An Agent Green tale.
Nobody can hear a scream in the vacuum of space–or so they say. And maybe my ears didn’t catch those frequencies. Maybe I didn’t HEAR it, but I felt it. I felt it deep within me: gurgling in my stomach, fluttering in my eyelids. Was it anger? Pain? Or isolation?
“Ah. There she is. Agent Green, Miss Lena Midgley.”
The doctor curtsies both awkwardly and unnecessarily, gesturing towards her. A dark haired human with ghostly white, yet unblemished, skin sits staring into the mid-distance, her gaze locked on seemingly nothing.
“Lena, how are we feeling today?” he says cheerfully, pushing his rapidly receding hair backwards out of his face.
“A sadness….unparalleled in our time.” An almost inaudible response, her lips barely fluttering.
“I see. I see.” The doctor pauses, in thought. “Well, Lena, I have some good news for you. You have some visitors. They’d like to ask you a few questions, if that’s ok with you?”
“A pain…a pain that cuts deep to the bone,” she murmurs.
Turning to face the man tapping his foot impatiently in the doorway, the doctor sighs apologetically. “I did say, agent, the patients in this wing are usually, well, let’s say– beyond words.”
The agent glances around the room, taking in the shuffling steps, the despondent stares and the gentle rocking of half a dozen other young women, all dressed in identically unflattering white gowns; the crisp, white walls exacerbating the bright, clinical feel to the place.
“I can try to get her focused, if that might be of use to you?” the doctor continues.
Sitting down confidently next to her, without making eye-contact, the agent responds, “Thank you doctor, that won’t be necessary.”
Looking toward the physician, the agent pauses expectantly. “Will there be anything else, doctor?”
“Oh…er, well. I’m afraid I’ve got to be present during visits of this nature.” His voice quietens to a whisper, edging closer. “You see, when a patient has a history of…violent crimes, it’s clinic protocol that a medical professional is present at all times. Not that we’re worried about that sort of thing, but–”
“That’s not what we discussed.” The agent interrupts bluntly, turning to face the doctor, a scornful look passing across his face.
“I’m sorry, sir. There’s really no way around it.”
He sighs sharply, rolling his eyes. “Fine.”
“A darkness…a darkness unrelenting.” The patient's ramblings continue, seemingly unaware of the man who has come for her.
“Lena? Hi. My name’s Agent Green. May I start by asking you a few simple questions?”
“That scream: the awful, delicious howling.” She continues to stare vacantly into the nothingness, her eyes bloodshot and dry, unblinking.
“I want to talk to you about your trip. About how you found yourself to be here in this facility? You were visiting Etarro, right? A cave-diving experience? You and your husband?”
“I heard it. Right into my soul.” Her voice is monotone and gentle, without any trace of emotion.
“…okay.” He shuffles in his chair, more through frustration than discomfort. “Let’s try something else. I hear that your instructor, Gerxca, was a bit of a daredevil. Fancied taking you all off-grid. Was that something you all discussed before you departed? Or… was that a change of plans?”
“I felt it go right to my core. Waaaay down, in my tummy. I can feel it now. I always feel it.”
“I told you this was gonna be a waste of time,” mutters Green’s partner, a slender creature with delicate greyish scales, who has been unusually quiet by her own standards. She leans to his ear.
“You know we gotta be planetside in 20. We don’t have long.”
He nods a thankful smile her way.
“If you don’t mind me interjecting, she may need a bit of priming before you dive right in like this.” The doctor bumbles, edging from behind the patient tentatively, dragging over a nearby chair as loudly as possible to perch right in front of her.
“Lena, how are we today? I hear you had vergun eggs for breakfast this morning? Did they make them how you like?...Extra runny?”
“Really runny eggs, yes.” Her face lightens slightly, and her mouth widens, but her eyes stay fixed.
“Beautiful weather we’re having today. A nice gentle breeze, don’t you think?”
“Yes. Yes, it tickles my forehead a little.”
“And how was your battle chess game with Asmira yesterday? Rumour has it you’re getting very good now.”
“It…it was a tough one.” She pauses for a moment. “She used Aomorian defence, so I had to develop a…counter-strategy on the fly. I…I think I won.” She lifts her head to look into the doctor’s eyes, a grin now filling her face.
“I believe you did, yes. Well done Lena. You’re making real progress.” A half-glance to his left, brings her attention to the agents, in their matching skin-tight outfits; a dark teal in colour, with white and magenta embellishments at the neck, shoulders and waist.
“Who are these people? Have we…have we met before?” She seems excited to have visitors. Extending her hand out towards Green, seated to her right, she seems almost entirely renewed with energy. Taking his chance, the agent sticks out his head to meet hers.
“Hi, I’m Agent Green and this is my partner, Rala. We’re from the CCB. I’m aware you’ve already spoken with some of my colleagues in Criminal, so we won’t take much of your time. We’re just popping in to check a few details about your recent trip. Would that be ok?”
“Oh, of course, agent. Anything I can do to help. My memory is…well, it evades me these days. S…since the accident. But I’ll answer what I can.”
“Thanks.” He turns, nodding to the doctor, who stands, taking his cue to step out of sight.
“So, could I start by asking you to tell me about your trip? You were heading to Etarro?”
“That’s right, yes. My husband, Kaerl. Such an adrenaline junkie. We take it in turns picking vacations. And…last year we’d been to watch the glitter shower over in the Bezyrr system…erm, New Pegasi. That’s it. That was my pick. It was a truly fantastic trip.”
He nods along, feigning interest only marginally enough to avoid insult. “Right. And so, this time it was Kaerl’s turn to pick. And he wanted to go cave-diving?”
“Yeh. I’d seen some planets that were closer to home, with much nicer resorts, but he’s not into all that. He wanted it to be a challenge; he’s VERY experienced at this kind of thing.”
She beams fondly, which is immediately followed by a moment's pause as she runs out of steam, smiling and nodding. Green lifts his head to look back at her, having let his attention wander a little.
“So you land on Etarro. And you meet up with your tour group, and your instructor.”
“Gerxca," she chimes, leaving little room for thought. “Such a lovely man. Not unlike yourself actually, except maybe a little darker in colour.” Her attention turns briefly to Rala, who jumps a little, perhaps not expecting to be addressed.
“Little did I know, we were actually going on an unmapped excursion, paving the way for new explorers. I…I did have some reservations, but Kaerl was so excited. As was everyone else for that matter.”
“Yes. Your tour buddies. Can you tell me about them?”
“Ermm….hmmm. Frank, the Zelarayan and his 2 boys. Then Samir and his father, Ahmad; both of them seemed like they had seen their fair share of adventure. But they didn’t really know Confederate Common or Earthish, so we didn’t actually talk. And a couple…possibly Nashari, but they could’ve been Vancelie. It's not important. Their name are right on the tip of my tongue.” She trails off again.
“Thanks for that. Maybe we can start to talk about the trip itself? So, on day one…”
“Rozeen. Rozeen and Ambware. Those were their names.” She exudes pride as it finally comes to her.
“That’s great,” he says with a large dose of sarcasm, barely acknowledging her statement. It doesn’t seem to bother Lena though, who slouches back arrogantly. “And so, day one, you’ve set up base camp and got acquainted with the local flora and fauna. Day two, you’re what…straight into the caves?”
“Near enough, yes. We did some safety drills first. Went over…emergency procedures and whatnot. Gerxca was quite a laid back guy. He wasn’t taking it very seriously. He kept cracking jokes. Ahahaahah! Ohhh!” She breaks into a deep and hysterical laughter, fanning herself with her hand and blowing hard. It lasts longer than Agent Green would hope. “I guess you had to be there for that one. He was hilarious.”
“In the beginning, the caves were wide and light was bouncing down from the surface; bright enough not to have the lamps on. After a short break, we started our descent into the cavern.”
“Just a second, Lena. I just want to jump back a second. The cave entrance you took; that’s the ovular opening about a mile due east of your campsite?”
“Erm, hmm. No. No, I think it was further than that. Gerxca said something about a local who told him about a faster route in. Through a mountain pass.” Using her hands to help her figure out the orientations, she continues, “I think it was south-west of where we camped. We must have walked for almost an hour before we got to the entrance.”
“And do you think you’d be able to trace your route on a map?”
He passes her a thin, transparent tablet, which he waves his hand over, springing it to life. A map pops into view, its topography projecting up from the surface.
“Ohhhhh, errrr, I think, yes. Do I just….?” She hovers a finger just above the surface, sending the image jerking spasmodically.
“Errr, huh. Here.” Taking a second to first to put right her blunder, Green reaches across to her, the chair’s plasticky covering making an unflattering noise as he readjusts. He extends out her middle finger alongside her index to a two fingered point. A look of unease passes over the doctor’s face, but he stays quietly standing behind his patient.
“Just draw roughly where you think you walked that day. Say, that local that Gerxca talked to. He didn’t mention a name at all, did he?”
“Hmmm.” She thinks for a good few seconds, before tentatively carving out a mark across the surface of the map. “There.”
“Much appreciated,” he whispers gently. He motions again over the tablet, deluminating the screen, before putting it back into his modest-looking black leather satchel.
Following the tablet with her eyes, her mind is drawn back to the question. “No, I don’t think he did mention a name, come to think of it. Why?”
“No matter. Thanks for that, Lena. Sorry for interrupting. Now, where were we? The cavern?”
“Ah yes, the cavern. We had to rappel down a narrow pitch to progress; straight down from the larger opening where we’d eaten lunch. For us, it wasn’t quite as bad, but the Zelarayans did have some issues squeezing through. Though we all made it unscathed. From there, we were crouched for what felt like a long time. Maybe an hour. And by torch light now. Winding back and forth. We didn’t cover much ground. You were often waiting for the people in front. Especially Frank. He was a big boy you see–broad shoulders.” She uses her hands to model on herself the scale of Frank’s upper body girth.
“And…at the end of all that, we had to clear a boulder choke. There must have been hundreds of rocks. Varying sizes, but mostly relatively small.” Her hands indicate the size of a loaf of bread. “You can imagine that was tedious, passing rocks backwards, one at a time. Through there, it opened out into a chamber of sorts. Lots of rock formations and an almost constant dripping noise, echoing around. And natural light, cascading down through a thin shaft. You could see right up to the sky.”
“And, looking at the notes I’ve got, this is where the first casualty happened. How did it come to occur?” Agent Green puts his chin in his hand pensively.
“It’s hard to know exactly. It…it all seemed to happen so fast. I hadn’t realised the depth of drop to either side. And I guess, neither had he. As we were all getting out through the window we’d excavated, Ambware must have stepped backwards and lost his footing slightly. And…” She pauses again, uncertain, smushing a finger to her lips.
“All we heard were his screams. They seemed to go on forever.” Her expression drops slightly. “Until they didn’t. That's when I felt her presence for the first time.”
“Who’s?” Rala quizzes. Lena continues, oblivious.
“We tried to see down, but the ground was loose and there was was just…blackness. Rozeen was in pieces. We tried to console her, she was desperate for us to go after him. Pleading with us. But…it just wasn’t possible. Gerxca had to have a very difficult conversation with her.”
“And that’s when he suggested you all go back?”
“Gerxca?! No! No. He wanted to press on. And that we were behind schedule and…that we needed to keep moving. It was Frank who wanted to go back. He...said his kids were a bit shook up, but…we could all tell who the real wimp was.” She loses herself once again, and begins looking around the room.
“So, what happened then?”
“Huh. Oh right, yes. Well, Frank. He wanted to go back, but Gerxca said it was too risky. That you shouldn’t split up. But Frank was not in a listening mood. He went to leave, turning back where we’d excavated, but it..it just wasn’t there.”
“What do you mean it wasn’t there?” Agent Green cocks his head slightly.
“Just that, it…wasn’t there. No gap. Just gone. It had gotten frantic by this point, grabbing at rocks, yelling. They just kept pulling and pulling and- . There was dust falling from above us and…Samir and Ahmad were yelling at them in Sand. I took Rozeen by the arm and brought her to one side. She was still in shock; she’d gotten very quiet. Kaerl too. He’s usually the loudest voice in the room, but instead he was just watching everyone. Taking them in.” Her blinks seem to quicken and the now familiar gaze into the mid-distance returns.
Noticing he was losing her again, Agent Green tries to change the subject. “Lena, in the report I’ve read on the events, it says you came across an entrance. Other than saying it was locked on their investigation, it doesn’t really elaborate. Can you shine a light on that at all?”
Her voice seems distant, dazed, as she replies. “Yes, sure. It seemed quite a gradual change from where we began our descent. The cave system started to look more and more artificial–like it was created. I can’t really explain how, but it was just the shape of the rocks I guess, the gradient of the slopes. I’m no geologist, but it didn’t seem natural. After about an hour, we got to a bridge. It was made entirely of stone, with pillars at either edge. They had strange symbols on, which I’d never seen before.”
A curious look upon his face, Green grabs the tablet from his satchel once more. Jiggling it to life, his eyes remain fixed on his screen.
“Gerxca was as stunned as we were. The local had said there were great structures down there, but I don’t think Gerxca had in his wildest dreams imagined that they might have meant architectural ones.”
“I see. Do these symbols seem similar to the ones you saw?” He turns the screen in her direction.
It takes only a moment of furrowed brow for her to respond. “Yes. Yes, I think so. You know what those are?”
The doctor looks as if he wants to speak, but instead puts his fist to his mouth, clearly troubled by the exchange.
“It’s an ancient text. Not exactly sure what they all mean yet, but…”
“You see her too, don’t you?”
“When you dream at night. You see her. I can tell.” She nods, her eyes fixed on him. “It’s the way you look at me. You can’t hide from her, believe me. I’ve tried.”
“Please, Lena. I can assure you, I don’t follow.”
“You don’t need to tell them.” She cuts in, before leaning towards him, switching to a whisper “I can see it.”
“The… the bridge.” Green rushes out, doing his best to change the subject, shuffling in his chair again, looking down to the cheap linoleum flooring, chipped in various places. This isn’t lost on Rala, who glances down at him suspiciously.
“The bridge, sure. It was at least 6 feet across, but very dusty, especially around the corners where it met the pillars. Maybe 50 feet long. It was difficult to see the other side because of how dark it was, but there was definitely some kind of doorway. She must have been waiting for us. She knew we would come.”
“Who is this she exactly?” Rala checks.
“HER.” She stresses the word, her eyes widening: a tough expression to read. Somewhere between horror and glee.
Standing, his arm outstretched towards Lena, the Doctor tries to slow things down.
“Might we just ease back a little. The patient is making some headway with her treatment and I’m not…”
“Doctor, this is important. You assured us we’d be given the time we asked for.”
“Yes, but…but I don’t think encouraging her like this is…”
“Please…continue.” Green turns his attention back to Lena, cutting the doctor off mid-sentence, who bites his lip, stifling a curse.
“Yes…yes. I could feel her eyes on me. But I could not yet see her. We’d been talking about something. Me and Rozeen. I’d been escorting her; I can’t remember exactly what it was. But it was then that she started screaming. She’d been holding the light, and I guess she dropped that as she fell to the floor, her arms flailing all over the place. I only caught a glimpse of her as she dashed away. I remember jumping backward, repulsed at the thick, bulging veins. They pulsed viciously underneath its slick, oily skin. There were more lights…bobbing around as the others ran towards us. They gasped. I could only make out shapes; the glare from their lights was shining into my eyes.” Almost instinctively, she puts her hand out at arm’s length to cover her eyes. “All I saw was crimson; and light. But I could hear her wailing…sobbing. They reached down to restrain her, to stop her doing any more damage to herself.”
“I don’t know...It was all over her hands. And…and her eyes; why would she do that to her…her…” Lena begins to well up with emotion, tears dripping down her cheeks.
“Alright, I think that’s about enough for today, don’t you?” The doctor stands, clapping his hands together with a perceived finality.
“Doctor, please. Sit.” The agent growls, pointing expectantly back to the chair from which the doctor just stood. Without waiting for him, Green continues to probe. “The door, Lena. The door. Can you tell me how you got in there?”
Shrugging, the doctor sits, clearly frustrated.
“It was open!” She spits, through her sobs.
“Impossible. The door, Lena. Who opened the door? What did you do to get through?”
“You wish to return, don’t you? She feels you searching; she yearns for you.”
“Focus now, Lena. The door!”
“Hey, you sure this is really the right…” Rala puts a hand on Green’s upper back.
Unbowed, he presses on.
“The door, Lena. The door.”
“It was open!”
“The report from Investigation was very clear that the door was locked when they arrived. Can you explain that at all?”
“Kaerl, I think. When she found us. When she took Gerxca. I saw her again then; a quick flash of furry hind legs. And…and the talons. Like razors. They tore him in half. We’d hid for so long. Before…before I knew what she really wanted.”
“Kaerl, your husband? He went back to lock the door? To seal it inside?” Green quickens his pace, barely leaving room for her to mull over her answers.
“It! How dare you…you…” Her voice quickly shifts from fear to anger.
“To seal her inside,” Green utters, correcting himself.
“Of course! He didn’t know. Didn’t know the truth. I…I…” Her cadence becomes slower, her voice softer. “I didn’t see him again after that. It was just me and her.”
“This must be around the time you found the font? Is that right?” Green retorts, matching her tone.
“It was so…beautiful. The carvings; the statues.”
“The report says you described the room as being mostly stone, with some precious metals. It also says it was quite…tarnished?”
“It was so dark. Just oil lanterns burning around the place. But it was clear enough to pick out the details. The walls throbbed and dripped; oozing, almost black. Except for the reflections of the light against them, that is, bouncing scarlet back towards me.”
“And the font was in the middle of this space.”
“Just below chest height. It must have measured 4 feet from edge to edge, supported by, like, a decorative column underneath. The bowl was kind of circular, but it had edges, like a hexagon, but with more sides.”
“14?” Green asks.
“Erm, maybe. Yes, yes. Maybe.”
“And, I’m sorry to keep pushing you here Lena. But what happened then?”
“She was waiting for me. I hadn’t noticed her at first, but then…those eyes. Those eyes, cutting through the darkness. Into my soul. She crawled from the shadows, her back arching and weaving. Those eyes, raising with her frame to tower above me, pacing slowly towards the font. She leant her hand on it gently, never breaking her gaze.”
“It crawled or walked?” Rala adds cautiously, not wanting to disturb her flow.
“She waved for me to come closer, waving a hand slowly and calmly towards her. I was…mesmerised. Those eyes! So…kind and…and generous. I couldn’t stop myself. Before I knew it, I was in front of her.”
The agents are quiet, leant forward in their chairs. The doctor though, bored by the familiarity of the narrative, is looking from the patient, to the agents and to his wristwatch, hoping they get the picture. He even tries a gentle cough.
“Excuse you,” murmurs Green, without breaking his focus.
“Agents, don’t you think it’s time you…”
“Shhhh!” Rala pushes the first of her three fingers gently to her lips. Much like her partner, she does not avert her attention from the patient.
“I was next to her, gazing up into the tranquil pools. She extended out her hand, and plunged it into the ruby liquid, waiting. Waiting for me to do the same. It was greasy. Warm. Comforting.”
She sighs, closing her eyes in a brief moment of bliss. “She lifted her hand to paw her face and smeared it down from her cheek to her chin, sticking out her tongue to catch it, licking her lips clean. I feel my hand lifting also. It shimmers, as I turn it back and forth in the light.”
Standing now, her hand comes up to mirror the actions.
“When I…when I look back at her, she’s nodding deeply, her eyes still trained on me. I can still taste it now; sweet, almost fruity.”
She licks her own lips wildly.
“Feed…feed!” Her voice morphs from understated and soft, deepening to a thunderous boom.
“Ok, that’s enough…” the doctor mutters, clearly uneasy.
Green is transfixed, his eyes unblinking.
Lena's voice continues, low and growling. “Return. I feel your hunger. Your thirst. Unquenching! Join me!” Her eyes widen to a maddening degree, before she drops to the ground.
Flustered, the doctor turns to the agents. “Quickly, help her up, will you. Please!?”
The doctor and Agent Green rush to their feet, clambering over one another. The two of them find a steady grip and lift her gingerly up into her chair; stepping back to give her space.
Rala doesn’t move an inch, instead scanning the room. The commotion has begun to gather a small crowd. The onlookers though, are all too cautious and timid to involve themselves, instead peering from afar like meerkats.
Lena opens her eyes, flinching slightly and reeling at the brightness of the light. “What…ahh...what happened?”
“It was another episode, dear,” the doctor states mildly. “We spoke about this. These personas, these voices; they’re just…delusions.”
The doctor turns to the agents. “It’s not uncommon for patients with severe trauma to experience dissociative identity disorders. Now please! She needs rest.”
“Doctor, with all due respect, we’ve travelled for 2 weeks to get here and we only have a narrow window before we need to leave.” Green says, losing his temper slightly before lowering his tone.
“I beg you, just 5 more minutes.”
“Only 3, sir. We need to get movin’.” Rala states, correcting him.
“Now, even if I were inclined to say yes - which I’m not - I get the sense you’ve already lied to me once to get yourselves here. You said nothing of these symbols in your transcript and you clearly know more than you’re letting on about her trauma. It’s unsettling her. We’ve worked for months to get her to this point. I simply have to…”
“We ain’t got time for this.” Rala whips out her plasma pistol in a heartbeat, aiming it towards the doctor. If any eyes in the room weren’t at least half-focused in their direction, they were now.
“Well, I…” The doctor stammers, before Rala raises the pistol a little higher, locking eyes with him.
“Now hurry the fuck up, Green. We ain’t got all day.”
“Lena, focus.” Grabbing her hand, he causes Lena to take her gaze away from Rala and back to him. “I need you to tell me what happened next. How did they find you?”
“Biiiiiigg boom. An…explosion?” She says, half questioning herself. Her eyes are unfocused now and she scratches her head.
“Your touring party’s emergency beacon was triggered at some point whilst you were underground. Automated Search & Rescue bots were scrambled to the position. The footage from their live feeds showed you were in a different room to the font when they breached to get you. Do you recall how you got there?”
“No, I…I don’t…remember. I just remember seeing her again. As…as they carried me away, onto the ship. Just as the loading bay door was closing, I saw her. Scuttling across the debris. As the engine thrusted off, there was a rockfall and she disappeared from view. You can’t hear a scream in a vacuum. But I did. I felt it. I felt it deep within me; gurgling in my stomach, fluttering my eyelids. What was it that she was feeling? Was it anger? Pain? Or perhaps isolation? A sadness unparalleled in our time. Maybe I’ll never know.”
The two agents stand side by side in the elevator, the stars visible through the glass behind them whizzing by, as a cruise ship hurls off into the expanse. Looking towards him, Rala breaks what has been a long and uneasy silence.
“So you gonna tell me what that was all about?” Her voice is just tinged with irritability.
“Nooope.” His eyes are trained forward.
She laughs slightly, before becoming animated, bringing out her pitchy impersonation of him right on cue. “Just a routine follow up, Rala. Nothing to worry about, Rala.” She drops the act, as he lowers his head, unable to stop himself from grinning. “Jeez. Can you at least tell me where we’re going next?”
Turning his head back forward, Green continues to say nothing.
“Shiiit. And you said we were gonna be home in time for Unification day. Man, you a snake. Simple as that.”
She appears vexed, dancing on the spot. But her expression quickly fades back into a smile.
“Yo, you remember that time when we were back on Hogaar 7. This isn’t gonna end up like one of those mo’fuckers, is it?”
“Haa. I sure hope not.” He says, with a chuckle. “I sure hope not.”
The silence continues until the elevator chimes to announce their arrival.
Rala steps out of the doors as soon as they open, but Green lingers for a moment, a deep shudder running down his spine, before checking over his shoulder.
“Stop that!” he mutters sharply but gently. “A sadness unparalleled in our time, huh? We’ll see soon enough, I guess.”