Chapter 8: The Conversation
Chapter 8: The Conversation
Collins revived to find his legs and arms bound to a chair, facing a man at the old desk.
“My name is Randall. I needed to talk to you in private. First, I want to apologize for the inconvenience we have caused you.”
Detective Collins rubbed at his neck. “Inconvenience? You are an asshole.”
Randall spoke slowly, deliberatively, “I meant you plural, not Thou. I meant about the incidences across the City. I know you have been looking into them.”
“Are you one of them?”
“The warm dead… yes”
Collins did not expect a direct answer. He was relieved that he wasn’t imagining the whole thing, but shocked nonetheless. He mustered, “You look like anyone else. How would I be able to tell?”
Randall stood up from the desk, turned his back on Collins, and fiercely punched the glass display window of the bookshelf, cutting his hands severely. He turned sideways to look at Collins.
Collins gave him shrug, indicating he was not too impressed. He has seen many men break windows in his day.
Randall fumbled around the shelf of old nick knacks, grabbing a NY Yankees bobble head, setting it on the desk between them. He slammed his hand down on the toy, sending ceramic shards across the room. He then patiently began to pull the metal spring from his flesh and tossed it aside. “We are not any stronger than you, but we can divert pain.”
Collins was both scared and confused, as he could see it was a demonstration, not a threat. Presently, Randall’s blood was gushing from his hand. Collins noticed his shirt was slowly wetting from the gut. So, he did get a shot in. The blood dripped steadily onto the hardwood floor, forming a puddle.
The blood seemed to sizzle and glow as it evaporated.
Randall looked down, examining his own hand, “Gee… I had never thought what would happen if… I suppose it makes sense.”
Collins gathered his thoughts, trying to decide what to say next. “I had hoped, of course, that the dead would be wiser than us.”
“How do you mean? ... in any event, we are not dead. A new species, perhaps…” Randall gripped the desk, suddenly weary, and sat down in the swivel chair.
“What are you saying? Do you have some new superpowers? I don’t see vandalism, whoring, and bar fights as the acts of Gods.”
“They are acts, though. These are basic human needs. To experience life. It is what we are denied in the tanks. We have acquired the ability to visit, in our former selves.”
“But you are parasitic. We feed you through the tanks, refrigerators, electricity, rent, etc. You don’t contribute to society, nor are your ruled by it.”
“We paid in advance: full price for our long retirement.”
“But, now you indulge yourselves with us. We are not your toys for amusement.”
Randall paused, leaned forward in earnest, and offered what sounded like a rehearsed lecture: “We have put much thought to this. The Greeks defined animals as “animated life”. Movement and action distinguishes us from plants. We were not meant to be in this state. We realized that interaction with the outside world is a kind of human right – or necessity for sanity.”
“So, we are just supposed to let you wander the streets, do as you please, with no consequences?”
“Yes, from your perspective, I guess it seems that way. I think some of them are just acting out. This is new to us. They have been trapped in those tanks for 3 years. The boys in Chinatown – they are in their Seventies. I think they just yearned to be boys again, like they once were. But, we have disciplined our members who transgress, and it is quite effective.”
“Oh, yeah? What did you do to Mr. Haugo?”
“Well, you must admit: It was harmless. We think he was actually trying to commit suicide. We are discussing the episode with him.”
“What if he had injured someone? What would you do then?”
“We are working on that. You may not believe me, but it is still early days for us. I learned how to cross the membrane only a few months ago. This is only my third visit. Normally, we are only conscious a few hours of your day, and traveling takes a lot out of you. There is a point where it pulls at you and drags you back…”
“You have not answered the question.”
“They are temporarily cut off from The Bridge, socially ostracized, if you will.”
“And you think this is sufficient?”
“You have no conception of what isolation is like. The torment of isolation is unbearable, driving you to madness, then suicide. You know what happened in Phase One. Deprived of sensory input, social interaction, we will die.”
Collins noted, “Yes. Dr. Fenster told me. As I understand it, this amounts to deliberate torture.”
“Not exactly. When somebody engages in outrageous behavior, commits disgusting acts, or is even just an asshole, how much time do you have for him? No one is required to engage in a conversation. What do you say to the crazy man on the subway? If you’re smart, nothing. One subject had committed terrible acts in life. The more we talked to him, the more we were repelled. He seemed wholly unrepentant. He had grievances with nearly everyone he knew in life. Miserable.”
“So, you sentenced him to death? You banished him?”
“It would seem. It was not our intent.”
Collins gulped. He thought perhaps Randall was a sociopath. He thought of some of the connected cases in his files. None deserved a death sentence, but how can he trust the word of one man… or whatever he might have become.
“So, what are you going to do with me?”
“I am seeking your help, or at least your understanding and protection. We have to remain invisible … for now.”
Collins only beginning to understand. It was one thing to speculate on consciousness with Dr. Fenster and his experiments, but to talk to an apparition? The implications went much farther than his rusty Jesuit education could stretch. This man/thing was negotiating. He was pleading. Collins rubbed his face, stalling for time to think. His head and neck hurt. What do they know? Have they been watching me somehow? … And, he was terrified. They think all day long, I am going to lose any rational argument. If I don’t act convinced, he will probably kill me.
He mustered his courage and gambled, “Unlike you, I do not fear death. I look for the life to come. You have not crossed over. You are an abomination. God doesn’t want this. And if They knew, they would be repulsed. They would rightly feel violated. And they would burn the Institute and its’ archive in a heartbeat.”
“Yes, yes, we know all this. It is why we keep our great secret. We are people like you. We know what would happen, how we would feel in your situation.”
“What about Dr. Fenster? Does he know?”
“Victor? I am sure he suspects now, thanks to you. He is unpredictable. We all knew him in life. We cannot risk exposure. We are still getting organized. He didn’t tell you the full story about Phase 1 did he?”
“I understand that the brains in isolation were going mad, and he euthanized the rest.”
“Well, that is mostly true, but nothing about his part in it?”
“In Phase 2, that sick bastard had hooked up their optic nerves. The flood of visual information: of the lab, our desperate situation… it was too much for them to bear. It accelerated the madness. In the end, I don’t think there were that many brains left to euthanize.”
Collins was lost in thought, trying to imagine what this “life” might be like.
“I am recruiting you. Our lives are in your hands. I want you to understand. Help me, and I will help you police them. Victor or you could pull the plug on us at any time. We want to coexist.”
Randall was now pleading, “Please… will you promise me to keep this to yourself? Just for now. I must go. I can feel the pull. Sorry about your phone, but when you get back, check your bank account. I will return when I can… probably in two days. It is very exhausting to visit.”
Collins just nodded, mumbling, “Who would I tell?”
Randall got up, walked over to gaze directly into Collins eyes, to gauge murderous intent. Then he casually stepped behind him and cut the rope binding Collins’ hands. He ducked behind him into the hall, Collins caught another flash of light reflected in the window, and Randall was gone. Collins let out a huge breath of air. His heart was pounding in panic. He had to get out of here, somewhere public. He untied his legs, rose, stretched, and quickly cased the abandoned office. On the bookshelf, he noticed a few places where books did not have dust. He pulled one out and spied a simple cell phone. He slipped it in his jacket pocket and bolted for the door.