I'm dead. I remember thinking that. It seemed so obvious to me at the time. My eyes could see no light and my ears could hear nothing other than the unrelenting silence. I moved my hands around, grasping at every solid object,
but my skin felt nothing. I was numb. I was numb. I was. I. Who was I? In that moment and the moment before and the moment after, I could not remember me. The darkness had held me for so long that my name had wandered off into it. My chest raised and lowered as air entered and left my lungs. Breathing was such a burden in life. Every minute of everyday, breath in, breath out. It was so tiring. Although, after I died I missed it. My chest raised and lowered again. The air was stale and odorless, nothing like the air I remembered. In the darkness there was only the now. Yesterday never happened and tomorrow would never come. I was like a photograph, tossed away and forgotten. How I wish I really were a photograph, for photographs can be found. The darkness was full of lights. Not real light of course, that wouldn't make any sense, but lights in my mind. I dreamed, still awake and fully conscious, of the lights. Sometimes there was only darkness and other times, lights. It's hard to explain to someone who hasn't been dead. My chest raised and lowered again. Several times I thought I heard voices, but it was just silence echoing in my mind.
Then, it happened. A heavy pressure that I never even knew was there lifted off of my face. The light hit my eyes with such pain as to make me scream in agony.
My eyelids shut tight and my neck tensed as it tried to produce sound, but it was mute. It wasn't long before my lungs had emptied completely and I lay taking in short, fast breathes. My hands instinctively attempted to cover my eyes but were unable. For the first time, I noticed my wrists and ankles were being held down by something. Another pressure was removed from around my ears; I heard the loud piercing sound of footsteps. There was someone in the room with me. Was I in a room? What was happening? The thundering clicks of the shoes against the floor moved around me. My arms strained against the binds that held them away from my pulsing ears and burning eyes. Life was returned to me so suddenly that I felt death returning quickly. I screamed again but this time I heard it. The noise that poured from my mouth was not human. It more closely resembled the screech of a teapot. My ears were not prepared to meet the sound I made. A rush of pain boiled within me until I lost consciousness. For a while, I was in the black again, and I was happy.
"Wake up." The words pulled me from the familiar darkness and back into the light. Slowly my eyelids rose. The light was dimmer than before and easy on the eyes. "There you go. Slow now, no hurry." The voice didn't send me into fits of convulsive agony but instead soothed me. A metal lamp swung like a pendulum in front of my eyes. Brightness, then darkness, and back to brightness, like a strobe. As dim as it was, the lamp still blinded me from my surroundings. In the distance I could see nothing but darkness. I assumed it was cold where I was because I breathed out white clouds of warm air, but I couldn't feel anything. Dazed and confused I turned my head to the side and attempted to focus my eyes. A hazy outline of a man was all I could pull from the darkness. Soft ticking of some far off clock was the only indicator that time moved at all. Everything seemed so still. My mind felt foggy, as if it were once a page scribbled with writings but now littered only with faint eraser marks. "Are you alright?" The hazy outline said. The voice was deep, and strong. It was a he. I wonder if I am a he? "I need you to answer me. Are you all right? Can you see, hear?"
"Y-yes." I muster up only enough strength to say that one word. My throat is dry and itchy, either from disuse or my earlier screams. I try to ask where I am, but it's useless.
"Wonderful. Glad to have you back. You've been out for quite awhile. Do you remember your name?" I shake my head. "Excellent! This could not have worked better. I'm certain you have questions but unfortunately your throat will take time to heal. So, I'll do my best to answer any question you might have. Although, I can't tell you much. You've just come out of perceptual isolation. I covered your eyes with lead and your ears with headphones. I also removed all odors from this room and injected you with a numbing solution. You've been in this state for exactly one hundred days."
"I… I was dead." I could feel my dry throat burn with each hoarse word.
"No, no, no you are still alive, you were merely shut out from the world, much like a deep sleep. I've brought you back into it. I've awoken you." Who is he to say what life is. If colors blend into black, sounds fades into silence, and touch yields nothing am I alive? Isn't death the end of perception? So, if I perceived nothing, weren't I dead? For a life in an abyss is no life at all. He hasn't awoken me; he's resurrected me.
"Why?" A cough that I had been suppressing forced its way to the surface and ravaged my throat some more. My insides were still adjusting to life; they had become too accustomed to the stillness of death.
"Because I met you a long time ago. So long ago that, honestly, it feels like a dream. When I met you for the first time, it was raining you looked at me and recognized me for the first time and said 'thank you for waking me.' You see, I woke you because you thanked me for it. I guess you could say it was foretold." My eyes focused enough to make out the details of his face. His head was balding with patches of white hair. His skin resembled old leather, full of wrinkles and cracks. It was easy to see that he was old. Next to my bed he propped himself up with a cane. The lifetime that he had lived emanating from him like an aura. His wrinkles spoke of his pains and hardships while his hair contained the lessons learned from them. I locked eyes with him and saw the last flame of his lost youth fading.
"I don't understand."
"I figured you wouldn't, not at first. It doesn't matter though, in time you'll learn. The only direction is foreword." He turned from me slowly and took careful steps into the darkness.
"I know, I know, you don't understand. In time, I promise, you will." His voice bounced around, echoing and fading as if he was the darkness itself. "Let me tell you a story. A long time ago there was a land where magic was as real as the rising sun or the full moon. This world has forgotten it and erased it from the books meant to preserve it. Few wander these streets that believe it existed at all. But it did, oh it did. In this land lost to history, magic flourished. It was a beautiful time, where dreams happened in the waking hours and sleep was truly for rest. You might imagine that a place such as this was without legend, but you'd be wrong. There was one thing that eluded everyone, one thing that tore the world apart and plunged it into war. Immortality. Three nations rose into power, each with a different philosophy concerning magic itself. One nation believed that magic came from the earth, another believed that it was through the essence of life that magic derived, something we would call the soul. Then there was a small country of people who believed that it was in death that magic not only originated but also would be fully understood. Each nation focused on perfecting their form of magic so they could unlock the secret to eternal life. The separate countries had little interest in each other. There was a balance between them, an unspoken agreement that they would leave each other alone. That agreement didn't last.
"It was a rumor that started the war. A rumor that spread from house to house, town to town, nation to nation. The rumor was simple; two brothers had finally discovered the key to immortality. Well, as you know a rumor is hard to trace. With every telling it changed and morphed, slowly splintering away from the truth. After a few months each nation believed that these brothers lived in their own country. So, when searches of the towns and villages returned no trace of these brothers, paranoia and suspicion started to grow. Accusations were tossed back and forth and soon those accusations became arrows. The three nations devoured each other in a twenty yearlong war.
"At the end, when hope was lost and the land seemed beyond repair, a man rose up. He unified them into a single country and crowned himself king. He claimed to be one of the brothers, he promised to share his discovery with them. His name was Dorian, the immortal king." The old man returned from the darkness. He stared into the distance as he talked and his eyes shimmered with terror.
"Where was he from?"
"Ah, well. He said that he was from Garando, the land that pulled magic from the earth. When he was made king he created an order to perfect the form, he called it alchemy."
The story engrossed me for a while. A land of wonder, a war and eternal life; it was what all great stories are made of, but then upon my first attempt to sit up from my table on which I lay I discovered that my wrists and ankles were bound to it. I was quickly pulled back to reality.
"Why are you telling me this?"
"Because that time was not a fantasy. It was a reality. It was my reality." The old man turned his head towards me and locked eyes with me. "I lived during those times. I saw things that your generation can only imagine."
I thought for a moment of the lights in the darkness of my mind that I saw when I was dead. Suddenly I realized that they weren't lights but images, faded, blurry and distorted pictures. Were they my memories? Where had they gone? This man had captured me and chained me to a table. He stole my life, my memories and my very identity.
"Who am I?"
"Your name is Fate. You were one of those who fought against Dorian in those times of wonder." That name sounded wrong, out of place. It was as though he called a bridge a cat, it felt so plainly wrong that it could be called a blatant lie.
"I don't believe you. Who am I?"
"Your name is Fate. You are…"
"You're lying!" I pulled against my restraints with a sudden jolt. The old man did not bat an eye or react. "Who am I? What is this place? What do you want with me?"
"Calm down, Fate."
"That is not my name! Let me go!" I struggled for freedom.
"No, it's not." I calmed down. "Your old name is gone, along with your memories. Your stay in perceptual isolation has erased them. It was important that you remember nothing."
"Why? Why would you erase who I am?"
"So that you may become someone greater." From behind his back he revealed a knife as he approached my right arm.
"What are you doing?" The only sound I could hear at that moment was my own heartbeat pounding in my ears. The restraints caused me to feel slightly claustrophobic. There was something unusual about my heartbeat though. It wasn't the accelerated rhythm that bothered me, but the sound. It didn't sound right.
"I'm releasing you. Don't try to move too fast." His knife cut the leather that bound my wrists. I quickly rubbed the painful red marks left on my wrists. My back tightened as I tried to sit up but was unable. A heavy pressure on my chest, like an elephant, prevented me from lifting my torso. Another strap? I reached to undo it. A smooth metallic surface met my fingertips. Long stretches of wires wrapped around a metal plate that covered my chest.
"I think I need help. I can't undo this clamp by myself." Feeling every detail, I searched for a clip to unhook or a lock to unlock, but found nothing of the kind, not even the edge. Almost as though it wrapped all the way around me. I felt a bit of anxiety begin to build. "Seriously, help me out old man." Franticly I grabbed at anything I could. I pulled on some wires and jerked my body left and right. If it weren't for my feet still being held down I would have fallen to the ground for sure. "Get this off of me!"
"Fate, I need you to remain calm."
"What do you mean calm? How can I be calm? What is this?" I tore at the wires with my fingernails and tried to rip them out.
"Silence!" The whole room shook like the rolling of thunder, as if a pulse of energy had been carried through the air along with his voice. The hairs on my arms stood straight up and I felt the cold shiver of goose bumps travel across my skin. My cries stopped and in the silence that followed I heard my heart beat again.
"It's me, isn't it?" I focused in on the sound, the strange heartbeat that wasn't a heartbeat at all. It was a muffled click, like the sound a grandfather clock would make if you pressed your ear against it. I listened to it and positioned my hand over my heart, or the spot where my heart use to be. I felt nothing through the metal, nothing at all. "This is what I've become, a piece of machinery?"
"Not at all. What you've become is who you were meant to be."
"W-What is it?" My voice cracked and I could feel the heat of tears building behind my eyes.
"It's a time machine." He reached out and held my hand as he spoke. "You see, I met you a long time ago because you traveled back to my time. Now, here in this time I found you so that I may send you back. I had to erase your memories so you won't contaminate the past with your knowledge of the future. It's a circle, hard to find a beginning or end but it's all connected."
"I'm a… a time machine?"
"Yes, yes, I built it inside of you because there was really no other way. See, I found that the machine would only allow itself to travel. So, I had to make you the machine in order for it to allow you to go as well. It's built into your spin and is connected to all of you nerves, truly fascinating technology. I created it by thinking of the states of matter and time as fundamentally the same thing. You see, the past already happened, so like stone it is unmoving and unchangeable. The present is shifting, so like water it is never the same from one moment to the next. The future is impossible to predict, like air it is untouchable."
"That doesn't sound very scientific." My mind was still reeling from this revelation. All questions ceased. Nothing seemed important anymore. I was a monster. A fragment of what I use to be, whatever that was. I'm not even human anymore. What was, a few minutes ago, a fury of shouting questions in my mind was now only a tiny whisper and even that was fading into apathy.
"Well," he chuckled, "I am from a time of magic." He made his way to my feet and cut them free. I remained motionless. I stared at the lamp that swung above me and listened to the clicking. The old man became serious once more. "You have to understand though, this is a one way trip. The machine only works in one direction. Once I activate it, you'll be stuck in the past. That's the way it has to be."
"Why? I mean, why make me go?"
"Because he needs you?"
"Who?" I looked at his wrinkled face and saw the memories dance behind his eyes.
"What makes him so special that I deserve to have my body mutilated and past erased for him?"
"That, I'm afraid, I can't tell you. All I may say is that you must keep him alive." In the distance beyond the darkness I heard a cracking sound followed by a loud crash. The old man shook at the noise and closed his eyes for a moment. "And it appears we are out of time."
"What was that?" The darkness was still unmoving but it carried the sound of footsteps within it, and they were getting louder.
"I'm afraid our time is up. I wish I could explain more and give you some time to adjust but It must happen now. When you meet Leo tell him your name is Fate, tell him that you have come from the future to help him realize his destiny."
"This must happen. It must." The old man handed me an envelope that had been sealed with wax. "When Leo completes his mission open this and read it. Do exactly as it says without question or hesitation. Do you understand?"
The noise of footsteps came even closer and I could hear multiple people talking in hushed tones. Then the clamor stopped. Silence fell and I breathed heavy with fear. The old man remained motionless and quiet for a moment. He closed his eyes and turned his head from me. Suddenly a loud crash broke the quiet and the room exploded with chaos. All the lights turned on and people began screaming commands.
"Get on the ground!"
"Put your hands in the air!"
After the shock of blindness caused by the lights I began to make out my surroundings for the first time. I was in a classroom. To my left was a blackboard smeared with chalk and to my right a large auditorium type room scattered with desks. The men had broken down the door behind the desks and spread out into a semicircle around me and the old man. They all held guns pointed directly at the old mans head. The old man slowly reached his hand towards my chest.
"Stop Professor!" His hand froze inches away from me. A man entered through the doorway and weaved his way through the crowd of armed men. He was wearing a long dark coat and carried himself with an air of authority. Heavy steps, straight back and stiff arms, I could tell this man was not to be confronted. "This is it? This is your secret project? I have to admit I expected more."
"This is only the beginning, Alex!" The old man yelled. Then with a whisper he looked me straight in the eyes "In the center of your chest there is a switch. Flip it. I promise everything will be okay." The old man backed away with his hands in the air and leisurely turned his gaze toward the man in the coat.
"Only the beginning? This feels a lot like the end to me." I quickly began feeling around my chest looking for the switch. "You're outnumbered, outmatched and without hope of escape." I pushed my fingers through the bundle of wires in the center of my chest and underneath I felt a small metal toggle switch.
"Without hope of escape? After all this you still think I'm going to run."
"No." The man said as he revealed a gun from inside his coat. "I think your going to finally die." The man fired and I flipped the switch at the same time.
The old professor fell against the operating table breathing fast and unevenly, his smile gone and replaced with a pale look of despair. The room pulsated faintly, enough to make me nauseous. The walls bent inwards making the room seem to collapse in on itself and every subtly movement created ripples through the air. Sound was all but nonexistent expect for the dull drone deep down within me. My heart that wasn't really a heart clicked faster then any human could survive. A light buzz of electricity trickled through what were once my veins and tingled the tips of every one of my fingers.
Then it happened.
The room broke apart into a thousand small luminescent particles. They hung in the blackness like dazzling stars. I marveled at it. My world had dissolved right before my eyes. It stole my speech and silenced my mind. One by one, the bright spots moved in orbit around me, closing in fast. I could feel the force I was emanating to attract them. It was similar, in many respects, to inhaling. All of the points of light spiraled into me and lost their glow as they faded into my chest. Each impact felt like a summer rain drop, warm and gentle, but as more and more entered me it soon became a fire, the several small flames coming together to make an inferno. I screamed. My yell was void, my tears were null, and for a moment I no longer existed. There was only the familiar black and nothing more.