Emma woke from the sound.
For a moment she couldn’t recognize it. What was previously a nice xylophonic tune signalling someone at the door, now reminded her more of a bad docking, metal scraping against metal. Her body felt like having gone several rounds in the sparring circle with her brother. She opened her eyes. The lab looked exactly like before. She was on the floor, lying neatly on her back.
The torus was nowhere to be seen.
She forced herself to stand up, looked around the room before she opened the door and looked into the worried face of Aish.
“Where have you been?!”
Aish walked straight into the room.
“For sixteen hours?!”
If it hadn’t been for the years of training, she would have been lost. Instead she yawned and shrugged.
“Of course not. I do like to sleep, but not sixteen hours.”
“Then answer your Glas, I was becoming worried.”
So was she.
“I’m sorry, I didn’t mean to upset anyone. I just got entangled in work.”
Aish looked around the room, saw the crate, folded her arms and looked at Emma.
“You actually have time for that silly hobby of yours, now?”
Emma went over to the crate and closed it slowly.
“Wait a minute. You actually slept in here? What the hell were you working on?”
“Alien gardening technology.”
Emma took her fingers to her temples.
“Never mind. Is there anything I can help you with?”
“Yes! I mean no. Just, are you ok? You look like shit to be honest.”
“I’m fine. I need more sleep.”
How the hell could she be out for that long? Being unconscious for minutes was terrible for the brain, whatever sixteen hours did, it could not be good. And where was the thing?
“Go sleep then. They rescheduled the next meeting, it’s been moved to tomorrow.”
“I don’t know. They wouldn’t say. There’s a rumour that they have changed the date for the meeting.”
That was odd. It wasn’t the kind of meeting you wanted uncertainty around.
They stood there, the silence turning into awkwardness fast. Emma put the locks on the crate.
“I’ll be going then. Breakfast tomorrow?” Aish said.
Aish left. As soon as the door closed behind her, Emma fell to the floor and started searching for anything out of place. The thing was gone, but it couldn’t be completely gone.
“C, please show me recordings from yesterday during the tests, starting point, right after the laser was finished. Speed at four times real time.”
She could see herself picking up the pieces. She jumped ahead a couple of minutes. The ring got assembled. It looked just as scary on screen. Then there was the transformation into the torus. She knew there were materials that could do the same, but it would never look that natural. Then she was standing still for a much longer time than she remembered. When she moved it was so sudden and fast, it surprised her. The feeling of dread came back along with a tickling sensation in her fingers. Then the screen went black. No static, just black.
“C, what happened to the feed?”
“Feed is proceeding as normal.”
“But it’s all black?”
“Input registered as normal.”
Of course it was.
“At what point is there anything but black in the movie?”
“Question not understood.”
“Find next point in movie where moment is detected.”
The screen suddenly showed her lying on the floor. She looked at the timestamp. 8 minutes and 49 seconds had passed. There was no sign of anything unusual. She was breathing regularly, peaceful-looking. Her hair was a little ruffled, maybe she looked a little paler than usual, but other than that, normal.
“C, are there any new signatures, any radiation in this room, or has been in the last 16 hours?”
Did she need a medical scan? Was she ok? What if the thing had done something to her? Suddenly the room felt so small. A knot tightened in her throat, a shiver ran down her right arm.
She ran out of the room.
All the sensations did not go away, but followed her all the way to her private room. She barely got into the bathroom before vomit sprouted out of her mouth.
“Oh shit, oh shit, oh shit.”
She wiped her mouth, splashed water in her face and rinsed her mouth. The face that met her in the mirror was very far from the one on the video feed. The big black circles under her eyes made her look like she hadn’t slept in days. Her complexion was a lot paler as well. Several thoughts in her head kept asking question she wasn’t sure she wanted to know the answer to. She wrenched out of all of her clothes and went into the shower. The hot water burned in a good way.
What was she to do?
If she told anyone above her what had really happened, that was the end of the line for working here. Most likely they would quarantine her. Maybe they should. Maybe she was dying. No, no, no. Don’t panic. Analyse, then prioritise. She closed her eyes and put her face into the water, made sure that it got into her ears, muffling all sounds.
She needed a medical check. Could she be infected with something contagious? Probably not. Whatever that thing was, it was not a weapon. If the medical scan showed anything, she would need to tell her brother. If not, she had a mission. There was no way she could tell anyone what had happened, at least not yet. After the mission, maybe.
Images suddenly flashed before her eyes.
She gasped, sucking in water, making her cough. They were indistinct, like afterimages. She could hear sound as well, but it was like waking up from a dream. Something there, then gone. Still, they triggered memories. It had shown her so much. Beauty, emptiness, beginnings, endings, but it was all a big blur. Yet, somehow, she knew part of what the thing had explained to her. The music boxes had an original name. She knew the meaning of it, although she couldn’t even think it. It was there, like a word on the tip of the tongue. The meaning was even more many-facetted than the translation suggested. It wasn’t Music/Sound/Vibration of the Universe. It was more Music/Sound/Vibration is the Universe. She felt certain that the thing had showed her something very fundamental about what made the universe go tick, sort-of like a Theory of Everything using music. She remembered a name for something similar.
They had barely touched upon it during their physics class, but she had become interested. The idea that the universe was built upon objects which single characteristic was different vibrations. That was all that she could remember. But there was something else that the thing had tried to tell her, something at the end of it all, something to do with a being and a symbol. Nope. Not there.
She put her head out of the water flow, opened her eyes and breathed in.
She was not focusing.
What were her priorities?
There weren’t many alternatives. It was as simple as in the field. Stay alive, finish the mission if possible and return. That was all there was, for now.
As she lay her head on the pillow, she had the feeling of forgetting something important, but sleep took her as easy as a new born baby.