The Eleventh

Random Thoughts re: This Tale:
The introduction is going to take a while to get ‘right’ (create a credible level of verisimilitude). Will do some research re: physics during this period.
RE: The Liar; might want to do a rewrite/rethink, particularly of the end — something we can think about as we go.
For the Liar’s picture: Have it change each time you reload the page?


1909

“This,” the man at the front of the room said, revealing a slide covered in many colored dots, “is the Universe. Everything that ever has been or- or will ever be that we can reach is on this slide. So far as we know, this is it; the entire sum of existence.”

He turned off the projector, and for a moment the room was dark. When the light came back on, the image was a painting of the Earth, as if taken from above and far away.

“This is us, obviously,” the man said, centering the slide. “Nearly every living thing that we’re aware of has been born and died on this rock.” He paused for effect. “Not such bad real estate, really.”

He adjusted the slide again as the audience attempted meager laughter.

“And this… is an atom. Or at least, uh, a representation of one. Technology hasn’t caught up yet to where we can see these little guys, but we’ve got a pretty good idea about what they might look like. Now, the atom is a- a building block, the very most basic particle in the Universe. Or rather, it might be. There may be particles even smaller than that, and smaller particles that compose those. It’s difficult to say where this ends, but at the bottom of this has to be something fundamental… right? Something that doesn’t just comprise the other building blocks, but necessitates their being. That’s what we were searching for.”

The lights came back up, and the man turned around. His white jacket bore the name “Felix Carter Ph.D.” in blue lettering. His round glasses sat perched atop a red nose, and his grey hair was combed neatly to the side.

“When we approached the uh, the International Academy of Existential Sciences, we came with a single goal; discover the reason why. We weren’t asked to provide an explanation, o-or deduce why the uh, reason why; our task was to find the part of the universe that determines why we are what we are. Today, I’m happy to announce we have done this.”

He extended his arm, and another man came into view. This man was tall, with cropped brown hair and a black jacket. He smiled and waved politely at the enthusiastic applause and stood with his hands clasped in front of him as he was introduced.

“This is Dr. Frederick Williams, of the Royal Scientific Conservatory. It was with his assistance and financial backing that we uh, that we made this breakthrough discovery.”

The two of them paused as the lights dimmed again, and the projector above produced an image. The image was faint, and full of static, but its focal point was clear: a single white line extending across the image, fading at both ends.

“What you’re looking at here is a string,” Dr. Carter continued. “We’ve only just started calling them that; we had no idea what they would look like when we started. We were able to get this string to manifest itself using a series of high energy pulses directed at a tiny piece of Ozymandium film. This method was borrowed from Dr. Adam Bright and his team in the United States, who have been working on a similar project in the hopes of eliciting what they’re calling tachyons, the uh, the fundamental building block of time, as it were. We discovered that, by tuning our equipment just so, we were able to make something that shouldn’t happen… happen.”

The image changed. On the next slide, a nearby structure is seen being pulled dramatically towards the center of the string. On the next, the string is gone, and the building is crumped and misshapen.

“This was what we witnessed. By causing one of these strings to appear for just an instant, one of these elements of the foundation of the universe, and then manipulating it ever so slightly, we increased gravity in the region by nearly seven-thousand percent in an instant. I will say that again: we have manipulated the physical laws of the universe using a bright light and a rock.”

The assembled audience applauded again. After a moment, Dr. Carter held up a hand for quiet.

“The full manifest of our uh, our research will be available shortly, as soon as our sister projects have finished their studies. In three months’ time, we’ll present our findings in full to this assembly, and… and take our first step towards a more knowledgeable future!”

/ /

In the lobby of the auditorium afterwards, Dr. Williams stood speaking to a group of researchers alongside Dr. Carter and his team. Two men approached him, and one of them stuck out his hand.

“Dr. Williams,” the man said, “absolutely a pleasure to meet you. Vincent Arians, Oxford. I’ve been fascinated with your work, truly.”

The taller man smiled. “Mr. Arians, of course. Always nice to meet a fellow alumi.” He looked towards the second of the two. “And your friend?”

“Aaron Seigel,” the man said, following Arians’ handshake with one of his own. “Cornell.”

Dr. Williams’ eyes grew slightly wider. “The renowned physicist. I dare say I half expected you to make this discovery before we did, Dr. Seigel.”

Aaron smiled. “Unfortunately, our work as of late has taken a different turn. If we were going to solve atomics, we should have done what you did and figured out the geometry first. Your results have been very impressive.”

Dr. Williams’ eyes were pensive. “Yes, Dr. Carter has done some exception work. It’s a shame he’s going to be discredited, he really has put so much into this project.”

Arians did a double take. “Wait, he- what?”

Before either of them could say anything else they were approached by a dark-eyed woman, slight, with short black hair and a blue dress with long sleeves and black gloves. She came up behind Dr. Williams and put a hand on his shoulder and whispered in his ears. He nodded.

“Gentlemen, I’m afraid I am being called away.” He stopped mid turn. “Oh, please, forgive me. Mr. Arians, Dr. Seigel, this is Dr. Sophia Light. She’s been working closely with Dr. Carter and the rest of our team here in London.”

The woman smiled softly and nodded. “Charmed, I’m sure.”

Aaron nodded back while Arians continued to process what he had just heard. Williams fiddled with his pocket for a moment, and then produced a white card with a three-arrowed emblem on it.

“This is my card, Dr. Seigel,” he said. “Have your office call this number here while you’re still in the city and we’ll arrange a proper meeting. Mr. Arians, you are certainly welcome to join as well. Our organization is on the very precipice of some truly inspiring work, and we’re looking for the brightest minds to lead us.” He shrugged. “Something to think about. Until later, gentlemen.”

Dr. Williams donned his cap and coat, and followed Dr. Light out of the parlor.


2010


“Once upon a time, a man awoke to find he had no memory of who he was or how he had gotten here.”


Vanessa snuck out to the studio’s balcony and plucked the pale, slim cigarette out from behind her ear. She was fishing in her pocket for a lighter when she heard the door behind her slide open.

“Y’know, those things’ll kill you.” Vincent Arians did not look like the sort of man who was accustom to a suit and tie. He wore them as if they were prison fatigues. “I should know,” he added, showing her a half-empty pack of gum.

“Arians!” Vanessa’s slim figure slipped up against him with the grace of a small, elegant knife. She wrapped her arms around him and hugged him tight. Despite having kicked the habit five years ago, the old man still managed to smell like tobacco.

Arians dropped an enormous arm around her and gave her a comforting pat. They ended up leaning against the banister, side-by-side. It wasn’t quite morning, yet; below them, the city streets were cast in a tangerine glow. A cool, lethargic breeze drifted past them, carrying the ocean's scent.

“I’m glad you made it,” Vanessa told him. She finally pulled out her lighter. It was a cheap hunk of neon green plastic she had picked up on the way to the exhibition. After a few swipes of her thumb, it only managed to spit out sparks.

“Here.” Arians plucked the lighter out of her hand as if he was taking away a dangerous toy. He produced his own; it was an old, tarnished thing made of brass. It had more dents in it than he did. “And I wouldn’t miss this for the world, lady. Even if it is Seattle.”

Vanessa rolled her eyes. Arians’ lighter produced a flame on the first flick; she dipped her head down to bring her cigarette to the fire’s tip. “Spare me. I know you think this is all artsy fartsy crap.”

“Well, alright, can’t say I ‘get’ the Madonna made out of cottage cheese.”

Vanessa gave him a look. “You don’t like it?”

Arians did a brief double-take. “Wait, that one’s — yours? I mean, uh…”

She grinned. “No. I’m kidding. That one’s shit; the guy who made it is a hack.” She turned back to the city, taking a long drag. When she exhaled, wisps of smoke whirled up from her nostrils and licked at the bottom of the balcony overhead. “How’s Bram?”

“Doing good. He told me to tell you he’s sorry he couldn’t come, but—”

“Busy. I know. Fuck, I know.” Vanessa closed her eyes. “There’s just so much going on, now.”

“Yeah. I don’t think any of us really expected…” Arians’ voice trailed off. “They needed the Accountant more than we realized. Once they lost him, they lost all their funding — everything just started unraveling. Personnel started panicking, sites started collapsing — fuck, two Overseers ended up dead that night.”

Something tugged at the back of Vanessa’s mind; something she was forgetting. “How many sites are left, now?”

“Still about two hundred. We decommissioned Site-173 last week. Nothing in it but corpses and cockroaches.” He shook his head. “Just ordinary cockroaches.”

Vanessa turned to him. For the first time in a long while, he looked old — old and tired. The wrinkles in his face were carved deep into his skin; his eyes were surrounded by dark, impenetrable circles.

She felt that tug again. “How are you holding up?”

“It’s funny,” Arians told her, still watching the city. “You spend your life fighting demons, putting out fires — thinking this is the hard part. This is the work that needs doing. This is the work that’ll kill you. But it’s not.” His eyes met hers. “Sweeping up the ashes — putting shit back together again. That’s the hard part.”

She frowned. The tugging was harder, now.

“Don’t get me wrong. Things’re better, now.” He gave her a weary smile. “We don’t have to hurt people. We don’t have to kill people. We don’t have to mutilate children to hold back the nightmares.” His eyes drifted back to the city.

Vanessa closed her eyes. “Arians…”

“I don’t know how the hell we did it, but we won. The world’s… it’s still fucked up. When I go to sleep, I still have nightmares, y’know? But every night, it gets a little better. The nightmares are losing.”

She reached into her pocket and searched for something, pulling it free.

“Anyway, fuck — sorry, I’m just ranting. Listen, Vanessa. There’s something I’ve been meaning to ask y—”

Vanessa slammed all 4 inches of the sleek, razor-sharp crafting knife into Vincent Arians’ heart. For one instant, the old man’s eyes were filled with raw confusion and shock. Then — stumbling back, numbly clutching at the hilt — his eyes were filled with nothing at all.

“I’m sorry,” Vanessa whispered. She pushed him over the banister’s edge.

And the world ended.


“Suddenly, a voice spoke to the man: ‘Your second wish has been granted. Now, for your third — and final — wish.’”


up. C’mon, c’mon, wake the hell up

Slivers of light squeezed through Vanessa’s eyelids. She felt a constant buzzing in her ears.

Someone was tugging at her arms.

“Wake up, wake up—”

She popped her eyes open and immediately regretted it. Sharp, jagged sunbeams rushed into her pupils, forcing her to squint. Vanessa squeezed one fist into her left socket and started rubbing away. “What… where am I?”

The man stopped shaking her and slumped down into a chair. “Fuck. Thank God.”

Vanessa kept rubbing at her eye, letting her vision adjust. She was laying back on a bed inside of a cheap motel room. The overpowered AC rumbled to her left; above it, sunlight streamed in past the curtains. The room smelled faintly of coconut oil.

Ivan was seated beside the bed. He looked like he hadn’t slept in days. His laptop was sitting on the nightstand, with a pistol laid out next to it.

Vanessa blinked her way through the grogginess. “Ivan? What’s—”

“How much do you remember?”

Vanessa squeezed her eyebrows together; they grinded like cogs in some enormous adding machine. She tried to think her way through the events that had led her here. The last thing she remembered was…

“I was having some sort of dream. Arians was there, but it was — years from now. It was all wrong. Not real. It felt real, but…”

Ivan nodded. “Something was off, right?”

“Yeah.” Vanessa closed her eyes and coaxed the dream out from its hiding place in her subconscious. “He wasn’t smoking, but he had a lighter. We were in Seattle, but we could smell the ocean. And the more I thought about it…”

“The more you realized it was a lie.”

She nodded and opened her eyes. Ivan was focused on his laptop.

“I don’t know how, but somehow I realized the only way out of it was to—”

“Yeah.” Ivan cut her off. He was taking great pains to not make eye-contact with her. “I know.”

Vanessa frowned, sitting up on the bed. “Ivan? Do you… uh, want to talk about—”

“It’s fine. We’re out of it, now.” He was pulling a file up on the computer. “You don’t remember how we got here, right?”

Vanessa shook her head. “No.”

“Same here. Luckily, I think we planned for this.” He double-clicked something. The laptop’s screen was filled with a still-image of Bramimond’s face. His stoic expression stared out at them; behind him, they could see what looked like an office. “Bram loaded a video on Alexandra, along with instructions to play it if we found ourselves, uh… not remembering anything about how we got here.”

Vanessa scooted forward to sit on the edge of the bed beside Ivan. He clicked ‘Play’.

A window popped up over the video, requesting two passwords. Over one was the name ‘IVAN’; over the other was the name ‘VANESSA’.

“It’s encrypted?” Vanessa asked. She frowned, staring at the screen.

“I guess. I don’t remember… I mean, there’s a password I might have used,” Ivan said, typing something under his name. As soon as he hit enter, his name turned green. He glanced back to her.

Vanessa bit down on her bottom lip, thinking.

“Vanessa?”

Something tugged at the back of her mind.

Without stopping to think, she snatched Ivan’s pistol off the nightstand and buried three rounds directly into his skull.

And then the world ended.


“The man considered this for a moment, and — seeing no other choice — made his final wish: ‘Allow me to remember all that I have forgotten.’”


“Vanessa?”

Vanessa opened her eyes. She was laid back on a cot inside of a small, comfortable looking office. There was a bookcase stuffed full of leather-bound volumes; in front of it, there was a wide, polished desk.

Bramimond was standing over her. He looked distant — when didn’t he? — but his expression carried a hint of concern.

Vanessa immediately slammed her knee up into his solar plexus.

Bramimond buckled, crouching forward. She rolled off the cot and stumbled toward the desk, fumbling for the hidden latch under one of the drawers. Vanessa had been in this office a hundred times before; if memory served, there was a hidden space right… here.

By the time Bramimond had managed to catch his breath, Vanessa was pointing the pistol straight for his heart.

Bramimond raised his hands up and took a step back. “Vanessa…”

“Shut up.” She narrowed her eyes. “Let me think.”
Bramimond said nothing.

“Someone’s fucking with my head. I’ve gone through two iterations, now. One with Arians, one with Ivan. Each time, they were trying to get information from me,” she said, talking her way through it. “Each time, I realized there was something wrong. A detail out of place. Arians’ lighter. Ivan’s computer — he calls it ‘Alexander’, not ‘Alexandra’. And the more I thought about it, the more I realized…”

Bramimond started to lower his hands. “Vanessa, listen—”

“I said shut up,” she snapped back. “Alright. Each time, it all started unraveling once I realized something was wrong. Each time, I realized the only way to escape was to…” Her breathing quickened.

Bramimond took another step back.

“I have to kill you,” she whispered.

“Vanessa. Just, okay, just take it easy. Let’s talk this through, alright?”

“I have thought this through. Arians, Ivan, now you — you’re just another dream. Another…” She pursed her lips. “Lie. The Liar. You’re the fucking Liar.”

“Vanessa.” Bramimond’s tone took on a building urgency. “Please, listen to me. You might be right. Someone might be messing with your head. But it’s not me. I’m not the Liar.”

“Then how the fuck…” Her finger curled tighter around the trigger.

“Listen. Just listen, okay? You were helping me with research. You fell asleep in my office. Now you wake up, and you’ve pulled a gun on me.“ Bramimond kept his arms held high. “You said these things unraveled when you noticed something wrong. Have you…?”

Vanessa scowled. “Not yet. But…” Her eyes traced their way through the office. It all looked like it was supposed to; unlike the previous two dreams, this was all familiar to her. But did that mean…?

“You said it started with a dream about Arians, then Ivan. Think about it: If I were the Liar, would I really start with Bram, next?”

Vanessa’s breathing slowed. Nothing was out of place; nothing felt off…

“Once is happenstance. Twice is a coincidence. Three times is a pattern,” Bramimond told her. “I think the Liar is trying to trick you into killing me.”

Her grip on the trigger loosened.

“You said he was trying to get information from you. What kind of information?”

“I… with Arians, I don’t know. He said he needed to ask me something. With Ivan, it was a password, I think, but…”

“A password?”

Vanessa lowered the pistol, but kept a firm grip. “Yeah.” She forced herself to breathe slowly. “Okay. Okay. Just… give me a second, okay?”

Bramimond slowly lowered his hands, but kept his distance. “Alright. But yeah, this doesn’t make any sense. You don’t know any passwords that the Liar would want. He didn’t ask you about anything else?” He paused, then added: “He didn’t ask about your copy of the journal, right? You still have it?”

Vanessa shook her head. “No, he didn’t — yeah. I still have it.” She reached with her free hand to touch the base of her wrist; the faint, familiar lump was still present. “The journal is right here.”

The Liar smiled. “So it is.”

And then the world ended.


“‘Funny,’ the voice laughed, granting the man’s final wish. ‘That was the first thing you asked for.’”


Vanessa’s mouth felt like it was coated in a thin layer of dissolving chalk. It left the faint flavor of peppermint lingering on her tongue.

She forced her eyes open, then immediately closed them. Bright, glaring lights beamed straight down into her retina — the throbbing pressure behind her temple intensified.

She was in a hospital room somewhere. Vanessa didn’t even need to look around to know that; she could just feel it. She hated hospitals. Counting backwards from ten, she eased her eyes open and gave them time to adjust.

Yep. It was a medical facility, alright — and she was strapped down to the bed. Good times. Several pieces of sterile, complicated equipment were placed next to her. Most of them were making beeping noises. She lifted her head as high as the nylon straps allowed, trying to get a lay of the land.

A nurse and a doctor laid face-down on the floor. Pools of crimson crept out from under them. An older woman in an immaculate white suit was seated nearby; she held a gun. Her gaze was on Vanessa.

Vanessa blinked. She was wrong; it was a young man with a neon green mohawk. He wore a studded jacket splattered with something wet. In his left hand, he clutched a blood-soaked switch-blade.

She blinked again. It was a person of indeterminable gender; their skin was a deep shade of ochre, with a face full of piercings. They wore several leather straps around what looked like a charcoal binder. Instead of a knife, they held an aluminum baseball bat. It was coated with clumps of hair and meat.

She blinked again. A man with teeth like serrated steak knives and claws that could carve through steel. She blinked again. It was Arians. She blinked again. It was Ivan. She blinked again. It was Bramimond.

She blinked again.

It was the Liar.

“How’s that cut feeling?”

Vanessa looked down at her wrist. A fresh series of stitches criss-crossed over a recently opened wound; it extended from the base of her palm to nearly the inside of her elbow. A distant memory tugged at the back of her mind.

She licked her lips and lied. “It… doesn’t hurt that much.”

“Still. Make sure to keep it covered. Antibiotics, too.” The left side of the Liar’s mouth twitched upward. “They would have prescribed something for it, but I’m afraid I killed them before they had the opportunity.”

“Who…” Vanessa’s eyes fell to the figures on the floor. “What’s going on?”

“We captured you,” the Liar told her. “You were brought to me for… processing. To discover what you knew; to determine if you had Bramimond’s journal. Or, at the very least, if you knew what was in it.” Their lips pursed with amusement.

Vanessa couldn’t remember anything after they killed the Accountant. The Liar must have noticed her confusion: “You’ve been amnesticized. Several times, actually. Did you know that’s my primary function in the Foundation? To maintain the veil. To make sure no one remembers anything they’re not supposed to.”

They tapped their weapon against their thigh. “And, of course, to replace those gaps with convincing lies.”

“Why am I still alive? Why are we even having this conversation?”

“Because you and your friends accounted for this. Because you did have Bramimond’s journal. Or, at least, a small piece of it. A subdermal flash-drive, located under your wrist.”

“I don’t understand.”

The Liar smiled. Although Vanessa could no longer recognize their features, she could still make out the weariness in their face. “Not all cognitohazards are anomalous.”

The code-phrase flashed through Vanessa’s mind. It was as if she had just found the piece of a puzzle she hadn’t even realized she was solving. An image surged into her memories; she now remembered everything.

“You used to be one of us,” she whispered. “You used to be part of the Insurgency.”

The Liar closed their eyes and nodded. “I was deployed to locate an anomaly in the Bengal Sea. I lost my memories. The Foundation recognized who I was — what I could do. They gave me a new identity; a lie to believe in.” They opened their eyes and rose to their feet, approaching Vanessa. “Bramimond found out from the journal. Your copy only had that entry in it — the entry containing my name.”

The Liar began unbinding Vanessa’s limbs. “I’ve cleared a path to the front entrance. It will be open for another ten minutes; once you’re out, you’ll find a grey van in the parking lot. The doors are unlocked; the keys are in the glove compartment. You’ll find instructions, a map, and a flash-drive.”

“A flash-drive?” Vanessa sat up, feeling her extremities tingle with the sudden surge of blood. Her forearm pulsed with pain.

“It contains crucial data — including the location of your next target. The Archivist.” The Liar stepped back. “Out of all of us, she may be the furthest gone. Tell your friends to be careful.”

Vanessa nodded, swinging her legs around. She sank to the floor. “…what about you?”

“What about me?” the Liar asked, and then they laughed. “You and I both know how this ends. The truth has set me free.” They sank back into their chair, laying their weapon across their lap. “Move fast. Your window is closing.”

Vanessa reached out to touch the Liar’s hand. They did not look up. Turning to go, she spared one last look at them; for a moment, she thought she might have recognized a face. Then, she made her way out into the hall and toward the exit.

It wasn’t until she reached the stairwell that she heard that single, lonely shot.

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