Eleazar performs a final dangerous experiment to bring his deal to an end.
I sat in front of the sink, cupping my smoothly scaled hands beneath the automatic tap. I splashed the water onto my grey and white muzzle and watched it return to the drain, slightly reddened, where it would be reclaimed. Depositing some soap onto my hands, I lathered it before I scrubbed away the remaining stains of the meal around my mouth.
Once I was done, I sighed and lumbered back to the central hall of my abode. I had eaten far more than my fill, but I would soon need the extra material. Well, I didn’t need it, but it will be less effort than having to generate all the mass with my magic.
I looked out of the full-wall window at a facsimile of mountainous shrub lands. My wings ached with longing to take to the skies, which I had not touched in thousands of days. Naturally, I could simply rid myself of them for as long as I remained in the confined abode, but I kept them as a reminder. Just as I had asked for the view from this window to be the location from which I was first taken.
I entered my office again, approaching the computer and reading over my notes and list of techniques for the third time, as if that would reveal something new to me. Then I scoured the compilation logs for my bubble generator as if some errors which were not there before might appear on the third viewing. The plan hadn’t changed: stick my head in there and hope that my abilities paired with what I had learnt about Their physics would be enough for it to survive.
Stop procrastinating and just get it over with, I told myself. I backed away, putting some distance between myself and the furniture. I concentrated on bringing out the outlandish power within me, drawing it without.
My dark grey scales took on an inky sheen. My body took on a liquid aspect as it became more malleable. I focused on my left side, expanding it as the blue and white flames of my power flickered about me. My body had become unbalanced, the base of my neck was off centre.
Next up was the hardest part, but one I had practised many times at the instruction of my captors. In their usual blunt manner, They had explained that They had invested a lot of effort and resources into me and didn’t want me dying before I provided adequate results. I focused on the awkwardly barren part at the front left of my abdomen, sprouting an inky growth. It stretched further and further, until it reached my head, at which point the end began to thicken, sprouting horns and blue feathers. Draconic facial features formed before finally the appendage solidified – inky shine replaced with my usual purple iridescence.
“Hello there.” Scales briefly shifted more feather-like as it grinned my dumb impression of a human smile. Humans didn’t even exist back home. “You look so stupid.”
“No, you do.” I replied, observing how poorly he executed the expression. “Hopefully, I haven’t made you too careless to get the job done.” I could already see some tiny mistakes I had made in his appearance, the horns a tiny bit crooked and his jawline slightly misshapen.
The further I pushed myself, the harder it became to maintain a pleasing appearance. Beta, Gamma, Delta, Epsilon. Through the years, I’d tried creating more and more at once. I’d not yet tried making more than four extra heads – by which point their appearances had become quite monstrous and their personalities diverged noticeably from mine. The most concerning part was that such gratuitous use of my aberrant magic, stolen and fused from multiple realities, began to warp my entire body, whether I wanted it or not. I had not pushed myself further out of fear that my identity might permanently degrade. The whole point of doing this was that if something happened to one of my heads, the remaining ones could still use my magic to regenerate damage. But if I myself was lost and one of my copies became the new alpha, how flawed could he be before he was no longer me? Perhaps with time I might gain more confidence in my skills, but not yet. Things were safer when I stuck to forms nearer my natural one.
“No, you didn’t, Alpha,” his grin disappeared without a trace. I could feel the prickling as the feathers along my second neck returned to hardened scales, but I could not sense the head itself nor what it was thinking. “Just trying to lighten the mood before I’m gone.”
I sighed. I knew Beta was nervous about this too. “Sorry, you’re right. Let’s try to stay positive. Even if we don’t manage it on the first try, I’ll still learn something hopefully.”
I returned to my desk, unplugging the device I had connected to the computer and strapping it to my chest. Despite the great leeway the straps gave for adjustment, the harness only had one neck loop, so I centred it on my side of the body. The bulky contraption was not comfortable, but I had confidence it would work. I just needed to have confidence in myself too. I put a wireless headset on each of my heads so that I would be able to hear myself speak, then I left the study.
I approached the secure door that blocked my access to the outside world. There was no way for me to open it myself, but it opened as I approached. Naturally, They were watching me. One of Their many prerequisites to our deal was that I would finally be making this attempt.
Through the door was a room comparable to an airlock containing three quadrupedal robots. None of them were active. They must be observing from outside. Beta looked at the camera in the corner of the room while I waited for the door ahead to open. It revealed another room that terminated in a glowing white wall. Geometric shapes danced across the wall, and I wondered about the function of each. They all appeared to me as three dimensional prisms too complex to bother identifying. They began to form some repeating pattern that filled the entire white wall.
“Some sort of barrier in case we mess up?” I asked.
“No pressure, huh?” said Beta as the second door closed behind us. “You sure you don’t want a Gamma to back you up if something goes wrong with me?”
“The generator will work. I- we made absolutely sure that most of me will be protected.”
“Right. Give me a moment.” I saw flames flickering on my left side. I lost all feeling in Beta’s neck and my left arm, but They held their positions. I looked curiously at Beta, who quickly elaborated, “You don’t need the pain, just the information.”
Beta walked us forward and sat us down in front of the white wall. Lifting our left hand towards the bright barrier, he hesitated.
“You’ve got this.” Useless attempt at encouragement. I knew it wouldn’t help me in the slightest. But I said it nonetheless.
Beta eyed the complex repeating geometry ahead of us one last time, before he moved our hand forward, plunging it in. Almost immediately it disintegrated into tiny grey and red triangular prisms. Beta only let out a suppressed growl, but he yanked the remainder of the hand away and caused our entire body to recoil. A shape broke formation and quickly moved the triangular remnants of my fingers out of sight, while flames flickered around my hand as Beta regenerated it. The gap in the barrier was quickly filled.
“First technique shows promise,” Beta noted. “Matter conversion seemed successful, but I couldn’t hold it together. Let me try that again. I think I shall try to borrow the cohesion style of the third technique.”
“Alright. Makes sense that They were right about the matter conversion the other way around too.”
Steeling his nerves, Beta plunged our hand into the wall again. He groaned, but it remained intact. Our flames burnt brightly at the edge of the barrier, but I could see him flexing the low-poly equivalents of our fingers in the other world. After some time, he pulled the hand out and inspected it. It appeared intact.
“That felt incredibly weird.”
“But it worked.”
“That it did.”
Not knowing if the shapes ahead would hear me, I turned to this room’s camera and asked, “Are you satisfied? We’ve shown that I can adapt to y-”
“Alpha,” the other me interrupted, “You know They won’t be. They explicitly said They wanted us to succeed at processing core conversion, which is why you made me. Let me do my job. Turn on the generator.”
I sighed, but obeyed. With the flick of a switch, it hummed to life. I couldn’t see any difference, but that was because the tiny local bubble of reality it was trying to generate around me was within a larger bubble sustained by an even bigger generator I could not access. It would keep me intact if I accidentally passed the white barrier, entering the universe which I had nicknamed Zoroc. Their universe. I had tested the device previously, and while it let me enter and traverse Zoroc to a limited degree, I was told that I could not properly perceive it or interact with it without obeying their laws of physics. Making that adaptation, or really any meaningful alteration to myself, was something far beyond the magic capabilities I held in my past life, but They had taken me and augmented me with the abilities of other beings from universes compatible with my own.
I had just proven I could convert a part of myself and maintain control of it. But They wanted me to bring magic into their universe. The magic which had been so incompatible with their robotic attempts to control it, and me. Apparently there was something about the minds of my kind that granted us this elusive power. I looked at Beta and nodded.
He said nothing, but tapped on the microphone beside his mouth. Hearing the spikes of pressure replayed through the headphones that I wore, I nodded again. He leaned us askew forward. He stretched his neck out, as I pulled mine back as far as I could go.
The moment his snout touched the barrier, brilliant white and blue flame erupted – far more intense than before. He was putting his all into this, and for good reason. The flame entirely obscured him from my vision, but I could see the neck continuing to slowly move forward. Eventually it came to a stop, now a third of the way down the neck, and the flames lessened. Beyond the barrier, I could now see a dark grey rectangular prism connected to a cylinder that led back to the flames. It moved about a bit and pulled Beta’s neck a little further in. I felt as if it were observing me from the other side, but I could only guess.
Some unintelligible clicking noises came across the headset alongside white noise.
“Beta? Is that you, or am I just getting static?”
The clicking and static continued, then paused.
“If you can hear me, I don’t understand anything.”
It resumed for some time, then stopped.
“Well, whatever you’re saying, I guess carry on. I’ll get Their help to translate later.”
I don’t know whether he understood me or not, but the static continued intermittently until suddenly it grew much harsher. A blue-ish hue spread across the rectangle. A crack appeared and spread faster than I could follow. As I began to pull myself back, it – he – ruptured. My left arm and neck gave out, no longer supporting themselves, and I toppled forward – my head falling through the barrier. I panicked, trying ineffectually to draw on my power, before I realised that my personal generator was working just fine. I looked to my left again. Taking a moment to focus, I returned control of my left arm to myself and reclaimed the matter from the remainder of the neck. I’d worry about making myself symmetrical again later.
An incredibly uncharacteristic murky blue fog spread slowly through the geometric and pristine space that was Zoroc. Two shapes left their positions in the barrier that surrounded the tiny bubble of reality that I lived in. They approached the cloud in a seemingly cautious manner.
One touched the cloud. Its forward movement halted and it began to jitter violently, taking on more and more edges and faces on its surface before it shattered into aberrant shards. One of those shards touched its companion and the same happened to it.
Suddenly dozens of shapes were breaking formation, and somehow managed to stop the shards without touching them. Yet they did not seem able to halt the fog – backing away further and further as it expanded.
I have to help, maybe I can contain it. I pushed myself off the ground behind myself, and into Zoroc. Now that I was in the vast white space, somehow the cloud seemed a great distance away from my bubble, despite them not seeming to be able to move it. My surroundings were definitely moving in a way I didn’t expect of the world I was used to, but it did seem that I had correctly propelled myself towards the cloud. However, after several long seconds, another barrier-shape pushed against me before I could even get close to the cloud. Within the blink of an eye, I was tumbling back into the border-room I had just left.
The “airlock” door behind me unsealed and opened itself. I took the hint and walked towards it, taking one look back at the swarm of shapes crowding around the still-expanding blue cloud. Inside, I found that one of the robot shells was active.
“Pleased Eleazar intact,” it stated. “Vast new data present. Avoid further risk. Consider objective complete at present.”
“Sea Two, is that you?” There was a warning beep from the door behind me, and I made sure to bring my tail inside.
“False. X4-3642 inhabiting platform.”
“Oh. So if I can consider this objective complete, does that mean I can go back home? Once Sea is back, of course.”
“True. C2-6242 received Communion verdict on contract conclusion. Requested results withheld from Eleazar until C2-6242 communicate via platform.”
“I would say that sounds ominous, but then I might be reading into it too much. Why can I only consider the objective complete at present? Will I have to come back?”
“Results unanticipated. Highly volatile. Enquire further with C2-6242. X4-3642 departing.”
Before I could get another word in, the bot powered down. The door to my home opened, so I proceeded through it and it sealed behind me. I took some time to return my body to a leaner symmetric shape, then walked to my computer to write down my observations and feelings on what had just transpired. But before I could do that, a rumble passed through the entire building and I got a brief feeling of acceleration. That’s never happened before.
I remained in place, unsure what to do. There was more rumbling, of a different kind. This seemed more like something distant rather than the building itself. But this was growing fainter, until it was completely inaudible. I didn’t notice a feeling of deceleration until much later. Not knowing what to do anymore, I stared out of my window at the landscape I longed for.
After far too long, I eventually heard the airlock unsealing. I left my study to meet the robot that strolled in.
“What is happening out there?”
“Reality Z-0R-0C critically damaged. Damage highly virulent. Not contained. Reality potentially at risk. Eleazar habitat relocated distance calculated safe sufficiently long for debrief and return to home reality.”
“The Communion approved my return? But why are you sending me now? Do you mean that what I just did might destroy this entire universe if you don’t manage to contain it?”
“True. Has Eleazar goal updated? True.”
“No, I still want to go home, but after what I just did I thought you’d be upset with me and want to keep me longer to punish me or make me fix things.”
“Eleazar performed to specification. Unforeseen consequences. C2-6242 prioritise Eleazar safety.”
I struggled to find what to say, stuttering a few times as I failed to start sentences.
“Is Eleazar distressed?” Lights around a compartment on the robot’s side illuminated, but the robot did not yet move from the position it had held since the start of the conversation. I knew from experience that this compartment contained some emergency medical supplies, including sedatives.
“No. Well, maybe. I don’t know. I know you’ve always looked after me when the rest regarded me as nothing more than a test subject, but I didn’t expect you to still care for me after I’ve made a mistake that could potentially destroy your reality.”
“Reality Z-0R-0C not Prime reality. Commonly used for similar experiments. Can be evacuated if necessary. Natives compliant with Prime directives long since relocated for preservation.”
“Oh.” I thought for a bit. At this moment, I didn’t really want to risk their anger by criticising them. But there was another question that plagued me. “What was Beta saying when he was in your reality? I couldn’t understand anything.”
“Classified. Eleazar no longer contractually bound to further experiments.”
“So that’s it then? I’m just done?”
“Sufficient data collected to meet satisfaction threshold. Eleazar fulfilled contract with Communion mediated by C2-6242. Communion approve release with cross-reality communicator.” The bot held out a small phone-like device.
“Why do I need to communicator if I’m free? Are there strings attached?”
“Communion also offer new employment contract. Scouting and exploratory role. Eleazar possesses curiosity and desire for discovery. Upon acceptance of contract, Eleazar to be equipped to travel between realities and catalogue realities. Contract offer open perpetually until further notice. C2-6242 also desire to maintain contact at Eleazar discretion. Analysis indicates Eleazar formed attachment.”
“After everything you lot have done to me, do you really think I’ll want to keep working with you?! The ONLY reason I’ve been cooperating recently is because you promised I would be returned home. I doubt that any of your kind except you care about me beyond what data and results I may provide. You might be the best of a bad bunch, Sea, but I still think you only care about me as long as I will be useful to you. No, I don’t want to be your friend.”
“Eleazar attitude understood. Assumptions only partially false. C2-6242 project that Eleazar find return to previous life patterns dissatisfying. Eleazar is not the same entity as Eleazar believes. Both C2-6242 and Communion possess objectives likely to benefit from Eleazar’s well-being, provided further contact is established. C2-6242 prioritise Eleazar well-being over contact. C2-6242 desire contact with Eleazar even if not collusive with Communion desires. Eleazar may refrain from taking communicator if desired.” The bot stepped aside from the entrance to the airlock. “Remove generator and enter airlock to initiate return.” It still held the small device aloft, but wasn’t trying to make me take it.
“So you really do want to be a friend?”
“Will the communion know what we are saying to one another if I take the communicator?”
“True. Communications visible to units other than Eleazar and C2-6242.”
“Well, I don’t want to help you find more universes to colonise and natives to abduct, nor have the communion spying on me.” I unstrapped the device from my chest and dumped it onto the floor, then walked past Sea.
“Communion make mistakes too. Communion adapting. C2-6242 desire and predict potential for less hostile interactions with realities in future. C2-6242 still desire contact with Eleazar even if contract never accepted. C2-6242 harbour concern about Eleazar continued well-being. Communion and C2-6242 aware of indications Eleazar likely to attempt dissemination of knowledge of Prime dimension.”
I stopped in the doorway and looked back at the bot. It stared at me, no hint of emotion in its body as it continued to speak.
“Knowledge dissemination known risk of release of Eleazar. Deemed acceptable risk in exchange for cooperation. Action course taken at Eleazar own discretion. Diplomatic relations unlikely to be established without communication device. Eleazar reality M-41D-14515G at risk if hostile to Prime reality. Eleazar well-being at risk from both own authorities and communion if action course taken. Eleazar valuable asset, not irreplaceable. C2-6242 unable to assist continued well-being without communicator.”
They could have decided to go back on their word to avoid this risk, yet They followed the contract. But neither do They seem particularly concerned about the potential destruction of an entire reality. One which They’re probably running other potentially reality-breaking experiments in. “Fine, I’ll think about it some more.” I grabbed the device from Sea. He then offered a little holster with an elastic strap that I slipped over my arm and put the alien phone in. “Maybe I’ll message you, maybe I won’t. But if I do ever accept that contract, it’ll be on my terms that I expect the communion to uphold.”
I stepped fully into the airlock. The bot remained behind, despite the other two shells in the airlock. “Goodbye, Sea Two.”
“Fare well Eleazar.”
The airlock sealed and a warning alarm that I’d never heard sounded. The room rumbled and shook. Eventually the outer door opened and I was met with the first fresh air I had breathed in years. Instead of the usual white wall ahead of me, I saw mountains and rolling hills populated by dense shrubbery and rare trees. At the base of the foothills I saw a city that I remembered fondly. It had grown since I last saw it. I stepped from the chamber, exiting freely from it with no need for a personal reality generator. Behind me, the tear in reality closed like a pair of curtains being drawn back – sealing without a trace.
I briefly wondered if the remnants of my camping gear would be buried by time somewhere nearby, or if search parties had found it, but I didn’t care much to look for it.I cycled a few deep breaths, letting the mountain air fill my lungs, then spread my wings wide. I am free.