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Last Human Being

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Cole is a powerful psychic who becomes an unwitting Hero in an unspoken conspiracy to end a mental war with a mysterious consciousness from within a drug-induced dream. Cole stands there staring at himself in asleep in the chair. He thinks about this for a moment, breathing. He tries to remember the last time he was in the chair, but cannot. He tries to remember the last time he went to sleep or woke up, but cannot. So many aspects of Cole's life had fallen away since he became a Hero. His mother, his satisfaction in life, from anything other than his preoccupation, reconciling the war in the real world with Dawn in the Other. What was real? When was now happening? What were the results of the individual actions in this or any other existence? What about the cumulative intentions, of which he is now part, making indelible marks on the future? How would he know if he was doing right? Cole closes his eyes, shutting out these futile questions, really just wanting to eat some soup with his mother and go to sleep, perhaps dream of holding Dawn in his arms. He tries to levitate and glow, doing what would be impossible if this were the real world. He opens his eyes to find his hiking boots planted firmly on the clean white floor. He is not levitating. He stares at himself, asleep. Cole is unable to determine which one of him is real.

Scifi / Mystery
Brian Taylor
Age Rating:

Act One

1. The White Room

The White Room is blinding. The light emanates from everywhere, except the floor, which rolls out in all directions, a soft, clean white that doesn’t reflect. It is impossible to determine if there are walls or ceiling in the White Room, the whiteness stretches into forever, completely encompassing, unfathomably bright. The White Room is infinite, but only from inside.

The gentle movement of air being circulated produces the only sounds in the room. The environmental recycling maintains a constant exhalation of stale but breathable air from one hidden point and sucks it away to be filtered from another. The steady hum of air moving through the ancient ducts is cut regularly by the wet, raspy breathing of an ill human being, dreaming.

A young man lay reclined in a comfortable chair, shiny white plastic foam, padding, armrests, a soft pillow for his sweaty head. The chair rises out of the floor on a single pedestal. The young man’s chest lifts and falls below his stained, formally white button down shirt, stuck to him with moisture. He is pale, unhealthy. His breath catches, stops. He swallows and moves his head slightly, eyes rolling about, rapidly under his eyelids. He breaths again, deeper, faster, an ugly sound.

Stuck to his forehead are two small, round pads, one each above the outside edge of his eyebrows. Wires run from under each of these pads, up over the top end of the chair, hanging down where they disappear into the white floor, at the base of the chair’s pedestal. Standing tall beside the chair is a chrome pole with arms suspending a silently dripping bag of translucent yellow fluid. The bag is marked H. The intravenous line runs fluid from the bag into the needle in the young man’s thin arm, which is strapped down to the armrest, his shirt sleeve rolled up. The young man’s arm has bruising and many scabs opposite his elbow. The needle has had to make tracks down his forearm to find fresh purchase.

The young man’s breathing quickens. His eyes flutter open, he groans, a deep, guttural sound. He grimaces, catches his breath, holds it, breaths twice quickly and holds it again. His eyes bulge wide, filling with thin red lines that fatten. His pale skin begins turning red, except his chapped lips, which are becoming purple. The young man looks around the room, wildly frightened. His free hand claws stupidly at the restraint on his other arm to no avail. He manages to rip the needle out of his arm poorly, causing a tear which bleeds. He cries out, a choked off sound, impeded by swelling. His tongue protrudes, it is difficult to breath. He twitches. His eyes blood red, no longer searching, but realizing, terrified.

The muscles in his back spasm first, throwing him back and forth, bending at the solar plexus unnaturally. The pain makes every previous fear irrelevant in the young man’s mind, for a moment he forgets that he is about to die, able only to marvel at how much it hurts. The muscle spasms work their way up his spine, into his neck, his jaw, his teeth clamp down, directly through his still protruding tongue. With what air he has, the young man involuntarily screams out, a high pitched animal sound. He can taste warm, bitter blood gushing. As his muscles continue his convulsions, he forces air around his trapped, nearly severed tongue.

Fine blood sprays out into the White Room with every desperate gasping. Droplets, large and heavy splatter in directions determined by the young man’s head being flung to and fro during violent seizures. His white shirt, the white chair, the white floor, the red blood, spreading. His eyes unseeing, a growing black tunnel, a pin prick of white in the centre, the only star left. Quick convulsions in rapid succession, leaning back, seized staring upward, choking on blood, heart racing, fingers dancing, reaching, shaking, finally still.

The duct work hums, bringing recycled air into the White Room. The young man, crookedly reclined in the white chair, dead eyes staring out, redness draining from them. A slowing drip falls from his free hand, blood pooling on the floor, each drop landing with an empty tick, nearly imperceptible, disappearing into the bulk. The blood, the chair and the young man in it are a tiny island of colour in endless whiteness, a speck to be wiped away.

2. The Hallways

The Orderly pushes a gurney down the large, Main Hall which connects to all other minor passageways and major rooms. The hallway is dark, an ancient concrete floor, institutional lighting does little to illuminate dingy grey walls, cinder block, openings covered by black curtains now brown with age and dirt. Each fixture casts limp light only in its immediate vicinity. Occasionally, an uncovered opening into a lit room provides a respite from the shadows cast. Thousands of people live in the Underground, there are hundreds of rooms, most with motorized doors. Due to the frequency of power failures threatening to trap the occupants, most doors are left open

On the gurney lay the young man from the White Room, dead. He is wrapped in a white sheet that has become stained with his blood. The young man’s face has been left exposed, as has his left arm, as if on display. The needle marks in his arm are plainly visible. His mouth is a blackening mass of blood and tongue. The young man stares up, unseeing, rolling on down the Main Hall. Gaseous lights flash him in and out of being seen by others.

As the Orderly pushes down the hallway, shadows of people begin to stir. He presses his lips together tightly, tensing up at the sight of the people. His translucent white, plastic overcoat rustles as he adjusts his posture. The people in the shadows number in the hundreds and form a tunnel, lining up on either side of the Main Hall. The Orderly walks on, stiffly, his hairline begins to feel cool, wet as he perspires slightly. He nervously searches the shadows lining his path. As he approaches, he begins to see the faces of the people, dirty, hungry, dressed in homemade earth tones, surplus fabrics from an era gone by.

Filthy hands reach out from the dark, to brush against the body of the dead young man on the gurney. The Orderly moves his hands closer together and leans forward, curling his shoulders to protect himself from being touched. He narrows his eyes, determined. Within a few more steps he is in a river of hands and faces, male and female, young and old; excited, awful, reverential, curious, grateful, tearful, prideful, joyful. He notices fear from some of the children. The Orderly pushes through, the people make way.

Six year old Cole waits near the end of the hallway, unafraid. He stands, leaning forward, peering past bystanders to watch the Orderly’s progression, excited. His mother stands with him, enjoying the moment, watching her son. As the gurney nears, Cole’s mother picks him up, so he can see, yet keeps him low enough that he may also touch the body as it rolls by.

“Thank you and goodbye,” says Cole, reaching out, running his hand over the young man’s corpse. Cole gets some blood on his hand, but doesn’t notice until after his mother sets him down. Cole examines the blood, feels it with his fingers, grins up at his mother. He flashes out his bloody hand for her to see. She smiles warmly, nodding yes to her son. Cole reexamines his bloody hand, feeling privileged.

The Orderly continue on his way, approaches a large open doorway from which a blinding white light pours forth, hiding whatever the room might contain. Over the entrance to the room, dusty stencilled letters spell out RECYCLING. The Orderly pushes the gurney onward, disappearing into whiteness.

3. Heroes

Shirtless, in his hospital green pyjama pants, young Cole is admiring his blood stained hand in the dim light of a cramped, functional washroom. Water rolls down the small stainless steel sink, wasted. Cole doesn’t want to wash. The electricity fizzles audibly and the lights dim for a second.

His mother calls from outside the room, “Cole, the light is fading.”

Cole feebly rubs his hands together under the water and turns it off. He dries his hands on a towel that used to be white and runs out of the room, down the short, narrow hall that leads to his bedroom, in the minimal apartment he shares with his mother.

Cole’s mother is waiting for him when he jumps into his single bed. She covers him up and sits on the edge of his bed, stroking his bangs to the side, smiling down at him. Cole admires his stained hand.

“Never mind that, now.”

Cole puts his hand away, makes himself cozy. His mother continues stroking his hair. Behind them, on the light grey wall of a small, windowless room, a mural of a leafy tree is the only decoration. The tree is made of a clinging black plastic, such that the leaves can be placed around the wall in any arrangement. Now, the tree is full and bushy with all leaves in their proper, healthy position.

Cole’s mother begins remembering a gentle lullaby, a tune which makes him smile sleepily. “In a cabin in the wood, little old man by the window stood, saw a rabbit hopping by, frightened as can be. ′Help me, help me,′ the rabbit said, ‘or the hunter will shoot me dead!’ ′Come little rabbit, come with me, safely we will be.’” She drinks this time with her son in, lovingly, silently. Cole rests with eyes closed.

When his mother gets up from the bed to leave the room, Cole’s eyes open. He immediately asks, “Why does everyone love Heroes?”

She turns back toward him, “It is the only way we can explore. It is the last best hope for us, for life, for everything.”

“I would like to be a Hero.”

Cole’s mother smiles proudly, moved by his sentiment, “Then we must ensure you are the greatest Hero there ever was.”

Cole closes his eyes, satisfied.

4. Thirteen Years Later

In the White Room another Hero has died. A young woman with blonde hair has a twisted grimace of terror frozen on her face, head hanging forward. She passed moments ago, a trickle of blood under her nose the only remnant of an embolism. Her skin is flush, red, her hair wet, veins on her forehead protruding, but no longer pulsing. Blood from her arm has made it up the intravenous line and is dripping into the pinking fluid of the bag marked H. A dark discolouration spreads, soaking into her pants from between her legs. The room is still and quiet, broken only by the sound of the ventilation.

The Nurse enters the White Room. She would be nearly invisible in her white paper hooded coveralls and mask, if it wasn’t for her oversized glasses, burying the top half of her face in plastic blackness. The Nurse examines the Other’s latest victim, then gently closes the deceased Hero’s eyes, rests her head back and tries to smooth out the grimace. The Nurse succeeds deftly, the young woman appears to be relaxed now, at peace. The Nurse examines her work with pleasure and begins unhooking the Hero’s IV and electrodes.

Soon the Orderly arrives to take the body, squinting in the unbearable brightness. The Nurse helps him move the Hero to the gurney, she is very light, like all the others. The Nurse tends to tidying up the White Room, changing the needle, replacing the electrode pads. The Orderly covers the Hero with a large white sheet that he folds over her three times, before tucking it under, creating the illusion of her being wrapped. He excludes her scabby arm from the sheet and displays it properly. Then he rolls her out of the White Room, happy to be out of its brightness. By the time the Orderly has wheeled the Hero’s corpse into the dim Main Hall, his eyes have adjusted well enough to see the dirty people waiting.

In a quiet pocket near the end of a hall, in an empty doorway of a dark room, a tall thin boy plays with an adjustable wrench. He flips it over and over, in his hand. He’s been at it a while, his fingers are getting sore.

Some people come out of the dark room to pay their respects. Their sudden appearance startles the boy and he accidentally tosses the wrench too far into the air. It spins, end over end, clattering to the floor noisily, mere feet from the front wheel of the gurney being rolled down the hall. The boy darts out, around the growing number of people, attempting to retrieve his tool made toy.

The Orderly heard the clang of the wrench but did not see it fall. When his front wheel bumps against it, pinning it to the concrete floor, the rolling suddenly ceases. The Orderly’s momentum, carrying him forward, causes him to walk into the gurney, doubling him over slightly in surprise. He can feel his solar plexus come into contact with the dead girl’s nose. “No!” shouts the Orderly. He straightens, backing up slightly, bumping into the people attached to the dirty hands that reach around him to touch the Hero. The Orderly is disgusted and tries not to be brushed against.

The boy manages to retrieve his wrench and stands up, in front of the gurney, revealing himself. The Orderly sees him and his wrench, “You! I’ll have your hide!”

A loud, clear voice sounds out from behind the boy, “No you will not!” The voice belongs to Cole, now nineteen years of age. He has grown into a handsome young man, tall, muscled, clean and confident. Straight teeth, clear eyes, Cole pushes through people to put his hand on the boy’s shoulder and gently steer him out of the Orderly’s way. Make a path people, let the Orderly through. Aloud he says, “He is just a boy who dropped a wrench and now... you may continue.” Cole holds his hand out in the direction of the Orderly’s travel and bows slightly.

The people have retreated, lining the walls, a path cleared. The Orderly glares at Cole for a moment, “I’ll take that spanner, then.”

The boy puts the wrench behind his back. Cole shakes his head no, “Your reason for wanting the wrench is undeserving. You should continue on your way, as is your task.”

The Orderly opens his mouth to reply, changes his mind, shakes off the dirt of being touched by so many and pushes the gurney on.

The boy looks up at Cole, smiling. Cole tousles his hair, “Mind your wrench.”

5. The Teacher

Psychic class had been instituted in the Underground almost from its inception. Lessons would begin between the ages five and six, after psychic abilities first manifest, but before their uneducated use could become dangerous. At the early stage of development, emphasis is on control, both for the bearer and those around them. It’s also a time of discovery, for every psychic mind is unique. Both the Teacher and student must determine what special gift has been given.

Some children will not attend Psychic class for very long. Perhaps due to limited power or a general disinterest in using it, some people have a gift that slips and fades. Those that go on, that will most likely use their abilities to their potential, become senior class. Senior lessons begin with the history of the psychic experience, over the last four hundred fifty years. Then it moves on to developmental expectations, such that there was a norm of psychic ability on a scale and one could gauge ability on that scale, a sort of score. Some people are naturally more powerful, some people are better at controlling their power. The goal of the psychic is a balance between the two.

Cole, as a potential graduate of the class in his final year, is also subject to rigorous social engineering, to ensure that the while the powers of his mind are honed, so is his judgement sound.

“In the last class we learned about the men and women who began developing the discipline.”

The classroom is dark, built of cinder block cubes the colour of wet cement. No windows, gaseous light tubes toss pale blue onto the students, who take various poses around the room. Some have chairs, some stand near the back, younger kids sit up front, on floor mats. No desks, nor paper, no writing is required. Nearly thirty children pay close attention to the Teacher, an attractive woman in her forties. She wears black pants and a dark green shirt, a sort of uniform she always wears to class. The pupils wear black pants, white shirt, very much a uniform. The shades of white vary depending on the age and wear of the shirt. The only decoration in the room is a portrait of an older man with white hair, a thin red scarf around his neck. The photo hangs on the wall under a spotlight.

“They knew that people started showing psychic skill around age five or six so they came up with a curriculum, then wanted to share this knowledge with the people.” The Teacher looks about the room, waiting, hoping someone would prognosticate her question. When she speaks her mouth does not move, “Can anyone tell me the name of the person who started the first school?”

Several younger children begin shouting, “I know! Teacher! Teacher, I know!” The voices belonging to these youngsters are not spoken physically, other that the Teacher might notice someone fidget. She winces slightly, holding up her hand at the barrage of excited mental communication.

“Children!” The Teacher does not speak aloud but her glare communicates effectively enough. “I have mentioned this already, you must get yourselves in line. There is no need to compete for my attention when you can place your answers enqueue.” The Teacher relaxes, closing her eyes briefly. When she reopens them she is standing in a tidy white room and her students have lined themselves up. At the head of the line is Stephanie, a twelve year old girl who smiles up at the Teacher.

In the grey classroom, the Teacher smiles back at Stephanie, who is sitting on a mat, nearby.

Stephanie’s smile grows, she speaks without moving her mouth, “L. Johnson Ming, in 2188.”

“That’s correct,” The Teacher nods yes, looking around the room, “Who’s next?”

In the blinding white room the second in line, a little boy named Hector, sheepishly raises his hand. Back in the grey room, the Teacher is pleased.

“Very good, Hector. Tell me, why is it important to keep one’s thoughts in order?

Hector thinks for a second, looking away, remembering, confidently he answers, “So we don’t go crazy.”

Many of the younger kids erupt with physical laughter, a brief convulsion in the still, silent morning. A sarcastic snort escapes from a few of the older kids.

“Children, if we resort to such obscene outbursts in the company of Commoners,” she gestures to the open doorway, or more likely what is on the other side of it, “we may as well become them.” The Teacher takes a moment to stare her students down, to convey the importance of her words, or so she hopes. “There is no greater gift than the one we’ve been given. We are here to learn to control the ability of our minds, it is presumed we can already control our bodies. She relaxes after a pause and notices poor Hector, who is now quite scared. The Teacher is sympathetic, “And you are absolutely correct, Hector. Often children, or those with untrained minds may run amok in the the thoughts of others. That experience can be quite maddening.” The Teacher searches the pupils in the back of the room, the older kids, “Who can tell me why it’s our duty to control ourselves?”

In the blinding white space where students line up to be understood, Cole stands tall over everyone else. Although he is at the back of the line, Cole levitates slightly above the other student’s heads and expends enough energy to glow. He creates an extreme presence that cannot be ignored. The Teacher is impressed by the gesture and feels pride, but does not show it.

“Yes, Cole.”

Cole is standing in the dimly lit classroom. He speaks without using his body, “Control keeps the self intact.”

“Why do we need the self intact?”

“If you want to be a Hero you have to maintain a zero.”

“Explain what you mean.”

Cole steps forward, into the middle of the class, as if he were the Teacher, elucidating. Some of the older girls take particular interest in watching Cole walk out in front of them. He would be the most eligible bachelor in class, if it wasn’t for the fact that he was likely to be chosen a Hero. Bright, kind and powerful, Cole was well-liked, but still a boy with a destiny that rendered him unattainable. “Zero refers to the mental bubble you can create around your self. No matter where you are, awake, asleep, aware or not, if you’re zero bubble, you’re yourself and unchangeable.” Cole turns, making a point of including some of the younger kids, “Protected. To defend against the Other, requires strength of consciousness, and a conviction to the calling. Confusion leads to destruction. The duty is to ourselves on behalf of everyone else.”

The Teacher is moved nearly to tears.

Through the open doorway, an older man with white hair, clear eyes and a serious, commanding demeanour enters the room. He wears a button down, reddy-brown shirt and a thinly folded blood red kerchief around his neck, his own uniform. He is the man from the portrait on the wall. The entire class says aloud, in near unison, “Good morning, Commander.”

The Teacher immediately becomes frightened at the sight of the Commander, who acknowledges her with a nod. She watches him scan her classroom and find Cole, who is already standing at attention. She notices everyone is staring at Cole, for the last time. Cole stands straighter, filling himself up with air, pushing his chest out, making himself as big as possible.

The Commander speaks out loud, “We need the next Graduate.”

Cole immediately begins walking toward the Commander.

The Teacher becomes further alarmed. Moisture in her eyes, teasing only moments ago now swells up and before she can stop herself, she too speaks aloud, her voice pinched and thick with emotion, “Cole!” When the weak cry escapes her lips, the entire class turns to watch her, surprised. Never has the Teacher appeared so human before their eyes, so out of control.

The Commander furrows his brow, disapproving of the Teacher’s outburst. The Teacher notices this and looks at the floor briefly, ashamed. Quickly she returns to worrying about Cole.

Cole returns the Teacher’s gaze comfortably and smiles gently, reassuringly. Without speaking, he says to her, “Do not worry, mother. Everything will be okay. Thank you and Goodbye.”

Cole and the Commander leave the room together.

Everyone watches the Teacher silently as she is unable to stop a tear falling from her eye.

6. The Commander

Cole and the Commander sit across from each other at an ordinary table, in an ordinary room, like the others, no windows, very little light, black shadows in between illuminated sections of dark grey walls. There is a door in the Commander’s room and it is closed.

The Commander has his elbows on the table, leaning forward, his face near Cole’s, monopolizing his focus. Cole pays attention and is not fazed by proximity. The Commander is speaking seriously, aloud, looking directly into Cole’s eyes, “You have been chosen to take part in an experiment that has been underway for over a century. What you have come to witness is nothing less than the most meaningful work a human being can do. To become a Hero is to achieve the greatest honour available to the Collective, and therefore, the entire species: To sacrifice your self in the War against the Other. But I can see I don’t need to tell you that.”

Cole, in black pants, white button down shirt, sits straight, hands on thighs, excited, hiding it well. There is another person present, standing in the shadows. When Cole had entered the Commander’s Room, he had noticed the man, he could tell it was a man, standing in the shadow. He thought he might have big eyes. Cole is trying to ignore the man but can’t help but glance up at him occasionally, as he might shift weight, or scratch his nose. The man wears all black and hides well.

The Commander continues his preamble, ”It’s going to be difficult. It’s going to be... confusing. You’re going to want to ask a lot of questions I won’t be able to answer. Not because I don’t know, but because I can’t say. Do you understand?”

Cole is thrilled to be provided the need to speak aloud to the Commander, as if this was the beginning of his purpose, finally being served. “Yes, Sir.”

“Your heart and mind are in their right places. But success and failure are not determined by courage or strength. Within the next few sleep cycles your life is going to change forever. The true measure of your success, the thing you’ll be remembered for, if you are to be remembered at all, is how well you cope with these changes.

Cole tries to think of the right thing to say. The electricity in the room fizzles and the lights flicker. “My mother and I believe I will be the one to break through, Sir.”

“Of course. We’ve been waiting for your turn. Let us hope the Teacher’s beliefs are well founded.” The Commander glances back at the man standing in the shadow behind him. “We have high hopes and there is nothing wrong with hope, as long as it’s followed with right action. Our forefathers followed hope with wrong action. We left our well-being to machines and the Earth paid the price. There isn’t a cycle that doesn’t go by, I don’t thank the stars that we were able to come down here. Maybe someday we can clean up their mess. Certainly not before we separate what we know from what we don’t.” The Commander stares at Cole, curious, as if he wishes he could read his mind. “What do you know, by the way?”


“How old are you?”


“And what have you learned in those nineteen years?”

Cole thinks for a second, “A lot, Sir.”

“Is that right?”


“Tell me everything you know about the Other. ”

Cole takes a breath, as if about to deliver a speech, “Sir, the Other was first encountered in 2443...”

“Not your memorized facts, boy! Tell me what you know.”

Cole ponders a moment. He looks the Commander in the eye, hoping to give an equal impression of earnestness. “We know Heroes die, Sir. It doesn’t take long. A few months at the most. Sometimes a week.”

“Anything else?”

”Well, you hear things, Sir. In the corridors... Of course, I hear more.”

“What have you come to believe about the Other?”

“Sir, there are many things said about the Other, but none worth repeating.”

The Commander shakes his head no, “You are taking action, boy!”

Cole is briefly ashamed, looking down at his feet in a near imitation of his mother, “I’m sorry, Sir. You are right. They say that the Other is... terrifying. And that you have to take drugs so that you don’t wake up from the nightmare.”

“What drugs?”

“Heroes have needle marks, Sir.”

It is the Commander’s turn to think before he speaks, “The drugs are medicine. It is true they keep you asleep, but they also provide nourishment, vitamins, minerals, supplements that ordinary citizens forfeit, explicitly for your benefit.”

“Yes, Sir.”

“As for sleep, you will find it as natural as you are able, by way of your ability to cope.”

Suddenly and seemingly emanating from within, a green stripe of light appears to dissect the walls laterally, about one third of the way up from the floor. The two inch stripe races around the room like a laser beam and becomes a constant decoration and marker. The man in the shadow takes in a breath and moves slightly, announcing he is about to speak, “Excuse me, Sir. It is time.”

The Commander nods once at Cole, positively, approvingly, smiling gently, “Alright Son. You are to report here after first meal.”

7. Still Leaves

Cole lay in bed staring up at the ceiling. He has the same bedroom as when he was a child, same black, bushy tree mural with movable leaves on his light grey wall. He sleeps in the same bed, except now he barely fits in it. He is excited about what tomorrow morning will bring. It will be a day he’s been preparing to face for many years. He breathes in deep through his nose and exhales quickly out his mouth, trying to relax.

Cole becomes aware of a presence, his mother sits down on the edge of the bed. Although she is only present in Cole’s mind, the bed sags and creaks under her weight. He senses her voice say, “Don’t worry, Son. Even when you can’t know I’m there, I’ll be with you.”

Bathed in the blinding white light of a psychic space, Cole appears as he is, in bed, his mother, the Teacher, sitting on the edge. She smiles down at him and strokes his hair lovingly, as she has his entire life.

In Cole’s bedroom, Cole’s hair moves without being touched. Cole relaxes and closes his eyes.

“Keep me hidden away, in your mind.”

Cole falls asleep, as he does he has a subtle hypnic jerk. Timed perfectly with that movement, the leaves on the tree mural shudder, as if a breeze blew by, then they become still.

8. Day One

The infinite brightness of the White Room requires a couple minutes for Cole’s eyes to adjust. He simply stands there, squinting, tearing, forcing his eyes open. Slowly, the chair comes into focus. It too is white, padded plastic that looks quite comfortable. Beside the chair Cole can now see the chrome IV stand, its bag of translucent fluid marked H, its line ending in a needle, waiting for his arm.

Cole moves slowly toward the chair, examining every facet of it, everything that distinguishes what is in the room from what isn’t. Electrode wires, coming up from the base of the pedestal, end in sticky pads that are draped over the cushion where his head will rest, every day, until death or victory. Cole sits in the chair and tries to appreciate the feel of it pressing against his body. He takes some cleansing breaths, trying to calm himself, rolling up the sleeves of his white shirt.

The Nurse appears out of the whiteness, dressed in paper white coveralls with a hood, mask covering her face below large, black plastic eyeglasses. She waves pleasantly at Cole as she approaches, Cole acknowledges her with a polite nod. As the Nurse steps nearer, Cole begins to be able to see through her black glasses to her oversized eyes and at first, finds her gaze awkward, unnatural. Cole has been around Big Eyes before, it was now unavoidable in the Underground, but he is still slightly uncomfortable being so close to one. Having to enter into a relationship, presumably with the Nurse and perhaps the man standing in the shadow of the Commanders’ room, was not something that Cole had ever imagined as part of this process.

The Nurse’s spooky big eyes gaze down at Cole sitting in the chair. Cole is unable to tell that the Nurse smiles at him under her mask. She places some gel on Cole’s forehead and then attaches the wired pads to those areas. The Nurse cleans the crook of Cole’s arm over a big dark vein with a wet wipe. She examines his arm and looks at Cole again. In that moment, although she wasn’t communicating with him, he imagined she was wondering if he knew what he was about to get himself into. He did, at least as much as any other man or woman who chooses to become a Hero, maybe more.

The Nurse inserts the needle deftly. She tapes a bit of cotton over the entry point and tapes the needle itself to his arm. She then straps his wrist down to the chair’s armrest. The Nurse rechecks the IV, the speed of the drip, the electrodes, the strapping, Cole. Satisfied that her work has been completed, she nods once at him, turns on her heel and leaves, vanishing into whiteness.

Cole sits in the chair, waiting, looking around at nothing. He examines the needle, the dripping bag marked H. He doesn’t feel any different. No, wait... That’s no longer true. Something is happening. He begins to relax, his heart rate slows, his breathing deepens. He rests his head back on the comfortable pillow. His last thoughts are of the warmth rushing into him and the gentle embrace of the chair. He closes his eyes, slumping slightly. Cole lay still, asleep.

9. A Forest

Cole is standing in a forest of close trees, brown and green, some white bark. Sideways light is shining through the trees, golden beams that illuminate dust and pollen in rays. Birds twitter in the distance all around him. Cole can feel a warmth spreading on his left hand, but not his right. He notices that a ray of sunshine has fallen on his left hand, resting easy at his side. He allows himself to feel the heat, wriggling his fingers. He’s never seen the sun before, nor felt its heat. He’s not sure he understands how it works.

Surprised by the change in his clothing, Cole examines his attire: Brown denim pants, a dark blue button down shirt. Brown leather boots that lace up to just above his ankles. Cole breaths and realizes he can smell something he’s never before experienced, fresh air. He’s known the concept of fresh and stale, because of the foods he eats and the time he spent working in the hydroponic gardens, but freshness is not something he’s ever associated with air. He thinks it smells like new life. He takes a big breath through his nose, allowing the sweetness of grass and flowers to mix with the richness of soil and pine. He smiles, looking around in awe. The part of him that knows he is dreaming is quiet, this is simply too new not to fully experience.

A breeze blows up into Cole’s face, whistling past his ears. He shuts his eyes instinctively and recoils slightly from the feel of the wind, gasping. Cole notices his heart rate increase. He opens his eyes and stretches his hands out, fingers extended into the wind, feeling, smiling with teeth showing, amazed. He cannot tell if he’s weeping or his eyes are watering from the breeze. He takes some deep breaths, trying to calm himself. He wipes at his eyes, clearing them.

In the distance, not more than a few hundred feet, about the length of the main tunnel he walked to class everyday, if he is remembering properly, there is an opening in the forest where the trees are sparser. Cole takes a step toward it, his boot crunches down into foliage, a sound he’s never heard before. He looks down at his feet. He takes another step, crunch. Another step, crunch. Crunch, crunch, crunch, Cole stomps around a bit and then laughs out loud. He immediately stops, peering around, as if someone might have heard his outburst. He is the only one in this forest. Cole bends over and scoops up some of the leaves, twigs and debris from the forest floor, he sniffs at it, gently first, then taking in a huge lungful. He now believes this must be what life smells like.

Dropping the bundle of foliage Cole begins walking toward the area where the trees seem to clear. He doesn’t make it very many steps before he is sidetracked by a tree. A bit of bark has been removed, perhaps by an animal, exposing smoother wood of a slightly different colour. Cole peels back some more of the bark, surprised by how pliable it is, he breaks off a chunk a bit bigger than his hand. He feels it, bends it, breaks it, smells it.

A crow caws, the sound comes from the clear area ahead of him. He resumes walking toward it, now more purposeful, yet still trying to be quiet, unobtrusive, as if hunting. Cole would very much like to see a bird, any bird. Arriving at the edge of the clearing he can see that it’s actually a cliff face, stretching out below him in either direction is a lush green valley, rolling grassy hills, dotted with pockets of trees. A few puffy white clouds float in a blue sky, the way he imagined the sky must be, yet somehow better. The sun shines down on the valley, on Cole, who squints up at it, his eyes water. The crow caws again and Cole starts, whipping his head to the right just in time to catch the crow take off from a tree branch that bounces after giving up the bird’s weight. The crow flies directly past Cole’s field of view and he watches it, truly the happiest he’s felt in a long time. He sobs aloud a few times, unable to control his emotions.

The progress of the crow takes the bird out of Cole’s view, blocked by trees. Cole’s heart jumps as he sees a young woman standing at the edge of the forest. She seems to be about his age, long blonde hair with gentle curls glowing in the sunlight. She seems to be emanating light, as if to outdo the sun. Her yellow dress is both tight and loose, accentuating her youthful curves and fitness. She stands there staring at Cole, examining him. She licks her lips.

Cole had heard about angels before, in the old stories. Before his training can remind him of where he is and what he is doing, he has just enough time to realize he might be seeing an angel now. She is, at the least, the most beautiful person he has ever seen.

10. White Sickness

Cole wakes with a start in the white room. He opens his eyes, excited, but quickly closes them as the room is blinding. He groans and takes a few deep breaths, calming himself.

“Easy Cole,” says the Nurse, “You did very well.”

Cole clears his throat, it’s a bit sore, his mouth is dry. “Nothing happened...”

The Nurse smiles at him, unhooking his IV. “Something happened...” She sticks a bit of fresh cotton to his needle mark.

Cole’s limbs feel heavy and stomach is upset, as if he ate something that had turned.

“You can expect to feel ill for a few minutes,” says the Nurse, as if reading his mind. She undoes the restraint that holds his wrist to the armrest. She removes the electrodes from his forehead and wipes away the sticky residue with a moist cloth.

Cole tries to open his eyes again, “I can’t open my eyes. Why does it have to be so bright in here?”

“It’s for your safety, Cole. We’ve always done it this way. I will help you out.” The nurse takes Cole’s arm and helps him out of the chair, then out of the room, where he must stand for a moment, eyes open in the much dimmer outer area, to adjust. “You must report to the Commander and the Filter.”

11. First Debriefing

The Commander’s dark grey room is brightly lit, oddly dim. On the wall, above the lone green stripe, is another, narrower green stripe, it too travels around the entire room, glowing. The Commander sits at the table, as does Cole. The Filter stands in his shadow against the wall, behind the Commander, between two lights. The Commander isn’t looking at Cole today, but rather stares at the wall at the end of the table, sitting sideways. Cole wonder’s if he’s being ignored as he rolls down the sleeves and buttons the cuffs of his white shirt. “I was in a forest. It was amazing. I could smell the wind and feel the warmth of the sun on my skin. The trees were very tall, I heard animals, I saw a bird, then I saw a girl. It was the most realistic dream I’ve had.”

The Commander continues to stare at the wall, “It is not a dream. You must begin to think of it as exactly the opposite. It is the realism of the experience that will remind you to control your reality.”

“Yes Sir.”

“Tell me about the girl.”

Cole closes his eyes, remembering. As he sees the girl in his mind, the Filter reacts, glancing surprised at Cole. “I don’t know her. I don’t think I’ve ever seen her.”

“Tell me everything you can about her.”

“She appeared suddenly, she was... shining. She just stood there, staring. So did I. Then I awoke. I didn’t notice anything else. I didn’t feel anything, sense anything... Sir.

The Commander shallowly, almost imperceptibly shakes his head no, “You can’t mean that you didn’t sense anything. Tell me what you remember feeling when you saw the girl.”


“What did you think?”

“I thought... She must be the most beautiful girl in the world. And that I... enjoyed looking at her. Sir.”

The Commander relaxes, pleased with Cole’s candour. He turns, faces Cole, folds his hands on the table and leans in comfortably, “You did well, Son. Not everyone has the same experience with the Other. For some, the first encounter is a maddening experience. Occasionally, someone will die. You have achieved an unintentional escape clause. You have seen the Other and returned knowing little more than you did going in. If you would prefer, you may now cease your voluntarism, go about your life as you see fit.”

The Filter briefly glances down at the back of the Commander’s head, thinking.

Cole’s response is immediate, enthusiastic, “No, Sir. I want to go back.”

The Commander is further pleased, “Tomorrow you must find the girl and introduce yourself.” The Commander stands, Cole stands. They nod at each other once and Cole walks away, leaving the room.

The Filter approaches the Commander. He speaks quietly, “He easily envisioned the girl yet did nothing to describe her.”

“Anything else?”

“He could have detailed many more mental and physical sensations he experienced. He has a remarkable mind. ”

The Commander nods, thinking.

12. The Rubicon

Cole and his mother are eating soup together in silence in the cramped dining area of their home. Cole is freshly showered and in an older white T-shirt, pyjama pants. His mother is still wearing her green school uniform. The portrait of the Commander stares down at them from the wall.

The Teacher is stealing looks at Cole, nearly able to hide her concern for his well-being. Cole notices her worrying-face and stops eating. They speak without using their mouths, “Just tell me that you’re alright, even if it’s untrue.”

Cole is surprised and disappointed by this request, “You must never ask this of me again. We mustn’t allow our thoughts to wander onto this topic. You taught me this! The rubicon has been crossed.”

The Teacher keeps her eyes on her soup. They eat in silence a bit more. Finally, she looks to her son and speaks aloud, “Well, just tell me where the word ‘rubicon’ comes from then!”

Cole smiles, relaxing, amused, “Eat your soup, mother.”

The electricity crackles and the lights flicker.

13. First Dreamless Sleep

Cole is lying in his bed, staring at the ceiling. His bangs move, as if tousled by his invisible mother, comforting him. It works, Cole relaxes and closes his eyes. He can hear his mother quietly singing the lullaby to him, “In a cabin in the wood, Little old man by the window stood; Saw a rabbit hopping by, Frightened as can be. ′Help me, Help me’, the rabbit said, ‘Or the hunter’ll shoot me dead!’ ′Come little rabbit, come with me, Safely we will be.’”

Cole drifts off to sleep, twitching only slightly compared to last time. His hypnic jerk produces a shock wave that ruffles the leaves on his tree mural gently. One of the lower branches loses one leaf and it gently floats down to land at the base of the tree.

14. Dawn

Cole runs. His brown pants a blur, legs pumping him through the trees, his boots light. He sweats into his dark blue shirt, making spots darker. The day is hot, sunny, beautiful, perfect. He runs and runs, happy to be able to do it. He makes a point of getting into every open space he can. He’s delighted when he finds an open field. He runs out to the middle of it, stops, looks around, marvelling at the open space, the big sky.

Cole hasn’t noticed that the beautiful girl is standing behind him. She wears the same simple, happy yellow summer dress. She speaks, “What are you doing?

Cole spins around to face her, startled. “Huh... Hello?”

The girl stares at him for a moment. “Hello. What are you doing?” She looks over Cole’s body, up and down, part by part, examining it, admiring it.

Cole watches her, her full lips, her legs, the curve of her breasts and hips, the way her tanned collarbones glisten with faint perspiration, but he can’t stop staring into her eyes, as if they are a trap. “Hello,” he manages to say, again.

“Hello. What are you doing?”

“I’m... I uh.... I’m Cole.”

The girl smiles at Cole. “I know who you are,” she says, without moving her lips. The experience of having the girl speak into his mind is unlike any communication Cole has previously experienced, he reacts by sucking in air, as if stepping into icy water.

The sun starts moving too fast, the wrong direction in the sky. Cole notices this and alternates his glance between the sky and the girl. The sun sinks back down over the horizon, behind the girl and then stops as it just begins peeking over the mountain, growing in a purple sky. Time begins moving forward again at a normal rate. Stars disappear as the run rises, dawning on the girl. Cole watches the sun come up through the golden strands of her hair as she stares him, seriously. Cole realizes what is happening and both of them speak psychically, simultaneously.

“My name is Dawn.”

“Your name is Dawn.”

They smile gently at each other, nervously, as if they are both having the same thoughts, the same feelings.

“Are you able to answer me?”

Cole thinks and is confused, which amuses Dawn, “I think I forgot the question.”

Dawn narrows her eyes and cocks her head slightly, as if wondering if Cole is an idiot, “Well, you seem to like open spaces...”

“There is no space, where I am from. Here it should be infinite.”

Dawn breathes out a short laugh and shakes her head no gently, staring at Cole

15. A Considerable Lack of Privacy

Cole in his white button down, sleeves up, bit of cotton taped in the crook of his left arm, wakes up with a start, breathing hard, in the chair, in the very bright White Room. His needle has been removed. He groans.

“Easy Cole. Your blood pressure is high. You’ll probably have a headache.” The Nurse places her hand on his shoulder, encouraging him to rest in the white chair, “Just breathe.” She’s not wearing her mask today, it’s down around her neck. She tends to Cole’s electrodes as he catches his breath.

Cole tries to open his eyes, but the blinding whiteness of the room is too intense. While the Nurse is leaning over him, removing the electrodes and providing some shade, Cole can see the Nurse’s giant eyes under her dark glasses and under that, an odd little grin as if she finds something funny. The Nurse catches Cole squinting at her quizzically and this makes her smile bigger.

Cole says, “I’m okay.”

The Nurse nods, “I’m sure you are.” She covers herself with her mask.

Cole gets out of the chair and walks gingerly away in the bright white room, his shirt is stuck to his muscular back with sweat. The Nurse watches, smiling.

16. Second Debriefing

Cole, still in his sweaty white shirt, rolls down his sleeves but leaves them unbuttoned. He sits, a bit tired, across from the Commander in his dark grey room. There are now two smaller green stripes around the room, in addition to the larger green stripe. The Commander is eating a thick, pink soup from a stainless steel bowl.

“So I guess that’s what I’m asking as well, Sir. What am I doing?”

The Commander speaks between spooning, slurping and swallowing. “You are not to do anything. I command the action, you are the delivery vehicle for my intentions. It was probably a good thing you left when you did.”

Cole is confused, “Sir, I don’t think....”

“What don’t you think?”

“I’m not in control of much of anything... in there.”

“In where? Be specific, boy!” The p in ‘specific’ causes a little bit of pink soup to escape the Commander’s mouth, it lands on Cole’s shirt, he ignores it.

“In the presence of the Other, Sir.”

The Commander is having none of that. He continues eating as he talks, “Nonsense! It is your mind creating everything that makes up the content of your experience. The Other is present in that experience but you maintain authorship.”

Cole, forgetting himself for a moment, shakes his head no, “Sir, it’s like a dream. You can’t control everything. I have no idea why or when I wake up.”

The Commander slowly puts down his spoon and stares at Cole, seriously, “Boy, I am 128 years old! I’ve been conducting this experiment since it began. No one knows more about the experience of the Other than I. You have to believe me when I tell you something is possible, it could save your life. What you are experiencing is not a dream, it’s communication taking place inside a dream. Maybe if you didn’t spend so much of your time running around in the woods smelling trees or getting erections in the chair!”

Cole is surprised and embarrassed, but he quickly realizes the depth of his lack of privacy is part of the experience. He lifts his head up, looking straight ahead, through the Commander, stoic, “Sir.”

The Commander seems satisfied with Cole’s reaction. He resumes eating soup. “You are in control of your self and therefore your experience. The Other will try to take that control from you, you must deny it. Your only goal is to understand the Other. Keep your guard up. Learn what you can. Try to turn your ignorance on the matter into a positive. ”

The Filter, particularly well hidden in his shadow today, leans down and whispers something in the Commander’s ear. Cole can plainly see the Filter’s odd, too large eyes. The Commander thinks about what the Filter told him for a few seconds.

“Remember when Dawn started telling you her name, before you had thought to ask? You should have the exact same abilities, this is all of your creation.”

Cole understands. He nods yes, “I haven’t tried to read her mind.”

“Well get in there, boy!” The Commander encourages, enthusiastically, “Let’s see what you can find.” He shovels more soup in his mouth.

17. A Walk in the Forest

In the woods on a beautiful sunny summer day, Cole is walking with Dawn, wearing his dark blue shirt, brown pants. Dawn in happy yellow. Whatever confusion and nervousness experienced upon their first and second meetings seems to have dissipated, although they still don’t really know each other. Cole feels comfortable enough to allow himself to enjoy Dawn’s beauty and she seems to be doing the same for Cole, but Cole understands it might just be an imitation of attraction.

Cole is beginning to feel confident in his abilities to at least communicate effectively in this place, to keep track of his subconscious intentions. “Where do you come from?” he asks her.

“Where do you come from?”

Cole answers without hesitation, “I live in an ancient underground bunker in a place that used to be called Colorado. On a planet called Earth....”

Dawn smiles.

Cole feels a bit awkward under Dawn’s gaze, he’s not sure why. He tries to coax her into speaking, “And you are from...?”

Dawn laughs out loud, furthering Cole’s discomfort, he tries not to show it. “I am from here. I mean, not right here, in these woods, but around here. I’ve lived here my whole life.”


Dawn laughs again, “Why does anyone live their whole live someplace? Why do you?”

“We don’t have a choice. There’s nowhere to go. As far as we know, we’re the last group of people alive, but there was a colony on Mars. We have no way of contacting them. It’s unlikely there’s anybody alive on the surface, too much radiation, extreme weather.”

Dawn’s smile drops, she appears sympathetic to Cole, “You are trapped. We have this in common.” Dawn reaches out and puts her hand on Cole’s shoulder. He is surprised by the sensation of her touch. He examines her hand. “We were both born here and we’re both going to die here.”

“What do you mean?”

Dawn shakes her head no, gently, “It doesn’t have to be this way. I’ll show you.” She turns and walks away. Cole follows.

18. A Way Out

Cole and Dawn come to a large clearing in the forest, a homestead. There’s a beautiful log home, out buildings, fences. Cole has seen images of how people used to live when they could be on the surface, but has never experienced them in reality. “What is this place?”

“This is a way out.”

Suddenly, Dawn notices movement in the woods behind them and becomes alarmed. Cole turns around to see a man, an older man with white hair, dressed quite like Cole himself, except with a big fuzzy hat on his head, coloured a plainly visible orange. The man carries a long object in his hands, a brown wooden base from which a black metal tube protrudes. This too Cole had never seen in real life, but he believed it was called “a rifle.” The man quickly vanishes behind a tree. Cole turns back to see that Dawn too has disappeared. Cole stands alone in the wilderness. He sees Dawn near the log house. She motions for Cole to come to her. Taking one last look behind him to ensure the other man is gone, Cole begins walking toward Dawn.

The log home seems to be very finely crafted and the outbuildings are full of tools and equipment that, for the most part, Cole can’t fathom their use. However, it is the windows that Cole finds most interesting. Windows simply don’t exist in the Underground and the idea of being able to see what is on the other side of a wall had always fascinated him.

Cole climbs a short set of stairs that lead to a door, then he just stands there waiting for the door to open. It doesn’t. He pushes on the door, it seems to be locked. Noticing the knob that is sticking out of the door’s right hand side, about half way down, he presses on it. Nothing happens. He twists it and the door unlatches, he pushes it open and peers inside, “Hello?” Cole enters the home, tentatively.

Dawn appears, “This is a safe place. He won’t hurt us if we stay here.”


“You just saw him, you know who he is. He keeps us here.”

“Why don’t you ask him to leave?”

Dawn is amused by this query, “You ask a lot of questions, when you already know the answers. There’s only one question for you here.”

Dawn takes both Cole’s hands in hers and they stand close together, facing each other. Cole looks into Dawn’s left eye and instantly, without any indication of travel or the passage of time, they vanish.

19. The Door in the Forest Floor I

Dawn and Cole standing hand in hand, as they were, except now they’re in the woods. Cole blinks a few times, at first confused by their instantaneous travel, then impressed. Dawn lets go of his hands and walks away. Cole follows, “Where are we going?”

“Nowhere,” she motions to a strange door on the ground in the woods. It appears to made of old, weathered wood, dug into the soil.

“What is it?”

Dawn smiles again, surprised by his ignorance, “Well, that’s close to being the right question. It’s a door. I know a couple things about doors in general, they allow passage somewhere and usually are a way out or a way in. I know nothing about this door in particular, except that I didn’t put it there.” Dawn speaks with a dry sarcasm that Cole has heard before. His mother sometimes used it when she thought Cole was acting like a fool. He finds it endearing and smiles.

Dawn gets very close to Cole, their noses almost touching. Cole can smell her breath, it smells sweet, yet fake. It reminds him of the cherry flavoured hard candies he had once found discarded in a disused area of the Underground. He had shared them with his mother and then the rest of her class. Cole is careful to stand very still, hands at his side. He’s never been this close to anyone other than his mother, when she was giving him a kiss, goodbye or goodnight. Cole licks his lips. Dawn speaks quietly, she sounds different than she has, more personal, “That’s your door. Only you can go through it, only you can open it. But I think you knew that already...”

Dawn kisses Cole, slowly, gently, sweetly. Cole closes his eyes. The moment slows, the sun beams on the young couple in the woods. Time itself seems to stop and Cole forgets nearly everything other than the feel and taste of Dawn’s soft lips sliding between his. There is no mission, no war, no Other. There is only the first true instant of desire in his life, his heart races, his blood surges. Cole would be very satisfied to have this moment continue indefinitely.

20. Third Debriefing

In the Commander’s dark grey room. There are now three smaller green stripes accompanying the larger green stripe on the wall. Cole is tired, a bit sweaty, greasy. He wears black pants and a white button down shirt, sleeves down, cuffs loose. The Commander is preoccupied with a bit of wood he uses as a toothpick and a small mirror. He’s inspecting his face, his eyes, his teeth. The Filter stands in his shadow.

“What does she mean?” asks Cole.

The Commander shakes his head, “She’s not trapped. I can tell you that much.”

Cole is frustrated, wishing the Commander would pay attention, “I just feel like I could use some information, at this point, Sir.”

The Commander is amused, “I’m sure you do, as I believe you’ll remember, I told you that was

prone to happening. Nevertheless, the system remains proven, you tell me everything you know, I add it to what we already knew, together we solve the mystery.”

“Except everyone else is dead, Sir.”

The Commander is gently surprised. He briefly looks at Cole, then back at himself in the mirror. He picks his teeth with the bit of wood. “Such is the nature of war. You will understand more as we continue. Tomorrow I want you to focus on her intentions. What does she want to do? How does she intend to do it?”

Cole rises slowly, “Sir, what about the door?”

“The door is nothing, leading nowhere. A piece of a dream. Pay it no mind.”

Cole leaves, wondering why the Commander would refer to being with the Other as a dream. Just before the door closes he hears the Filter say, “He can’t get the thought of her touch out of his mind.”

The Commander sighs, lifting his eyes upward, half an eye roll.

21. A Failure to Communicate

Cole lying in his bed, staring up into the ceiling, serious contemplation on his forehead, hair still, untouched. The tree mural on the wall is moving as if in a constant wind. Very faintly, like the ghost of a memory, he can hear his mother singing the lullaby. He can only make out the odd word or note. It is more disconcerting than soothing, “In a cabin... Little old man... Saw a rabbit... Frightened... ...the rabbit said... ...shoot me dead... ...come with me...”

Suddenly his mother walks into the room, dressed in her green top from class. She is trying to hide that she is upset. She speaks aloud, “It’s already getting harder to get through, Cole. Keep your true self hidden. There will always be somebody watching, ready to help you. I love you.”

“I love you too, mother.”

The Teacher leaves the room. Cole waits for sleep that barely comes.

22. An Interesting Disturbance

The Teacher walks out of Cole’s bedroom into the living area of their tiny apartment, trying not to cry, failing. She has known from the time that Cole was born that his sacrifice was needed, but now that she was watching it unfold before her eyes, she fears she will be the one who can’t bear to go through with it. It’s not even the loss of Cole that concerns her at this point, but rather that his sacrifice might be unnecessary.

Suddenly, she notices a psychic presence that concerns her, as if a powerful person might be hidden in her home. She looks back the direction she came and then the opposite way. She forgets about her worries for Cole, distracted. She carefully, quietly moves around, searching every possible hiding place, of which there are few. The presence remains, yet no one is present. She moves to the open doorway and peers outside, into the hallway, searching carefully in both directions. The hallway is dim, it appears to be empty. She leaves the apartment.

23. Common

The Teacher walks into the hallway, seeking the source of her concern, wiping at her eyes and nose, sniffing. She walks a bit in one direction, then notices the psychic presence waning, so she turns back and walks the opposite way.

Rounding a corner, into one of the smaller passages, where many Big Eyes share their rooms, she finally sees someone. Standing in the middle of the hallway is a very young boy, perhaps five or six, with big eyes and long dirty hair. The boy stands staring up at the Teacher as she approaches. She stares back. The boy’s face carries a blank expression, the Teacher is worried and simultaneously curious. Never before has she felt such a sensation in her mind. The boy seems able to comfortably, effortlessly know every thought, memory and imagining inside the Teacher’s brain, all at once.

The two stare at each other.

“I am Common,” says the boy, without speaking.

The Teacher, still amazed by the boy’s gift, smiles at him. He smiles back.

24. The Hunter

Cole stands squinting into the sunshine that breaks through the woods. He examines himself in his boots, brown pants and blue shirt, he’s holding an ordinary rifle. He’s particularly interested in the rifle, having never known one before. He doesn’t remember why he has it.

He looks around and starts walking. He walks around the woods, hunting, or at least it feels like he’s hunting, he’s being careful to be quiet and it feels like he’s searching for something. He imagines he’ll realize what he’s looking for when he finds it.

Just as Cole notices the warmth of his perspiration being cooled by a breeze, he sees the bright orange, fuzzy hat worn by the white haired man, among some nearby trees. He suddenly understands the man in the hat too seems to be hunting, so Cole decides to name him the Hunter. When the Hunter hears a twig snap under Cole’s foot, he turns quickly and actions his rifle, raising it. Cole, realizing that his life is in danger, also raises his rifle, sloppily aiming it at the Hunter’s chest. He pulls the trigger and with a loud retort, possibly the loudest sound Cole has ever heard, the rifle kicks back into his shoulder. Cole lowers the gun and rolls his right shoulder about, surprised by the pain. The Hunter first lowers his rifle and then falls to the ground, in a heap.

Standing for second, still unclear of any purpose, Cole actions his rifle, as he had seen done by the Hunter. Then Cole walks up to the man, who lays dead in the forest. The orange hat has fallen down a bit and has covered the Hunter’s face. Cole uses the barrel of his rifle to pull the hat off, revealing that the dead man is the Commander. Cole is confused, concerned. Dawn is standing nearby. She is visibly moved by what has transpired, as if it was Cole’s choice to do so. Cole feels more like he was instructed to have this experience.

Dawn speaks with a voice full of emotion, “He’s been hunting me nearly my whole life.”

Cole looks down at the Hunter, or the Commander, or both, trying to fathom... anything. Then Dawn is standing before him, she embraces him and Cole welcomes her warmth. It is more difficult to think straight when Dawn touches him.

“Before you came there was only fear. I’ve had to hide. Now I’m free.” Dawn looks up into Cole’s eyes emotively, “You don’t know how long I’ve been trapped here. Just to feel safe for a minute. To feel comfort, protection. Tell me... Tell me you love me, even if it’s not true.” She embraces him again.

Cole recognizes these words as his mother’s. The association seems contradictory, a disagreement between his mind and body. “I feel like you are not being completely honest with me,” he says.

Dawn puts her head on Cole’s shoulder with her mouth pointed toward his neck, she talks quietly, as if only he needs to hear this. Cole can feel her breath on his skin, “I don’t know if honesty works here, but I like that you want to try. I come from a dark place, where every moment awake is spent trying to stay alive and every moment asleep is spent dreaming of being nothing. You know... what is real. I know what is coming. This place is as real as any other. We make it real, by being together. The more we are together, the more it will become real. Until we can’t be apart. Even if they separate us.” Dawn reaches up to touch his forehead, brushing at his bangs, not unlike his mother would, “You have to ask yourself, why would anyone want to keep us apart, when being together is the key to everything?”

Dawn kisses Cole and the instant her lips touch his, the apparent argument between his body and mind ends. He yields to her advances, reciprocates and reaches out to touch her in places unfamiliar and exciting, only imagined before now.

25. Fourth Debriefing

Cole, sitting at the Commander’s table in his sweaty white button down, sleeves rolled up, veined arms sticking out, bit of cotton taped in the crook of his left arm. The Commander and the Filter are in their positions. Four smaller green stripes accompany the one larger, glowing on the wall. The Commander seems to be upset with Cole. Cole, tired and pale, dark circles under his eyes, does not notice or does not care.

An old leather bible lies on the table in front of the Commander. The Commander would rather stare at it than at Cole, “Do you think I am stupid?”


“For the last thirty minutes you have been... spouting poetry, beautiful forest nymphs, ‘seeking love and comfort in appreciation of her hopeless desperation.’ Cole, this is, just... not useful.”

Cole takes a deep breath and exhales, “It’s only what the Other gives me, Sir.” The Commander looks from his bible to Cole, they lock eyes. “Maybe it’s true...”

This makes the Commander more perturbed, “What is true?”

“That the Other is trapped, Sir, wanting only to be comforted in... its isolation.”

The Commander narrows his eyes and furrows his brow, “That’s ridiculous!”

“How do you know it’s not true?”

The Commander’s voice nears a yell, “Because I tell you what is true! I’m not confused by everyone else’s thoughts. I am a pure mind! Do you really believe that the Other is a beautiful girl that lives in a cabin in the woods? You don’t even know with what you’re getting involved!”

The Filter glances down at the Commander, brow furrowed.

Cole rubs his eyes, tired, “No, Sir. I know that Dawn is just a representation of the Other, she could just as easily been an old man, or anyone else. I also know that the feelings I have for Dawn, although real, are based in the dream. But when I’m with Dawn, there is no room for untruths. Everything just is... It only becomes metaphorical out here. That’s what you’re failing to understand, or he is failing to communicate to you,” Cole motions to the Filter.

The Filter turns his odd stare in Cole’s direction and for the first time, speaks solely to him, from within his own mind, such that the Commander would not know what it being communicated. He thinks, “Tread carefully, boy.”

Cole notices the Filter’s words but does nothing to acknowledge them. He leans forward, elbows on the table, resting tired, “You see, Sir, you’ve asked me not to take any interpretation on my experiences with the Other and I haven’t. I’ve simply told you what has happened, but if I may, I’d like to interpret what I think it means, because I think it might be of more use to you.”

The Commander stares at and fidgets with the bible on the table in front of him, feeling pages, “By all means,” he says.

Cole continues, “The Other is using my own mind, with a desire to create change in my world. She uses my feelings for my Mother’s affection. For instance, the re-enactment of the lullaby she sang to me, I’m the rabbit, Dawn is in the cabin in the woods, or maybe she’s the little man. It’s a safe place, refuge from the Hunter.”

The Commander is impressed by Cole’s interpretation, but not happy about it, “There is always a Hunter. The Hunter is sometimes a jailer, sometimes a torturer. He’s always a threat and he’s always me. This, again, is nothing new. It is to be expected. I am the enemy of the Other.”

Cole looks up at the Filter then back to the Commander, “But the Hunter wasn’t you.”

This is surprising to both the Commander and the Filter. They each stare at Cole for a long time. The Commander finally asks, “What do you mean?”

“The Hunter was my father. He’s been dead since I was four.”

The Commander is intrigued, “Are you sure?”

“It stands to reason, working through my own ghosts... Sir.”

There is a long, great silence in the room as the Commander mulls this over. He studies Cole, waiting for a lie to tell itself on his face. Finally he asks, “What does the Other want?”

“That’s in ’the poetry,′ Sir. The Other feels trapped, held captive. ”

The Commander’s demeanour changes abruptly, finding the loophole in Cole’s story, “No, that is you! It’s natural for all of us to feel confined and dream of running free in open spaces. You are transferring that onto her. Ultimately, you’re always going to find yourself agreeing with the Other, because it tricks you into thinking you want what it wants. It’s a trap. Perhaps in its presence I would believe its lies and give in. But out here, I consider the source. The source is untrue, therefore what the source gives you is untrue.”

Cole looks from the Commander to the Filter and back, tired, but wanting to speak his mind. “I don’t think I am, Sir, because of the things I can’t control, in the presence of the Other... If there is a will being exerted, that isn’t mine, in real time, telling truths or lies, doesn’t that consciousness require some... body? In the real world? A real mind?”

The Commander stares blankly, “It must not, or there would already be evidence.”

Cole speaks slowly, as if his words are dangerous, “Sir, is the Other here? With us... In the flesh?”

The Commander gives Cole a serious stare, devoid of any tell.

The stripes on the wall change from green to yellow.

“No, it is not,” the Commander says, plainly.

Cole locks eyes with the Filter briefly, who doesn’t break that gaze. Cole returns his attention to the Commander, “What is the Other, Sir?”

“That is what you are here to discover.”

“Then I guess that’s my report,” Cole stands, turns and leaves after one last look at each of them. The door closes behind him.

The Filter stands stoically, he speaks aloud to the Commander, “He told you everything.”

“What he said about the Hunter?”

“Yes. Everything he said was true.”

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