EX/WHI :: Part 23

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Arrival Plus One

The night before they won, she realised that nothing would ever be the same again.

Lying awake, Ami watches the man sleeping next to her on his own camp-bed with a mixture of disbelief and reassurance. He’s just as scared as I am, when all is said and done. At least now there’s no embarrassment or worry admitting that in public. Chris and her had talked for several hours after dinner was done, until their plates and uneaten food had vanished from in front of them. It had been taken as a prompt that their ‘captors’ wanted them in beds, a second one having been provided next to that which they’d both slept in previously.

She’d woken as was nearly always the case when her internal body clock hit 7am, to find that their world had been significantly reduced in size and depth: their note-taking space remained but new dividers had appeared: a single sofa and table, plus chairs were shifted against one wall, with what were clearly washing cubicles added opposite. It should worry her that nothing was constant any more but instead Ami’s brain is surprisingly willing to accommodate alteration.

Today is when we are to be tested. Chris had been surprisingly frank on her return from the bathroom: they were both now comfortable with the alien presences that had manifested within them, enough joint sanctity to be confident that this experiment, in whatever form, would be no different from a planned training operation. That meant at some point they’d be provided with equipment: as the thought manifests, so do two large wooden crates at the bottom of each bed.

Now she’s up, looking through what is being provided: fresh clothing and food, no new shoes or backpacks, so they’ll be expected to reuse what was provided yesterday. Chris is stirring and she takes it as a prompt, out of bed and into one of the two cubicles where towels hang next to a shower unit that switches on the moment she’s naked. There’s no need for temperature control either, water just pleasantly hot enough as to not be scalding but damn close, and Ami smiles to herself.

My captors have thought of everything.

There’s no fear either that her partner might take a leaf out of a fictional secret agent’s play-book and come join her: he might be built like 007, but Special Agent Chambers possesses considerably more respect for her than James Bond ever did for his partners.

He’s now also awake and showering…


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EX/WHI :: Part 22

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In a blink, Chris is no longer in the restaurant: instead this is broad daylight and he is at some considerable height, standing on a smooth, white platform. There he also is, standing opposite, making eye contact with himself; that Chambers, in a future he is yet to experience, is holding both of Ami’s hands, clearly struggling to get her to understand something important, quite possibly vital. There’s no context either, too far away to hear any conversation taking place.

The aliens are showing me this for a reason, he surmises, but too much information and the future might not happen. How do they make him certain of upcoming importance but at the same time not destroy the sanctity of a timeline they don’t adhere to but he is bound by? The answer is presented without any other prompt, consciousness grasping three intractable truths: jump, gasp then let go. Moments are placed in his head, but access restricted.

When time comes, you’ll know what to do.

He’ll see himself at each flashpoint: first moment will unlock second: the last will be the most pain he has ever experienced. The alien in his mind is careful not to draw attention to where these pieces of his future are tied, or what prompts them to manifest after this first encounter. It’s vital intelligence, on a need to know basis. When Part One is done, he’ll get access to the next part of this puzzle, for that’s what begins tomorrow morning.

None of what has transpired until now has been significant: they’ve been kept together and given time to bond. When they both wake up, that is when the real experiment begins. The word, in his head, is presented not as something insidious, but rather a challenge. Is he up to the tasks that will be presented? Can he complete the sequence correctly and complete what is asked of him?

There’s never been a physical obstacle that’s overcome Chris’ ability to either brute force it or solve it in time with common sense and bravado. This will be no different: his abilities, plus Ami’s calm and determination under pressure will combine and whatever is waiting for them both will be surmounted, together. He doesn’t need the reassurance of a shared bed any longer.

Returned to the dinner table, Chambers finally understands significance of what is to come.


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EX/WHI :: Part Twenty-One

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Chris feels her lie deep in his gut; there’s more to her ‘conversation’ with the aliens than Ami feels comfortable letting on. He could ask, but this is not the time. Dishonesty’s not a sleight, rather used to assuage his fear over performance anxiety, with reasons he knows are both fair and accurate. There’s a damn good reason he’s not been on a date in over a year. Those blue pills his doctor prescribed might fix the mechanics, but did nothing for his head.

It makes perfect sense to abduct one male and female. It’s why Noah shoved two of everything in the Ark, Bible’s writers leaving rest to the imagination of their readers. If this is an exercise in testing all their abilities… he knows now that’s not something his partner is willing to indulge in, not without far more than just a single evening out under their belts. That alone makes Chris feel more comfortable than has been true since their arrival.

Excusing herself to go to the unisex bathroom he used before they started dinner, Chambers sits alone, staring at a battered Rolex that reads just before 11pm. It’s Bishop’s idea that they keep themselves tied to London time as it exists on their wrists; the more normality that can be self-imposed the better. Whatever else might be happening around them plus within a fledgling shared consciousness, comfort and belief mattered above all else.

He’d thought briefly about asking to share a camp-bed, mostly because he was shit scared and needed reassurance, then considered the messages that might send her which are all kinds of wrong. Right now, he cannot revert to archetype. Strength alone is easy, when you don’t get all the chemical stuff as distraction. She’d made the point over dinner: if you wanted to truly test a species for suitability, there’s gonna be a point where loyalty to each other would be addressed.

It’s also hard to escape jealousy; she’d been shown consequences of failure in her mind and he hadn’t. His experiences of the aliens is far less detailed or interactive: it shouldn’t bother him, but worryingly does. His conscious initially struggled to even grasp the enormity of their situation, yet something is altering. Fear should never allow emotional responses to dictate experience, and yet it has, every time. Personal failure, parenting, relationships, decision-making…

Your importance is about to become apparent.


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Back for Good

I had a PostIt on the wall. The work’s been done… but crucially, this week’s time to edit involved me, in a dentist’s chair, unexpectedly losing a tooth. However, that means that it’s not much work to get back on track… therefore, I will confidently announce that

EX/WHI RETURNS JANUARY 10th

My episodic fiction is a storyline I’ve loved for a long time, and which is finally going to get a conclusion. For a synopsis, and if you want to catch up before next week:

Here’s a link to what’s happened so far…

I’ll see you in the New Year 😀

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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