His name, he told me, was De Vroes, though I doubted that was the truth. He had begun with questions which, when my answers proved unsatisfactory, led to him calling in his companions from the van. They held me down on the operating table, strapping me in, while he injected me with a blue serum. I could feel its effects immediately, a tightening of my muscles and a loss of equilibrium, so that at various times I felt as though I was standing and about to fall down, others as though I was floating above the table where I lay. De Vroes peered into my pupils to assure himself the drug was working and proceeded to ask me the same questions again.
I do not know what I said in reply. I babbled and muttered, raved like a lunatic, spoke endless untruths. This perplexed De Vroes and the other two to no end. They injected me again, with no change in my answers, and did various readings of my body’s responses, which only left them more confused. I was as baffled as they were, for I had lost all command of my faculties. My awareness was shuttled aside by another, and I was forced to watch as something within me spoke things that were not in my own thoughts.
De Vroes came to same conclusion, having exhausted his patience with his questioning. “There are two possibilities,” he said to the others, “He is a Mask, or he has been made not to know.”
“Why would they strip his mind?” the woman said.
“Intriguing isn’t it?” De Vroes said. “We will find out soon enough.”
They all left the room, leaving me strapped to the operating table, the effects of the drug slowly dissipating, my mind gradually returning to me. As I lay there, trying not to dwell on what might happen to me upon their return, my thoughts turned to my newfound ability to speak this strange language, a language from another universe. I had spoken it with ease, even my unintelligible ravings had largely been in that unfamiliar tongue, and now I found my thoughts were being formed in it, English slowly receding to the background.
Was this, I wondered, a sign that my memory was returning? It seemed clear that it must be, yet no other memories came with the return of, what I assumed to be, my native tongue. But was it? De Vroes had said I showed no sign of having crossed over from whatever universe they came from, but Meredith had said that we had come here together. Who to trust? De Vroes and the Regent Dick had plainly been surprised to discover that I was native to this world and had no reason I could discern to lie about it, so it seemed obvious that Meredith had led me astray.
Something had been done to me, that much seemed clear. My ravings suggested a defense mechanism, put in place to guard whatever lay below it in my mind. Add to that my multiple amnesias and the constant sense I had of dislocation from this body. It was not my own. The thought left in despair and I pushed it aside. Some disconnect had been created within me and I had to find out what it was and who had done it. It seemed an impossible task.
De Vroes and the two others returned while I was in the midst of these thoughts. The woman, who had been present during the procedure, and who I had begun to suspect was a hallucination, was with them as well, though I hardly noticed her. My attention was on the black orb that entered with them, floating beside De Vroes, near his shoulder. As it came closer I saw that it was not black, but rather the same deep violet color of the Seeker’s eyes, absorbing, not reflecting, the light. The orb was making a sound like a rasping breath being drawn in and out, a being in its last moments. Like myself. I began to struggle against my bonds.
De Vroes set up a screen on the counter, angling it so I could not see, and tapped away on it, glancing from time to time at the orb. His two assistants set to work on the table, cranking it until it stood almost perpendicular to the floor and the orb descended to my eye level. I turned away from it, wincing at the thing’s breathing. Was it somehow alive? The woman gave me a grim smile, as she checked my bonds and told De Vroes all was ready. The other woman had gone to stand in the corner where I could not see her. I felt her presence behind me though, it was palpable, her watchful eyes taking in the whole scene, her silence weighing on the shoulders of the three who busied themselves in their preparations.
When everything was set up to De Vroes’ satisfaction he turned his attention to me, standing behind the orb where had a clear view of the screen, motioning for his assistants to stand on either side of the table. He began to ask me the same questions as before and I answered them as I had when the Regent Dick had been asking them, with a mixture of truth and evasion. I really did know nothing about the Church of the Regent and the Grand Regent, presumably its leader. Nor did I know anything about the Society of Travelers or Seekers or any of the rest, beyond what Meredith had told me, and I did not trust anything she had said.
This time De Vroes paid little mind to what I said. When he asked me—“What is your involvement in the Watcher’s Order?”—he did not even look at me as I told him I had never heard of such a thing, his eyes intent on the screen. What did I know of the purge of the High Regents and what had my involvement been in it?
“How could I be involved in something over there if I’ve never left here?” I said to De Vroes, who did not even bother to acknowledge my question, continuing to ask me more specifics about the Watcher’s Order and whether my attempted return was somehow involved in its machinations.
“What is your purpose here?” he said again, having gone through all the questions he had asked before.
“To live and die like anyone else.”
He pursed his lips as he studied the screen, glancing up at his subordinates to say, “Get Osahi. He will want to see this.”
The man left and returned a moment later with the Regent Dick, still resplendent in his suit. “What have you found?” he said, as he entered the room.
“He’s been scraped. He really does remember nothing.”
Osahi nodded, putting a finger to his chin. “Could it be a tamp?”
“It’s possible,” De Vroes said. “We’d need to go in. See what we can find.”
I looked from one man to the other, feeling very much like a frog about to be dissected. They paid no attention to me, Osahi taking a moment to study the readout on the screen De Vroes had set up. I thought I could sense the woman behind me, leaning forward from her corner to ensure she did not miss a single nuance of what was said.
“Do it,” Osahi said, glancing up from the monitor.
“There’s a risk. We may lose him in the procedure.”
I felt lightheaded as Osahi considered this. “No. We need to know what he knew and why they tried to bring him over. How soon can you begin?”
“Within the hour.”
“Good,” Osahi said, turning to leave the room. “Complete the procedure as soon as you can. I fear that we don’t have much time.”
“You think they will find us? There was only one woman with him.”
“Something went wrong clearly, but the more time we give them, the more time they will have to counter us. Whatever this man knows, it is important. The Grand Regent will respond with all the resources at his disposal. I do not need to remind you how considerable those are, or how meager our own are.”
“No,” De Vroes said. “I will start within the hour and we will be done in three, four at the most.”
“Good,” Osahi said. He punched in the code to open the door and paused for a moment on the threshold.
“I cannot be discovered here or all is lost,” he said, looking from face to face in the room before stepping outside, the door hissing shut behind him. There was a long pause as De Vroes and his two assistants stared at the door, the weight of the moment clear on their faces.
De Vroes turned to look at me and said, “Let’s begin.”
This is the thirteenth part of The Forgotten, a science fiction thriller. A new section will be published here every Thursday.