The iron grey sky above him had not changed in tone or texture for three days. It provided him no hint of rolling clouds or that distant orb that had once heated the ground upon which he stood. Before setting off over the hillside, he kicked vacantly at the cold stony ground and wondered if the sky would change before he made it back to the forward engineering unit. That is, if it ever changed. Sighing through his thin lips, he trundled along, heavy in his gear and heavy in his heart under the hermetic sky. Vacant thoughts and minor voices roiled around his inner ears as he walked along, the loudest of which was the one that he did not want to hear. It bit at his mind, day in and day out, taking chunks away to be sequestered there with those other persistent thoughts. He imagined that this gnawing consumption of his brain had some primeval origins, perhaps something to protect him, some kind of force other than logic and amplifiers. But then, just as he would be considering the antithesis of logic, those exact amplifiers and condensers would whirr to life and re-orient his mind. A fail-safe, they called it.
See the man wonder. See the wonder lost among stones of progress. Frayed and fragile husks left tearing themselves to pieces longing for the lustful wonderment of a child. See the man look for the child. See the child fleeing as a shadow from the sun. The ever-creep of light.
Stopping before the great white wall of the Unit, he chewed his bottom lip for a moment before passing through the brilliantly silver sequence of the sensor environment gates. The amplifiers pressed deeply into the creases of his meat-brain rang out in a cadence that he thought resembled some kind of electric aria, and sounded a final metallic chord to signal his entry. Another sigh rolled from between his dry lips, as his gaze wandered among the clumps of men and women, willing transplants each, working steadily and with dogged focus on whatever mundane task the Unit required of them at the time. To his immediate left, three statuesque men were guiding the replacement of the overhead sensor gates with the fluid ease of perfection and an easy chatter amongst them, brilliantly white teeth glittering occasionally through taut young mouths that sat squarely in symmetrical faces.
Feel the bile rise. Feel a curling blue flame licking at the base of the spine, stealing that hot wet breath from between broken teeth. Smell the noise rattle in your brain, fully formed cruelties singed and cooking about the corners of the mouth. Ready at an instance to flow raging as a river of tar might devour weeds and the ephemera of men.
He continued his trundle down the main thoroughfare, glancing up occasionally to note that fictional sky above them all. For a fleeting moment, he considered that the others were unaware of its fictitious nature. More likely that they simply did not care. A flurry of motion to his right re-oriented his attention towards the supply station. A few others had rushed the console in anticipation of a new delivery. The quick dispatch screen showed a pile of silver-white, nearly translucent pills sitting next to a clear vial containing a multitude more. The label on the vial read “Polymer 100.” A man chortled in glee as the first of the vials materialized on the console only to be snatched up in quick succession by the nearby settlers. Without so much as a passing thought, they shoveled the pills into gaping mouths at a speed that made him reel. They had not even had time to read the small, nearly unintelligible, description that flashed briefly alongside the image of the vial on the dispatch screen. He blinked rapidly trying to follow and could only make out a few clips and phrases. “Full immersion” followed by “total freedom” and “clinical trial.” He stared at those who we finally dispersing after their gluttonous display, faces all as blank as eggs.
Taste the nausea. Smell the sour at the back of the tongue. Feel the deep fear and anxiety rise as water in a deluge. The flood in the brain that sprang from the gut. The feedback loop of dirty water in dirty crevasse, sinking down deeply to flow back again. Seething and filled with a terror that eats, a terror that burns under muscle tissue, a terror that moves. Feel the breathing coming ragged, throat scratching, eyes seared. Clenched teeth no longer rattle in that skull. That skull riven in two.