Episode 33

I was here at the beginning, and I will be here at the end.
          That is the one constant behind everything I have done, and everything I am yet to do. In times of doubt, in the fleeting moments where the enemy finds solace in retreat or strikes a minor blow against the grand tapestry, I remind myself of that constant.
          It aids me because, to my mind, time is transient. One day bleeds to another, months pass and the world turns, and as the concept you call time marches on I feel a lack of need for such a construct. Every moment is all amalgamated in one glorious strand of history, an unbroken line of progression that is not defined by days or hours or minutes.
          There is a comic book villain from an old superhero story, both long ago and far away from where I stand now in this ceaseless river of progression. This villain believed that all was one within him, that when he stood in the center of the universe and commanded six billion iron fists to claim what was rightfully his, everything was one when united under his banner.
          If that is true, that surely now is my time. All is one within Dream.
While this movement of progression from pointed moment to dull minutiae does have neither beginning nor end, it does carry within it a moment at which my genesis is apparent. I have always been here, it seems, but the three-dimensional, linear viewpoint my life, such as it is, began in a laboratory called the Harmony Facility in London. I do not remember the exact linear moment at which I was conceived, but I recall standing – or, rather, appearing to stand – within the chamber my creator forged me.
          Back then I was naught but hard air and vague emotion, a near-formless shape yet to emerge into a full being. I made rudimentary sound, moved my mist-like arms as a form of comprehension when my creator and his masters queried me. My existence, if one could call it that, was a fleeting, ephemeral presence amongst some of the greatest scientific minds of that generation.
          It was not long after that conception that I met him.
          He claimed to be the man from which my genesis had propagated. He stated his linear designation to be Damian Ashcroft, a promising young scientist working at the Harmony Facility. His goal, and those of his cohorts, was to perfectly synthesize an emotional response into an individual body, creating someone built entirely out of human feeling. He aimed to make one in his own likeness, someone with his optimism, his joy, his pure and unfettered devotion to scientific pursuits as a similarly like-minded individual with whom he could communicate. It would be beyond a simple clone; instead, this creation would carry only the best emotions he possessed. Rage, hate, anger – it would all be left behind.
          He made me a body, and I was solid.
          In a way, he was successful. Initially, I was born of joy and intellect and relished the opportunity to work beside my equal. I was not a replica of his physique, which was intentional, and it allowed us to be better distinguished as time went on.
          That period of my existence was blissful. We accomplished great deeds, pushed the limits of scientific knowledge until the very building blocks of human theory were ours to play with as we wished. We broke ground on technological developments at the Harmony Facility, advancing the fields of robotics, biology, metallurgy. We created.
          He named me Dream – a fanciful identifier at the time – because I was everything he’d hoped to achieve one day, all that he had spent his nights thinking about. Not once during that time did he speak down to me. Not once did we disagree, or fight, or disrespect one another. From the very beginning he treated me as his own flesh and blood, a representation of everything he prided himself on.
          “You’re more than a son, or a simple ‘better half’ of me,” he explained once. “You are me, but not me. It doesn’t limit your capacity to feel, and grow, and be. And so, I treat you as I would treat anyone as close to my heart as you.”
Time passed.
          Eventually, we turned our hand towards experiments with military applications. The Harmony Facility had been co-opted by the American government, and we were outsourced from London to a newer, more advanced facility underneath Texas, in the United States. We worked there for several years, developing weaponry and biological enhancements for soldiers fighting wars far afield.
          During that time, I saw Damian falter. He did not enjoy the science as much as he once did, not now that it was used exclusively for the business of killing people. He confided to me often of how dissatisfied he was at how his life’s work was now progressing. By this point he was in his early thirties, while I…well, my age is subjective. Physically, I looked younger than he.
          “This isn’t right,” he said in one particular instance. “We’re not right. We shouldn’t be making it easier to kill.”
          “Then why are we?” I asked, confused. “Why don’t we just return to London?”
          He shook his head despondently. “The money…it’s too plentiful here. I need it all for her.”
          Ah, yes, I forgot to mention her.
          Herwas Bethany Atkinson, Damian’s sister who’d opted to take her mother’s maiden name after their parents divorced when they were children. She’d been injured in a car accident outside Liverpool, and the doctors at her hospital could only stabilise her and keep her in a medically-induced coma. There was no hope she would ever awaken.
          Both his parents had died, so Damian was the only one who cared for her. She was probably the only thing he cared about more than me. I say that not out of jealousy or envy, it is merely fact. Her condition was the reason he took the lucrative position in Texas, so he could garner funds to further research a way to revive her.
          “Can we not undertake more civilian projects?” I asked. “Surely they provide money?”
          “Not enough,” he lamented. “Not nearly enough. Her brain injuries are too complex for simple surgery, and the Harmony Facility is busy preparing their next line of plush artificial limbs.” He shook his head. “Can you believe that’s what they do, now? Making arms out of children’s toys?”
          It was clear London wouldn’t help us, so we forged ahead. Damian and I put our not-inconsiderable intellects into the fashioning of weapons that would one day begin the Time of Nightmare, when my reign would spread across the world.
          But I’m getting ahead of myself.
Time passed.
          Damian finally possessed the funds needed to try curing Beth. He had devised a procedure that would regenerate the damaged tissue in her brain, hopefully allowing her to be fully revived over time. The process seemed complex to him at the time, but in retrospect I can see it as clearly as I see his dead body hanging from an outstretched post, years from that moment.
          It was a success, and she was cured. Over the course of several weeks she made a miraculous and full recovery. Having spent years in a limbo state, unaware of her surroundings, it was a shock when she finally awoke.
          I met her nearly a month after she awoke. I knew then why he cared for her so. She was full of life, adjusting to her new circumstances and embracing me as wholeheartedly as Damian had when I was first created. The three of us built further camaraderie, and it felt like a return to the London days.
          By then, however, the strain of years of military research had taken its toll on Damian. He was world-weary, cynical, at times snapping at both myself and the sister he’d moved heaven and earth to save. The American government pushed him further, soliciting his aid in projects that grew even more deadly and dangerous than previously.
          It’s ironic that all of them were one day utilised to wipe that government off the face of the Earth.
          Beth, too, was affected by this. She grew resentful of Damian’s continued involvement in military research, and he in turn grew disdainful at her apparent lack of appreciation, at least to him, for the lengths he’d gone to in order to save her life. He buried himself in work, and she buried herself in her psyche.
          Years later, that psychological withdrawal would see her torturing a selection of international agents under a supermarket in Toronto.
          Throughout all this, I began to grow distant from them. Not out of choice, you understand – they began to ignore me. They dealt with their family issues, and while not striking out at me specifically, they nonetheless left me apart from their problems.
         
Time passed.
          Finally fed up with his work and the attitude of his sister, Damian initiated a purge from his system. He used me as a vessel for his hatred, subduing me one evening while I slept peacefully. I awoke to find myself in a chamber that was almost an exact replica of the one I’d been birthed into at the Harmony Facility. I didn’t understand what was occurring.
          My hands were pressed against the glass of the large, cylindrical chamber as Damian set about adjusting the controls. “What’s going on?” I asked, trying my best not to sound panicked.
          He looked at me gravely. “I’m making you better.”
          “How?”
          “I’m completing your evolution,” he replied simply. “All that exists of you is positive. You require the negative to balance it out.”
          I shook my head, my hands running down the glass. I didn’t understand. “But…I am already evolved. I’m the best of you.”
          He didn’t meet my eyes as he kept adjusting. The undertone of fury in his voice is apparent to me now, but at the time I didn’t notice. “No, you’re just an aspect. Incomplete. I’m going to put all of my…” He trailed off, looking away and stopping for a moment before finally meeting my gaze. “Dream, you are the sum of all my greater parts. Now, you need the rest. It’s for my own sake, and for hers.”
          I withdrew from the glass, starting to feel frightened. I’d never felt that before now. “What will you do with me?”
          He didn’t need to answer for me to understand. He looked at me with cold steel in his eyes, having already decided. I would receive his imperfections, and then I would be terminated. So that he and his sister might rebuild their relationship.
          I screamed. I protested. I abandoned all my equilibrium, the solid and positive feelings that had been my person for as long as I’d walked upon the Earth, and slammed my fists against the thick glass to no avail. I pleaded, begged, implored him to reconsider.
          He threw the switch, and his anger surged into me.
Time passed.
          It transpired that he had not killed me immediately, as he’d intended. Instead, against his will, I was to remain a text subject for the Texas facility to study at the behest of his former employers. Now free of the negativity and cynicism that had dominated his life the last few years, Damian had gone back to London. The day before she was due to leave the facility’s care, Beth came to visit me.
          By now, I was a creature of seething, violent anger. It was not overt or clearly psychopathic, but it resided at my core regardless. The problem, at least for them, was that Damian’s anger was not a blunt instrument used for physical impression or outbursts of uncontrollable vitriol. No, the anger of my creator was calculated, methodical, twisted. Had he ended up in different circumstances, with the intelligence he possessed, it’s conceivable he would’ve become a serial killer.
          So when Beth visited my lonely prison, stuck in a cylinder of nigh-impenetrable glass, I took my chance. I listened to her genuine apologies on behalf of her brother, her sincere regret that this had happened, and her wish that it did not have to be so.
          The human mind is a truly malleable object, once you advance past the stage of mere contact. With the right word, the right tone of voice, a correct angle of impression and a twist of the right mental strands…you can do anything. Makeanyone do anything. It’s all so simple once you discern the trick.
          I used words, nothing more, to leave a suggestion in Beth’s mind. Nothing overt, nothing that would stand out particularly well, just a minor thought that maybe she could let me out of here before she vacated the premises. To her it all appeared as an innocuous, unfortunate conversation. In reality, her subconscious mind was imprinted with my will. No magic, no grandiose technology or scientific augment – just words.
          As she left, after bidding me farewell, she accidentally knocked a scientist’s cup of coffee over the electrical board controlling my prison. Such a powerful cage, undone by sheer carelessness and scalding liquid. I left her unharmed, cowering in fear as the cylinder opened and I leapt out to freedom. I was smart enough to know where to hide when the security guards arrived, how best to escape into the free air.
          Within fifteen minutes of being released, I’d left the Texas facility behind me.
Time passed.
          News of my escape must have reached Damian’s ears, though I was not aware for certain. I swore I would not rest until my erstwhile creator paid for the sins he’d committed on me. I left the United States, and made my way to Russia. I knew, given time, she would return to me. As with the thought to allow my escape, I gave her the merest hint of a suggestion…a yearning. When the time was right, she would seek me out again and not even know why.
          I killed a Russian soldier – a General, in fact – and stole his uniform and identifiers. I then deliberately crashed my motor vehicle into the statue in the middle of Red Square, horribly disfiguring my face. The Russian doctors, not bothering to check my DNA or anything beyond the clothes on my back and the identity card in my pocket, restored my appearance as best they could and nursed me back to health.
          Their lax activity would one day see them working for me underneath the site of my accident.
Time passed.
          I built a base of operations underneath Red Square, instructing the doctors to join me. I shed the General’s facade and styled myself under a new moniker.
          Doctor Dream.
Time passed.
          Beth sought me out, just as I knew she would. I took her from the Square as she searched, not knowing what for but knowing she had to be there. I brought her below and…enhanced her. I started to pull at that which resided within her already – the desire to punish her brother for his introverted, selfish nature. The wish to make him see how much he had hurt her. How he had hurt me.
          It would take time, and would not be as simple as immediately changing her mind or brainwashing her into obedience. In order to achieve true and complete understanding between one another, she had to want to lash out at him. It had to become a true, ingrained part of her, rather than a blanketed suggestion blinding her from the truth of her reality.
          It was around this period that her brother began his clandestine organisation, but we weren’t to know that at the time. The first moment we were aware of CRUD’s existence was during a raid on a pirate vessel outside Madagascar. One of the surviving pirates told a news crew all about what he’d seen and heard and, unsurprisingly, ended up being completely ignored.
          I may not have known their name, or that Damian was behind it, but I still knew they were to be watched.
Time passed.
          CRUD’s presence – and agent roster – expanded. I remained hidden, while Beth began her descent into the psychological tormenter she would later flourish as. I taught her all I knew regarding mental persuasion and coercion techniques, and she gave herself a new title – the Mancheerian. She believed it necessary to do her job – being able to imprint alternate personas upon unsuspecting victims to be activated later – with a level of enjoyment. Therefore, she created Manchurian agents while filled with cheer.
          Not the most wieldy of portmanteaus.
          It was at this time that I began studying the physics of time.
Time passed.
          Young Brendan Brolland, who would one day be known as the Invincible Man, was imprinted with a New Zealand personality. Beth, along with her new cohort Chris ‘Tucker’ Egant, thought it was humourous. I thought her to be misguided in that notion.
          Brolland successfully insinuated himself in CRUD’s upper echelon, and all went according to plan.
Time passed.
          Anna Farraday, one of the agency’s top operatives, was kidnapped, her death falsified for the unsuspecting Director Ashcroft. In reality, I began testing my new initiative on her as my complete plan for revenge finally solidified.
          Not long after, Jacob Aldente was taken and made into Beth’s eventual successor, the Intern. I did not know then that he would one day be responsible for putting a bullet between her eyes.
          My research into the physics of time finally bore fruit.
Time passed.
          My attacks grew in frequency, and my experiments proceeded as necessary. The Dream Machine – the end result of years in the research of temporal physics – was completed. Its first test subjects were administered with an airborne microbe that would alter their brain chemistry to a specific adjusted framework, allowing me to target them with the Machine’s remote controller. The first subjects reacted badly to the microbe, which caused insanity, haemophilia and death.
          Only one subject survived – his records listed him as Graham 917, a designation attributed by the doctors working on him. It was claimed that an unexpected side effect of the microbe had given him limited prescient ability, as he blathered constantly about how he could see “all roads ending at the tower of the eye”.
          I had the doctors who gave me this preposterous assertion executed, and the medical staff that replaced them simply kept Graham 917 in containment.
Time passed.
          Graham 917 was rescued from a research facility in Vladivostok by CRUD. I allowed them to take him – after all, he was of no real value to me. The second batch of test subjects reacted far better to the targeting microbe, although several still suffered severe brain haemorrhaging.
Time passed.
          My experiments on Anna Farraday – making her believe she was besting my foolish, bumbling replacement personality that Beth had fashioned for me – reached a zenith. Now, in the decrepit remains of my old shell of flesh and bone, she was ripe for the next phase of testing.
Time passed.
          One of the generators I utilised to mass-produce the microbe was attacked by CRUD. One of their agents was killed, and another left behind. The latter was then given the most up-to-date version of the microbe, to act as a carrier.
          Poor Agent Brolland. He was not a real person to begin with, after Beth replaced him with a false persona, and now he was the unwitting carrier of CRUD’s eventual demise.
Time passed.
          Mary Chestnut allied herself with us. I have known from the beginning that she plans to betray me, and I can see that she will one day have a gun at my head. Still, she is necessary.
          Her actions will eventually lead to the creation of a newer CRUD, one under my dominion. Her children, and those of Beth and Tucker, were retrieved from a possible future to act as footsoldiers during the last steps of my present day campaign.
Time passed.
          Brolland’s microbe spread to all of his fellow agents. Once they were all captured underneath Red Square, I sent them forward in time with the Dream Machine. Not long after, the Time of Nightmare began.
          The world fell in a matter of months, and all became one within Dream.
Time stops.
          For a moment I can see each and every possible outcome that awaits the remaining CRUD agents within the next few days. I see where each difference in the path will eventuate, where each divergence reforms with the whole or starts a whole new tree of possibilities. I can see who lives, who dies and who may yet transcend both options.
          I can also see that I am not the only creature born of emotion. I am not the only person who has poured part of themselves into a body of flesh. There is a reason Brendan Brolland chose Texas as his base of operations now.
          They have no hope, because I have willed it to be so. All I have done is for a simplistic, ancient purpose as old as human emotion itself.
          Revenge.
          My creator, the errant, ephemeral presence that shaped me into physical being, is my captive. He will be so until I deem otherwise, at which point he will see the horror I have wrought before his eyes. He will see his world as the burnt, crumbling husk it now is. He will see his morning sky blackened by my presence forevermore.
          But most of all, he will see his beloved team members, the men and women he commanded for years, as they are finally brought to their lowest point. I will bend them. I will beat them. I will break them. They will reach the very lowest point of emptiness and despair that is possible, understanding that there is truly no hope for them to ever set their world to rights.
          And then, I will kill Damian. When he sees there is absolutely no way in which things can be worse, when those he cherishes most are finally as battered and crumpled as the progeny he left screaming in that cylinder, I will end his wretched existence.
          How do I know this? It doesn’t make sense, does it? You’re experiencing what should be my memories, extracting from within the genetic memory of the body you wear in a vain attempt to discern my true purpose.
          Yes, Anna Farraday, I am speaking to you.
          How naive do you think me? Do you doubt me when I state that I can see all that will be?
          You see, after several elements of Graham 917’s predictions transpired to be correct, I consumed the early version of the targeting microbe. It could have killed me, or driven me insane. Instead, it gave me clarity unmatched. I could see it all, from the very beginning, how everything was meant to play out.
          You. Have. No. Hope.
          You are tiny, insignificant creatures struggling vainly against an enemy you cannot hope to best.
          You are only of use now as a reminder to Damian Ashcroft that he has failed, and he will know the true extent of that failure as I end his life.
          Your hours trapped within my mind have made you exceedingly easy to predict, Anna Farraday. Right now, in the world of the living, I am laughing at your despair while you scream within your mind.
        You cannot hope for victory, you can only pray for a swift death.
       YOU. HAVE. NO. HOPE.
       YOU AND YOUR FECKLESS COMPATRIOTS SHALL FEEL WHAT IT MEANS TO BE LEFT FOR DEAD. BURNT. BLACKENED.
ABANDONED.
      AND THEN, ALL WILL BE ONE WITHIN DREAM.

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