Peripheral Vision, Chapter Fourteen

The third mini-episode of the show is up, and you can find it here, as well as on the show’s site and iTunes.

Oh boy. One more chapter (and an epilogue, probably) of Peripheral Vision and we’re done. Hard to believe it’s getting wrapped up.

~

Well, well. We’re certainly nearing the end, aren’t we. Inching closer and closer to that point when all threads of the narrative cross paths and the fabric of the story is tightened together.
But we’ve had an awful lot of Caroline recently. I think it’s about time we turn back to Stephen. He really hasn’t gotten much time in the spotlight for the past several sections. After that, I might explain Gerome’s side, then wrap up Caroline’s just as everything comes together.
Before that, though, I would like to clarify a bit about how I’m getting all of these parts of the story. For Stephen, it’s easy, since I’m able to monitor him through the virtual world and replay any past section as I please. For Caroline, though; I know what happened to her because she told it all to me in great detail just a few hours ago. Simple, isn’t it?
Oh dear. I realize I may have just given away a little bit of what happens later on. No matter, it’s nothing too major.
Well, let’s return to Stephen, now, and…
Ah, I can almost hear the readers calling out to me. “How do you know Gerome’s side?” they ask.
I’m sorry, but I’ll have to leave that a secret until it gets explained through the natural progression of story. I fear that telling you now might ruin some of the ending.
Anyway, back to Stephen.

The rest of that day and the following few went by without any other bizarre “visions”, as Stephen had deemed best to call them. He wouldn’t allow them to become a problem. It was all in his head. He just had to focus on ignoring it – as much of an oxymoron as that was – and everything would be fine. He was sure of it.
He decided to take a drive through the countryside. He had to do something he enjoyed. Recently he derived no pleasure from any of the activities that he normally liked. Riding his horse was a chore, playing games with friends was irritating, he could barely focus his attention enough to read, and even sleep had become something to dread. It was no longer relaxation and a pleasant drift through wonderous worlds and even more wonderous feelings, it triggered anxiety and unease. He had begun to remember more and more dreams, each of them as horrible or more so as the first.
He got in his car and turned the keys in the ignition, hands shaking. He felt an almost nauseating amount of anxiety trigger inside him just as he pulled out of the drive.
It had been getting harder and harder to leave his house. There, he was still miserable, but at least felt relatively safe and, well, at home.
As he drove past the idyllic countryside, rolling hills edged by rustic wood fences, the occasional cow, horse, or sheep beyond, his iron grip on the steering wheel began to slacken and his rigid posture relax. He pressed a little harder on the gas pedal, speeding across the straight road and feeling the rollercoasterlike sensation of gravity weaken and strengthen in turn as he went over the hills. For the first time in a while, he smiled.
But as he drove on, the ill feeling returned, stronger than ever. A deep-seated anxiety with a sense of foreboding, a sense that something bad was happening and there was no way that he could avoid it.
The road ahead of him seemed faded, in a way; as though he could only see a set distance ahead at any given time. It was almost like it was a foggy day, but there wasn’t any fog that he could see. Suddenly the car stopped completely. No, it wasn’t just the car; everything stopped. He couldn’t move his body, though he was aware of everything going on. He couldn’t look around, his entire body was frozen in place and there wasn’t any way to change it.
The next moment, everything was back to normal, he could move, the car was going down the road at the same speed as before. But both he and the car had jumped several hundred yards down the road right after they were unfrozen. It was almost like the entire world was “skipping” around him, though his mind remained free to percieve all of it.
He pulled the car over to the side of the road and jumped out, crouching by the pavement. He vomited onto the grass. His entire body was clammy with cold sweat and he felt lightheaded. He closed his eyes and ran his hands through his hair, trying to get a hold on himself.
A few minutes later he felt somewhat recovered and got back in the car, turned it around, and headed back towards home. He couldn’t put up with this any more.
After a grueling drive back to his house, he fell into bed. It was several hours before his usual bedtime, but he felt mentally exhausted and went to sleep almost immediately. He had one thought before he drifted off; tomorrow was the day that the congregation would meet. This one small thought brought back a wave of that anxiety and foreboding that he had experienced earlier on the drive.
The next morning he slept in late. It wasn’t comfortable, refreshing sleep, though, he woke up groggy in mind and body. A fog cluttered his thoughts and all his limbs felt twice as heavy.
He got dressed, dreading the meeting that was closing in by the minute. He tried to eat a little food before leaving, but the taste disgusted him.
He drove to the building where it took place. The sky was beautiful, the air warm and inviting, but it all felt irritating to him. It was too perfect. It was like the world was trying to be patronizing to him, sarcastically giving him everything he wanted. He hated it.
The meeting began with its normal pattern, songs of praise and recitations of honor, but Stephen felt like he was just going through the motions. Other people around him had beaming faces and were singing and intoning with passion, but he felt dead inside. He glared at the front where a massive golden statue of “The Creator” sat, and he had to shut his eyes and clench his fists to keep from vomiting. It wasn’t a statue. It was a depraved, disgusting abomination of flesh, stone, and metal. Heaving slightly as though breathing, as though alive.
Everyone around him stared at it in reverence and awe, but Stephen couldn’t look back towards it. He knew he would puke.
He had to get out of there. It had never been done, it could never be done, no one had ever left a meeting prematurely. It simply wasn’t done. There weren’t any rules about it or anything, it was just understood that you couldn’t leave. That wasn’t a problem anyway, since no one wanted to leave, ever. It was a time of joy and emotion, more than the rest of their lives. But it was no longer such for Stephen.
He pushed his way out through the pew until he was in the center aisle. People shot him surprisingly poisonous looks as he made his way out of the building.
He just had to get home. He couldn’t leave home again. This was unbearable. Everything, now, was infected with this horror and dread. It was inescapable. At home only existed some small amount of comfort; but that was diminishing daily.
He drove home, pulled into the drive without bothering to park in a proper spot, and ran through the front door. He rushed into the bathroom attached to his room and gripped the rim of the toilet bowl, expecting to vomit. There wasn’t much of anything in his stomach to vomit, though, and he just crouched there dry-heaving for a few minutes until the nausea began to fade.
He took a small sip of water, then went to his bed and sat on one side. He couldn’t enjoy anything. There was no happiness for him any more. He considered suicide. It seemed like the only option at that point.
The door to his room opened, but there was no one behind it. Slowly, coming in small patches and polygons at a time, the form of Bartholomew emerged from the thin air. It would’ve been his form, though, had there been any skin. All that was in front of Stephen was a rusted metal android. Wires and coils of tubing stretched across every bit of its body and there was a cable running from the top of its head through the ceiling into heights unseen to Stephen.
His initial reaction was, as he had chosen to think in the past, “it’s all in your head”, or “this isn’t real”, or “it doesn’t matter”. But this, this was beyond all else he had yet seen.
“Why are you home so early?” the android asked in Bartholomew’s voice.
Stephen could only utter out a muffled “uh”. He chose to no longer dismiss what he was seeing. He would accept it. It wasn’t all in his head. He was the only one seeing what was really going on. Peter disappearing. The physical world falling apart and putting itself together incorrectly. This wasn’t in his head.
He realized his eyes were closed. He opened them, deciding to take in everything he saw as fact.
The edge of Bartholomew’s robotic form began to fade away, dissolving into lines of ones and zeros. The floated away through the air. It wasn’t air, though; it wasn’t anything. Stephen was floating in the middle of his room, surrounded by lines of numbers. The walls of his room folded outward, revealing a complete blackness of void beyond. The edges of the two-dimensional, paper-like walls began to scatter apart into the same random strings of code.
Soon, Stephen was left floating in the void, surrounded only by a maelstorm of numbers. They spun around him at a mind-numbing rate, slowly tightening around him into a ball, pulling all lines together into a tight ball. Stephen’s vision was obscured, only a bright white swirling madness. It tightened and tightened, crushing his body into oblivion, until it reached the infinite density of the singularity of a black hole. Everything was mixed in with everything else. Stephen was no longer just himself, he was all.
The pinprick of information that had once been called “Stephen” in impossible density imploded upon itself. Stephen’s consciousness snapped and immediately reconfigured itself.
It was over. He was himself. He was aware of his body, immovable. It was held in place by something he couldn’t see. He struggled in vain for a moment before he felt he restraints release. There was something above him blocking his way out. He writhed in place, trying to change position enough to find some way to get out, but whatever it was that had been above him slid back with a hiss.
Stephen’s eyes were closed and he tried to open them. They felt weak, as did every other part of his body, but after some work he finally managed to open them. His surroundings were completely blurry and he had double vision for a moment before his sight corrected itself.
He slumped out of the thing that had been holding his body in place, still thoroughly incapable of non-blurry sight. He tried to stand up, but his legs shook and he had to lean on something beside him to keep standing.
There was a doorway somewhere in front of him. He could see a rectangle of light shining through into the darkened room he was in. He struggled to make his way towards the light, leaning on anything he could find for support. Before he got to the doorway his legs gave out and he had to make the rest of the trip laying on his stomach and dragging himself along the floor.
Once he was partially through the doorway and in the light, his vision began to clarify. He could see the tiled floor he was laying on. That and a pair of legs that were slowly making their way towards him.
Through no small amount of effort, he managed to hold up his head enough to look at whoever it was. It looked like a stooped elderly man. A very elderly man, old enough that it looked as though the skin was about ready to drip off of his bones. The skin under his eyes drooped revealing the tender red flesh beneath.
“Hello, Stephen,” the man said in a voice that sounded like it hadn’t been used in decades. The man was struggling to walk, but he pulled Stephen up and supported him as they walked through the hallway.
Stephen’s head swung and bobbed, his neck muscles no more use to him than taffy. They walked, supporting each other, for a length of time that Stephen couldn’t begin to comprehend. It could’ve been five minutes, possibly, but it felt like hours to him.
Up an elevator for another few hours, then walking through another hallway and up a staircase that he was sure lasted at least a day or two. Then they stopped in front of a door that was marked with a sign saying “Thomas Hendrick”.
The old man turned to speak to Stephen as he opened the door, revealing a man and woman beyond. “I’m afraid I forgot to introduce myself. My name is Clyde.”

Oh dear, I think I got a little too far ahead in the story there. Ah, no matter, things are coming together quick enough now that one piece of the story being a little ahead of schedule won’t be a problem.
Now for part of Gerome’s side. I won’t be able to pull his section quite as close to the conclusion right now, since there’s a little more that has to happen before then, but it’s necessary for me to give this portion now.

It wasn’t easy, finding a way to get to Gerome’s target. It was somewhere around the North Pole, and for obvious reasons, very few people ever went there.
After running from one source to the next, he finally found a smallish cargo ship that was going there the following day.
He paid his way on board and, seeing some of the other people that were getting on at the same time, felt that his suspicions had been confirmed. A number of incredibly wealthy people boarding an old cargo ship at the same time would be hard to explain otherwise.
Despite the ship being in a fairly filthy condition, it was clear that the crew had made quite the living off their business. Perhaps it was kept filthy on purpose, to disguise its true nature, or perhaps they just didn’t care. In either case, it would’ve have been Gerome’s first pick as to the mode of transportation for people going to Introspect.
He tried to keep to himself on the ride. These were specifically the kind of people that he hated, the people he wouldn’t mind seeing sink for all eternity into the chill ocean depths.
It was a long trip. At least, it felt incredibly long. It could’ve just been a few days, but it felt like weeks to Gerome. The terrible quality of food and the lack of anything to do just prolonged the torture until seeing a faint blue-and-white outcropping on the horizon was all that could bring him joy.
And it did, once it finally came around the bend. A few hours later, they docked in a strange little ice-port and disembarked.
Conveniently enough, a small tram swung by a few minutes later and everyone embarked. There was one woman on the tram wearing a hood that concealed her face, which Gerome found odd given that the others on the tram were quite open about their opulence and personalities.
The tram stopped off in front of a massive light-grey building, with the words “Introspect, Incorporated” plastered on the front. He imagined the coloring was to prevent detection in case anyone found aerial imagery.
He stepped inside with the others, staying towards the middle of the group. He knew what he had to do now. He had planned it all out for a long time.

It almost brings a tear to my eye, seeing our four plotlines all begin to come together. Well, if you don’t mind, I’ll set my record of Ton-y-botel playing and, without further adieu, give Caroline’s last section before the conclusion.

Caroline awoke, unsure of where she was. Ironically, though, she had gotten used to that feeling, sleeping in so many assorted places recently.
She got out of bed and returned to the main room she had been in the previous day. Michael was already at the table, slowly eating his breakfast. Another plate was set out on the table in front of another chair, and she sat down and began eating.
He had already been eating for a while, so they finished their breakfasts at about the same time.
After the meal, one of the mutated people came in to the room and stood by the door. Caroline checked that the money card was still in her pocket, then turned to Michael. “Thank you so much, again. If I’m lucky, this could be a momentous event for the world. Perhaps it could even signal the beginning of rebuilding.”
She hugged him. “There needs to be more people like you, Michael.”
“There are,” he said. “There are always more people like me. But they are probably in hiding. The current world is no place for us. If you succeed, they will emerge. Just give them, us, a chance, and we’ll do all we can to resurrect society.”
She turned and walked towards the man who was waiting by the door.
“Oh, before you go,” Michael said. “Take these.” He gestured to the man, who handed a small bag of clothes to Caroline. “I’m guessing you haven’t had a change of clothes in a while.”
Caroline was suddenly self-conscious about how filthy and odorous her clothes were. “Oh, thank you very much. Yeah. It’s… been a long time. Could I…?” she said, tilting her head back towards the room where she had slept.
“Certainly.”
She returned to the room, closed the door, and removed her clothes, taking out the money card. There was a sink in the room and a few towels which she used to somewhat clean her skin before dressing into the new outfit and slipping the money card into one of the new pockets.
It was very similar to outfits she saw many of Michael’s followers wearing. The shirt was large, almost like a poncho, but flowed nicely. As with the others, it had a hood, which she thought would be convenient later on.
She put her dirty clothes into the bag, and left the room. There was a trashcan in the main room, and she put the bag in there. She didn’t realize until then how dirty she had been. It was refreshing to be mostly clean and wearing fresh clothes.
“Be wary of the drug users in that city,” Michael said to Caroline. “It can suck anyone in. I’ve lost several to it already. And good luck. I wish you the best.”
She thanked Michael again, then left the building with the man. He had a small bag, which Caroline assumed held some food for later on the walk.
They walked for the first few hours without speaking a word. Shortly after midday, the man stopped and sat down beside the road, opening the bag. He pulled out a small amount of food and water for them each.
“We’re about halfway there,” he said.
“Okay.” Caroline ate for a little while, then ventured a conversation. “What’s your name?”
“John.”
He said nothing more, so Caroline waited a bit before trying again. “How long ago did you meet Michael?”
“Six years.”
Both times he spoke, he did so without looking up from his food. After the second reply, Caroline decided to give up.
After finishing their meal, they began walking, again in silence. A few hours later, as the sun was nearing the horizon, they came up to a city.
The man stopped at the outskirts of the city. Caroline looked at him, hoping that he was going to continue into the city with her, but he handed her a small bundle of food from the bag, along with a slip of paper.
On the paper was an address. “Go there and contact Introspect,” he said and, without a further word, turned around and began walking back the way they had came.
Caroline wandered through the city for a little until she found the building indicated by the address. Thankfully, it was quite close to where John had dropped her off.
The building itself was at the corner of one block, and was looking in bad condition. The inside lights were off, every window was broken or just completely nonexistent, and sections of the building itself looked as though they had been burnt.
Across the top of the building was the sign “Newhaven 4 Introspect Inc. Offices”.
She went through the front door. No one was inside, and it didn’t look like anyone had been for decades. She wandered through the building a bit, looking for something that could help her.
In one small room there was a large metal box affixed to the wall, with a telephone receiver hanging from it and a slit in the side.
Stenciled into the top of the metal box was a phone number. She picked up the receiver with doubts as to if it would still be connected. It was. She punched in the phone number and waited.
“Hello, you have reached Introspect Incorporporated,” began the automated message. It listed off a few choices, the first of which was “To sign up with our company, press ‘1’.”
She pressed the “1” key and waited again. This time, she spoke with a live person.
She told the person that she wanted to join, told them her name and more information, then was asked to insert her money card into the slit on the side of the metal box to check her finances.
She did so, heart beating quickly. She had a sudden irrational fear that Michael hadn’t actually given her any money. A few stressful seconds later, the woman confirmed that she had enough and told her that she was very lucky, as a ship heading to Introspect headquarters was leaving from Newhaven 4 that very night. She gave Caroline information on which ship it was and where to find it, then said goodbye.
Caroline began heading toward where the ship was docked, eating food from her package on the walk.
In almost every alleyway she passed on the way, she saw people sprawled out on the grimy ground, leaning against the walls, or smoking from strange little pipes and looking from side to side.
She faced forward down the street. She felt no desire to join them, certainly, though she had enjoyed that pill of tripencorquine she had a few days ago. What she felt most was a strengthened determination for her goal. If she could succeed in some way, perhaps fewer people would feel the need to live in their own slaveries of virtual worlds.
She found the ship before long, and boarded. She put her hood up, thinking it would be best to be careful. She laid low during the three days the trip took.
Sometime on the second day, she realized with a shock that Gerome was aboard. She kept away from him, not sure what he was doing there or how he had gotten there.
Once the ship docked a small tram took the passengers through the icy landscape, stopping in front of the massive building that was the Introspect Headquarters.
Once she and the others disembarked, she completely lost track of where Gerome was. She looked around, as much as she could without being noticed, but couldn’t find him anywhere.
She followed the group of disgustingly opulent people that she had traveled with, suddenly at a loss of what to do, how to find whoever was in charge.
They passed by a small office, the door of which was slightly ajar. A scantily clad woman walked in, and the owner of the office addressed her as “Diane”.
Caroline felt like she knew the name, but couldn’t remember. She stopped walking, though the rest of the group continued on, thinking.
She remembered where she had heard it, and knew that, somehow, this was that very Diane. “Thomas is done with you for the day?” the person in the office asked Diane.
“Yeah,” she responded.
Caroline readied herself, then stepped in through the door. “He asked for me to come over from the mainland,” she said.
Diane raised her eyebrow at Caroline. “And you are?”
“Caroline. I recently joined your… company, Diane, and Irene said that Thomas wanted me to come over as well.”
Diane glared at Caroline. “Did she, now? I’ll make sure she knows who belongs here next time I return.”
The person at the desk, whose nameplate labeled them as “Joanne”, looked between them, seeming to be somewhat confused about what to do.
“Well,” Joanne said, “I guess you should go up there and meet him, at least. Go out through the hallway, take a left, then type ‘8342’ into the keypad. It will take you to his office.”
Caroline thanked her, then left the room with Diane still glaring at her. She followed the woman’s instructions and rode the elevator up thirty-three floors. The doors opened, revealing a short hallway that stopped at a pair of double doors, from behind which a deep, flowing, powerful composition was playing. She walked forward, took a deep breath, turned the handle, and opened the door.

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