A Canvas Of Faded Colours
A Canvas Of Faded Colours20 mins 669 20 mins 669
It all started the day I woke up in the room. One year ago.
I can still smell the zing of rusted metal, taste the sourness of the bile rising in my throat, hear nothing but the silence. The silence is my interminable company. Day after day. Night after night. . The food appears as it always does; the same hyperborean soup, the same stale bread and the same mushy peas.
I used to wonder about my incarceration. But, as the countless minutes amalgamated, my mind turns me to other things. The human mind can’t stand emptiness for long. From the crack of dawn, to the first breath of eventide, I force my body to various exercises that honed my body like the weapon it was. Yet nothing allays the missing piece’s nagging. It relentlessly tugs at my conscience, ever waxing. My memory.
Sometimes flashes of sight pervade the fog; ethereal glances that provide no aid in piecing together my torturous past. After all, I must have been from somewhere before here. As the days turn to weeks and then to months, I lose count of the eddying sands of time. Until the day the door opens.
A man walks in, lips drawn into a smile that rather looks like a rictus of a cat. Right before it pounces on the mouse.
“Come here.” The words are a shock after an eternity of quietude. I move towards the door, my movements disembodied and seeming like a marionette’s .
He leads me down a convoluted set of corridors. I would have appreciated the effort to throw me off had I not been solely focused on absorbing the sights around me. A mere precaution.
“No questions after all this time? No why, when or how? Aren’t you curious?” I don’t deign to reply and he doesn’t ask again.
We arrived at a set of doors which,despite its exquisite etchings and curlicues,was painted a bizarre set
of hues. Like all the folderols embellishing this building, it has a bilious aura around it that would bring tears to an artist’s eyes. The man eases open the door, and I gasp inadvertently.
A collection of people, seated around a circular table, look at a map of......of the world. After being cloistered in that room, I had not thought of the world’s enormity and wonder. And these people had kept me from wandering its limitless land. Rage swells and fills all the niches where despair and nihility had lived for so long. Good. Better to feel ire than nothing at all. How could these people gaol me up as if I had committed some crime? The fury vanishes as quick as it had come, replaced by cold dread. What if I really did something? The urge to know, to fill my head with memories, overpowers me and finally rasp my first words in months.
“Why am I here? Why was I in that room for so long? Why take my memories? ‘’
A woman at the head of the table starts. Her flickering hazel eyes gleam with some unspoken emotion as she began her tale, beckoning for me to sit.
“Long ago, our world was a place where technology was a new-born fawn. Blinded by the power and efficiency of the technology, our souls and fates slowly intertwined with it. We ceased to exist as humans and became other. Not all of us. Some of us resisted and were driven to exile by the modernizing world. We alone realized the true cost of all this technological advancement. And we were right. Humans began to depend so much on robots and esoteric automation that to remove these crutches would be cripple them. These technologies could raze countries to sanguinary ruins with callousness, could save lives with dexterity, and could tackle the problems that played humanity without allowing humanity’s emotions into its way. Humanities’ greatest qualities, its courage its lenity, its empathy, became its worst traits. Traits that needed eradication in this modern world of different gadgets.”
“Then this artificial intelligence learned the one thing that it had not managed to gain some semblance of: creativity. Necessity is the mother of invention, they sat. But they forgot to mention that without creativity, invention is impossible. As computers gained the power to create, slowly we lost the need and ability to do so.”
“We could no longer create the masterpieces of art, compose mellifluent melodies or pen down epics. Places in our souls, once so full of light and love and colour, were empty forever now. Soon we lost the gift of even glimpsing the world in its infinite colours and hues. And that alone brought up a host of other problems.“
The woman finishes her speech, while I reel from the sheer onslaught of the words, the weight of them.
“Now, let’s begin the introductions. My name is Lilith and I run the organisation SAPIEN: Stop Artificial Purpose & Intelligence for Earth and Nature. We try to rescue those inflicted with the diseases that turns humans into Other. These other are those who came with in excess contact with tech, becoming infected with an incurable disease, the Craze. We try what we can save those not past the Oblivion but we could use some help. Would you like to join our ranks as a member of the elite echelon, Aislinn?”
Ash-lin. I try out the word on my tongue. Finally one piece in the matrix of my life.
“I ... ..would like some time to think.” Because, while her words make her cause seem a noble and worthy one, some shadows linger in those sepia eyes. Those shadows hide secrets. I will not trust those willing to cage me.
“Caden will escort you to your quarters. You are free to ask any questions in the morning.”
That had been an hour ago. Now I sit in front of the mirror. The person staring at me is a stranger. Ragged strands of chin-length atramentous frame a hollow face ,dominated by eyes the precise hue of eventide. It is the black of the gaps between stars, of the depths of perdition, of the airless dark. Dolour threatens to consume me, a tidal wave that gnaws at me. Being locked up had left its scars on me. Scars that I had to wear as a badge of honour, lest they break me.
I notice fiery orange ring around my pupils, an intense living flame that echoes the rage burning inside me. I am not an experiment, an animal or a guinea pig. I am a survivor and cannot be broken.
I lay down onto the bed, weary from the day’s ordeals. Soon exhaustion took me and the next morning arrives unbidden.
The man, Caden, escorts me to a table where Lilith sits, laden with food. Without waiting to be told to eat, I dig in. Dish after dish that I knew I would be hurling before long. After watching me devour the feast, she hands me a syringe, “This contains a serum which will erase the block separating the long memories from the rest of your mind. I warn you though, sometimes what is unknown is best left that way, Aislinn.”
The first prick of the needle sends me spiralling into oblivion. Image after image courses through my head. A human baby girl born to Other parents who weren’t past the Oblivion. The girl’s thrashing limbs as people drag her away from her parents and their Craze. My unconscious body in my room.
I double over as the pictures fade in my head, retching. As the throes racking my body allay, pieces fall together.
“If the world is oblivious to colour, how can I see them?“ My first answer of many.
Lilith inhales, taking a long breath of the very air that asphyxiates me now. “You have a genetic anomaly that allows you to view colour, not the grey that the world sees. This means that you are immune to the Craze. This, however, also mean that you are a valuable commodity for those wishing to find a cure to the Craze.“
No wonder the decorations were tasteless. She glances at Caden as he picks up the thread of the speech, toying with the rim of a cup. “You are safe behind the walls of our headquarters since we are not other. As you would have realised by now, your time in the room was a research of sorts, a careful perusal of the answers you provide. We saw your reaction to everything and analyzed it. Don’t worry, you’re now completely free from any kind of coerced experimentation, possibly for the first time in 18 years, Aislinn.”
Another piece of information, one that I tucked away as they brought me to a greensward, a small piece of nature in this world overrun with gadgets and new-fangled technology. On it were sprawled a girl and two boys around my age.
“This is Emrys, Morgan and Daryn. They will be doing the rest of the introduction and will also divulge the reason you are here.”
The girl, Morgan, resembles Daryn with titian hair, russet eyes and casual air. Perhaps they’re siblings.
Emrys, however, is a creature born in the shadows. His caliginous hair absorbs all light and reflects none back, the same shade as my own. Eyes of liquid night gaze back at me, flecked with silver stardust. Something within me knew...knew that this person, who made my blood sing and thrum, meant something to me. All three of them, while lounging indolently, on the lea, move with a predatory grace that belied their honed skills. These were the people who had years of training and fighting as a unit. It surprises me how much I have read, but I know that this would also be what the three people...no, not just people, but friends were doing. A pang goes through me. Whatever these people had been through, whatever story each scar on their skin told, they had a friend with them through it all. And me? In a world where every soul was inextricably tied up with others, I feel like an adrift boat, unmoored and aimless.
Morgan speaks, lifting her head as she watches Caden and Lilith walk away, “You must be Aislinn.” Emotionless words that leave me wondering precisely what she has endured. What tales of struggle carve her history. The other histories too.
Just then, Emrys makes a strangled, choking noise as his eyes alight on a cicatrix on my collarbone. A wound I have no memory of receiving. His face drained of blood, he finally speaks, his midnight voice barely a whisper, “You’re my sister.”
No. No. No. Something inside me shatters at the sound of the voice that brought up floods of memories. Bated breath as I crouched, waiting for him to find me. His arms around, catching me as I fell.
Mere childhood memories. They become shards within me, mercilessly shredding anything that remained in the hollow cairn in my chest. Until I turn them outward, their piercing edges cutting into the people around me. I let them.
“You have no right to call me sister. Not when you never came for me in that room. Not when you never fought tooth and nail for one of your own blood.” The words were a lie. I had felt that tug between us, right at the start. Morgan shoots me a glare. Clearly, she hasn’t appreciated me spitting such virulent words at Emrys, who looks as if he were reeling from a physical flow. I had gotten off to rather a bad start. So I apologise. But I don’t explain. I’m not done with being angry quite yet. Daryn gives me an effortless smile, saying, “Don’t worry, we’re used to finding lost family member around here all the time. And far stranger things too.” It seems that the Daryn is the more genial of siblings; the stolid, stable earth to Morgan’s raging, lucent flames. And Emrys’ gelid rime.
Finally, Morgan brings up the reason I’ve been brought here, saying “So, I guess you’ve been wondering why you’re here with us. The reason is that, with our world in such an anarchic condition, everything fell apart. With no one to curtail the populace, activities that would have warranted retribution in the past are going unchecked. So SAPIEN decided that a dozen or so units like us wouldn’t be a bad idea to police the masses.”
“Where do you get your funds from?” I glanced at Emrys, who looks more than slightly discomfited. Good.
“Well......we might have borrowed some money from the banks that no one is managing. “
They’re all uncomfortable, with the exception of Morgan, who looks like she wouldn’t mind robbing a bank right now just for kicks. Perhaps I could like her in another world.
“So you’re stealing.” I struggle to keep a straight face. So much for being noble forces of law and order.
“No. It’s more like.....like honorable borrowing.” Daryn can’t seem to school his features either.
“Really?” I level a laconic look at him.
“Okay, okay. You’re right. We’re stealing. But it’s for a noble cause!” I snort.
Morgan, ever the business-like one, steers the discussion as she rolls her eyes, “Anyway, there’s a rumour going around that a woman’s selling a drug that allows people to escape the disease for a while.”
“Why is that a problem? And how do you know about it when Emrys and I don’t? “, Daryns says before I can respond.
“If you weren’t so stuck on trying to spray water at Lilith’s colleagues, then maybe you wouldn’t be so clueless all the time.”
I smirk at the pair of them. Emrys makes an exasperated sound at the bickering, interceding. There’s something on his face that surprise me, an almost weary affection. I wonder if anyone has ever felt that way about me. Curling in on myself, I suddenly lose all interest for conversation.
He slightly narrows his eyes at me, as if sensing a shift in my demeanor, before looking away.
Morgan continues with her narrative, “The woman’s drugs seem to have a strange effect on the consumers. They start acting like marionettes on strings. I know that this sounds strange and like something out of science fiction novel but it is seriously creepy seen first-hand.”
Daryn shifts, discombobulated, as he shoots Emrys and Morgan’s furtive, worried glances.
“What? What’s wrong?” I ask, not really expecting a response. They don’t have to divulge anything to a near-stranger.
“The thing is, we’re supposed to be training you. This information is something none of our superiors know and, while I’m not quite sure how Morgan found out, you definitely shouldn’t be knowing this.” Daryn’s visage reflects none of the casual ease I’ve become accustomed to in our short time together.
“Clearly, I’m not planning to betray you. So tell me what we’re going to do.” The word ‘we’re’ slips out inadvertently. How presumptuous of me assume that me and them could be ever a team. The schism within me goes unnoticed; they seem to accept me with open arms. Well, maybe not Morgan, who glares at me with thorough disdain. That makes two of us.
“Sleep tonight and do whatever Lilith wants you to do. Don’t act like we talked about anything except training and preparations to join our echelon. Morgan will wake you tomorrow. Be careful.” Whatever Emrys says is visible in his lambent eyes; a cogent threat. I may be his sister by blood, but these are his siblings in every other sense of the word.
As I lay in a bed Lilith told me to use as my own, I stare up at the ceiling. Even as Caden introduced me to his colleagues through out dinner, I dwelled on nothing in particular, listening to name after name with a polite, bland smile.
Suddenly the room feels asphyxiating. I climb out through the window, longing for open space. Is this how my life is going to be, always fearing a cage? Flopping onto the mead, where I sat with Emrys, Morgan and Daryn, I gazed at the Cimmerian gloaming above me, an obfuscous expanse of silk, studded with argentine stars. The firmament is a lucid delineation of Emrys’ eyes.
As if my thoughts conjure him up, Emrys materializes next to me, sitting down with a feline grace. Thank the stars that he isn’t an assassin or I would be dead ten times over. I shiver.
“You seem cold. Do you want a jacket?” The words were polite, distant. So we’re playing this game. What he doesn’t know is that I can throw him off completely. Reaching up, I wrap my arms around his hard, warm body, layered over with taut muscle. I smirk at his chagrined features, before he hugs me right back. I frown. I might be able to throw him off but he manages the rock my boat too straight after.
To pierce the replete quietude, I ask, “Why did you look at the scar on my collarbone before declaring yourself as my brother?”
“When I was 8 and you were 6, you asked me to climb an oak tree with you. I was busy baking a cake for your birthday and I ignored you. Stubborn little thing that you were, you decided to go ahead without me. I didn’t really mind because you practically lived in that old oak tree. You used to haul all your books up there and pretend that the rest of world didn’t exist.” He stirs, laying down onto the grass and tugging me along. Glaring , I aim a querulous look at him. He huffs a laugh that wreaths in the brumal zephyr.
“What I didn’t realize that you had planned to etch our initials on to the tree, taking my carving blade with you. You had planned to do that for weeks with me. When you got to my name, you slipped off the tree, slicing open your collarbone and snapping two bones in your arm. I was so.......so guilty. It was close to being fatal. You never mentioned it, and Lilith’s nurses didn’t know until I told them. The cut needed five stitches and your arm needed a sling. After that I decided that I would always be the brother you needed; not the docile one who baked cakes with you and played dolls, nor the one who scaled every tree alongside you, but the elder brother who’d rather see the world in flames than let a drop of your blood fall. I’ve failed you in every way possible when they took you into that room and I did n’t know about it.”
He seems consumed with remorse, so I say, smiling,”Tell me more”. He gives me a surprised side glance before launching into more tales about us. We stay that way, two entwined souls under the stars, sharing stories until daybreak paints the ether.
It isn’t until we sneak back in to our rooms at dawn, that I realize that Emrys effectively kept me from shattering completely. I wonder if he realizes that too.
The days go by, the daylight hours spent training with Morgan, Daryn and Emrys and the nights under the stars, talking until slumber draws us under. I slowly become a part of their unit, joking with Daryn, bickering with Morgan, talking with Emrys. From the caged creature in the room, I transform into a living, breathing person. Not quite whole but not riven either. I didn’t realize that I had ceased to live in my time in the room. I just....existed. It wasn’t until that night under the stars that I finally breathed, letting go of the emotions festering within me.
One night, long after I stop counting the days, Daryn slips in through the interstice. I barely bat an eyelash, so inured to this behaviour that it doesn’t ruffle any feathers. That is,until he launches into rapid whispers.
“The woman, the one with the drugs, is leaving her base. We don’t have time to tell Lilith because she’s visiting a foreign nation. We need to act fast. Get out of bed and into gear. Arm yourself and meet Morgan under Twelfth Bridge.” He slips out through the aperture after pressing a stun gun into my hands.
Five minutes later, I meet Morgan and the rest at Twelfth Bridge in a battered Egress, a grey immaterial transport system that everyone seems to use. After tensely exchanging battle strategies, we arrive at a dilapidated building and uninhabited. UntiI I see the faces leering through the window. Scrambling, we shoot at the figures aiming at arms and legs. Never killing. But the sheer numbers of them and eerie coordinated movements overwhelm us.
I spot a door and move towards it until I see one of the silhouettes knock Emrys down with a well-placed kick. Something inside me snaps. I become a cloud of death and shadow and pain ,a creature wrought from flame and lightning and storm. I rend apart the hordes until I reach the soul tied to mine by blood, triumph and memories.
Suddenly three of the wraith-like forms begin dragging me to the door I saw earlier. Yanking it open, they unceremoniously drop me to the floor after sliding a needle into my arm.I look up......and see Lilith.
Through the haze and shock of the fight, I know that I should feel betrayal and panic , but only register confusion. And inertia. Such a heavy, liquid tiredness in my limbs.
“My dear Aislinn, why didn’t you listen when I told you to stay away from those three? I warned you it wouldn’t be good.”
In my apathetic state, I conjure a memory; Lilith whispering, a soft remonstrance, honey -coated yet still promising lethal threats. I tried to speak but my vocal chords resist.
“After my years of research battling the Craze, I realized that may be history could help me. I opened up books on something called ‘quantum physics’, the science of sub-atomic particles. They spoke about ‘Quantum Entanglement’, a theory where two sub-atomic particles are spookily connected across time and space. One particle tells the other what to do. I applied this theory in the drug I created, the Seraph’. Just as the angels of old helped in the ascent from fire and brimstone, I am to be the emancipator of mankind. I am to save them from their own foolishness. The Seraph allows them to escape the Craze and it allows me to subsume them to their will, to exercise control over every part of their flesh and blood, down to the quantum particles that make up their existence.”
Even my in stupor, I can feel the tangible fervor in her tone. The gleam in those hazel eyes is from madness.
“Every day, the food you ate was laced with the drug. But it did not work. You remained just as immune to the antidote as you are to the disease. Not anymore. With your death, no one shall remain Other anymore. I am liberating the human race. For every drop of your lifeblood falling onto the ground from the needle as I exsanguinate you, there is a soul consuming and being consumed by my Seraph. Enjoying purgatory, darling.” She strides out of the room, every inch the precise scientist I met on my first day.
I feel, or rather don’t feel, the blood drain out of me, a human hourglass. I waver in an out of consciousness death a mere hairs-breadth away. I welcome it. Aeons seem to pass. An inconsequential amount of time. I dream of the world burning at my feet. I smile coldly as I stoke the flames higher.
Until I feel a pricking in my arm. As I force my dark eyes open, I see Lilith over a monitor. She stares, see me awake on the floor, “I realize that you could be testing board for more advanced forms of Seraph. So, while you won’t die, you will be injected with many different, wonderful serums.” She turns back to the monitor humming discordantly.
I shift, stifling a groan as algid, unyielding metal digs into my sore leg. My stun gun! As I analyse my condition for damage, I ponder over the merits of electrocuting with a stunner. My body seems to have regained enough blood to move. When she stalks over the next time I jab my gun into her abdomen, watching as she keels over and falls to the ground.
Manacles at my wrist and ankles restrict my movement. I ease a blade from my thigh sheath into my hand, before cleaving the shackles on my legs. I decide to leave my wrists incarcerated, not willing to risk losing a hand. Launching myself at the lock door I collapse on the other side as the hinges give way. Dragging Lilith’s limp body, I levelled my gun at her head, ready to fire. And stop.
I turn away. I hadn’t realized the world isn’t painted black or white, right or wrong, true or false. There are all these greys in between that sometimes decide the world’s fate. I had thought a person is either all good or all bad, either the knight in shining armour or the dragon to be defeated. Blinded by the colours of the world, I did not see the uncertainties, the might-have-beens and the turns of serendipity.
In that moment I see Lilith as she is; the fiery saviour she views herself as, the emotionless scientist I saw her as, the admirable leader that the people in SAPIEN see in her, the callous yet dedicated person that her search for the cure brings out in her. Maybe I’ve always been able see the grey. I just never noticed.