Linked: S1E2

If you haven’t read the pilot episode, this one won’t make too much sense. I suggest you start here before continuing.

 

This was Sarah’s third midnight shower this week.

It was getting worse. During the day it was easier to shake the images plaguing her. Work could distract her for a time, but the hallucinations were always there, lurking just out of conscious thought. Not just visual memories either, but the emotions that came with them were as potent as the ones she knew to be her own. The simple joys of watching her son lose a tooth, then the overwhelming distress at watching her wife die. It choked her, for no reason at all.

Except Sarah didn’t have a son, and had certainly never been married. None of it was real.

Yet it felt real. Very. As much as the memories she knew.

Something was definitely wrong with Sarah, but she couldn’t even begin to explain it. Did schizophrenics imagine things that had happened too? Or just things as they were happening? Sarah didn’t know. All she could think was that her mind was breaking, fracturing from the inside like a poorly cut gemstone.

Nights were worse. Working at a department store during the day meant there was always restocking or shelving to distract her. At night, she’d stare at the ceiling for hours until exhaustion finally won over. The nightmares would start, as awful as if she had PTSD she didn’t earn. More often than not, she’d bolt awake, shivering in her own sweat.

There was something comforting about the menial task of taking a shower. She was still haunted by her own mind, but there, in the privacy of her apartment, she could at least indulge her self pity, weeping in peace. The shower was normally a time for practicing her lines, but she hadn’t looked at her script in days. She was only glad rehearsals didn’t start until the end of the month.

At least she had tomorrow off. Maybe she could sleep during the day? For now, though, she sat in the corner of the unstopped tub, letting the water – lukewarm, verging on cold – rain down on her, washing away tears, and little else anymore.

Glass shattered from somewhere in the apartment.

Sudden panic soaked her as much as the shower, compelling her to grip the side of the tub. Sarah didn’t know what to do. Was it a robbery? What else could it be?

A horrible thought struck her before she could even stand: what if she’d imagined it, like everything else that evening? How could she tell? The longer she sat, the more she drained of her courage to go look. She could barely breathe, and the liquid pouring over her face wasn’t helping. Think! Would she be able to fend him off, like she had outside the coffee shop? Not a chance.

There was a low, reverberating scrape through the floor, as if someone was dragging her couch across the uncarpeted living room.

Fight not being feasible, her body chose the other option: flight. Sarah’s wet feet slipped on the smooth linoleum as she sprang out of the tub, nearly sending her onto her rear, if not for the towel rack. Her hand caught it, and she righted herself as quickly as she could, aware that the light would leak under the door into the hallway. It took too long to pull the towel free and wrap it around herself, but the moment she did, she swung the door wide.

Getting out the front meant sprinting through the living room. Sarah didn’t stop, didn’t think, just reacted, plunging into the social area blindly, water still abandoning her hair in favor of her eyelashes. If she surprised him, and was fast enough, she might be able to make it to the car and lock the robber out. She had to try.

Sarah shoved herself though the open space, trying not to trip on herself as she reached for the exit. The towel was slipping the more she moved, but it wasn’t her first priority.

The couch was in its proper place.

She couldn’t help it – she glanced toward the sliding glass door that led to her second-story balcony, fully expecting to see it shattered by a man holding a gun barrel pointed her direction.

Door intact, no gun.

Her hand fell from the knob as realization sank like sand in her gut. She was alone. Nothing had happened.

She really was going insane.

The panic that had overwhelmed her weeping gave way to a shuddering wail. She couldn’t stop her lungs – and was far from stopping her emotions – so she put her hand across her mouth, trying only to stop the scream from reaching her own ears, much less the neighbors.

They couldn’t help her. No one could. Her own mind was working against her, ready to send her naked into the streets. The towel dangled uselessly in front of her for a moment before she dropped it entirely, letting her own weight fall backward into the door. Her weak knees obeyed gravity, spine slick with water aiding her descent, as inevitable as this descent into madness.

Her lungs regrouped, wailing again, unstopped this time by her palm. Her fingers had spread apart, clawing her own face in horror as reality refused to shake itself. A fresh wave of tears interrupted her lungs. Those fractures in her mind finished their path, and she could feel everything she was start to crumble.

She needed help.

***

She didn’t bother drying before dressing and leaving. Heading away from her home and into downtown, Sarah started feeling better. She’d never imagined her apartment as claustrophobic, but now, in the middle of the night, she welcomed the breeze drying her hair. Without really thinking, her muscle memory first brought her to work. But even if it was open at 4:21 in the morning, she didn’t want to be there. Where then? She had her group of friends – mostly theater people from past shows – but no one close enough to be okay waking this time of night. So she pulled out of the parking lot again, content in the simple act of driving.

The more she drove, the more she realized her thoughts were clearer on the northwest side of town. Already resigned to insanity, a wild idea chased her through the city: she should stay there. Why not? Because she had no reason to be in that part of town, especially before sunrise, that’s why. Still, she was inexplicably drawn to it.

As Sarah turned the car back around, she wondered what it was like to be a homing pigeon. Did they know what they were doing? Or was it just instinct, like Sarah felt now? No, that didn’t make the least bit of sense.

Great. Her mind had been reduced to that of a rat with wings.

Still, without a reason not to follow it, she drove, finding herself in back alleys as she circled the neighborhood, now curious what had convinced her to come. Was she being drawn toward, or compelled away from something?

Finally she stopped, oddly satisfied in her quest. She had never been here before – a donation drop-off spot behind a local charity thrift shop. The area was dormant now, though the large sorting bins tucked to the back of the building looked well-used.

What now?

Might as well look around.

The instant she shut her door – uncomfortably loud in the sleepy night – a flashlight flicked on and in her direction. It looked like it came from one of the temporary storage sheds in the back parking lot, but she couldn’t be sure with the bright light in her eyes. What kind of thrift store had overnight security?

“Sarah?” The voice was vaguely familiar, like that of a movie star, and subtly relieved.

Wait – he knew her name? She tried to shade her eyes from the bright light to see past it, but it wasn’t really working. “Who are you?” she asked, squinting.

“It’s me, Victor.” The light mercifully abandoned her, gliding across the face of its wielder before clicking off. “What are you doing here? How did you find me?”

Her eyes were taking their time adjusting to the night. Victor? She didn’t know any one named Victor. Did she? Realization suddenly swarmed her. “Victor? Like coffee shop Victor?”

A new voice joined their conversation, somewhat to the left of the first. “Everything alright?”

“Sarah found us.”

“Wait, seriously?”

The light flicked on again, landing in her eyes without sweeping the area.

“That’s odd.” She placed the voice: Jack, Victor’s companion.

“Can you please turn that off?” Sarah demanded, interrupting.

It clicked off again. “Sorry. Come, join us inside. It’s not safe out here.”

Every “stranger danger” warning her parents had drilled into her as a child went off in her head, but even louder was the need for answers. Now, while her mind was clear, for however long that lasted.

***

“Sorry about the mess,” Victor said as he held the door open for her. Sarah stepped up into the travel trailer tucked among the thrift store’s storage sheds. “Had a break in about an hour ago.” That explained why they were awake, anyway.

Honestly, she was glad just to be away from home. “It’s fine.” She looked around the trailer – more luxurious than she thought possible, with polished stone countertops and a book shelf, which was out of place at the moment. Two sections extended the room on one side, forming a total of four bunk beds that could be tucked away when the trailer was on the road. Three of the four had matching black sheets and pillow cases, with a striped grey comforter on top. The last bed was wrapped in plastic, unused now, if ever. The other side had a sink, cabinets, and even a small closed off section for a restroom on the far end. The whole area was at least as well equipped and far more luxurious than her own apartment.

“Glass there.” Victor’s voice interrupted her scan. He pointed to her feet, where shattered something had pooled in her path. “Don’t worry, he won’t be coming back. Not until we’re gone, anyway.” He must have read her thoughts, as he pointed up next, answering her next question before she could ask it. “Skylight.”

Ah. That was the source of the glass, now open to the cool night air.

“Victor?” Jack pushed his way past them, turning around on the other side of the bookcase and putting his shoulder into it.

“Right.” The older man jumped to the other side, and together they twisted the heavy wooden case back into place. It scraped along the hardwood floor, creepily reminding her of her own imagination that had nearly scared her from her apartment earlier.

Unsure what else to do, Sarah tip-toed past the shards of glass and knelt down, picking up a few of the fallen books. Finally the furniture was back in place. When she glanced up, Jack was making eye contact with Victor, but nodding her direction. What was he doing?

“I can see you,” she informed him, straightening her back and stepping between the pair. She handed the books to the younger pointedly.

“Right.” Victor started behind her. “It’s just that frankly we’re surprised to see you.”

Sarah turned to face him. “Well, I’m surprised to be here.”

“Yes, why are you here?” Victor stepped past her, pulling the top bunk down and flat against the wall, so that together with the bottom bed, it formed something like a couch. He sat on it without seeming to think about his actions.

Memories of what had driven her from her apartment awakened in Sarah again, and she quickly pushed them down again. “Nothing,” she answered quickly.

“I don’t believe you.” Jack watched her for a moment before leaning on the thin table that butted against the counter.

Something about the lack of sleep or the terror since had knocked her filter loose, and Sarah ended up speaking without thinking. “Unless either of you is a clinical psychologist, there’s nothing more to discuss.”

There was a shared look between the men. She had missed something obvious.

“What?”

“You want to ask?” Jack was looking at his companion, not her.

“All yours,” Victor responded, leaning back on the bed-wall from his seat on the not-couch and closing his eyes.

Jack’s gaze went to the shards of glass on the ground as his fists went up by his mouth. Sarah waited as he exhaled into his fingers, watching him think. What was going on?

“Hello?” she asked, ducking her head into his line of sight.

“Sorry.” Jack’s hands went down again as he actually looked at her this time. “Do you know what a centaur is?”

Really? That was his question? “Of course I know what a centaur is.”

Jack shrugged. “Hey, not everyone does.”

“Ask her how she’s still sane,” Victor demanded without opening his eyes.

“I’m right here,” Sarah reminded him.

Jack was back to ignoring her. “I’m working on it.” His gaze shifted back to her with a cordial but annoyed smile. “Sorry.”

“What does he mean ‘still sane’?” How could the older man possibly know about the ghostly illusions that had been plaguing her?

“It’s been – what – a week since we last saw you?”

“Six days,” Victor corrected. Six horrible days. That was when everything had gone wrong, twisting and mangling her mind into whatever this was she had left.

“Are you sure you don’t want to take the lead on this one?” Jack asked, more openly annoyed now. When Victor merely shrugged, Jack grimaced and turned back to Sarah once again. “We’re surprised that you’re… so capable, that’s all.” Part of her was surprised when Victor didn’t protest Jack speaking for him.

“Why wouldn’t I be?” Was it possible they might have answers?

“Most people are in a straight jacket by two days after.”

“After what?”

Jack breathed a heavy sigh before answering. “After merging minds.”

Was that what that was? Back at the coffee shop? “So you know what’s wrong with me? How do we fix it?”

“It’s not that easy.”

“How about you start with what you can explain,” Sarah was practically demanding.

“When a mind is forcibly taken over, like Victor did to you last week, the repercussions are permanent, and severe. One mind controlling another – it’s not natural. It took me months of conditioning before my first merging. A week later, everyone who wasn’t prepared is doing little more than drooling on themselves. Except you – you found us.”

Sarah stopped listening after the first sentence. Permanent? Was she stuck like this, hallucinating these nightmares forever? “There must be something you can do to fix this.” They seemed to be the expert, at least.

Jack just stared at her, clearly incredulous.

“What?”

“Have you noticed anything odd? Anything at all?”

“Yes, but nothing grounded in reality.”

Victor sat up, opening his eyes again. “You heard something, didn’t you? About an hour ago?”

How could he possibly know that? “Yes,” Sarah confessed. “Someone breaking into my apartment. But they weren’t. There was no one there!”

Jack crossed to the glass shards, intentionally scraping them across the floor with his shoe. The sound chilled her to the bone. It was exactly like the sound that had interrupted her shower.

Then facts collided in around her. An hour ago. Wasn’t that when he said the break-in happened? Was it possible she heard it from all the way across town at the exact moment it happened here? No. The answer to her own question was obvious. It wasn’t possible.

Suddenly Sarah realized they were both staring at her.

“Huh.” Victor’s response wasn’t the least bit helpful.

“You’re not going crazy,” Jack told her. “You’re remembering things.”

That sounded exactly like crazy. “Remembering things that never happened.”

“Not to you.” Well, if she was going insane, at least she had found good company.

“She’s not in too deep. Their technology –” Victor started. Was it possible to go back to how things were? Normalcy seemed so foreign after the last week, but if there was a chance at it, she would take it.

“No, we’re not dragging her into this.”

Sarah wanted to know. “What do you mean, technology?” she asked Victor.

Jack was back to pretending like she wasn’t there at all. “The answer’s no.”

“She seems interested.”

“What technology?”

“She might get over it on her own.”

“No one ever has. It’s a broken mind or a merged one.”

“This could be different.”

“Unlikely.”

“What technology?” Sarah was practically shouting again. Silence gripped the trailer, and for a moment, no one dared to do more than breathe. “Please, if you can fix this….” She didn’t know how to finish her request without getting on her knees and begging. She looked between the men, who weren’t paying her any attention. “At least explain to me what’s going on?” Some part of her left home seeking help, and she didn’t want to return until she’d found it. This pair may not be what she’d imagined, but they seemed to have more answers than anyone else might.

Jack seemed to be willing on that count, if nothing else. He pressed his palms together and bounced them toward Sarah before beginning his explanation. “Imagine you’re a wild horse. Everything is just dandy until one day, a rider comes along and breaks you. After that, you don’t know how to be wild anymore. You have to either stay tame, and under that rider’s command, or you won’t survive.”

“Okay.” Sarah followed the story, if not the metaphor.

“Now what if I told you it’s possible for some people to eventually become one with your rider. To be fully centaur.” Back to the centaur. “To operate – to move and think – as one creature, despite the two you started off as. But the longer you stay separated, the harder it is to be comfortable, much less become a centaur. Am I making any sense?” Not really.

“Are you saying I’m a horse, and he’s my rider?” Sarah asked, pointing to the old man on the couch.

“It’s not a perfect metaphor.” He sighed, running both hands through his short-cropped hair simultaneously. “But yes. I’m close to becoming a centaur, but I’ve been doing this for years. You –” his disbelieving huff almost sounded like a laugh – “you should be dead, or as good as. It’s almost as if you have a knack for this.”

Sarah felt like she was starting to understand his logic, even if she didn’t believe it. “So what happens now?”

Jack shrugged. “Nothing. You go on your way, and we hope you can go back to being feral again.”

“Hope?” She didn’t like the sound of that.

“Or she comes with us,” Victor put in.

“I’m not going to let you ride me,” Sarah snapped. She recognized too late what that sounded like, but couldn’t take back her words, so she stood her ground.

“We’re not kidnapping her.” Jack glanced back to her. “Look, if this technology actually does exist, we’ll bring it back here to you, okay? Maybe then we can undo some of the damage –”

“And I’m supposed to – what, pretend like I’m not seeing things?” She’d tried that all week, and barely managed to hang on to her sanity.

“You said so yourself, it’s easier when your mentor’s around.” Victor’s words brought a strange hope of normalcy to Sarah’s horizon.

“You’re not her mentor.”

“I kind of am.”

Sarah took command then, using her acting to make them think she was stronger than she was. “Look, I’m coming with you. We’re going to find that technology, and you’re going to set me free, am I clear?” She rounded on Victor, remembering his actions outside the coffee shop. “You did this to me. You don’t get a vote.”

Victor put his hands in the air. “I was going to agree with you.”

Sarah looked back at Jack, who simply pressed his lips together in thought.

“We need help, Jack.” The words from Victor were whispered, like a prayer. “I want to see your mentor again too. And we don’t have the resources to do this on our own, not without Julia.” Victor’s previous student, and Jack’s fiancee, as Sarah recalled.

The name seemed to have a balming effect on the younger man. He swallowed before speaking, no longer looking at Sarah directly. “Fine. But she’s not replacing her, and you don’t get to link with her again, especially not without her permission. Got it?”

Next Episode

One thought on “Linked: S1E2

  1. Pingback: Linked | Ley Esses

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