Part III - Chapter 14 - The Madness of a Scientist

When Pete came to, he found himself back in his cell. The strangeness of the previous room prevented Pete from taking an inventory of his health but lying in the cell with nothing to do, he could mentally assess how he was doing. Pete's dizziness and weakness had left his body and he could feel his strength had fully returned. It was like the end of a bad cold. He had barely enough time to process the experience of the strange world that provided incorrect sensory information before Jayne's agonized and tortured screams began to interrupt his thoughts.

Pete sprang to his feet and moved quickly to the door of the cell to watch what was going on. It looked like Jayne had just returned from his latest trip and was writhing in pain. Even from where Pete stood, he could see blood pouring from Janye's nose. Jayne was no longer bound or gagged but it was clear that even lifting his head was a difficult task. However, Jayne did manage to lift his head and smirk at the scientist before commenting, "You know, Chuck, I think you get a sick pleasure out of hurting us. It's like you are a child playing with dolls. Did mommy never let you play with toys as a child?"

"If you insist on being unprofessional and calling me 'Chuck,' I might have to decrease your pain inhibition medication. It would truly mess with your spirit as you are already barely holding on with pain suppressants," came the sadistic reply to the taunt. "Or I could begin to play with your mind. You almost look like a Casey or a Slattery to me. How much fun would it be to convince you that your real identity is that of a stranded ship's XO in a pandemic-ridden world?" Charles leaned in close and seemed to laugh cruelly. At the sound of a nearby screen beeping, Charles turned his attention back to his tablet before changing the subject, "One last test today and we should be done." The familiar pattern began again - the sound of a die falling, the rhythmic tapping, Charles pushing buttons on the bracelet, and then Jayne's body disappeared with a blinding light and scream of pain.

Charles finished a few more notes before standing up and acknowledging Pete. "Well, you look like you finally have some color returning to your cheeks. Excuse me a moment, but since Prisoner 2187 will be away for the next few hours, I'm going to let my daughter into the lab to play." Charles gave a slight bow and left the room. Within a few minutes, the light skip of little shoes came bouncing into the room and right up to Pete's cage.

"Mr. Hutter, Mr. Hutter! Guess what? Maggie doll says she has a secret for you."

Unsure how to respond as talking to children was not something that Pete had a lot of experience in, he could only state, "Oh? And what's the secret?"

"I can't tell you - she has the secret. What's that?" she asked pointing at a tag that labeled Jayne's cell.

"You mean the label 21-"

"I used to be 2!" interrupted the child, "But now I'm 3 and Daddy says I turn 4 soon."

"Ok-" began Pete unsure how to respond to this whirlwind of questions and comments. What surprised Pete was the element of innocence in this child who was living in one of the most demented environments that Pete had experienced, which included underground lairs of Bly complete with trap doors for unwanted guests.

"Do you have a Mommy?" came the next question from the purest blue eyes that Pete had ever seen.

The question itself took Pete by surprise but it was just like the inquiring mind of a child to ask potentially explosive topics from a place of puerility. Pete decided to sidestep the question and attempt to glean more information from the child and responded with his own question, "Why don't you tell me about your Mommy?"

She used her little arm to wipe her nose before responding, "Well, she's dead. But she's a real Mommy though. Ever'body else has a tube Mama. But not me! I'm special!" as she exclaimed her importance she pointed to herself and beamed, clearly proud of her heritage. Before Pete could inquire further, the sound of a chair being rolled began to inch towards Pete and the child. Charles emerged a moment later with the rolling chair and sat down next to Livi a few feet away from the cages. She hugged her father, suddenly shy again.

"So, what did you think?" Charles asked Pete.

"How about a bit of specificity? Are you referring to the child? This world? The time of day?"

"Well, this is all beyond your time, but I know that you went to Stanford University in California. I am sure that you will be able to keep up."

This conversation was continuing to surprise Pete. "No one knows about my-"

"Education? Come now! Do people really believe that a man who is an opinionated art lover, a master of economics, and an individual with a prolific vocabulary refused to finish school simply because he forgot to wear his pants to school as a child?"

Pete decided that his college background was not worth quibbling about and the need for more information was paramount in order to plan an escape, "I was an English major not a scientist. So, why would I have an opinion about your futuristic world?"

"Still an unrealized genius for your time," responded Charles. He reached into his lab coat pocket and pulled out a cigar. He leaned back in his protesting chair before lighting his cigar. He let out a slow cloud of smoke before beginning his story, "People in my time have created digital worlds for each individual and they each live inside a cube like the one you experienced. An individual has 3 to 8 different settings depending on your status which is determined by the quality of your work and the necessity of the work you perform. At the end of an individual's work day, you return home to "live" in a box or virtual existence. It was originally designed as a way to provide vacation stops to those unable to venture outside their day-to-day world due to a lack of funds, health, or status. However, as demand for virtual reality cubes grew and the quality of life for people without funds and status diminished, people started living in the cubes instead of just vacationing in them. With the greater demand to live in a virtual reality, the outside world was cut down and destroyed to make room for more cubes.

"Now our world consists of millions of people "living" inside their hollow 'realities.' Humans have become weak due to their minimal movement. They lack imagination as everything is simulated for them and I am sure that after decades of 'improving the virtual experience,' we no longer look, smell, or feel an accurate representation of the world. More than that, socialization with other individuals, real and actually living people, is illegal for most classes. With the lack of socialization, people lack any part of humanity that comes with community. There is no human interaction anymore. There are no emotions, friendships, families, or romances. This world breeds people in tubes, places them in virtual reality boxes to serve society through work and commercialism, and then buries the ashes to make room for the next batch of test tube babies."

"Them," Livi stated as she pointed to a door in an attempt to help illustrate her father's explanation. And then she pointed at her father, Pete, and herself, before simply saying, "Us."

"So, what about us then?" asked a confused Pete trying to keep up.

"There are just a small handful of social classes that are granted the ability to live outside of the cubes. We are all still children of test tubes and do not associate with those outside of our assigned work world. These exempt groups are scientists, a handful of bureaucrats, cleaners, and gardeners. That said, a few years ago, bureaucrats began a temporary push to readjust the cubes with corrected data. You see, due to a world lacking many natural resources and decades of no one remembering what sounds are supposed to exist, what temperatures to create, what colors things should be, and what smells should be paired with various items, the quality had become quite lax over the years. Our original attempt to rectify the disparity was the orbs sent to your time to collect data."

"Yes, I remember them," commented Pete.

Charles scowled at the memory, "Yes, sending back an unchaperoned piece of future technology and expecting it to not potentially destroy history was at best naïve and at most gravely irresponsible. The lead scientist has since been...terminated."

"My mommy likes flowers," chimed in the little girl, desperate to be a part of the adult conversation.

"Yes," Charles confirmed while smoothing her hair back. "Your Mommy."

Charles then turned back to Pete. "I met her mother, Mira, shortly after the bureaucrat, John Bly, and his greed for the orbs' power disaster. You know he was actually from our time, right? Looking to take over an already limping society. Such a strange man, I believe that you were part of his gang?"

Charles paused for confirmation but Pete merely stared back, refusing to provide even the slightest nod of affirmation to his captor.

"Anyway, my time together with Mira was short but upon her execution, I was determined to keep Livi out of the virtual reality worlds. And not just from being placed into a cube but to destroy the cube world all together. So, I have been experimenting on the effects of time travel on a human body. As you can see with Prisoner 2187, it is a very painful procedure to make numerous trips through time. For people of your time, it becomes extremely painful to move after several jumps. For my people, anything more than once can be a death sentence. Actually, that was Mira's execution sentence, a second trip to the past. If she even survived the trip, she would not have lived long. While individuals from your time can adapt to the germs that have mutated down here, many of the diseases that you currently experience have been dormant or extinct for generations. Our systems cannot cope with the germs that lived with our ancestors."

"I wasn't allowed to see Mommy to say good-bye. We had to say goodbye to a box," added the little girl. Realizing that it was the end of her Mother's story and that there were rags posing as toys in a corner of the room, she went to play with them, bored with the ongoing conversation.

"Since I'm more of the 'live and let live' personality with a 'what's the best way to get paid' motivation, why the hell am I here? Why should I care about any of this?"

"All will be revealed in time," Charles replied while looking at his watch. After calculating the time, he stood back and returned to his work station in the center of the room. "But for now, I must work on bringing Prisoner 2187 back from his current appointed time and location." At that, Charles stood, pushed the rolling chair back to the center of the room, and picked up his daughter. Livi turned to wave at Pete as Charles carried his daughter and her "dolls" out of the lab to leave Pete alone with his thoughts.

- - - - - - - - - - - - -

Pete watched Jayne arrive back from his most recent "trip," but originally did not recognize his coprisoner. The man who came back had gone almost completely white and wrinkled, like Jayne had aged several decades. To make matters worse, the man came back with a scream of immeasurable pain and a profuse amount of blood exuding from his nose and ears. About the only thing that Pete could recognize was the man's clothes. Charles did not have to shock his prisoner unconscious but simply drug the prisoner by the shirt collar back to the cell before tossing the crumpled heap of Jayne onto the floor. Charles was so certain that Jayne was in too much pain or that his will had been so completely broken that Charles didn't even bother to lock Jayne's cell door before leaving the lab. Within moments of Jayne's return, Charles left the lab and turned off the lights to leave his prisoners in their simulated nightfall.

Pete studied Jayne in stunned silence in an attempt to determine if the man was still breathing or if he had died in the darkness. So, when Jayne broke the silence, Pete almost jumped out of his skin.

"Hey Pete. Were you able to see a way out on your field trip?" croaked the dying prisoner.

Realizing that Jayne wanted to act as if nothing had changed, Pete decided to forgo any questions of health or wellbeing but instead reply, "All I could see was a superfluous optical illusion in a small room. He knocked me out before and after the "box" as Livi calls it, so I have no idea what is really beyond the door out," Pete paused before continuing, "How long was I gone?"

"No idea. He has been moving me back and forth so often that it may have been a few days for you but I am sure that it's years for me."

Jayne coughed as he forced himself into a sitting position on the floor with his back against the wall. Every movement looked excruciating to Pete but he had to smile as he watched Jayne pull out his most recently stolen cigar to light it. Jayne might be dying but he would not surrender taking advantage of any opportunity to stick it to his captor.

As Jayne exhaled the smoke, he responded to Pete's shock in a mocking tone, "Tell me the truth, do you think I'm still pretty?" At Pete's shocked and silent response, Jayne began a fit of coughing that lasted for several minutes. Once the coughing subsided, he changed subjects, "Maybe you can find a way to steal the bracelet and escape to a different time."

"I'll pass on the bracelet of torture, thank you. I have yet to be called a masochist and am in no hurry to become one."

"Telling you, the first few don't hurt. Anyone can survive the first trip."

"If you weren't in pain that first time, why didn't you escape?"

"If he hadn't electrocuted, drugged, and bound me, believe me, I would have found a way to escape. In fact once, I managed to break my thumbs to release the cuffs and moved from wherever or whenever I landed. The problem was after a half mile or so, the bracelet pulled me back. The bracelet doesn't come off unless you know the code but I think I finally have the pattern down. I'll bring it to you." And with that Jayne pushed the cage door open and slowly crawled to Pete's cell door. When Jayne finally arrived, he passed a piece of torn up and crumpled paper through the bars and into Pete's palm. In the darkness, Pete could feel that there was a piece of plastic inside of the note but could not study it in the dark. Pete turned his attention to the paper but no matter how hard he squinted, he couldn't read the note as it merely looked like ink smudges. How long had Jayne been accruing this information while Pete was in the cube virtual reality room?

It didn't sit right with Pete, owing this man who was practically a stranger. Instead of expressing appreciation, Pete asked, "Why don't you just use it to escape on your next jump?"

"Because I'm dying, not even going to survive the night," coughed Jayne.

"I don't have a response to that."

"There isn't one. Just make sure that I don't die alone, or for nothing," grunted Jayne. After a few moments of reflective silence, Jayne added, "I'll tell you what the prisoners before you arrived told me before they died. 'At some point your body betrays you. For some it's getting old and not running as fast as you'd like. For others, it's the day that your body gives into pain. This is my betrayal. It was a long journey, but I knew it was coming from the day that I got here.' The day they gave me that speech, I was determined that I would never surrender. And while I might not be living past tonight, I'll be damned if I don't do everything I can to destroy Chucky and whatever his master plan might be. So, if you escape, you better do everything you can to destroy this lab and that bastard!"

- - - - - - - - - - - - -

Before the scientist arrived in the morning, Jayne breathed his last. While he refused to provide any further insights to how they knew each other, Jayne spent the night determined to die in a manner of his choosing. He refused to lie down as he was determined to not be seen as subservient but at the same time, he couldn’t move more than a few centimeters before having cough fits or waves of pain. Jayne determined to not die sprawled across the floor looking like he was trying to escape or as if he were vulnerable in anyway but elected to die sitting against Pete’s cage, one last moment of rebellion against his captor. Jayne slowly enjoyed his cigar as though it was the most pleasant experience in his life and as though he were truly experiencing freedom in his final moments.

Unfortunately, because Jayne had stopped talking, or maybe he couldn’t, the night passed slowly for Pete as all he could do was watch Jayne and count the seconds to the next morning.

When the scientist arrived in the morning, he noted Jayne’s body without any compassion. Charles gave Pete the breakfast mush before pulling out a journal to take notes on the demise of Jayne. After witnessing several minutes of the captor’s apathy, Pete’s ire bubbled to the surface. “Chuck, don’t act like you give a damn. We are just the rats in your maze but instead of chasing cheese we’re escaping a giant hammer.”

“Do you think that I enjoy this? Sending people to early graves? Do you think that I place science above humanity?”

“I don’t know where your ethical line might be but mine has typically lived in the grey area. But even with my wanton concept of right and wrong, I have never given someone a prolonged and arduous death. That is a form of sadism that only John Bly could hope to match at his lowest point in his already miniaturized sense of morality.”

Charles sighed as he continued to scribble notes over Jayne’s body. “Do you know why this time period continues to perfect time travel? They want to take pictures of famous moments and people in time to update their records. To show the victories throughout human history as a type of entertainment. They didn’t want to update or world and they don’t want to learn from history or from the people who shaped our world but just to make profit off of it. But I’ve studied history, in detail. And not just fictional films that my science partner is obsessed with but real history. I see that we have lost touch with other humans. Each human lives in a cage, albeit of our own design. But we never touch the people in the rooms beside us. We never talk to each other, unless you are in an ‘excepted class,’ such as scientists. We can communicate with other scientists because talking in person could bring collaboration and furthering success. But politicians, gardeners, cleaners, and cube people all live in isolation, each involved in their own sphere. Each furthering their egomania due to isolation while lacking love, emotions, and life. Life and everything that can give one a sense of identity, purpose, or soul has become simulated.

“With the inability for me to send our entire population back in time and the unwillingness of politicians to learn from history or free our population, I realized what I needed to do. I had to bring all of the great individuals throughout time and pull them into my time. However, in order to ensure that those individuals would not be killed on their journeys, I pulled criminals from the past. Whores, thieves, gangsters, etc. Low level people that would not be missed but hardened by life to have a stronger will to survive through the tests. When each individual was healthy after their immune systems were strengthened, they were first sent back to kidnap another person from the past with a promise of freedom if they brought back enough replacements. After they had their replacements here and moving through the initial disease acclimation, I would begin the testing of the original criminal by sending them back and forth throughout time to see how many trips the human body can withstand.”

“Is that what I am? A criminal?”

“You are more than that. You are the founder and shepherd of the Empathicalism Movement. You speak about how truth needs to be shown, not in words but in feelings and in actions. You are the person who can help shape the future. Now that my experiments are finally completed, I can start bringing other influencers like you to this time. You are my first ally brought to this era!”

At his pronouncement, Charles had stopped writing in his journal and looked at Pete with an almost godlike worship. Charles’ speech and adoration only brought a shiver down Pete’s spine. Charles was completely insane.

“I have a daughter,” Charles continued. “It’s illegal for communication between classes or to have any “frivolous and non-productive” conversations with scientists, but when I met Livi’s mother, I knew that our world had lost the essence of what it means to truly be “human.” What I felt for her was more than I could ever quantify as a scientist. I was placed in charge of the first-time traveling team following the orb debacle and charged with preventing further ramifications of John Bly’s interference. I entered the role determined to protect the health of the past and preserve the future, my present. I was charged with training my small team on how to avoid affecting any aspect of history while providing insight on how best to collect data during their travels to reset the cube simulations. My small group consisted of a scientist and a couple gardeners, one of them being Livi’s mother. Even though she was part of the working class, she was the most beautiful thing I had ever seen. Unfortunately, ordinary men react with fear and violence to anything that’s new and different, or in our case forgotten parts of the human experience such as the births of children outside of test tubes. So, when she became pregnant, I had to hide them both but Livi’s mother was discovered shortly after giving birth and sentenced to die in the past. So, I have been hiding the child the best I can to ensure that she lives in a room larger than any box and that she experiences love and family because those are the things that connect us. We as humans are so much more than DNA, we are emotion and I want her to have love, family, and freedom. You leaders of history, you can make it happen for her and for our present society. You can bring freedom, love, hope, emotions, and strength back. You are our future!”

“Not to rain on your parade but if you believe that robbing history of great influencers will solve your problems, won’t that just create new world problems? As in, destroy the history of the world? Somehow, I doubt the bride of Chucky would approve.”

“The grandfather paradox,” responded Charles and he waved it away with a hand. “I choose to believe that it will create a new dimension of time and space and my loyalty is to that time stream and the troubles of the old timestream are not my problem. My only priority is Livi.”

“Let me make one thing abundantly clear, I will never fight or bleed for your lack of principles or your insane cause.”

Charles tilted his head to study Pete before simply stating, “We’ll see, Mr. Hutter. We’ll see.”

With that, the scientist looked at his watch before standing and leaving Jayne’s body on the floor. He crossed the room and placed his journal in the desk before locking it and walking towards the door. “For now, you will have to excuse me,” Charles called over his shoulder, “I have an appointment with a colleague. We can continue our discussion about the future, time paradoxes, and philosophy upon my return.” And within moments he left out the door.

With the lights left on, Pete could return to his bed and remove the paper that Jayne had smuggled over before dying. As Pete unfolded the crinkled up paper and attempted to read the smudged words, he found that it was still impossible to read. In an effort to better study the note, Pete moved towards the door to shine as much light as possible on the smudged words and absently moved the plastic behind the note. As soon as Pete held the note and plastic up near the entrance of the cage, the door swung open. Pete was dumbfounded. Somehow, Jayne had managed to steal a copy of the cell key, the tiny piece of plastic, and had smuggled it to Pete for his escape. Why the hell didn’t Jayne just tell Pete that the plastic piece was the key and they both could have escaped during the night? Was Jayne really that determined to never travel by use of the bracelet again that he’d rather die in a laboratory floor? Did Jayne not tell Pete about the key to ensure that there would be someone with him when he died?

- - - - - - - - - - - - -

Pete was unsure how much time he had before Charles would return so he ran to the center of the room. He looked anxiously around the tables and desks but did not see the bracelet. Pete began attempting to open various drawers but several were locked. In a frantic move, he took the scientist's chair and smashed it against the floor. Pete took one of the legs of the chair and hooked it through the handle of one of the drawers. Using it as a lever and pressing his weight down on the suspended chair leg, he was able to pry the drawer open. Nothing was in the top drawer so he used the same method on the second drawer. To his frustration, nothing of use appeared in the second drawer, just the journal which Pete threw on the desk in exasperation. Finally, the third drawer yielded the bracelet.

He strapped on the bracelet and tucked the instructions from Jayne in between the skin of his wrist and the bracelet. A moment of greed overcame Pete and he decided that it might be worth it to steal some part of technology or maybe something of value. The hard part of escaping the cell and finding the bracelet was complete which should enable him to quickly escape at any time. He moved papers and wires that sat around Charles' desk. In his hurry, he knocked the tablet off the desk which caused the screen to break. Pete stooped to pick it up and noticed that besides the crack down the middle of the screen it still worked. In fact, as the light blurred to life, he noticed that the buttons for inflicting pain on Jayne was still the most recent function of this machine. Overwhelmed with disgust, which momentarily stumped his greed, Pete threw it on the floor and stomped on it until he was sure that it had been utterly destroyed. Unfortunately, he did not find anything else that looked valuable. He picked up the journal again and flipped through scribbled notes on each page. Suddenly, a familiar light and overwhelming sound flooded the room, someone was arriving. Was there more than one bracelet?

Determined to not find out if the arriving stranger who was screaming in pain might be a friend of Charles', Pete absentmindedly dropped the journal and ran out the door in shock. Still startled by the blood curdling screams and desperate to escape the sound, Pete raced into a frizzy haired and scrawny blonde young man. Suddenly the bracelet on Pete's wrist activated, the room went bright, a loud sound enveloped Pete, and he found himself wishing he was back in his rented room in San Francisco. When the lights and sound faded, Pete opened his eyes. To his surprise, he was exactly in the place that he had pictured. Pete was standing in his rented room in San Francisco.

Somehow, Pete had escaped back home.

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