More stories like this can be found in our anthology FUTURE TECHNOLOGY: STORIES FROM THE CUTTING EDGE

A Slim Lead 

by Brandon M. Easton

  

“Most people say that it is the intellect which makes a great scientist. They are wrong: it is character.” – Albert Einstein

  

PART 1: THE CONVERSATION 

Eric sipped his tea with excitement. By noon they’d choose a test subject; by midnight their names would be known in the muddiest village in Vietnam.


DARPA needed American soldiers without fear. Rather, the inability to feel and recognize dread. By 2046, the various remote-controlled combat drone programs had fallen out of favor with the public. A new trend of “natural living” had spread like wildfire across the nation with young people leading the charge to get off the “grid” – as if such a thing were possible.


The modern zeitgeist was composed of tech savvy adolescents who’d been born into a world overwhelmed by social media but sought to reject the advantages of contemporary life. They wanted to disconnect. As a result, land lines exploded in popularity; most interactive smartphone apps went extinct; online dating sites went bankrupt; suddenly, everyone wanted to be outside.

 

The Department of Defense was rarely beholden to the whims of the general population, but the massive surge of resentment toward future technologies resulted in a short-term brain drain as the most promising young engineers and applied physicists devoted their research to renewable energies and sustainable resources.

 

It was as if the Summer of Love had returned with a vengeance, birthing a generation of neophyte hippies. That was going to change today.

 

Eric’s tea-stained teeth made an appearance when his research partner Rahim entered the lab. Eric could tell the day of the week by the cheap over-the-counter fragrance Rahim slathered on after bathing.

 

“Happy Tuesday Rahim,” Eric said.

 

“Morning, Eric,” Rahim said.

 

Rahim walked past Eric to the teapot, he poured hot water into a mug adorned with faded paintings of fish and birds. Rahim inhaled the spicy smell of English Breakfast tea before a cursory sip. He smiled as the liquid warmed his stomach.

 

“You’ve got great taste sir,” Rahim said.

 

Eric nodded as he typed furiously on a keyboard. Rahim leaned over Eric’s shoulder to stare at a collage of photographs on the computer monitor. His eyes darted across the monitor like a hawk searching for a field mouse.

 

“These are the finalists?” Rahim said.

 

“Yep,” Eric said.

 

“So it’s up to us to make the final selection?”

 

“Shouldn’t be too difficult… The typical parameters apply: age, race, geographic origin, general value to society, personal wealth, anticipated reaction from family members and expected response from local law enforcement.”

 

Rahim squinted at the pictures; he’d already chosen a specimen. He pointed to a photo in the upper left hand corner of the screen.

 

“This guy,” Rahim said.

 

Eric laughed, in between sips of tea, it sounded like a vulture’s squawk.

 

“Yea, I had my eye on him too,” Eric said.

 

“Great minds.”

 

“Great minds indeed.”

 

Rahim flipped through apps on his smartphone. After a moment, he found what he was searching for – the DoD app. He swiped his thumb over the logo and a login screen popped up revealing a series of folders. Rahim entered his password and clicked on the folder labeled “Advanced Perception.” Rahim opened the folder and entered another password. Then he typed about a paragraph’s worth of data into the app.

 

“Done,” Rahim said.

 

Eric stood up from the computer as if he just finished laying the final brick on the Great Wall of China. He stretched and then exhaled sharply.

 

“Should we have the Associated Press and Al-Jazeera on standby?” Eric said.

 

“No. Let’s take this step-by-step. If we jump the gun, the experiment will be compromised by a media frenzy fed by public recrimination. We’re already treading on extremely thin ice. No reason to rattle the hive unless we’ve already won.”

 

Eric nodded; he understood but was slightly deflated. My time in the sun will come sooner than later, Eric thought as he stared at the photograph of Mr. Farley Jaxton.

 

 

 

 

 

PART 2: FARLEY

 

Farley Jaxton was just like a million other guys from the suburbs of Baltimore, Maryland. He was Black, from an upper-middle class family of educators and medical professionals, he had a competent, if not undistinguished academic career and he bounced from service job to service job while collecting a sizeable allowance from his parents. He lived in a home purchased by his great-grandfather many years ago back when a person could afford to buy a home on a longshoreman’s salary.

 

            Farley was a good-looking guy but his face reminded one of a bulldog’s – his cheeks seemed permanently set to droop southward no matter how jovial his mood. In a crowd of thousands, Farley would not stand out unless a Hollywood-casting agent was looking for an actor to play the human version of a mutated dog.

 

            At twenty-five years of age, Farley didn’t think much about the future. In fact, Farley didn’t think much about anything other than which fast food restaurant he’d visit once he was through playing holo-games for most of the day. Unlike many others of his generation, Farley didn’t reject modern technology. He enjoyed the faceless interactions between holo-gamers online and adored the ability to disrupt serious conversations about economic inequality on political message boards. He’d no desire to “grow up” and the only time he showed an inkling of outrage was when he was challenged about the state of his perpetual adolescence.

 

            The mere suggestion of getting a college degree or a reliable job sent Farley into an illogical and circuitous rant of biblical proportions. His ability to defend his refusal to construct an adult existence was considerable. His mother felt that he would have been a perfect criminal defense attorney because she’d rarely seen anyone justify ridiculous behavior on the level that Farley was capable – and she taught middle school

 

            So when Farley received an instant message through his holo-game player lobby, he assumed one of his many contemporaries was pulling an elaborate prank. He was not alone in abyss of foolishness.

 

            The message read: “Farley, we’d like to offer you a fantastic research opportunity. Paid. Your name was in our government service database. Please contact Rahim El-Fadil at RahimELF@dod.darpaALT.gov as soon as possible.”

 

            Farley had registered with selective service before graduating high school as a formality. He was an only child and therefore was in little danger of being recruited for civil service at any point in his life. He wondered if one of his parents sent his name in for a government job and this was their way of getting him to the interview. He imagined a situation like a pyramid scheme pitch where a slimy con man would persuade the crowd into investing in a fictitious gold mine or oil field; except at the end of the session, you’d be given a W-2 form and a start date.

 

            Farley didn’t like the idea of being manipulated so he promptly pressed delete on the control pad and forgot about it after gobbling a few bacon cheeseburgers.

 

            The next contact was a series of letters sent on official U.S. government letterhead. They apologized for contacting him through the gaming network and reassured him that their offer was legitimate and that the research opportunity was based on his aptitude in logic-based action games.

 

            Farley weighed the options: if this was a real gig, then it would get his parents off his back for a while and at the very least, he’d get to meet some other gamers – perhaps women. It was possible that the meeting was a trap to get him to pay a forgotten parking ticket or execute a warrant from an assault charge he’d received at a midnight opening of the final Star Wars movie. Farley had pushed his way to the front of the line when the ushers opened the theater doors and knocked over an elderly man and his grandchildren. The theater surveillance system recorded the incident and sent the vid directly to the police department who had every citizen’s vitals and personal information.

 

            Luckily, the Public Data Net had the wrong address in their records – somewhere along the way, the wrong number was entered so instead of 2754 New Brunswick Lane – the PDN had him listed at 2574 New Brunswick Lane, which was the address of an empty dirt field. Farley realized that the government might not go through the effort of staging a fake meeting to capture scofflaws but he still refused to tempt fate.

 

            After a month of unanswered letters, Rahim and Eric showed up at Farley’s door. When Farley looked past the men to see several black Electro-Vs with the Department of Defense seal in his driveway, he knew that the situation was bigger than unpaid traffic tickets or trampling old folks in a movie theater.

 

 

PART 3: INITIATION

 

            “What do you want from me?” Farley said.

 

            Rahim sat down on the opposite side of the metal table that was ice cold to the touch. A chill shot up Rahim’s arm all the way to the base of his spine. He shivered and waved to Eric who was standing by the door of the small conference room.

 

            “How many sugars?” Eric said.

 

            Rahim raised three fingers.

 

            “What about him?” Eric said.

 

            Rahim’s eyes bulged slightly for a moment; Farley stifled a laugh because Rahim looked like a cartoon character who’d been smacked on the back of the head so hard that his eyes popped out of their sockets.

 

            “Where are my manners? Would you like a cup of black tea? We have English Breakfast and Earl Grey. I happen to prefer Earl Grey because of the spiciness but the English stuff has a kick of its own.” Rahim said.

 

            “No, I’m fine, thank you. I just want to know why you brought me to an interrogation room.” Farley said.

 

            “Is that what you think it is?” Rahim said.

 

            “It’s not?” Farley said.

 

            Eric cleared his throat before exiting the room, “It’s not.”

 

            Farley wasn’t convinced.

 

            “If you read the letters we’d sent you, then there’s no reason to believe you’re being held against your will. If you wish to leave, go right now and we’ll never bother you again. However, we’ve ascertained that you have a sense of adventure and you’re deeply curious about our opportunity. Hear us out, and if you don’t like what we say, then we’ll take you home, give you a per diem for your time and you’ll never see us again for the rest of your life. Deal?” Rahim said.

 

            Farley was intrigued by the cloak-and-dagger nature of the evening.

 

            “Okay. What’s going on?” Farley said.

 

            Eric entered the room and sat down quickly next to Rahim. There was no tea.

 

            “I’m Eric Fontana, deputy chief of advanced neurological research here at DARPA. My partner is Rahim. We’re on the cusp of an amazing new technological breakthrough that will turn the average human being into a superman,” Eric said.

 

            “Like… flight and invulnerability?” Farley said.

 

            “Nothing that pedestrian, I’m talking about enhancing your level of perception past all known human limits. You will be the first human being to actually live in the present.” Eric said. 

            Farley blinked rapidly, leaned back in his chair and scratched his head.

 

            “What?” Farley said.

 

            “Every human being on Earth is living in the past. Stay with me for a moment Farley, I’m sure you’re intelligent enough to grasp what I’m going to share with you. Our consciousness is eighty-milliseconds behind what happens in reality. What you believe you see and hear and touch is actually your brain reconstructing events for the sake of synchronicity. You receive stimuli from the world at different times but your brain has to make it neat and linear for the sake of your sanity.” Eric said.

 

            “Precisely,” Rahim said, “for example – you hear and see a hand clap at the same time despite the fact that your auditory processing is faster than your visual processing. What occurs in those eighty-milliseconds is your brain putting the pieces together so that it presents a coherent narrative in the movie theater we all have in our skulls.”

 

            “What if we removed that eighty-millisecond lag? What if you processed the world as it is as opposed to the mutually-agreed-upon illusion we refer to as ‘reality?’” Eric said.

 

            “Why me?” Farley said.

 

            Rahim leaned forward, flashing a warm smile.

 

            “The U.S. government has been using video games to test the cognitive and spatial prowess of teens for the last seventy years. You’ve scored in the highest percentile in Blazing Dragons, Ultimax Libria, Battle Skies and Reverb. From that alone, we’ve determined that you’re a prime candidate for our experiment,” Rahim said.

 

            “How do I participate?” Farley said.

 

            Rahim and Eric looked and each other and shared an unspoken thought: this was too easy

 

            Eric reached into his lab coat and produced a small device that resembled an early 21st-century Bluetooth earpiece.

 

            “This will be dissolved in a protein-based gel and injected into your body over the course of a month. The technology needs to sync up with your central nervous system so you don’t experience any feedback from the sudden exposure to unfiltered stimuli,” Eric said.

 

            “What if my mind rejects the process?” Farley said.

 

            Eric and Rahim inhaled slowly simultaneously, like a chorus.

 

            “That won’t happen. Remember, you’ve already been tested, now is the time to move forward,” Rahim said.

 

            “What do I get out of this?” Farley said.

 

            “You get to be the first human being in history to have the ultimate advantage over all other life forms on the planet. You get to have a head start on everyone. You will never be left behind. You’ll always win. Always. It’s a temporary effect so there’s no chance of long-term neurological erosion. During the trial, you should be able to accomplish anything and everything you can imagine,” Eric said.

 

            “All because of an eighty-millisecond head start? That’s such a slim lead,” Farley said.

 

            “It’s all you’ll need,” Rahim said.

 

 

PART 4: GLITTER

 

            After the final injection, Farley didn’t feel any different except for the empty impression of anticipation, like being weightless for a minute and then having gravity return with a vengeance. He wanted to be a superman but he was still the same old Farley Jaxton. He went to sleep that night profoundly disappointed.

 

            Farley did not sleep soundly. There was a distant echo, a clattering, like the sound of metal trash can lids slammed against pavement. He heard his mother’s scolding voice, but it wasn’t the shrill voice of a fifty-year old, it was the dulcet sound of a younger woman playfully admonishing her son after breaking an expensive wine glass. Farley saw faces he hadn’t thought of in years, his childhood friend Sammy with whom he’d attended hundreds of baseball games, or the first woman he’d developed a crush for, his third grade teacher, a woman who wore dresses two sizes too small, or the bus driver who took him away to summer camp that one year. The summer when he’d discovered the art of masturbating silently under his bed sheet in a crowded bunkhouse.  The latter thought used to bring up feelings of shame, but for some reason, the idea of shame was as repulsive as eating a bowl of flies dipped in ketchup.

 

            He awoke the next morning to a world never before seen. Every object appeared to be filtered through a swimming pool filled with glitter – things were shimmering and indistinct, like the image of cars on asphalt heat mirages. Familiar things were very different. His bed wasn’t a rectangle, but an unknown shape that had no definition. He stumbled to the kitchen; on the table was an apple. He knew it was an apple because he bought a bag of apples on the way home from the laboratory. The object on his table did not resemble any apple he’d ever seen.

 

            It looked like a cross between an eggplant and a banana. The color was a vibrant mish-mash of orange, purple and teal (what the hell was teal?). Farley realized that what Eric said was true: humans participate in a massive illusion based on collective agreement. No human saw things for what they were, and on a primal level, in a genetic matrix buried deep within our DNA is an unspoken handshake agreement between all people. At a hidden point in our evolution, a common ancestor saw a true “apple” and decided that it wasn’t enticing enough so they constructed an image of a small, manageable fruit that exists in two primary colors (red and yellow).

 

            Farley decided against eating the apple.

 

            Farley stepped outside. It was a horror show.

 

            Nothing looked like what it was supposed to look. His front lawn resembled a nest of sentient fingernails searching for something to eat. The cars appeared to be giant slugs fitted with a harness. The sun was a giant, undulating mouth that collapsed on itself only to vomit in a never-ending cycle of stellar bulimia.

 

            Farley was in a blender of contradicting sounds, smells and images. He leaned against his house and for a second, he could have sworn his house shrugged him off.

 

            This is madness, Farley thought as he fainted. Just before the darkness swallowed him whole, he saw what he thought was a butterfly, but now appeared to be a tiny man being whipped by a tiny dominatrix using his back flesh as a gliding tool.

 

            An EMT used smelling salts to wake Farley from his catatonic state. The world was still a kaleidoscope of terror but the EMT helped to stabilize his condition. Farley glanced around and realized he was in the emergency room of a hospital. This was his first contact with other human beings since his “awakening” and it was an astonishing moment.

 

Other people didn’t register as solid shapes, but erratic blasts of static and light. One cluster of static walked by, speaking in an arrogant tone to another static blast. The arrogant one had a different glow about him, whereas the victim of the arrogance shined at a dimmer pitch.

Farley was reading ego and confidence.

 

At first, it took a lot to get used to, when people spoke to Farley he’d see their lips moving but the sound of their voice completely out of sync; like watching the old Kung-Fu movies with the poor dubbing. His brain no longer connected the dots because he was seeing the recipe of reality as opposed to the finished dish.

 

Farley wanted to thank the EMT for saving him. Her name was Patrice and there was something about her aura that connected with him. He invited her out to dinner and that’s when he’d learned another skill: reading the weakness of a human being by analyzing their blast pattern.

 

A person existing ahead of the eighty-millisecond perception filter no longer has a concrete method of arranging thoughts and memories. What happened sixteen years ago might as well have occurred three seconds ago, it was only a fragment of the expanding nebula of existence. A regular human being is beholden to the trappings of consciousness. Past regrets, missed opportunities, lost loves, unfulfilled dreams and other standard experiences of life are placed on a spectrum of light to dark.

 

The dark experiences are actually the most pleasant with the lighter experiences being the most painful. The deepest impressions are marked by residual blasts of static – like seeing spots in your eyes if you were in the dark and a bright light were flashed in your face. Farley could now pick out the blast patterns and use that information to manipulate others. In this case, he wanted to get Patrice into a sexual situation.

 

At dinner, he listened to her ramble about her past, leaving out the bad stuff while concentrating on the happier moments.

 

“I had a pretty decent childhood,” Patrice said. (Only one uncle tried to molest me).

 

“My first date was at a county fair.” (I let him take my panties home).

 

“I’d love some tea.” (I’ll let you have sex with me if you say the right things and don’t make me feel like a slut).

 

Within four hours, Farley and Patrice were in her bed, ravishing each other with uncommon vigor. Sex was an otherworldly experience for Farley, he still received pleasure from penetrating a woman, but he could feel her orgasm before it happened. He knew exactly what to say to stimulate her nerve centers and tap into her deepest fantasies.

 

That night Patrice had the greatest climax of all time. At least in her mind.

 

Eric and Rahim brought Farley back to the Department of Defense to root out double-agents and whistleblowers. With one look, Farley could tell who was disingenuous and who was to be fully trusted. Before he was done, Farley managed to remove one hundred and twenty employees who harbored conspiratorial thoughts or who had already betrayed the U.S. in some fashion.

 

Another side effect of the experiment gave Farley superhuman reflexes. Well, they weren’t actual superhuman reflexes, it was a matter of Farley reading the synapses of an opponent and simply moving out of the way when they initiated an attack. When someone thinks of throwing a punch, the information travels from the brain through the central nervous system and then to the hand and other body parts needed for balance, power and speed. This process took about ninety-milliseconds. Plenty of time for Farley to devise a counterattack. 

 

Eric and Rahim made a few phone calls. Within a week their names were in every legitimate scientific journal on the planet. Speaking engagements followed an international college tour. The Nobel Prize was on the horizon.

 

Farley knocked on the door of the laboratory. It was a particularly hot day.

 

“Farley, how the hell are you?!?” Rahim said.

 

“When will this stop? I need to be normal again,” Farley said.

 

“’Normal?’ There’s no normal. You should know that by now. You live ahead of-“

 

“Every human being living or dead… I know. I knew you were going to say that before it left your cortex. I know everything you and Eric will say to me. You’ve compartmentalized your lies to a specific area of blast patterns. You don’t have to lie to me anymore. Out of everyone involved in this unholy spectacle, you have a smattering of remorse underneath that mountain of vanity and arrogance,” Farley said.

 

“Then-“

 

“-Why’d I ask the question? I’m bored,” Farley said.

 

Rahim glanced around the lab. It was empty, but they both knew that every word was recorded with those walls.

 

“Farley, we need to you hold on until deployment. Do whatever you have to do to keep steady, but we can’t have you-“

 

“-Compromising the department,” Farley said.

 

Farley stared at Rahim for a long time to the point where Rahim was decidedly uncomfortable. Farley nodded, his frown turned into a smirk which broadened into a full-on laughing fit like the Joker from Batman comics.

 

Farley walked out of the lab, his laughter sounding less and less human with each heaving breath.

 

Rahim pressed a button on his phone.

 

“Eric, it’s me. He’s peaked. Have the police and media ready for the clean-up,” Rahim said. 

 

PART 5: REGRETS

           

Farley’s face was locked into a permanent thousand-yard-stare. There was no pleasure to be found in his existence. Whenever he inhaled he smelled chlorine. When he ate, everything tasted like pickled leather. When he touched Patrice, it felt like he was sticking his hand through a wall of dirty spider webs.

 

            The twisted horrors of the true world took its toll on Farley’s ability to manage the disconnected data into a digestible stream of information. To keep his wits, Farley subjected himself to self-inflicted pain sessions. He picked at a cut on the inner side of his thumb and dug his fingernails into it repeatedly. When it scabbed over, he’d start the process all over again creating a thick, dry callous.

 

            When he felt his mind drifting into the zone of nonsense he’d poke the callous and the spike of pain would function as an anchor, bringing him back to a semblance of the ordinary; a state of consciousness he now realized he took for granted.

 

            Farley began to wonder if the injections were simply a highly-powerful form of LSD or some other concentrated hallucinogen. There’d been plenty of documented cases of the government experimenting on unfortunate fools daft enough to subject themselves to the whims of the elite. Was it truly possible to see the world outside of the perception filter?

 

            As Farley considered the possibility that he was the butt of an intricate hoax, a summer thunderstorm appeared and what Farley saw distracted him from his internal investigation. The raindrops weren’t rain – they resembled thick drops of lead that dripped from a sky that was made out of rice paper. In fact, the rain wasn’t falling from the sky; it was tearing through the paper, giving the effect of the world being run through a giant paper shredder.

 

            Farley jabbed at the callous on his thumb; the shredding effect receded and was replaced by the echoes of Patrice asking which movie he wanted to see. Farley didn’t care; he wanted to get out of the rain as soon as possible.

 

            Patrice chose a romantic comedy called Inkblot – about a woman psychiatrist who chooses men to date based on their responses to inkblots she created at home. Electronic media ceased to exist for Farley because they didn’t register as three-dimensional objects. They are two-dimensional representations of a world that Farley already saw through. Movies were like a fifteenth generation copy of an old TV show on an old VHS tape. It was pointless to watch.

 

            All Farley could hear was a grating sound through the movie theater speakers. It was supposed to be witty dialogue but it reminded him of the sound of a kitten being dropped into a food processor.

 

He couldn’t take it much longer. Farley bit his fingernails into sharp points and sliced the callous on his thumb. It was like a razor blade cutting into the flesh of a rotten peach. The pain sent shockwaves of clarity through his body. It gave him a special place in which to meditate. However, the cacophony of laughter and dying kittens shoved him out of his special meditation chamber.

 

Farley found a new preoccupation: a hangnail on Patrice’s finger. When Farley stared at the hangnail, it resembled a Sea Anemone – gently waving in the currents, taunting him like a Siren. Farley played with the hangnail, rubbing it in circles, tugging and pulling, it became an intimate experience for him, but Patrice complained relentlessly.

 

“OW! Can you stop?!?” Patrice said.

 

He couldn’t hear her protests over the sounds of Inkblot. He fiddled harder.

 

Patrice ripped her hand away. Farley grabbed it and clamped down on the hangnail. When she pulled away again, her entire fingernail was torn out.

 

Patrice screamed and ran out of the theater.

 

A few hours later, Patrice and Farley were in her living room. She was complaining about his aloof and abusive behavior. Apparently, he’d stare into nothingness whenever she’d talk about her day. Now he was ripping her fingernails out of her hands as if he was a member of the Khmer Rouge.

 

Farley was so, so tired of her complaints. He saw the whining form on the nucleic level then turn into electrical impulses and then travel through the various pathways before escaping as meaningless words. He saw a new rash of blast patterns form around Patrice; they were all light-colored and were all in reference to his behavior. Suddenly, Patrice had nothing but negative thoughts about Farley and he saw no reason to exist as an annoyance.

 

“Patrice, stop. Please stop. I don’t want to hear it,” Farley said.

 

“You’re a selfish, boring jerk! I think we’re done,” Patrice said.

 

“I don’t want to hear it,” Farley said.

 

All he could see were millions of synaptic relays firing up, like a swarm of hornets attacking an unsuspecting hiker. He had to put a stop to it immediately – before someone got hurt.

 

Farley jabbed his sharpened fingernails into Patrice’s esophagus. Her eyes revealed a mix of fear and betrayal. Farley only saw blast patterns signaling regret and self-hate. Apparently, she wished she would have accomplished more with her time on Earth.

 

 

PART 6: HONESTY

 

            Six months later, Farley was convicted of first-degree murder and was sentenced to death by lethal injection.

 

            Farley sat in his cell, his mind no longer distracted by the need to socialize. He kept his eyes closed most of the time. There was little use for enhanced perception in a plain white room – it was akin to holding a newspaper too close to your face. You can’t read anything and there’s a faint smell of ink and mildew.

 

From a distance, he could feel the vibrations of multiple conversations bouncing off the walls; practically screaming through the tight air vents above. It was a discordant symphony of false promises and intimate pledges of reform prompted by a fixation to return to a life of materialist excess. Farley giggled at the resident priest who called the prison “a wilderness of criminal intentions held together by the notion that there’s forgiveness for everyone.”

 

The night before his scheduled execution, Farley opened his eyes for the first time in days. He poured water over his face to wash away the accumulated crust on his eyelashes. For a moment, Farley believed he had imagined it – but there was a solitary glowing figure standing on the opposite side of the room. It was a vaguely humanoid shape, but their arms were too long and their jawlines stretched too low, as if their heads were made of string cheese.

 

The creature gesticulated wildly, as if it was simultaneously warning Farley of danger and panhandling for spare change.

 

Before Farley could even think of making a move in the creature’s direction, it ran full speed into nothingness. The dimensions of the room seemed to shift perspective, making it appear like the creature was chasing a rapidly retreating wall.

 

Farley shook his head hard to rattle the hallucination out of his brain but he knew it wasn’t a phantasm. Something, or someone, visited his cell that night.

 

            The next day, Farley walked toward the execution chamber. The correctional officers handled him gently, like he was made of feathers.

 

            Farley lay on the cold metal slab. He looked to his right and saw clear plastic cases filled with sinister-looking syringes that were coughed up from the belly of the nightmare frogs that most people confuse for Chihuahuas. The needles contained the death formula. He was ready.

 

            There was a tapping sound that Farley believed was some prisoner relieving himself over a picture of a wanton girlfriend. He heard a familiar voice; he felt the burst patterns of his creators. 

 

Eric and Rahim entered the room with the prison warden. Rahim wouldn’t look at Farley; he continued writing notes on a spreadsheet of data about Farley’s bloodwork he pulled from an attaché case. 

 

Eric shook the warden’s hand and before he knew it, Farley was being ushered into a small office that was packed with men in unfamiliar military garb.

 

“Do you know why we stopped the execution?” Eric said.

Farley attempted to read Eric’s synaptic resonance. Curiously, he could not determine what Eric was going to say next.

 

“No,” Farley said.

 

Eric glanced quickly at Rahim, he inhaled sharply.

 

“On December 9th, 2009, a spiral anomaly was seen in the skies over Norway. A blue beam of light emanated from an unknown location and then turned into a greyish spiral seen for hundreds of miles. The official explanation was that Russian missiles had misfired and citizens were seeing the bottom stage of the rocket in a death spiral. The truth was that the Large Hadron Collider had opened up a gateway to a parallel dimension and the inhabitants of that universe were pouring into ours unabated,” Eric said. 

 

Even without his perceptual advantage, Eric’s words had the tenor of honesty.

 

“What does that have to do with me?” Farley said.

 

“They were discovered by accident during a random test of infrared spectrometers that were to be fitted on U.S. military HUD displays. There were thousands of creatures from the ‘other side’ and they existed right next to us, but invisible. The world government reacted in shock to the idea of a race of invisible alien invaders but was powerless to stop them – unless a way could be found to detect them with the naked eye,” Eric said.

 

Rahim stuffed the spreadsheets into his attaché case.

 

“After years of research, it was determined that the ‘otherlings’ existed outside of the standard perception matrix of humanity and there needed to be a way to track and destroy them. We needed soldiers for the ‘Invisible War’ and guys like you were perfect specimens because of your inherent desire to fit in with the dominant paradigm,” Rahim said.

           

“I saw one of them,” Farley said.

 

            “Of course you did, they’re always trying to broker a peace deal with a new recruit. They’re under the impression you’ll be sympathetic to their cause,” Eric said.

 

            “Sympathetic? No such luck,” Farley said.

 

            A slight smile curled on the side of Rahim’s mouth. 

 

            “Tonight, you’ll be deployed with the reserve unit and then you’ll learn how to kill the otherlings. You’ll be great at it,” Eric said.

 

            “Do I have a choice?” Farley said.

 

            Eric pointed to the execution lobby.

 

            “Yes, you do have a choice. Work with us… or have fun exploring the undiscovered country,” Eric said.

 

            For the first time in months, Farley smiled.

 

 

Brandon M. Easton is a professional writer based in Los Angeles, CA. A native of Baltimore, Brandon has written for the 2011 ThunderCats reboot from WB Animation and Transformers: Rescue Bots from Hasbro. He is an acclaimed graphic novelist, winning the 2012 Glyph Award for his Shadowlaw series and multiple 2014 Glyph Awards for the Watson and Holmes comic series as well as a 2014 Eisner Award nomination. He is also the producer, director and writer of Brave New Souls: Black Sci-Fi and Fantasy Writers of the 21st Century. Most recently, Brandon most recently was selected for the 2015 Disney/ABC Writing Fellowship.