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Gerard jerked as he was shaken to consciousness again. He looked up into Betty’s concerned face in front of him. Finding his throat dry, Gerard cleared his gullet. “Betty, what happened? Has it already been five minutes?”
Betty nodded. “Yes—and you had this expression on your face…”
Gerard massaged his forehead. It could just be a coincidence, but it bugs me. I’ve fallen asleep at my desk before, but not staring blankly ahead? Deciding it couldn’t hurt, he said, “Betty, I’m going to fast forward the footage, if you see me with the same expression, shake me. Don’t stare at the monitors.” Betty seemed confused about the instruction but nodded.
Stopping the rewind, he found that it was showing Sora and Fen walking down the hallway a few hours previous. Taking the footage to the time of the researchers leaving Sora’s room, he began playing through the video, Betty standing beside the active monitor, studying his face. A few minutes passed and then Betty was shaking him again.
Massaging his throat, he looked up into her crystal blue eyes; she honestly seemed concerned. “Sir, what’s going on?”
Shaking his head to clear it, Gerard said, “I don’t know.”
He gazed past her and once again he was being shaken awake. “It happened again, Sir!”
Puffing out his chest, Gerard let the air expel. Making sure to keep his vision away from the monitor, he asked, “Betty, do you know how to blacken one-side of the monitor?”
Betty shook her head. “I don’t, but you can make one screen show up on four monitors and turn off one you don’t want showing?” Nodding, Gerard passed the tablet to her. She began playing with the settings. Handing it back, she said, “There, it should be done. I also remote powered off the bottom right monitor, so you should only be seeing a third of the image.”
Nodding, Gerard said, “Don’t look and make sure I don’t do—whatever I’ve been doing.”
“Staring blankly into space?” Betty helped with a disturbed frown.
Nodding, Gerard glanced past her. His eyes widened as his mouth dropped open. The three screens showed the third portion of a single eye, but different than any Gerard had ever seen. It had two irises that had semi-merged. The outer a light purplish, while the inner was a deep crimson. The red inner irises were small void black elongated pupils. The outer iris almost appeared to bulge right through the screen. As Gerard watched the glossy black outer portion of the eye was cut by light purple lines, alternating in complicated patterns that reworked around the outer edges, purple lines filling in with black and new purple coming into existence.
It was the most frightening thing Gerard had ever witnessed or experienced; he was staring into an abyssal cavity. At the same time, he couldn’t see it but knew something was there, and whatever it was, it desperately wanted to crawl out and devour him. His imagination spun wildly; he could almost see uncountable shapeless hands reaching out to wrap him in their grasp.
The pressure against his chest was crushing as a noose closed around his throat, and he thought he heard a sound. A feeling rather than a sound, but his mind created one nonetheless. It resonated, vibrating from and through his entire body, not a clicking, a growling, whisper or roar, but something unearthly, something not meant to be heard. The back of Gerard’s neck prickled and a million insects crawled across his body and burrowed into his ears and eyes, making him choke.
Looking away with a chilling shudder, Gerard gasped, “What—is—that?” He couldn’t get the image out of his head, the feeling of something calling him to come and stay. His body shook with tremors as the sensations seeped through him like a miasma, coating every cell. The presence was sinister, beyond his ability to comprehend, it hated and loved him, something Gerard never thought possible.
Betty turned, face paling, she quickly faced away with a horrified expression, hands clasped to her mouth as she stared blankly at his seat, too afraid to speak. The consuming atmosphere didn’t fade, it seemed to be intensifying. Gerard found the will to fumble with the tablet until he finally turned off the monitors. He only noticed how much saliva had gathered in his mouth when his body told him he was choking. Finding it extremely difficult to get the lump down his throat, he gasped for air.
Betty’s entire frame quivered, stricken with terror as tears dripped from her eyes. Her head slowly moved back as she hugged herself, muttering under her breath. The eye besieged them, fighting in their minds to be seen again; it was winning, it was unstoppable. He couldn’t get the image out of his thoughts and worse, it was filling in; the purple melded into endless darkness, and then a light appeared.
Now completely alert, Gerard swallowed again and put his shaking hand on Betty’s shoulder, realizing he’d wet himself. “Wha—wha—whatever that—that thing—is—it—it might still be in the base.” His voice faltered every time the eye reasserted itself into his brain.
Taking his hands off Betty’s trembling shoulder; Gerard spent fifteen seconds fumbling with the touch screen to hit the highest security alert, Full Contaminant Lockdown. The overhead lights turned red, and a siren blared throughout the entire underground facility. His breath caught as he looked up, Betty had stopped shaking.
She was staring straight ahead, slowly turning to view the room. Horror overtook him as Betty’s crystal blue left eye changed; merging into an abyssal hollow; the swirling black outer portion had no alternating patterns, and the purple had vanished, replaced by a fathomless depth.
Betty’s lips curved into a wonderful smile, but her voice was a cry. “Help, I can’t close my eye! Help me; I can’t see anything else! No! Get away! Please—it’s pulling me in!” She sobbed, snot beginning to run down her nose.
Terrified, Gerard pushed back in his chair as the semi-merged pupils swiveled to penetrate him. Falling to the ground he scrambled back around his desk, sitting against the oaken frame he fumbled with the drawer above him until he finally extracted his M-9, muttering, “No—no—no.” His thoughts were broken at irregular intervals as the eye subjected itself in his mind, but he tried to persist through his fracturing brain. Contagious—it might be contagious—it might—contagious!
Benjamin’s voice came on over the hidden speakers, mostly drowned out by the siren. “Gerard—happening? Need—passwords—encryption.”
His quakes increased, and he blinked rapidly as he heard Betty draw a long deep breath and let it out in an audible stream that bled through the siren noise, unearthly sound emitting like an aura. Peering at her from the desk’s side, he couldn’t feel his throat. Her cheeks were bright red, but her tears had stopped, and an appalling grin had split her lips, showing her glossy white teeth. The pulsing sound deepened as she turned his way, mouth opening.
The room seemed to compress on Gerard as he continued to struggle against the entity that was ravaging his soul. His entire body quaked as he unevenly whispered, “I’m—sorry.” Dropping to his side, he aimed his handgun at Betty and pulled the trigger.
* * *
Diane shrank back as her vision fixated on Betty’s gouged out eyes. “What…”
Benjamin took one look at Betty’s corpse and raised his gun to Gerard, whose seat back was turned to them. The back of his head was visible as he stared at the wall. “Gerard—explain.”
Every gun pointed at Gerard’s back. Two men began inching into the room, staying close to the walls, giving Gerard a wide berth. Diane noticed all the monitors had been smashed.
In an almost hysterical voice, Gerard said, “The eye—it—the eye—calls—can’t—the eye—fight song—pull—destroy—the eye—wipe—everything—hate—the eye—love—everywhere!” He took a long breath, and his head began to turn to the right. Diane’s face drained of color as a sound began emitting within her mind, something horrifying, but pleasant.
The man inching that way held his gun steady. Suddenly his face turned white, and shakily he let a burst of bullets fly from his rifle. They struck Gerard in the front, shoulder, and side; making him fly off the chair and slump to the floor, unmoving. Every gun instantly darted toward the man.
Benjamin roared, “Neil, I said on my mark!”
The man began quivering, making his trigger finger flick and another spray of bullets shot out. Benjamin shot to kill the moment the man’s gun fired and he flew back into the wall. Blood spraying across broken screens, he fell to the ground.
Swearing, Benjamin yelled, “What was that about?”
The man that had inched to the left stared down at Gerard’s body, his face paled. Pointing his gun down, he shakily said, “Sir—his eye—it’s—it’s not normal! It’s sticking in my head! He’s—he’s looking at me, Sir! What is that?” The attention of the soldiers shifted to the man and their guns centered on him.
“Calm down!” Benjamin warned.
Shaking, the man said, “S—sir—the eye—it’s going into my skull! Why does it love me!” He pointed his gun at his own head. “I—can’t fire … they’re coming from his eye! They’re coming!” He flipped the gun around and pulled the trigger, a spray of bullets ruptured Gerard’s skull. Confused and frustrated, Benjamin pulled his trigger, killing a second man on his team.
Cursing again, he yelled, “Everyone out!”
He barely had to give the order before every man dashed past him into the waiting room; Diane was the first through the door, breathing heavily. What was that? Those men had seen gruesome things—done gruesome things—what could make them act out of order?
Benjamin was the last to leave and shut the doors behind him. Spewing curses, he yelled, “What was that?”
Diane put a hand up to her chest, trying to slow her racing heart and removed her headpiece, coughing and sputtering. Trying to keep her stomach in check, she said, “That man—he talked about an eye—singular—not plural. Importantly, Gerard’s eye.”
“Just like Gerard,” Benjamin muttered. “He was talking about an eye and his assistant—her eyes had been gouged out…”
“I know it’s a leap,” Diane said with a gulp. “But I think Gerard was talking about the eye being contagious, something that’s passed on through sight…” She stopped, the same unnatural noise began humming inside her mind, it started to sound oddly musical. Gerard gouged out Betty’s eyes … the man said they were coming from his eyes … whatever they are. Do we need to destroy the infected eye to stop the sound? Are there stages?
Benjamin huffed then snorted. “Something passed on through sight? That’s ridiculous! Cody, send in a drone; figure out what’s going on.”
Diane scooted away from Cody as he fixed an eyepiece on and produced a tiny robot from inside his bag. Everyone moved away from the door as he opened it and swiftly sat the robot inside as the sound escalated. He closed the door and sat against the opposite wall.
Taking out a small remote control device, he began playing with it. “Sir, who should I examine first?”
“Neil,” Benjamin commanded.
Nodding, Cody moved the device to its target. Diane listened intently as Cody explained what he saw. “Blood’s already amalgamating on the carpet; I’m going around to view his front. I see three entry points,” he cut off, face turning ashen. He unattached the display from his head and threw it against the floor. Cody smashed it with his foot, body beginning to quake as his eyes defocused.
Benjamin’s teeth ground together. “What is it!”
Cody slid down the wall to his butt. “Neil—his eye—it changed and—and—Neil—looked at me—a long—single—double pupil, but it was like there were two—merging—they saw me—even though he’s dead—they were moving … the sound!”
Benjamin was notably shaken. “His eyes were moving—even after he was dead?”
Shaking his head, Cody sputtered, “No—only one eye—his left eye—it had two merging pupils and two irises—dead black and a glowing red that—that pulsated … it’s coming!” Closing his eyes, he shook violently. “Sir, I can’t get it out of my mind … the song … what is that sound … this feeling?” His eyes snapped open as he stared in horror at something unseen ahead of him. “They—they’re coming!”
Diane’s breath caught. “What’s coming?”
Benjamin’s teeth ground together. A deep rumbling escaped his throat, and he pulled out his handgun, pointed it at Cody’s head, and pulled the trigger. Diane jumped, the last two remaining members of Sierra stared at him with sullen eyes, knowing it had to be done.
Gruffly, Benjamin said, “Greg, you know what you have to do. Both, to be sure.” After Greg concluded his task, Benjamin stood with a heavy sigh. He pulled out a cube of C4 from Cody’s backpack, opened the door and tossed it in. “Run.”
They all dashed to the hallway as Benjamin locked the metal door with a tap of the electronic pad and activated the detonation. The hollow boom moved through Diane’s frame, and she collapsed. She breathed a sigh of relief as the unearthly reverberating sound stopped. “This is insane … there are some myths of things that infect by sight, but nothing this sudden and intensive. Usually, they are legends like the Shadow People, but no, that’s by thought, not sight.”
Turning to Diane with disgust, Benjamin asked, “What can we do to stop this—visual infection? What’s the source?”
Licking her lips and swallowing nervously, Diane said, “We first have to figure out the exact cause. Gerard’s office has cameras installed, encrypted under Director clearance; there should be one not directly facing the monitor display. We can see what it was, but—until we figure that out, we are flying blind.”
Understanding the implication, Benjamin took a deep breath. If the creature was in the room with Gerard and Betty, they could be infected as well, but they needed to know if it had spread beyond that room. Nodding, Diane and Benjamin made their way to the nearest observation station. Entering, they found it empty.
Diane sat down in the seat and made sure everything showed in a text format to stop any possible infection. Finding the right camera’s saved data, Benjamin told her the time he awoke Gerard from his trance. Going to the time, they watched Gerard go about a few tasks, then sit down in the seats facing the monitors lining his wall. From the camera’s position, they couldn’t see what was displayed.
Diane paused the recording as Gerard once again went into his dream-like state. “This heightens the possibility that the soul paralysis phenomena stems from Sora’s footage.”
She fast forwarded to where Betty woke him again. They moved closer to the monitor as Gerard instructed Betty only to show a portion of the screen. Diane hummed with approval. “I see, he thinks there may be some kind of hypnotic affix to the video that is causing his state, smart.”
Both Benjamin and Diane felt shivers run up their backs as Gerard’s face drained of color and, he asked Betty what he was seeing. Betty looked and swiftly turned away, clearly horrified. Diane paused the video as Gerard glanced into Betty’s face and kicked backward in horror. “This must be when Betty’s eye turned, rather quickly,” Diane commented.
Benjamin nodded, his confident demeanor utterly shattered. “Even a recording of this eye can cause infection. I think we can imagine what happened after this point and what might happen if this gets out. What kind of—thing—is this?”
“Too clearly,” Diane muttered, “this eye stems from Sora’s feed and leaves after a certain amount of time. We could determine that time, but it could require sacrificing someone’s sanity—possibly their soul … we could even unleash the next stage, and this could become a pandemic.”
Diane thought in silence for several seconds. “We know that the feed causes my previous diagnosis with the soul, but when represented in sections it breaks the soul paralysis affix and shows what’s truly causing the state. It doesn’t spread if the victim is unaware, at least as far as we know. So the paralysis state masks the eye’s true infectious nature. Meaning—halting the entire existence of an individual from a space; locking their spirit, body, and intellectual faculties has a shielding effect or maybe masking. It’s quite a sophisticated method to stop this from becoming a massive epidemic.”
Diane’s curiosity was being combated with her self-preservation. “I truly want to know exactly what we are dealing with, but it seems impossible to gain a realization to what it really is.” A smile lit Diane’s Cheeks. “Perhaps the werewolves can be of assistance, and now that Gerard is dead, you are in charge of the base, Benjamin, you can make that order.”
Synopsis: The online game <