Aleph-n: Matthew - Lily
Professor Harte wondered whether there was such a thing as true darkness anymore.
When he had finally decided that there was nothing more he could do for Lily, Harte had turned off all of the instruments in the examination room, then all of the lights in the house, and retreated to his study to be alone with his thoughts. His attempt at blacking out the world had failed: the last embers in the fireplace had yet to flicker out; moonlight filtered past the edges of the window’s drawn shade; the phosphorescent hands of his watch ticked away the seconds.
People brought light wherever they went, so much that fragments remained no matter how hard one tried to eliminate them. In the darkest room, the eye sought out every glimmer, desperate for form and dimension, eager for distraction from oblivion.
They were lost, all of them. His last effort at redemption had failed, and there would be no next attempt. He thought about turning himself in to the authorities, but found it impossible to delineate his crime in a way that any law enforcement agent would believe, let alone prosecute. He grimaced. So this is what it takes to leave me at a loss for words, he thought.
He did not move at the sudden illumination of the study by headlights sweeping past the window, or the crush of tires on the gravel driveway outside. The knock at the front door went unanswered, and he stayed seated when a key turned in the lock and the door swung open.
Steps in the hallway. “Doctor? Are you here?”
The hall light came on, casting a wide bar of light into the study. It fell just short of his feet.
His housekeeper, Nina, stepped into the doorway. She should have been a silhouette, but faint reflections allowed Harte to see her face. Light everywhere.
“Doctor Harte, what are you doing sitting here in the dark? Everyone’s been looking for you. I’ve been worried sick.”
He realized he should have been surprised to see her, but wasn’t. He let it pass.
Nina moved to Harte’s side, and put a hand on his shoulder. “Please, Timothy, please tell me what’s going on. The police have been asking questions. What happened to Lily? Is she here?”
“Not any more.”
“Is she all right?”
Harte shrugged. How could he answer that question, phrased in that way?
Nina gently tugged him to his feet. “Come on, we need to get you home before you get into real trouble. I’ve called your lawyer; he’s going to meet with you tomorrow.”
Harte stood in the center of the room, impassive.
“Doctor, you’re going to have to pull yourself together if I’m going to help you. I’ll take care of cleaning up here, but you have to tell me if there’s anything here that we shouldn’t leave for the police to find.”
Harte frowned. “Lily’s possessions are in the upstairs bedroom.”
“What about your laboratory?” she pressed. “Is there anything sensitive there? Anything about what you’ve been doing?”
“Nothing that I do not intend on deleting shortly, in order to put an end to this madness. Three individuals lost are enough.”
“Three?” Nina sounded alarmed. “You helped Lily transcend?”
Harte shook his head. “It isn’t your issue. The matter is not within your responsibilities.”
“Oh, I think it is, Doctor,” Nina said, as two heavily muscled men stepped into the study behind her. She nodded to the men. “Take him.”
* * *
Think ocean, Hector Ojeda told himself.
Hector had grown up on the shore; the Atlantic had been his backyard. It took no effort to recall the warmth of the water when swimming in the wind and the rain, the exhilaration of being tossed about by the wild surge of the waves after a storm. And the first lesson that anyone who played in the surf learned was that you turned sideways to let the waves go by. There were some waves you jumped and some you ducked under, but standing and facing them would only get your teeth brushed with sand.
It had become Hector’s philosophy of life. It didn’t matter how wild or weird life could get, or how dull. You just thought ocean, jumped or ducked when you needed to, and everything would be fine.
You couldn’t stop paying attention, though. Letting your mind wander while trying to hypnotize a woman clearly suffering from post-traumatic stress late at night in the cheap hotel room of an alpha male FBI agent was not a good idea. That’s when the ocean would smack you.
“So you really think this will work?” Chavez asked. Hector needed Matt’s sister to relax; the agent’s pacing wasn’t really helping the mood.
“Well, if we had a few weeks to train Elizabeth here in lucid dreaming techniques, I’d rather do that. But since we don’t, this is the plan.”
Elizabeth was sitting on one of the two queen beds in the room; her fingertips were tapping a staccato beat on the bedspread. “Will I see my brother when you hypnotize me?”
“Who can say where Matt will turn up? I doubt it, though. You won’t actually be asleep while you’re hypnotized; that’s a common misunderstanding. Hypnosis is more like being extremely focused on one thing, to the exclusion of everything else. When you’re focusing on a person’s voice, like I’m going to ask you to focus on mine, you become very susceptible to that person’s suggestions.”
“All right.” She sounded nervous, and why not.
“Don’t worry. I’m sure Agent Chavez here will be watching me like a hawk.”
“You’re sure you’re okay with this, Elizabeth?” said Chavez.
“Tell me again what’s going to happen?”
Hector nodded. “No worries. I’m going to hypnotize you, and try to plant a post-hypnotic suggestion that will activate the next time you go to sleep and see Matt. It’s just a message about what’s been happening here.”
“I’m not tired. I don’t know if I can fall asleep.”
“Hypnosis is very relaxing. It’s very common for people to fall asleep afterwards. But even if you don’t, the suggestion will stay in place for a while.”
“Does it have to be me? How do you know I’ll see Matt again?”
“I don’t. That’s the great big question mark. We know virtually nothing about where Matt is. But you’re our best choice, since you’ve already seen him once, and you’re likely to at least dream about him again.”
Matt’s sister turned to Chavez. “Should I do this?”
Chavez sat down next to her. “You don’t have to do anything you don’t want to, but I can’t decide for you. I don’t know enough to say whether this will work or not. I’ll be honest with you, though -- if this doesn’t work, I’m not sure what else we can do for your brother.”
“I’ll do it, then.”
“All right, let’s get started,” said Hector. “Agent Chavez, if you could turn out all of the lights except the small one by the desk? Elizabeth, why don’t you sit up against the headboard and try to make yourself comfortable?”
* * *
[Go to Chapter 15.2]