I spun around to find myself in the white room again. "What the fuck is this?"
In the chair behind the table across the room, just like last time, sat the mysterious stranger. The stranger with my face and my name. He didn't answer, he just grinned at me, my grin. Glaring, I walked over and sat in the chair opposite him, staring, daring him to blink, to flinch, to do anything in my mind.
"We are ready now, Mr. Hawthorn. Shall we begin the tests?"
"Wait! I'm not playing any more! What about my friends you fuck!" I lunged over and grabbed him, me, whatever it was and shook him by the cuff. "You fucking killed Toni! You're not getting anything unless I know they're safe!"
"Ehem. You're held by contract. We aren't obliged to acquiesce to any of your demands Mike." The bastard grinned smugly.
"No! That's not fucking good enough you shit head!"
My stolen face just rolled it eyes and I lurched back, curled up into a ball as I tried to stop the snakes from ripping their way out of my body. "We had an agreement Mike. We still have an agreement."
I gasped for air as I felt a snake worming its way through my throat. "N-No!"
The other me touched a hand to his right ear, as if trying to listen to something. "Stop this Mike. Stop it now or they die."
I should have probably given in, I should have probably died, choking on snakes, but I was too angry, I was too pissed at being toyed with, at being played by my own imagination or whatever this twisted fuck of a world was inside my head. "Noooooo!"
We're approaching a 180 degree phase-shift in flux space. Disconnect Unit 04! Disconnect!
"What the fuck?"
My double gripped the side of his head and screamed. "He can hear you! He can fucking hear you!"
Everything was becoming blurry, some strange double vision was emerging, like I was looking out of my eyes, and my doubles. The whole room began shaking and the snakes disappeared and in my moment of freedom I lunged towards myself. I punched him square in the jaw as he cowered, hand pressed against his ear.
Reality turned inside out.
* * * * *
I awoke expecting the choking feeling, the inability to breathe as my mind was wrenched back into reality. It didn't happen. Instead, I opened my eyes and I was still in the white room, but it was different somehow. It seemed more real, and that in itself felt wrong. Before the room hadn't had any real substance to it, it was there just as a setting, but it wasn't really tangible. Now I could feel it. Now that I noticed it, the room felt bigger too, no that wasn't it. It did appear bigger, but it was not. I was shorter. Alarmed by my sudden change in size, I looked it myself to check everything was in shape. It wasn't. Where my legs had been was now replaced by the tip of a large metallic-looking cone, my arms, clusters of metallic tubes, tools and unknown apparatus. I panicked before I realised that I must still be under the influence of the Mystery. What was this? Was it some kind of test? Was it the test the other me had wanted to perform? Had something gone wrong? What the fuck was happening!?! I tried to feel my face, but I felt nothing, hearing only the scrape of metal against metal and tapping on glass as I reached my eyes.
Unit 04 respond. Respond Unit 04! A message formed in my brain.
I panicked and searched for an exit. The world seemed to change, colours, shapes, even gravity, everything began to point towards a space on the wall I couldn't see before. Unsure of my legless body, I tried to move towards it and was like I was falling through syrup, a soft, frictionless syrup towards the panel. More confident now, I sped towards it, surprised by my own speed and as I reached it the panel dissolved and I passed through it away from the white room.
Unit 04! The phase-shift! The subject is in control of Unit 04! This is unprecedented! Never has such a synchronisation ratio been thought possible! Alert the project leaders at once! The voice in my head shouted, maybe forgetting or unaware that I could hear it. Unit 04... Mike? Mike we don't want to harm you. You're far more special than we realised. Take line 0. You will not be harmed.
Bull shit! I had no idea what line 0 was, but as the thought entered my mind, the world began its weird shift, like it had in the white room and all my perception focussed on an inch thick black line that ran along the floor. Drawn inexplicably to it, I felt the sharp tip of my cone align itself with the line and suddenly I was speeding along it at velocities I had never even imagined. I looked around myself, at the world blurring past me. I was in a vast artificial cavern, it's distant walls lined with metal sheets. The cavern was criss-crossed with hundreds, thousands, maybe millions of black lines like the one I was travelling along, all interlaced and paper-thin. I observed other beings, other cones, travelling along these lines and it was in seeing them that I got a full idea of what I might now look like. I was a 1 meter tall cone, the point of which hovered about an inch from the ground. The cone expanded till it was about a foot in diameter where it ended abruptly and perfectly flat. On two opposite sides of the cone were clusters of gleaming tools for purposes beyond my understanding and on the front of the cone glistened a shiny collection of red glass lenses, which must be my eyes. I was some kind of machine, maybe, or some alien race so bizarre that Earth-based biology was completely useless as a reference point. Presently, I felt my speed decreasing and as I looked towards my growing destination, I saw 4 other Cones waiting for me.
* * * * *
Remarkable! The Human Unit Mike seems to have integrated perfectly. We never expected this, we never expected such a high synchronisation ratio! Oh, he has woken up, Unit 17, have you got any word in flux space from Unit 04?
No, not yet. Hopefully Unit 04 has integrated as well with the subject's body as this Human Unit Mike has with Unit 04's. Shall I keep trying Unit 12?
No, leave it for now. First, we'll examine this remarkable Unit. Maybe it can provide some information on how it managed to cause the phenomenon.
"What the fuck? What the hell is going on? I'm I tripping? Did the Mystery fuck over my brain?"
What was that?! Oh, yes, audio communication. I felt a kind of mental equivalent of a sigh in my head and then suddenly the cone in front of him emitted a tinny, synthetic voice.
"Unit Mike? Can you hear me?"
"What the fuck are you things? Are you aliens?"
The cone in front of me rotated to face the other cone in the room and rotated back to face me again.
"Yes, Unit Mike, we are what you would call aliens. You went off-line after disengaging with line 0 and we weren't able to reactivate you, luckily you seem to have reinitialised just as new."
"Wha? Your speaking like I'm some goddamned machine."
"You are a goddamned machine Unit Mike. Surely you realise that by now. Unit Mike.."
"It's just Mike. Not Unit Mike. Mike."
"Mike. You are on a spaceship approximately three hundred and seventy-one million light years from your sun. We have some questions that we'd like to ask you."
"Can I have a drink or something."
"A drink, you know. Liquid refreshment, beer, water, you know."
"We don't have that here Mike."
"What?! I'm a what!?" I gasped, the concept finally registering.
"We are.. how would you put it... goddamned fucking machines Mike."
I reeled back. I'd heard him the first time, but I had thought that I was still fucked up, that I was tripping or something. Now, I wasn't so sure. To hear that a second time, it seemed more real.
"Where is my real body?"
"Back on Earth, most likely under Unit 04's control. It must be most unsettling for him."
"Unit 04, he's that bastard with the snakes isn't he! He's the one that fucking did... this!" I shouted, bringing my metallic tool-clusters into view.
"No, quite the contrary Mike. It was in fact you that initiated the 180 degree phase-shift in flux space. In fact, no one has ever been able to that, let alone generate 100% feedback."
"What the fuck are you talking about!?"
"Mike. You brought yourself here. Something you did in flux space allowed you to transfer yourself into Unit 04. We don't understand what happened, that's why we want to ask you some questions."
"Fuck your questions! Send me back!"
"We can't Mike. You see, we don't know how you did this. In fact, it shouldn't even be possible, the... Mystery, as you call it was never designed to handle that kind of power."
I just sat there, or more accurately, I just hovered there. If I had a mouth, it would be hanging open. It was too much. Space travel, swapping bodies with some crazy alien drug dealers. What the fuck was wrong with me?
"Please," I begged, "please, just send me back. I don't want this. I'll fucking forget everything, I'll do whatever you want, just please, send me back."
Unit 12 was about to speak when Unit 17 butted in.
Unit 12, we've made contact with Unit 04! You have to come to the flux room at once!
Excellent! Mike, come with me.
We rushed off, out of the strange room into the red-lit interior of the cavern that I called the Haystack. We connected to line 0 and sped down it towards the room I had woken up in, the flux room I presumed. Unit 17 followed closely behind, no doubt making sure I didn't try anything funny. Seconds later, we disengaged from the line and sped up a line on the all into a room set above the flux room. It was obviously some kind of control room for the flux room. No instruments were displayed, but there were several cones with various attachments plugged into sockets on the consoles, they were interfacing with the controls somehow.
Who is the receiver!? Unit 12 asked.
Unit 42! He hasn't even assimilated the level 3 phase-training yet! Why is he in the flux room!?
Routine training for level 3, a simple test projection when suddenly Unit 04 connected and overrode all the safety mechanisms. Unit 42 is currently totally immersed by Unit 04's waveform.
What does he want, how did he make contact?
He refuses to speak with anyone except the Human Unit Mike.
The cones rotated to face me.
"Will you do it Mike?" Unit 12 asked.
"Sure, if you promise to send me back."
"Mike, I told you, we c..."
"Bullshit! You think I don't know what your doing? You think I couldn't work it out? You're sending robots into our fucking brains! Like fucking radio waves beamed into our heads! You can send them, you can fucking send me!"
Agreed. Unit 12, we can still get data from Unit 04 when he reintegrates. One of the cones said, obviously a commander of some kind.
But Unit 02, we could lose both subjects, the flux room can't be entered when a connections established, it could destroy both the receiver and the sender! The Human Unit's unique abilities are invaluable!
Overruled. We can't afford the risk of having Unit 04 integrated at the destination! The security risks are too great! Human Unit, you will enter the flux room and engage Unit 04. You will then be reintegrated with your original body.
I gave the mental equivalent of a nod and then headed down the line to the flux room. A guard cone waited for me and when I was stood in front of the access hatch, he slid it open and I was hit by blinding white light.