The Forgotten (Part Two: The Church of the Regents)

I was still disoriented by the cascades of memories assaulting me, trying desperately to cling to this latest revelation that had sprung forth, only to disappear into the ether, when a scream interrupted my thoughts. All my questions, whether Meredith and I had been lovers, the nature of her betrayal, and how I could have been in the other universe—for there seemed no doubt the palace where we had met was not located in this world—dissolved at the sound. Another scream followed—a woman’s voice—and I knew, with a terrible certainty, that I had to escape now or my life would be forfeit.

I summoned my remaining will, trying to push aside the constant buzzing of my thoughts, the lights ebbing and flowing like the tide in the corner of my eyes, and clambered to my feet. I stood above the chair for a moment, unsteady and feeling ill, before taking a lurching step toward the keypad. It seemed to take hours for me to cross the room to the door, each step a monumental effort from which I had to recover. My body still felt weighted by some obscene gravity—had I been transported somehow to another planet, I wondered—and my thoughts would not go quiet, leaving me to gather and orient myself from moment to moment.

Something like the aftershock of an explosion shook the room, sending me tumbling to floor. I lay cringing on the floor, waiting for the next rumble to overtake me. When none came, I regained my footing and went to the keypad, a burst of adrenaline washing away the numbness from my body, and entered in the code the woman had shown me. After a sickening pause, where I was certain I had been fooled, or simply dreamed it all, the door hissed open and I stepped out into the hallway.

It was empty and exactly as it had been when the High Regent’s people had brought me here. There was no sign of the pitched battle that I had imagined must be occurring between the Seeker and the High Regent. I closed the door to my prison behind me and stood listening, trying to gauge where everyone was and if there was anyone nearby. The corridor was quiet and dim, the building seemed to have gone absolutely still. I thought I could hear the traffic passing by outside on whatever street was nearest.

I tried to retrace my steps, though my recollection of that afternoon was clouded by all the new memories that had emerged, to the back alley, where I was certain the van I had been taken in would still be. I could use it to escape, although I was not sure I could trust myself to walk, let alone drive. Though my thoughts were still confused, unbidden memories paralyzing me at any given moment, my footsteps were steadier with each stride and my confidence in my chances of making good my escape soared.

My growing euphoria lasted until I came to the first intersection and made to turn down a hallway I was certain led to the back of the building, where I ran square into one of the Black Robes as he strode down the corridor. The force of our collision sent me to the ground, scrambling frantically away from him. He grunted in surprise and bent over to seize me by the collar of my shirt and, without breaking stride, dragged me stumbling along behind him. Surprising myself, I cursed him and my misfortune and he glanced down at me and laughed.

He led me to a room near the front of the building, where a wall pockmarked with empty window frames gave me a view of the foyer and the street outside. The sun was bright and I could almost smell the glory of summer and idleness that lay beyond. Such a life was not given to me though, for the Black Robe threw me at the feet of Seeker, who was crouched peering around a doorway from which I could see a corridor leading to a set of stairs.

“I have found the transgressor,” the Black Robe said.

“Yes.” The Seeker did not even glance at me, his alien eyes intent upon the corridor. “I fear they have killed Asdrubal.”

“Let us see them answer for it.”

The Seeker held up a hand. “Patience. They have an unbinder.”

The word sent chills through me, for somehow I knew the portent of doom they held. The Seeker and the Black Robe appeared unconcerned for the moment. They would be; being of the Travelers, it would take something monumental to inflict any damage on their person. The crimes the High Regent had committed were beyond measure here, I realized in a sudden insight. Not only had he transported himself and these others across the universes, he had brought a quantum weapon with him. We lesser mortals were not to possess such weapons, just as we were not to cross over, and to commit both acts at once was so unforgivable that the Society would ensure an example would be made of them.

Why take such a risk? For me, I realized, it was all for me. But what knowledge did I possess that could justify such an undertaking? I searched my mind, my fragmented and chaotic memories, and found nothing that could shed light on that. All I saw within was madness, barely contained, threatening to breach the dike of my carefully constructed being and overwhelm me.

The Seeker motioned for the Black Robe to take his place at the doorway and turned his empty gaze upon me. I flinched at his stare, wanting to turn away, but somehow was compelled to meet his eyes. They seemed to hold infinities.

“So you are with the Regent cult,” he said. “I did not know their infection had spread to this universe as well. What pitiful life did you lead here to cause you to fall sway to their fantasies?”

I swallowed. I did not know what to say but his eyes, his very being, seemed to compel an answer. “I do not remember.”

“Curious,” he said, looking me up and down, as though he had misjudged me and wondered how. “Curious. Why did you try to cross over?”

“I do not remember,” I said. Flashes of memories seemed to blur past and I tried to cling to the images, the scents, the words, but they all disintegrated at my touch. “They tried to get my memory back.”

“When time allows we will see what we can do on that front,” the Seeker said. I found no comfort in the offer. “For now we will deal with your compatriots. Any attempt to stop us would be unwise.”

I nodded, not bothering to tell him that, given I could hardly walk, I was not going to be thwarting anything.

The Seeker turned to the Black Robe and said, “Do you see anything?”

The Black Robe glanced back and shook his head. As he did something like a beam of light captured him and his body went rigid, his face contorting in agony. Moving faster than I had ever imagined possible, the Seeker leapt to the Black Robe and knocked him free of the beam, passing through it himself as he did. Both of them were left writhing on the floor in agony, their mouths open as if to scream or cry, but no sound came forth.

I stared at them in horror, wondering if these were perhaps their death throes. From the stairs above I heard a cry of triumph, cut short by a curt order from Osahi. I waited, but no other sound came from above. It seemed no one was willing to venture below to see if they had, in fact, delivered a killing blow, though the Seeker and the Black Robe remained contorted on the floor. Their convulsions gradually dissipated and the Seeker managed to raise himself to his elbow and looked up the stairs, which were still empty, before turning his gaze to me.

His visage was contorted by the agonies he was suffering, yet somehow remained without emotion, a terrifying combination, and I shivered to witness it. The beam, still visible, transforming the air it touched, divided the room, placing me on one side and him on the other, and our eyes linked through the shimmering air. He seemed unable, for the moment, to do anything and I, sensing my chance, got to my feet and made my way to one of the empty window frames, beyond which lay the foyer and freedom.

His eyes seemed to bore into me, though I could detect no change in their opaque lenses, commanding me to remain where I was. I found myself torn between competing compulsions: the need to obey the Seeker, and the sure knowledge that to remain here a moment longer would be to imperil myself. In the end it was the woman who decided it for me. The memory of her whispered encouragement propelled me forward. I had no idea if it had been her scream I had heard earlier, but I did not want her gift to be in vain. If it was important to her that I escape, then it was important to me.

As the Seeker watched, unmoving, I clambered through the window frame and made my way through the foyer and out to the street and the welcome glare of the sun. I breathed deep of the fresh air, luxuriating in the sensation of being outside. Parked on the street was the silver car I was certain the Seeker and the Black Robes had been driving when they had found Meredith and me in the apartment building. I walked around to the driver’s side and found the door unlocked and slipped inside.

From the outside the car had looked like any other car, but within the dashboard was unlike any I had seen, filled with gauges and screens I could make no sense of. There was no ignition, only a series of buttons where the stereo and dials for the heat and air conditioning would be. I pressed one, trusting my instinct, and the car started, ghostly silent, the engine barely humming. I pulled into traffic and drove away.

——–

This is the sixteenth part of The Forgotten, a science fiction thriller. A new section will be published here every Thursday.

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The Forgotten (Part Two: The Church of the Regents)

When I awoke next the restraints had been removed from my arms and legs. I tried to get up from the operating table and nearly fell to the floor. Two sets of strong hands seized me by the shoulders and dragged me to a chair someone had brought into the room. I slumped into it, my legs jutting out in odd directions. My body felt leaden, my mind dull and vague, and I briefly wondered if I was still asleep, but dismissed the idea out of hand. This was no dream.

Two other chairs were brought into the room and De Vroes and Osahi sat across from me, their faces grim and strained. Their assistants, the man and the woman, stood on either side of me, ready to act should I attempt anything, though it was clear I was in no shape to do any such thing. The woman was absent, I was certain, though I had been unable to get a good look at the rest of the room as they had transferred me to the chair. Now I tried to focus on De Vroes and Osahi, but my eyes kept wandering and I found myself staring at nothing, my vision a blur.

“Let’s begin,” Osahi said. He had taken off his suit jacket I saw, revealing a finely tailored white shirt, with emerald colored buttons that gleamed. I became entranced by their color, seeing in them the same line of lights that had presaged the return of my self.

Before he could utter another word I announced to the room, in a voice heavy with sleep or drugs, “I am David Aeida, sub-Regent of the One True Church, and you are holding me against my will.”

Osahi raised an eyebrow. “Well, now. Do you know who I am David Aeida?”

I stared at him, confused by the question. I knew him. He was Osahi, the Regent Dick. I wanted to say that to him, but the words were choked in my throat.

“I am Toma Osahi, High Regent of the One True Church. You, sub-Regent, are under my command, and you will remain here until you answer any questions I may have, to my satisfaction. Do you understand?”

“You are acting in contravention of the protocols of the Church, and I will not answer to you,” I tried to say, but my reply was a stream of garbled, stuttered nonsense.

Osahi shared a glance with De Vroes, who leaned forward and said, “Tell us what you remember, David. You are not well. We might be able to help you.”

That was lie, I thought. I was just suffering from the aftereffects of the drugs they had administered and the procedure they had performed on me. I knew who I was with clarity and certainty. I was David Aeida, sub-Regent of the Watcher’s Order. I clung to that singular thought through the buzzing of so many conflicting others that threatened to overwhelm me.

“How were you recruited into the Watcher’s Order?” Osahi said bluntly, dispensing with any pretense.

I stuttered something out, not even sure myself of what I was saying. The High Regent frowned, leaning back in his chair to stroke his chin. I recognized him now: Toma Osahi, High Regent, one of three who administered particular sections of the Church beneath the Grand Regent. Osahi was in charge of the evangelizing projects, so I knew he was operating well beyond his jurisdiction here. I had no need to answer to him, for the Watcher’s Order answered only to the Grand Regent. Not that I was at all capable of such a feat, even had I wanted to.

“What were your responsibilities on this world? Why did you attempt to cross over into ours? What was your purpose?” These questions came from Osahi in staccato bursts, his frustration apparent.

“Your buttons are not the light. The light is in me. It is me. When I see it I will be whole,” I said. “This is not the impossible world. It is out there to be found.”

Osahi raised an eyebrow at my ravings and turned to De Vroes. “How long will it take for him to stabilize?”

The other shrugged. “He may not. Even if he does, it may take days until we know for certain.”

“We don’t have days,” Osahi said, biting off the words.

“I know. This was always the risk with the procedure. But he definitely remembers, that much seems certain. I think if we keep at it we may learn something.”

Osahi nodded and turned his attention to me. “There is no point in trying to hide anything from us. We will find it out given time and I will ensure that we have it. Now tell me, what was your purpose in the Order?”

I shuddered as he spoke. One of the lights, still hovering, just visible, near the edge of my vision, burst into fluorescence. I saw, in an instant, an entire audience with the Grand Regent. I knelt before him, receiving his blessing and welcome to the Holy Order. He had a special mission for me, he said, one of utmost delicacy, which would require the ultimate sacrifice. I am a regent for my true body, I told him, you may do with this flesh as you must.

He thanked me and we were joined by two of his attendants, people I did not recognize, but who I instinctively knew were Acolytes like De Vroes. I followed them to an operating table. Strangely, my perspective on these events was not my own, it came from a place near the operating table, shrouded in darkness. There was something there, almost visible, but I could not bear to look.

Was this dream or memory? As I asked the question, I snapped back into awareness and saw Osahi and De Vroes staring intently at me.

“What do you remember?”

I was given no chance to answer the question, for an alarm began to shriek, echoing throughout the building.

Osahi leapt from his chair, his face gone white, sweat forming on his upper lip. “The Seeker,” he said, to no in particular. His words seemed to paralyze the others and they all stood looking up at the ceiling, as though it might reveal the proper course of action.

“We have to get you out of here,” De Vroes said, breaking the reverie.

“There’s no time,” Osahi said, his composure returning with a shake of his head. “We’ll have to make a stand here.” He turned to me. “How many men were with him?” When I did not answer immediately he grew furious, stomping across the room to loom over where I slumped in the chair. “Answer me. Your life is forfeit here as well. How many men were there?”

“Two,” I managed to say, my voice the barest of whispers.

Osahi nodded, his eyes distant, as though he were performing some sort of calculation. “Come on,” he said, heading for the door and punching in the code. De Vroes followed on his heels and the two assistants grasped me by the shoulders to carry me out.

“Leave him,” De Vroes said. “He’s not going anywhere, and the Seeker may not know he’s here yet.”

They dropped me back onto the chair and hurried after Osahi and De Vroes, sealing the door behind them. The pulse of the alarm seemed to recede, though I knew the volume had not changed. I was simply less present, my jumbled thoughts and memories surging over my consciousness again. I seemed to be both floating and sinking into the chair simultaneously, inhabiting two distinct states of being in the same instant.

The panic I knew I should have been feeling at the news that the Seeker was here failed to arrive. It seemed a distant concern, as opposed to a particularly sharp memory of a sunlit walk down East Main Street toward downtown. I passed by a small bar called the Whip and, at a whim, stopped to have a beer. I sat on the patio watching the passersby, the girls in sun dresses, the hours slipping away.

The cessation of the alarm, and the ominous silence that followed, returned me to my present self, and I realized that I needed to escape this room, that now was my opportunity. It surprised me that they had left me unattended. The Seeker had to be here for me after all, in spite of what De Vroes had said.

This room, though, I remembered something about this room. The plastic sheeting walls and ceiling and floors, they were shields against the Seeker. The room from my audience with the Grand Regent had been the same. He could not track me so long as I remained here, but that mattered little now that he had found this building. Eventually he and the Black Robes would find their way into this room, it seemed to me. And if they did not. Well, it was not as though I wanted to remain the prisoner of the High Regent.

I tried to force myself to stand up, to no avail, my body would not respond. It seemed to take a force of will even to blink or breathe. What had they done to me?

Outside the door I could hear loud voices, sounding dim through the walls, and I ceased all my attempts to get up, my face going flush at the thought of being discovered trying to flee. Perhaps it was better to remain where I was for the moment, I told myself. But the woman had shown me the code. My thoughts were sluggish, piecing things together in agonizing slow motion. This might be the distraction she had intended me to take advantage of.

As my mind warred at itself, one thought compelling me to rise, the next to remain inert, further shouts and some muffled crashes reached my ears. The origin of these noises was unclear to me, but I thought it unlikely that it was coming from directly outside the door. I imagined a battle between Osahi, and his followers, and the Seeker, and his black robed minions, taking place from room to room above me, until one side lay vanquished, their blood staining the floors. I wondered what weapons they might be using and could not remember. Swords, revolvers. There was a blank where the thought should be.

The gap troubled me for some reason and, as I worried at it, another flash of memory blinded me. I saw myself walking down a narrow corridor, one I had traversed endless times. The building it was located in would not come to me, but I knew it was a massive and forbidding structure. A mansion or a palace. Why I was there and where I was going—those details were absent, all context stripped from the memory, leaving only this precious shard. The smell of the place, a hint of lavender and ostentation, was heavy on my nostrils now. The feel of the carpet beneath my feet and the cool recycled air were palpable to me, left here in this hot, miserable place.

As I walked down the corridor I encountered someone—a woman, whose face was obscured somehow. I blinked, trying to bring her into focus, to no avail. We embraced, a lover’s embrace, passion and desire coursing through me. But not her. I could feel her distance from me, and I understood—this was the exact moment of my revelation—that she would betray me. As we disentangled from each others arms, I looked into her eyes to see if her treachery was visible there. But her face was emotionless, masked with an expression I knew only too well, for the obscurity of memory had dissolved, and it was Meredith staring back at me.

——–

This is the fifteenth part of The Forgotten, a science fiction thriller. A new section will be published here every Thursday.

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The Forgotten (Part Two: The Church of the Regents)

I felt adrift, unmoored from all sense of myself, awake one moment and unconscious the next, unable to distinguish between the two. De Vroes appeared from time to time to check on my vitals and to administer further drugs, plunging me further into this disorienting sea of darkness. There were storm is the distant murk, filled with vague flashes of light, creeping across the periphery of my vision. The lights were blue and green, edged with gold, shaped into a line of thin circles with frayed edges, that went bright and dim and bright again. They were above and then below, always on the very edge of my vision, no matter how I strained to catch a clear glimpse. Within the circles of light I was certain I could see images and details, but no matter how hard I tried they would not come into focus.

I lapsed into a deeper reverie, and awoke sometime later to find myself alone still strapped to the table. My body ached from being constrained in one position for so long, but it was a dull pain, distant from my other sensations. I could not seem to feel the table or see the room properly, it was as though I was floating in another dimension only tenuously connected to this one.

The woman stood over me, though I had not noticed her enter the room. Perhaps she had been there all along. Her face seemed more familiar now; I knew that I had seen her somewhere before, though I could not yet place where. The memory was so tantalizingly near I could almost feel it, as if the thought had gained substance. She leaned in so that her face almost brushed against mine and I could feel her breath upon my lips, as her eyes sought my depths.

“What do you remember?” she whispered.

It was not a demand, as Osahi and De Vroes’ questions had been, it was an entreaty and I felt compelled to answer. I tried to summon my thoughts, to command my memories forth from the void where they had been imprisoned. The void remained, a place of darkness, empty and showing no signs of anything being hidden there. Just as I began to despair and to stutter forth a reply to her question, the lights became visible again at the bottom corner of my eye, growing brighter and larger, until they burst forth at the center of my vision, unfurling like a flower going into bloom. They took form and shape and became memories, thoughts, my being, all of myself returning at once in a blinding torrent. It was so fast, such an assault that I found myself gasping for breath.

“What do you remember?” she said again, putting her hand on mine to calm me.

Everything, I wanted to say to her, but was unable to. There were multitudes within me, bursting to life, with the promise of more to come, but there was no sense to it, no coherence. An image here, a scrap of conversation there, familiar faces without names. It was all too much, I did not have the means to process it at once. The woman squeezed my hand and said, “It will come.”

“I know who I am,” I said, finding my voice at last, for I had seen myself in amidst all the other recollections and at last my self-image had footing.

“Yes,” she said. “Who are you?”

“David Aeida,” I said with conviction. “I am David Aeida, sub-Regent of the Watcher’s Order.”

“It will come,” she said and smiled, releasing my hand. I closed my eyes, trembling, tears threatening to burst forth. It felt so good, was a relief beyond measure, to know with a certainty who I was. The feeling of dislocation, of not being myself, of my face and thoughts all being false, had gone, replaced by this sort of jagged madness. But as the woman said, it would come, the pieces would find their proper order.

I tried to speak, wanting to express my thanks to her, for helping, even as I wondered why she was and why I trusted her so absolutely. I knew her, that was why, though I could not recall her name or how our paths had crossed. That did not explain my trust though, for she was here, in league with subversives, intent on thwarting the Grand Regent. I wrestled with my mind, trying to find some memory, however slender that would shed light on this apparent contradiction, but none was forthcoming.

As I opened my mouth to talk, she put a finger to her lips and gave a shake of her head, nodding to the ceiling, suggesting we were being monitored. She leaned in close, as though to give me a kiss on the cheek, and whispered in my ear, “Remember.”

As she said it she glanced toward the door and then walked over to it. My eyes followed her and I watched as she stepped aside, giving me a clear view of the keypad, and typed in the code. The door hissed open and she walked out, at the same time as De Vroes walked in, the two of them sharing a barely acknowledge glance. De Vroes turned and watched the door shut, ensuring that it was locked, wanting to be certain she was gone before proceeding.

“You’re awake I see,” he said, turning his attention to me. I tried to speak, but my mouth was dry and my tongue heavy, and when I tried to talk my words were slurred and garbled. De Vroes paid no attention to me, turning to the counter, filling a needle with another of his elixirs. He peered into my eyes as he injected me and said, as I began to blink and drift into that unsteady darkness, “What do you remember?”

 

——–

This is the fourteenth part of The Forgotten, a science fiction thriller. A new section will be published here every Thursday.

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The Forgotten (Part Two: The Church of the Regents)

His name, he told me, was De Vroes, though I doubted that was the truth. He had begun with questions which, when my answers proved unsatisfactory, led to him calling in his companions from the van. They held me down on the operating table, strapping me in, while he injected me with a blue serum. I could feel its effects immediately, a tightening of my muscles and a loss of equilibrium, so that at various times I felt as though I was standing and about to fall down, others as though I was floating above the table where I lay. De Vroes peered into my pupils to assure himself the drug was working and proceeded to ask me the same questions again.

I do not know what I said in reply. I babbled and muttered, raved like a lunatic, spoke endless untruths. This perplexed De Vroes and the other two to no end. They injected me again, with no change in my answers, and did various readings of my body’s responses, which only left them more confused. I was as baffled as they were, for I had lost all command of my faculties. My awareness was shuttled aside by another, and I was forced to watch as something within me spoke things that were not in my own thoughts.

De Vroes came to same conclusion, having exhausted his patience with his questioning. “There are two possibilities,” he said to the others, “He is a Mask, or he has been made not to know.”

“Why would they strip his mind?” the woman said.

“Intriguing isn’t it?” De Vroes said. “We will find out soon enough.”

They all left the room, leaving me strapped to the operating table, the effects of the drug slowly dissipating, my mind gradually returning to me. As I lay there, trying not to dwell on what might happen to me upon their return, my thoughts turned to my newfound ability to speak this strange language, a language from another universe. I had spoken it with ease, even my unintelligible ravings had largely been in that unfamiliar tongue, and now I found my thoughts were being formed in it, English slowly receding to the background.

Was this, I wondered, a sign that my memory was returning? It seemed clear that it must be, yet no other memories came with the return of, what I assumed to be, my native tongue. But was it? De Vroes had said I showed no sign of having crossed over from whatever universe they came from, but Meredith had said that we had come here together. Who to trust? De Vroes and the Regent Dick had plainly been surprised to discover that I was native to this world and had no reason I could discern to lie about it, so it seemed obvious that Meredith had led me astray.

Something had been done to me, that much seemed clear. My ravings suggested a defense mechanism, put in place to guard whatever lay below it in my mind. Add to that my multiple amnesias and the constant sense I had of dislocation from this body. It was not my own. The thought left in despair and I pushed it aside. Some disconnect had been created within me and I had to find out what it was and who had done it. It seemed an impossible task.

De Vroes and the two others returned while I was in the midst of these thoughts. The woman, who had been present during the procedure, and who I had begun to suspect was a hallucination, was with them as well, though I hardly noticed her. My attention was on the black orb that entered with them, floating beside De Vroes, near his shoulder. As it came closer I saw that it was not black, but rather the same deep violet color of the Seeker’s eyes, absorbing, not reflecting, the light. The orb was making a sound like a rasping breath being drawn in and out, a being in its last moments. Like myself. I began to struggle against my bonds.

De Vroes set up a screen on the counter, angling it so I could not see, and tapped away on it, glancing from time to time at the orb. His two assistants set to work on the table, cranking it until it stood almost perpendicular to the floor and the orb descended to my eye level. I turned away from it, wincing at the thing’s breathing. Was it somehow alive? The woman gave me a grim smile, as she checked my bonds and told De Vroes all was ready. The other woman had gone to stand in the corner where I could not see her. I felt her presence behind me though, it was palpable, her watchful eyes taking in the whole scene, her silence weighing on the shoulders of the three who busied themselves in their preparations.

When everything was set up to De Vroes’ satisfaction he turned his attention to me, standing behind the orb where had a clear view of the screen, motioning for his assistants to stand on either side of the table. He began to ask me the same questions as before and I answered them as I had when the Regent Dick had been asking them, with a mixture of truth and evasion. I really did know nothing about the Church of the Regent and the Grand Regent, presumably its leader. Nor did I know anything about the Society of Travelers or Seekers or any of the rest, beyond what Meredith had told me, and I did not trust anything she had said.

This time De Vroes paid little mind to what I said. When he asked me—“What is your involvement in the Watcher’s Order?”—he did not even look at me as I told him I had never heard of such a thing, his eyes intent on the screen. What did I know of the purge of the High Regents and what had my involvement been in it?

“How could I be involved in something over there if I’ve never left here?” I said to De Vroes, who did not even bother to acknowledge my question, continuing to ask me more specifics about the Watcher’s Order and whether my attempted return was somehow involved in its machinations.

“What is your purpose here?” he said again, having gone through all the questions he had asked before.

“To live and die like anyone else.”

He pursed his lips as he studied the screen, glancing up at his subordinates to say, “Get Osahi. He will want to see this.”

The man left and returned a moment later with the Regent Dick, still resplendent in his suit. “What have you found?” he said, as he entered the room.

“He’s been scraped. He really does remember nothing.”

Osahi nodded, putting a finger to his chin. “Could it be a tamp?”

“It’s possible,” De Vroes said. “We’d need to go in. See what we can find.”

I looked from one man to the other, feeling very much like a frog about to be dissected. They paid no attention to me, Osahi taking a moment to study the readout on the screen De Vroes had set up. I thought I could sense the woman behind me, leaning forward from her corner to ensure she did not miss a single nuance of what was said.

“Do it,” Osahi said, glancing up from the monitor.

“There’s a risk. We may lose him in the procedure.”

I felt lightheaded as Osahi considered this. “No. We need to know what he knew and why they tried to bring him over. How soon can you begin?”

“Within the hour.”

“Good,” Osahi said, turning to leave the room. “Complete the procedure as soon as you can. I fear that we don’t have much time.”

“You think they will find us? There was only one woman with him.”

“Something went wrong clearly, but the more time we give them, the more time they will have to counter us. Whatever this man knows, it is important. The Grand Regent will respond with all the resources at his disposal. I do not need to remind you how considerable those are, or how meager our own are.”

“No,” De Vroes said. “I will start within the hour and we will be done in three, four at the most.”

“Good,” Osahi said. He punched in the code to open the door and paused for a moment on the threshold.

“I cannot be discovered here or all is lost,” he said, looking from face to face in the room before stepping outside, the door hissing shut behind him. There was a long pause as De Vroes and his two assistants stared at the door, the weight of the moment clear on their faces.

De Vroes turned to look at me and said, “Let’s begin.”

——–

This is the thirteenth part of The Forgotten, a science fiction thriller. A new section will be published here every Thursday.

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The Forgotten (Part Two: The Church of the Regents)

At some point I drifted from consciousness and when I awoke I had been released from the chair and my clothes returned to me. I was alone in the room, curled uncomfortably in the corner, as far from the operating table and counter as possible. The room was dark, but when I sat up, trying to work the kinks from my neck, the lights clicked on. The lower part of my back was still in agony from the injection I had received, pain radiating from it at the slightest motion on my part.

I ignored it as best I could, forcing myself up onto my unsteady feet so that I could investigate my surroundings. I went to the door first, confirming it was locked, and studied the keypad, quickly realizing I had no hope of figuring out the code. Instead I turned my attention to the counter where I saw several needles of various sizes and a machine, not unlike centrifuge, filled with empty vials. A screen was connected to it, providing a readout of some sort, but I could make sense of none of the numbers or measures.

As I squinted at the machine, trying to get a better sense of what it did, the door hissed open and the doctor entered, along with another man. Though his features were unfamiliar I had a very strong sense that this was the stranger who had been present while the doctor performed his procedure. I was disappointed that the woman was not with them, for she was the one who I wanted to speak with. The doctor sealed the door and they both approached me warily, unsure of what to expect.

“David? That is your name?” the stranger said to me and I nodded. “Good. We have some questions for you.”

“And why would I answer them?” I said, throwing my head up in what I hoped was a gesture of defiance.

“I think you’ll find your stay here more pleasant if you do.”

I shrugged as if I could care less. Unlike the doctor, who was dressed more or less as I was, the stranger wore a powder blue suit that put me in mind of a grandee at some eighteenth century court, ostentatious and encumbering. It appeared to me to be a uniform, clearly signaling his position to all who laid eyes on it, though I had no idea what authority it represented. Clearly he expected me to be familiar with it, judging by his manner.

“And what do I call you?” I said.

“My name is not important,” he said with a smile.

“Dick it is,” I said in reply, surprising myself and him.

“Very funny,” he said. “Are we through with the juvenile games?”

“When I am, you’ll be the first person I let know, Dick.” I had no idea where this bravado was coming from, for I felt none of it.

He looked at me grimly. “I am not a patient man, so I will ask you these questions only once and I expect helpful answers. You are from this universe and you have never left it?”

“To the best of my knowledge,” I said with a smile.

The man glanced at the doctor who said, “It’s like I said. The results were very clear. His spinal fluid has none of the markers from a crossing.”

“What is your involvement in the Church of Regents?” the man said, turning his attention back to me.

“First I’ve heard of it, Dick.” I said.

He smiled thinly. “I find that doubtful, given that we saw you in the company of one of their agents.”

“It’s the truth. Besides, you don’t even know who I was with.”

This seemed to take him by surprise and he glanced at the doctor, who said, “I saw her in the market.”

“Probably,” I said, smiling at them both. “But you don’t know who she is. Just like you don’t know who I am. And I have no idea what you’re talking about. I’m clearly not what you expected, so maybe you’ve got the wrong man.”

The man laughed, though there was no mirth in the sound. “Yes, the Seeker just happens to be following the two of you wherever you go. What a marvelous coincidence. Do you really think you are the only ones with Society contacts? We know who has crossed over to this side. We know you tried to cross over there. And you speak the language of the Church. Do you take us for fools? The Grand Regent has badly overestimated us, just as he has greatly overestimated his own importance to the True Faith.”

I shrugged my shoulders, looking past the two of them. The situation was growing more absurd by the moment. I was answering the man’s questions as truthfully as I could, but my honesty could only sound evasive to them. I was not about to admit that I had no memory of who I was or what had happened, though they might get it out of me eventually if they were as willing and persistent as they let on. It all depended on how valuable I was to them. Given there were two groups—that I was aware of—along with whoever Meredith was allied with, who wanted me in their possession, I decided I was valuable enough they wouldn’t try anything too extreme.

“Sounds like just the sort of thing a heretic would say, Dick,” I said to him.

I could sense him trying to choke back his fury, but it was not to be contained. “I did not cross over here, at considerable risk to my person and my standing, with the damn Society willing to burn the very ground we stand on, to be insulted by the likes of you. You are exactly what is wrong with the Church. The Grand Regent may only value loyalty and servility, but I work for a higher calling.”

He was out of breath by the time he finished and he did not wait for a reply, storming from the room, ordering the doctor to see that I provided some answers as he went. As soon as we were alone the doctor smiled and said, “You should have been more compliant with the High Regent. He is not used to dirtying his hands. I am though. So let us begin.”

——–

This is the twelfth part of The Forgotten, a science fiction thriller. A new section will be published here every Thursday.

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