The second five-jointed, exoskeletal, human-liquifier-and-feeding-tube shot out of the pit and reached into the space in the center of the capture chamber.
Of course, when I say it “shot” out of the pit, I’m speaking in relative terms. My mind was hyper-accelerated to the point where a single breath seemed to last for a year or two. The second inter-dimensional death proboscis moved fast enough that I could perceive miniscule changes in its position after each long meditation session that I engaged in. To the unaccelerated mind, it must be moving lightning fast, like a barracuda or venomous snake making a kill.
Helen was eventually satisfied that I saw what she was pointing at and stopped wasting time getting my attention. Instead, she flung herself towards the keyboard by the chair. I followed her motion and eventually the banks of computer monitors rotated into view.
Before Helen dosed me with the Mentanovox, the monitors appeared to flashing nothing but seizure-inducing noise. Under the influence of the mind-accelerator, however, I saw that what Helen said was true - each screen was being updated with new data five-hundred times a second. One monitor was displaying the Wikipedia page for Bolivia. The screen next to it was scrolling through some old work of fiction:
He tossed the still lighted pipe into the sea. The fire hissed in the waves; the same instant the ship shot by the bubble the sinking pipe made.
The screen below that one showed part of an academic paper - full of equations. I couldn’t even guess what the subject area was.
I can’t exaggerate the relief I felt at seeing this random and eclectic set of information on the screens. These computer monitors gave my mind something to do. I read the Bolivia page over and over. I memorized the page of fiction, and I studied the mathematics so thoroughly that I began to understand it. Eventually the screen displaying the Wikipedia page updated - a slow process where I got to watch the screen slowly re-draw itself one row of pixels at a time. This was what a 500 Hz update rate looked like when overdosing on Mentanovox.
Helen started typing. She could take her time, I thought. As boring as the information on these screens might be under ordinary circumstances, they gave me something to do. Stuff to think about besides whatever my mind and memories could conjure up on their own.
Days later, The first few letters of Helen’s message appeared in the word processor window.
She wasn’t wasting time typing spaces. The second proboscis had visibly stretched further into the room. I had read dozens of Wikipedia pages and about a hundred screen-fulls of the work of fiction that flew up the screen. (it was Moby Dick!) I wondered what Helen was trying to say. We need two of what?
Eventually more of Helen’s message showed up
I guessed at what she was communicating: We need to shut it down. Shut what down? The portal capture machine? I took in more of the information scrolling past on the 500 Hz monitors. After the seeming eternity with nothing to look at but the floor, or Helen’s face, or the horrific stuff unfolding by the portal, reading Moby Dick and random Wikipedia pages felt like pure hedonism.
Helen finally finished her message.
“We have to shut it down. Breakers on distribution cabinets on left and right.”
Helen didn’t spend time turning around to see if I understood. She jumped off the platform as soon as she finished the message and started running towards the equipment on the right side of the portal.
I made a snap decision - which, in my mental state, meant that I thought it over for what seemed like days. Helen, I guessed, assumed that I would take on the job of turning off the breakers on the left side of the chamber. She just ran off to the right without checking with me. What if I did this? What were the risks from coming close to the inter-dimensional horror that was thrashing out of it? Would I even recognize the distribution cabinet if I saw it? Would I be able to figure out how to turn off the power? There was simply no way to think-out the answers to these questions. They could only be answered definitively by committing to the course of action. If the answer to any of them was the wrong answer, then things would get even worse for me than they already were. What was the worst-case scenario? That the portal-monster would liquify me? And, in my mentally accelerated state, liquification would take months, not seconds?
That was a pretty bad worst case scenario. Frankly, it was utterly terrifying. But, even after mulling over every possible way I could think about the situation, I couldn’t come up with a better idea. Staying on the platform and waiting for Helen to shut off both boxes amounted to spending additional centuries in this room. What if Helen got killed shutting off the breakers that I was supposed to shut off?
I willed my legs to move, to leap off the platform, as Helen had done. The commands to my muscles formed and screamed out of my brain at light speed, only to slam into my glacially slow muscles. I imagined my mind as a victorian-era woman trapped in a tower, writing a message with a quill pen “My dearest legs. I hope this note finds you well. Please jump off the platform.” Then the message was sent by rider and sailing ship to the other side of the world, while I waited for months and months, alone in the tower.
From the edge of the platform, I no longer had a view of the computer screens. I was outside of my refuge from boredom in front of the displays. Instead of reading Wikipedia articles, and journals from the world of higher mathematics, I spent the time waiting for my legs to obey by studying the death-limb that was climbing out of the portal and into our universe.
The portion of the limb that had emerged from the portal was dark brown with five elbow-like joints, arranged at odd angles. The “design” of the multi-radial elbows appeared to give it the flexibility to bend around complex obstacles. Something about the way it stretched into the center of the room made me think it couldn’t see or sense what was here. If there were eyes or other sense organs, they must have been on whatever incomprehensible body lay inside the portal.
I passed the time thinking about what the rest of the creature might look like, and what the environment was wherever it came from that led it to evolve into the man-liquifying monster that was climbing into the Capture Chamber.
I finally left the platform. I was airborne for months as I lept the three feet to the ground. I configured my body well and didn’t fall when I hit the ground. It wasn’t exactly the “sticking the landing” that earns you a ten in olympic gymnastics, but it was good enough.
Although I didn’t hear it, my landing produced noise. The five-jointed arm seemed to change its pattern of motion when I landed, and instead lashed out towards me. Did it hear me move?
I urged my body to sprint towards the back of the room - to where Helen said the electric distribution cabinets were. I moved forward with the speed of grass growing. The arm pushed towards me. All five of its elbows straightened at once, launching the human-liquifying mop-like end towards me at a speed that would have been faster than perception for a human who wasn’t mega-overdosed on Mentanovoxed.
I had plenty of time to think about the best way to dodge its attack. It was clearly much faster than I was. I judged that I might move forward about two feet by the time the arm was fully outstretched. I estimated the lengths of each of its inter-elbow segments and guessed that at full extent, it was going to be long enough to reach me. In other words, I was going to die.
If I was right that the extra-dimensional horror that was hunting me was working off of the sound of my landing from the jump off the platform, and that it couldn’t see me - a big if - then its thrust would probably tend to aim at my landing point, near the floor. If I lept upwards then the fraction of a second of upwards motion I’d achieve before the arm’s strike reached me would maximize the distance between me and my landing point.
I leapt. Then I waited. I suffered through months of terrified waiting to see if I would survive the strike or not. I slowly left the ground, rising many times slower than the moon rising over the horizon. The arm got closer and closer. It was going to be close.
What would it feel like, I wondered? Would the process of liquification feel like being burned? A rending of tissue? Maybe it would just be a dull numbness. I thought about each of these possibilities, trying to prepare myself for what would happen if the arm hit me.
As tense a moment as this was, it still managed to eventually become boring. My life-or-death gamble felt more like a long-term financial investment strategy. Buy-and-hold stocks. Then wait and wait and wait to see if you made the right choice. I meditated. I reminisced about my entire life. I pondered the mystery of the portal, and of Helen herself. How did she learn about the effects of Mentanovox overdose and its possible antidote? That’s when I realized the inter-dimensional death proboscis, or whatever it was, wasn’t my worst problem.
Idiot! The insult was self-directed. I had so much time to think and plan since Helen typed her instructions to me. Why didn’t this occur to me? There was only one dose of the antidote. Whoever made it back to the observation platform first would save themselves. The other - doomed to a literal eternity of silent, glacial suffering.
I was airborne. Moving away from the observation platform, and waiting endlessly to see if the death-proboscis would hit me or miss. Should I attempt to spin about in mid-air, risking a catastrophic fall and a most-likely-lethal interaction with the demon from the pit, just to get a head start back to the platform where the antidote sat on the table?
What was Helen doing? Was her typed message about the electrical distribution racks a ruse to get me to run away, so she could take the antidote without a fight? I turned my head to look beyond the arm of death. To the other side of the room. Weeks later, my view finally shifted enough to see Helen moving behind the portal machinery. She seemed to still be moving away from the observation platform. Towards the back of the room where the electrical distribution cabinets were supposedly located.
I made a major life decision. I decided to trust Helen. I didn’t attempt to change course at all. Just maintain a steady, all-out sprint towards the back of the room and hope for the best.
I eventually landed from my leap. The arm-of-death struck the ground eighteen inches behind me. I ran towards the machinery in the rear of the room and the arm didn’t follow me. Twenty or thirty years after I jumped off the platform, or about thirty feet later, I hazarded a glance backwards. This initiated a year-long rotation of my head, just to see that the arm was flinging itself towards the other side of the room. Towards Helen.
What would happen if Helen died? Was the electrical distribution system for the capture equipment dual-redundant? If I switched off the equipment on my side, but Helen didn’t reach hers, was this whole effort for nothing? Would I have to try to spend another century running to the other side of the room to shut off the switches on Helen’s side?
I ran. For years. I mourned my old life. The life from sixty seconds of normal-perception-time earlier. And I forgot. That’s what brains do - learning and forgetting are just two sides of the same coin. Gaining experience and gaining ignorance are the same biological phenomenon. Five more steps. Another year. I meditated. I imagined new people and had years-long relationships with them. Another five steps. I rounded a concrete footing that held one of the huge shafts that drove the capture equipment. Then I saw the distribution cabinet. A cabinet bearing a lightning bolt symbol and words in a language I could barely remember “High Voltage.”
It was forty feet away. Years away. I ran. And I prayed. I prayed for the demon arm to return - to emerge from behind the panels, or sneak up behind me, and strike me down. Dead. Finally there would be no more thoughts. No more oceans of time to suffer across. My prayers were not answered. I Kept. On. Living.
Despite having a career-long amount of time to anticipate arrival at the electrical distribution cabinet, I still misjudged the deceleration required to have a smooth arrival, and slammed into the door. I grabbed the handle as I rebounded off the sheet metal and flung it open while steadying myself. Two banks of 70 amp breakers were mounted in neat, vertical rows. At the top, a chunky main power switch with a red handle.
I grabbed the handle - an act that took a month - and yanked it downwards as hard as I could.
Were the power supplies redundant - both needing to be off to turn off the capture equipment? If so, perhaps I simply got to the left-side distribution cabinet before Helen reached the one on the right side. Or maybe Helen had been killed by the demon arm before she could power off the racks on her side of the room? Or maybe she had betrayed me and was sneaking back to the observation platform to take the Mentanovox antidote?
I invested the time in peeking around the equipment racks to look at the portal. It was still there - a perfect pentagonal cut in space-time. The star-in-a-circle-shaped frame of moving machinery that somehow captured or created the portal still glowed cherry-red. The capture machinery was still powered on. Both of the dinosaur-sized, insect-looking arms still stretched out of the hole in space. One continued to slurp the liquified man on the platform. The other arm, the one that had attempted to turn me into human-juice, was busy with something that was obscured by the machinery.
Then something changed. It changed fast - far faster than any phenomenon I’d seen since Helen injected me with the Mentanovox. It was the lighting in the room. Two dozen red emergency lights installed on the ceiling flicked on simultaneously. In my imagination, I heard an emergency klaxon begin wailing too. But my mind was far too sped up for something as slow-moving as sonic energy to produce a noticeable signal.
The portal changed as well. The once sharp edges of the pentagonal hole in space were now blurry. Wibbly.
I thought it over. Then I thought some more. And some more. (what else did I have to do?). Helen, I concluded, had shut down the right-side power distribution rack. Without power to the equipment, the portal was closing. Or destabilizing. Or whatever portals do when their capture machinery powers off.
The antidote! I still couldn’t see Helen through the forest of machinery and equipment racks. But I pictured her sprinting like mad back to the observation platform to take the one dose of the antidote for herself.
I couldn’t let that happen. I launched myself back towards the observation platform, pushing off of the electrical distribution cabinet for extra acceleration. Helen injected me with the Mentanovox, I thought. I knew she had reasons for doing it, but that didn’t matter to me any more. She consigned me to a century of silent imprisonment in this room. I deserved the antidote, not Helen.
I ran. I ran for years. Only forty steps back to the observation platform, each one a bottomless well of empty time that I had to fill with my thoughts. I glanced backwards twice. Each tiny gesture slowed me down slightly, causing months of delay. With my first glance backwards - ten steps away from the power cabinet - I saw essentially the same scene as before - the portal starting to blur or warp, and the two massive arms still grasping into the room.
Thirty two steps from the power cabinet. Two dozen feet from the platform, I looked back again. Now both death-arms were flailing about. Were they in pain because the portal was destabilizing? Enraged? Still no sign of Helen.
I dove onto the observation platform, laying-out horizontally in the air like I was playing ultimate frisbee. I hung in the air for a long time, feeling a little like superman, then like an extremely bored superman. I eventually landed on my belly and slid from the edge of the platform to the chair in the center.
I sprung to my feet and snatched the syringe of Flumazenil from the table. I spun my head around looking for Helen. By injecting myself with all the Flumazenil, I was effectively sentencing her to a death as awful as S-47s. Was she going to attack me again to take the drug away from me?
I saw her. My decades of worrying and scheming about Helen taking the antidote were completely misguided. Helen, still wearing her white lab coat, was still by the test subject’s platform, scaling one of the pylons of the capture machine. What the heck was she doing? I didn’t care.
I grabbed the syringe from the table and immediately injected it into my neck.
This process took months. Only seconds of real time passed, but in those seconds I saw Helen climb to the “business area” of the capture machine - the topmost portion with the red-hot glowing rails. In one fluid movement, Helen vaulted herself over one of the rails and into the portal.
She rotated to face me as she fell. Did she see me betraying her, taking the Flumazenil myself? She was too far away for me to read her expression.
Helen slowly fell away into the rift in space, and I pushed the dose of Flumazenil into my neck.
When Helen injected the Mentanovox into my neck, it took effect within a fraction of a second. The antidote - the Flumazenil - also took effect that quickly. But, since I was overdosed on Mentanovox, the fraction of a second waiting for the Flumazenil to hit seemed like weeks.
Time slowly accelerated over those weeks. Helen’s fall into the pit went faster and faster. The edges of the portal blurred and bent at a frantic pace. The huge, five-jointed arms retracted into the pit, eventually moving so quickly that I could perceive their motion like the minute hand on a clock.
I heard a soft, low rumble. It sounded like thunder from a storm dozens of miles away. Soon after, the portal vanished. I don’t know if it finally closed because the capture equipment was turned off, or if it was still there, invisible to me because my mind was not running fast enough to see it.
The thunder sounded again, the sound rising in pitch. I felt my heart beat for the first time in over a century - a slow squeeze in my chest. I sensed air rushing into my lungs.
Then everything was back to normal speed. The soft, distant thunder was suddenly the deafening sound of a siren blaring. I heard myself gasping in air. I coughed. I screamed. I didn’t recognize the sound of my voice. My legs gave out and I fell to the floor with terrifying speed. Everything moved too fast. There was no time to think about anything.
Behind me, I heard the door to the capture chamber slam open. I screamed again, startled by the sound and turned to look at the door. I didn’t have to wait to see who was entering - my body immediately obeyed my wishes.
A dozen men and women rushed into the room. Security guards holding rifles as if they might need to start shooting at any instant. People in lab coats holding geiger counters and other sensors. A crew of paramedics.
They moved so fast. It was overwhelming. How was I once able to exist at this speed? How can a person process information in a world where everything moves so fast?
Half-a-dozen of them surrounded me - blaring commands to evacuate the chamber, asking questions about my condition, questions about Helen. I tried to answer, but could only stammer out fragments of words. I had forgotten how to speak.
They rushed me out of the Capture Chamber - the room where I had spent the bulk of my century-and-a-half of life. I was basically thrown onto a stretcher and wheeled to a medical facility that was off the same hallway as the Capture Chamber.
They gave me a bottle of water. I choked on it, having forgotten how to swallow. They took a blood sample. I heard someone say the words “Engram Decay.” Later, they gave me the results of my bloodwork. My Engram Decay showed I experienced one hundred twenty years of consciousness. I was thirty two years old when I entered the capture chamber. My body is still thirty two, but my mind is one hundred fifty two years old. Most of my life has been spent in anguish, struggling to survive and escape my torment in that huge underground room.
I was in the medical facility for a while. Days, I think. It was like a flash. A blip. I know how to spend a year’s worth of time doing nothing other than stare at the floor. Passing time in the medical facility was no biggie.
I recovered my ability to talk. And to swallow. And to walk. Then they let me go. Someone in a lab coat, one of Helen’s colleagues, escorted me out of the deep basement facility and to the front door of the building. It was so strange, repeating the journey through the offices and lobby that I took over a century earlier.
“Good luck,” he said and held the door open for me. I stepped outside. I saw the sky for the first time in one hundred twenty years. I heard the wind whistle and felt it blow my hair about. I wept.
There were so many cars in the parking lot. Which was mine? I couldn’t remember. I finally found one that looked familiar. It opened with my key and I sat in the driver’s seat. A to-go coffee cup lay on the floor in front of the passenger seat. Was that mine? I didn’t remember it. I opened the glove box and found the registration. It had my name. And my address.
Which of these cars was Helen’s? Had she driven to work expecting to fling herself into another dimension?
I couldn’t drive. It was too frightening, only having seconds to react to changing traffic lights and motion of the other vehicles on the road. I walked to the main gate and got them to call a cab. The taxi delivered me to the address on my registration: a vaguely familiar-looking townhouse whose door opened with my key.
Recovery is going quickly. Everything is going quickly for me. Compared to my life in the Capture Chamber, the days race by with terrifying speed. I spent a week writing down everything I remember from my long life in the Capture Chamber. I’m posting the record of my experiences here. Whatever is going on in that government lab should not be a secret.
I know I signed an NDA in Helen’s office, where I agreed not to discuss what I saw and experienced. Frankly, though, I don’t care. What are they going to do - put me in jail for a few years for divulging secrets? Believe me - I can do the time easily!