By R. John Quisenberry
Stephen felt nausea take hold of him as the collar went around his neck from behind. A raspy voice from behind him spoke, “I am called Acolyte Cervince. It’s no use fighting Mr. Temple. You will find that you cannot avoid doing what I tell you to as long as you wear this collar.”
“Why are you doing this to me? I just want to get out of here.” Stephen managed to growl out past the reflexive clenching of his jaw.
“I don’t want to do this! I think you may be what we have searched for, but my orders from the Primary Investigator are clear. I must erase your mind for our protection. Then, you will be released back into the experiment. The aggressive ones will kill you and the passive ones will not help you. “The young man’s face was almost a parody of regret as he continued, “If only the Researchers would listen to me, we could study you, but no. I am a lowly acolyte and they order me to make sure you die in this way. Otherwise, you might ruin the experiment like you almost have already. Now, follow me to the room next door.”
Cervince led Stephen to a cupboard in what looked like a disused training area. Pressing a hidden plate in the door frame caused a door on the far side of the room to pop open. It had been concealed by a very large, flat panel TV that reached from the floor to six feet up the wall.
“Don’t worry, it will not hurt. Your awareness will just go away and you will drift off. If they let me, I will archive your memories and personality. In a way, that will make you potentially immortal.”
Stephen kept thinking about how he had failed Lorelei. Dick had probably already done horrible things to her. He had failed her. He had been too weak to help her. He almost failed to notice the interesting glass and metal equipment they were now walking past. Electrical charges seemed to be scurrying around them from top to bottom as the strange fluids in them bubbled and steamed.
“What is this place?”
“This is where the clones were created and had their memories and personalities implanted. We will be using the same implantation machine to wipe your mind.”
“What did you mean about me possibly being what you have looked for?”
“My people were led from a primitive and limited civilization by ones we call the Founders. They basically founded our society. They elevated us from what you would call the iron age. Then, they vanished.
“There was evidence that some sort of disaster or prelude to one destroyed them. Ever since then, we have been trying to find what is left of them or recreate their society. If we ever find a way to recreate them, the implantation machine will be used to give the new people all of the technology and wisdom of the founders. Too bad your people have proven unable to become the New Founders.
“Here we are. Just lay down here and stay still. I am really sorry. I have to do this. I wish I could let you go, but they will wipe my mind if I don’t do this.”
Stephen lay stiffly down on the transparent table. The surface instantly conformed to his body. Looking at the reflection in the ceiling, he could see as firefly sparks began to cluster and spread within the transparent material of the table until it looked like a field of stars surrounding him. A helmet-like structure came down over his head then and obstructed the view with impenetrable darkness. Then, the pain began. Through the white-hot misery, Stephen cursed Cervince passionately. Just when it seemed like he could endure no more, he slipped away into oblivion. He did not notice the delicate voice repeating the word “Error!” in the background.