From total blackness, a complete void, there was suddenly something. It was a barely noticeable difference, but soon it became apparent that a change had taken place. The blackness was no longer complete; the void was less forbidding.
It was getting lighter.
Yes, the empty expanse was now gray, and, barely visible against the ubiquitous backdrop, shapes were flitting. They were almost indiscernible from their surroundings, but even now they were becoming more defined. Outlines were taking shape, contrasted against the rapidly lightening background, becoming cleaner and less blurred; finer details of the shapes could be detected. The shapes no longer danced, now: their motion was smoother, more uniform. Soon, as the background became incredibly bright, the shapes became clear enough to be made out. And then, something else happened.
“…becoming conscious now, Doctor.”
“Alright. Let’s see if this worked.”
James Warner held up his hands to rub his face. It happened more often, now. He mustn’t let it get in the way of his duties. Just stand still for a moment…clear your mind…it’ll go away. It always does.
With a struggle, the feeling of disconnectedness passed. Warner exhaled deeply, the lines showing on his face. He felt better, after the feeling subsided. That strange, cloudy sensation in his mind, as if his higher mental functions had ceased. It was disconcerting. His senses still passed him information; he could still see, hear, touch, taste, and smell, but the sensory input stimulated no response in his mind. It was almost as if…as if he couldn’t think anymore…
He started. “What? Yes?”
“You alright?” He recognized the face: it was Eisenberg, back from the water cooler, cup in hand. Warner welcomed the break from the monotony of work, and took the opportunity to talk with his friend.
“I’ll be fine,” he muttered, as he flatly disbelieved it, “just tired, I guess.”
“Well, better not fall off. The boss expects that report in the next hour. Wouldn’t want to miss it.”
“That’s for sure.” Warner reached for his pills. “I’ll get over this,” he said reassuringly, as he unscrewed the top. “Just forgot to take my dosage.”
“What you got there?” Eisenberg asked, peering closer over the cubicle wall.
“Just some, uh, mild stimulants,” Warner quickly responded. “Mostly sugar…caffeine…a tiny bit of something that would probably be illegal in any larger amount.” He grinned, making the deception that much more convincing.
“Ah. Gotcha. Mum’s the word.” Eisenberg winked and smiled widely. “Just remember that report. This place would be damn depressing without you to kick around.” He rapped on the cubicle wall. “I gotta get moving. See you at lunch break.”
“Right.” Warner murmured as he watched Eisenberg return to his seat.
Mum’s the word, he thought as he began crunching the numbers once again. You have no idea.
The cab pulled to a stop in front of Warner’s apartment complex. Warner, looking up through the cab’s moonroof, noticed a private jet passing silently overhead, its blinking lights betraying its presence in the night sky. How bright were those points of light, Warner thought. How pretty. So bright…and so small…
He didn’t even hear the cabbie talking until the hand was waving in front of his face.
“Uh, sorry, what?” Warner blinked and shook his head, redirecting his attention.
“I said it’s $7.34.”
“Right. Sorry. Here you go.” He paid the cabbie.
“Thanks pal. Have a nice night,” the cabbie called as Warner got out and walked towards the steps to his building. With a rattle, the taxi drove off into the night.
Home again, thought Warner.
He climbed the steps. Fumbling with his cardkeys, he unlocked the front door and stepped inside. A warm blast hit him, stark against the cold nighttime air. Nearly choking on the dry, hot air pouring out of the rusted heater vent, he began his trip up to the fourth floor. The steps, old and dusty, creaked under his feet. As he always did, he hoped they’d hold out, if only just this one time. And as he always did, he held onto the banister, just in case.
Arriving at his apartment door, he swiped his card, opened it quickly, and moved inside. Shutting the steel door behind him, he leaned against it, staring into the darkness of his small apartment. It’s happening more often, he thought again. And it’s getting worse. The pills don’t help like they used to.
In silence, he walked away from the door and dropped his briefcase on the floor. Walking into his kitchen aimlessly, Warner clicked on the light.
A man was sitting at his kitchen table.
Warner jumped backwards, startled. “What in the…who the hell are you?” he gasped, struggling to marshal his emotions. “How did you---”
“The Company’s resources are…extensive,” interrupted the man. He stared back from behind a pair of dark sunglasses. Clad in black, his large frame belied the actual size of the table. “A locked door or two is no obstacle when one has the proper tools for the job. A simple card reader is easy to fool.”
Warner relaxed a little. “The Company could have told me. I’m sure it would have been within your ‘extensive resources’ to send me a damn memo before breaking and entering.”
The man grinned deeply. “True. But they prefer this method of communication. No paper trail to follow. Plus,” he added, with obvious pride, “it’s cheap and effective P.R.”
“Undoubtedly, terrorizing your customers into loyalty is one of your unwritten rules.” Warner scoffed, walking over to his refrigerator. “But does that give you the right to invade my privacy?” He rummaged through the scraps of food left inside, but found nothing worth risking food poisoning over. He shut the fridge again.
“To ensure that the consumer receives the best possible service,” the man recited, relishing the anguish that the drearily familiar words brought to Warner’s face, “and to address any issues arising from product usage as quickly as possible.” He paused briefly. “You, James Warner, are having an issue with our product.”
“Your damn drug isn’t working anymore,” Warner spat. “I feel like I’m returning to the old ways. I’ll be at work and suddenly I’ll just drift off…mesmerized by a light bulb, or a filing cabinet, or a bubble in the water cooler. I have to be verbally brought back to reality.”
“Yes, we’re aware of the situation.”
“Come now, Mr. Warner---you know as well as anyone that Briggs & Stratton keeps a close eye on all its long-term investments.”
“Yes,” Warner admitted, “how foolish of me.” Of course, the Company could easily have planted someone to keep tabs on him in his office. With such influence as B&S had, it would have been a simple matter of pulling the right strings. “Just fix my pills.”
“Your pills?” asked the man, raising an eyebrow slightly. “Mr. Warner, those pills are the property of Briggs & Stratton Pharmaceuticals. In no way are they ‘your’ pills; the only reason you even know about them is because of the very…”---he searched for the right word---“…promising results we’ve seen so far. Unfortunately, the FDA requires human trials for any new drug…but you know that already. Through…direct experience.” He grinned again, despicably.
“Yes, yes…I know all about it. Just tell me what I have to do to get the pills to work again.”
The man grinned still wider. “I have a car waiting outside. If you’ll follow me…?”
“Where are we going?” Warner inquired.
The car rolled over a bump in the road. His ‘acquaintance’ smiled back at him. “Why, to fix your issue, of course.”
The heavy oak door swung slowly and silently open. Held open by the arm of the black-clad messenger, Warner walked past the door and into a dim, smoke-filled room. Behind an enormous maple desk, in front of a wall filled with books, sat Harvey Briggs himself.
“Mr. Briggs,” Warner breathed. “It’s an honor to…to...”
Briggs grinned. “Yes, Mr. Warner. Do you mind if I call you James?”
Warner’s mouth flopped like a beached whale.
“I suppose that will be a yes. Please, have a seat.” Briggs gestured to one of the unbelievably lavish chairs scattered throughout the room. Warner managed to stumble into one of the more humble seats. As Warner fumbled, Briggs leaned forward and twisted a dial embedded in his monstrous desk. The light level in the room increased.
“Now, James,” Briggs said soothingly, as he leaned back in his chair again, peering at Warner through his glasses, “I understand that our product is reaching the end of its effectiveness for you.”
“Uh, yes sir, that’s correct.” Warner muttered.
“Speak up, boy, there’s no need to be afraid.” Briggs smiled in a way that seemed not entirely convincing. “After all…you’re our prodigal son.”
Warner smiled back half-heartedly. The walls seemed to be closer to him than the last time he checked. “Yes sir, Mr. Briggs, sir.”
“And drop that ‘sir’ nonsense. This isn’t the Corps, you know.”
“Yes, s-Mr. Briggs.”
Briggs raised an eyebrow at him. “Indeed. Now, as I was saying, word has it that you’re in need of our assistance.”
Warner shifted in his seat. Avoiding the question, he replied, “Your drug doesn’t work anymore.”
“Yes, I’m aware of that, as I already stated.”
“Well…I want out.”
Briggs’s false smile vanished. “Excuse me?”
Warner gripped the arms of the chair desperately. “I…want to quit. It doesn’t feel right. I feel as if…as if this isn’t my life. As if this isn’t how I was supposed to live. It’s…eating at me.”
The drug tycoon stared at him powerfully. All hint of geniality had evaporated from his voice. “You read the contract, Mr. Warner. The FDA mandates a minimum six-month ‘trial period’ for drugs of this type. And right now, AdVanz is the only one of its kind so far into it. If you quit, we’d have to start all over…with another ‘patient’…and lose valuable time. Time we could have spent marketing it, selling it to the public. Do you really want to set us back so far, Mr. Warner?”
James Warner squirmed in his seat now. Somewhere, at the edge of his mind, he felt the sensation coming back. “What you’ve done here…is wrong. I feel it. I feel that you know it, too.”
Briggs bolted up out of his chair. Placing his hands on his immense desk, he leaned close to Warner. “How dare you speak of AdVanz that way! This drug is a goddamned revolution in neurochemistry. Imagine the possible benefits of it! Surely you, of all people, can appreciate the wonders it works. Or have you become so deluded by your newfound sentience that you’ve forgotten where you came from? What you used to be?” He glared darkly at the shivering man before him. “When the choice was made to go ahead with human trials, I was apprehensive. Such radical alterations to the brain were inherently dangerous. But I wanted to put the interests of the human race first.” Briggs straightened up and began to walk around his desk. “The benefits of this drug…the sheer power it held.” He stood in front of Warner and bent down to speak eye-to-eye. “You can’t imagine the ramifications of what we had created. A drug with the power to increase one’s own brainpower. Imagine the future of humanity: a race of Einsteins, Nietzsches, Newtons, and Platos. Cognitive enhancement, in once-a-day format.” Briggs chuckled to himself softly. “Naturally, the government took notice. They gave us a hefty grant to start human trials ahead of schedule. The stench of corruption is heavy these days.” Briggs smiled darkly.
Warner twitched, despite himself.
“Of course, the human test subject had to be carefully selected. AdVanz, in such an early stage, was too powerful for a normal human; the sudden increase in cognitive ability would be rapidly fatal. But, we reasoned, if we could secure a human of…lesser ability…” Briggs said, patting Warner’s shoulder, “the risk might be lessened.
“When we found you, you were in sad shape. But AdVanz changed all that.” Briggs’s stare became unfocused for a moment, as if he were looking at something far-off, a future of his own design. Quickly, he returned. “Naturally, such a process was carefully monitored by our finest doctors, and the moment of your ‘awakening’ was a great day for all of us here at the Company.”
Warner looked at Briggs in a mixture of fascination and horror. “What…what are you saying?”
Briggs laughed to himself. “Oh, poor James. You really don’t know, do you?” He leaned closer once more, grinning again. “Before AdVanz, your IQ was so low as to be impossible to measure. A legal vegetable. You were a drooling idiot in a mental institution.”
Warner’s vision darkened. The room swayed under him. “What…?”
Briggs grinned still deeper. “You’re a freak. Something we created in a lab. And as of this moment, you…are…cut…off.”
The dreaded feeling enveloped Warner. He was disconnected again, unable to think, unable to feel. Having senses but having no mind. Darkness closed around him…darkness in which shapes moved, then danced, and were finally seen no more.
The nurse locked the door to the padded cell with a click. Inside the small, cubic room sat the drooling, silent figure of James Warner. “So he wasn’t what you were looking for, then?” she asked, plaintively. The man, dressed entirely in black, spoke from behind a pair of dark sunglasses. “Afraid not.” He smiled to the nurse pleasantly. “Got any others like him?”