Outpost Zebra

Frozen in time, Prologue.

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Prologue

Powerless. Exasperated. Tired of being a prisoner in her own mind. She knew this dream; she knew the faces of the surreal men and women that shouted her name with echoes in their voices and professional fear in their eyes. She knew the stinging brightness of the surgical lights that disturbed her sight. She knew the numb coldness that enveloped her being and the aching of her stiff bones. She remembered the small scratch above the glowing lintel. The irritating feeling of water in her nostrils and ears; the smooth, bland and cold feel of the white plastic sheet beneath her; the cold, glossy metal rails on either side; the sharp smell of iodine and the bitter smell of the room; the white marble floors; and the grey ceiling above her…She knew them.

Finally, as the world returned to silence, she knew what came better than anything else: the waiting darkness that engulfed her.

In the cold, empty and eternal world, she sobbed without tears.

“Let me out…”

“Dr Océane?”

She made no reply.

“Dr Océane, can you hear me?”

She refused to play the hopeless  that Providence mocked her with as long as she could remember. Shutting her eyes tightly, she sighed.

The baritone voice dropped a note.

“Dr Océane, we really need you to respond.”

She would die in this endless mockery before she fell in for that trap again. Océane frowned, surprised at how difficult it was to move the muscles of her face. Her mind wandered to the strangeness of such a thing. Perhaps this new dream was–

The world exploded into a white flash, and she gasped as the pain made her sit up and her eyes flew open. The sharp pain in her head and chest subsided to a quiet buzz as her breathing stabilised. Sitting beside her was a figment of her imagination. Its face was an indiscernible shadow hidden in the light of the window behind it. Her eyes narrowed into slits as she adjusted to the light and her lips formed a deeper frown, fuelled by her anger.

This shard of her mind took the shape of a man. Her eyes followed it as it moved away from the window in lively steps and stood opposite her. Its black irises glinted with strange happiness and an annoying grin on its face stretched from one ear to the other. Her angry, confused mind vaguely registered that she was alone in an unfamiliar room and a shard with dubious intentions was the only one she could see. That thought soon dominated her mind as it stepped closer and peered into her eyes. Staring at the shard, she considered the situation. This was her dream and her mind, was it not? It should not be able to hurt her, should it? Reflexively, she tried to slap its face, but her hand barely moved.

It laughed, its deep chuckle making her realise how freezing cold she felt.

“How mean of you, Dr Océane. I thought we’d be off to a good start, you and me.”

Was it serious? She groaned quietly, and it moved over to her, placing her back on the bed. Her numb hands slowly gripped the fabric, faintly feeling the soft, white sheets under her and the blue duvet covering her frigid body. Above her head was a hexagon-shaped light built into the white ceiling that bathed the large room in warm light. On the dark grey walls were several rectangular sconces providing further soft white lighting. The tiled marble floor was black and barely visible beyond her shivering feet. Her eyes wandered to the solid door on the left, encased in a dim and pulsating lintel of barely yellow light and two equally lighted side posts that followed the rhythm of light. On a closer look, all the lights in the room were harmoniously brightening and dimming in alternating speeds. It calmed her thoughts and she regarded the male figment of her mind with more composure. She hoped that this new dream would not last more than three hundred heartbeats. She longed to return to the darkness.

“W-who…?” She managed to say, before her teeth chattered incessantly.

“Who am I?” It asked, as the corners of its mouth moved up. It was smiling, again! Its hand smoothed the thick black hair on its head. On a closer look, it had the complexion and facial features of an Indian.

Océane wanted to remember the name of this figment of her imagination. It seemed to understand that, because it took its time in thinking of an answer. She frowned at it impatiently.

“In a hurry, are we, Dr Océane?”

“J-just…tell…m-me!”

It folded its arms and she sneezed.

What was this thing doing? She really felt cold and irritated off now. More disturbing was the slowing pulses of light.

“I-I…need-d…warmth, now!”

The door slid open and an entity entered the room. Something in her mind registered it as being somewhat familiar. It was young; her mind obviously assigned it an age no more than twenty-four.

Without missing a beat, the young entity grinned and moved closer.

“Want me to climb in there with you?”

“W-what?”

It laughed for the first time and winked one of its bright eyes at her.

“I…w-will kill you. If-f…you…d-d-d-d…”

“Dare.” The older figment completed and chuckled again.

“I think only one of us should be here. We’ll end up confusing the poor Dr Océane, I fear.” It added, looking her over with concern. The younger one nodded, studying her face with an inscrutable gaze.

“You should leave, Naveed.” It said and the older entity frowned.

“You have no right to say that. Remember your place.”

The younger entity sighed, looking the older one over with an irritated face.

“I have been given clearance by Professor Set. Your instructions are to report to me in any matters that concern Dr Océane Ulysse.”

Naveed, for that must be the older entity’s name, scowled but made no move to leave.

The younger figment smirked and looked straight at her.

“Naveed, leave. Now.” It said, obviously speaking to the other entity in the room.

Naveed left with heavy steps. Moments later, the lights dimmed and the young entity released her from its uncomfortable stare. This was strange. It was her mind, was it not?

It moved to the window with light steps.

“What am I to you?” It asked, facing the now translucent windowpane.

What was it to her? She looked round the room wondering at the strangeness of the question.

“Shard…A shard.”

“A shard, Dr Océane? A shard of what? Memories, people, your imagination?” Its voice asked, with some superficial curiosity.

“My imagination.”

At this, it turned back to her, its face hidden in the obscuring light of the window.

“Who are you?” She asked after a while of prolonged silence.

“Shard. Shard Realise.”

Was it joking?

“Be serious.” She commanded. The tone of her voice was still low but more even, thanks to the artificial warmth of the bed and duvet.

“I am serious, Dr Océane. Can I call you Murielle? “Melle” is really what I’d prefer to call you.”

She stuttered. Firstly, it was daring to request calling her by her middle name. Secondly, it was audacity to give her a nickname, especially considering its young age. Thirdly, “Melle” was the name her family called her in private.

“No. You may not call me…Melle or Murielle.”

It stayed where it was, its face hidden in the shadows.

“Where is my father?”

It made no reply.

“Where is my father?”

It made no reply again.

“Can you not hear me? Where is my father or any of my family members?”

With a cool, calculated voice, it answered:

“I have a name, Dr Océane.”

She quietly hissed, but after a minute of silence, she gave in.

“Where is my father, Shard?”

“I can’t tell you.”

“I see. Take me to Monte Carlo.”

“I can’t do that either.”

She rolled her eyes and sighed.

“So, what can you do?”

It paused for a moment.

“I can’t take you to Monte Carlo. You don’t know why, yet.”

“Well…why?”

“It ceased to exist thirty years ago.”

“You are joking.” She said dismissively.

“Perhaps.” It replied and walked towards the door, its face tranquil.

“I’ll be back in three hundred and sixty heartbeats. Please make sure you count all three hundred and sixty pulses. If you need anything, Dr Océane, kindly look for the button under the right side of your bed. It is within reach of your right arm. Ensure that you find it: this UMF facility is very secure, but there are loopholes. Take care.”

With that, it stepped out of the room and the silent grey door closed.

Was this a dream? It had to be. Nothing felt real. Little else made sense. Her eyes scanned the pulsating lights on the walls while she counted her heartbeats. Suddenly, she gasped as her vision focused on a small triangular object to her far left. It was white and pulsating faster than the other lights in the room. Its edges were somewhat rough, though the vertices were smooth. She realised what it was without thinking twice. It was a shard.

With supreme effort, she tore her gaze away from it and resumed counting, estimating the heartbeats she missed and resuming after registering the difference in time.

This place had to be somewhere in her mind. The shard was no coincidence, but –

She stopped thinking again and stared ahead. Cold sweat slowly formed on her temple, even as she stared straight onward with wide eyes and a mouth that refused to make a sound.

In the wall opposite her, something was changing. Ever so slowly – so slowly that it had to be her imagination – a smiling face grew from the grey wall, with its eyes shut. Her eyes did not blink, but her heart was racing and her lips quivered. The face fully formed and instantly, its eyes shot open. The glowing irises scanned the room and rested on her, fixing her gaze in hers, even as her heartbeat and breathing picked up even more pace. Slowly, its smile spread to a grin and the stony face moved out of the wall towards her.

She lost her valued composure, giving in to the powerful panic. With the face barely ten feet away from her, Océane’s brain kicked into action. She screamed.

 

4 O wretched man that I am! I have lost all touch with reality. The delusions of my mind and the imaginations of my heart lead me ever further down this cursed road!

5 I begged for help, but there was no man in sight – for aid, but none paid me any heed. I see naught but trees walking this path. Wilted, barren and broken things they are. Once green, but now corrupted by their greed and wickedness.

6 Is this not my mind at work? Or do my senses tell the truth?

  1. –Oncis’ Tumults 19: 4-6.
Posted in Dual Universe, Fan Fiction
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