for years. And maybe not work as much, so you could give them more of your time also.”
“But I’d lose two years here. At least.”
“You have to look at the big picture. Two years could go by like a flash, and then you’d be happy you did this. If we get back to Earth, it could be looked at as a very selfless thing to do, instead of selfish.”
“That’s a big if.”
She smiled, and took her empty cereal dish to the sink and rinsed it off. She sat down in the chair next to me, and looked at me intently.
“Do you mind if I ask you a personal question?”
“What was going through your mind… when you fell into the water?”
I stared into my bowl of cereal until the flakes started to blur in my eyes, and then closed my eyelids. “I wanted it to end. I knew it would soon anyway. I was sick of dealing with this hopelessness, knowing there was no light at the end of the tunnel. I wanted it to be quick and painless. But… I did not jump.”
“No. I changed my mind. I wanted to live. I fell in by mistake.”
“Maybe you were meant to do that.”
“You discovered the change in the water. We may never have known that otherwise. This may, if the company ever realizes our problem, lead to a deeper understanding of this planet, and we could end up colonizing it.”
“Just because I am uncoordinated?”
“Sometimes things happen in mysterious ways, like all of life is being molded by an outside force.”
“What force is that?”
“Could be God, or, could be the big boss, Mr. Gryphyn himself.”
I woke up in a sweat. I started coughing, and I had a sharp pain in my stomach. I walked out of my room and down to the medical wing. As I walked in the room, I was immediately greeted with “You too, huh?” Everyone in the complex was laying on a hospital bed. I was directed to one of my own.
“What’s going on?” Right when I asked it, I knew. But Sara, after coughing, answered anyway.
“Well, we can now explain why the liquid was still considered toxic. It must have some delayed effect that is contagious and airborne. It seems everyone has now been affected. Even the ants are dead. Initially, the effect didn’t seem as bad. Though we seem to be getting worse,” and she coughed again, louder.
For two weeks, we all rested in the medical wing. We were all now much worse than we were before. Large sores were appearing all over our bodies. Whenever we ate, it felt like swallowing a needle. The pain was so bad that I stopped eating and drinking entirely, figuring it would at least hurry my death along.
Laying in my hospital bed, in a room with everyone else, I coughed. Again. I coughed nonstop for several minutes, which culminated with me losing my lunch in the garbage can.
“Serves you right.”
It had been hours since I had heard a human voice, and part of me longed for a good conversation. But I never imagined it starting with those words.
“If it wasn’t for your self-pitied yet pathetically failed suicide attempt, none of this would have happened. We had small hope before, now we have none.”
It was Jack, a large muscular coworker. “You probably sabotaged the communication system too, huh? You wanted all of us dead, didn’t you? And we trusted you!” Jack lifted his large sweaty body off his bed and started in my direction. I could do nothing but just lay there and hope my death was quick and painless. The large man stopped abruptly about halfway between our beds, with a helpless look upon his face. He looked at me angrily, yet sadly. “You traitor,” he whelped, and fell to the ground, lifeless. Everybody gasped, some started to cry, yet everyone seemed to glare at me. Their expressions told me they were beginning to believe Jack’s last words. They all seemed to be blaming me with their eyes. All of them except Sara. I almost expected the rest of them to stone me. Instead of waiting for that, I slowly left.
I walked around the complex randomly for several hours. I then found myself standing in front of the door to the testing lab. I wanted to get my mind off of things, so I walked in and sat down at my station. I piloted a waterbot out into the water, and it slowly swam around the sea. I began to accelerate further away from the complex, into the pitch black waters. The light on the waterbot seemed to only illuminate several feet in front of it in this darkness, but I continued forward anyway at a high speed.
I only saw the light about half of a second before it hit. Something seemed to jump out of the darkness and slam into the waterbot, causing me to immediately lose its video signal. I sat there for a few seconds, trying to take in what just happened. Something else was out there; something we didn’t know about. It wasn’t another bot, as there were no other employees in the lab, and no bots were missing. Have I discovered some type of life on this rock? I asked myself. I raced up to the medical wing, hoping they weren’t still ready to kill me. I opened the doors, and yelled “There’s something out there!”
I got no response. As soon as I was done with my statement, I knew why. Bloody vomit seemed to cover the walls and floors. Broken drinking glasses littered the floor, and a brownish liquid was mixing with the vomit. Each body in the room was lying on or next to their respective beds, dead.
I didn’t know what to do. I felt like my stomach was doing twirls. I didn’t feel like eating or drinking anything, and I felt I would throw it up anyway. My emotional rollercoaster hit a brick wall; I was deeply saddened by the loss of my coworkers, but I couldn’t for the life of me shed a tear. Maybe it was because I knew I was facing my impending doom, and that I would soon die for the same reason the others did. Or maybe it was because my tear ducts were empty.
Sara’s body lay awkwardly, with her head and shoulders on the floor and her legs leaning against her bed. Her hands were tucked near her chest; she appeared to have fallen somewhat off the bed while holding her throat with her hands, as if she was choking. Her neck was bent and had possibly snapped upon her impact with the floor.
Then the questions started popping into my head. How long do I have left? Will I suffer? And, more importantly, Why am I still alive, while the others are all dead?
I didn’t even know if it mattered, as I assumed I would be dead relatively quickly. I would now just be wasting away, waiting for the toxins to take full effect. Instead of just sitting there waiting for the inevitable, I decided to go back to the testing lab. I sent out another waterbot, and checked the log for the exact coordinates of where I had seen the light and the other bot had crashed. The bot swam quickly toward that location, but I slowed down when nearing it. As I did, the light I had seen before became visible again. The bot slowly moved forward, and the light slowly became brighter. I inched the bot forward for several minutes, until it seemed the light was just feet ahead. Slightly further it swam, then I heard a thud. The waterbot had nicked the light and had bounced backwards.
I shined the light below the bot, and I noticed the wrecked bot from before. I then noticed something interesting about the light; it moved when I moved. The bot would rotate, the light would rotate. Closer, closer. Farther, farther. I shined the light directly in front and then made an amazing discovery. The light was nothing but a reflection, and I had run the bot into nothing but a wall. I was not alone on this planet after all.
The thing that I noticed first about the large mirrored wall was the dents and cracks that the previous bot had made on its surface. I slowly moved the waterbot toward the center of the dents, and zoomed in. I noticed a small hole where water seemed to be rushing through. There was something on the other side of the wall; I didn’t know what, but I wanted to find out. Whether or not this was the smartest thing to do, I backed up the machine and rammed into the center of the cracked wall with as much speed as the bot could handle. This, of course, made me lose video feed again.
I wanted to know what was on the other side of that wall, but I didn’t know how. Then the light bulb went on. I pressed some buttons and another bot swam into the water. This was no ordinary bot; this was called a rambot, which is made for drilling through rocks and crashing through small areas for research purposes. I piloted the rambot back to the wall.
The hole seemed to have become larger, and more water seemed to be pouring into it. I crashed the rambot into the wall, and it seemed to crack a much large portion of the wall. Water started to flow quicker and with more force, and I watched through the camera as the pull of the water sucked the rambot through, cracking the wall even more. It then seemed to be falling in a waterfall, spinning helplessly through the air. The surrounding area was blurred due to the fast falling and spinning of the bot, but it appeared to me that it was in an unbelievably large area which was rather bright. Unfortunately, the bottom soon came, and I lost the video feed.
I sat motionless for several minutes. My mind, however, was going crazy. What was that? An immense underground lair of some sorts? Yet must have been manmade, or creature-of-some-sort-made, since that wall was not natural. What the frick? Why was it so bright?
The gears of my mind were turning faster than ever. Yet no answer was in sight. I leaned back in my chair and put my feet up on the chair. I was asleep in five seconds.
The thud woke me up. It sounded like a door slam, only a much larger sound, yet distant. Then I heard two voices and a conversation which I caught in the middle. It seemed to be coming from outside the complex somewhere, yet high and still distant like the thud. As the conversation continued, high and distant sounds remained, yet these sounded like people walking down stairs.
“…and I’ve never built up the courage to come down here since I was a child. Too many freaky experiences, science projects of his that went haywire and almost killed all of us. But I suppose its time to rumble through the stuff he has down here, now that he’s passed on.”
“Will probably bring back memories, I reckon, but—“
“What on God’s green Earth?”
The sounds seemed to have stopped momentarily. I stood up from my chair in the testing lab, and walked forward to look out the large window that usually overlooks the sea. However, this time things were different. The sea seemed to have dropped its level significantly, and some of the tops of mountains, which are never seen above water, were clearly visible. Has all this water drained out of that hole? I thought to myself. That seemed a little farfetched though. This entire planet is covered in water; the amount that would have to drain to lower the level even an inch is too high to imagine.
The voices continued and seemed to be getting louder.
“Must have been one of Dad’s strange hobbies. Let’s have a closer look.”
This was one of those moments in life when I had to close my eyes and reopen them about a hundred times to make sure something is really happening.
I almost fell to the ground when it appeared overhead. The size of it astounded me, and made the entire experience seem surreal. Nevertheless, there it was, the size of a large cloud hanging up in the sky, with the rest of it going downward to the side. I asked myself Is it a robot? An illusion? A hallucination? But no, it was none of these things. It was real, it wasn’t imagined, and it was alive. It was, in fact, a living, breathing, seemingly thousand feet tall…. Human.
For a moment, I thought I was dreaming. For another moment, I thought I was either drunk or dead. Unfortunately, none of those was the case.
With the giant human form still hovering overhead, I remained as motionless as a mannequin for several moments. The large eyeballs above me appeared to be staring at me, as confused about me as I was about it. From its side came a proportionately large hand with an outstretched finger, pointing at me and coming dangerously close. I was now frozen more out of fear than shock, and I had to remind my heart to beat.
Its longer finger knocked against the glass less than three feet from my head, and I flinched, the face gasped, and I fainted to the floor, out cold.
I awoke in darkness. I felt that I was in a bed, nicely tucked in and under the covers. I sat up and swung my legs over the side. The sound of a door opening caused vibrations through the bed, as did the sound of advancing feet.
“Hello there, little one,” its female voice rang out. It was the same voice I had heard before. The sound of it was soft and innocent, and reminded me of my wife’s voice. Words evaded my tongue; all I did was sit there and stare into the blackness. Suddenly my tongue found words, and in great quantities.
“Where are we? Who are you? What are you? What’s going on? Wha---“
“I know you have lots of questions, and I have all the answers, even though you may not want to know them.”
“Of course I do.”
“Very well then. First though, I have some questions for you.”
I wasn’t sure what they would possibly have to ask me, but I said “Then let’s go.”
“What is your name?”
“Your full name?”
“Jeremiah Nathan Carpenter.”
“What is your occupation?”
“I am an environmental analyst, sent here to planet Athennemor by the Gryphyn Company on planet Earth.”
“How old are you?”
“Twenty-nine Earth years.”
“What is your height and weight?”
“Why are these questions relevant?”
“We’re as curious about you as you are about us. Of course, we know much more about you. We’re asking these questions to find out what you think you know about yourself and your world.”
“Why wouldn’t I know what is real---“
“We’ll get to that.”
I sighed. “Alright. I’m six feet even and weight one hundred ninety-five pounds.”
“Thank you. Now we have some questions that may surprise you. You may wonder how we know what we know, but trust me, that will come.”
“Okay,” I said, submitting to their apparent authority.
“You have a wife, correct?”
I shot them a double take through the darkness.
“And a daughter who just turned five.”
“How did you know that?”
“I know just about everything about you. I know your shoe size is eleven. I know when you were fourteen, you had a major crush on a girl named Rachel. You went to a movie with her, and were so nervous that you wet your pants at the theater. I know that you failed your drivers test three times, and proceeded to get three speeding tickets. I know you cheated on a high school humanities test by carving answers on your eyeglasses.”
“What, is that it?”
“Not at all.”
“Don’t you know anything good?”
“Well, of course. When you were eighteen, your boss gave you a $1000 bonus for hard work. Instead of spending the money on yourself, you used the entire bonus for an anonymous donation to a poor single mother you knew with four children, because you knew the mother was almost forced to give up one of the children because she couldn’t afford to feed all of them.”
I fell silent, stunned. This giant being from another planet knew some details of my life that only I knew.
“Worry not, answers are coming,” she said.
She was silent for a few moments. “Actually, they’re coming now. Your name is Jeremiah Nathan Carpenter, that is true. Unfortunately,” she paused, “none of the rest of your answers were accurate.”
“You do not work for the Gryphyn Company. You are not an environmental analyst on the planet Athennemor. You are on Earth. In fact, the planet Athennemor doesn’t exist.”
“What are you talking about? I’ve been on Athennemor for six months! And I’ve been working at Gryphyn for over six years.”
“We’ll explain that later.”
“Of course, later. Good luck with that.”
“You’re not six feet tall. I know you won’t understand this, but you’re more like three-eights of an inch tall.”
I nearly fainted again. “What? What are you people – or whatever you are – trying to pull on me?”
I jumped off the bed and started to walk into the black. At that moment, a blinding light from above caused my eyes to scream. I fell to my knees and covered my eyes, and sat there until my eyes were able to adjust. I stood up and looked forward to see a large cylindrical object directly in front of me. It seemed to go upward forever like a skyscraper, with something on top that could have been an antenna. But I knew what it was and where I was. The object was mostly white, with some orange and red. It had a large curved “M” on the outside. I fell to my knees and cried, for I knew that my world was crashing down. Yesterday, I thought I worked on a planet a galaxy away from Earth. Today, I’m three-eighths inches tall, standing on a kitchen table being towered over by a Super-sized cup of soda from McDonald’s.
I stood up and turned around, still wiping the tears from my eyes. All around me was a kitchen, and in front of me was a woman sitting on a chair, with her head in her hands, sobbing. I then began to take in what all this means. I could barely spit the words out. “I… I don’t have a wife and child, do I?” She replied with her head still buried.
“No you don’t. None of what you know actually exists. Your age is not twenty-nine, but merely just over a month. Your shoe size is definitely not sold in most shoe stores. You’ve never had a date with any girl, or gone to a movie, or gotten a driver’s license, or a car. You’ve never been to high school. You’ve never won a thousand dollars, and you’ve never donated it to anyone. Your memories are all fiction, at least to you.”
“Is it time for me to know the hows of all this yet?”
She sniffed and blew her nose, then said, “I suppose.” She sat up, and I nearly stumbled backwards. This woman could have been an identical twin to the image I had in my head of my wife. Everything was the same. She seemed to tell from my expression exactly what I was thinking. “I’ll get to that,” she said, and gave a weak smile. She closed her eyes and breathed in deeply, then began.
“My father was not well in his later years, mentally speaking. He developed the lack of conscience and rationality. Sometimes he was fine and you wouldn’t know anything was wrong; most of the time, however, he completely wasn’t the man I knew as my father. He seemed possessed. Since we discovered you, we’ve gone through his papers and have a good understanding of what happened. My father passed away less than a week ago. We’ve found a journal of his where he wrote down many personal thoughts. It seems he knew his mind was slipping, and frequently visited a psychiatrist, who told me everything my father said.
“My father’s later life became alone and empty, especially after my mother died nearly ten years ago. He often complained about being powerless. He created the world you thought you lived in. He made you and your coworkers.”
“Yes. I guess I should explain some things about my father. His name… was Fredrick. Fredrick Gryphyn. He graduated from Harvard with a degree in molecular genetics and studied cloning and gene mutation independently. He grew all of you in his basement.”
“Yes. You were made in a tube. He then used his own technology to implant into your brains what you have as your memories. Everything you remember happening over three weeks ago was inserted in your brain by my father. Same is true for all your coworkers. Memories for all of them came from his life, or from the lives of people he knew. And some things he just made up. My father’s notes state that some of your memories came from him. For instance, he was given a $1000 bonus when he was younger, which he donated to a needy mother. And he’s the one who wet his pants on his first date. And your wife… is a physical duplicate of me.”
I was staring into the air, into her eyes but almost through them, taking it all in.
“I know this is a lot to swallow. But there’s more. He grew all of you using a growth accelerator chemical. Your body is now just like one of a twenty-nine year old, and is aging at a normal rate. Everything is normal about it, except its size of course.”
She smiled. I still couldn’t.
“The GryphynDome complex is actually a large structure in the basement of my father’s house. He always kept it securely locked. There, he created all of the technology used in it. This includes the water robots, computers, other testing equipment, elevators and anything else technological. We believe he did this because he wanted power over something, and this is what his irrational mind came up with. After he created everything and inserted all of you into the complex, he tried to make it operationally flawless. He wanted to create a perfect world, with no suffering, pain, or loneliness. However, his mental state took a sharp downturn at this point and began to crumble. Whether on purpose or accidentally, he poured some sort of toxic liquid into the complex’s drinking water, which is why all of your coworkers got sick and ultimately died.”
“…and I didn’t eat or drink for awhile…”
“Ah, that explains your being alive. Well, part of him was doing this for some sort of deranged sadistic pleasure, the desire for power. So he created himself a little world where he could play God. Somehow, another part of him was somewhat rational and knew what he was doing was wrong, yet was powerless to actually stop it from happening. This is why there were certain things that would not have existed had his sole intention been keeping you from getting out, like the rambot for instance, and the fact that the glass on the outside was thin enough to break through. The rational part of him may have wanted you to escape.”
“I see. Though you think we would have found some of these things earlier; if the sea wasn’t the size of a planet, you would think we would have smashed into the sides of the structure at some point earlier to when I did. We were sending out bots far into what we thought was the depths of the ocean.”
“Ah yes. It is true that there were actual waterbots that swam around the waters of what was actually a gigantic fish tank. These bots did have cameras on them, and the signals were sent back to you in the lab. However, once the bots got to a certain distance away from the complex, the video feed was taken over by a computer. The feed you saw at that point came from a three-dimensional world that my father had built. He was able to do it so the change was seamless. You remember that, at a certain distance away, everything was much darker and harder to see?”
“This is why. He did that on purpose.”
“Then why didn’t that video feed kick in when I found the wall?”
“That is a mystery. Perhaps he did it, perhaps it was an accident, perhaps it was a computer malfunction.”
“It also seems… that my father was a pervert.”
“On the blueprints for the complex, and in the area where he created things, there was information concerning cameras that were placed only in the female living areas. He peeped at his creations, possibly both for some kind of personal pleasure and the continued desire for power and control.”
“Ah… so that is what that was…”
“You found one of them?”
“The boss did, Sara---“
“Mrs. Garnes, yes. She was evidently modeled after my aunt.”
“I can’t imagine being the victim of something like this. Your whole life… reduced to artificiality. Horrible.”
“So now what am I supposed to do? I’m less than a half inch tall. And I don’t want to become another science experiment, like the one I’ve apparently already been in.”
“Ah yes. I know that everything so far has been bad news, but this may be the first light in the tunnel.”
She walked over to a shelf and picked up an optical disc. She walked to a television that was sitting on the kitchen counter, and placed the disc in the television’s built-in DVD player.
“This disc was marked ‘Athennemor.’ He must have taped this during a moment of rationality.” She pressed play, and the image of her father appeared on the screen.
He didn’t look crazy, nor did he talk crazy, at least not in tone. He was crouched over in a chair, with a cane resting over his lap. His raspy voice moved slowly yet intently, painfully yet confidently.
“If you’re watching this, I’m probably dead, or in a home or institution. And you’ve no doubt discovered the world I’ve created, masterfully I might add. Athennemor epitomizes perfection. A group of people, in their own little world, oblivious to the fact that they’re living a falsehood. But what they don’t know won’t hurt them. So much like the real world I suppose, people living their lives without the knowledge of what’s outside their little crevice of consciousness, being all too comfortable in their day-to-day routines. They live their lives like---”
He then started coughing so violently, that it almost appeared he was going into a seizure. He seemed to recover for a minute, and sat back up. The expression on his face had changed; he almost seemed to be a different person. He now looked frantic and confused, sad and helpless. His words were shaky and less confident, and were lined with a feeling of fear and doubt.
“I… what have I done, made this, hell? I… it’s a mess, without…I must…”
He looked up, and seemed to realize again that he was on camera, as he became a little more stable.
“I know what you must be thinking. But I have made arrangements… for those who escape. Located in the back walk-in closet… is an enlarger. Any of them may be made into a normal sized person. Their minds are filled with knowledge… so they can lead a fulfilling life. They even have college degrees… which I have hacked into major universities and inserted their names, so they are actually on record as having college educations, and impressive ones at that. Also… there is money in a bank account…. Millions of dollars, from years of playing the market and…” He paused and displayed a confused look, as if he was trying to come up with the right words. “…luck. This should be divided up equally among them.”
He quickly fell into another spell of violent coughs, which ended with another change in his manner. He was now back to the way he was to begin with, talking with confidence, yet seeming unaware of what he had said in the middle.
“And this world will be mine to command forever, its people will be my people, I will be their leader and master, though I will always be invisible and unknown to them. Others…” he said, now peering and an annoyed look at the camera, “…some of whom may be watching this, may not understand why I did this, they may think I’m crazy. They may think my mind has crumbled under the weight of old age. Even my wife, who just sat in front of the window, crying, saying that my mind is in the stars.”
His voice became more irate and loud, and he almost started yelling at the camera. “And my son, who doesn’t trust me with a hunting rifle anymore, even though it was me who taught him how to use one. And my daughter, however beautiful…”
He paused for a few seconds, his face still, and peaceful. His eyes darted back up to the camera, and was once again screaming.
“…Never gave me what I really wanted. Plenty of opportunity and ability, yet never wanting me to have one of the things that could bring me the greatest joy. Miscarriages? Give me a break. All I ever wanted was a grandchild.” With that, he slowly stood and left the room, forgetting to turn off the camera.
The room was silent for a few moments, and I could tell that the woman was holding back a flood of tears. It took her several minutes to be able to talk again.
“There were, of course, many flaws in his plan. For instance, he wasn’t able to see long-term. What was he going to do when their supposed two-year time was over? And why did he supply such a time frame? He also wasn’t able to see past his own life, as it is obvious that – without disasters – his creations would outlive him. Considering no one else knew about this, and didn’t install a way that automatically allowed them to leave, then they would be left to die out in the complex, and most of them obviously did. You somehow survived.”
“I think so. You have a chance that none of the others did. You get to live life the way it’s supposed to be lived. Not in a cage, not under a veil of ignorance. You have the intellectual and occupational skills to go out and start living in the real world. Your creator made you with extreme potential. If I were you, I’d go use it, before you can’t anymore.”
For the first time since I knew I was thinner than a lead pencil, I smiled. “Let’s do it.”
She gently picked me up in her hand, and walked with me into the back walk-in closet, and shut the door behind her.