Chapter 1: JM-480
Martin Blackwood started to regret faking a degree in biology when he was assigned as a lab assistant to famous xenobiologist Dr. Bouchard.
He definitely regretted it when he met JM-480, Dr. Bouchard's new specimen.
And oh how he absolutely lamented his lack of actual credentials when Dr. Bouchard assigned him to monitor JM-480.
JM-480's containment cell was pitch black when looked into, an uncomfortable sort of void that Martin couldn't help but feel was staring at him. This was, of course, completely ridiculous- JM-480 wasn't the darkness in the cell, but rather whatever was lurking in the shadows. Somehow, that didn't make Martin feel better.
Martin did find small relief in the fact that Dr. Bouchard had made his instructions very clear, writing them out in the following memo currently taped to the corner of Martin's computer screen:
Mr. Blackwood is to monitor and record behaviors exhibited by specimen JM-480, and report any hostile or dangerous activity to Dr. Bouchard. Under no circumstances is Mr. Blackwood to interact or engage with JM-480, unless such interaction is to prevent harm or death to Mr. Blackwood or JM-480.
Martin didn't need to be told twice to not interact with whatever was watching him from that voidlike cell. He might have been grossly underqualified for this job, but he wasn't stupid. He'd seen enough creature features and slasher films to know that interacting with the monster was a surefire way to get killed.
No, whatever weird monster-thing was behind the glass, he would have no part in engaging in whatever weird monster things it did.
Those assertions lasted about an hour before Martin started having doubts about how dangerous the thing could be.
All the cameras monitoring JM-480 seemed to only pick up some kind of fuzzy, amorphous blob of shadow sitting in the corner of its cell, mostly unmoving besides it occasionally pulsing slightly. Honestly, Martin thought an alien creature would have been cooler the look at than a particularly spooky patch of shadow. Sure, looking at it directly thoroughly creeped him out, but that didn't mean it wasn't... underwhelming, in his own humble opinion.
It was easy enough to record notes- every half hour he'd just have to put down "no change in behavior" and keep watching. Anyone with half a brain could do this. He didn't need the fancy degree he claimed to have to know JM-480 was nothing but incredibly boring.
Soon, Martin's mind began to wander off the work he was supposed to be doing and onto far less productive thoughts. This was an easy paycheck, it seemed- why, he couldn't believe how stressed he'd been this morning when Dr. Bouchard told him he was to spend his hours on the clock monitoring JM-480. It was well worth the boredom, with the amount of money the lab was paying him he would never have to worry about paying for both his mother's medical issues and his own living situation ever again. With that kind of security, he was more than willing to stare at a creepy black blob.
It wasn't long until he found himself fishing through his bag for his tape recorder- he was pretty thoroughly certain the thing wasn't going to stop doing the 'absolutely nothing' it was currently doing if he slacked off a little bit, and he had been meaning to record some of his newer poems for a while now. Who knows- maybe JM-480 liked poetry.
He clicked the tape recorder on.
And then, seemingly by itself, the tape recorder clicked off.
Martin felt the color drain from his face as the recorder rewinded the half-second it had been on, before pressing play on itself.
Martin thought his heart might have stopped for a moment then and there. He stared at the tape recorder, squeaking slightly as it unreeled itself. As he watched, his periphery caught the monitors flickering, drawing his eyes up to the computer screen.
He felt the air left in his lungs squeak out of his throat as he saw two eyes peering out of the dark mass in the corner looking directly at him, before the camera flickered to static.
He clicked on the camera feed desperately, trying to get the camera online again, mentally chastising himself for royally fucking up. Eventually, his computer decided to give up entirely, crashing completely to Martin's dismay.
Martin felt a shiver run down his spine as he heard a very soft tapping on the glass, his muscles freezing in pure terror. Slowly, very slowly, he turned around to face whatever was doing this to him.
There, peering out of the darkness of the cell behind him, were eyes.
Thousands of eyes.
The monster's entire body appeared to be made up entirely of eyes, each one a unique but equally unnatural color that made Martin's head throb and skin prickle with gooseflesh. An eye-covered talon tapped at the glass, every eye trained on Martin as he sat staring in horror at what he could only assume was JM-480 showing itself to him at last.
JM-480 lifted its 'hand', curling its talon into the universal hand signal for 'come here'.
Martin, who did not have a death wish, did the opposite, bolting in the opposite direction and fumbling with the door handle, getting it open after much effort and freeing himself from whatever danger JM-480 could pose him. With his full strength (which, given his size, was not insignificant) he slammed the door closed, locking it before sinking down against the wall opposite in a heap of sweat and adrenaline.
He supposed he should probably tell Dr. Bouchard all of this. He'd know how to deal with it better than Martin.
But first, Martin let himself catch his breath. After what he just saw? He deserved a breather.
Chapter 2: Officially Sanctioned Interaction 1
Martin is ordered to engage with JM-480.
Wow y'all I was not expecting that first chapter to blow up the way it did haha
Martin could feel a growing sense of despair as he ruefully pressed his keycard to the scanner.
Crumpled in his other hand was a brief of what his new tasks were to be, assigned to him directly by Dr. Bouchard himself, which read:
Mr. Blackwood is to attempt to engage with JM-480 via standardized tape recorder and record behavioural changes exhibited by the aforementioned. Mr. Blackwood is not permitted to engage or interact with JM-480 beyond the parameters set above, unless such interaction is to prevent harm or death to Mr. Blackwood or JM-480.
Martin knew he shouldn't have shown the tape to Dr. Bouchard. It had been the one piece of equipment whose recordings were not corrupted beyond salvaging wiped entirely clean after his last interaction with JM-480. He could have easily replaced the tape with a blank one and fibbed that it was destroyed alongside everything else.
But of course, in the moment, he had been so desperate to corroborate his story that he'd told Elias the truth and showed him the tape.
Martin expected at least a slap on the wrist for his negligence. He'd expected he'd more likely be fired, maybe even blacklisted from getting hired in the scientific community. Maybe they'd even investigate his C.V. and realized he didn't have a bachelor's in biology, getting him arrested for fraud or impersonating a scientist or something.
He hadn't expected the almost disturbingly gleeful smile that spread across Dr. Bouchard's face as he heard the four words play back through the speaker on the recorder, as chilling the second time he heard it as it was the first.
Elias wanted more evidence, and as his assistant Martin was the one to get it.
Martin sat down at his desk, still sitting adjacent to JM-480, and pulled the tape recorder out of his bag. He loaded it with a tape Dr. Bouchard had written "JM-480 Test Log 1" on top of (to ensure the tape wasn't tampered with or switched out, he had explained to Martin) and, with much trepidation, hit the record button.
He squeezed his eyes shut, waiting for that creeping feeling, for the tape to rewind itself and start speaking in that horrible voice again.
A second passed.
And then another.
Martin cautiously opened an eye, uncurling himself from the flinching position he now found himself in. Huh. He had expected the same sudden response as last time, but even now with almost twenty seconds of recording there was no spooky activity.
Well, he supposed he should say something to prove he was recording at all.
“... well, uh… this is Martin Blackwood, recording data on the behavioural activity of specimen JM-480 on behalf of Dr. Elias Bouchard.”
He leaned back in his chair, whistling nervously as he waited for something, anything to happen.
Still, nothing did.
Martin felt a sense of relief wash over him as he let himself believe that the creepy black blob of eyes and nightmares might not want to torment him today. He laughed a little to himself for worrying himself sick.
He wasn’t laughing when he swiveled in his chair and came face to face with the countless-eyed JM-480.
“Hello again, Mar- oh for the love of- would you please stop screaming?”
Martin clutched his chest as he took a few deep breaths, trying to calm himself from the initial shock JM-480 had given him. Mustering up his courage, he glared at the creepy alien-eye-monster-thing, making a point to deliberately swivel back around and keep his focus on the tape.
It ran silent for a few seconds, an awkward pause from the monster.
"... So that's it, then? Silence is all I'm worth to you?"
"I'm not allowed to interact with you."
"Yet you answered my question, and in doing so have continued to interact with me."
Martin tried to think of something clever to retort back, but nothing came to mind quickly enough so he settled for glaring harder at the tape recorder instead. "I'm the one who's researching you , not the other way around, so I'd appreciate it if you left me alone."
There was another awkward pause, before the tape spoke again, its strange, masculine voice sounding almost smug.
"You're not supposed to be here, are you?"
Martin felt the hair on the back of his neck stand on end, a cold sweat breaking out over his skin as he felt that otherworldly gaze pierce through him like a knife. "I- I have no idea what you're talking about."
"Oh but you do , don't you? You're not what you claim to be, Martin Blackwood, and it scares you."
Martin could feel the heat rising to his face, that feeling of dread growing stronger every passing second. "Shut up."
"You're scared they'll find out you're an imposter, Martin Blackwood. Scared of the consequences if they do. Scared of what your mother would think of this."
"Shut up !"
"You don't belong here, do you Martin?"
Martin swivelled around to face his tormentor, his face red and eyes shiny with barely withheld tears. "Just… just shut up… please…"
JM-480 blinked, seemingly surprised, before casting its many eyes downwards, pressing a clawed hand to the glass. At once, Martin felt that piercing feeling fade away, leaving a strange sort of emptiness behind.
"... I suppose that makes two of us who don't belong here, doesn't it?"
The solemn sadness the voice in the tape recorder radiated caught Martin off guard- only a minute prior he'd had the most secret part of himself exposed by this same creature, and now it seemed so downtrodden, so tired of its own existence. Martin almost felt bad for it. Almost.
Because feeling bad for a monster is what gets you killed. Martin had seen the movies.
Martin picked up the tape recorder, pressing the stop button and gathering his files. "Well, I have what I needed," he muttered, mostly to himself. "I'm sure Dr. Bouchard will be thrilled."
He ignored how the creature's eyes followed him as he left the room, ignored the emptiness in his core, ignored the fact that it could know him so deeply so easily, as he let the door close behind him with a satisfying click.
Chapter 3: Government Mandated Lunch Break
Martin tries to get a little sympathy from his friends. Martin fails.
"... I suppose that makes two of us who don't belong here, doesn't it?"
“Brilliant. Absolutely fantastic.”
Martin took a long sip of his tea, nervously watching Dr. Bouchard as he listened through the tape recording. The look on the xenobiologist’s face was almost ecstatic, a level of sheer glee that Martin found almost disturbing.
Elias stood up and excitedly placed a firm hand on Martin's shoulder, making the assistant jolt slightly out of shock.
"Martin, do you understand what this means?"
"W-well, sir, I assume you like the results of the last test-"
" Like them?! Martin, before you came I couldn't get that thing to move , much less talk! What you've done is provided proof of sapient life beyond our planet!"
Martin shrunk away from the scientist as his words continued to grow louder, searching for an excuse to leave the office. “I’m, ah, I assume that’s a good thing?”
“A very good thing, Martin,” Dr. Bouchard agreed, locking eyes with Martin and thoroughly creeping him out, “a fantastic thing.”
“Right… well-“ Martin carefully removing Elias’s hand from his shoulder and pushing his chair back to untrap himself from the giddy scientist, “I believe it is time for my… lunch break, sorry to cut this meeting short but I- I really have to be going now…”
Before Dr. Bouchard could object, Martin backed through the door, wincing as it slammed shut behind him to offer him an escape.
“I swear to god Martin, you have to be the only person on earth who thinks being the first person to talk to an alien isn’t the luckiest thing ever.”
Martin poked at the cheap salad he had no appetite for as Sasha dug into him, regretting his decision to vent his issues to the two fellow lab workers under Dr. Bouchard's direction. "Yeah, well- you wouldn't be so sure of yourself if you had to come face-to-face with that thing- and not if Elias kept making you bug it over and over again! It feels like I'm poking a bear in its den every time I go in there!"
"Except the bear can talk to you," Tim interjected, a snarky smile drawn across his handsome face, "and the bear only wants to talk to you specifically, and also the bear is from outer space."
"That doesn't mean it's not a bear, Tim, or that it's not dangerous …"
"Well, what does this 'bear' of yours look like?" Sasha enquired, leaning forward in a way that made Martin feel a bit claustrophobic.
"Is it hot?"
"What? Nothing ever said an alien couldn't be hot-"
"It's horrible to look at."
Tim and Sasha stopped bickering, turning to look at Martin, currently staring into his uneaten salad. "It makes you feel like your skin is trying to crawl off your body, like… like you're trying to hide in the dark, and someone turns on a blinding light. Like you're being watched, but from every direction at once- and that's only when it's looking at you. When you look at it, it's worse."
The two researchers exchanged looks, but said nothing, looking back at Martin as if they expected more from him. He sighed, realizing he wasn't getting out of this without spilling all the beans.
"It's… it's got too many eyes, like thousands of them, and- and they all look, they look human , but they're not human and it makes them look wrong, like they're all sorts of colors but none of them are good colors… Sasha, do you have a pen? I think- I think I can draw it for you."
After a few moments of shuffling through various bags and purses, Tim beat Sasha to the punch by producing a mechanical pencil from his person and giving it to Martin. Martin grabbed a random page out of his files, drawing the following figure onto it:
He passed the paper to the researchers, who looked at it closely, their expressions both shifting between several different emotions: confusion, frustration, fear, disgust, all in quick succession. Finally, Tim dropped the paper, glancing between it and Martin. "Christ, man, how'd you make it do that?"
Martin's brow furrowed, a creeping dread in his own uncertainty. "... Do what?"
"... God, I'm going to sound like such an idiot, but I swear that doodle was-"
"-Staring at you?" Sasha cut him off, seeming a bit spooked.
"... Yeah," Tim answered hesitantly, "how did you know?"
"I felt it too."
Martin felt a cold sweat on his neck as they looked at him, shrinking back in his seat to avoid the double stare. "... What?"
"Do you know if this thing can affect things outside of its physical reach?" Sasha asked, her voice a particular kind of calm that made Martin feel like being back in the lab with JM-480 was preferable to being here.
"W-well- I mean, it talks through magnetic tape-"
"It talks through magnetic tape?"
Martin felt a small bit of himself shrivel up and die inside.
"I… I was going to get to that subject eventually…" he squeaked, wishing the alien of the hour would burst out of its cage at this very moment, destroying the building and killing him instantly rather than being stared at by his friends for another minute. "It's... how I found out it could talk in the first place…"
"If it has a voice, then... what does it sound like?" Tim queried, seemingly more lax about the whole thing than Sasha.
"Um… well… Elias still has the original tapes, but he did give me a burned copy of the first tape for my files… let me pull it up…"
He placed his phone on the table, pressing play on the sound clip.
He watched the researchers hear those four words, those four terrible words that had essentially doomed him to stay in this godforsaken laboratory.
As the clip ended, a hush fell over the table, making Martin's stomach twist.
"Well," Tim finally murmured, looking down upon the tape. "I didn't expect that. "
"Martin," Sasha whispered, turning her gaze upon the aforementioned. " How does it know your name?"
"I-I don't know," Martin stammered, nervously tapping his fingers on the table in front of him. "It- that thing can read minds or something, I swear- it was able to pinpoint my greatest fears and play off of them in my last interaction with it, and- and I haven't even told it a single thing about myself!"
"Well… at least it's got a nice voice…"
"What? It's true!"
"You can't say that about a nightmare alien who's harassing Martin!"
Martin watched them bicker, using the opportunity to slip away from the table unnoticed, dumping the uneaten salad in a nearby trash bin and escaping the break room altogether.
Martin's head hit his desk as he returned to the lab, trying to ignore JM-480 as he loaded the recorder with a blank tape. He sighed, not even turning the thing on- he didn't really have the energy to put up with more of this, even if Elias wanted him to. His lunch break had left him more drained than he'd been when he'd started it, and now he just wanted to slack off for the rest of his shift before going home and spending the rest of the day in bed.
He sighed, turning around to grab some paperwork to do in the meantime-
And came face-to-face with JM-480.
Martin's voice got caught in his throat, a strangled sound escaping his body as every single eye on the thing's body stared directly at him, filling him with an unfathomable terror that threatened to overpower him.
Behind him, the tape recorder clicked on.
"Hello Martin. I know you've been talking about me."
Chapter 4: Interaction with JM-480 #2 (Unsanctioned)
Martin has had enough.
Things are going to heat up a bit
(See the end of the chapter for more notes.)
Martin couldn't even blink as his eyes met JM-480's, the creature keeping his gaze locked on it.
It stood so terribly still, completely stationary except for its edges, which even now plumed and drifted away like ink droplets in water.
"You had a lot to say to those two dear scientists… Tim Stoker and Sasha James, was it?... I never took you for a chatterbox… "
Martin swallowed the lump in his throat, unable to tear his eyes away from the monster even as it started pacing back and forth in its cell, its gaze never leaving him.
"I don't appreciate you telling the world about me, Martin. It is far from ideal that even you know about my existence… it would be in your best interest if you kept your mouth shut."
Martin balled his hands into fists as he steeled himself against the antagonizing words, his nails biting into her palms. He forced his eyes closed, letting his fear boil over.
"You cannot escape me, Martin. My eyes see a-"
"Oh, shut up already!"
Martin opened his eyes, lit with anger and frustration no longer subdued by terror. "Stop talking. I mean, you just-" he sighed loudly, rubbing his temples, "-you keep threatening me and interrogating me and acting like your tough shit but- but look at you! You're just a- a creepy blob in a cage! A cage you can't get out of!"
JM-480 had shrunk back away from the glass the moment Martin started shouting, eyes wide as it cowered in the wake of lab assistant's outburst. In spite of himself, Martin felt a little bad
"I'm sorry, I know I shouldn't get angry, it isn't- it's not productive , it doesn't solve anything, it just-" Martin sat back in his chair, completely deflated and emotionally exhausted.
"I just, I'm not even supposed to be here… you know that I'm not supposed to be here, and- and I can't even get out of this whole thing! I've been nothing but horribly incompetent this whole time but nobody seems to know or care… I keep waiting for the other shoe to drop and it just- it doesn't!"
JM-480 was silent, staring at Martin in a way that conveyed a sense of awkwardness. It raised a claw as if it was going to speak, but then lowered it again, glancing away.
Martin raised a hand to shush the monster, making it recoil back away from the glass.
"No more… no more tearing into me, okay? We're going to do this properly. I'm going to ask you the questions now, not the other way around. You're not going to bully me any more."
JM-480 did not respond, which Martin took as a sign to keep going with the impromptu interview.
"Right then, let's start with something simple, like… do you have a name?"
"I do, in a sense."
"What is it? What do I call you?"
Martin could swear the slight distortion on the tape sounded like a low chuckle.
"It is not that simple, Martin… my name is not something that can be told in something so simple as soundwaves."
Martin felt the hair on his neck stand on end again, but he fought the urge to shudder, refusing to let it win. "What do you mean?"
"My name is not some collection of simple sounds and rudimentary symbols like yours, Martin Blackwood. It is not visual or auditory- it is visceral, for it is the feeling of a most primal terror, of being watched by unseen eyes, of having your darkest, most hidden secrets put on display for an unknown audience, judging every mistake with silent disapproval. It is not the description of the fear of an all-knowing watcher, it is that fear, and it is that fear in its purest, rawest form."
Martin shook his head, trying to shake off the dread that kept creeping in. "That's… sorry, that's going to be hard to address you as. Is there anything you'd rather be called than JM-480?"
The creature seemed to roll its eyes slightly, the tape recorder picking up quiet grumbly muttering.
"I forgot the human need to assign audible labels to things… well, if you must call me by a name, call me Jon."
"Jonathan Sims, to be exact."
"... Is there an issue with this name?"
"Oh- no no, it's- it's a fine name, I just- is there any particular reason for the name Jon?"
"It is a name given to me by… an old friend of mine, and it is the only human name I would ever willingly use."
"A friend? Who are they?"
JM… Jonathan Sims shook its head, glancing away for a single moment.
"That I will not answer."
“... Alright, then, ah, Jon- What gender are you?”
“More human trivialities… I for one don’t really care, but since I can see you perceive me as masculine, you can refer to me as such.”
Martin couldn’t really tell outright, but he was calming, the raw fear that had penetrated the room moments prior starting to dissipate as he lead the unscheduled interview. He tapped his fingers on his desk, trying to decide what would be an appropriate next question. He wasn't a scientist, no matter what his CV said, and as such he didn't know the correct questions to ask an alien monster, so he just went with the first thing that came to mind.
"Do you need to eat to survive?"
"Yes, in a way."
"... Are you hungry?"
"Famished. I've been slowly starving to death since I came here."
Martin sat bolt upright, a new kind of horror painted across his freckled face. "What? Oh, that's awful! Why haven't you said anything until now?!"
Jon's body shuddered in what could be interpreted as a sigh, countless eyes blinking closed.
"You always left before asking."
Martin felt a twinge of guilt at Jon's words, scooching a little closer to the glass of his cell.
"What... uh… do you eat, exactly?"
Jon's eyes opened curiously.
"Information? Like… like books, or-"
"Books work, or even just loose paper with words on it. Anything that I can glean new knowledge from, that I can dissect and absorb into myself, I crave. It is what sustains me."
"Right… do you need to be in direct contact with this information, or is it enough to read or, uh, otherwise consume it from afar?"
Martin rifled through the filing cabinet next to his desk, finding something seemingly unimportant- an old file from Elias' last assistant entitled "recipe for the world's easiest granola"- and a roll of tape.
"What are you doing?"
"Well, I can't give you a- a book, or something big- hell, I'm probably going to get in a lot of trouble for this, but…"
Slowly, hesitantly, Martin approached the glass and, with careful deliberation, taped the recipe to the glass, stepping away quickly.
"Doesn't seem very scientific to let your specimens starve to death, does it?"
Jon's eyes glanced between Martin and the page, surprised and nearly suspicious at the offer of his form of sustenance. Martin, in kind, did his best to smile, even if Jon was still just as horrible to look at as ever.
Jon stepped up to the glass, pressing his palm to where the page sat. His many pupils dialated to a startling degree as he drank in the words, his body becoming a bit less fuzzy around the edges, a bit more tangible.
As he fed on the recipe's words, Martin saw the ink start to bleed and drip through the back of the paper, as if water had been poured onto the page. It spread outwardly from the creature's palm, warping the paper as it went with gentle corruption.
After this damage overtook the whole page, Jon lowered his hand. His eyes blinked slowly, as if he were overtaken by drowsiness, and he sunk down and away from the glass.
"Thank you, Martin."
Martin watched for a moment longer as Jon seemingly fell asleep, the soft pulse of his body a little more regular, before he pulled the ruined recipe off the cell window and tucked it into his file, alongside the tape recorder. As he packed up, there was no fear, no hurry to escape.
Elias was going to kill him for this.
But he would cross that bridge when he got to it.
There is now official art of JM-480 up on my blog, which can be seen here:
Chapter 5: JM-480 Test Log 2: Diet and Feeding Behaviours
Martin and Jon chat over lunch.
Shorter chapter this time, next chapter should be regular length!
Martin was right about Dr. Bouchard reprimanding him for overstepping the boundaries of scientific research.
By the time the scientist had stopped passive-aggressively tearing him apart for his act of insubordination, Martin had sunk so far into his own sweater that he was practically swallowed up by it, staring sheepishly at the pissed-off xenobiologist.
Dr. Bouchard recomposed himself, smoothing back the strands of hair that had come loose in his spell of anger. "I will admit that, in spite of your… unconventional methods, you did manage to find out valuable information about JM-480, however if you value your employment here you will not repeat such a stunt again. You are to adhere strictly to the briefs I assign you. Am I clear?"
Martin swallowed, glancing away from Elias.
"You got me in a lot of trouble, you know."
Jon pulled his hand away from the glass, moving on to the next paper taped up against it.
"I do know. I thought you'd know I was omniscient by now."
"Don't be a smartass. I'm supposed to be recording your behavior."
Jon gave him a smug look, paper audibly crinkling under his claws.
Martin, in turn, rolled his eyes. "I don't need to tell you which behaviors I'm recording, I presume?"
"Diet and Feeding Behavior, Test Two, according to the note taped to your computer."
"... God, I forgot how spooky you are."
At the word "spooky" Jon visibly stiffened, the little drifty bits on his back solidifying into sharp spines.
"Spooky? You think I'm spooky ?" He whispered incredulously, pupils constricted in anger and annoyance. "I, an embodiment of the most primal of human fears, is spooky?! I can't believe, after everything you've seen me do, Martin Blackwood, that you would reduce me to the level of- of a spectre! A Boogeyman! Some old childhood fright of things that go bump in the night! Really, Martin, I thought you thought better of me!"
Martin let him rant, casually writing reacts poorly to being called spooky down in his file. "Alright, is creepy a better term in your books?"
"Then 'creepy' you will be. How's lunch, Mr. Sims?"
“Hm… I’m not sure if ‘filling’ is the appropriate term for how I feel. More… invigorated. More alive.”
“Good, that’s- that’s fantastic, Dr. Bouchard will be thrilled… Wait…”
Martin noticed one of the papers taped to the glass was completely untouched, just as crisp as it had been when he’d put it up- maybe even crisper. “Why didn’t you eat the poem? You ate the short fictional account.”
“... I don’t like it.”
“You don’t like poetry?”
“I don’t like Keats.”
“Really? You, an extraterrestrial monster who feeds on information won’t take a poem simply because it’s written by Keats?”
“First of all, I am, by your standards, extradimensional, not simply extraterrestrial; secondly… Yes.”
Martin shook his head in fond exasperation, placing the untouched poem in a separate file. “Jonathan Sims, you are one of the most ridiculous creatures I have had the fortune of knowing.”
“You’ve had quite the change of heart from the cowering assistant I met not so very long ago, Martin Blackwood.”
“Yeah, well, if it makes you feel better… you still creep me the hell out.”
“I wouldn’t have it any other way.”
Chapter 6: Overtime
Martin works late. Tim has concerns.
alright this is another short chapter BUT next chapter is bound to be a big one, some things are about to go down
“You joining Sasha and I for drinks?”
Martin looked up from the break room counter, a cup of fresh earl grey tea steeping behind him. He smiled awkwardly at Tim, shaking his head.
"Well, ah, thank you for offering, but... I've got more work to do back at the lab, so…"
Tim tilted his head, a half-confused smirk spreading across his handsome face. "Really? Thought you'd jump at any chance to get away from your monster-"
"Jon is not-" Martin stopped himself mid sentence, instead turning to focus intensely on his tea.
He could almost feel Tim's smirk grow wider behind him.
"Jon? Don't tell me you're on a first name basis with your creepy alien"
"So what if I am? He's a sentient… thing, he can have a name if he wants one."
"Whatever you say, Martin."
Martin sighed deeply, turning around to face his tormentor. Compared to the deep, all-consuming dread Jon could inflict seemingly at will, Tim's playful jabs were nothing he couldn't handle.
"I'm just trying to do my job, Tim, and I want to do it as ethically as possible," Martin murmured, taking a sip of his tea. "It already makes me… uneasy that we have to keep him in his cell, I'd like to at least give him the decency of calling him by name."
Tim hummed, his smile fading slowly. "Keep your head on your shoulders, Martin," he murmured, putting a hand on his aforementioned shoulder. "Remember, whatever 'Jon' is, he's still a specimen, and a dangerous one to boot. Don't let yourself get duped into something that could get you hurt, okay?"
Martin felt his face burning in embarrassment at the truth of Tim's words. He knew he was right, that he shouldn't be so relaxed around Jon- the creature had already proven his telepathic abilities and omniscience- had he been letting himself get in too deep? He didn't think he had- he'd just been having polite conversation- but as much as he didn't want to believe it, Tim was right, it could still all be a trick- Jon could be trying to lull him into a false sense of security before making another move to reach his own dividends.
Shameful of his own ignorance, Martin cast his eyes on his shoes.
"Good man. And hey, chin up," Tim said with a gentle yet mischievous smile, "if you change your mind about the drinks, we'll be at our regular spot, yeah? You're always welcome to join us there."
"I'll keep that in mind… thanks, Tim."
"Take care of yourself. You're the only you we've got here."
Martin glanced at the cell behind him, watching the soft pulsing of Jon’s sleeping body. Tim’s words still rang in his ears.
Remember, whatever 'Jon' is, he's still a specimen, and a dangerous one to boot.
It was almost hard to believe that the creature sleeping so peacefully behind him could be dangerous. If Martin hadn’t been subjected first hand to what Jon was capable of, he wouldn’t believe it… but Tim was right, and he had seen what Jon could do. Letting his guard down now could be putting himself in harm’s way.
Still, as he worked, he couldn’t help but keep stealing glances at the creature.
He looked so peaceful for once, despite still looking like a blob of pulsing shadow, a calmness radiating off him with every ripple that moved through his body.
And, as much as a part of him screamed not to get drawn into it, Martin felt at peace himself as he worked into the night.
Chapter 7: JM-480 Test Log 3: Further Investigation into Subject's Origin
Dr. Bouchard conducts an interview.
Okay so this one gets dark. TW for psychological torture and Elias being a dick.
Martin felt more nervous than he had in weeks as he stood next to Dr. Bouchard, tape recorder in hand.
Before them, in his cell, Jon watched them unblinkingly, glancing between Martin and Dr. Bouchard with suspicion.
Elias had a smirk on his face that made Martin uneasy, a calculating, curious grin that reminded Martin of a cat watching an uncovered fish tank, waiting for the right time to stick his paws in the water. Although Martin was still to take notes on the results of the tests, the xenobiologist had insisted on conducting the test himself- "I will be bringing in other objects of interest," he'd told Martin, "that only I know how to use correctly, from my own personal research. It's nothing personal- I wouldn't trust anyone else with this test." Somehow, that did not put Martin at ease, especially not with how he looked at Jon at this moment.
Elias cleared his throat, taking a step forward towards Jon's cell. "Good evening, JM-480 - may I call you Jon? I would hate to be disrespectful towards a being of your… ability."
"Who are you?"
"Oh, I'm sure I need no introduction, Jon. You already know who I am."
Martin's gut told him something was off, something was wrong, but he kept his mouth shut- he was not about to question the methods of someone whose experience with the extradimensional far exceeded his own, even if it made him uneasy.
"Dr. Elias Bouchard. What are you doing here?"
"My, no need for that tone, Jon. I'm simply here to ask you a few questions about yourself… and a few objects I hope you may be able to identify."
Jon's gaze was locked on Elias as the scientist stepped forward again, now right up against the glass. "What, exactly, are you?"
"I am not going to tell you that."
"Hm. That's unhelpful, Jon."
"What? Me, your prisoner, locked in a glass cell for weeks on end, who would have starved to death if it were not for your assistant, being unhelpful? Unheard of."
"I don't appreciate the lip, Jon."
There was a glimmer of anger in Elias' eyes, before he took a deep breath, shaking his head. "It's too bad, Jon, I was hoping we could conduct this interview with civility… but if you insist on playing hard to get, I will have to resort to alternate methods."
Martin watched Elias as he reached into his pocket and produced a vial containing a single squirming, silvery maggot, about the size of his pointer finger.
Immediately Jon recoiled, his body going spiky and his eyes widening in a visceral terror that made Martin's stomach twist. Elias smirked at his reaction, a sadistic sort of grin of a predator that knew it had won against his prey.
"I take it you know what this is, then?"
"How- where did you get a silver worm?!"
"Oh, an associate of mine gave me a colony of them- curious little things, their cells and DNA makeup confirms they're not of terrestrial origin… I take it you know what would happen if I were to let this out into the laboratory?"
"You wouldn't- everyone here would die!"
"Of course not… of course I wouldn't be letting this out into the whole lab, just one single confined space… I wonder what this would do to something like you?"
Jon had compressed himself into as small a ball as possible, shaking violently in a way that made Martin's heart bleed with the feeling of wrongness the whole situation radiated.
Elias held the worm up to the glass with sickening calmness, watching his specimen cower before him.
"So, Jon… what are you?"
"I… I am an extradimensional being who is representative of the human fear of being seen and known."
"Are there others of your kind?"
“Are they all like you? How did you put it- ‘representative of the human fear of being seen’?”
“... Yes and no.”
"There are others of my exact kind, other Watchers who represent the same fear- but we are not the only children of Fear in existence. There are, to be precise, fourteen different peoples of Dread Terror- that silver worm you're holding is a minor instance of one of them, the Corruption."
“Fascinating… I assume that there are other ‘people of Dread Terror’ within our universe, since both you and the, ah, ‘silver worms’ exist here, am I correct?”
“Yes there are, but you are unlikely to find them… they are few and far between, and, well, most that I can See are older than me, more well hidden. They would not make the same mistakes as me that got me here in the first place.”
“We’ll see about that.”
Jon was still watching the worm in terror, his voice trembling on the edges as he answered each question, and although he was not the one in the cage Martin felt like crying. He couldn’t bear to see the charismatic creature reduced to a quivering huddle, threatened into submission by an uncaring scientist.
“I see you’re feeling a little antsy about this little creature in my hand," Elias chuckled, shaking the jar to agitate the worm. "Tell me how something like this gets to earth."
"I- I do not know…"
"Hm. I don't think I like that answer."
"But it's the truth! Please, I- I don't even know how I got here!"
Elias pressed the worm to the glass, and Jon audibly hissed, baring rows upon rows of razor-sharp teeth (which caught Martin off guard, as he had been under the impression Jon didn't even have a mouth to begin with). Elias sneered, staring Jon down without mercy, and something inside Martin broke.
"Elias- Dr. Bouchard- please stop! He's- you're scaring him!"
"Quiet, Martin. That is the point of this."
Martin hadn't meant to grab Elias' coat sleeve, and yet here he was, clinging desperately to it, barely withheld tears stinging his eyes. Elias looked down at him, first in shock, then in quiet, seething rage.
"Let go of me, Martin."
"I… I'm sorry…"
"Let. Go. Of. Me. Now."
Martin released Elias' sleeve, taking a sheepish step away from him. Elias adjusted himself, then silently slipped the silver worm back in his pocket.
"I'm afraid I will have to cut this interview short," he muttered, glowering up at Martin. "I have to decide on suitable consequences for my assistant's act of insubordination. Apologies, Jon- we will have to continue our chat at a later date."
With that, Elias stormed past Martin, the door slamming shut behind him.
As soon as Elias left the room, Martin rushed over to Jon's cell, sinking to his knees to get to the creature's level.
Jon was still shaking in terror, and the sight broke Martin, unable to hold back a sob at the pitiful sight.
"I'm sorry…" he whimpered, putting a hand on the glass in a poor attempt to comfort a creature infinitely more powerful than him. "I'm sorry, I- I'm sorry…"
Martin felt a strange kind of warmth seem to press through the glass, soft and flighty and fluttering like an injured bird against his palms. The sensation was enough to quiet his tears into sniffles, letting him look up and at the source.
Jon had his hands pressed against the opposite side of the glass, all but two of his many eyes closed. The two that remained open, closest in position to human eyes, met Martin's as Jon slowly lowered his hands.
"Don't waste your energy fussing over me, Martin. I'm fine."
Martin felt himself choking up again, but he furiously wiped his eyes on his sleeves, trying to do as Jon had asked.
He knew that, after his outburst towards Elias, his future here was uncertain at best, non-existent at worst.
He also knew he couldn't let Jon live out his life in confinement.
And so, in the clinical quietness of the laboratory, he swore to himself that he would find a way free Jon, even if it took a lifetime, even if he himself died in the process.
Martin didn't know it yet, but he had fallen in love.
Chapter 8: JM-459 Observations of Behaviour
Martin feels down about being reassigned
Hey guys I'm back on my bullshit, JM-459 is the flesh hive
Martin knew if he tried to free Jon right now, with everything he currently knew about Jon and the lab, he was doomed for failure.
It was bad enough that he was currently barred from directly interacting with Jon until further notice, Tim and Sasha both pulled from their current projects in order to fill in for him. He, in turn, was put onto running tests on the colony of silver worms Elias had used to threaten Jon.
It made him sick, having to work with those crawling, squirming, burrowing things who currently inhabited a zombified fox he had the displeasure of monitoring. Martin was, as a general rule, not squeamish, and certainly not afraid of bugs or spiders, but there was something about the way they moved through the mostly-dead vulpine that made his stomach knot and his heart speed up in terrible dread upon looking at them.
It took a couple of days for him to realize it was the same feeling he had felt when he first met Jon.
He was not surprised by this epiphany- it made sense, given what Jon had said about ‘people of the Dread Terrors’ during their last encounter, and so the realization only made him feel dumb for not putting it together sooner- but he quickly found that unlike Jon’s gaze, he could never seem to get used to the disgust he felt towards those squirming beasts.
Maybe Tim was right. Maybe he had gotten too attached to Jon.
Maybe that’s why he couldn’t stop thinking about him.
Every time he closed his eyes he swore he could see him, his eyes peering out of the corners of Martin’s vision and from the dark corners when he glanced over them too quickly. He couldn’t help but worry about him- after all, up until now he had been Jon’s sole researcher, the only one who knew his weird little quirks and behaviours. Did Tim know how he refused to consume Keats poems? Did Sasha engage him in his sarcastic back-and-forth? Did either of them realize the person under the shadows and eyes? Did they see Jonathan Sims, or only JM-480?
Martin shook his head to try to clear it, attempting to focus on the flesh hive in front of him. Same behaviour as always. The worms certainly didn’t enjoy banter, and he doubted they had an opinion on Keats to begin with.
Focus. He had another task to do, one that required more brainpower than watching a shambling fox carcass. He needed to figure out how to get Jon out of here.
So far, he had absolutely no idea how he was going to pull this off.
The more he thought about it, the more hopeless the whole situation seemed. How was he, a highschool dropout masquerading around as a qualified research assistant, supposed to break an actual alien entity who was infinitely more powerful than him out of a maximum security laboratory run by the most famous and influential xenobiologist in the UK? It seemed nigh impossible. He didn’t even know where to begin with this task, which was seeming more and more like a one-way ticket to jail as he tried to figure out what the first step would even be.
As he felt a fresh wave of hopelessness wash over them, the door slid open, in walking Tim looking a bit like he’d seen a ghost. Martin took the opportunity to not stare at worms graciously.
“Rough day, Tim?”
“I don't know how you managed to stay around that thing for as long as you did. I considered walking out and never coming back the moment it looked at me…"
"Jon's probably listening to us right now, so I'd advise against badmouthing him-"
Tim rolled his eyes, collapsing somewhat dramatically back into his chair with a sigh heavier than lead. "I doubt he's going to get angrier than he already is right now. Didn't exactly approve of lunch today, threw a bit of a tantrum over it."
Martin furrowed his brow. He had only seen Jon get picky over one particular 'food' item in the past. "You didn't happen to feed him a Keats poem, did you?"
"What? No, I gave him something fictional."
The corner of Tim's mouth twitched, as if hinting at a smile he was restraining. Martin's brows furrowed deeper.
"... Tim, what exactly did you feed Jon?"
"... It may have been a printed copy of the entirety of My Immortal."
Tim snickered as Martin restrained himself from tackling him to the floor. He could only imagine how someone as admittedly stuffy and probably out of the loop regarding internet culture as Jon would react to having to read such a document, much less eat it.
"I can't believe you are working towards your doctorate, Tim."
Tim waved him off with a smile and a heavy sigh. "Needless to say, he threw a bit of a fit over the whole thing. He's already spooky as is, when he's mad it's something else entirely."
Martin cringed to hear him say 'spooky', Jon certainly wouldn't be too happy about that, given that Martin was about three-hundred-percent sure he could hear this conversation as it was happening.
Tim took notice of his discomfort, deciding to change the subject.
"He, ah, wanted me to tell you he wishes you were still his researcher."
That caught Martin off guard, and it must have shown on his face since Tim smiled in response. Before Martin could respond, however, he stood up and stretched, walking back towards the door.
"Have to get back to the ol' grindstone. Take care of yourself, Martin… oh! And can you look through your files for me? I need the transcript of your conversations for my own research."
And with that, Martin was alone again.
He glanced back at the flesh hive (still behaving as normal), then at his file on Jon, deciding one was a far preferable use of time over the other.
As he dug through the files, a loose piece of paper drifted out of the rest, and Martin scrambled to pick it up.
On it was a familiar doodle, one from when he first worked with Jon.
It still had that same eerie feeling radiating off of it, a feeling of slight dread he'd grown accustomed to in his time with Jon.
Realization hit him like a freight train at full speed.
He scrambled over to the whiteboard, currently covered in useless observations he'd already recorded on paper, and erased the entirety of it. Grabbing a black marker, he started drawing, filling the entire board with one single giant image:
He stepped away from the board, satisfied with his work.
"Jon, I hope you can hear this," he spoke to the image, "or at least see it, but please know I am fully intent on getting you out of here. I know the cameras don't record audio, which is why I can say this, but- please, please hold on."
He stared up at the image he'd created, and for a moment he felt a little ridiculous- it was ridiculous, speaking to a drawing, but he hoped it still at least worked.
Martin didn't notice at the time, but the picture's eyes were all trained on him when he left the lab.
Chapter 9: Off the Clock
Feeling stumped, Martin has a strange dream
Long time no chapter! Here's a short (but important) one.
Martin took a sip from his mug of hot chocolate, feeling comfort in the taste of sweet whipped cream and bittersweet cocoa against his lips.
On the not-quite-clean table of the cafe he was currently in was everything he currently had on the subject of Jonathan Sims, every file, every transcription, a copy of every tape. Next to him, on a paper napkin, Martin had drawn him again- he knew it was silly, that there was no guarantee that Jon could even see this far, but it was comforting to him to have it present by his side nonetheless.
He wrote everything down into a sort of mind map, highlighting the most important bits and circling the questions he still needed to answer. Every few minutes, he’d glance back at the doodle of Jon as he absentmindedly chewed on his own or rifled through his files, hoping for a 'eureka' moment that never seemed to arrive.
Eventually he managed to sort everything he had into neat little categories, getting things set into a sort of order-of operations:
He was still completely unsure about where he'd even take Jon- Ideally, he'd figure out how to send him home, but given that Jon's 'home' wasn’t in this dimension, much less somewhere he could feasibly travel to, he had next to no idea how he’d manage it, if it even was possible. He guessed he would have to cross that bridge when he got to it. Getting Jon out of the lab took top priority.
He finished his cocoa, and, deciding it was probably a good time to head home, packed up all his notes and ramblings. He returned his mug to the counter and, with renewed determination, headed out into the snowy London streets.
It was dark, where he was, and he was lighter, the purest white against the most saturated black. Younger, far younger than the voidlike matriarch that surrounded him, filling the entirety of the sky he floated through. He was but a polyp, an infant rooted to his skylike progenitor, watched by each of her starry eyes. He fed upon what she saw, what she showed him. She coaxed his first eye to open, gently encouraging him to take in his world for himself. Amongst her uncountable polyps, her nigh infinite brood, he was favoured by her.
She felt pride when he pulled himself off her back, free floating as the aetherial strobila he was rooted to gave way to his curiosity and determination. He was mobile, and in his mobility he was an unstoppable force, darting around to behold the world he had been born into with all the wonder and euphoria freedom brought.
More eyes came with age, and with them, he finally saw far beyond himself, beyond his maternal sky, beyond his world. In universes so very unlike his own he lay witness to things that feared, things that those things feared. He saw all that crawled and choked and blinded and fell and twisted and left ands hid and weaved and burned and hunted and ripped and lead and died, all manners of terror privy to his sight. He fed from this fear that existed far beyond his reach but right within his eyesight, grew stronger from it, braver, bolder.
And yet, he still hungered for more…
Martin woke with a start, nearly toppling out of the chair he had fell asleep in. The bizzare dream still clung within the recesses of his mind, refusing to fade the way dreams really ought to.
It had been disorienting- in the dream, he had seemingly both been the creature and an outside watcher looking in on it, which made waking up with a singular point of perspective jarring.
What had it meant? Had the dream not been about Jon he would have most likely discounted it as nothing more than the product of a stressed psyche, but given what he knew about Jon and his abilities he wasn’t so sure. Had Jon attempted to aid him in some way? Had doodling jon into the margins of his notes actually worked?
He caught something out of the corner of his eye, a dark mark on the palm of his hand.
He felt his breath catch in his throat.
There, drawn in black on the palm of his hand, was an eye.
Chapter 10: Observation Log: JM-480 Anomalous Behaviors
Martin gets the chance to see Jon again, though not in the state he'd hope to find him in
OKAY SO IM SORRY this took far, far too long, I promise next chapter won't take over a month to release!
This chapter has a character described as not eating for a few days, in case anyone is sensitive to that sort of thing!
Martin wore gloves to work, the circles under his eyes a shade darker than yesterday. He found himself hardly able to concentrate, wasting time at his desk from his case of scatterbrain.
The wormy fox carcass was as disgusting as ever, and last night's highly unusual dream was still fresh in his mind, so he found his mind swiftly switching back to Jon.
He wished he could speak to him, see him, anything to confirm he was safe, he was okay. It ate at him, this not-knowing, creeping up on him every time he tried to buckle down and pay attention to his research.
He wasn't getting any work done anyways, so he popped in a pair of earbuds, opening the latest episode of the podcast he'd been listening to as of late. What Off Earth might be a little cheesy at times, but the enthusiasm its host, Georgie Barker, brought to the show was oddly soothing to Martin, reminding him of the outside world's perspectives on extraterrestrial life.
"Exciting news from the Magnus Institute," Georgie said, and Martin found himself instantly paying attention. "The researchers at the institute has announced they have an exciting new specimen being researched at this very moment. They have yet to release any details about the specimen, referred to as JM-480 in the press release, but head scientist Elias Bouchard said this specimen is 'fascinating' and 'will change the way we view xenobiology for good'. As always, I will be sure to cover this topic in depth once more information is released by the researchers."
Martin froze at the mention of Jon- alright, that threw another loop into his plans. If the public knew that Jon existed, surely they would find out when (if Martin's plan worked out) he went missing, which was yet another thing Martin would have to deal with. As if my task wasn't Herculean enough, he thought ruefully, pulling out his earbuds.
He'd just have to adjust his plan to deal with the potential public backlash, and hope it didn't come to that.
He picked up the file on the silver worms, planning on trying to get some legitimate work done (even if he hated working with the crawly bastards), when Sasha came through the doors, urgency written loud and clear in her features. "Martin? We need you."
Martin nearly dropped the file in surprise, managing to place it safely on the desk after a bit of fumbling. He looked sheepishly up at Sasha, clearly confused. "What happened? What's wrong?"
"It's JM-480," she said monotonously. "He's not eating."
Martin's heart dropped into his stomach.
"Hasn't for the last three days. Says he's not going to until you are replaced as his researcher."
"And you didn't tell me?!"
Sasha took a deep, frustrated breath, clearly frazzled. "Elias told us to not give in to his demands until absolutely sure he would follow through with them… he's weak, that much is clear, and I don't want to risk his health further."
Martin did not need to be asked twice. He felt himself switch into autopilot, walking through the familiar maze of hallways down the path he knew by instinct at this point.
Upon arriving in the containment room, Martin got a glimpse of how bad it had gotten. Sasha had said he had only stopped eating three days ago, but Martin suspected she had lied about that number, given Jon's condition.
Jon's entire body was translucent and fuzzy around the edges, curled up in a half-ball, half-puddle form. He was pulsing erratically, inconsistently, in a way that reminded Martin of the breathing of a dying animal.
He stepped towards the glass slowly, calmly as he could, not wanting to frighten the poor alien to death. Reaching the glass, he gently placed the tape recorder on the floor, hitting the play button.
“Hello, Jon…” he whispered, his voice aching in his throat. “It’s me… I have something for you…”
Jon blinked open two eyes, then uncurled, slithering up to the glass.
"Martin? You came back…"
The pitiful softness of Jon's voice nearly broke Martin, but he held his sorrow back for Jon's sake, holding a poem- one of his own- to the glass. "Here… you can have this, Jon, I… I brought it for you…"
Jon reached feebily for the poem, but then stopped, taking a moment to glare at Sasha. Sasha, in turn, looked away awkwardly, barely hiding the fear Martin knew she was feeling from Jon's focus on her.
"... Right. Well-" she cleared her throat, "I have some, ah, things to file- important things- I'll leave you to it."
As soon as the lab door clicked closed behind her, Jon stood up this full height, immediately regaining opacity. The rest of his unnecessarily numberous eyes blinked open, focusing on Martin.
"Can't believe that worked…"
Martin stared at him, his mind having a hard time processing what he just witnessed. "You- you were faking it?!"
Jon scoffed at Martin's frustration, dusting himself off nonchalantly.
"Honestly, Martin, did you really think a three-day hunger strike would bring something of my caliber to its knees? It wasn't enough to convince them to get you, so I played it up a little. Oldest trick in the book."
Martin sent a few choice words in Jon's direction, angrily pressing the poem against the glass. "Just eat the damn poem, Jon."
After Jon finished the poem (which he seemed to at least somewhat approve of), he brought the subject of Martin's plan up, murmuring his critisms over the barebones-y quality the whole thing had.
"I am particularly concerned over the whole 'worms' idea."
"It's just a back-up plan… it's not like I'm particularly keen on releasing a bunch of flesh eating worms on the lab, seeing as I'm made of, well, flesh -"
"It's- I'm not worth a potentially world-ending plague of silver worms, I won't ask you to subject humanity to that over something as… inhuman, as I am."
Martin's heart fell, and although he knew it to be true that yes, Jon wasn't human, it saddened him to hear him conflate his worth to his humanity (or lack thereof).
He pressed his gloved hand to the glass, offering the closest thing he had to comfort to the creature. "Jon, I don't care that you're not a human- you're still a person, and as a person you deserve better than what you have. I am going to get you out of here, no matter what it takes, okay? I'm going to get you back home."
Jon hesitated a moment, then returned the gesture, pressing his palm to his side of the glass- and a wave of stinging pain jolted through Martin, making him yelp in shock. Jon recoiled with a hiss, his body rippling in pain and aggravation.
"What- Martin, what's on your hand?"
"I- I thought you'd know! It's-"
Martin peeled the glove off his stinging hand, showing Jon the eye mark, now red around the edges like an infected wound. "Here! I thought- isn't this your mark?"
Jon shook his head, eyes narrowing on the symbol.
"Not my mark- as I am, I'm not nearly strong enough to physically mark you in such a way, and it wouldn't have hurt either of us if it was mine. It is, however, the mark of my kind, of our matriarch… "
Jon trailed off, eyes widening as a grim realization set in over both of them.
"If… if this is the mark of you kind, but not your mark…"
"Someone else has laid claim to you… and, I regret to inform you, Martin, but… as it is, you're in an inconceivable amount of danger."
Chapter 11: JM-480 Record Log: Anomalous Effects on Research Assistant Martin Blackwood
WOW LONG TIME NO CHAPTER
Honestly the last couple of months have been a complete blur but IM BACK! this chapter is a short one, but next chapter is going to be an important one so stay tuned!
There was a brightness, blinding and unbearable, and then there was pain.
It was not a burning, or a stinging, or a throbbing kind of pain, no- it was just pain, pure and overwhelming every nerve of his nebulous body.
His eyes blinked open one by one as they recovered from his fall, slowly patching together the image of the world he now found himself in.
There was fear here, diluted and unfamiliar and choked out by a sleepless city. He could feel it around him, see it in the eyes of the two feral cats that fled as he pulled himself out of the crater in the concrete. It was nowhere near as strong as the fear he'd seen from the place of his birth, his home amongst the stars that watched.
He could feel Beholding here, but the feeling was faint, their connection little more than a fading memory of the sanctuary he had come into being in. Gone was the comfort of the Eye- his curiosity had severed him from his matriarch, perhaps for good.
He didn't know how he'd gotten here, or how to get back, if he even could get back.
He only knew he was afraid.
Once again, Martin woke up in a cold sweat, the eye on his hand burning like a fresh brand.
He looked up to find he had fallen asleep at his desk at home, the tape from yesterday's conversation with Jon still playing back through the old radio he'd picked up at the thrift shop.
He quickly clicked off the radio, then began slowly peeling the glove off his palm, hissing as the skin stuck slightly to the wool. He'd started covering the eye under Jon's instruction to keep whatever had marked him from seeing what he was doing, but whatever it was it certainly didn't seem to like being left in the dark- the brand had burned into him every time he covered it for any extended period of time. It was incredibly painful, but even this pain was something he found himself normalizing, working breaks to run his hand under ice water into his routine, as he did now. Honestly, it probably wasn't healthy to get used to such pain. Martin found himself caring less about what was considered 'healthy' these days.
Since Jon's hunger scare, Martin had been reassigned to him to 'avoid a repeat incident', or so Elias had claimed. It was a relief to be able to talk to him again, but they had to be careful now more than ever- someone, or something, was watching them, and Dr. Bouchard had recently developed a nasty habit of popping in at the most inconvenient times to check up on Martin. Jon had been far more skittish lately, too, especially around Elias- Martin wondered if it was memories of the worm incident that made him cautious, or if something else had happened during his time away from the project. In all honesty, he hoped the latter wasn't correct- he didn't like to think about what that 'something' could be that could make Jon so fearful.
Martin's new dream was still fresh in his mind, so, once the pain had mostly subsided, he pulled the glove back over his hand and got to work transcribing it to the best of his abilities. At first, he had thought these dreams may have been about whatever had branded him, but the more he saw into this strange collection of inhuman memory he had come to the conclusion that it was, in fact, Jon- his mannerisms and way of thinking were far too close of a match to what he'd observed in the extradimensional. By means he could not yet understand, he was privy to Jon's memories, albeit in fleeting flashes of dreams.
Which would be great, if those dreams ever revealed anything useful instead of just keeping him from a full night's sleep.
He guessed he couldn't be so lucky, working to free an alien from a high-security government laboratory. Nothing was going to be handed to him on a silver platter.
He sighed, looking back over his barebones plan. He was going to need a miracle to pull this off. Even if he didn't deserve one, surely if his need for a wish was altruistic enough to be worthy of it?
Looking at his notes once again, fruitlessly looking for a clue, he felt a pang of despair sink through him.
He was already grievously underqualified for his job- how the hell could he pull this off?
Chapter 12: Containment Procedures for Private Display of JM-480
Martin meets one of the Magnus Institute's benefactors, and gets concerning news right along with it
I am not dead! Sorry for the lack of updates, been pretty low because of quarantine. Enjoy!
(See the end of the chapter for more notes.)
"Can you identify the origin of this specimen?"
Jon's eyes focused on the book in Martin's hands, then narrowed. Martin felt the ever-present feeling of being watched and known slowly grow stronger and stronger, making him break out in gooseflesh and a cold sweat he tried his very hardest to ignore. Finally, Jon shrugged, sitting back and letting the feeling of dread subside.
"It's just a normal copy of Alice's Adventures in Wonderland by Lewis Carroll, albeit one with a few blood stains on the last fifty pages. Any misfortune that has befallen previous owners of this book would be purely coincidental."
Martin nodded, putting the book down and writing Jon's assessment down. He picked up the next item off the desk Dr. Bouchard had asked him to show Jon, this time a silver lighter with an engraved spiderweb on the casing. "Okay, what about this one?"
"...that would be… a lighter brought to the Institute by the dual entities Breakon and Hope. Other than its ability to burn things of supernatural origin, it is functionally the same as a normal lighter and proves no danger beyond that of one."
As Martin wrote down the description, the door opened, and Jon immediately shrunk back from the glass into his defensive, spikey pile. Sure enough, Dr. Bouchard walked in, followed by a large man Martin did not recognize.
The stranger was dressed in a dirty overcoat and a captain’s hat, a subtle but chilling smile on his lips. Martin noticed that the room felt colder with him there, and he could swear he caught a whiff of seawater faintly filling the room. He didn’t know why, but the stranger made Martin feel incredibly uneasy.
Jon seemed to feel even more so, the still-running tape recorder whirring and squeaking with distortion as the strange man looked towards him with that same cold smile. Dr. Bouchard, on the other hand, paid him no mind, instead approaching Martin.
“Good afternoon, Martin, how goes the war?”
“Ah, Elias- I was just finishing up the interview you wanted me to-”
“Yes yes, I can see that- you can continue once we leave. I have someone here I’d like you to meet- Peter? Come over here for a moment.”
The stranger, Peter, looked up, caught red-handed tapping on the glass of Jon’s cell, and joined Elias’ side. Martin immediately felt the temperature of the room drop a couple of degrees, a cold sweat breaking out on the back of his neck. Elias gestured to him, as cool and collected as he always was.
“Peter, this is Martin Blackwood, the lab assistant assigned to JM-480.”
Peter’s cold eyes lit up a little, extending a hand to Martin. “Peter Lukas, pleased to meet you- Elias has told me so much about you, I am thrilled to finally have the chance to see you in person.”
Martin hesitantly shook his hand, sending a confused glance towards Elias. Luckily, the scientist picked up on his unspoken question.
“The Lukas family have been major benefactors for the Institute since its founding, and have had close ties to our research here- in fact, Peter here was the original discoverer of specimen JM-480.”
“Oh- Oh, well, ah, pleased to meet you, Mr. Lukas-”
“Please, call me Peter.”
“Ah, Of course, Peter…”
Elias watched the awkward handshake silently, before placing a hand on Martin’s shoulder. “Martin, do you have a minute to chat?”
“Excellent! Peter, I’m sure you wouldn’t mind too much if I were to leave you all by your lonesome for a moment?”
“Of course not, Elias, you know me better than that.”
“Perfect-” he turned towards the door, waving his hand beckoningly. “Martin, come with me.”
Martin followed the scientist into the hallway, worried about leaving Jon alone with Peter but all too relieved to be out of the chill, a fact that did not go unnoticed by Elias.
"Forgive Peter any discomfort he may have caused you, the Lukases are an... eccentric family, and many find their manor to be, ah, off-putting."
Martin shuddered in agreement, casting his eyes towards the floor. "That's one way of putting it… made me feel so… isolated just being in the same room as him."
Elias chuckled, patting Martin's back. "I promise you they're not just unnerving- their donations help us keep the lights on and the specimens out of government hand… which is something I wanted to talk to you about- you know the benefactor appreciation dinner being hosted next month?"
Martin thought he'd heard Tim mention it during a coffee break once, but he had been too preoccupied mulling over a conversation with Jon to actually pay any attention to him. "I do but, ah- not in detail?"
Elias hummed, starting to slowly walk down the quiet hallway, Martin tailing behind him. "The Magnus Institute is a prestigious member of the scientific community, and it has lead to many breakthroughs in the world of extraterrestrial studies, but none of this would be possible without the help of our many donors and benefactors- they allow us to continue our research, and without them we would be practically destitute, and I would like to make our gratefulness towards their continued patronage as apparent as possible.
"Every year we at the Magnus Institute hold a dinner for our donors, to thank them for their generosity and to show them how their money has been put to use- usually in the form of a slideshow or small demonstration for the amusement of our guests… however, at the behest of the Lukas family, I have decided to do something a little more interesting. "
Martin felt unease set back into his nerves as Elias tapped his keycard against the scanner of a darkened room the assistant did not recognize, swinging the door open and ushering Martin into the gloom.
Elias flicked on the lights, the fluorescent bulbs flickering and humming to life to reveal something covered in a drop cloth. As Elias pulled it off the structure, Martin's heart sank into his stomach.
The glass case underneath was tall and thin, rounded like a pillar aquarium. It was just wide enough to hold something roughly the size of Martin, albeit rather uncomfortably. It rested on a base that, on the outside, appeared to be made of polished mahogany, a brass plate attached to the base that read:
Specimen JM-480 “Jonathan Sims”
This exhibit generously donated by the Lukas Family
Martin felt sick reading Jon’s name on that plaque, everything clicking horribly in his mind. He stepped back from the tank in shock, an action seemingly unnoticed by Elias.
“Clever plan, isn’t it? Show our sponsors a new and exciting addition to our collection at a private event and let their rumors spread to future donors- think of the funding we could pull in with such a stunt! Well worth the extra legwork to get it prepared for display, wouldn’t you agree?”
Martin shook his head, still overcome by the horror of the situation. "You- you can't just- Jon's a-a person! A sentient, living being, you can't just- just use him as a centerpiece!"
Elias' smile slowly faded from his face, his eyes turning cold. "The same argument could be made of captive dolphins, or crows, or apes, or octopi, or a million other species," he hummed, staring Martin down, "and yet we still understand the importance of zoos to the scientific community. JM-480 is still a specimen in our collection, one who's scientific merit exceeds far beyond that of any animal found here on earth and if its presence at this dinner means we have the funding to keep researching him, I say so be it."
"It's still wrong! I mean, Jon can talk, he's- he's dangerous! You've seen what he can do!"
"Don't worry about the 'danger', Martin, this tank is lined with a one-way mirror- in short, we will see it, but it can't see us."
Martin felt himself grow sicker, wanting to cry as he realized there was no way of talk Elias down from this. With a hopeless sigh, he let the tension out of his body, mind still processing the implications of this event.
Elias waited a moment to watch him sulk, before clearing his throat. "Now, I called you over here for a reason, Martin- so far, you have been the only researcher JM-480 has responded positively to, and as such I will need you to be present at the dinner in order to make sure everything runs smoothly in regards to the specimen. You can handle a night of social interaction, can't you?"
"... Yes, Dr. Bouchard."
"Excellent. Now, if you'll excuse me…"
With a pat on the back, Elias turned towards the door, leaving Martin to stew in his emotions.
He didn't know what to do, or say, how to make the most of the situation at hand. Already Elias had managed to throw a monkey wrench into everything, and he only knew one thing he could do to salvage it.
He knew he had to talk to Jon.
He just hoped the alien could help him sort through this mess, and that he wasn't getting himself in deeper in doing so.
The plot thickens! Things are heating up! The next few chapters will be very plot-heavy, so be warned!