“This is one is very dark.”
“Yes,” said Mrs. Harvard proudly. “That’s one of our best samples.”
Dr. Eloise Verde stepped closer to the cell, her fingernails sliding down the glass. The Being was almost impossible to see, nothing more than a shadow. “I can barely see it. But I think I can hear it.”
“You don’t hear it,” Harvard told her. “It’s not an auditory sensation. Purely a mental one. But this isn’t what I wanted to show you. We’ve found something better.”
Mrs. Harvard was a tall, broad-shouldered woman. Her hair was cut short, and her posture was so impeccable that she looked almost uncanny when she took her long strides forward. Had she not become a physicist, it would have been easy to picture her as an athlete, perhaps a swimmer.
Harvard kept moving at a brisk pace, barely giving Dr. Verde a chance to glance in the other rooms. Most of them were apparently unoccupied cells, glass boxes that showed no traces of having ever been touched, perfect cubes. Other cells were used to store equipment. It was difficult to be certain what precisely Verde was looking at when she only had a chance to spare a glance.
They were deep underground. Deep, deep underground. Nothing came in without authorization. Nothing got out without authorization. Nothing so much as made a sound without authorization.
Verde was not quite sure how she had gotten authorization. Her research paper on visual and auditory hallucinations certainly wasn’t an obvious step towards getting closer to these Beings.
Dr. Verde was a well-respected neuroscientist. It hadn’t been her first paper on hallucinations, but it was the first to look at such a granular level, how individual neurons within the human brain would light up for no reason whatsoever. Pure randomness. Brains make mistakes all the time, and they don’t have to have a cause.
That was where Mrs. Harvard disagreed.
“Every day, people are deceived,” Harvard had said, only moments after Verde had entered the facility. “Every day, every second, an idea pops into somebody’s head, and there is no traceable origin. Not traceable with modern technology, of course. What caught my attention in your paper, Dr. Verde, was the search for an external event that caused these hallucinations. Ah! But they are not hallucinations. By definition, a hallucination must not have an external cause.”
“The cause can’t be internal,” Verde had told her. “I’ve spent over a decade searching. That was why I looked towards radio waves, or x-rays. There must be something imperceptible that influences us.”
“There is,” Mrs. Harvard had said, as though it were nothing. “There are Beings that have been whispering in our ears.”
That was when they had stepped into the first decontamination chamber.
It was the first of at least eight. Dr. Verde had lost count after that.
Still, after exploring this place for over an hour and a half, she felt as though she couldn’t believe what she was seeing, if she was really seeing anything at all. Struggling to keep step with Mrs. Harvard, Verde kept glancing back and forth, back and forth, rubbing her left thumb over her right wrist like she always did when she was anxious. But she wasn’t anxious. Was she?
She was only anxious when she caught glimpses of dark shapes, almost invisible, lurking on the other side of the glass.
“They don’t like us very much, I’m afraid,” Harvard said. “You can see how they move closer. They can’t see us. They have no eyes. But they can sense. And I’m sure that they are frustrated, unable to touch us with their foul breath.”
Again, Verde glimpsed a shadow, a faint shape on the other side, moving, floating, drifting. “What do they want from us?”
“We don’t know. But they’ve been following us for generations, giving us little sparks of ideas, fractions of a thought, guiding us towards some greater purpose. Sometimes people listen. Sometimes people don’t. For all we know, they’ve been pushing us down a path since the dawn of time, convincing the first men to use tools, convincing the monkeys to get down from the trees, convincing the ancient sea creatures to try walking on land…” Mrs. Harvard’s voice faded, as though she’d been struck by nostalgia. Yet still, her pace down the hall was unwavering and strict.
“How did you catch them?” Verde asked. “How did you get them into the cells?”
“The first step was to detect them, to bring them into a tangible form. The Beings are tricky, on a plane of existence that we hadn’t even considered before. But we tracked them down. Yes, we found them.” She was smug. “Once you know how something works, you know how it breaks. I’m sure you can tell that these cells aren’t made of ordinary glass, and if you were to step inside, you would feel the vibrations of our security system, pulsating out a frequency that keeps them at bay.”
“Fascinating,” Verde whispered.
With a click of the heels, Mrs. Harvard stopped walking and spun to the left, suddenly standing perfectly still. “This is what I wanted to show you. This is the greatest sample we’ve ever captured.”
Dr. Verde’s jaw hung open. She stepped closer to the cell.
Harvard asked, “Do you like what you see? And you are really seeing this time. It isn’t a trick.”
The shadow had a shape. It had arms, legs, a head. It was like the shadow of a person, but it had a form, three dimensions. And it was only a few inches away, on the other side of the glass.
“This Being is different somehow,” Harvard said boldly. “It was a trick to catch, I can tell you that. And, oh, what I would give to get it to speak again.”
Verde recoiled. “Speak?”
She shook her head, tightening her lips. “We had it in captivity for only a few hours before we heard it. All of us. Everybody in the facility, even the folks all the way upstairs. I know that ‘speak’ isn’t the precise word. It spoke to us with thoughts, and the same words entered all of our minds.”
Dr. Verde’s mouth had gone dry. “What were the words?” Out of the corner of her eye, it was watching her intently, shimmering like ripples in a pond.
Mrs. Harvard cleared her throat. “We have what you’re looking for.”
Verde looked back at the shadow on the other side, automatically taking a step backward. “What… What does that mean?”
“It means that they are here by choice,” Harvard answered. “Don’t you see? These shapeless creatures… They whisper into our ears, giving us ideas, guiding us along. If they can communicate with us, even from within their cells…” Her eyes moved to the floor. “I’ll wager that these Beings could escape whenever they wanted to.”
Beyond the glass, still watching intently, the shadow lifted its arm, a mess of blackness wobbling upwards.
And the Being waved.