John Duncan didn’t wash his hands. He slid off his white powdered latex gloves, size large, with a satisfying snap. Walking through the staff cleanup room, he stepped on the lever of the stainless steel trashcan with the clean white liner, and dropped the gloves in casually, without a thought. The can clanged loudly, startling him as he slid the loose white lab coat from his shoulders. The fluorescent lights above him hummed, buzzed quietly as they stared down mutely at him folding the coat neatly over his arm and dropping it with a dull thump into the metal-and-canvas hamper. The night crew would have removed the hamper of coats by morning, replacing them with fresh ones and having the old ones trucked off to be cleaned industrially.
He kept, or tried to keep his mind relatively blank as he walked to the door in his comfortable brown suede shoes. He was very satisfied with those suede shoes. He had paid quite a bit for them, as well he might have. One thought slipped through his practiced mental silence as he pressed the warmly glowing reddish elevator button for the first floor, and the car began to slide downward: If not for the powdered with gloves, the gleaming stainless steel trashcan, the regularly washed lab coats, and the staff that washed them, where would all that blood go?
He brushed the foolish thought from his mind with a practiced ease, like a man brushing so many white crumbs from a charcoal business suit. The elevator ride always made it difficult to keep the stoic mental quiet so vital to this man’s sanity. In the elevator, so silent, or so full of the mechanized sounds of man’s domination of his universe that were as good as silence, it was rather impossible not to think, not to reflect on oneself. The stark white walls with their metal handrails, the ugly industrial carpeting — gray and rough, and the flimsy suspended ceiling gave the mind no distraction, forced it into the introspection it dreaded.
The electronic chime rang as the door slid open. Sound. Motion. Light. As he stepped into the lobby, his mind came with him — back into reality. The color, the lifelike plastic greenery and people, the noise — all a welcome reprieve for the mind. A good thing it was, surely, that the elevator ride was relatively short.
He walked to the push-open floating hinge glass doors of the building, bracing himself. The mental assaults did not seem to end today, or any day for that matter. He saw the red stains as he walked out the door and knew he was in for a particularly vicious attack. He could hear the shouts, knew they had spotted him. There was nothing he could do any more but keep walking, not pay attention. A red, viscous substance splashed on him. Blood? He did not want to know.
He heard more shouts, saw the large, posterboard-and-magic-marker signs. He saw and heard words, tried not to think of the meanings behind them — Killers… Torture… Murder… Vivisection. He didn’t do any of those things inside of the stark, cold, metallic lab on the fifth floor of the building behind him. What he did was science, plain and simple. The improvement of the state of humanity.
Past the protesters now, he continued to walk toward his car. As he walked, the gravel at the edge of the parking lot crunching softly, he attempted to wipe some of the blood from his clothes and hands — for it was blood, he could tell by the smell. If there was one thing this man was acquainted with, it was the smell of blood. He sighed quietly with exasperation as it became clear that no amount of rubbing would remove all the blood from his hands or clothing. The gloves, the coats, the efforts of the cleaning crew — all a waste, he thought, for there he stood, next to his forest green BMW roadster in the dusty parking lot, indelibly stained with blood.
He shrugged, at a loss, or pretending to himself to be so, as to the meaning of this strange reflection that had just drifted through his mind. That was his all-purpose gesture, his simple, pretendingly unknowing shrug, used whenever the probing of his mind brought him dangerously close to a realization of some sort. He quickly jumped into his car, eager to turn the radio on, his mind again demanding that he supply it with a distraction. The late afternoon sun shone on the hood of the roadster and his body sunk comfortably into his plush leather seats as he roared out of the lot, content.
He drove down the two-lane highway, the engine purring happily as he accelerated to eighty-five miles per hour. He put the top down, set the car to cruise control, and leaned back, relaxed, as his favorite song came on the radio. The first sensation that made him aware that something was out of the ordinary was the darkening of his vision and his involuntary shiver as the semicircular shadow passed over his speeding car.
He looked up, startled, and saw the strobing lights, heard — or rather felt — the deep, pulsating vibrations from above, drowning out the Beatles’ "Across the Universe". Bidden by some invisible force, he began to rise upwards toward what, although all the reasoning faculties of his mind cried out against it, appeared to be a spacecraft of some sort. His small car continued along without him, still travelling at exactly eighty-five miles per hour. Plowing into an embankment lined with trees, it caught fire. The engine burned with a red-orange flame, the fuel line following, and the gas tank exploding with the white light of a small supernova.
Crying out at this outrage involuntarily, Duncan quickly reminded himself that he had more pressing concerns at the moment. His upward speed slowed as he entered the ship itself, a set of doors clanged resoundingly below him, and he crashed to the floor in a heap. Before he got a chance to take much stock of his surroundings — all he noticed was that it was dark, metallic, and crisply cold here — they slowly faded to black as he passed into unconsciousness.
As he awoke, he was first aware, and acutely so, of a blinding white light shining directly into his eyes. As he attempted to close his eyes against the bright light and found he could not do so, he began to notice other uncomfortable sensations all over his body. An uncomfortable constriction was present on his wrists and ankles, presumably from the same source preventing him from moving his extremities in any way. His back was freezing cold, pressed tightly against a smooth, metallic surface, in all likelihood, he thought, a table of some sort. He was naked, with objects or some sort, wires or tubes or some such contrivances attached to him in places all over his body. He had, in some deep recess of his mind, some notion, some germ of an idea of just what was happening to him, but he pushed it back, not prepared to confront his worst nightmare just yet, hoping against hope that it was simply not so.
He felt, rather than saw or heard, for he could not do so, the presence of a form approaching to his left. Human, animal, mechanical, or something different, he did not know, for all he could tell was that there was indeed something there. He heard a whirring, a soft grinding, above him, and thought that he sensed movement in that direction, though he could not be sure, for the unnatural white light above still rendered his eyesight useless. He felt a large object pressing down upon his stomach uncomfortably, and almost immediately opened his mouth to scream at the worst pain he had ever experienced, and found it stuffed back down his throat.
The pain moved across his stomach from left to right, and he imagined what must be happening to him, and a mental picture appeared, so vivid that he felt he would surely be sick to his stomach. The pain went on and on — he knew not how long it was, but felt sure that it would never end. New, horrible sensations he had never felt coursed through him, each one in a new part of his body. For the duration, he could not see anything but the blinding white light, but mentally he saw vividly, saw himself strapped to a surgical stainless steel table in a cold room, a bright light shining on him, a strange machine performing the surgical procedures he knew only too well.
After he had mentally watched himself dissected for what could have been days, hours, or minutes, relief came instantaneously. He suddenly ceased to be aware of the pain, the light, the pressure on his limbs. He sat up, stared around at the empty room he had been lying on the floor of, and looked down at his body, which was completely whole, undamaged, and not in any pain. He didn’t know what had happened, but quaked to imagine just what might be in store for him next.
A blinding light flashed, and he closed his eyes against it, for he could do so now. He felt himself travel, by unknown means, what seemed to be a great distance indeed. He opened his eyes, bracing himself for whatever torture chamber might appear next, and saw the matte white painted inner door of an elevator sliding smoothly open. He walked out into the lobby, wondering just where such strange thoughts could be coming from.