Blue. A bright blue, so intense it almost hurt to look at. Gold, too - a deep, rich yellow-golden colour suffusing the edges of my vision. An aching sensation at the back of my neck and a tightness around my wrist. I was oddly content, my mind comfortably blank. Quite where I was or what I was doing were unimportant - or, to be more accurate, the questions simply did not occur to me. I wasn't thinking or worrying. I simply was.
That was when the voice started crackling in my ear. At first it was just noise, empty sounds, an irritating transgression of the preceding silence. I was in the process of tuning it out when, in a burst of clarity, the noises took on meaning:
"...God's sake, Zeta, respond."
I made a sound. I think it was supposed to be words, but my tongue felt numb and clumsy and what came out was a sort of groan.
"You're alive. What happened to your convoy? We lost contact more than twelve hours ago."
Convoy. A group of people? More than that. Something to do with vehicles.
Hours. Units of time. Hmm, there was an interesting one. Difficult to pin down. The continuation of existence? The direction of increasing entropy? In which direction - a fourth dimension? What was entropy? And as for twelve... three lots of four. Or four was a third of twelve... just how many numbers were there?
"Zeta, come back to me. You're not talking. I need you to answer my questions."
"Mmph." It was a definite improvement over my last effort. "Wuh-what questions?"
The voice, I realized was coming from my left ear. Left, as opposed to right. But if I turned around, then it would be on my right, and not my left. No, that was wrong my ear would turn with me. But if I were to pull my ear off and turn round, it would stay to my left. What an oddly arbitrary system.
"I need a sitrep. We haven't heard anything from your squad in half a day. Is the shipment safe?"
Shipment. Ship. I had a vision of an object, a gleaming white teardrop shape. It was gigantic compared to me, but paled into insignificance compared to the thing it was sitting atop - the ocean. So, from the perspective of the ocean, it wasn't gigantic at all. Another meaninglessly arbitrary label.
"Zeta, answer me."
The ocean was made of water. So was most of me. Did I have tiny ships inside me? Tiny relative to me, of course. An electron would consider them gigantic.
"For the love of Christ, Zeta, talk to me."
"Does an electron know what a ship is?"
"Focus. Focus on the convoy. Do you remember anything?" Beneath the voice's calm, commanding exterior, I could sense a mixture of desperation and anticipation, elements it wasn't quite able to hide.
"Do you remember?"
Remember. Memory. Now there was a strange concept. Sensory information, stored as patterns of neurons in the brain, to be retrieved at will. Almost like time travel, transporting yourself back to a previous point of your life - or at least, somewhere similar. The human brain lacks the storage capacity to store every detail so it remembers the important parts, filling in the blanks whenever the memory is called back up. Except... something about memory... my memory... it was important, vitally important, a thought lurking just below perception, slipping away as I tried to pull it up.
The voice was still buzzing in my ear, but it was losing power, reverting back to meaningless babble, disrupting my thoughts with empty white noise. I stretched my hand up to my ear and pulled. Slipped, tried again - harder this time, yanking downwards - and the most deliciously powerful sensation burst forth, enough to send my body into spasm, a sharp breath escaping my lips, blanking out my thoughts in an ecstasy of glorious emotion.
"He hasn't failed yet -"
"Less than five minutes after being decanted and he's ripped his own ear off. Why? Because he was curious as to what would happen. I told you, giving them knowledge was a bad idea. All they do is think themselves to death."
"If we want them to tell us the memory, they need knowledge. And don't say we can just teach them English. Words alone aren't enough, they need context, meaning."
On a screen in front of the scientists, two workers approached test subject Zeta-IV, now giggling as he drew circles in the air above him with his detached ear. One of them knelt down beside him and inserted a syringe into his arm. His movements slowed until, finally, he was lying still, his eyes staring blankly into the sky.
Two hundred feet below the wheatfield, in a dimly-lit room filled with the background hum of machinery, a red light blinked to green, amniotic fluid drained away and test subject Alpha-V took his first shuddering breath.