He touches the laptop sitting on the desk.
“It’s loaded with your work product from the last fifteen years. Even goes back to your pre–Velocity Laboratories research. There’s no password. Feel free to explore. Maybe it’ll jog something loose.” On his way out the door, he glances back, says, “By the way, this is going to stay locked.” He smiles. “But only for your safety.”
I sit in bed with the laptop, attempting to wrap my head around the sheer volume of information contained in the tens of thousands of folders.
The organization is by year, and it goes back to before I won the Pavia, to my grad-school days, when the first intimation of my life’s ambition began to present itself.
The early folders contain work familiar to me—drafts of a paper that would ultimately become my first published work, abstracts from related articles, everything building toward my stint in that University of Chicago lab and the construction of the first tiny cube.
The cleanroom data is meticulously sorted.
I read the files on the laptop until I start seeing double, and even then I push on, watching my work advance beyond where I know it stopped in my version of my life.
It’s like forgetting everything about yourself and then reading your own biography.
I worked every day.
My notes became better, more thorough, more specific.
But still I struggled to find a way to create the superposition of my macroscopic disc, the frustration and despair bleeding into my notes.
I can’t keep my eyes open any longer.
Killing the light on the bedside table, I pull up the blankets.
It’s pitch-black in here.
The sole point of light in the room is a green dot high up the wall that faces my bed.
It’s a camera, filming in night vision.
Someone is watching my every move, my every breath.
I close my eyes, try to tune it out.
But I see the same thing that haunts me every time I shut my eyes: the blood running down her ankle, across her bare foot.
The black hole between her eyes.
It would be so easy to crack.
To fly apart.
In the darkness, I touch the piece of thread on my ring finger and remind myself that my other life is real, that it’s still out there somewhere.
Like standing on a beach as the tide sucks the sand beneath my feet back out to sea, I can feel my native world, and the reality that supports it, pulling away.
I wonder: If I don’t fight hard enough against it, will this reality slowly click in and carry me off?
I slam awake.
Someone is knocking on the door.
I hit the light and stumble out of bed, disoriented, no idea how long I’ve been sleeping.
The knocking gets louder.
I say, “I’m coming!”
I try to open the door, but it’s locked from the outside.
I hear a deadbolt turn.
The door opens.
It takes me a moment to realize when and where I’ve seen this woman in a black wrap dress, standing in the hallway holding two cups of coffee and a notebook under one arm. Then it hits me—here. She ran, or tried to run, that bizarre debriefing on the night I came to consciousness outside the box.
“Jason, hi. Amanda Lucas.”
“Sorry, I didn’t want to just barge in.”
“No, it’s fine.”
“Do you have some time to speak with me?”
I let her in and close the door.
I pull out the chair from the desk for her.
She holds up a paper cup. “I brought you coffee if you’re interested.”
“Please,” I say, taking it. “Thank you.”
I sit on the end of the bed.
The coffee warms my hands.
She says, “They had this chocolate-hazelnut nonsense, but you like straight-up regular, right?”
I take a sip. “Yeah, this is perfect.”
She sips her coffee, says, “So this must be strange for you.”
“You could say that.”
“Leighton said he mentioned that I might come talk with you?”
“Good. I’m the lab psychiatrist. I’ve been here almost nine years. I’m board-certified and all that. Ran a private practice before I joined Velocity Laboratories. Do you mind if I ask you some questions?”
“You reported to Leighton…” She opens her notebook. “Quote, ‘There’s just this gaping hole where the last ten years should be.’ Is that accurate?”
She scribbles something with a pencil onto the page.
“Jason, have you recently experienced or witnessed a life-threatening event that caused intense fear, helplessness, or horror?”
“I saw Daniela Vargas shot in the head right in front of me.”
“What are you talking about?”
“You people murdered my…this woman I was with. Right before I was brought here.” Amanda looks legitimately stunned. “Wait. You didn’t know about that?”
Swallowing, she recovers her composure.
“That must have been horrifying, Jason.” She says it like she doesn’t believe me.
“Do you think I’m making it up?”
“I’m curious if you remember anything from the box itself, or your travels during the last fourteen months.”
“Like I said, I have no memory of it.”
She makes another note, says, “Interestingly, and maybe you don’t recall this…but during that very short debriefing, you did say your last memory was of being in a bar in Logan Square.”
“I don’t remember saying that. I was pretty out of it at the time.”
“Of course. So no memories from the box. All right, these next few are yes-or-no questions. Any problems sleeping?”
“Increased irritability or anger?”
“I don’t think so.”
“Do you feel on guard?”
“Okay. Have you noticed that you have an exaggerated startle response?”
“Sometimes, an extreme stress situation can trigger what’s called psychogenic amnesia, which is abnormal memory functioning in the absence of structural brain damage. I have a feeling we’re going to rule out any structural damage with the MRI today. Which means your memories from the last fourteen months are still there. They’re just buried deep in your mind. It’ll be my job to help you recover them.”