Various skeletonized remains of sea creatures lay at the bottom of their respective tanks, the water hazy and discolored. Poor things simply perished with nobody to feed them. A projector cast an image on the wall of what I recognized to be an anglerfish. Grotesque mouth full of sharp little teeth, beady black eyes and the light on the end of the stalk that it uses to lure in whatever’s dumb enough to fall for that. I’d also read some disturbing shit online about how they mate, come to think of it.
Finally we arrived at the module Zach identified earlier on the map. The door hung ajar, but the rim around the opening was lined with chunky powered locks. Very promising. The sign overhead said “Inward is the only way out.” Cryptic hippie dippie Zen garbage. Yet inside were massive computers. Not what I’d browse the web on but like, floor to ceiling, reel to reel computers. Dusty old relics that were shockingly still running.
I picked up a binder sitting atop one of them. The first page headline read “Psycho-isolating properties of seawater.” What? I read on. “The radiation blocking qualities of water have long been known, and utilized for the safe storage of nuclear waste. However it is theorized by our pataphysicists that it also acts as a barrier to psychic transmissions, including the ever-present cacophany of billions of human brains which, on the surface, stifle the discovery and development of latent psychic abilities by gifted individuals.”
My eyes rolled out of my skull. The next page was titled “NDE logs”. I had to read a bit further to discover that it stood for “Near Death Experience”. Astral travel, casper the friendly ghost, that sort of thing. While Zack shuffled through reels of tape looking for the one we came to get, I browsed what seemed to be the ravings of lunatics. It was set up like a spreadsheet with the names of various patients, the time of clinical death, duration of death, time of resuscitation and a brief summary of their experience.
Turning the page, I was confronted with a large molecular diagram. Beneath it read “The production of DMT by the brain at the time of death has been held up by skeptics as proof that NDEs are akin to the hallucinations experienced by recreational users of that substance. It is posited here that DMT is a core component of the mechanism by which the soul is extricated from the brain at death, as a pataphysical pattern projected to the holographic substrate of the universe, where it is re-embodied.”
“Recreational use of that substance” would certainly explain a lot of what’s written here, I thought. Cooped up beneath the waves with only other fruitcakes for company, it was increasingly easy to see how things had gone wrong. The last bit was vaguely troubling for reasons I couldn’t quite nail down.
“I submit that supernormal doses of DMT coinciding with the periods of clinical death imposed for our NDE studies will sever the soul-brain connection entirely, permitting even those without spiritual training to immediately drop their vehicles and ascend to the next stage of human existence.”
I heard Zach cry out behind me. Turning to see if he’d found the reel, he was instead holding open the door to one of perhaps twenty small chambers arranged in two rows, one to either side of the structure. “What is it? Weird 70’s porn? Hairy was just how they liked it back then kid, don’t-” I didn’t reach the punchline. As soon as I made my way over and saw what the commotion was about, my voice trailed off and I went cold.
Inside the little alcove was a severely decomposed corpse. Little more than a skeleton coated in flaky brown remnants of skin. He was strapped tightly into the chair at the wrists, ankles and chest, wearing what looked very much like a virtual reality headset. Immense and clunky, suspended from an articulated boom above it. Each eye with its own little display. In this case what looked to be unusually small cathode ray tubes.
Stranger still, at the neck was a motorized injection mechanism. Two syringes, with tubes hanging from them, leading to reservoirs suspended from the same boom as the headset. Zach reached out and lifted it off the skull. “Don’t!” I motioned to stop him but he waved me off. “I need to know what they saw.”
On each of the little displays, magnified by its own polished crystal lens, was a crude three dimensional rendition of the structure we were in made out of faintly glowing green vectors. Why? For what possible reason? One by one we opened the other alcoves. In every case, inside there were human remains strapped into a seat with an identical primitive VR headset on their heads. Had to be what the computers were for.
I boggled at the morbid spectacle. Meanwhile Zach pried the reel of tape out of the nearest computer, installed the one he’d been carrying until then and typed some commands into the terminal. I looked at my watch. “Shit, we have to go. Just under ten minutes. I’ll have us do some deco stops on the way up, but if we go over by much we’ll need to use the…”
I halted mid-sentence, thinking back to the inflatable chamber on the boat. “Hey, how are we both gonna decompress?” Zach didn’t answer. “Hey kid? That chamber was pretty small. Do we both fit in there? Or-”
I woke up in a world of pain. My head spinning, my vision blurry and something warm and wet trickling down the side of my face. Blood? I hoped to god it wasn’t blood. I tried to sit up but found I was strapped securely into the chair, within one of the alcoves. The former occupant lay in a stinking, crumpled heap just outside. Made some sense of where all the flies came from.
“What…What the fuck is this? Did you knock me out? What the fuck?” I could hear him hammering away at the keyboard just outside. “You little faggot! Let me out of here!” Not terribly persuasive. Zach appeared in the doorway. “The data collected from all these separation events was corrupted. Magnetic tape degrades with time. This reel’s still good, though. Just need to record a new separation event to it and I’ll have what I came for.”
I scowled in a mixture of confusion and rage. “Separation? Magnetic…what? The fuck is this? You get in here and fucking let me out of this you scrawny little bastard!” He looked troubled, but resolute. “Shhh. No tears, friend. Don’t make this harder for me than it already is. My hands are tied. Nearly a hundred billion was sunk into this place if you’ll forgive the pun.”
Pun? Institute? My vision cleared somewhat. I feebly tried to spit at him. “You fuck. You ratty little faggot turd. If I get out of here I’ll come for you.” He pinched my eyelids one at a time, inserting little plastic retainers which prevented me from closing my eyes when I tried.
Once those were in place, he lowered the VR headset into position, adjusting the straps so it fit my head snugly. Before me, a vector based stereo 3D model of my surroundings appeared in flickering green and black.
“The Institute understandably expects to see a return on that investment. From what I’ve seen, they’ll get it too. For all the grief these black sheep put us through, it appears they got up to some real next level shit down here! Don’t be afraid. If the results recorded here are legit, your adventure’s only beginning.”
He wedged a gag between my teeth. I tried and failed to bite him as he did so. Angular green text appeared in front of me. “Relax your body. Focus. Align your chakras, and repeat: “I am not my body. I am a soul who has a body.” The text pulsated, then receded into the distance. Smaller text in the corner of my vision read “Inducing hypnosis”. The little monitors began to strobe.
“Turn it off!” I shouted, hopelessly muffled by the gag. The flashing was intensely painful and I couldn’t close my eyes to block it. I felt a needle press against my neck and, with a pinching sensation, penetrate the skin. Soon after, the vectors began to swirl about, throbbing with energy. My mind raced. The vector room receded slowly. A little model meant to represent my body receded with it.
Then the second needle penetrated my neck. I whimpered. If the first was DMT, I had a good idea of what was in the second. My body felt hot, and my joints constricted. The vector room, the distortions enveloping my vision, all of it began to fade and grow dark. I felt utterly at peace. Blackness enveloped me, but only briefly.
All of a sudden I found myself traveling down a tunnel. I couldn’t feel my arms or legs. Nothing more than thought, a kernel of pure awareness. I couldn’t believe it. They were right. I’d never gone in for this sort of thing. The last time I’d been inside of a church was nearly a decade ago. But here it was, just like I’d always heard about.
It was ineffably beautiful. Nothing in my prior experience remotely compared. The light radiated outward from a distant point, the rays bathing me in a warm, comforting sensation. I faintly heard voices calling to me from within the light, urging me to come into it. Bliss overtook me. I raced ahead.
Near the end I could at last see the source of the radiant beams. The most beautiful woman imaginable, many times my size and clothed in a flowing white robe. Six soft white wings like those of a dove spread out from behind her. She slowly extended her arms to me as if inviting embrace. My heart longed for it. The summation of every painful struggle in my life. Infinite gentleness and understanding.
Her symmetrical, breathtaking face loomed large before me as I drew near. Only now did her eyes open. Jet black with nothing like an iris or pupil. Her mouth then opened, revealing multiple concentric rows of sharp little teeth.
The End. Follow me for more like this!