Estimated reading time — 12 minutes
Experimentation has always been for the benefit of mankind, even if it has not always yielded such fruit. For every smallpox vaccine we create…we get an atomic bomb. For every life we save…another dies, each for the “sake of progress”. The case is no different here.
I, Dr. Daniel Hoburn, was part of a government operation, designate: HERMES. I worked on it for over ten years. I worked closely with many esteemed scientists…but none more so than Professor Stoker. The man was smart enough to equate circles around me, and I graduated Harvard at seventeen. Working with him was the highlight of my academic, professional, and personal lives! I would follow him to hell and back.
Ultimately, Stoker, like me, had dreams. Fortunately for us, those dreams seemed to overlap. I wanted to be a successful scientist and invent something meaningful to our species as a whole, and he was just fulfilling a long held desire of his own. He loved the idea of teleportation. The ability to be in one place and then instantly travel somewhere else was an ability he had spent his entire life searching for, and we were on the cusp of it. He told me, “Just the idea of it…being free from the bonds of physics and this world”. He sold me on the idea, and I joined his team. That discovery was going to be the pinnacle of our research, and about a year ago…we cracked it.
The science was there, Dr. Stoker put the final equation in, and it all fell together. The energy in the lab was electrifying. All sleep stopped for me after that. Stopped for all of us, actually. How could we sleep? We were so close. It was truly an exhilarating time.
We built his machine, and we did it in less than a month. Working overtime, we barely took any breaks. The future was so close to our grasp. The construction was simple, and we were told the government was giving us all our funding. I knew Stoker was in close contact with some DSA, whatever Department that stands for. It doesn’t matter now…it all ended the same.
Once we’d built the machines (four of them, each with their own partner platforms), we ran the first test. The first item to be “teleported” was Dr. Stoker’s old desk chair. We placed it on the platform under that cone shaped head, and we backed off. The machine disassembled it molecule by molecule. We watched as energy sparked around it, a weird, reddish energy. All around the chair it sparked and crackled like red lightning; then the chair fell apart like ashes. Each little piece kind of hung in the air, and they all seemed to shrink away into nothingness. Moments after it’d disappeared completely, it reappeared with the same energy. Small pieces appeared and grew, turning from ash back into the form it held before. The chair was put back together, and it maintained all of its structural integrity. We celebrated all through the night.
Experiments continued the very next day…that damned day.
Dr. Stoker never left that room. He did everything next to that machine. All of his work, eating, drinking. Hell, he didn’t even leave for a bathroom break. He just kept testing.
First, it was as simple as moving the chair from one platform to the next. That was done easily, and repeated at least one hundred times. No problems. We would try different objects of varying sizes and densities. They all worked. Multiple items at once, moving objects, it all ended the same.
Our only minor problem came when we sent the first rat through. The thing squeaked and squealed as it was taken apart, and when it was put back together it just lay there. It was dead. The professor showed a little discouragement, but I knew what happened. This being my chance to impress him, I drew up a formula…an equation to use the energy to jumpstart the rat’s heart back to life after teleportation. Dr. Stoker laughed and embraced me. It was the happiest moment I’d had in those ten long years. I had finally helped that brilliant man.
The next fifty or so tests proved positive. The rats came back, alive and well. The teleporter was working! It was all thanks to me! The Professor made sure to remind me of that every single minute. But, as the day went on I saw a new look on his face. He made longing glances at the platform between tests. We all knew what he wanted to do.
I don’t think I can describe to you the feeling when the Professor said, “Ok, time for human trials.”
The first feeling may have resembled excitement, or joy. I was so proud of myself, maybe pride is a better word. But I was happy that our work had the Professor so confident. Then the second thing to hit me was confusion. The teleporter had only been through a couple hundred tests at most, and sure they’d nearly all been positive results…but something put me off. I mean, the machine had only been operational for a little more than a day. The other scientists felt it, too. They all thought the same as I did. The Professor was moving too fast…and one scientist tried to talk him out of it. The Professor wouldn’t hear any of it, forcibly telling that scientist that if he didn’t like it he could leave. He didn’t, none of us wanted to miss out on this chance of a lifetime.
Stoker offered himself to be one of the first.
Three other scientists volunteered as well. Dr. Gregory Hopkins was given the honor of being the first. He was older, and had been working on the basic formulas long before Stoker. After him were Dr. Gina Thompson, and Dr. Sandra Weaver. They all seemed about as excited as the Professor was, and were keen on joining him in this revolutionary voyage. I wasn’t as keen. I tried to talk Gina out of it. She was so young, so beautiful…I didn’t want her to be hurt. She simply told me that this was her Armstrong moment. Every scientist dreams of being the first to test a new technology. I understood, so I stopped my pushing. I wasn’t going to take this moment from her.
God, I should have stopped her…
They all entered the platforms. The Professor was surprisingly calm for an undertaking as dangerous and unpredictable as this. I didn’t question it at the time, I merely took his display of confidence as a sign that all would go well. I sat at the controls. Dr. Stoker had told me earlier, “You’re the only one I trust Daniel”. So I did it, for him I sent them off.
I asked them if they were ready, and I received their responses.
They were unanimously, and confidently, “Yes”.
I reached down to activate the teleporters, and something stopped my hand. Call it a whim, call it forbearance, call it nerves, but something wouldn’t let me press that button. I fought it for a few seconds, and all eyes turned to me. I could feel the Professor staring at me…glaring at me. His eyes bore through the back of my head, and I heard him yell…
He forced my hand.
The teleporter carried Dr. Hopkins away first. He left without a sound, but it looked like his body started convulsing spastically and violently. Dr. Weaver went next. She went screaming, and I had to close my eyes, not that it helped. After her, Gina quickly, much faster than the others, she tried to say something as she left…but we couldn’t make heads or tails of it. Her eyes looked right at me before she vanished…longing. Dr. Stoker, however, went without movement or sound. His eyes simply closed, and he smiled. This was the realization of his dream after all.
So then we waited…in the echoing silence of that lab we waited. Each machine smoked…and we watched their twin platforms carefully. As we waited, I had a guilt about me…my stomach danced around inside of me, my heart in my throat. My eyes never blinked, not once.
Something was wrong…they’d taken longer than the other items sent through. They weren’t reappearing. I turned to the computer, and I searched the programming…I looked for any clue as to where they went. Time went by. One minute. Two, three, ten…nothing happened. Only one thing caught my eye, there was an extra code in the programming. I never got a chance to work it out.
This is when it started…
As I was trying to figure out what happened, a light crackling came from behind me. On the nearest platform, there was a small, popping noise. I didn’t turn around until I smelt something…the unmistakable and overwhelmingly unpleasant smell of rot. It made me turn to the teleporter, and as I did the potent aroma hit my nose like a bus. Then, the crackling came again. Instead of electricity, though, I swore…and I still do today…that it sounded like a tortured scream. It built and intensified, the red lightning-like energy started spewing from the head of the machine…then it came.
Dr. Hopkins’ body had come back…but at first w-we didn’t even realize. His damn limbs were twisted and mangled, his body hunched over, his head bent sideways at an impossible angle. Hopkins’ eyes begged for help, as he reached out with one of his long, misshapen arms. The energy stopped, and with the last strike it caught his twisted form on fire. He screamed…oh, God, he screamed. It came out as a gurgled cry of horror with blood coming from his mouth. He collapsed off the platform, and blood started to pool where he lay.
The screams of the others in the room reached a roar. As their terror flooded the room and my ears…the second platform started sparking. Dr. Weaver was coming back…but we’d all wished she hadn’t.
She rematerialized differently than Dr. Hopkins. Her eyes materialized first, and we met her gaze. We watched as her entire skeleton was put together. It stood there, unmoving, only the eyes glanced around the room. As her muscles started to form she started to scream and cry. Her hands reached up to her face. Then her skin formed. She was bloody, her skin torn to ribbons in some places. She lowered her hands to reveal a badly mutilated face. It was absolutely horrible. Her clothes, torn, burnt, and soaked in blood were the last thing to appear, and as soon as they did she turned her focus to me.
I sat there in horror. As a looked I saw in her, in the way she moved and stared, a primal, animalistic ferocity. There was nothing there but hatred…a rage that sent a chill down my back. My body was rigid, my heart fought against me…trying to escape. My mind told me to run…but I didn’t listen.
Dr. Weaver roared like a wild animal and lunged at me. I couldn’t even bring my hands up to save me…all I could do was yell.
“You!” she yelled, her fingernails digging into my arms. “You knew! I’ll kill you for it! End it now! He’s almost free! Shut it down!”
She’s was begging…pleading…but I couldn’t respond.
“MOVE!” She pushed me over, onto the cement floor. I broke my arm from the fall…and I couldn’t even yell in pain…that’s how frozen I was. She took the chair I was sitting in, picked it up, and smashed the computer. She smashed it all to hell. Pieces of the computer screens and the chair flew all around me. She destroyed two of the three screens completely. The desk nearly caved in from her incessant beatings. The whole time she never stopped that horrid screeching.
She managed to catch her breath for only a moment before the guards arrived. They unloaded no fewer than five rounds into Dr. Weaver. She fell to the ground, not a single protest escaped her lips. She hit the floor hard, and her face stared blankly at me. There were tears streaming down her face, and her mouth was agape as if in a cry. She didn’t look at peace even in death.
In the commotion…no one had even noticed that the third teleporter had sparked. As I got up, through my own pain and horror I saw her. Gina….just sitting on the teleporter platform. Her legs crossed, she was leaning forward…twiddling with her thumbs…humming a song. No one dared to even breathe…and we listened. I asked around later, but nobody knew the song she hummed…all we could agree on was that it was the single most depressing tune we’d ever heard.
She stared down at her hands, at least we thought…her greasy hair covered her face. No one moved. I don’t think anyone could…after the two horrors they’d just witnessed. After a while my breath came, heavy and forceful, my body shaking. I was going into shock, and that first loud breath I took…that was what made her look up. Her hair still covered her eyes, but her mouth had been twisted into a smile of an almost playful malice. I still remember her words perfectly.
“You did it Daniel…” She said…it wasn’t Gina’s voice…not the one I knew. “You are the true monster here. Was it worth it? Worth it all?”
I didn’t answer her, I-I couldn’t even stand up. She chanted a song-like rhyme, quietly as if singing to herself.
“He was trapped and now he’s free,
He’s out for pain and misery.
Caged like a rat, betrayed by men,
But now is now and that was then.
Oh, the ones who trapped him here,
Will soon be known the true face of fear!”
Her head sharply turned to face me. In doing so, the black hair that covered her eyes was thrown to the side…and I saw.
Her eyes…different from the two before. There was no begging expression in them, no sorrow or pain…her eyes were full of blood. It leaked out and streaked down her face like tears. There was no way she could see a thing, but they still looked right at me. She could see me, and she watched me. She said nothing more. She kept smiling through it all.
Her gaze turned away from me, and she hunched her head back down…humming again. I slowly got to my feet, and I went to see what was left of the computer. Amazingly, one of the screens still flickered on…I had to see about Professor Stoker. I held on to the hope that at least one would make it out of this ok. He had to make it out ok. Just one…
Then, I thought the computer was busted. It read on screen “Delivery complete: All Four Subjects Returned”. I turned to Dr. Stoker’s pad…nothing. He wasn’t there, but the computer told me he was. I wanted to wait, I wanted to make sure he was ok. Of course, I wasn’t able to. The security force arrived in full detail a few minutes later. They carried me out of there…and I never took my eyes off that platform. The Professor never came back.
In many ways he was like a father to me, one who actually seemed to care for me. I thought I’d miss him. I truly meant it. Then, as of late my feelings have changed drastically for the late Dr. Stoker. Eventually, everything would start to piece together.
The quarantine team came in and the machines were scrapped. This…DSA, whatever it stands for, came in and confiscated everything. All research, logs, security footage…everything. I’m told, and have been told every time I asked, that Dr. Thompson passed away minutes after we left. Supposed exhaustion from whatever tragic ordeal she went through. It’s been three weeks and I still miss her dearly…I should have asked her out…but I was always too afraid.
A few of my colleagues who’d seen her more up-close than I did said she had scars on her hands…one’s that weren’t there before. Fully-healed scars, they claimed. Scars take a considerably long time to heal the way they did. The implications of this…I don’t even want to think about it. I don’t know where they went…and I most certainly don’t want to imagine any of them being there for any extended period of time.
They were my friends.
Speaking of friends, Dr. Stoker never came back. Never had a chance anyways with the machine busted. Still, I couldn’t help shake the feeling I was missing something. I tried to at least locate the man’s family to let them know…I figured it’d be best if someone close to them explained the whole thing. Government orders be damned, I had to tell his family.
However, upon further investigation…nothing. No relatives or family in this country or any. There were no Stokers who claimed to know the Professor. Many said they’d never heard the name before. Stoker isn’t a common name, and I checked with a lot of people. I realized something pretty strange during all of this. My interactions with him over ten years, and the man never once mentioned anything about his family.
So I decided simply to check around. Using my old hacking skills, I discovered several shocking truths.
The first being that we’d never received proper funding for the experiment. The DSA turned us down on the grounds that “The risks to human life were too great”. They knew something was wrong from the get-go, and Stoker made us continue anyways.
The next point was that I could never replicate the code I found. I only saw it for a second, and the parts I saw didn’t make sense. Stoker had added an extra command, and I will probably never know.
Finally, I discovered that within the personnel profiles for our operation, there was no official folder for Dr. Stoker. At all. At this point, my mind flooded with confusion and theories. The most insane asked if Dr. Stoker had been, somehow, erased from history.
The reasoning why this made no sense quickly became obvious. How could he help us? How did I remember him? No, it had to be something more. I thought back to every event that day. Something I could have missed. What did I miss in those ten years I knew him that could have hinted at the blazingly obvious truth before me?
Then, I remembered something Gina had said.
Immediately, with a macabre fascination…and a nervousness I hadn’t felt since that day…I called a colleague of mine whom I hadn’t contacted since the incident. They were a computer tech, and I knew they hated government interference more than anything. I simply asked him one question.
“Do you have a copy of the security footage?”
His answer being, to no surprise to me, a yes; I raced over to his house, and we decided to flip the footage on.
The first thing we did was watch the whole incident again. Watching for a second time, I don’t know how I stood it the first time. At the sight of Dr. Hopkins I vomited almost immediately. My body broke into a cold sweat, and I struggled to watch the whole thing. But I made sure I listened to Dr. Thompson’s…Gina’s words again. I listened very close to everything.
“Rewind it.” I told my friend, my voice unsure. He waited a moment, judging whether or not he actually wanted to…then he reluctantly did as I asked. He took us back to the moment when the teleporters started activating…and I told him to play it frame by frame. We watched it, very carefully. Everything seemed “normal”…until we reached the frame right before Dr. Stoker disappeared…
My friend jumped backwards, for he had no idea. Me? I just stared at the screen in disbelief. I had a hunch, but I didn’t want it to be true. I simply recalled two things said, one by Gina…and the other by Dr. Stoker. Spoken to me years ago, on our very first meeting, and repeated almost every day after that for years.
“What is that?” My friend asked.
“Gina was right.” I said, my throat in a knot. “He was trapped…but now…”
I looked at the picture before me. A black demon, with bony features, black eyes, and a toothy grin stared at the camera. He stood right where Dr. Stoker had stood. He smiled right at the camera, and I knew it was meant for me…for because of me…
Credit To – Ryan Brennaman