He couldn't move. His arms, legs, abdomen and neck were tied to what seemed to be a large, metallic chair. The air was rank and heavy, his lungs were struggling to breath. His eyes wide shut, hoping that this is some weird nightmare, he dared not witness the horrifying reality that surrounded him. Fear and desperation overtook his mind and, realising that he's not dreaming, he opened his eyes and scanned his surroundings. The man's stomach churned. The sense of dread he felt at that moment could drive any lesser man to insanity but he managed, barely, to keep his wits about him.
His name was Christopher Curwen, a 32 year old Psychology professor from Brussels, Belgium. Captivated by the way people think since he first discovered Russian literature, he pursued his dream to become a psychologist until he got the offer of being a lecturer in a renowned university. He disliked teaching, but the pay was pretty good, so he stuck with it.
Eyes wide shut again. His mind was terribly clouded, struggling to remember who he is and how did he get in this unimaginable place. "Think, think, damn you! Focus!" he thought to himself. Being so close to loss of sanity, Christopher kept his mind focused on recalling what brought him in this terrible situation.
It was a cold night of November. Julie, Christopher's wife, asked him to go to the store and buy candy and sweets, for it was the night before Halloween. Having been a big fan of that holiday in his childhood, her husband set for the supermarket to buy some treats for the kids sure to trick or treat them tomorrow. The lecturer's last memory was looking at some chocolate bars when his body just went numb and he fainted. And it was so strange, because the man could feel himself fainting, he felt how he slipped away
Far from that little supermarket down the street where he lived, Christopher was in some strange, part organic, part mechanical room. The windowless walls were made of flesh and metal, advanced mainframes and computers were mixed in with pulsing, organic mass. Worse thing was, he wasn't alone in that large, yet claustrophobic room. They had humanoid form, and yet they were so different. Their skin and flesh was transparent, like a jellyfish's. They had no bones, except for a thin spine on their backs. The organs and the few, white blood vessels could be easily seen through their layer of nigh-invisible skin. But the most striking part of their body was their brains, their immense brains towering above the fragile-looking body, pink, glowing faintly and connected to every other organ with a series of tiny neural vessels. Their face (if it could be called like that) had little, distanced eyes, almost like dots, and a pale, crab-like mouth, with teeth on their thin, wide lips. They were cast into a bulky, long and metalic electronic chair, just like Christopher's, although in full control of the machines, transporting themselves around, connecting their bodies to mainframes via small, organic wires growing out of their bellies, digesting the received data and moving on to next terminal.
The room hosted four of them, but only three seemed to work. The other was facing the man, staring at him in a curious manner. Chris was deathly frightened of the alien-looking creature, trying to avoid its gaze by focusing on the other horrors surrounding him. Around the walls, floor and ceiling, millions of minuscule cables and veins were scattered, grotesque organ-like objects were pulsing in computers and the other devices, and the chair-locked creatures were moving eratically from monitor to monitor, connecting to each with cables ejected from the chair. The staring one moved closer to him, much to the captured professor's terror. A small orifice opened from the creature's chair, revealing a white and brown ringed worm making its way out of that hole, slowly crawling on the floor towards the human. It climbed onto Christopher's body, eventually reaching his neck. A sudden electric jolt felt from the back of his neck made him open his mouth wide and paralyzed it, allowing the worm to crawl inside it. It didn't stop. It made its way up, inside the lecturer's head, in the inside of his nose, and then even upper. He eventually felt the worm burying into his brain, a sensation that did not cause the man any pain, yet it felt so horrible and wrong. A strange feeling overtook his body, as the worm dissolved into a cold, thin fluid. After a rush of unusual, intense euphoria, Christopher fainted again.
And he dreamt. He dreamt a dream about unimaginable shapes, unknown colours, dark lights and bright shadows, infinite darkness and solid light, undescribable horrors and empyrean wonders. Time, space and reality were distorted as the dream changed the structure of his brain. Concepts forever unknown to mankind showed themselves to him, twisting and bending his simple human imagination to the extreme, giving Chris the power to grasp these otherwordly things.
He woke up. As soon as the man woke up, happiness and euphoria flooded his vastly expanded mind. While aware of the current situation, the man wasn't worried, even though that felt wrong. Something seemed to block that feeling, leaving him dizzy with pleasure and bliss. Still in the same room, still being stared at by the overly curious creature. He couldn't do much else than stare back, until the alien-looking entity moved its mouth. No sound came out of those crab-like lips, instead, a continous barrage of thoughts, of concepts that made no sense to him, and yet felt connected to eachother, assaulted Christopher's brain, as in some sort of mental communication. The alien being seemed to take notice of the human's reaction to its peculiar way of conversation and transported itself to a biomechanic terminal, where the entity shot several of its veins into a socket next to the computer's monitor. Nothing seemed to happen. It pulled its veins back and returned to its initial position. The poor man tried to make sense out of all this, but his mind was numbed by that bizarre sense of satisfaction, making thinking of anything more complex than a square a struggle. How he wished he could block that feeling of happiness from his brain! It was maddening, having his thoughts overtaken by worthless ecstasy.
To make things worse, his mind was bombarded by another train of alien thoughts, although not from the creature standing in front of him, but from one of its colleagues, who just transported itself in the room. It was so terribly strange, being able to pinpoint where do these thoughts came from. But stranger was the fact that the thoughts actually made some sort of sense. The aliens sent thoughts to eachother, and those thoughts were of concepts of the things they tried to say. His understanding of this uncanny form of communication could only be attributed to the peculiar, parasitic worm nested in his brain. Judging from what the aliens "said", the formation of some sort of key was delayed. The other alien left the room, leaving Christopher with the other interlocutor in front of him, staring continously.
"I just want to go back home, please, don't hurt me." Chris tried to say. But instead of talking with his voice, he projected, somehow, the idea and the concepts of that sentence in the brain of that alien organism. He could feel a communication channel between the two of them, a thought relay. The creature seemed very surprised to hear that. Almost hurriedly, the being guided one of its veins into Christopher's half-mechanic half-organic seat, burying itself into one of the chair's jacks. That sent a jolt of electricity up the man's spine and, while it did hurt quite a bit, it also removed the maddening euphoria clouding his brain, allowing him to think freely.
"Do you understand me?" The alien comunicated, pouring a stream of thoughts into Christopher's mind.
"Yes!" Chris replied. He expected to be asked another question, but the alien stood still and silent. Trying his luck, the man asked:
"Where am I?"
"The Testership. Currently floating in space. Measured in your standard distance measuring unit, 3000 km, away from Earth."
The thought of being 3000 km away from his planet terrified the already scared lecturer, making him shudder, as much as the metallic hinges allowed him to.
"Why was I brought here?"
The creature looked at the little professor as if his question made no sense.
"To be tested."
"Answering that would require explaining." The creature made a pause. "I will explain. Your key has been delayed, so there is enough time to describe the seeking process, if I am listened to."
Hesitating, Christopher finally said, "I will listen."
"I will begin. I am part of a grand species which call ourselves Seekers. Our purpose in this life is to reach absolute knowledge, to unlock every mystery of the universe. Omniscience. Your race, the most intelligent on this planet, has manifested similar wishes, but your methods are on an exponentially smaller scale. Knowledge, for humans, is merely a collection of truths, for Us, bearers of far greater intelligence, a whole dimension that we can reach and harvest truths from. As we are merely physical beings, we cannot enter that realm. The closest we can get is the Way, an infinite Labyrinth in which that dimension leaks wisdom. Our task is to travel the Labyrinth, harvest brilliance and store it into the Universal Mind, a collective databank which every Seeker can access. Once Omniscience is achieved, our species can ascend into a higher plane of existence, abandoning this puny physical form. As to what are you tested for, it will be verified whether your species is fit to ascend to being a Seeker. You have been chosen, as a random, average individual of your species, to be tried. Should the test be positive, the Mother will transport itself here and absorb and, afterwards, alter the human inhabitants of this planet." And it stopped.
All this... all this was too much for a thirty-two year old lecturer to comprehend. After a period of intense brainstorming, he came up with this single question:
"And if I do not pass the test?"
"Your race will be obliterated, since you would have no part to play in our grand plan. We will send drones into your planet’s atmosphere and raise the quantity of oxygen. Nothing would survive." The answer came fast, like an electric jolt, leaving the poor man in absolute despair. If he has been terrified since he woke up in this outlandish place, now, knowing that the extinction, in one way or another, of his whole race was at stake, shattered his wits, a sense of impending doom overtaking his whole body. All his friends, family, pupils, every person met and every person he didn’t met were about to be destroyed or turned into slaves.
“It might not happen. You show signs of above-average intelligence, and your brain accepted the neural worm with relative ease. Your key will be ready soon and we shall find out the tr-” The alien stopped. One of his coleagues entered the room and communicated with him. Christopher could only understand parts of the dialogue, since those thoughts weren’t directed to him. The key was ready, that’s what he understood, and that information horrified the professor. Both creatures turned to him. His interlocutor announced:
“It is time.” And he shot one of his chair’s wires into the man’s own. He instantly felt dizzy and numb, and the wire retracted. His chair moved by itself out of the main room, taking him into another, fully organic one, as if it was inside some sort of creature. A small chamber, with red, meaty walls and no lights. As the door behind him closed, he felt those walls surrounding him, growing, eventually completely covering Christopher’s body. Even though he was anesthetized, he felt is hand being cut by what seemed to be a million little teeth. Replacing his hand was a metallic feeling object thrusted deeply inside the remains of his arm, leaving a bit outside. The key welded itself into his hand and after it connected to the brain, he could feel as the strange object searched all the contents of his mind. Chris fainted.
“I’m sorry, ma’am, we still haven’t found any trace of him. No witnesses, no clues, nothing. Except for some crazy talk” the officer said.
“What do you mean by crazy talk?”
“Ehh... a nutjob told us that he saw your husband vanish out of thin air. Disappear. It was probably some junkie trying to screw with us. He certainly looked the part, but you shouldn’t let this trouble your mind. In fact, you should go get some sleep. Being up all night searching for Christopher and all. Just leave it to us and get some rest. Good day.” And the officer left.
Sleep, yeah, that’d be nice, she felt soo tired. But the thought of her husband being in danger wouldn’t let Camellia Curwen rest. Christopher had got to be somewhere. It’s just that she didn’t know where to look. Up? She looked up, for some funny reason. Blue sky stretching out for miles, its center decorated with one bright burning dot. Something was peculiar, though. There was another dot, but black, growing bigger and bigger. And that was not the only strange thing. People all around them turned into streams of light and flew rapidly to the little black dot. She screamed her husband’s name as she was teleported to the Mother.
And Christopher was not there. No, he was in the Labyrinth, travelling at mind-numbing speeds between claustrophobic walls of flesh and biologic matter, hunting for cracks into the dimension of knowledge, ingesting the seeping wisdom and returning his findings to the Universal Mind. Forever. His body was changed after receiving the key, turning him into a Seeker. Driven by the electric chair, doomed to spend an eternity wandering an infinite labyrinth, slave to his new brethren’s thirst for brilliance. What his brethren didn’t know is that, unlike any other race they have met in this universe, the human brain does not adapt completely to the Key. On other species, if the Key is accepted, the brain is rewritten completely and emptied, the computerized chair acting as a secondary brain and performing all the tasks required for harvesting wisdom. It fails to do so on human brains, leaving it intact, allowing the human to think, see and feel. Some humans, because of partial incompatibilities with the key retain their mouth and their voice. And their screams echo through the hallways of the Labyrinth for eternity.