EX/WHI :: Episode Fifteen

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Chris tests legs, getting gingerly off the camp bed. Everything works as it did before: left arm had vaporised in front of his eyes before unconsciousness swallowed everything, followed swiftly by heart stopping. He knows all this not because of memory, but voice in his head that had told him –

‘How long have you been able to hear them?’

Ami moves back from current spot to the start of the no-longer blank wall, artificial divider in this ground floor, open plan office space. Outside, a newly-introduced artificial sun is going down, creating sense of false comfort in bizarre circumstances. Other things have changed too: ambience is now far less sterile and artificial. Surroundings however are distraction: he’d been asked a question, which means his partner’s expecting a reasoned response. Chambers doesn’t have to think too hard about when this all started…

‘Tired of injustice
Tired of the schemes
Your lies are disgusting
What does it mean…?’

That song, a brother/sister duet was playing on the radio, from airport to hotel, just before sunrise. He loved Michael Jackson’s stuff, always had, knew the words off by heart because lyrically, the song had always spoken to him… as he’s about to explain comes understanding he doesn’t need to. She knows.

‘My dream last night was when they first touched my brain, then when I woke up early this morning… that was when they introduced your consciousness to mine -’

‘ – in the cab, coming from Heathrow. I heard you, singing with me. Fuck.’

A physical connection might have spooked him before but now it’s essential and she doesn’t resist as hand reaches for hers. Fingers brush, as this place vanishes and with unreal disbelief he’s back in the cab, singing his lungs out, much to the amusement of the Polish driver, watching in increasing amusement from the rear view mirror whilst on the other side of town, in her Docklands flat, Ami’s being Janet Jackson. Her voice is beautiful, strident and pitch perfect… put them together –

For a second nothing matters except connection: joint amazement at perfection removes all other distractions. Not only are they genetically complimentary, but the subtlety of their psychic connection is beyond brilliant –

Simultaneously, two hands are drawn away. Chris stares at this woman who he’d now trust with everything, including his life. She’d tried to warn him of impending doom, but hadn’t found the worlds: guilt at his demise still burns brightly within… except he’s now capable of assuaging her simply with a smile. There’s no hard feelings, not a single notion of incapability. Together, they are indivisible, which appears to have been part of their kidnapper’s plan all along.

This was the reason they’d both been chosen to be here.

Without further prompt he’s off the bed, taking a pen from her hand before beginning to add notes to the wall.


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EX/WHI :: Part Fourteen

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Consciousness returns unexpectedly: no dreams precede it, yet sense remains of being observed, examined before there was nothing, silence. Chris is no longer outside: this isn’t the cafe they were abducted in either. He can count tables though, re-purposed pieces of wood on delicate, metal legs to his left, stripped wooden floorboards with power sockets sunk into floor level. There’s concern about moving, considering how much pain existed before but everything is better than it was. He’s been completely reconstructed at a cellular level…

That reassurance came before he’d passed out, gentle voice heard somewhere behind field of vision, at the back of a neck which prickles at the memory, skin reacting to warmth and a familiar smell… CK One, somewhere to his right…

‘Wow. You have been busy.’

Disbelief and surprise interrupt Ami, about a metre away. She stands at one end of a long, white wall, on which space of several meters long and a meter high is covered with her neat, organised handwriting. Chris now needs to be upright, scrabbling to sit, already taking in what’s she’s been working on during his enforced absence. This woman’s industry is becoming indispensable, inspiring and frankly impressive. Across the white space is a detailed breakdown of everything that has happened to her since Thursday: it is logical to assume that the blank spaces have been left for him to fill in… but there’s a more pressing question that first needs to be asked.

‘Where did you get the pens?’

‘I asked for them, along with a blanket plus another camp bed for me. I assumed they’d not want us to discuss this, but it would appear that our reactions to experiences are now as important a part of the process.’

‘You know that’s what’s going on?’

‘I haven’t actually asked yet, if I’m honest, I wouldn’t anyway if you weren’t able to take part in the decision making. That’s something we both have to agree on first.’

‘Did they move us together?’

‘No, you disappeared and then I got shown where you’d been taken. I’d like to think all this has been set up because they’d seen me taking notes in the cafe and wanted somewhere in the simulation where I could work our situation unhindered, but that is simply speculation and nothing more.’

‘So, I was just here when you arrived?’

‘There is so much to tell you but I have no idea when they’ll be back, and they could erase this all when they do, so I needed to get started on fixing the timeline whilst you were in stasis -’

‘Stasis?’

‘It wasn’t just unconsciousness, you had this invisible barrier around you. I couldn’t interact at all. I assume it was to fix whatever was damaged.’

‘You’re right, I know they’re not here, because at least one of them was watching me until everything was fixed, then they left. How long ago did the barrier drop?’

‘About an hour by my watch. Are you feeling well enough to join in?’


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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 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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