Authors: Brian Evenson
Tags: #Horror, #Science Fiction, #Fiction, #Media Tie-In, #Action & Adventure
“Not only that,” said Stevens, in one of his rare moments of openness. “Our hospital ward is full of people suffering from psychosis and the suicide rate is sky-high. Either it wants a lot of us mad and dead or what it’s saying is literally destroying us.”
There was, he noticed, a shift in the way people interacted with one another aboard the floating compound. There was a growing
feeling that something was happening, something that they couldn’t begin to understand. Some people began clumping together in groups, sharing their experiences with the dead, speculating that the boundaries between heaven and earth had been broken. Others dismissed them as a function of the signal emitted by the Marker, similar to a drug trip. Others seemed to be having a bad trip: they became withdrawn, confused, even violent.
He was in the laboratory, charting the moments when the signal pulse was strongest and trying to see if his hallucinations were occurring at those same times, when he noticed through the open door people rushing down the hall.
He stepped out to get a better look, saw at the far end, against the door, surrounded by a crowd now, a scientist named Meyer, someone he didn’t know very well. He had a laser scalpel in one hand, very close to his own throat.
“Now, Meyer,” another scientist was trying to say. “Put the scalpel down.”
“Stay away!” Meyer shouted. His eyes were wild, darting about in his head. “Just keep your distance! You’re with them, I know it!”
“Who’s ‘them,’ Meyer?” the man asked. “Put the scalpel down and I’m sure we can sort this all out.”
“Go get the guards,” someone said.
But Meyer overheard. “No guards!” he shouted, and lunged forward, cutting off two of his friend’s fingers with the laser scalpel.
The man screamed and fell backward, and Meyer turned in a circle, brandishing the scalpel until everyone stood at a little distance from him. He brought the scalpel back to his throat.
“It’s too late,” he hissed. “We’re all dead or good as dead. We cannot escape. Get out now before you become one of them.”
And suddenly, with a swift, vicious movement, he whipped the scalpel through his neck.
The wound was bloodless at first, slightly cauterized by the scalpel, but then the blood began to pulse, a thick jet of it spurting from his severed carotids. He gave a ghastly, gurgling scream, the air hissing strangely from his mouth and from his slit windpipe, and then took a step forward and collapsed.
A few moments later, guards were there, covering up the body and hustling everyone away.
“What happened?” Altman asked one of the scientists passing back by his door.
“Meyer went crazy,” the man said. “He started screaming in the lab about the end of the world and then he stabbed Westerman through the arm with a broken pipette. Then he grabbed that laser scalpel and ran here.”
The man shrugged. “Who knows,” he said. “It’s just like when that guard shot a technician last week for no reason then shot himself. These things just happen.”
He sometimes found himself on the edge of a group, listening to them expounding. The focus was usually on the Marker, the name that Altman had learned to call it from his hallucination having caught on with others as well. Altman didn’t know who had first suggested that the Marker was the product of alien technology, but the idea had caught on quickly, and now many of the researchers in the facility were convinced of it. There was a good deal of speculation about the originators of the Marker, why it had been left there, what it meant, and whether they should tamper with it or leave it alone.
One day, on his way from his room down to the submarine bay, he found the hallway blocked. Six or seven people were gathered in the hallway, a group consisting of both scientists and guards. One of the six, an older scientist, addressed the others. When he saw Altman coming, he fell silent.
“Excuse me,” said Altman, and slowly pushed through, the people shuffling out of the way and allowing him to squeeze past. It was strange. He was, he was sure, interrupting something, but wasn’t sure what. Mutiny maybe?
The answer came when, just as he reached the edge of the group, the scientist began to speak again.
“You must free your flesh, and unify with the divine nature of its construction . . .”
A religious meeting of some kind. Some crazed sect, no doubt, or perhaps members of different faiths getting together. He hadn’t seen anything resembling a chapel in the floating compound, though Altman, not a religious man himself, hadn’t realized this until now. He slowed, kept listening, trying to get a sense of who these people were.
“We must lose ourselves to find ourselves,” said the scientist. “Convergence is the only salvation. For I hear this in its whispers, unless you can understand what it means to become one with the Marker, you shall not have eternal life.”
coming at a moment when he expected to hear a deity referenced, made Altman shiver. He continued hurriedly on. Only once he’d left the corridor did he realize that what he had witnessed was the beginning of some kind of new religion, this one based on the Marker. It scared the shit out of him.
· · ·
In the days that followed, he overheard such talk more and more frequently, even from Ada. Their opposing philosophies of the Marker had come between them to an even greater degree than his unwillingness to stop doing things that might be dangerous. In a matter of a few short days, their notions of the world had become radically different. He realized at a certain point that they’d begun to avoid each other when they could. He still loved her, but he felt like he was losing her and didn’t know how to get her back. Despite that, he was still surprised the first time he saw her on the fringes of one of the religious groups.
“Can we talk about this?” he asked her, drawing her away from the crowd.
“I’ve been trying to talk to you about it,” she said, “but you just won’t see the light.”
“That’s not talking,” he said. “That’s preaching.”
They fought and fought, and Ada threatened to leave him. Even though he knew it was hopeless, that their relationship was in the process of dying, he agreed at least to hear her out.
It was in listening to Ada that he began to get a clear sense of the believers’ philosophy. They believed the Marker to be divine, that it had been sent to them by God, for humanity’s benefit.
We must believe in it and bend ourselves to its will and then it will heal us. It will unify us and make us free and perfect.
A strange mishmash of Christianity and paganism, it gave people something to hold on to in the face of the uncertainty and anxiety about the Marker. Soon, Altman realized, a new problem would emerge, as everyone on board, just like he and Ada, would be split between believers and unbelievers.
At first Markoff’s guards ignored this, but as the groups became larger and more dynamic, they started to break them up, presumably
on Markoff’s orders. But this only seemed to make people want to meet more frequently. It seemed an indication to many that there was something the military didn’t want them to know.
Meanwhile, plans to raise the Marker continued. There was still a great deal of excitement, but it had metamorphosed into fervor on the one side and apprehension on the other. Altman went down in the bathyscaphe twice more, both times alone, both times to supervise the robots attaching cables to the net that now contained the Marker. Twice more, hovering near the ocean floor, he hallucinated Ada’s mother. She repeated what she had said before, but it was no clearer this time.
“Where exactly shall we leave the Marker?” he asked her.
The Marker, as long as it lives within this sphere of gravitation, is where it must be.
What the hell does that mean?
“What is going to happen to us?” he asked.
You must not study it. If you do, you will succumb to Convergence,
Perhaps it is already too late.
“If we converge, what will happen?”
You shall finally begin, from the new beginning.
“What does that mean?”
You shall be made one and you shall lose yourself.
He came back up to the surface feeling even more confused than before. He thought maybe the believers were right. That the Marker was something divine. He thought,
What if it’s a homing beacon for an alien race, something to call them down to us, the forerunner of our own destruction?
No, he was not the sort of person who was easily given to belief. He didn’t know if he believed in God, and he certainly didn’t believe in organized religion.
· · ·
Late one night, while he was getting ready for bed, Ada nowhere to be seen, probably hiding from him, a knock came at the door.
He went to the door. “Who is it?” he asked.
“Field,” said a voice through the door. “Let me in.”
Field? Why would Field want to see him? They hadn’t gotten along well since they’d first come to the floating facility.
When he opened the door, it was to find Field flanked by a dozen others.
“What is it?” asked Altman upon seeing them.
“We need to talk to you,” said Field. “Please let us come in.”
Not knowing what else to do, Altman did. They filed solemnly in, one by one, standing in place or sitting on the bed, filling the room.
“We’ve come to ask you to lead us,” said Field.
“Lead you? Lead you in doing what?”
“You’ve seen it,” said someone from the crowd, Altman didn’t see who.
“The Marker,” said Field. “You’ve spent more time around it than anyone else. We know what happened on the bathyscaphe. When it killed others, it left you alive. We know that it converses with you. You have been chosen.”
“How do you know what happened on the bathyscaphe?” Altman asked.
“We have brethren not only among the general population,” said Field. “We have many close to Markoff. You understand, more than anyone else. You must guide us. You are our prophet. It is the Marker ’s will.”
“Let me get this straight,” said Altman. “You want me to lead you as the prophet of your religion?”
A rumble of assent shivered through them. For Altman, time seemed to have slowed to an excruciatingly slow pace. He moved back until he was touching a wall.
“Did Ada put you up to this?” he asked.
“Please,” said Field. “Tell us what to do.”
“No way,” said Altman.
A collective groan arose from the crowd. “Are we not worthy?” asked Field. “What must we do to be worthy?”
“I liked you better when all you did was sit at your desk for eight hours a day,” said Altman. “And I didn’t like you much then.”
“You shall lead us,” said Field. “You cannot abandon us.”
“I don’t believe in the shit you do,” said Altman.
They stared at him, astonished. When he looked back at Field, he saw a crafty expression had fallen over his face.
“This is a test,” he said. “He is testing us.”
“I am not testing you,” he said evenly.
Field smiled. “We understand,” he said. “Now is not the time. We shall watch and wait. When the moment comes, we will be ready to come to your side.”
“I’ll say it again,” said Altman. “I am not a believer.”
“But you will be,” said Field. “I know. You may be a reluctant prophet, but you are a prophet nonetheless. I have seen it in a vision.”
“Now is not the time,” said Altman. Get the hell out.”
They filed slowly out, each stopping to lay a hand on his arm or shake his hand, touching him as if he were some sort of good luck charm. His skin was crawling.
He watched from the bathyscaphe as the robotic units finished threading the Marker in cables. There it lay before him, bound and trussed, but somehow still imposing despite its metal net.
This is the cause of my problems,
And now my problems are only going to get worse.
He watched from five meters above it as the larger cable, the one running curved up into the darkness and to the ship above, grew taut. The MROVs had dug around the base, but there was no telling if it would come up. In a way, he hoped it wouldn’t. He held his breath. The Marker sagged lower in the net, and for a moment he thought the net would not hold. It creaked and swayed slowly in the darkness, and they came up with a large grating sound, oddly distorted by the water, and began to rise.
He followed it up, relaying messages and corrections to a series of submarines, which, in turn, relayed them upward and to the surface. At first the Marker twisted as it rose, the water naturally channeling around the two spirals of the Marker and making it turn, creating an invisible whirlpool in its wake. It could, Altman realized, soon become a problem, tangling the cables, so he slowed the towing down to a snail’s pace and it stopped. After a
while, it was moving regularly, ascending slowly but straight upward.
This is it,
Slowly it rose through the darkness. Only once they were halfway to the surface did he realize he hadn’t experienced any hallucinations. His head, for the first time in months, didn’t ache. He checked the readings, found that the signal had stopped broadcasting around the time it began to rise.
Maybe we’ve disconnected it,
Perhaps we’re doing something right, perhaps this was what we were supposed to do. Maybe it was transmitting so that we would find it and bring it to the surface. Maybe that was its purpose.
For a moment he felt reassured, and then unanswered questions began to assail him. If that were really the case, then why would there have been any hallucinations at all? And why would they affect people most strongly when they were close to the Marker itself?
It’s almost as if it wants to keep us at a distance. And what do the dead’s warnings of Convergence have to do with any of it?
Maybe we’ve done something right,
or maybe we’ve done something very wrong.