In the corner of my eye, people shiver.
I look away from the computer screen, but Karen-- sorry, Carpe Diem-- at the desk next to mine is merely droning on in her phoned meeting. Nothing out of the ordinary has happened for a good few weeks, nothing at all like what happened at the beginning of December, when the specimen broke out of its casing and escaped into the vents. That was a peculiar day, to say the least. FT-PASSACAGLIA was in the heads of near-every member of the Customer Support Team.
Yeah, there's nothing quite like calling up Customer Service and hearing nothing but mad screams about flying cheese blocks biting people's heads off.
But that incident was weeks ago; Fossil Security East secured FT-PASSACAGLIA by the end of a few days, and everyone's moved on with their lives. Boatshoe, who used to be a few cubicles away from me, resigned because of the traumas his mind revisited when FT-PASSACAGLIA got into his head, and we got customers calling to complain about "terrible service" for a week or so, but that's all that became of that.
So what in the hell am I seeing?
I decided to go ask Doctor Cloud what I might be experiencing.
"Well, William," I should mention my name's not actually William. My name's Stewart Grime, but the Genera provided me with the codename 'William Wright.' "I can't say for sure what's going in inside your head unless you're suggesting I perform Op-Salad on you." The Genera loves codenames; "Operation: Brain Salad Surgery" is the designated name for, well, brain surgery. Which, surprisingly, happens about once a week in this branch alone. Naturally, I wasn't going to have my head opened up for the eldritch equivalent of a stomachache, so I explained what was going on in my head:
"If a person ever enters the edge of my field of vision, they will always, without fail, appear to be shivering rapidly."
"It's not just your eyesight fading?"
"This only happens with humans, and only at the edge of my vision."
At this, the doctor let out a sound of stumped interest. "Maybe PASSACAGLIA's still hanging around in your eyes; maybe there's still some...PASSACAGLIA-dust that got caught in your eyes from the earlier incident?"
I hadn't considered this, actually. "Maybe. ..but wait, wouldn't I feel said PASSACAGLIA-dust? And I mean, this problem has only just started happening."
"I honestly don't know what to tell you," he concluded, throwing his gloved hands into the air. "All I can suggest is an Op-Salad, or you can just rough it out and let me know if any more symptoms occur." I decided to do the latter.
On the way home from work, I kept hearing laughter. As I lay my head down to sleep that night, I swore the ceiling looked to be of a different texture. The next day, I let Doctor Cloud know about these new symptoms. He turned to his computer and typed the symptoms into whatever program the Genera issued him with.
"I'm not getting anything. I was thinking maybe it was a Fossil, but no, unless it's an undocumented one. The closest thing I can think of is PASSACAGLIA. I'm sorry, William; I can't treat what I don't know." He saw the worry in my face, and suggested I take the day off. He even wrote me a letter of excused absence.
Working at the Genera isn't necessarily a tiring job, but we take mental health very seriously here. We research some of the world's most dangerous phenomena, and a lot of the Fossils wear away at our sanity anyway, so the higher-ups want us to be as focused and sane as we can be. That, and I work in Customer Support; dealing with complaints and reports all the time wears away at your sanity arguably faster than even the worst Fossil could. So naturally, I took excused absence.
On the way home this time, suddenly both humans and all forms of technology became blurry in the corners of my eyes. At home that night, my clocks suddenly began ticking down from "23:49." Twenty-three hours until.. something. I went straight to work the next day, bringing my clock with me.
Doctor Cloud turned white. He muttered something about "new symptoms" under his breath, but when I asked him to repeat himself, he said it was "Nothing." And then he turned to his computer and typed something long, asking me to wait outside his office for a little while.
To an outsider, a Topography Genera Center looks very much like your average white-collar office building. All you really see is average people typing at computers and using fancy bluetooth headsets. That's because someone came up with a brilliant idea: Place the offices at the front of the building so random people and new recruits think we're just all about reports and numbers. So we do that, and it really works; we don't want your common Tom, Dick, and Harry to step into our buildings and instantly see the crazy technology, wards filled with what look like zombies and people with strings in their skin, or the brain surgery theaters. …or the Fossil Experimentation chambers. When Doctor Cloud told me the higher-ups wanted me to report to Fossil Experimentation immediately, I, of course, had.. a lot of fears about this. But orders are orders.
In order to get to Fossil Experimentation, one must pass through a series of security checkpoints that often remind me of those spy films where the agent has to input several passwords into several terminals, do fingerprint scans, get guard escorts, and open so many doors. All this is, of course, absolutely necessary; we really don't want many people stepping into our research chambers. On any other day, I would have felt rather unaffected by these several complicated checkpoints, but today was different. Today, I could vividly hear endless screaming past all tangible noises. Today, every security guard appeared to be uncontrollably shivering. Today, every clock I saw was counting down. Fifteen hours left.
After all the security checkpoints was a hall spanning, I am told, one entire kilometre. The purpose of this hall is to provide some distance in case a Fossil escapes. Yeah, Fossils escape; it's hardly a very pleasant mental image, and it's exacerbated when you realize most Fossils can cover a kilometre within a fraction of a second. All it really did for me today was give me plenty of time to let my mind wander. Every human has an ocean inside, and every human has a tiny little drainpipe at the bottom of his or her ocean. When all the water has fallen down the drain, so too shall that person's mind. Well, I pictured, my drainpipe just got wedged open a couple hundred metres.
Eventually, I reached the Fossil Experimentation's front desk. I told Camilla I was sent here, and she checked the records before joyfully directing me to chamber H-07. The people working at Fossil Experimentation are odd; they're all always cheerful and happy, and none of us in the white-collar front of the facility can ever pinpoint why. As for the chamber naming system, it's fairly straightforward: the letter is the initial for the Fossil-Type, and the number is which chamber it is. However, I didn't know what Fossil-Type "H" was.
I passed through the dark-blue arches marking entrance to a Fossil wing, duly noting the name on the sign nearby: Fossil-Type HOMUNCULI. I may work for an organization that focuses on Fossils, but they don't exactly teach you every single term; everything's on a need-to-know basis, and I was just a customer support consultant. Whatever FT-HOMUNCULI was, I didn't know. But I was about to find out, and I knew I wasn't going to cheer at the answer.
Chamber H-07 was well-lit and empty like Camilla's smile. As I stepped into the white room, the door behind me slammed shut and the voice of a higher-up boomed into my ears despite the lack of any visible speakers on any wall.
"Dictate," the voice signaled. This was not directed to me, I gathered, but to a worker near him that was, from the sounds of it, transcribing his words onto an official document.
"Test designation: FTH07344. Test date: January 11, 2012. Test subject: Homo sapiens sapiens, a human male from Topography Genera Center East branch. Codename 'William Wright.'"
A slot opened on the far wall, and out of it was lowered an Apple computer.
The voice continued, this time directed at me, "Subject, you are to approach the computer." Having no alternative, I hesitatingly stepped towards it.
"Subject, you are to touch the computer with your right index finger only." I did so, feeling nothing of note.
"Subject, you are to touch the computer with your left index finger only." I did this as well, and nothing happened.
"Subject, you are to carefully lift the computer with both hands." This, I did slowly. I felt a bit of pain in my lower back, but that's all.
The slot in the wall opened once more, this time lowering a small pair of earphones.
"Subject, you are to carefully insert the left speaker into your left ear." After I put it in, the speaker began playing some strange static. I said I heard static, and the voice advised me to quickly leave the chamber.
Outside the chamber was a Genera Health Officer ready to see to me. He touched the outside of the speaker inserted in my ear and asked how it felt. "Loud."
"I'm gonna carefully remove the earphone from your ear, okay?" I saw no problem with this.
After he removed it, I screamed. My eardrum came out with the speaker, though this wasn't the scary part. I could still hear the Hellish laughter in my left ear.
The Genera Health Officer wrote something down on his clipboard and then led me down to a dark room with bars on the door. I was told to step into the cell, whereupon the door was firmly locked and guarded by heavily-armed men.
I could hear silence in my right ear and persistent laughter in my left. As time passed, I began to hear the higher-ups discussing the test results in my left ear.
"Test summary: Subject made contact with one (1) Apple-brand computer and had one (1) left earphone speaker inserted into his left ear.
"Test results: Computer provoked no change. Earphone began to fuse itself with subject's anatomy, subject claimed speaker played static upon fusion despite lack of source.
"Test conclusions: Definitive evidence of HOMUNCULI manifestation within test subject."
I heard a second voice-- Doctor Cloud, "What do you suggest?"
"Subject has been designated CRIMSON until further notice and placed in the subject detaining chamber. Immediate euthanasia recommended."
"..we can't save him?"
"HOMUNCULI presence has already reached subject's brain. The infection is fatal at this point."
Silence, the most silence of pauses I'd heard in my life, even with the endless laughter. Then finally, "I'll do it."
When Doctor Cloud arrived to mercy-kill me, I laughed along with my audience and began to shiver.