EX/WHI :: Part Thirteen

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Chris is awake, bolt upright from cold, wet grass, looking around in terror, pretty sure that he was dead about thirty seconds earlier.
This will be the second time his heart has stopped whilst in active service: considering where the last one took place, it is considerably less stressful to be alive here trapped in an alien simulation. He looks for Ami: she’s standing, staring at him with a mix of relief and trepidation before moving his side, checking pulse, as body is gently pushed back to fully horizontal.

This time, there is no objection to her actions: on reflection, lying down’s no bad idea.

‘Because I am a stickler for protocol I’m gonna ask you some questions to check for brain damage. Name and Social Security number, please.’

‘I believe I still am Mark Donald Chambers, 075-26-1431 and I was dead, right?’

‘Very much so and I know as a result your heart’s gonna want some time to recover quite apart from whatever else was rearranged in your body. What’s today’s date?’

‘Friday, June 15th 2018 and you need to explain what just happened.’

‘I will but not yet, not until I’m sure we’re not being eavesdropped on.’

‘You know we are now?’

The nod is almost imperceptible: back at the pillar, his partner wasn’t losing the plot, something happened she couldn’t explain. If he hadn’t reacted so strongly to that touch –

‘No more questions, try and relax.’

‘Aren’t you gonna ask me who’s the joke for a President is right now?’

‘At least you don’t have Brexit to worry about. Be grateful for small mercies.’

A backpack is somehow behind his head and Ami’s fatigue jacket across aching chest as suddenly, Chris is shivering uncontrollably: shock. Almost instantaneously air agitates, now familiar movement as reaction to his condition: a low camp bed materialises to their left, something he’d use in combat training along with blankets and a stainless steel canteen. About to try to get up, a sensation of weightlessness negates any effort and he’s literally floating off the ground, moved from concrete to canvas without ceremony. The blankets float up, down to cover his form, jacket gently placed back into Ami’s lap.

Chambers won’t say another word until prompted: Bishop knows they’re being watched, possesses a ton of intel it’s currently impossible to communicate and he is best serving them both lying here, being a good patient. None of this phases any more, their hosts owning total dominance not only of life and death but the laws of physics, yet Chris just wants to sleep for a week. The thought is acknowledged within subconscious by someone out of his field of vision, and this is no longer psychic sensations. Whoever it was who communicated with Ami in her head before he died also understands the need for immediate recovery.

‘I will provide induced unconsciousness to allow cellular regeneration to complete. When you wake, there will be opportunity to communicate with your partner unhindered.’

Chambers is satisfied because they are being referred to as partners and not subjects there is no danger, right before losing consciousness for the third time that day.


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EX/WHI :: Part Twelve

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This is a dream, same one from last night as time itself shifts slightly off centre, out of focus. Her memory is of what is now happening: not deja vu, but something more fluid, insubstantial yet holding cast iron appearance of reality. Ami’s whole body hurts simultaneously: heavy-limbed and tight-necked, pressure at back of skull which is something unnatural, intrusive, trying to pull everything apart.

Understanding dawns: there’s someone inside her head that shouldn’t be. Instantaneously last night’s dream has been removed, almost yanked from brain by force, yet faint echoes remain. Her desperate whisper, Chris’ scream wasn’t imagined but real, before comprehension blossoms. The future which already happened, yet in the here and now has yet to take place… you saw it. Last night, you existed in the present and future simultaneously.

‘Linear time is your anchor. It is not ours.’

She should be frightened, pleading at Chris whilst he unknowingly backs too close to the pillar but if he’s rescued, everything changes. This is hard work to comprehend, could be considered as intrusion because the being now co-habiting her mind didn’t ask for permission to enter, but they are communicating, her and it. The alien’s happiness at her lack of fear is tempered with seriousness: her observations have all been totally correct. This is a test, all of what happens an experiment, but there is a problem. Something only now has been grasped about her unique genetics, and as a result intervention is essential.

This presence isn’t running the experiment either: they’re an underling, part of a team, and it is important that the WHI understands this. She must let time exist as it does, as it is seen and felt by her kind, or else there will be attention drawn to alteration of chronology.

‘You must trust these choices: if the EX or WHI are damaged, they will be repaired.’

The pleading look on Chambers’ face finally pulls Ami back to what remains their joint present.

‘Why shouldn’t I step back?’

‘Chris, please… I think I know what’s going on… my head -’

‘I can’t have you lose it now, you have to stay with me.’

‘I’m here but not alone, you don’t understand -’

‘You’re absolutely right, I’m here and there is nothing here to be afraid of -’

Ami knows what’s coming but won’t stop her hand, moving to his shoulder, attempt to pull man away except he doesn’t want to be handled, suddenly angry that she should do this. As the sun goes down in a couple of hours he’ll apologise, explaining how thought had been given to not touching her for reassurance because it showed respect of personal space. For that future to happen, he has to wrench himself from her support and stumble back into the light…

Everything slows as it did back in the coffee shop, and as Chris brushes one of three time portals in the Experiment there is noise and light unlike anything else Ami has ever experienced, and she’s nowhere, body and brain finally separated. The Dark encloses and protects, and she is safe.

‘These areas are dangerous.’

There’s a new voice in her head, warm and calm, distinct and separate to that which existed previously, which no longer exists.

‘You must avoid contact with the portal as it is fatal. Both EX and WHI must be preserved until observations are complete. Reanimation will commence shortly.’

As everything reconnects, Ami’s feet are no longer on concrete but grass. They’ve been shifted from where the Hotel stood, relocated to what she knows is Trinity Square Gardens, in the shadow of Tower Hill. It’s a long second later before the lifeless, charred body of Chris appears out of nowhere before falling to the ground, heap of burnt flesh and cloth. All Bishop can do is stare in stunned amazement as the air moves across an obvious corpse, same way as had been the case with the coffee bar table, literally rebuilding her impromptu partner back to existence.

Then, as suddenly as it appeared, both movement and presence are gone.


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EX/WHI :: Part Ten

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Arrival

This place looks, fees and smells like London, but is anything but.

Looking down from Tower Hill, to the Bridge on their right, not a car is in sight. Buildings are reproduced in a detail that beggars belief, and whilst they feel very solid none can be entered. Chris had suggested trying to climb one, but Ami’s gut is telling her to remain on the ground, at least for now. Knowing every move is being assessed from above by unseen beings should feel more stressful than is currently the case, but it isn’t. They’re here on good faith, because a request was granted as another was given. As soon as the door to the Cafe closed, there was no way back in. The canteens give them water for a day, no more, and that’s about as much food as they have between them.

This has been a test since the moment they woke up.

‘I wonder if this is intended or an accident.’

Chris stands, hands in pockets, looking across to the Tower and down to the Embankment. It is time to see if they are thinking alike.

‘You mean the location, yes?’

‘The coffee bar was a lot further back into the City than we are now. When we emerged, it wasn’t at the same spot we entered.’

‘Fuck, you’re right. That’s a dry cleaners normally… we must be at least a quarter of a mile closer to the river than we were.’

‘So, the question stands. Why are we here, exactly?’

‘Well, we can’t go back to where we came, presumably that exit is now blocked for good.’

‘Agreed, and having been given equipment to travel with one presumes that’s what’s expected of us. But where do we go?’

‘We don’t know what’s been tested here, apart from our ability to be mouthy and ask for help. That’s me, by the way, not you, that speech to our captors was very impressive.’

‘You still think we’re prisoners? We’ve just been given the means to travel -’

‘Indeed but I assume this scenario is finite. So, where would you go?’

‘Where’s your hotel from here?’

‘About half a mile that way, but why -’

‘If our theory is right, that we were abducted into this scenario at different points… you said your hotel room was where it probably happened. It’s closer than where I was taken, which is a good mile an a bit in the opposite direction. Considering our water and food supplies, and because there’s no idea what might happen next, I’d examine the closer location first.’

The smile Chris gives is a genuine boost to morale: not only does he agree with the plan, it makes him happy she’s on top of this. The backpack is on and he’s already walking away, taking the lead. There’s no issue with following, or that he’s not 100% in the game.

Ami wonders, not for the first time, if their observers are happy with what they’re seeing.


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EX/WHI :: Part Nine

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It’s a second before Chris grasps who Ami is talking to, that her honesty and intelligence might count for something if they’re no longer trapped in such an enclosed space. Looking outside, there’s no doubt this won’t be London they’re walking into, but what happens after that would be far easier to cope with if they knew their captors were more friendly than evil. The same breeze that miraculously fixed the table brushes past his left cheek, then there’s a tingle in his fingers, before on the counter to his right a familiar set of sweats materialises, plus what he knows will be very comfortable Nike trainers. There’s a backpack too: not too heavy, inside which are canteens for water plus silver foil-wrapped squares that look an awful lot like protein bars…

Ami has her own rations, and what are undoubtedly army fatigues, plus Doc Martins. All she can do is stare at the pile, with what Chambers will guess is a mind finally accepting she’d pitched their situation just right. Someone, at this point, ought to be grateful too for their gifts, because that’s what they are, and he’s hardly contributed to this entire endeavour thus far.

‘Thank you. This is much appreciated. Give us time to get ready, and we’ll head outside.’

Chris can’t look upwards as he is suitably grateful, because mind’s marvelling at what just transpired. Ami didn’t ask directly for what was provided, and yet that was what their captors took as the request: change of clothes, food and water plus an indicator they were expected to leave, or why else would backpacks be provided? She’s already getting changed, without a word, and there’s a reason: everything they say and do is absolutely being monitored, so maybe it is time to choose conversation with care. He goes to fill his canteens from the bathroom sink, allowing her privacy to get changed, before coming back and removing his own suit. She then repeats the courtesy for him: returning with water, they’re both ready to venture outside.

The backpack has nothing sharp, anything that might act as a potential weapon. Perhaps it is time to assume they’ll be no need to fight and stop worrying about protection. However, it would be great to feel safe, and right now Chambers really doesn’t. Everything is potentially a test, for observers who might expect vastly different results than what is acceptable as human behaviour. He’s also concerned at the implications of one woman and one man abducted as a pair: if he’s been selected as breeding stock, they really picked the wrong guy.


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EX/WHI :: Part Eight

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From being concerned about his mental state, Ami is watching Chambers recover and consolidate with a speed that is more than encouraging. In fact, it is almost as if he registered her shift into panic, as mind began to struggle with remembrance that this was one scenario both police and Secret Service had trained her for but had never been considered until now. If she had been prepared, maybe Chris had too: the desire to ask irreversibly blanks out everything else in a breath.

‘I have a question, to you, related to this current situation.’

‘Shoot.’

‘Did you get training for a scenario where you’d not be expected to survive?’

‘Wow… okay…. um… we did stuff at Langley in both first and last years of Probie Training on the Doomsday Scenario: how to kill yourself as painlessly as possible, if it came down to it, how to reconcile with your God, whoever she might be. Mostly, the end equated to chemical attacks or nuclear warfare. I bet the CIA are gonna have a field day when it transpires that Roswell wasn’t a joke after all.’

‘How did you cope?’

‘By not assuming it was the end until I’d done everything else in my power to prevent it. If I hadn’t survived that you’d be doing this with someone else, but you saw me switch off earlier, just as I saw you panic just then. I’m not gonna lie, this is tough. However, if we’re here as lab rats, that’s a reality that’s easier to grasp than being… anally probed. Maybe that happens once we work out how to escape.’

He’s right, of course: instinct and joint trust have got them both this far. Ami’s confident, at least right now, that she’s not been abducted to be experimented on. To go to all this effort, creating the coffee bar in such meticulous detail seems odd if all someone wanted to do was cut you open and poke your insides. This has the feel and sense of observation, watching how they react to the changes in circumstance… and maybe therefore escaping is integral to that process. Perhaps they’ve been taken to test their endurance…

‘You really think we’re prisoners?’

‘If we weren’t, why else is the door closed?’

‘It’s not.’

A version of reality has returned outside the window, but there’s nobody walking past. The sounds of a busy City of London street are absent too, but the now very obviously open door creates a change in ambience between here and there which is a surprise. The overriding temptation is to run outside and look, but Ami won’t react from instinct, can’t let the adrenaline own her. Instead, she looks up to the ceiling: taking a deep breath, there’s a larger urge to talk to something she knows is there but cannot see.

‘You must be listening to all this, be aware we grasp what’s going on. Maybe that’s the reason why you picked me and Chris in the first place, because you knew we wouldn’t be frightened by such an obvious change in circumstance. I’m not really looking forward to spending what might be the rest of my life in this suit, and I’ve not eaten properly for at least 72 hours. I’m not expecting you to let us go, but a gesture of goodwill would not go amiss.’



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EX/WHI :: Part Seven

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Ami expression is all the confirmation needed: she’s completely serious. There’s also an emerging belief that the woman is absolutely right: normally in those pulpy Netflix TV box sets he’d watch, the protagonist took at least an hour before it became apparent he was in an abduction scenario. Something has been up since he woke in the Hotel room: only now do these pieces fit into some kind of recognisable picture.

‘How much weird shit has happened to you since breakfast? Be totally honest.’

‘Okay, I woke up and went to the bathroom and got lost. I thought it was jet-lag, like the guy walking past the window, but now I realise the door to the bathroom moved. It started by the bathtub, then it’s by the john, and they were on opposite sides of the room!’

‘Do you happen to remember when this was? About 8.15-ish, perhaps?’

‘Yeah, ‘coz I’m listening to the radio and it stutters, like the same advert repeats a second time and I think this is weird, and that was 8.17, so -’

‘I wonder if that’s when we got shifted into this simulation. I was in traffic at 8.15, coming through Docklands. I thought I’d fallen asleep at the wheel at some traffic lights -’

‘Simulation?’

‘Can you think of a better word for a thing that we both assume is reality right up until the point we stare closely at it, when it becomes apparent we’ve been fooled?’

‘No, simulation is exactly the right sci-fi word for this. How did we not notice it before?’

‘Because we’ve been sleep deprived and confused. If you wanted to kidnap and disorientate someone with a less than perfect copy of their existence, you’d lower their ability to react under pressure.’

Under the word ‘Aliens’ in lipstick, Ami now adds ‘Simulation began at approx 8.15am.’ He can see her hand shaking, wants to reassure, but absolutely won’t use physical means to do so.

‘You’re not alone. Don’t forget that. I’m losing my shit here too, for what its worth, because I have no idea how to even process this effectively. What I do know, from your file, is you have the best analytical mind of anyone in the Service right now. Keep explaining to me why it’s aliens until I’m able to catch up, okay?’

She looks at him, really stares for the first time, before taking a deep breath.

‘There is no way this is a hallucination, because I’ve had those before and know full well that something this complex isn’t how that works. We certainly wouldn’t be sharing that experience either, but it is now abundantly apparent that you and I have been connected by more than a court case and a love of dance music. This whole room, the bouncy set dressing, the fact the only edible things are items we bought ourselves… there’s a logic here, you see it?’

‘Absolutely. At 8.15 this morning… or thereabouts we were removed from our reality and transferred into a… copy. We were both hungry and tired, and this was the first coffee bar from the hotel. The car may well have been rigged to scare us and then force us on foot… where we both followed the smell of food and walked into this trap, after which the cage door was swung shut behind us. Like the ignorant monkeys we clearly are, we’ve now become lab rats.’



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EX/WHI :: Part Six

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The bottles behind the cafe’s counter might look full of alcohol but it is immediately apparent they’re empty, and not even made of glass. What Chris finds fascinating is the illusion they create: same weight, even with obvious transparency, but constructed from something unbreakable, that bounces back every time he throws one at the floor. As he attempts to destroy an increasing number of items from hand to ground, Ami is investigating fridges and storage areas. Her conclusions are not comforting: apart from what they jointly bought on arrival, everything else is an elaborate copy.

An incredulous mind is slowly adjusting to their new reality, because that’s what it is. They’ve already established in the last hour by their watches (which still work) that they’re prisoners, there’s absolutely no way in or out of this facsimile, the toilets still function and there’s water they won’t yet drink. With nothing sharp or dangerous enough to make even a dent in what appears to be an impressive and quite bouncy outer wall, they instead investigate the bounds of confinement. Chris has done his best to brute force anything that might look like it could act as a weapon but after the incident with the table, nothing budges.

‘We could try and hurt ourselves and see what happens.’

Chris looks at Ami, who’s holding something in her hand that is obviously not part of the illusion, which is a surprise.

‘I really wish this was a gun or a bomb and not just lipstick, but it at least allows us to make notes. We need to work out what we know, so there’s a chance of answering questions that make no logical sense.’

Her lack of panic or incredulity has been amazingly impressive since regaining consciousness: without Bishop’s pragmatism, he’d have probably just sat and hugged his knees for a long time before wanting to work out answers, not allowing reality to seep into this nightmare. However, she needs to be running the problem, and is already writing a word them on the top of the long, dark wooden serving bar which, as it transpires, was his first thought about their abductors too.

‘I read an inordinate amount of science fiction as a kid. Tons of the stuff, watched all the TV shows. I know what this is, because that’s the only logical explanation for what just happened.’

‘I was big on Buck Rogers, did you get him in the UK?’

‘Yeah, and Wonder Woman, and that thing with the metal bad guys -’

‘Cylons. They at least looked like aliens. What makes you so sure that’s what this is?’


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