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 ends, 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. To be free from the laws of physics and the bonds of 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 perfectly. The energy in the lab was electrifying. All sleep stopped for me after that. Stopped for all of us, actually. I mean, 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 there was never the option to stop. Not for me, not for Sr. Stoker, not for anyone.
The construction was simple, and we were told the government was giving us all our funding. I knew Stoker was in close contact with the DSA, and he had some high friends in high places. I didn't question anything. Dr. Stoker had never let any of us down. I had no reason to question, or so I thought back then. 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. It was a "ratty-old thing that no one would miss", or so Dr. Stoker said. 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. It was a weird, reddish energy, a form of quantum energy in a very basic and controlled state. All around the chair it sparked and crackled like red lightning; then the chair fell apart like ashes. Several clumped pieces kind of hung in the air before they all seemed to shrink away into nothingness. Moments after every last piece had disappeared completely, it reappeared with the same energy crackling and snapping around it on the sister platform. 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. It was our first real success, and let me tell you, we celebrated all through the night.
Experiments continued the very next day, and the day after, and for the next several weeks all we did was test.
It seemed like Dr. Stoker never left that room. No one ever took note of it if he did. Dr. Stoker did everything next to that machine. All of his work, eating, drinking. Hell, no one could even tell if he ever took the time for a bathroom break. He just kept testing. I just assumed it was determination at its best. That determination that carried him through all those tests.
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. Then we would try different objects of varying sizes and densities. They all worked. We tried multiple items at once, moving objects, objects of different energy levels, 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 in a sort of panic. It disappeared, but its squealing echoed in my ears, right until it reappeared. When it was put back together it just lay there, not breathing or moving. It was dead, and to all of us it was incredibly disheartening. All of us besides Dr. Stoker, at least. The professor showed a little discouragement, but I had a realization as I reviewed the program. I knew what happened. That was my chance to impress him, I drew up a formula fast, an equation that used the excess energy during the recombination process to jump start the rat’s heart back to life. To everyone else's astonishment, when we ran the second rat through my formula worked. The rat came out the other end as healthy and alive as when it had been back in its cage. 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. I had finally proven my worth to my mentor.
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 actively made sure to remind me of that every single minute, and it never ceased to fill me with a giddy excitement. But, as the days went on I saw a new look grow on his face. He made longing glances at the platform between tests. Back then, I mistook it as a longing, an impatient sort of stare that a child would give his or her presents on Halloween. Now, I equate that look to one that was much more predatory.
I don’t think I can describe to you the feeling when the Professor said he wanted to test it on himself.
My initial 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 and shock. 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. It was far too soon. I mean, the machine had only been operational for a little more than a month at the time. Of course, the other scientists felt it, too. They all thought the same as I did. The Professor was moving too fast, and several scientists tried to talk him out of it. The Professor wouldn’t hear any of it. I'd never seen Dr. Stoker get angry before that moment, but when he was told he should slow down he grew absolutely, unbelievably furious. He started yelling at those scientists, telling them that if they didn’t like it then they could leave. They didn’t, none of us wanted to miss out on this chance of a lifetime.
It helped when three other scientists volunteered as well, staking their full-support with Dr. Stoker. They believed in him so much they wanted to go through with him, and their support did ease some of the doubters. Those three, after much deliberation with Dr. Stoker and the concerned colleagues, managed to convince everyone to go along with one single test. The first human trials.
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. They were the bare-bones that the project was built upon, and he was the one who, supposedly, had discovered Dr. Stoker and groomed him to the place he was now. After him were Dr. Gina Thompson, and Dr. Sandra Weaver. They all seemed about as excited as the Professor was, and they were keen on joining him in this revolutionary voyage. I wasn’t as keen. Gina was, not exactly close to me, but I did enjoy her company. I tried to talk her out of it. She was always so kind to me, and so funny. I didn’t want her to be hurt, and I was more concerned for her than any of the others. She simply told me that this was her "Armstrong" moment. She kept talking about how she was going to make her family so proud. Every scientist dreams of being the first to test a new technology. Everyone wants that one, singular moment. So I understood, and I stopped my pushing. I wasn’t going to take this moment from her.
But God, I should have stopped her.
They all entered the platforms. The Professor was the only one who seemed normal. He had nerves of steel, and acted surprisingly calm for an undertaking as dangerous and unpredictable as that was. I didn’t question it at the time, I merely took his display of confidence as a false sign that all would go well. So, I sat at the controls, a little easier than before. Dr. Stoker had told me earlier, “You’re the only one I trust Daniel”. So I did it, for him, this one big thing.
I asked them if they were ready, and I received their responses.
They were unanimous, if not all confident.
I reached down to activate the teleporters, yet something stopped my hand. Call it a whim, call it forbearance, call it nerves, but something wouldn’t let me press that button. As I fought it for a few seconds all eyes turned to me. I could feel the Professor staring at me. Glaring at me. His eyes slowly started to bore through the back of my head, and I heard him yell.
He forced my hand, the shock of his surprisingly angry command shattered the lock on my frozen muscles. The red energy came like rain, and then the crackling came, and grew like thunder.
The teleporter carried Dr. Hopkins away first. He left without a sound, but I saw him through the energy as he left. His body was convulsing violently, more so than anything else we had sent through before. Dr. Weaver went next. She went screaming, and it forced me to close my eyes, not that it helped. My nerves had shattered by then, and I nearly vomited. After her, Gina quickly disappeared, much faster than the others. I could only listen as she vanished. She tried to say something as she left, I think, but it never amounted to anything but a murmur above the now roaring teleporters. I opened my eyes just in time to see Dr. Stoker go without a sound. His eyes simply closed, and he smiled. He was so pleased. 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. It was wrong, and we knew it. It was all wrong. The trials before all had come back within seconds of dis-assembly at the longest. It started to go on minutes. As we waited, I had a guilt about me. My stomach danced around inside of me, my heart in my throat. I swear my eyes didn't blink, not once. I couldn't let them take their gaze off those platforms
They weren’t reappearing. It was at that point when true panic started to set in, sometime about fifteen minutes after, with no activity on any of the pads. So I turned to the computer, and I searched through the programming. I looked for any clue as to where they went. Time went by. One minute more. 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 all out, but the formulas where altered ever so slightly, by Dr. Stoker.
That is when it started.
As I was trying to work 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. It was 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 even harder than before, like a bus. There was smoke hovering the first teleporter, but no Dr.Hopkins. Then came the red energy, but it wasn't accompanied by the same thunder-like booming we heard earlier. Instead, it came with an ear-splitting sound. A single, tortured scream. It built and intensified, the red lightning-like energy started spewing from the head of the machine in almost every direction with a blinding intensity. Then it came.
Dr. Hopkins’ body had come back, but at first we didn’t even realize it was him. His damn limbs were twisted and mangled in every direction. His body hunched over with his head bent sideways at an impossible angle. It was impossible because he was still, somehow, alive. Dr. Hopkins’ eyes were still alight, begging 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 tried to scream. It only came out as a gurgled cry of horror with blood drowning the sound inside his mouth. He collapsed off the platform, and blood started to pool where he lay.
The screams of the others in the room had started the moment Dr. Hopkins emerged, and had evolved into a horrific roar. We had maybe seconds before the second platform started sparking. Dr. Weaver was coming back, but we’d all soon wished she hadn’t. I know I do.
She re-materialized differently than Dr. Hopkins. Her eyes materialized first, hovering without a body in midair, bloodshot and seemingly lifeless. We watched as her entire skeleton was put together. It stood there, unmoving, with only the eyes twitching inside the skull. As her muscles started to form, her jaw seemed to fall ajar. It wasn't until her lungs reformed when we realized that she was screaming and crying. Her hands slowly reached up to her face as her skin formed. It wasn't a pretty sight. She was bloody, her skin torn to ribbons in most places, her clothes completely gone. Immediately after she was complete, her screaming turned to a low whimper, and she collapsed with a sickening "squish" to her knees. She lowered her hands to reveal her face was just as mutilated as the rest of her. It was absolutely horrible, with lines cut crisscrossing across her forehead and cheeks. It seemed, from her right side, that her jaw was only hanging on by threads. 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. There was a rage there that had frozen me again. I couldn't look away, not even a little. My body was rigid. Only my heart fought against me, like it trying to escape, beating the inside of my chest like a drum. My mind told me to run, but my body couldn't heed it.
Dr. Weaver's whimpers slowly, but steadily changed. They grew until she was roaring like a wild animal. I still couldn't move when she lunged at me. I couldn’t even bring my hands up to protect myself. I couldn't even scream. In an instant, it seemed, she was upon me.
“You!” she yelled, her fingernails digging into my arms. “You knew! You were with him! I’ll kill you for it! End it now! How could you? Shut it down! shut it down! Kill you!”
Even through the ferocity of her assault, I could hear it in her voice. I saw the change in her eyes. She was begging me, pleading me, but I couldn’t respond. When she realized that, any sorrow in her eyes faded.
“MOVE!” She pushed me over, with surprising strength, onto the cement floor in front of the teleporters. I broke my arm from the fall, and I couldn’t even yell in pain. I was still too shocked to even realize it. She took the chair I was sitting in, picked it up, and smashed the computers with it. 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 our lab's security guards arrived. They unloaded no fewer than seven rounds into Dr. Weaver, and I was shocked it took that few the way she was going. 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, not one bit.
In the commotion, no one had even noticed that the third teleporter had sparked and had delivered its final gift oh so silently. I saw her before I ever got to my feet. It was Gina just sitting on the teleporter platform. She seemed calm, with her legs crossed, leaning forward as she rocked, twiddling with her thumbs and humming a song. No one dared to even breathe but we listened. I asked around later, but nobody knew the song she hummed. All we could agree on was that it was a singularly depressing tune.
She stared down at her hands, at least I think she did. Her hair, coated in grime and dried blood, covered her face. No one moved. I don’t think anyone could, after the two horrors they’d just witnessed I think they were well in the same shock I was. Not even the security guards uttered a word. After a while my breath came, heavy and forceful, my body shaking. The shock was starting to kick in, and that was when she started to 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, but it wasn’t Gina’s voice. It wasn't the one I knew. “Was it worth it? Worth it all? I think it was.”
I didn’t answer her. I couldn’t even stand up. But she seemed not to care. She lowered her head and just started humming again, getting a tune in her head before she started to sing the lyrics out loud, just loud enough so that the both of us could hear.
“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.
They were different from the two before. There was no begging expression in them, no sorrow or pain. No, her eyes were red, and covered in dried, crusty blood. Some leaked out and streaked down her face like tears. There was no way she could see a thing, but I still felt like she was looking right at me. I felt like she could see me and that she was watching me. She said nothing more, but she kept smiling through it all.
Her gaze turned away from me, and she hunched her head back down, humming again. It took a few moments before I realized that I could feel my arms and legs again. I could move them, too. I slowly got to my feet, and I went to see what was left of the computer. I hobbled over, not taking my eyes off of Gina for more than a second, but she stayed perfectly still. To my amazement, one of the screens was still alive. I had to see about Professor Stoker. I held on to that 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, and there was still nothing. Not a spark, not a crackle, not a pop. He wasn’t there, but the computer told me he was. I wanted to wait, I wanted to make sure he was ok, but 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 couldn't take 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. that's how I saw it back then. I thought I’d miss him. I truly meant it. As of late, looking back upon it all, my feelings have changed drastically for the late Dr. Stoker. Eventually, everything started to piece together.
The quarantine team came in and the machines were scrapped. The agency that Stoker had gotten his funding from, that mysterious DSA (which I, and no one, else, had ever heard of before), came in and confiscated everything. All research, logs, security footage, remains, and, of course, the devices themselves went with them. That was what I have been told every time I've asked. Dr. Thompson, Gina, passed away minutes after I was removed. They said that she just stopped, no more singing or humming. She just went silent, still in that hunched position with a smile on her face. They say she died from dehydration and malnutrition. Whatever she went through had exhausted her and her body to death. It’s been three weeks and I still miss her dearly. Dr. Gina Thompson was one of the most brilliant people I'd ever had the fortune to know.
The part I actually don't like to dwell upon too much after that ordeal, was actually one of the more simple observations that had been made. 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. Now, that isn't shocking in itself, until you take the time to realize how long it takes a scar to form. Scars take a considerably long time to heal the way the one's on her hands supposedly did. The implications of this, and everything else I saw from the state of the other two, well I quite frankly don’t even want to think about it. I don’t know where they went, but the evidence hints at them being stranded there for an extended period of time that is impossible. They were gone here for less than an hour, but I'm convinced they made a short detour on the way, and wherever they went had to have been unimaginable. It still seems so implausible, and I truly hope it was. I really hope those weren't scars on her hands, and I really hope they didn't suffer because of me.
They were my friends.
Speaking of friends, Dr. Stoker never came back. Never had a chance anyways with the machine out of commission. Still, I couldn’t help shake the feeling that 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.
However, upon further investigation I found 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. It was during all of this that I truly realized I knew almost nothing about this man. My interactions with him over ten years, and the man never once mentioned anything about his family. It was always about science, and those teleporters.
So I decided to check around. Using my old hacking skills, and a friend or two, I discovered several shocking truths.
The first of these 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, but Stoker made us continue anyways. The DSA had been notified of our intent to go forward, but they had arrived too late to stop the experiments. Didn't stop them from taking everything, though.
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 that's all I know for sure.
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 ranging from tame ones that suggested it was simply this DSA trying to cover for their mistake to the most insane ones asking 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 glaringly obvious truth before me?
Then, I remembered something Gina had said, something she had said in that song.
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.
“Did you steal a copy of the security footage?”
His answer was, no surprise to me, yes. So we watched the footage.
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. We fast-forwarded through it, but still just the quick sight of Dr. Hopkins my body broke into a cold sweat, and my stomach knotted up inside me. I struggled to watch the whole thing. I struggled through it, battling a minor form of PTSD, but I knew what I needed. 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. So 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, and honestly this was worse than anything I could have imagined. It made me recall two things said. One by Gina, and the other by Dr. Stoker. He had spoken it 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…
Credited to Ryan Brennaman