I wasn't looking at what I thought I was looking at. I saw a grassy field stretched out in front of me. A warm breeze waved the green grass around. The sky was clear and pale blue. I didn't know where the sun was. I was lying on my back, my head turned to the right, and my arms spread out at my sides. It wasn't real. I dug my fingers into dirt that wasn't there. I closed my eyes. Show me where I really am, I thought. Something in my mind jumped, like the hiss of static when the monitors went down and I pounded on them to wake them up. Nothing happened. Damn, I thought.
I lifted my hands. I turned my face to the sky and dropped my hands to my face. It was my face. I could feel the familiar planes of my cheeks and my chin, the clear expanse of my forehead, the soft cracked lumps that were my lips, and the clean line of what I'd been told was a noble nose. On the left side of my head, above my ear and in a lopsided circle that covered almost that entire half of my head, I could feel the scar. I gave my skull a little rap. Ping. Yep, that's me. No bone there; titanium plates. People were fond of telling me I should have died in that crash. What they meant was that I should have stayed dead. I would just smile at them and make some sarcastic remark.
So my head was my own. What about the rest? I moved my hands down. I encountered all the familiar scars in all the right places. It took me a minute to register that I was naked. It took me a few more minutes to wonder why I was naked. I never considered myself the type of guy who would enjoy lying naked in a field. Not alone anyway. But no clothes almost assured me that I had no weapons. I needed my guns.
I opened my eyes again. Show me where I really am, I thought again. Jump. Buzz. Still nothing. I searched the sky. It was too empty. Even in daylight, I knew where Shaman was. I could see my star no matter what the conditions or the location. Shaman wasn't there.
"Fuck," I said.
Something crackled. It was a distant sound, like a mistake being covered up. Were they laughing at me?
I tried to sit up. No luck. I rolled onto my stomach and pushed. I felt like I was trying to dead lift a ton. I got to my knees. I was exhausted. Then I saw why. They were almost invisible, but they twisted the light just enough so that I noticed something was there. I picked up a long strip of something that felt like metal but moved like leather. There were several strips on the ground. Smaller ones where my arms and legs had been strapped down; larger ones across my chest and my waist. Why the hell would I be restrained like that in an empty field? I thought. I wasn't in to bondage.
I wasn't looking at what I thought I was looking at, but what was I really looking at?
I stood up and looked at the sky. I closed my eyes. I tried to find Shaman. My fingers tingled, and time slipped past. The sky turned black. Green ones and zeros rushed across the black then vanished. I opened my eyes. Empty pale blue.
I took a look around the field. Nothing but green as far as I could see, but it felt smaller than what I could perceive with my eyes. I started walking. If there was something else, I was going to find it. If there was a door, I was going to walk through it. That was just what they didn't want me to do. They would try their hardest to stop me. I needed my guns.
Compass points meant nothing. There was no horizon. There was nothing on the landscape I could use as a marker. I could have ended up going in circles. I plowed straight ahead. If I did somehow end up going in circles, I'd never let myself pilot any kind of craft ever again. I have a better sense of direction than that. How many times had I found my way in absolute darkness? That field was different, though. Even in darkness, the compass points are static; the horizon still separates ground and sky. That field was like new blindness, like that moment right after the lights are turned out.
I heard something moving. I stopped and looked down. Several blades of grass were gone, leaving patches of dirt under my feet. I felt them coming before they showed themselves. I jumped backwards. They shot up out of the ground like missiles. They were no longer blades of grass. When they didn't find me standing there, they stopped and turned towards me. I saw snakes, but they were only wires. I couldn't see past the snakes. I knew they were wires all the same. If they had been able to wrap around me, they would have pulled me down into the ground, and I would have been disconnected. Yes, disconnected. That was the word they were using.
The snakes sped towards me. If I were a gymnast or some super-cool, bad ass martial artist cartoon character, I would have done some nifty back flips to get out of their way and then flipped myself onto one of them, trick them into attacking each other and then flipped on my merry way towards whatever they wanted to keep me from finding. As it was, I was only a naked pilot, and the only weapon I had was my sharp tongue. I didn't think I could insult my way out of this. I wasn't without tricks, though.
What if it doesn't work? I thought. No, it'll work. It has to work.
I put my hands up as the snakes came down at me. Cold chills burst all over my body. My nose itched as it began to bleed. Fever sweat washed over me. The snakes bounced off my psychic shield. I let the shield go and ran. The snakes came after me. I could hear them hissing. I could hear their machinery.
Out of the corner of my eye, I saw one of them speed past me. It turned and came straight at me. The only way I could get away from them was to destroy them. Sure, I could do that. I braced myself for impact. The head plowed into my chest, knocking the wind out of me, but my lungs recovered a second later. Dirt piled up at my heels as the snake pushed me backwards. I got my arms around it, clamping its jaws shut. Then I started pushing back. Something crackled again. A small voice screamed from far away, "He's not supposed to do that!"
When the snake and I were at a standstill, I twisted its head. It didn't take much twisting for the head to come off. There was a spray of blood. The muscles tore. I hit the ground under the weight of a giant snake head. I pushed it off my chest and stood up. Just as I figured, underneath the flesh, it was nothing but wires.
There are two of them, a voice in my head said.
I looked back just as the second snake coiled around me. I was face to face with two large black eyes and a gaping mouth. It squeezed. I pushed against it. I got my left arm free just as it put the squeeze on tighter and started snapping bones. Ribs splintered and punctured my artificial lungs. Blood ran down my chin when I opened my mouth to scream, but there was no sound. The grip loosened.
I had to know. The snake's eyes were close. I cocked my free arm back and rammed it through the snake's eye. It hissed and flailed. I locked my fingers around something thick, a cable or an optic nerve or was there any difference. "Show me where I am!" I shouted. Thick blood was oozing from the eye down my arm. Whatever was inside sparked. The snake clamped down on me and pulled. My skin tore open like tissue paper. My muscles were a little thicker. The pain was only momentary. I still had what was important. My hand was on the nerve. I watched my legs hit the ground. "Show me where I am," I said.
The rush of cold chills that signaled the start of my visions hit me. My mind reeled. The sky faded to black, and green ones and zeroes streaked across it. In my hand was not a snake's optic nerve but a cable connected to a bundle of other cables. I couldn't see where they went. It didn't matter.
"Turn it off," a man said. His voice was unpleasant, like coarse sandpaper on sunburned skin.
"No," I said. "What is this? Where am I?"
"You've been torn in half, Mr. Konstantine. Where do you think you are?"
"That wasn't real."
"I said turn it off."
A calm female voice said, "It's not shutting down, sir. Something's overriding the controls."
There was silence. I watched the ones and zeroes. I watched my torso dipping. I didn't stop to wonder why I wasn't dead. I still wasn't looking at what I thought I was looking at.
The rough-voiced man sighed. "He said it would be easier than this, but no matter. We can play along for now."
The digits winked out. A face leaned over me, backlit by an overhead light. I couldn't really see the features.
"Would you like to let us turn the machine off now?" he asked.
I wondered if I really had control of it. "Hell no," I said. I tried to move. I was strapped down on a table. I felt the pull of things attached to me in various places. I.V. tubes, electrodes, a respirator. But it wasn't a hospital. I tried to remember how I'd gotten there and couldn't. The last thing I remembered was the birth of my son. After that, there were only muddy moments.
"How long do you think you can keep this up, Mr. Konstantine?"
"Until you tell me what the fuck is going on."
"I'm afraid I have no answers for you."
"Where am I?"
"Well, at the moment, you are strapped down to a table in an underground laboratory in a top secret location, known only to those of us who work here and the Emperor himself. And even the scientists here aren't entirely sure."
"What are you doing to me?"
"That's where this conversation ends."
"I don't think so."
"What are you going to do, call me bad names?"
"I can wreck your whole system."
He paused. The shadows of his face twisted then smoothed. He wasn't so sure I couldn't.
"I'm inside it now," I said. I knew I was. I could feel it under my fingers. It was a lot like the time flow of my visions, but it was more tangible. I could manipulate it, bend it however I wanted. "This is what you wanted to know, isn't it?"
The face pulled back out of my field of vision. "Shut the fucking thing down!" he hissed.
"What's the matter? Are you afraid I can shut you down?"
"Goddamn it, shut it down!"
The woman who'd spoken earlier was no longer calm. "The system isn't responding, sir. I can't … I can't do anything," she said. "All the data has been corrupted."
I moved my fingers in the machinery. Things sparked and popped. I found a switch and flipped it. All the lights went out. There was a low hum that ratcheted down and soon stopped. Silence.
"What … what did you do?" the face asked. He was leaning over me again, a little black spot blocking what little light my eyes could catch.
"You wanted it shut down," I said. "I shut it down."
"Son of a bitch!"
"Leave my mom out of this."
Red backup lights came up with a dull hum.
"I didn't want to have to do it this way, but … " the face said. It moved around to the top of my head. "You've left me no choice."
Something popped at the back of my head. My vision froze, and a line of static jumped across the stillness. I'd been disconnected.
"We'll keep him in a suspended state until we can figure out how to control him better," a voice said. Not the voice of the face, but one I liked even less. It was academic. It didn't think of me as a person. I was a test subject.
"Is that safe, Dr.?" the sandpaper voice asked. "You saw what he did."
"Yes, of course. But he can't do that if he's unaware of his surroundings. Don't you understand even that much about psychics? They operate on awareness. Without awareness, psychics are powerless. I assure you, it's perfectly safe."
I was breathing warm jelly. I saw only darkness. I felt nothing. I couldn't tell if my eyes were open or closed. I tried to open them and nothing happened. I tried to close them and nothing happened. I listened. I heard a little voice right next to my ear. It told me all about the sensory deprivation tank and the greenish gel filled with nanocytes that regulated everything from my heartbeat to my breathing to my brainwaves and kept me in the deepest part of sleep. The little voice told me I ought to make them wonder just how safe they really were.