Wednesday, February 6, 2019

Lucid: Chapter Twenty

“You’re probably not concentrating sufficiently on the proposed dream content before falling asleep,” opined Elicott.  “Either that or you’re trying too hard.  One way or the other, you’ve hit a wall.”
Once again Connor and the researcher were sitting across from one another in Elicott’s office.  Neither paid any attention to the sunlight streaming through the window nor to the sounds of students’ laughter echoing in the corridor outside.  A palpable atmosphere of distrust lay between them.
Connor didn’t bother to answer the researcher but instead stared impassively at him.  After what he had witnessed the night before in his dream of Moldova, he had dozens of questions racing through his mind.  He just wasn’t sure how to best put them.  “When you first interviewed me,” he said at last, “you mentioned a previous experiment that had taken place in Eastern Europe.  Could you tell me more about what went on there?”
Elicott jerked his head up sharply.  “The Moldovan experiment?  Whatever brought that to your mind?”  He began to stroke his goatee as he always did when nervous.
“How did it turn out?” asked Connor.  “Did they come up with any valuable findings there?  How did it all end anyway?”
“I’m not really sure of all the details.  I’d have to check my notes,” said Elicott.  He reached for the bottle of mineral water on the table beside him in an effort to hide his discomfort.  “That’s all over and done with anyway.  Whatever results they came up with were inconclusive.  That’s why we’re involved in our present research.  We have much more advanced facilities at our disposal here.  The East Europeans may have happened on an interesting subject for research, but they lacked the sophisticated personnel and equipment needed to follow through with it.  A shame really…”
“What the hell do you take me for?” Connor interrupted him.  “I want the truth.  So stop with the doubletalk and give it to me straight.  You know just as well as I do that something went very wrong in Moldova.  What happened to Catemir and the others?  How were they able to disappear the way they did?”
Elicott’s face went white as a sheet.  “How do you know about Catemir?  It wasn’t in any of the written records.  I only learned about it myself when I visited the hospital there and spoke to Nurse Chernyakov.”
“And just what did the nurse tell you?” demanded Connor.
“Not much,” Elicott admitted.  “She unfortunately possessed only a rudimentary knowledge of English.  Then too, though she appeared a very strong woman, she’d obviously been too deeply traumatized by all she’d seen to be completely coherent.”  The researcher recollected himself.  “But how do you know about Catemir?” he asked again.
Connor gave Elicott a twisted smile.  “I saw it in a dream.”
The professor fell back in his chair as understanding swept over him.  “So that’s what you’ve been doing in your dreams, is it?  You visited Moldova to investigate the experiment on your own.  No wonder you haven’t made any progress on your assignment.”
“Let’s just say I’ve been doing a little unauthorized traveling on your time.  Sorry if it’s against the rules, but how else could I find out what’s really going on here?”
“Oh, no.”  Elicott was vehement in his denial.  “Nothing at all out of the ordinary is happening here.  Perhaps nothing untoward occurred in Moldova either.   I’m certainly not about to put any credence in the garbled comments of an impressionable nurse.  Who knows what the poor woman may have imagined?”
“She didn’t look that impressionable to me,” Connor argued.  “And neither did that pasty faced little doctor she was discussing Catemir with.”
“What doctor?  I never met any doctor.”  It must have struck Elicott then that Connor might actually know more about what had taken place in Europe than he himself did.   His composure crumbled at the realization.
Connor stood up.  He looked past the framed Braque print on the wall to a corner of the room where a set of file drawers stood.  They were new and their chrome finish gleamed beneath the fluorescent light, but they nonetheless reminded Connor of the crumpled green cabinets he had seen back at the Moldovan hospital.  He had time to notice a key inserted in the lock of the top drawer before once again returning his gaze to Elicott who still sat badly shaken in his chair.
Connor knew the researcher hadn’t told him everything he knew.  For a mad moment he felt like lifting Elicott by his collar and slapping his face until the man finally gave up the information he wanted.  Instead, Connor forced himself to calm down.  Losing his temper would only bring the authorities.  It wouldn’t accomplish anything more than that.
Elicott looked up at Connor as though guessing what was going through his mind.  “I can’t tell you what I don’t know, can I?”   He fairly shouted the words.  “I was only in Moldova long enough to pick up the records we needed.  Two days I was there, that’s all.”
Connor stepped back.  A wave of revulsion swept through him.  “You stayed long enough to talk with the nurse.  You discovered something there had gone horribly wrong.  If you didn’t hang around to find out what, it was because you didn’t want to know.”
“I assumed all the data would be in the files,” Elicott said weakly.  He wiped his brow with a paper napkin.  “If the experimenters had adhered to protocol, and I have no reason to think they didn’t, they would have written everything down as it happened.”
Connor was unconvinced.  “Did you actually take the time to read through the entire record yourself?”
“I wasn’t able to read the original files because they’d been written in Russian,” Elicott explained.  “But that’s nothing unusual.  We sent it over to the Modern Languages department where a graduate student prepared a synopsis in English for our use.”
“A synopsis?” asked Connor incredulously.  “That’s all you had to work with?”
“It was more than sufficient for our purposes, I assure you.”  Elicott had regained something of his pomposity.  “And now, if that’s all, I suggest you let me get back to work.”
Connor could think of nothing else to say.  He turned on his heel and strode out the door without another word.

It was well past midnight when Connor returned to Elicott’s office.  Getting inside had presented no problem.  He had simply waited until everyone in the sleep center downstairs had dozed off and had then made his way to the stairwell at the opposite end of the basement from where the guard and nurse were stationed.  There were no security cameras on the stairs; he had already checked and made certain of that at lunchtime.
  It had taken Connor only a minute to insert an expired credit card in the doorjamb behind the lock.  There was no bolt, and the door had opened easily when he had applied pressure to it.  It hadn’t even creaked as it turned on its hinges. 
Connor had, of course, thought of visiting the office in one of his dreams.  In spite of his recent journey to the Moldovan hospital, though, he hadn’t been completely sure he possessed the necessary skill to pull it off.  In the end it had seemed simpler to resort to the tried and true method of staging a break in.  After all, he had thought grimly to himself, he already had some experience with that kind of work.  It was what had put him behind bars.
The key Connor had noticed earlier in the top file drawer’s lock was still in place.  He wasn’t surprised.  Like most academics Connor had met, Elicott hadn’t seemed the type to give much thought to security.  The possibility of being burgled had probably never once occurred to him.
It took Connor almost an hour to go through the contents of the drawers.  There were dozens of folders filed alphabetically, each of them bearing the name of one of the project’s participants.  Connor resisted the temptation to look at his own and instead opened Marguerite’s.  Here he found several sheets of lined paper on which someone – had it been Elicott or Reicha? – had hurriedly scrawled notes.  They were hardly scholarly in their content.  On one, Connor read, “All monsters spring from the unconscious.  It’s the imagination that gives them their form.”  And on another page, “Who can protect her from herself?”
Connor put the file back and then scanned the other folders.
Most of the other files contained nothing but test results and copies of application forms and photo ID for each participant.  It was only when he got to the letter “S” and pulled the file for Joseph Smithers that Connor found anything of note.  This was a typed report by Reicha detailing Smithers’s many neuroses and psychological problems.  Under “Conclusions” Reicha had noted “Intelligence tested slightly lower than normal.  Very open to suggestion, perhaps too open.  Bears watching.”  As he read this, Connor remembered the impatient slightly built figure who was always pestering Jacqueline with questions when she was too busy to answer.
Connor put all the files back as he had found them before carefully closing the drawer.  He wiped the metal where he had touched it clean of any fingerprints.  “Can’t be too careful,” he reminded himself.  He took a last look around the room to make sure he had left behind no traces of his visit.  Then he turned off the light and stepped silently into the deserted hallway.  He closed the door gently behind him and listened as the lock clicked shut.

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