EX/WHI :: Part Twenty

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This should be an uncomfortable, strained evening meal, as had been the case every time Ami had discussed operations that had gone south. Except, of course, these were extraordinary circumstances. Both operatives remain alive and extremely well looked after; representatives of their planet, fact that was only now beginning to truly sink in. This wasn’t like anything that had ever taken place before, not even the most extreme of missions.

She’d been held captive once, in North Africa, and those seventy-two hours were some of the most frightening of her existence. Nothing that she’d been taught prepared for how she’d be treated, to escape without having been either raped or beaten was beyond lucky… but it pales in comparison compared to now. There is no benchmark with which any of this will ever be measured.

Dinner’s almost done: explaining Algeria to Chris is having more of an emotional effect than initially expected, enormity of their circumstances finally registering.

‘You okay, Ami?’

‘Yes, I remember how genuinely frightened I was for my life back then, that they could do anything and I’d have no means of either fighting back or defending myself. This situation is different, ever since you had the accident… if they wanted to hurt us or torture us, I honestly don’t think we’d be sitting here with a curry. The psychology is all wrong, you know?’

‘I know what you mean. It would be far more psychologically damning to let me finish our notes and then just make them vanish, but they haven’t. It’s almost as if we’re supposed to compare ideas, this is important for whatever happens next, because you and I know that if we both go to sleep they can just pick us up and dump us somewhere new, or shift this building somewhere else in the simulation…’

Dinner was beyond amazing: they’d spent several hours now with their notes as a backdrop, comparing experiences and discussing their captors at length. Ami knew they weren’t being watched either: if this is truly an experiment, even their observers would need to engage in some kind of rest and recouperation. It was a chance to relax without as much fear, even if both of them were as alert as they’d be mid-mission, probably more so.

Tomorrow however was the unknown that was suddenly very frightening indeed.

‘So Chris, honestly: what happens now?’

‘Your guess is as good as mine, probably better ‘coz you’ve been spoken to by these beings and I’ve just been used as a science experiment -’

‘That’s unfair, you’ve contributed…’

‘No, I was the moron who backed into the thing that any sane person would have steered well clear of because of all the things we’ve encountered thus far, it has been the only item that even looked the least bit threatening. I am very much Ape Man here, and it’s okay. I don’t take that as an insult. I’m the one who’s gotta pick my game up, and I will. You have my word.’

‘Without you here I would have crumbled after we were abducted. I needed someone to keep me focussed. You’ve provided nothing but respect, more than I’ve got from a male colleague in nearly two decades. I know you think you’re the liability, but you’re not and that is worth more to me than anything.’

Chris looks away, unable to meet her gaze: there’s a lot more to this man that just a CIA operative struggling with a desire to keep his job. Ami’s never held a long-term relationship for longer than two years: Chambers’ emotional issues are something there is empathy with than perhaps even he is aware. Professionalism is without question, but the longer their imprisonment goes on, the less it becomes about the procession of automatic, dispassionate responses.

This man has deep seated issues, has done for a long time. There’s no doubt he loves his soon to be ex wife, but couldn’t make it work. He was the bigger problem, the metrics said so. Issues under pressure, prone to panic and occasionally, when situations were very stressful, to explode with rage. He’s not been angry yet, but obsession with perceived ineptitude might send an unsettled brain there if the right stimulus gets presented…

His regard for her remains beyond impeccable, has only strengthened since this all began. With care, a hand is extended; sentiment repeated.

‘I trust you with my life, Chris, and you know this. Deep down, we’re matched for a reason you don’t want and I’m not even thinking about. This is not about breeding partners. This is survival. You and I don’t conform to type, and we won’t procreate for an audience. It isn’t going to happen.’


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EX/WHI :: Part Nineteen

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If he says so himself, this is a damn fine job.

Putting down the black marker, Chris stands back to admire the completed, joint work. Massive expanse of wall is packed with two people’s reasoned observation, allowing moment of expectation that now completed, the aliens could yet wipe the whole thing clean and Ami won’t get a chance to read it. Nothing happens however: Chambers takes this as indicator there’s no need to wake up his partner just yet.

Her exhaustion is even more apparent in sleep: hardly moving, yet eyes rapidly flickering. She’s been through at least three cycles of REM sleep already, grateful a couple of moments of clumsiness failed to rouse her. He’s tired, could do with a comfortable place to sit… There is a chance alone to consider feelings, previously left well alone for a reason. Her link with the aliens is obvious, ability to empathise and gain favour… is he jealous of her ability to do so?

When they’d touched him, or moved body about, he could sense presence, yet never personal or focussed. This was very much the unseen hands of gods, controlling destiny and directing fate. Ami possessed something different, more personal and visceral, and there shouldn’t be annoyance they didn’t pick him as their conduit, but right now that’s what’s surfaced. He’s nine and annoyed his sister’s Prom Night preparations are pulling all the attention away from his Soccer tournament final…

This is not a healthy emotion to be experiencing at any point in proceedings, and Chris needs to deal with it.

He sits on the larger of several sofas scattered around the large area that absolutely weren’t here before. They must have appeared whilst the last of his notes were added: he’d like to think it’s because the chairs that initially were supposed to be here, reproduced in simulation, are hard, uncomfortable wooden seats that nobody in their right mind would ever actually manage longer than 15 minutes working on…

There’s the moment of revelation. He’d though the chairs were hard, then considered what would be preferable. Something yielding but not too soft so he can stay awake and still be on guard. The means to relax but not switch off, like the couch in his soon to be ex wife’s apartment. That whole thought process all took place in subconscious, before aliens reached inside a mind unaware of the intrusion and provided the wish. Ami asked out loud for the change of clothes and food. He hadn’t needed to, and was now comfortable.

On reflection, this feeling isn’t jealousy at the responsibility Ami carries, Chris grasps with more than a measure of reassurance. There might be the hint of discomfort he can’t predict what’s going to happen, but if the means exists within to conjure what is required to make his partner’s task easier, that ought to be the way forward. Look after her above everything else: keep mind focused, stress to a minimum, so that if anything important does need to be communicated from however far above them these zookeepers were, it happens in the most efficient way possible.

Ami’s stirring now, light sleep close to wakefulness: Chris knows that if he moves again, she’ll surface, so in his head comes recall of last time in London with Alex West, MI6 liaison who could be a celebrity lookalike for that guy who plays 007 in the movies. He’d been here for training and intelligence briefings but had ended up with a dozen pints of passable lager and fantastic curry at Spitalfields Market as the more enjoyable result.

Taste suddenly ignites on his tongue, magic trick that then unfolds in front of his eyes beyond impressive.

His memory of the restaurant is reproduced down to the finest detail, part of the space transformed with a corner booth, ambience and decoration exactly as remembered. However it is the smell that hits nostrils from food that steams invitingly doing things to both brain and stomach that Chris is powerless to ignore. It’s not just him either: Ami’s awake, sitting up and staring with considerable amazement at her wish made real.

‘Am I still dreaming, is that really-?’

‘Chicken Jalfrezi, Lamb Bhuna, plain and pilau rice, plain and peshwari naan plus a section of sides and poppadoms. I’m a man of my word, Ami, and have just worked out how I can make life better for both of us going forward.’

‘How did you -’

‘I’ll explain while we eat, because I’m not waiting around in case it all vanishes. Shall we…?’


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EX/WHI :: Part Seventeen

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His intelligence is impressive: able to translate her notes into a truth that now galvanises them both. The memory before Chris’ demise is of the Embankment, and afterwards of Big Ben, which does not necessarily assume they’ll visit the locations in that order whilst logically heading west. It is just as likely they’d strike east first… and now she’s stopped being upright and is on the camp bed, Chris’ arm around her waist, gently settling her down.

‘What just happened?’

‘You are exhausted, and I knew you were going to zone out, before needing to sit down. So, I came and caught you.’

‘How did I -’

‘You just told me without talking, and I’m a good boy, I do as I’m told. I’m also sorry that I got mad at you touching me, which ended up with all of this extra stress. It was just emotional panic which has very much passed; I don’t want us -’

‘I know, it’s okay. I totally understand. You are without doubt one of the most decent people I have ever met. I know I’m in safe hands…’

Her entire body suddenly aches with depth of fatigue that could only be remembered from basic training, when they’d run her into the floor for a month. In his care, there is a complete and all-encompassing calm, the reason for which is now hugely apparent. He won’t take advantage, ever. He needs Ami sharp and focused, this is about something bigger than them. He’s living the job in a manner that’s never existed before, and because of that something has altered inside. The guilt and fear of previous failure is beginning to evaporate. If these are to be his last days alive, living them well and fearlessly suddenly became a very important priority.

Her Doc Martins are off and he’s removing her fatigue jacket, patient suddenly in his care. As she settles down on the suddenly incredibly comfortable bed, he’s placed pillow behind her head, blanket across chest. Past and future are swirling around them both, possibilities that were imagined as kids and only dreamed of in adulthood. If this is a test, and they are being assessed, that might mean they can return back to reality, their home, largely unscathed… though neither will ever be the same again.

That’s not a problem either.

‘While I’m asleep -’

‘I fill in the blanks. I try and work out how to describe what it felt like to have an alien in my head. I make sure you’re okay, and maybe I pluck up the courage to ask for something more substantive than combat rations because I am beyond starving.’

‘I could murder a curry right now…’

‘I’m betting you’re a Jalfrezi girl, would I be right?’

‘Yes please, peshwari naan and all the other stuff-’

‘Leave it with me, I’ll wake you when I’m done. Sleep well.’


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EX/WHI :: Part Sixteen

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The suitability of this match has already exceeded expectations.


Watching him work, Ami begins to understand just how complex a relationship she’s been inserted into, that their captors have considered long and hard exactly who from humanity would be abducted. Her initial assumption for their removal was simple: pick any man and woman because it wouldn’t matter, breeding or reproduction could be undertaken with anyone. This is a more subtle equation: her inability to reproduce, on reflection, should have dispensed with that idea far earlier, but there’d been a lot to take in first.

Chris’ tongue sticks out of his mouth, held between teeth as he concentrates, filling in gaps that now conclusively prove that the moment he’d been touched, all manner of random similarities and connections had been highlighted. Both of them were considering retirement after the court case, neither happy or satisfied any more with the jobs that had once meant everything. There is disappointment at the state of the World, workplace’s lack of empathy and general disapproval of management’s role in destroying their working environment.

As further depth is dutifully added to the timeline, there’s none of the resentment that other male colleagues showed at her industry, lack of anger that she’d been unable to stop him from ‘dying’ despite knowing it was going to happen. This isn’t assumption either, those emotions are clearly defined in her head, constants flowing from one person to another. Somehow, they are connected in a manner that cannot be seen: is this an intentional part of their abduction process or simply a happy accident?

There were two more moments viewed in the simulation that had appeared in her mind, echoes of past which might yet be future, which had been of far more clarity until mind had been invaded and dream removed… no, erased, because that’s how these images now present themselves. The entity had taken away intensity and details, but essence still remained untouched. He’s staring at her conclusions on this now, clearly perplexed at something –

‘So, there’s stuff from your dream you still remember, and based on what happened to me you’re assuming it could be from our future…?’

‘There was a voice in my head, before you touched the pillar. Linear time is your anchor. It is not ours. I dreamt that happen, the night before, but there was no way to connect past and present. Except, now -’

‘It’s not either, so it’s logical to assume that those moments have yet to happen. I get this, the ape brain understands, so what this becomes is Intel for us as to what we do next, yes?’

‘It seems logical.’

‘I’m also going to assume that they know how tired you clearly are and that now I don’t need to sleep you can, and I’ll stand guard, and whatever now counts for morning in this place is when we start again with these clues, because that’s what they are. There are two places you know we go to, except there’s no idea whether your order is right or wrong…. that’s the point here, yes?’


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EX/WHI :: Part Fifteen

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Chris tests legs, getting gingerly off the camp bed. Everything works as it did before: left arm had vaporised in front of his eyes before unconsciousness swallowed everything, followed swiftly by heart stopping. He knows all this not because of memory, but voice in his head that had told him –

‘How long have you been able to hear them?’

Ami moves back from current spot to the start of the no-longer blank wall, artificial divider in this ground floor, open plan office space. Outside, a newly-introduced artificial sun is going down, creating sense of false comfort in bizarre circumstances. Other things have changed too: ambience is now far less sterile and artificial. Surroundings however are distraction: he’d been asked a question, which means his partner’s expecting a reasoned response. Chambers doesn’t have to think too hard about when this all started…

‘Tired of injustice
Tired of the schemes
Your lies are disgusting
What does it mean…?’

That song, a brother/sister duet was playing on the radio, from airport to hotel, just before sunrise. He loved Michael Jackson’s stuff, always had, knew the words off by heart because lyrically, the song had always spoken to him… as he’s about to explain comes understanding he doesn’t need to. She knows.

‘My dream last night was when they first touched my brain, then when I woke up early this morning… that was when they introduced your consciousness to mine -’

‘ – in the cab, coming from Heathrow. I heard you, singing with me. Fuck.’

A physical connection might have spooked him before but now it’s essential and she doesn’t resist as hand reaches for hers. Fingers brush, as this place vanishes and with unreal disbelief he’s back in the cab, singing his lungs out, much to the amusement of the Polish driver, watching in increasing amusement from the rear view mirror whilst on the other side of town, in her Docklands flat, Ami’s being Janet Jackson. Her voice is beautiful, strident and pitch perfect… put them together –

For a second nothing matters except connection: joint amazement at perfection removes all other distractions. Not only are they genetically complimentary, but the subtlety of their psychic connection is beyond brilliant –

Simultaneously, two hands are drawn away. Chris stares at this woman who he’d now trust with everything, including his life. She’d tried to warn him of impending doom, but hadn’t found the worlds: guilt at his demise still burns brightly within… except he’s now capable of assuaging her simply with a smile. There’s no hard feelings, not a single notion of incapability. Together, they are indivisible, which appears to have been part of their kidnapper’s plan all along.

This was the reason they’d both been chosen to be here.

Without further prompt he’s off the bed, taking a pen from her hand before beginning to add notes to the wall.


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EX/WHI :: Part Fourteen

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Consciousness returns unexpectedly: no dreams precede it, yet sense remains of being observed, examined before there was nothing, silence. Chris is no longer outside: this isn’t the cafe they were abducted in either. He can count tables though, re-purposed pieces of wood on delicate, metal legs to his left, stripped wooden floorboards with power sockets sunk into floor level. There’s concern about moving, considering how much pain existed before but everything is better than it was. He’s been completely reconstructed at a cellular level…

That reassurance came before he’d passed out, gentle voice heard somewhere behind field of vision, at the back of a neck which prickles at the memory, skin reacting to warmth and a familiar smell… CK One, somewhere to his right…

‘Wow. You have been busy.’

Disbelief and surprise interrupt Ami, about a metre away. She stands at one end of a long, white wall, on which space of several meters long and a meter high is covered with her neat, organised handwriting. Chris now needs to be upright, scrabbling to sit, already taking in what’s she’s been working on during his enforced absence. This woman’s industry is becoming indispensable, inspiring and frankly impressive. Across the white space is a detailed breakdown of everything that has happened to her since Thursday: it is logical to assume that the blank spaces have been left for him to fill in… but there’s a more pressing question that first needs to be asked.

‘Where did you get the pens?’

‘I asked for them, along with a blanket plus another camp bed for me. I assumed they’d not want us to discuss this, but it would appear that our reactions to experiences are now as important a part of the process.’

‘You know that’s what’s going on?’

‘I haven’t actually asked yet, if I’m honest, I wouldn’t anyway if you weren’t able to take part in the decision making. That’s something we both have to agree on first.’

‘Did they move us together?’

‘No, you disappeared and then I got shown where you’d been taken. I’d like to think all this has been set up because they’d seen me taking notes in the cafe and wanted somewhere in the simulation where I could work our situation unhindered, but that is simply speculation and nothing more.’

‘So, I was just here when you arrived?’

‘There is so much to tell you but I have no idea when they’ll be back, and they could erase this all when they do, so I needed to get started on fixing the timeline whilst you were in stasis -’

‘Stasis?’

‘It wasn’t just unconsciousness, you had this invisible barrier around you. I couldn’t interact at all. I assume it was to fix whatever was damaged.’

‘You’re right, I know they’re not here, because at least one of them was watching me until everything was fixed, then they left. How long ago did the barrier drop?’

‘About an hour by my watch. Are you feeling well enough to join in?’


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EX/WHI :: Part Thirteen

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Chris is awake, bolt upright from cold, wet grass, looking around in terror, pretty sure that he was dead about thirty seconds earlier.
This will be the second time his heart has stopped whilst in active service: considering where the last one took place, it is considerably less stressful to be alive here trapped in an alien simulation. He looks for Ami: she’s standing, staring at him with a mix of relief and trepidation before moving his side, checking pulse, as body is gently pushed back to fully horizontal.

This time, there is no objection to her actions: on reflection, lying down’s no bad idea.

‘Because I am a stickler for protocol I’m gonna ask you some questions to check for brain damage. Name and Social Security number, please.’

‘I believe I still am Mark Donald Chambers, 075-26-1431 and I was dead, right?’

‘Very much so and I know as a result your heart’s gonna want some time to recover quite apart from whatever else was rearranged in your body. What’s today’s date?’

‘Friday, June 15th 2018 and you need to explain what just happened.’

‘I will but not yet, not until I’m sure we’re not being eavesdropped on.’

‘You know we are now?’

The nod is almost imperceptible: back at the pillar, his partner wasn’t losing the plot, something happened she couldn’t explain. If he hadn’t reacted so strongly to that touch –

‘No more questions, try and relax.’

‘Aren’t you gonna ask me who’s the joke for a President is right now?’

‘At least you don’t have Brexit to worry about. Be grateful for small mercies.’

A backpack is somehow behind his head and Ami’s fatigue jacket across aching chest as suddenly, Chris is shivering uncontrollably: shock. Almost instantaneously air agitates, now familiar movement as reaction to his condition: a low camp bed materialises to their left, something he’d use in combat training along with blankets and a stainless steel canteen. About to try to get up, a sensation of weightlessness negates any effort and he’s literally floating off the ground, moved from concrete to canvas without ceremony. The blankets float up, down to cover his form, jacket gently placed back into Ami’s lap.

Chambers won’t say another word until prompted: Bishop knows they’re being watched, possesses a ton of intel it’s currently impossible to communicate and he is best serving them both lying here, being a good patient. None of this phases any more, their hosts owning total dominance not only of life and death but the laws of physics, yet Chris just wants to sleep for a week. The thought is acknowledged within subconscious by someone out of his field of vision, and this is no longer psychic sensations. Whoever it was who communicated with Ami in her head before he died also understands the need for immediate recovery.

‘I will provide induced unconsciousness to allow cellular regeneration to complete. When you wake, there will be opportunity to communicate with your partner unhindered.’

Chambers is satisfied because they are being referred to as partners and not subjects there is no danger, right before losing consciousness for the third time that day.


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