Regression (Short story)
“Ellie!” Julian called as loud as he dared, struggling to keep up with the dark-haired girl as she made her way through the stations busy shopping centre, an air of determination about her as she strode. “Will you please slow down? We have to talk about this.” It wasn’t the first time she’d had an absurd idea, in fact ridiculous ideas were her speciality. Over the years he’d lost count of the amount of times he’d regretted asking her what she was planning, knowing the mischievous glimmer in her bright eyes well, but this wasn’t like the others; this foolish idea could get her into a lot of trouble, and he couldn’t even bear to think of the penalty she’d have to pay should she be caught. “Ellie, please just stop and think about what you’re doing?”
“I’ve been thinking about this for months,” Ellie replied once Julian had finally caught up with her, holding her head high and walking with purpose. “The time for thinking is over. I know what I’m doing.”
Julian wished he could believe her, but regression was a tricky process and illegal for a reason. It had a tendency of driving people to madness, twisting their minds and leaving them a shivering wreck of the person that they used to be. Anybody found practicing it was found guilty and sentenced to death with immediate effect, and the penalty for those seeking out regression sessions consisted of a trial that usually ended with a long jail term. Ellie, as intelligent as she was, had a habit of setting her mind on things and seeing them through to the bitter end, but she had never suggested anything this extreme before. “I don’t think anybody knows what they’re really doing when they decide to do something like this,” he said, keeping his voice down and peering around cautiously. Even speaking about such matters was forbidden, and the last thing he wanted was to be overheard and reported to the authorities. “Do you think Commander Aldon will let you off because he’s your uncle? Ellie, if you’re caught, they’ll throw you in jail. Not to mention the risks involved in actually getting regressed. You could lose your mind!”
Ellie stopped in her tracks, knowing that Julian would never approve of the idea no matter what she said to convince him. He was the more sensible of the two, reliable and cautious at all times, so it was only natural for him to attempt to talk her out of the regression, not that it would make any sort of difference to her decision; her mind was set, and that was that.
“You could be the next commander of this ship,” Julian reminded her, taking her to one side and hoping to talk some sense into her. “Your uncle has named you as his successor; you’ll be in training next year. Are you really going to endanger that chance simply because of curiosity?”
“It’s not just curiosity, Julian” Ellie reasoned, trying to get him to understand why she wanted to do something so drastic. “I want to know, once and for all, if Earth really existed. I refuse to believe that it’s just a story.”
“And you want to get confirmation through regression? You don’t think that research will cover it?”
Ellie shook her head stubbornly, her mind completely set on the matter and determination driving her forwards. “Think about it; if we really did come from Earth, we’ll all have past lives there. Books on the theory of the planet aren’t enough, we need conclusive proof.”
“But what are you going to do if you find out that Earth really existed?” Julian questioned, crossing his arms over his chest and leaning against the booth that they were hiding behind. “What difference does it make out here?”
“It makes all the difference. If Earth was real, it may still be there, just waiting for us to come home. Aren’t you sick of seeing glass and metal? Don’t you want to see a real tree, like the ones in the story books, not ones made of steel and wire?” She sighed, not expecting him to understand what it was like to have believed in something for so long, but she had every faith that the blue and green planet in the books was real, and she was going to prove it one way or another. “I believe in Earth, Julian. It’s more than just a story, I’m certain of it.”
Julian opened his mouth to
reply, but swiftly shut it again when he realised that he didn’t quite know
what to say. It was clear to him that determination was driving her, and it was
more than just a personal need to discover the truth about Earth; to her it was
a necessity, a duty that she had set for herself. “What makes you so certain?”
he inquired, raising an eyebrow.
“I don’t know,” Ellie admitted, shrugging her shoulders. “Call it a gut instinct. You work with facts, and logic, and things that you can see before your eyes. I don’t expect you to understand.”
“I understand gut instinct better than you think,” Julian replied without hesitation, “but this is not the way to go about it.”
“If Earth is still there, then why did we leave?” Ellie questioned, persistent in her task. She didn’t expect him to agree with what she was doing, but she hoped he’d understand at least. “What are we even doing here on this stupid ship, with no hope, no real home, and no real purpose?”
“We do have a purpose-”
“No we don’t! We’re just floating through space, we’re not doing anything!” Ellie knew she had to calm down, the tears lining her eyes and an agitation within her growing fast. She was sick of being lied to, of being treated as if she knew nothing. It was because of the years of dishonesty, especially from her uncle, who she was convinced knew something of the truth, that she’d quickly learnt to detect when someone was lying to her. There was nothing worse than having someone she trusted, someone who should trust her, lie to her face, over and over again as if she wasn’t worthy of the truth. “I’m going to find out one way or another, and nothing and no one is going to stop me. No more lies.” As she turned to leave she felt a gentle hand catch her wrist, and at first she thought that Julian was going to desperately attempt to prevent her from going by whatever means he could, but when she rounded on him she saw the soft look in his eyes, and couldn’t remain annoyed for long.
“Do you remember the promise we made, just a few months after we met?” he asked, his voice tender and a small smile playing on his lips.
Ellie nodded, remembering the promise as if it were made only yesterday. It wasn’t something that she was likely to forget in a hurry, the sweet words etched onto her heart for all eternity. “Yes, I do, but we’ve grown since then. I’m not going to hold you to that.”
“Well I am, and I’ll be damned if I’m going to go back on that promise now,” Julian told her resolutely, the conviction in his voice plain to hear. “If I can’t talk you out of it, then I’d be a pretty lousy friend if I let you do this alone.” His smile grew, though he couldn’t deny that he was worried. If they were lucky enough to go undetected by the authorities, Ellie could still lose her mind to the regression, and that was the last thing he wanted to have to witness. “Elara Aldon, I may not agree with what you’re planning on doing, but I value our friendship much more than that. If we’re going to get arrested, we may as well get arrested together. Maybe they’ll give us adjoining cells.”
“I thought you were supposed to be the sensible one,” Ellie said playfully, raising her eyebrows at him, but she was touched to have such unwavering support in what was likely to be a very difficult time ahead of her.
“What is sensibility against the value of true friendship?” Julian replied sweetly.
Ellie was rendered speechless for a moment, but her smile grew, stretching from ear to ear. For a moment she couldn’t quite believe what she was hearing; Julian, sensible Julian, who had always been logical and practical about every detail in his life, was willingly throwing away eighteen years of sensibility to aid her in her endeavour, and in that one gesture, in those nine simple words, she heard a lifetime of support, love, and loyalty. Unsure of what to say in reply to such kindness, she threw her arms around him and embraced him tightly, letting him lift her off her feet.
“Just promise me something,” Julian said, hugging her in return and chuckling, before returning her to the ground.
“For the sake of my sanity, and more than that yours, try not to lose your mind. A jail sentence I could probably handle, but seeing you lose your mind would break my heart.”
Ellie drew back and nodded as seriously as she could manage. She had no intention of being turned into a shivering wreck, but even the most strong-minded of people had been known to succumb to the powerful effects of the regression machines, their minds turned to mush and any hopes for their future lost in the blink of an eye. “I, Elara Aldon, firstborn daughter of Edver Aldon and future commander of this ship, swear that I will try my very best not to lose my mind.” She could see that her light-hearted attempt at humour in such a tense situation hadn’t worked as well as she’d hoped, but it was all she could do. She couldn’t promise something she couldn’t foresee, but she could at least vow to try. “Now, shall we unlock the mysteries of the past?” she said, holding out her hand and wiggling her fingers.
Without another word being spoken, Julian took her hand tightly and let her lead the way, trusting that she knew where she was going. He was led through the winding streets of the ship and to the more notorious parts of their station, passing the most unsavoury of characters and strangest of places, but so long as he kept his head down and didn’t stop walking, they’d cause no trouble for him.
“It’s just here,” Ellie said, stopping before a rusting metal door and knocking twice. The hatch at the top slid open and a pair of dark, narrowed eyes peered through the small gap, regarding the pair suspiciously.
“Who are you?” the guardsman demanded. “What do you want?”
“I’m Ellie Aldon. I have an appointment with Doctor Bremson.” The hatch slammed shut, and bolts and locks clicking open sounded in the grim alleyway. Moments later the door swung open and a tall man glared down at the two on the doorstep, his expression menacing but it wasn’t scaring Ellie in the slightest.
“You’re late,” the man informed her as he let them pass, peering out into the passageway before shutting the door and securing it in place once they were both inside. “Doctor Bremson is waiting for you in room four.” He gave a half-hearted wave towards the corridor that lay behind the glass doors and slumped back down into his chair, swinging aimlessly back on it as he retrieved his newspaper from the table and returned to the article he’d been reading before he’d been so rudely interrupted.
Ellie considered the man for a moment longer before she headed towards the offices at the back of the small building, counting each door that she passed and halting before the fourth. The sign on the polished metal read: Doctor Jennifer Bremson. Regression Therapist. She could feel Julian’s eyes on her, and with one last reassuring glance she knocked on the door, waiting for permission to enter before stepping into the room.
“Miss Aldon,” Doctor Bremson said with a jolly smile, holding her hand out as she stood to greet her next patient. “I wondered when you were going to arrive.” It was at that moment that she noticed the boy of average height stood close to Ellie, staring nervously at the sparkling clean room and odd apparatus. “Who is this?”
“This is Julian,” Ellie replied, as Doctor Bremson shook her friend’s hand.
“It’s a pleasure to meet you Julian. I suppose you’re here for support?” All Doctor Bremson got in reply was a weak nod, but she wasn’t expecting much from the brown-haired boy. He was clearly terrified, and so any sort of verbal response was looking unlikely. “Well then, shall we get started?”
It took some time for the equipment to be set up, and safety procedures gone over, but once everything was in place various wires were attached to Ellie and the parts they’d play in the regression were explained thoroughly.
Julian observed as new pieces of information filtered onto the surrounding screens, wondering how she could remain so calm. He could feel himself shaking already, and yet Ellie seemed completely at ease, laughing with Doctor Bremson as the last of the wires was stuck to the sides of her head.
“Right,” Doctor Bremson
said, sitting herself down by the computer and typing in the first of the
commands to boot the system up. “You may feel a short, sharp pain towards the
beginning, but that’s just the system unlocking certain parts of your memory so
that I can trace it all back properly. After that you won’t feel a thing, I
Ellie nodded, settling herself back in the seat and taking in deep, steady breaths. Doctor Bremson had explained to her that it was much easier to be regressed if she was calm and relaxed, but if anything she was eager to unlock the mysteries that lay behind her, and so that prevented any concern and worry from occupying her mind. Out of the corner of her eye she noticed Julian reach towards her, his hand taking hers in support. It was a sweet gesture, and one that she appreciated.
“You may not want to do that,” Doctor Bremson advised. “Not unless you want to be electrocuted.” She gave the boy an apologetic glance, watching as he drew his hand back and let out a nervous breath.
“Just remember what I said,” Julian told Ellie. “Don’t lose your mind.”
“I wouldn’t worry about that, Julian,” Doctor Bremson assured him, throwing him a quick smile just to reassure him that she wouldn’t let anything happen to Ellie on her watch. “I’ll keep everything controlled from here. You can come and see if you want.” Jennifer shifted over so that he could join her on the bench, the boy gazing across the screen, his eyebrows narrowed in bewilderment. “Do you see this?” She gestured to the corner of the screen, tapping it a few times with her finger. “These readings are directly from Ellie’s brain. Should something go wrong, we’ll know about it the instant it happens and shut the system down before any lasting damage is done.”
“But what about those who lose their minds to the regression machines?” Julian queried, recalling the frightening stories he’d heard of those who hadn’t made it through the sessions intact and now required constant medical care.
“You’ll find that those who conducted the sessions weren’t actually qualified. Luckily, Ellie found me, and I assure you I’m qualified to perform this sort of thing.” From the top drawer of the desk, Jennifer retrieved multiple files, handing them over to him. “All of my qualifications are in there. Take a look if you want.”
Julian flicked through the extensive collection that Doctor Bremson had gathered over the years, one catching his eye and sparking his curiosity. “You used to be a surgeon?”
“Yes,” Jennifer said with
a small chuckle. “It was a long time ago now, but there are some things that a
surgeon is required to do, things that I found to be inhumane, and so I left.”
“What sort of things?” Julian asked, but Doctor Bremson wouldn’t reply, only giving him a sad smile before returning her attention to her current work.
“Let’s get this machine up and running shall we.” Jennifer flicked each switch on the surface by the side of the computer, monitoring the reports on the screen after activating each one. “Are you ready, Ellie?” she asked, her hand hovering over the final switch as she glanced over her shoulder to check on the girl.
“As I’ll ever be,” Ellie replied confidently. The last thing she heard before the searing pain took over her mind was the click of the final switch, and then everything changed.
Julian rushed forwards at the sudden scream Ellie gave, but he was swiftly dragged back to his seat by Doctor Bremson, her grasp surprising strong for a person of her age.
“If you want to make yourself useful, keep an eye on her brain activity,” she told him. “If it changes, let me know.” At first Jennifer didn’t know whether the boy was going to agree, his eyes fixated on the girl in the seat, but once Ellie was settled, the pain seemingly gone, he gave her a nod in reply and agreed to help. “It’s up to her now.”
Ellie writhed as the blazing agony consumed her. Her mind felt like it was on fire, the flames burning away the person she used to be and destroying her from the inside, but once the relevant information had been retrieved the pain died away and she could breathe again. Slowly but surely she began to fall into unconsciousness, the whir of the regression machine singing her to sleep.
Space seemed to spread out before her, billions of years of stars and planets flashing before her eyes before it all came to an abrupt halt. She didn’t know where she was, but all around her were buildings, the likes of which she’d only ever seen in story books. These were made from brick and concrete, reaching up to a great orb that hung in a pale blue sky, a smattering of clouds breaking up the large patches of blue. Vehicles rushed by her on what she imagined was the road, and all around her were people, much like herself. A roar from overhead instantly alerted her, and as her gaze shot up she saw a ship, small in size compared to the one that her uncle commanded, with strange shaped wings. They’re called airplanes, she thought, remembering brief mentions of the air crafts in the stories she’d read as a child. Could this be Earth? She gazed around in wonder, spotting trees, real trees, and so many other wonderful sights that she’d only ever seen in books.
As Ellie stared at her surroundings, drinking in as much as she could, she felt the world draw her away from the busy street and into a grand building on the other side of the town square. At first she feared that she was losing her mind, and that she hadn’t been strong enough, the regression stealing away her sanity, but as she made her way up an elaborate set of stairs and came face to face with a woman, she realised that the regression had been dragging her to her past self, not gnawing at her mind as she’d initially assumed. She didn’t quite know what to say, but she didn’t think that the woman could hear or see her anyway, so it wouldn’t have made any difference whether she did attempt to communicate or not.
“Come on, Lily. We’ll be late.”
The fair-haired woman stood before Ellie turned around, casting her light green eyes on a man waiting impatiently just a few paces behind her and gesturing for her to get a move on.
“Are you all right? You look like you’ve just seen a ghost.”
“I’m fine, Will,” Lily replied with a melodious chuckle, shaking her head and ridding herself of the odd feeling that had washed over her. “I don’t know what came over me.”
“Well, you’d better keep your mind on the task when we get into the conference hall,” Will told her. “It’s only the fate of the whole world we’re dealing with here.”
Ellie followed after the pair, constantly glancing around at the strange place in fascination. She could hardly believe what she was seeing. This world held so much wonder, so much beauty, and yet there was something not quite right, something that she couldn’t quite pinpoint about the place.
“Oh don’t be so dramatic,” Lily sighed, nudging her colleague playfully. “We’ve been through worse than this. Earth won’t fall today.”
It was at that point that Ellie stopped, her suspicions confirmed and her heart beginning to race. She was really there, on Earth, the planet she’d put her faith in and believed in since she was seven years old, but she couldn’t help but wonder what was going on. It seemed to her that there was some kind of crisis, but there was no indication as to what it was that was causing so much concern. As she went to take another step she felt herself being tugged backwards. It was only subtle at first, a gentle pull making her stumble, but as she tried to move further the force dragging her back got stronger and stronger until her vision began to blur, and Earth swiftly faded away.
Ellie woke with a start, but her senses took their time in catching up with her, her hearing the first to return and slowly followed by her sight. She blinked away the blur as a quiet hum rang insistently in her ears.
“Ellie?” Doctor Bremson said, checking her responses as the girl began to stir. “Can you hear me?” She clicked her fingers by her ears, getting a small nod in response.
“I need to go back,” Ellie breathed, the exertion having drained much of her energy but her curiosity was screaming too loud to allow her any form of rest.
“I’m afraid that will have to wait,” Doctor Bremson told her, sitting back down by the computer and beginning to type up the report. “If you spend too much time in the machine your brain will be reduced to mush. Professionals only allow their patients to spend a limited amount of time being regressed as it breaks down part of the brain to get to the past life. You will need sufficient time to recuperate and allow the broken tissue to repair before you can go back.”
“I need to go back now,” Ellie insisted, the importance of the situation clouding her better judgement. “Please.” She knew it was useless even trying; Doctor Bremson wasn’t going to allow her to return until she was certain it was safe for her to do so, and arguing about it wouldn’t get her anywhere. She swung her legs down from the chair, instantly regretting the sudden movement as a wave of dizziness washed over her and made her feel nauseous.
“Did you find anything interesting?” Julian asked as he helped Ellie to her feet and into the consultation chair. She looked weary and in need of urgent rest, the regression having taken its toll on her, but he knew all too well that she would do no such thing.
Ellie smiled, unable to
stop the grin from spreading across her lips, her eyes sparkling with delight.
“Earth was real, Julian,” she told him, her voice barely a whisper, “and I think I may be able to find out what happened to it.”