The weeks turned into months and the months dwindled on. Learning to speak a new language did not come easily to Darian. He had never been particularly good at foreign languages. More so, they lacked any paper or writing utensils, making learning that much more difficult. Nevertheless, they used the tools they had available to them.
Devin started him out easy. He would just point to random objects in the room and declare their names. Regrettably, there were not very many things in the room and within a day or two Darian could name most of the items around him. Occasionally he would use the book he had had to teach Darian reading, which was a religious scripture that functioned as the only form of writing in the room. It was boring and dull, and Devin himself had already read the thing a half dozen times. Sometimes, Devin would dump the contents of their porridge on the floor, and draw in the liquid lumps. This seemed to work well for an hour or two until the food dried out and began to clump.
As Darian began to learn more, they started to have conversations in the common tongue to help Darian speak it better. Sometimes they would sit late into the night, telling bawdy jokes or funny stories from their youths. The longer time progressed, the harder these stories became to remember. After a time, Darian had to start making up his own stories, as the stories he used to remember seemed long gone.
Devin wasn’t content just having him learn the language though. He often spoke about Taerren culture and history, telling Darian about the modes of currency, commerce, and even lifestyle. Darian wondered why these things were so important to know. He had grown to suspect he would die in this prison along with Devin. He was already starting to forget any time outside the cell. It had gotten to the point where the weekly torture sessions almost became a welcomed change from the daily monotony.
Perhaps that is why Devin felt it was so important to teach Darian. Devin’s memory seemed to be effected in much the same ways as Darian’s. Teaching Darian his culture was a way of preventing himself from forgetting it. Cultural knowledge didn’t seem to be the only thing that Devin was forgetting, however. As the time progressed, Devin started forgetting words of English. Before long, Darian found himself helping Devin find the right words as often as the other way around.
It wasn’t necessarily a bad thing for Darian. As Devin spoke less and less English, he found himself learning the common tongue more quickly so that he could continue to communicate with his roommate. He couldn’t lose that. The cell they were in had put a great deal of stress on the both of them. If he were to lose the capacity to communicate with the only other person in his world, he did not know what he would do.
They each had their bad days. Sometimes, they would scream at the top of their lungs for no reason. Other times they would tear up the sheets to their bed, throw their food at the walls, or destroy anything and everything in sight. They had to; no one should ever have been placed in a cage like this for as long as the two of them had. To say that Darian was stir crazy would be a mass understatement.
The two friends had an unspoken agreement. The days they needed to rant, or scream, or do any number of violent and aggressive actions just to continue to feel alive, they forgave each other for. Whatever this prison was, they were there together, and they weren’t going anywhere.
The worst part for Darian was the dreams. Every night it seemed that Darian had violent dreams. They seemed to steadily increasing in vividness. Sometimes he would wake up screaming, unable to separate the dream from reality. The most common dream he had was of the darkness. He was never someone who was scared of the dark, but that didn’t seem to matter in this dream. He felt alone, without help, surrounded by the darkness. He wasn’t afraid of things that might be hiding in the dark; he seemed to be afraid of the darkness itself. As if the darkness would somehow swallow him up. He often woke up in a cold sweat just before the invisible claws of the darkness snapped shut around him.
Other dreams he had often had included the man he killed, the woman who died saving him, and the sister who saw it happen. It was the sister’s eyes that haunted them the most. They accused him. He would plead to the eyes. He told them that he did what he could, that it wasn’t his fault. But her eyes just continue to look down on him, hate-filled and cold. He would always turn away, only to see the eyes of the woman who died for him looking up from where she laid on the ground. She was a kind person. He never knew what she said when he was with her, but those eyes and that voice were kind. Then she had died for him.
That dream hurt the most. It bit deep into his heart and clenched it. He often woke sobbing when he had that dream. If those were the only two dreams he had, he probably could have copped. But there were other dreams, dreams that felt strangely vivid. He often saw the woman, the one with the accusing eyes, walking into a calamity. He shouted at her as the trap close around her, but she was oblivious to his words.
Some dreams reflected a war. Dark beasts flooded across planets Darian had never seen, overwhelming everyone in their path. They would kill mercilessly. Children, women, old, sick; it didn’t matter, the beasts tore them apart without remorse. They would use weapons, claws, or even teeth. Their swarm grew rapidly outward, like of a flood of evil across the universe. He could hear a voice too, a voice in the dark, urging them forward, always driving them towards the next world.
He saw the planet he had come from too. He could no longer remember its name, but he remembered the blueness. He remembered the beautiful oceans. In the dream, his people would always be happy, and then in a flash, they were gone. He never saw what happened, just a flash. After that, there were no people and no cities. The oceans dried up, and the landscape turned into dirt and sand and dust.
He often told Devin about his strange dreams. Darian had recalled a dream where he was lost in a desert island. The girl was there, always staring at him, not the girl who had died, but her sister. He tried to talk to her, but she would not respond, just stare. It made him feel lonely. Perhaps it was lonelier than had she not been there at all. He would slap her, shake her, yell at her, to get her to react to his presence, but she just kept staring at him and doing nothing else. The old man told him not to dismiss his dream. They held importance. They could unlock hints at the future. Darian laughed at that one, but then Devin got very serious.
“You and the future will have a very interesting relationship. Never mock what you see, you will grow to depend on those visions,” He said, his finger playing with some of the food he was not interested in eating.
“What is that supposed to mean, what visions? They are just silly dreams.” Darian responded.
“Is she pretty?” Devin asked, changing the subject, “The girl in your dream, the one with the sister who died.”
“I suppose she could be considered pretty,” he responded, letting the subject be changed.
“Do you like her?”
“I don’t even know her.” Darian eyed Devin uncomfortably.
“You don’t need to know someone to like them, people like other people they don’t know all the time, with a look, a smell, a simple good feeling.”
“I don’t think it really works like that, you need to know someone before you can like them…” Darian began.
“Lord and Lady, I’m not saying you need to marry her, I’m just saying sometimes a pair of eyes sticks in your head for other reasons than guilt,” Devin chuckled.
Darian didn’t respond. Instead he shrugged and rolled over, closing his eyes. Sleep did not come easily for him, however. When sleep finally did take him, he dreamt about a thousand eyes chasing him around, no two alike.
When he woke the next morning, he went to the sink and washed his mouth out with a few swallows of water from the tap, which was the only kind he ever could remember drinking. He vaguely recalled a time where he drunk water from a cup, but the thought even seemed foreign to him at this point.
It was his day to visit the lab for a torture session, as they had come to call them. It made him a little anxious. He had grown used to them, in a way, but the thought of being strapped in that chair always unnerved him and left him in a cold sweat.
The old man remained asleep, his blanket draped over his eyes to block out the light in the room. Lights out lasted exactly 8 hours before the bright lights that encompassed the room flickered back on.
The lights were in panels in the ceiling. When they stood on their beds, they could just reach the lights, but they were behind strong, clear, protective plating that prevented the lights themselves from being touched. Neither Devin nor Darian had figured out a way to break through or remove the plating, should they desire to take out the light bulbs and give themselves a respite from the constant lighting, which often felt too bright for comfort.
Breakfast had already been shoved through the opening in the wall, displaying two bowls full of the same porridge that Darian had eaten from as far as he could remember. He gladly ate his bowl. It seemed a great deal easier to suffer through the sessions on a full stomach, as the inevitable throwing up he would do later went easier when there was something that could actually come up. This contrasted with Devin’s philosophy, which was the less you had, the less time you spent throwing up. In the time he had been in this cell, he still hadn’t decided who was right.
After he was done eating, he ran in place for a few minutes, did a few situps and pushups to help keep his body moving, and stretched a little. He washed up in the bathroom using the available sink, as he always did.
Soap was provided for them from a wall outlet that never seemed to run out. It smelled sterile, but did not resemble any substance Darian could remember. At the very least, it dried out his skin and made it feel clean. It was not meant for hair, however, and his hair was dry and brittle now.
By the time he was done with his routine, Devin began rousing from his sleep, which is to say he had thrown the blanket to the ground and was groaning as he rubbed the sleep from his eyes. After taking one look at Darian, he sighed and rolled over, pressing his face into his pillow.
The door finally slid open. Darian stood to allow his guard to take him over to the lab. The guard today was Bob. He had grown quite comfortable with the routine, and rarely came into any issues with the guards. The guards, in turn, had become comfortable with him and more relaxed as a result. Before long, he found himself strapped into the chair again.
Like always, the scientist came in and set up the equipment. He cursed several times as he worked at putting the equipment together. He glanced several times nervously at Darian as he worked. Darian had never seen the strange man like this before. The man suddenly stopped his work, preceded to the door, and looked outside, trying to look casual while doing it, but failing miserably.
He headed back into the room, his eyes glancing across the room. When his eyes fell on Darian he jerked a little, walking towards Darian. He glanced at Darian up and down, finally sighing.
“I never wanted to do this you know,” he said in the common tongue.
Darian stared at him blankly, giving no indication that he could understand him. For some reason, he felt this was the right thing to do.
“They…my family,” the man winced as if he was in pain before turning away, “I know you can’t understand, but I am sorry, I wish there was a way.”
The scientist shook his head before walking back to the machine. He put his hand on the machine for a few seconds. He glanced back at Darian. Was that a tear in his eye? Darian was confused by his strange behavior, to say the least. Finally the man, turned towards the door. Darian realized he could give up this opportunity just yet.
“It’s not your fault, but there is always a way,” Darian said.
The man whirled around, staring at him hard, “You, you understand me?”
“I learned,” Darian replied.
The scientist nodded slowly, a strange look coming over his face. He turned and left the room without another word. Darian sighed. It was worth a try. He had still felt that strange affection for the man; he must have been going insane.
As the minutes passed, the machine did not turn on and the pain did not start. Darian began to grow very anxious. He hated it when things fell outside his predictions. Why did the machine not start? Where was the pain? After a few minutes, he started shaking. He began pulling against the bonds that held him. What’s going on? What happened?
He screamed. He screamed for help. He screamed for the man to come back. He rocked violently, pulling on the bonds. He eventually grew horse and out of breath as he struggled and fought. The chair didn’t move and inch and the straps remained tight. After about an hour, a guard came in. By this point he was breathing hard, his eyes blurry, his hands sore.
“Well, it looks like you’re awake through that one. That means I don’t need to carry you,” said Bob the guard.
Darian did not respond as the guard unstrapped him and lead him back to his room. When the guard closed the door behind him, Darian started laughing. Devin looked at him confused as he collapsed to the floor, continuing to laugh.
“What is it boy, have you finally snapped?”
“No pain…” Darian finally burst out through fits of laughter.
After getting himself calmed down, and back in his bed, he explained what had happened in the lab. Devin listened calmly before replying.
“Pain? What kind of pain?” Devin asked.
Darian laughed, thinking Devin was making a joke until he saw the look on Devin’s face.
“The pain from whatever they do to us in there, radiation, I guess, or lasers, or something. The worse pain ever, like they are ripping you apart from the inside out. I know the experiments make both of us a little forgetful, but the experiments themselves are hard to forget.”
Devin looked had him a few seconds with a worried expression, then a smile broke out on his face as he chuckled.
“Oh right, of course, so maybe he’s going to stop doing it now?” Devin chuckled.
“I doubt it, probably just a fluke, still, it feels good, like I won the lottery, getting a day off like that.”
However, when Devin’s day came up and he returned from his torture session, Darian asked about it. Devin continued to act confused about the pain, but declared that there was no pain during his session either. Darian assumed that Devin was just breaking down. Perhaps he was blocking out the torture, it was hard to tell.
Still, when Darian’s next day came, the guards took him and changed him down as normal. The man came in, never once glancing at Darian, but when the time for the machine to start came, nothing happened. Devin’s denials began to confuse Darian. Did he ever feel the pain to begin with, or was that just a piece of his imagination?
The guards mumbled a couple of times about how much better the prisoners seemed to be doing than they used to, which provided Darian some comfort. He hoped he wasn’t losing his mind like his friend. His sanity was one of the few things left to him.
Darian attempted to speak to Devin about the scientist, whom he had grown convinced was behind the stop in experiments. However, that mode of communication seemed to dry up. Devin seemed to grow more confused every day. Soon that confusion seemed to grow into anger.
“What is with you and that scientist, Faraday!” Devin snapped one day, “He is just another Taerren like any other, and certainly no friend of ours! I’d rather be back in prison than here!”
At this point he spoke exclusively in common tongue, as Devin no longer seemed to remember any worlds in Darian’s tongue.
“You never told me you were in prison before,” Darian said, trying to steer the conversation away from the scientist.
“What are you talking about! You were in prison with me, for almost a year before we ended up in this hellhole with no one to talk to and nothing to do!”
“We met in this hellhole, and I don’t remember anything besides it, but I think I’d remember something like prison.” Darian responded.
“So you’re going crazy? Seems like it was an inevitability, I hope I never go crazy like you,” Devin sighed, a look of sympathy in his eyes.
“I’m crazy?” Darian asked indignantly,” You’re the one who can’t remember my language when you could speak it when we got here, you’re the one saying I’ve been in a prison I’ve never been to, and you’re acting like I’m best chums with a guy I’ve spoken only a dozen words to. You are so backwards it isn’t even funny.”
“What did you say to me?” Devin asked, his voice taking on a strange edge.
“I said you are backwards, bonkers, off the wall, heading in the wrong direction!” Darian responded, his voice now a little raised.
Devin stopped talking, looking down at the floor as if in thought. After a few seconds he lied down in his bed and turned away. Darian disregarded his old friend’s strange behavior and contemplated what to do next. As he continued to think, and idea began to form in his head. It seemed to be more than an idea. It was more like a path. He knew what to do next. By the time the lights had gone out, he had already decided on the path he must take and stranger still, he knew the results it would cause.
“Are you still awake?” The old man suddenly asked, his body still turned away from Darian’s bed.
“Yes.” Darian responded with an edge to his voice.
He wasn’t really angry at the old man, but he couldn’t seem to keep anger out of his voice anyway.
“I… I always blamed you for that day, the day you tried to kill me,” Devin said, “But I was going to betray you. I was… I was younger, or older I guess, and I thought I could.”
Darian said nothing. He had nothing worth saying. He had no clue what Devin was talking about. Devin suddenly turned around, his eyes bright as if he had just thought of something.
“We’re friends right?” Devin asked.
“We are,” Darian responded in confusion.
“Can you promise me something? You have to swear to it.”
“Yeah, I guess, anything,” Darian said uneasily.
“There will be a time, a time when we can escape. No, don’t say anything, it will happen. I will tell you that we should go the left path, you’ll want to go right. When that happens, kill me, and go right.”
“What!” Darian shouted as his head rose.
Devin put his hand out in reassurance, “You may never understand, but actually, now that I think about it, I think you did in the end. Heh, to think, I’m the one who told you all along. You told me that once and I told you to go to hell.
Devin shook his head and rolled back onto his back, “Just promise me that you will.”
“Ok, I promise,” Darian responded, still confused.
“So this Dr. Faraday, he moved us to the prison, is that right?”
“I don’t know what you’re talking about.”
“Never mind, cultivate that relationship, and whatever other one you need to. Dr. Faraday’s experiment, it did something to us, to both of us. It changed us. You’ll become more aware of how it changed us soon. Embrace it. It will make you strong.”
Darian didn’t say anything. Devin wasn’t making any sense. That wasn’t particularly unusual for him, but there was an edge to his voice that made Darian feel like the things that he was saying were important.
“You, you’ve been a good friend. Never forget that,” Devin mumbled, the edges of sleep pressing in on his voice.
“You too,” Darian responded.
It didn’t take him long to fall to sleep. That night he dreamt of a ship a man he had never met in a prison cell. The man had shaggy graying hair, a round nose, and thick sideburns that went down to his jaws. He looked up at Darian, as if asking for his help. Darian had a key in his hand. He went to unlock the man’s door, but before he went two steps he slammed into his own bars. The man lifted his hand, revealing the key that would open Darian’s cell. They each had the other man’s key.
The next morning was another visit to the scientist, whom Devin had called Dr. Faraday. It was time for him to set up his plan. Once he was locked in the chair, the scientist came in again to do the routines he always did, despite the fact it didn’t run anymore.
Dr. Faraday refused to make eye contact with Darian. He never did after the day he had stopped running the machine. This time Darian looked long at Dr. Faraday as he continued his work. This made the man uncomfortable, Darian could see him fidgeting.
“Dr. Faraday,” Darian spoke, causing the doctor to suddenly go rigid, “We need to talk.”
After a few moments, the doctor sighed. Without looking at Darian, he went back to working on the machine.
“We do,” he said after a moment, “Give me a bit and I will be back.”
After he finished his work, he left the room. After a few minutes, he returned as promised. Sighing again, he grabbed a nearby chair, and pulled it next to Darian.
“Release these straps,” Darian commanded, “They chaff.”
Dr. Faraday looked at him and chuckled, “Why not? I’m already a dead man, and we are all sons of bitches.”