Chapter 4 THE IMPOSSIBLE WORLD
She flattens the wrinkles on my shirt with her hands and looks up at me hopefully. Her pixie hair, the eccentricity in her eyes, the disarray and chaotic brilliance that seems to radiate from her, this is a woman I can believe is my mother. She’s imperfect, and I can’t help liking her. But still, I can’t change the fact that I know nothing about her. Except her name, thanks to the girl. Laurel.
“I don’t what’s going on here,” I admit. “But I want to try to remember.”
It’s almost surreal how quickly I’m accepting this, the existence of a past I’ve never experienced. Laurel nods her head enthusiastically and ushers me further into the lab. It’s her personal lab, a whirlwind of papers, test tubes, and rats in cages. The girl grabs a lab coat off the rack and throws it on. It’s awkward on her, but she seems used to it. She starts mixing a few chemicals and loading them into syringes. I think I should be scared.
“Relax honey, it’s for a project she’s doing for her father.”
At the corner of the room there’s a giant desk, polished oak in a room of metal and glass. I take a seat opposite Laurel. She shuffles through the papers on her desk, setting them in some order that only she can understand. Finally she looks up at me and smiles.
“I think it’s best if I tell you what’s going on. Perhaps something will seem familiar? Who knows? I’d rather not inject my only son with neural stimulants.”
The joke’s scarier than it is funny and I lean forward. I want to absorb every detail of what she tells me, let my brain sift through it and try to piece together all that I’m missing here. Laurel’s in no hurry though. She signs some documents, occasionally looking up at me with a million megawatt smile on her face. Finally she claps her hands together and begins her story.
“I’m going to start at the beginning. I’m your mother. It feels odd hearing that, doesn’t it? Do you feel like Luke Skywalker or something? No? Moving on. My name is Laurel Stanley Blackman. So you are, of course, Charles Tanner Blackman. I know you have a different last name in their world, but that’s…. Change of topic. Just so you know, you may be fond of that other woman, the neurosurgeon. I personally, hate her, just thought you should know that. I am the chief scientist here at the Vertex. I specialize in the brain, its many hidden functions and capabilities. More importantly, we’re on a mission to unlock those capabilities.”
She pauses. I understand it’s time to let me absorb, ask any questions.
“You haven’t said anything about my father,” I say.
Her face turns sad, and I wonder if I should’ve kept my mouth shut. The girl looks up from her test tubes and then continues pouring. The rats are making more noise than before, and I try to ignore the sounds.
“We’ll get to that,” she says with false cheer. “I grew up in Merrin, which is this beautiful port city south of here. That’s where we lived when you were born. It was a very radical time for our world. We’d just discovered the existence of the other world, and wanted to outdo them at any cost. First was the Shroud, a brilliant idea. That was your grandfather. We’re invisible to their eyes, or at least, we were. When you were born, your father wasn’t in a good place. He was a brilliant scientist, a neurologist, with ideas that were amazing, but impossible. I think he loved science a lot more than he loved people. He achieved a lot, and his disregard for the rules was forgiven because he made so many contributions to our world. The people forgave him for his clinical trials, his recklessness when it came to life.”
“Is he dead?”
She chuckles and shakes her head, “If only.”
She takes off her glasses and leans back against the leather of her chair, closing her eyes. “A lot of people forgave your father in his life. I’m not one of them. I didn’t like it when he experimented on people without following the standard procedure. I hated him when I found out he was experimenting on you. He was the reason you ended up in that place. I don’t think I can ever forgive him for that.”
She opens her eyes and they’re filled with tears. “Do you know what lengths I had to go to in order to get you again? And even then, I had to be with you in your dreams. I had to look at another boy’s face and remind myself that it was you for ten years.”
She’s lost me, and I wish more than ever that I could just understand for once. Not be the clueless idiot that everyone’s disappointed in. With my mother it was because of her anger that I didn’t want to disappoint her, with Laurel it’s something else. Seeing her cry, it isn’t right. It makes me feel hollow inside, and I just want to see her smile again, like when she first saw me today.
“His name was Tanner, wasn’t it?” I say. I don’t know where the question comes from, but it seems right. My father’s name is Tanner Blackman, and Laurel nods.
“Yes, enough about him. I probably confused you. Let’s go back. You were injected with drugs that improved your brain function by a hundred fold. It was radical, it was extremely dangerous, and you could’ve died. You started talking in sentences when you were one year old, walking on your own a couple weeks later. I don’t know whether to tell you that I was proud that you were simply better than the others, or be scared at what would happen. You grandfather kept saying ‘A candle that burns twice as bright, lasts half as long’. When you were five, your father tried to inject you with a dangerous combination of four drugs. It would’ve made you Superman, or else it would’ve killed you. I didn’t want to take the risk. We separated and I got you. But that didn’t stop him. He tried to kidnap you. I had a tracker implanted in you after that.”
I think back to the last time I’ve heard of anything having a tracker implanted into it, I’m an endangered species now. Laurel continues about the tracker, its composition and how she didn’t use metallic substances. I’m starting to understand what she’s saying, old physics and chemistry classes coming back to me.
“It’s silicone-based, isn’t it? At the back of my neck on the right side.”
“Yes, yes it is,” she says. I don’t know how I’m coming up with this information. It’s like anonymous messages popping up in my mind.
“Well, when you turned four… the abilities got more drastic. The abilities started getting out of control. The first time you teleported, it was just across the room. You were excited to see me when I got home, and you were in my arms. It was always volatile, the power. You started getting lost. I was trying to get it under control when your father got released from jail. He tried to take you again, and you lost it. Lost all control, and your mind took you to the farthest place you could go. Earth. The tracker was the only reason we found you.”
I know I’m supposed to have a thousand questions. I can’t teleport. I’m average in every way possible. The story she’s told me feels just like that, like a story or a dream. It feels like I’ve heard it before, but there’s a fog in my mind.
“What is this place?” I ask.
“I think it’s better to show you first,” Laurel says. “You’re in for a treat.”
She steps out of the lab quickly and I am two steps behind her. She gets on the elevator and presses the button to the top floor. Even in another world, elevator music is awkward. Finally we’re at the top floor and she heads for the stairs. It’s not a complete roof, but a small balcony of sorts on the backside of the building. There’s a steel railing and below us the curved glass surface of the dome. I look up from the building and take in the sight in front of me. Things this beautiful can’t exist. It looks computer-generated, photo-shopped, a more detailed version of something I remember seeing in a dream.
We’re on small peninsula, the Vertex extending in front of me for miles, ending at the edge of an endless green forest. There are lavender mountains in the distance, the orange sky endless. On either sides I can see the ocean, sparking and clear. Ignoring the buildings and the boats in the ocean, this place almost seems untouched by human civilization. It’s a giant city, but there’s none of the signs of human filth. No chemicals, no industrial smoke, none of the sounds of traffic. It’s an impossibility but I’m standing in it.
“What is this place?” I whisper.
“This is home, Charlie,” Laurel says. “This is Eden.”