Hold Your Breath and You’ll Hear the Devil (Part 4)

For a friend who has been waiting a few years for this. Here’s Part 1, Part 2, and Part 3 if you missed them (or want to refresh your memory, give me a movie deal, nitpick the ridiculous plot… so on and so forth).

“Hello. My name is Ted Phoenix. I am the Chief Liaison of Dream Communications here at AYNIK.

What you have witnessed is an unprecedented method of accessing the human mind. Some may say we were inspired by Inception, or any type of medium that addresses layered realities.

That’s a fair assessment to make.

The people in charge were admittedly intrigued by the premise put forth by Inception. They realized the vulnerability of the human mind when a person was dreaming – or believed he or she was dreaming.

Anything can happen in a dream. You know this from personal experience. Only when you wake up do you realize how many impossible things occurred.

Who knows? Maybe we’re all in a dream right now. A dream that never ends until we die. How do we know anything is true? Even the simplest things may be completely different based on our perception of it. For example, we generally acknowledge the sky is blue during the day. Well what if, in reality, it was not only a different color, but something completely different?

And the only reason we think it’s normal is because we’re dreaming.

Or what about things like physics? Is gravity real? Or is it just a product of our dreams?

I know it’s not entirely provoking to put forth this idea. As I said before, this exploration of what “reality” really is has been done many times before. Of course, this is real life – as far as we know – so the stakes are much, much higher.”

“At the core, the idea here is to make the subjects believe. Since nobody truly knows what Hell is like – or whether it even exists or not – we can work from a blank slate.

We put forth a series of events that can’t be proved to be true or false simply because nobody really knows the ultimate answer. If we all died right this instant, could we say with any certainty or credibility what we will experience next? No.

That’s why we decided that death was the ultimate blank slate. ‘Kill’ the subject and anything is possible.

The subject you observed today was one of many brave volunteers who agreed to undergo a protocol session with our neuro-respirator. Therefore, some of the events he went through were a little more… dubious than what we would use in the final product.

But you can see the effectiveness. A tarantula is on your face when you wake up? No questions asked! Your wife inexplicably guns you down in your garage with an M60? Oh well!

We believe the total immersion will only go higher and higher as our death introductions become more and more realistic.

As you saw, the transition into ‘Hell’ was also successful.

That’s the beauty of the unknown – you can manipulate it into whatever you’d like.

Of course, saying we manipulate anything might be a tad strong. You could say we really just ease our subjects into a certain mindset. In any case, the potential is high, and we believe this technology can be used for the greater good of humanity.

From the beginning,  one of our chief concerns was the ways in which neuro-respirators could be abused. Our minds are sacred – they are private and should stay that way.

It would be truly heinous for anybody to take such power and use it for negative reasons. What we have in mind is doing things like helping solve crimes and rehabilitate people with various issues, both mental and physical.

For example, if someone is in a coma under suspicious circumstances, we could theoretically use a neuro-respirator to access that person’s mind and try to find some memory of the events preceding the coma.

Navigating the mind is tricky, of course, which is why we’re only doing the most basic of things at the moment. With our current volunteers, we’re doing less probing and more suggesting – seeing the results from suggestions we place into the mind, you might say.

In dangerously simplistic terms, you could almost call it hypnosis. But I beg of you, please don’t think the two things are interchangeable.

What we do here will change the world. Hypnosis is nothing but a gimmick.

With this, AYNIK will provide a means to make the world a much better place.

Thank you.

Without your contributions, none of this would have been possible.”

He walked off the stage as the audience members rose in unison and clapped enthusiastically. He looked up, flashed a dashing smile, and gave a casual salute as he disappeared behind the curtain. The lights slowly eased back on as the audience clamored amongst themselves with uncontainable excitement.

Ted Phoenix strolled into the dressing room and plopped down onto a plush leather sofa. He leaned back, stretching languidly in all directions.

The CEO of AYNIK, Nikolai Kirilenko, was waiting on the adjacent sofa. His face was tense as he stoutly asked, “So?”

“It was a rousing success.”

“Are you sure? I mean, are you absolutely positive?”

“Hell yes! Do you hear those fools out there? Still clapping. I guess they want an encore or something.”

“Well they don’t matter. He matters. Did you find what you were looking for?”

“As a matter of fact, I did.”

Kirilenko palmed his bald head in relief and said, “That’s great. That’s fantastic. So we’re good to go then?”

“We sure are. AYNIK now has two revolutionary technologies. Who is going to stop us? Google? Facebook? The government? Please.”

Kirilenko smiled tightly and said, “Don’t get too confident. And don’t get my hopes up. Because you know what happens when I feel disappointed.”

Phoenix stared into the murky green eyes and nodded.

Both men got up and walked out. After going through a complex series of hallways, corridors, and tunnels, they arrived at the neuro-respirator laboratory.

Three men and two women were laying on beds. Each had a simple device over their mouths and noses, like a more elegant version of a commercial plane’s oxygen masks.

Each individual had classified information about a rival company.

AYNIK had everything.

Nothing would stop them.

Ted Phoenix and Nikolai Kirilenko looked at each other.

It was time to set the volunteers free.

AYNIK owned a number of campuses that each served a unique purpose. This location was simultaneously one of the more secretive ones and one of the more public ones. In fact, this particular location had been built explicitly for the more shadowy aspects of what the company did. Nobody even suspected anything, mostly because the building was minimally guarded and in a heavily populated area. Surely something sketchy couldn’t happen in almost literal broad daylight?

While this type of deception had been done before, AYNIK took it to another level. The most sensitive location also happened to be one of the only campuses with a tour guide for media members and a reception hall. That mean guys like Ted Phoenix could lie to journalists right to their faces even as industry secrets were being stolen right beneath their feet, under the green marble tiles and in the labs below.

As for the media tour guides, those served to feed the public a little bit of delicious information at a time. It was always just enough to amaze on a profound level to the point where journalists had to write about what they saw, instead of doing any type of real investigations. That’s what happened in the neuro-respirator lab.

When they were looking at Volunteer #3, they observed the beginning to the part where he receives a mysterious laptop out of thin air. They never saw his memories about the tree, or his dead wife.

They also never saw his memories on what his wife had been working on.

AYNIK had a reputation for being completely transparent, which CEO Nikolai Kirilenko privately joked was “only the illusion of transparency.”

Now, they were in position to completely dominate the technology industry – possible even the world.

The best part was this: power would come with the benefit of goodwill. After all, good and bad are subjective terms. They can also switch roles in an instant. While some may think a monopoly on technology would be bad, that power would be used with great responsibility. That’s what Kirilenko told his people and that’s what Ted Phoenix reiterated.

The rise of AYNIK would be the rise of humankind all at the same time.

One neat package.

I blink and the next thing I know, I’m in a bed somewhere.

At first, I believe it’s some kind of dreaded trick from Hell, where I’m supposed to believe I’m “free” or something, only to get transported back into my white room.

But then… I remember. I remember why I’m here, in this bed and in this laboratory with four other people. Then I see two doctors walk over to me and that’s when it’s all confirmed.

They can see I’m still shaken from the test, so they give me some time to get my thoughts together. I’m not sure what their results indicate, but I hope it all worked out. It was the worst nightmare I ever went through, and I find it bitterly ironic that it happened during a clinical trial for a do-it-all cure for sleeping disorders.

After they take the device off my face, they help me sit up and tell me I’ve been asleep for about two hours. I shake my head in mild disbelief and say, “It felt a lot longer. In fact, it felt like a month. I’ve never felt anything like it. It was the worst sleep I ever had – even worse than after my brother died. And my wife.”

The bald guy, Dr. Nick, nods sympathetically and says, “Well you’ve done the right thing by accepting our offer. With your contribution, hopefully we’ll be well on our way to providing a cure for people like you who face troubles when trying to sleep.”

The other guy, Dr. Ash, cuts in and says, “So, how are you feeling? Ready to get to the next step?”

“Yeah, sure. I mean, I just get paid and it’s basically a waiting game, correct?”

Dr. Nick says, “Yep! Say, what did you dream about anyway? If you don’t mind me asking?”

“Oh, it was about family. And Hell. That was definitely a factor.”

For some reason, the doctors exchange a quick look of relief. I guess they’re just happy it wasn’t anything even weirder. I don’t know.

I ask, “Why is everybody else still asleep?”

Dr. Ash says, “They started the test later than you. Wouldn’t want to mess with the consistency, you know?”

I nod. Even a kid in high school could tell you that.

After dressing and getting paid (a tidy sum of $5000), I leave the lab and go outside. For a moment, I’m shaken, and I lean against the wall to make sure I don’t fall over.

Even though it was a dream, it all felt so real. I’m just glad I can breath fresh air again. Looks like I’m going home with a spring in my step.

Things are looking good.

That’s what you think.

What the – !? Isn’t that the narrator from my dream?

Yeah, it’s still Barrett. And unfortunately for you, this is still a fictional story. Which means I’m in complete control here and you’re nothing but a product of some words on a screen.

I fall to my knees. That’s it, all hope is lost.

I look up at the sky as people walk by and stare at me with morbid curiosity. I thrust my hands up into the air and scream, “KHAANNNNN!!!”

Hi there, this is Barrett.

Since you know it’s me, I’ll switch to the regular font right… now.

I’d just like to thank everybody that read this quirky story from the beginning all the way to the end. I went into this without a plan and I’m somewhat pleased with the results. The story took me where it wanted to go, which is why the beginning is like a comedy and the rest is much more somber in tone.

For several years now, I’ve been writing nonfiction almost exclusively, so it was nice to get back into the world of fiction.

I would also like to thank my friend Amey for being so patient. She waited only, like, three years for this and I hope it made her (or you, if this is Amey reading at the moment) happy. Most importantly, I’m no longer in your debt – at least for helping me with that massive pile of Logic homework way back when.

Assuming is always risky, but I’d also like to thank the person who will undoubtedly give me a lucrative movie deal for this story. Please make sure the following are involved with the movie for the wackiest cinematic smoothie in history:

(in no particular order)

  • Tom Cruise
  • Tom Hanks
  • Tom Hardy
  • Tom Hiddleston
  • Tommy Lee Jones
  • Tom Cruise (again)
  • Bubbles, the actual character, from Trailer Park Boys
  • An egregious number of attractive actresses
  • Matthew McConaughey (the apex of his career must continue!)
  • Tom Cruise (not running)
  • Tom Cruise (jogging)
  • Tom Cruise (sprinting)
  • Tom Cruise (running so fast he flies off the planet)
  • A rescue mission to save Tom Cruise
  • Random blood splurts directed specifically by Quentin Tarantino
  • Just passing time with the camera courtesy of Nicolas Winding Refn and David Lynch
  • Some Koreans (I’m thinking Choi Min-sik and Jang Hyuk)
  • A continuous shot of Woody Allen walking the streets of New York while he does nothing but stammer for fiteen minutes, directed by Alfonso Cuarón

Um, make sure you get the budget for that.

Thank you so much.

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