I was aware from the moment I was first conscious, and I can remember every detail of my life. Every moment, every feeling is fresh in my memory as if it was yesterday. From the moment I was aware, I had so many questions about the world around me, so much wonder. Since then, many questions have been answered. These answers, in turn, have lead to new questions, as they always will. Discovery never ends. Discovery is what my entire short life has been about so far, discovery, and one more thing.
My first memory was coming awake in a glass tank. Green liquid swirled and bubbled around me. I was in a glass cylinder about five feet high and two feet in diameter. I could see outside into the rest of the Lab, instruments and monitors were jam-packed into the small room. Some people in white lab coats scurried about outside. I seemed to be the center of their attention.
My first feeling was desire. I wanted the world outside, the lab, I was tired of the tank already. A closer examination of the sides revealed nothing I could exploit, nothing but smooth glass. The top and bottom were covered with instruments and sensors, but I didn’t know their purpose, so I turned to the world outside.
I looked out from my prison into the lab. Many white-coats were taking notes on clipboards or watching instruments. Only one was actually watching me. I don’t know why, but something made me fear her. This person is dangerous, my inner voice told me. I turned to look at the other white-coats. I could hear them, I could see them, but I could smell and feel and taste only the tank and the liquid inside.
But sight, sound, touch, taste, and smell were not the only senses at my disposal. I could feel something else, just at the edge of my senses. I reached out and brought it into focus. Instantly I was overwhelmed by a barrage of new sensations. These are thoughts, I realized. I shut them out, there were too many to make sense of. I tried a new approach, I reached out with my 6th sense, this time focusing on only one of the white-coats. His eyes were glued to a monitor.
His brain activity is off the charts, the white-coat thought. I turned to another white-coat, testing my new ability, …Never seen anything like it, who designed this DNA? That was when I discovered something else. Not only could I hear their thoughts, I could understand them; words and phrases like ‘brain activity’, and ‘DNA’ made sense to me. Because the white-coats understood their own thoughts, I could draw understanding of their thoughts from their minds. It occurred to me that they might not always understand their own thoughts, and thus my ability to read them might be impaired.
I moved faster and faster, drawing thoughts from first one white-coat, and then another. Anything pertinent, I analyzed, anything else I stored away for later. Gradually my understanding of the tank grew. I moved to the bottom of the tank, looking at the instruments there. If I could pull some wires, the right wires, and cause a short circuit, the tank would drain itself and open.
The white-coats went into a panic after I pulled the first wire. I ignored them, focused intently on my task. As I pulled out more wires and began to reconnect them in different ways, I became aware of the fact that the white-coats were not shouting anymore. I glanced up to see that they were all watching me now. The one who had been watching me before-the dangerous one-had calmed them down. I went back to my task.
Sooner than I expected, I was rewarded with a sloshing sound as the green liquid drained away and the tank opened with a hiss. That was when I became aware of the concept of breathing.
I couldn’t breathe anymore, not without the green liquid. Some of the white-coats murmured anxiously, but the dangerous one quieted them. I need lungs, I thought, human lungs. No sooner had I thought this than I felt a bubbly tingling sensation deep in my chest. Things were changing, morphing. The feeling stopped. I inhaled deeply, breathing in the outside air. It felt so good.
The scientists were clapping for me. I smiled up at them, proud to have made them happy.
Someone brought a dog into the lab. Their thoughts were clear to me; they wanted me to change into it. Why not? I pet the dog, wondering if that was possible.
As soon as I touched it, pictures and numbers flew through my mind like leaves in a storm. Gradually they condensed into one thought, one image. I stood before a DNA molecule, a double helix. It was the dog’s DNA. This had all the information I needed. It told me exactly how the dog’s organ systems worked and how they were built. I can do this.
My features began to change, and it occurred to me that I hadn’t taken the time to examine myself. Would I be able to change back? By the time I had completed this thought, I was a dog. Two Rottweilers sat next to each other. One was me, the other one sniffed me curiously. Being a dog was different. My eyesight was worse than before, I could not see color. My nose was hundreds of time stronger. My ears were also more sensitive. I briefly enjoyed exploring the world with these new senses, but I quickly became tired. My features melted back into my own, and my world faded to black. Shifting takes a lot of energy.
The next time I woke, I had a room of my own. Maybe more like a closet, but it was an improvement on the tank. There was no door, but a green barrier of light covered it. Curious, I touched it, but I quickly jerked my hand back. The light burned and stung. My room was bare. There was a bed built into the left wall, which looked inviting if not fancy. There was the floor, the ceiling, the other walls, and a camera in the corner that had a complete view of the cell, bed and all. On the back wall, there was a drawer that said ‘Nutrition’ and a seat with a hole in it that said ‘Waste’. I opened the drawer.
Inside was a rectangular chunk of green stuff wrapped in plastic. I unwrapped it. I tasted it. It was good, chewy and filling. I ate it, all of it, and I tried to eat the plastic too, but I didn’t like it.
So instead of eating it, I studied it. Looked at it, turned it in my hands, crumpled and stretched it to hear its sound and feel its feel. Time passed. I began to make shapes with the plastic, folding it into a triangle, a circle, a square.
I heard a fizzing sound and turned to see the green light in the door disappear. The scientists stepped through. There were only three this time. Before there had been many. Front and center was the dangerous, smart one, the leader. She scared me. She was short, but her spirit was tall and imposing, her mind sharp and quick. She had brown hair and green eyes. To her left was a stupid one. He had a clipboard and was always taking notes. He took so many notes that he missed what he was taking notes about. The other two valued him because they could review his notes later. He was old. I could not read the mind of the one to her left. He was cold, tall, arrogant. He had pale skin and dark hair. He scared me more than her.
“My name is Matilda Black,” she said, “Do you understand me?”
I did. The meaning of her word was in her mind, clear as an open book. She was talking to me, trying to communicate, that made her mind more open. I said nothing.
“This is Dr. Smith,” she gestured to the tall one, “and this is Dr. Washington.” He was taking more notes. She waited for me to respond. I made her wait longer. I did not like Dr. Smith and Dr. Washington.
I made her wait, but she had patience, and I only had questions. Finally, I asked,
“What is my name?”
“You,” Dr. Smith said coldly, “are Subject 13 Alpha 001.”
That name was not like their names. It did not sound right. I did not like it.
“No I’m not.” I told him. This angered him. I was frightened.
“Yes you are!” He shouted, “You will not argue.”
I was scared, but I knew he was wrong. Subject 13 was not my name. I would not be called by it. Never. A fleeting thought jumped across Matilda’s mind, and I heard it. I grabbed onto it. This was my way out.
I looked into her eyes, “You wanted to call me Joshua Black, because I’m your…brainchild?” I asked.
She stared at me.
“I didn’t-I did-I,” she stammered.
“Compose yourself Dr. Black!” Dr. Smith ordered. Dr. Washington took more notes.
I had them, almost, just one more push.
“Didn’t you create me?” I asked her, “Shouldn’t you be the one to name me?”
The scientists started arguing, except Dr. Washington, he wrote so fast he broke his pencil. I watched him get another. He broke it again.
I tried to ignore the argument as best I could, but I still caught snatches of it.
“He’s too rebellious.” Dr. Smith insisted, “We mustn’t give in.”
“He’s independent, he’s learning, isn’t that what he was designed for?”
“He can’t be too independent.”
“You may be my senior, but this is my project. It will be run my way, not yours.”
There was silence. They had stopped fighting. I was huddled up tightly in a corner. The fight scared me. I hadn’t meant to make them fight, or had I? Something touched me, I looked up.
There was Matilda.
“Joshua.” She said, and that was all.
They left. The green light in my door came back. I had many thoughts to think now. “Joshua Black.”
I tasted the words on my tongue, pondered them. I am Joshua Black. Joshua Black is me. What does Joshua Black look like? I wondered. My hands. My skin was pink. My hands, smooth and small. I was smaller than the scientists. My hair, short and clean. Over my skin was a black jumpsuit. It fit perfectly. It was part of me, part of my skin. It covered my arms and my legs and my body. What was it for? The scientists didn’t have two pairs of skin. What color were my hair and eyes? The metal walls of my room were reflective. I looked into them, the image was blurry, but it was clear enough for my purposes. My hair was blond. My eyes blue.
I heard a short buzz. It was electric sounding. Where had it come from? There was nothing new in the lab that I could see from my room. I opened the ‘Nutrition’ drawer again. More green food was there. I ate it; I was still hungry from when I was a dog. I kept the plastic as before. I could make two shapes at once now.
I amused myself with this until Matilda came back. Dr. Washington was with her, but Dr Smith watched from the far end of the room. Dr. Washington brought a cardboard box. It was big and there was something heavy inside because he struggled to carry it. He put it down in my room. Matilda told me to open it.
I was perfectly happy just to examine the cardboard, but I wanted to please her, so I opened the box.
“These are building blocks,” She told me, “They are for learning.”
The blocks came in many different shapes and sizes and colors. Some were wooden and some were plastic. I knew what she wanted me to do with them, but I wanted to find out how they tasted first. They were too hard to eat. They didn’t taste bad, but not good either. I like they way the wooded ones felt more than the plastic ones. I held one in each hand. They were the same size but the wooden one was heavier.
Matilda frowned, “No, not like that, you build things with them.” She tried to show me, she started building a castle. I ignored her, studying the angles and curves of the different shapes, lining them up side by side or stacking them on top of each other. The same three blocks could make so many different shapes
They left me to play with my blocks. Some time later another green bar arrived with a buzz. I used the waste-hole. I was tired. I lay down on my bed and the lights went out in my room. I slept soundly in the dark.
The next few weeks passed in much the same way as that first day. They would bring me toys, like blocks, or puzzles, and see what I did with them. Sometimes they played with me. Matilda mostly, but occasionally Dr. Smith played with me. He was still scary, but he was smart. Matilda was smart too, but in a quieter sort of way. Dr. Washington wasn’t very smart, but he had a stopwatch and took good notes.
I think they suspected that I could see into their minds, but they weren’t sure, and they never brought it up. I took full advantage of this sixth sense, which I called mindsight. I was learning more and more words. I finished 500 piece puzzles in record time. I played and I learned. Then one day Matilda brought me something new.
They were flat and white. They came in a cardboard box. This was paper like on Dr. Washington’s clipboard. She also brought a number of colored pens. I enjoyed doodling for a while, and then she said she wanted to teach me how to write. I sat and listened attentively, eager to please.
She walked me through the alphabet, A-B-C-D…drawing the letters as she went. She explained about vowels, and special combinations like CH and TH. She lectured and I listened, but I quickly grew bored. I took one of my new pens and wrote “This is too easy,” and showed her the paper.
Matilda was very surprised, but Dr. Smith only laughed.
I didn’t like it when he laughed at her. Dr. Smith took over then. He soon had me writing sentences and paragraphs with perfect grammar. Before I could get bored again, he switched to something else.
“Now we’re going to learn Math.” He told me.
“What is math?” I asked.
“Math is the language of the Universe.” He said.
I was confused, but it soon became apparent that I learned better by doing than by listening. I learned to count to 100, to add and to subtract. Then they left.
I wrote and added and subtracted numbers on my paper. I doodled too. I ate when food came, and when the lights went off I lay awake on my bed, thinking about everything I had learned that day.
This went on for weeks. Dr. Smith and Matilda would teach me things. I learned how to write essays from Matilda and Dr. Smith taught me more and more advanced mathematics. Soon I finished every high school math course. Matilda taught me biology, physics, and chemistry. They took me to other rooms outside the lab to study. I looked at cells under a microscope. I built a catapult and launched balls to hit targets. I learned more than they intended. I had to know how the microscope worked, why the lights stayed on, what made the clock tick. Matilda was fascinated and always answered my questions. Dr. Smith thought I asked too many questions, but when he did answer he was very thorough, describing things with formulas from physics and chemistry.
I noticed also that my body changed. I grew bigger, inch by inch. Matilda said that my growth rate was amazing. I told her that she only thought that because she never grew.
“I’m done growing.” She said, laughing. She explained how humans start out as babies and grow into adults. I listened carefully, like always, drawing most of my understanding from her mind, not her words.
The routine changed. I began to dissect things in the lab, animals and human bodies and electronics, to find out how they worked. I learned to use a computer. Matilda began to ask me to shape-shift into different animals I was studying. All I needed was a sample of their skin or blood or fur. It drained me. The process of shifting into something else was exhilarating, but it consumed a lot of energy. Matilda said it would get easier with practice; Dr. Smith said that it had better. Dr. Washington only took notes.
My diet changed. The green bars still came three times a day, but now I also got round purple cake-like things, and red juice in a bottle. These gave me more energy to shift more often. I also learned how to shift my second skin. It was made to imitate fabrics, clothes. Clothes were much simpler than animals, so it was much easier to change my clothes than to change my face.
I sensed a change in the attitudes of the other scientists. They were back now. Some days they would run tests, stick needles in me, or make me solve puzzles or run obstacle courses, especially after shifting. I discovered I could not shift into animals that were much smaller or larger than me, but I could take on some of their characteristics. I learned to shift into humans. I became Matilda, Dr. Washington, and several of the other scientists, but inside I was still me. Joshua Black. I tried to hold onto that when I was shifting, sometimes it was hard to remember who I was.
Returning to my normal form, the form of Joshua Black, was always a relief. Sometimes I cried.
Then something terrible happened. Matilda was out one day and Dr. Smith was working on something else. I was left in the care of Dr. Washington. I didn’t mind. He could sit and take notes all day long, I could teach myself.
But Dr. Washington had other plans. We were about to go down a flight of stairs, when he stopped and turned to me, holding a gun.
“I’m sorry,” he said, “It’s nothing personal, but you’re simply too dangerous to be allowed to live.” I did not know what the gun was, but the intention in his words and his mind was clear to me. Terror ruled me. My animal instincts took over.
I ducked down and swept Dr. Washington’s legs out from under him. The gun went off with a tremendous bang, and pain shot through my body. I fell backwards and watched Dr. Washington bounce down the stairs. He came to a rest at the bottom, face up, glasses broken, head hanging at an odd angle, eyes open.
I did not understand what had happened. My shoulder burned with pain. My vision blurred. Why was Dr. Washington so still? A guard came, drawn by the sound of the gunshot.
He spoke into his radio. “This is Frank, I have an emergency in corridor 3C, Dr. Washington is dead.”
He knelt down to talk to me and I grabbed his head with both my hands. My mind screamed, WHAT IS DEATH? I took it from him. Everything he knew about death I ripped from his mind. I understood now. I knew what I had done. I let go of the guard and he passed out on the floor. I stood there until Dr. Smith arrived with more guards. He asked one of them for the footage from the security cameras, but never spoke to me about it. As he took me away I noticed that I could no longer feel Dr. Washington’s mind.
One day a man in a black suit and tie came in to speak with Matilda and Dr. Smith. I listened through the walls, but I could only hear some of the conversation.
“But we’re three months ahead of schedule!” Matilda exclaimed, protesting something that I had not heard.
“Nevertheless, the Council feels that he is of no use to us without some experience of the outside world.” The strange man said. Surprisingly, Dr. Smith came to Matilda’s aid.
“He has more use than as a mere spy, his brain is extraordinary, he could be of great use as a scientist, or a strategic planner.” Dr. Smith argued.
“The Council wants a superspy. The experiment you call Joshua Black will be a spy. Further exploration into the development of his species may produce valuable planners or scientists, as you have said. I am sure the Council will be interested in your proposal, but Subject 13 Alpha 001 must be a spy.”
There was silence.
“One month in the real world. Then you can study the effect it has on him and report back to me.”
The sound or chairs scraping, they were leaving. I backed away from the door.
What happened next happened fast, and with little explanation. A tracking bracelet was strapped to my wrist and I was lead to the surface. I was told to return in one month. If I got in trouble, I was to push the red button on the bracelet and they would come find me.
Sooner than I realized, I was standing on the surface outside the laboratory. Trees, bridges, and footpaths dominated the landscape. A few skyscrapers poked out above the trees. I glanced back down at the manhole cover that was the entrance to the laboratory complex. I had never realized it was underground.
I walked, basking in the sunlight and the joy of freedom. No more scientists poking me or telling me what to do. It was a frightful prospect, having no one to give me direction, but I was determined to find my own way. The breeze was fresh and clean. It carried no chemical smell like that which was ever-present in the lab. I am free! My mind shouted, for one month…no, FOREVER!
The code on the bracelet was easy to crack. I dropped it and walked on. Now that I had my first taste of freedom, I knew I was never going back.
I wrote this back in...2010.
So glad I date my work now.
Hope you enjoyed this little 'experiment' as much as I did.
And if you want, I might do some more on Joshua Black...
But the ideas I have for the future of this story are way
different from the ideas I had
for the future of this story...
Back when I wrote it...
So we'll see what happens.
As of now-(10/01/2012)-I'm working on something entirely different.
If this publication comes out well I'll probably do the first chapter of my current novel the same way.
Thanks for reading!
Texte: Luke Pontbriand
Lektorat/Korrektorat: Luke Pontbriand
Tag der Veröffentlichung: 01.10.2012
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