Project D - Second Segment
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"Just breathe normally..." was the last thing Dez heard as he closed his eyes.
Water was swarming in around him. The rush and violence of it was unexpected, and Dez squirmed in the deepness as his chair dissolved into bubbles. Words were impossible. For the first time in quite a while, Dez felt panicked. His hands flung about his figure, searching for something to grab onto, but there was nothing but open water.
“Just breathe normally.” The voice sung in his head like a midnight lullaby. He stopped fighting and allowed his body to relax. His lungs took in the water and he...breathed.
Opening his eyes, the surrounding area was as clear as if he were on land. The fish, the colors, everything seemed so pure as his body floated with no trouble. I love this, Dez thought, but didn’t want to appear too eager, so he made sure his facial expression remained neutral. Who knew what these geeks with probes and machines were doing to him while he lay asleep.
Oh shit. Jeannie couldn’t remember the steps and it was almost her turn to go out.
“You ready? You’re next,” the female stagehand spoke down to her before mumbling something into her headset.
“I’m not sure, I can’t...I’ve missed a lot of classes," Jeannie said, but the woman had walked away. The stage appeared so small from her perspective. She could hear the applause from parents as she was suddenly in the middle of it. A light on her. Music started. Her costume of sparkles leaked around her. She didn’t know the steps. In her mind, she knew she’d been skipping her classes. But here she was, and she had no choice. So she made it up. Every wiggle. Every turn. Jeannie pulled it out of her ass. And was she good? She didn’t know.
“What was that?” another woman asked as they stood to the side of the curtain. Mrs. Freeman. Her fourth year teacher. God, when was the last time she even thought about her?
"That was me kicking ass," Jeannie replied, and strutted towards the back. Her aggressiveness startled her. Where the hell did that come from?
Dez swam about the ocean with ease. He couldn’t help but run his fingers over the scales now outlining his body. How far down could he go?
Well, this is a preliminary, so why not amp up the excitement?
He lunged further down to the depths where the sun’s rays couldn’t reach. The darkness consumed everything around him, and soon the bright fish and clear water turned to muddy loneliness. It wasn’t only the space around him that became dark, but Dez could feel an emptiness he’d never experienced before. He attempted to kick, but the water became thick like lard, attaching itself around his limbs. The only light came from the glowing eyes of the creatures surrounding him.
What is this? Dez thought. What the fuck is this?
“Aw, fuck,” Jeannie moaned.
It was Melanie Thompson. Only it wasn’t--more like a the high school version in a place she never belonged. But here she was, dancing in Jeannie’s spotlight. It was strange to think how much this moment seemed to matter. Jeannie rarely thought much on it. The spotlight. But here she was, cursing Melanie Thompson to the deepest depths of Hell for upstaging her in a place she’d never…
“Good morning, girls,” a voice came from behind, as Jeannie turned, now in a classroom with Mrs. Hallard at the front. “I trust you all studied hard for the exam.”
A deep pit of anxiety boiled inside Jeannie's stomach, a want to hide inside her desk. And before she knew it, that’s exactly what she did...in a way.
“It’s so dark…” she murmured as the sounds of her classmates and teacher continued outside. Jeannie leaned against one large book and pulled the corner page up as a cape. “This will do fine for now.”
Drake scratched his head as he finished the last of the fruit. Tart, with a bitter after taste. “Oh, he should be a load of laughs,” Drake chuckled as he tossed the cores of each fruit into his satchel and meandered out of the room, returning to the base. He wasn’t expecting anyone to be there when he returned. The face that met him was an unwelcome sight, seeing as it belonged to one of the reason’s Drake had taken his leave to begin with.
“Drake, so glad you thought to join us.”
“Yeah, well, someone’s gotta fix your mistakes, Lamar.”
Lamar smiled, resisting the urge to lower himself to Drake’s childish games. Instead, he extended his arm and allowed Drake to pass him on the staircase. As the two ascended to the third floor, Lamar halted Drake’s movement.
Drake rolled his eyes. “God, I knew it. That calm exterior is just something learned in required courses, right? What’d you do? Snap on some kid? Scare them into oblivion?”
“Just off the planet. No need to get dramatic,” Lamar replied. “I just thought you should be made aware of some changes which have taken place since your...vacation.”
“Oh, have the Infiltrators gotten rid of the yoga class? Damn. You know, I’ve been meaning to work on flexibility.” Drake laughed and moved out of reach.
The door opened to a room cluttered in rows of booths. Tubes ran all about the room; objects, messages, even people traveling their cylinder highways. Drake’s eyes widened. This was much more advanced than when he’d last been here.
“You’ll need that flexibility,” Lamar cooed as he guided Drake over to his designated station.
They passed by other Infiltrators at their desks--actively working, drinking, eating, or flipping through information on their screens. Faces on top of faces. The formality that had taken over the center was a bit off-putting. What else had changed?
“Here, all your subjects and their information have already been programed. You can start as soon as possible.”
“Soon as possible?"
“Two have already begun their first trials,” Lamar answered, “and it looks as though one’s in a bit of trouble.”
Drake looked over the data: heart rates, mind activity. It was all so...technical. “I’m going to let them figure this out.”
“How the fuck am I supposed to see what they can handle on their own if I jump in every five seconds? Too obvious. And the dream monitors will notice. No. Let me do what I know how to do, and you go do whatever fucked up thing you know how to do. God help the poor bastards.”
Lamar smiled. “If you insist,” he said as he started to walk away. He stopped and turned back to Drake. “Public Transportation...”
Drake slowly spun to face him. “What'd you say?”
“That’s what you were supposed to do, right? At a desk, pushing buttons. This train can go...this one has to stay...thrilling. Maybe you missed your calling. I can speak to the superiors about it--”
“I didn’t think so.” Lamar smiled and walked away.
Drake cursed him under his breath and pulled a headset over his eyes and ears.
“Okay, alright, okay, alright,” Dez mouthed. What to do? He couldn’t move, and now those eyes, those creatures closed in around him. “This ain’t right...I say this is fucked up!” he screamed, as much as he could, anyway.
But creatures heard it and pushed back accordingly. Dez noticed the change and screamed again. Further they swam, but now they were angry. Teeth emerged from their distinctive jaws, and now the further they were pushed back the more they charged, a battle of mud-curdling screams over the deep darkness of the sea.
“Get away! Get the fuck away from me!” Dez screamed.
“Dez? Dez! Calm down. You’re awake now. Your first preliminary trial is over,” the technician said. Her voice could calm a rabid dog. She touched Dez’s shoulder and turned the machine to its “OFF” setting. Her lips clamped together in sympathy. “Some think these early trials are just for laughs. And they vary in difficulty for everyone.” She made Dez focus on her by tapping his hand. “There’s no shame in being scared.”
Dez straightened up in his chair and took a breath. “I ain’t scared,” he muttered. “That was just a bit fucked up, if you’ll forgive my language.”
She smiled. “Yes, well, that is one way to describe it.”