The Knowing: Book 2 of Perception
By Rob Turner
After the disastrous encounter at the end of Inward, Max and Trudie wake from unconsciousness, to a life of almost incomprehensible strangeness. As the days and weeks unfold, as Trudie's seeing is probed and studied, and they begin to come to terms with an advanced society which has survived from the past, they are caught in a power struggle between the state and the biotechnology company which ‘discovered’ them.
Max's eyes opened with difficulty, his eyelids were gummed together. Everything was white, and the sun was wrong. It was square, and there was more than one. His head hurt, it felt like it had been split in two. He closed his eyes again, remembering, recalling feeling like this once before, down by a river, it seemed so long ago. His head lay on something soft, something soft and warm covered him. He remembered Trudie screaming, and a machine that flew. He remembered being in the forest, a man taking Tammi, and his face twisted. He couldn't remember where he had left his clothes, his bow. He groaned, opening his eyes again, rolling over. He thought he lay on a bed. He seemed to be inside a building. The whiteness was the ceiling, absolutely smooth, with panels in it which glowed with light. He could see out through two of the walls. It reminded him of places he had seen in the Ruins. The sun was shining out there, he could see breeze moving the leaves of trees, but he couldn't feel it on his face. His headache was blinding, like needles behind his eyes, and he closed them again. All that mattered was that he find Trudie, but he seemed to have no strength. Nothing made any sense, except the pain in his head, the pain he knew she had put there. Time must have passed. Again he rolled over, opened his eyes. There was another bed next to his, and relief washed over him. Trudie lay on it, her body covered by white sheets. She looked so strange with her hair cropped short, lying in the pristine bed, a smear of dirt on one cheek. Her arms were bandaged, but he thought that he could see the covers moving gently as she breathed. Whatever it was they had come to, she was here, she was alive. It was a start. Wearily, he closed his eyes again, and he thought that he must have drifted into sleep. When he woke again, the pain in his head had eased a little, and she was still there, still asleep. A tube came from a clear bag hanging above her bed, and went into her nose. Behind her bed there was a metal box on a stand, with coloured lights moving in it. Thin cords joined it to Trudie. He closed his eyes again, grimacing. He couldn't see Tammi, only he and Trudie were here. He supposed that they had been taken by the people from the machine, though he thought he remembered it starting to leave. He couldn't understand why Tammi wasn't here, as he thought he remembered that they had taken her already. Putting a hand to his face, he found a tube running into his own nose. Looking up, he saw it led to a bag hanging on a metal rod. The tube seemed to be stuck to his upper lip. He pulled it, felt something move inside his nose, down the back of his throat. He pulled harder, felt something tear off his lip, and a long tube slid out of his nose. A drop of clear liquid fell from the end. When he put it to his lips it tasted sweet, like honey. Everything was so strange. He knew that he had no choice but to wait, until he was stronger and Trudie woke, and in the meantime watch, and try and understand. He remembered the man canoeing on the lake, remembered thinking through strategies, as he walked along the lake shore with the girls, that he might use when they met the people the canoeist was with. But there was no way at all that they could have imagined what had actually happened, could have imagined any of this. He looked again at the room. There seemed to be no one here. Perhaps it would be possible to escape, back into the forest. Suddenly he thought he heard voices. He rolled onto his back again, rearranged the tube close to his face, lay still. Yes. Voices, growing louder. He narrowed his eyes to slits as a door in the far wall opened, trying to watch, but to look as if he was asleep. Two women came into the room. One, in white clothes, was thin and fair. The other was small, delicately built, with thick dark hair that just touched her shoulders. Her clothes were dark browns and greens. They seemed to be arguing. He listened. Their accents and intonation were strange, but he found he could understand much of what they were saying. “I don't see what you think being here will achieve,” the one in white was saying. “It's a unique opportunity for a psychologist,” returned the other. “Even if they're unconscious. I can learn just by watching.” “I insist on you leaving. There's the risk of infection. For them if not for you.” “Don't try that one on me.” The dark one seemed irritated, even angry. “I know someone in Pathology. I know their pathogens are close enough to ours for there to be little risk to me, and I know they've been given antibodies against ours.” She sniffed. “Byrne's precious reverts won't catch anything off me.” It was the same language as his own, but many of the words made no sense. “This has nothing to do with Byrne.” The last remark seemed to have further angered the woman in white. “He doesn't own these people. This is a hospital. Their welfare's my only concern.” “I think it's got everything to do with Byrne. I wasn't born yesterday. I know I'm the only member of the University who's in Rusheeny right now, and I know how badly he needs to keep this whole business quiet. I know you're keeping him closely informed of the progress of these two.” His mind racing, Max struggled to understand the unfamiliar way of speaking, the meaningless words. Why had she said two, not three? What had they done with Tammi? He squinted at them through his eyelashes as they faced each other aggressively. “I resent what you're implying,” the fair one said. “I go off shift now, and I'm going to report you, and your attitude, to the clinical team before I do.” “Go ahead. You're the one being unreasonable. What harm can a visitor, a passive observer, do?” “Please yourself, then. I'll inform my relief that you're in here.” The door closed loudly behind her. “And Byrne's people, I'll bet,” the other muttered to herself. After a moment she sighed, shrugged her shoulders. She turned, taking a chair from its place by the wall behind the door. Turning it round, she sat astride it, her arms on the back, resting her chin on them. She sat impassively, watching Max and Trudie, as if carved in stone. Suddenly everything was very quiet again. Max lay absolutely still, trying to see her without her noticing. Why did she want to sit here and watch them? Why had the other woman wanted to stop her? She looked a little older than Trudie, he decided, but her face was pale despite the dark hair. Her eyes were dark like his own, under heavy lashes. He was conscious of his breathing, and was finding it increasingly difficult to lie still. After a short time hurried footsteps sounded outside, and the door opened again. Another woman came in, wearing the same white clothes as the first, but with long dark hair tied back. She stopped abruptly, surprise on her face, when she saw the girl on the chair. “Jo!” she said. “You of all people! So it was you who put Heidi in such a foul mood. What on earth are you doing here?” “Karen!” The one on the chair seemed equally surprised. “I didn't know you were here either.” They were smiling at each other now. Max listened intently, trying to understand, to get some meaning out of their words. “I got bored at the hospital in Galway, and a two year contract here came up. Change of scene, nice relaxed regime here at the airfield. Plenty of blokes with time on their hands when I'm off duty.” She giggled. “Nothing changes, eh? What about you?” “I'm only here by chance,” the other responded. “My friend Vanessa, you remember her, the biochemist, she was at the Boise station over in America, with Adrian Byrne's people from GeneSys. There was a spare place on a transport going to Boise, I knew the pilot . . .” She shrugged, grinning. “You know how it goes. Well, I couldn't resist a closer look at what GeneSys get up to on these expeditions of theirs, and I get little enough fresh air.” They stood looking at each other, both smiling. “It must be a year since I've seen you,” the one in white said. “Yes. I should have called you. But as it turned out, I landed right in the middle of all this revert business. The day after I got there all the GeneSys people went off for a few days, let's take a break out in the forest somewhere, did I want to tag along. Well, I wasn't going to turn down a chance to see the mountains, so I went with them.” She was talking about the forest, the mountains, he thought, where these people's path had crossed with the three of them. The other was looking concerned. “You weren't in the crash?” “No, but I was in the second helicopter.” She paused. “Your friend Heidi wasn't too keen on letting me in here.” Helicopter? He had lost the sense of it again. “No. Adrian Byrne has a lot of influence. But he's really messed up on this one. Everyone's talking about it. Enough people here were already unhappy with some of the things GeneSys was doing, before they started looking for new genes the other side of the ocean.” “Yes.” The girl on the chair nodded thoughtfully. “It could hardly be more messy than this. Taking precious resources way over the boundary just to have some fun in the forest, making contact with reverts, totally screwing up the contact, then losing a chopper and eight people.” She looked at the other. “I couldn't believe it when I saw how far we were flying in. He's in deep trouble despite his influence. He might as well have stuck one finger up at the Council and the entire scientific community.” She sighed. “And then there's the revert girl, and these two here.” Losing a chopper? And eight people? Even the words that he knew seemed to be out of context. And revert? She kept saying that. “Imagine how it must have felt for them, meeting us.” “I know. I haven't thought of much else since I got back. Of course that's why no one's supposed to go in. A single meeting, even at a distance, changes their lives for ever. You'll have heard about some of the others. Kooky. Thought we were gods. Never came around.” “But these two are different to the others we've found. They look just like us. They haven't changed.” “No. At least, not outwardly.” The one in white looked at Trudie, lying immobile on the bed. “That other girl looks so much like her. They have to be sisters.” “That's what the DNA says.” The seated one sighed. “It would have been bad enough, without that. You know, it was so bloody sad, when we came over in the second chopper.” She gazed out across the room, her eyes unfocussed. “The crash site was awful enough, God knows. But what really got to me was the way that one was just sitting there on the ground, cradling him. Tears running down her cheeks when we went over. We had to sedate her to get him out of her arms.” So that was how it had been, Max thought, beginning to see what might have happened, coldness washing through him. Again, he remembered Trudie screaming that they had taken Tammi, an instant before everything ended for him, remembered another time beside a river, it seemed so long ago. And now there was Tammi's absence, and the way these women were speaking of 'these two', 'the other girl'. “Her sister was lying on the ground beside her,” the one on the chair went on. “She must have gone and got her out of the wreck. I can't imagine what must have been in her mind. I think that's really why I'm here today. It goes beyond the science. It was so wrong of us to be there at all. It cracked me up, seeing that, even more than Vanessa being in the crash, and I'm supposed to be her friend.” She shook her head, sniffing. “Sorry.” “Don't be.” The other squeezed her hand. “How is Vanessa?” Max lay still on the bed, fearing for Tammi, filled with apprehension and a growing sense of loss. “She was lucky, really. She broke her jaw and wrist, and took an arrow in the shoulder from one of these two before that. She's mending well.” They fell silent. After a long time, the standing one asked: “Does anyone understand what happened?” “No. It's the strangest thing. So much doesn't add up. The crash, the peculiar comas all the survivors were in, including him.” She nodded in Max's direction. “Nothing like normal concussion or shock. The investigators couldn't find any fault with the aircraft. The voice recorder revealed nothing.” She paused, looking at Trudie. “And the way she seems physically fine, but her brain output's so weird.” She shook her head, frowning. “They're so strange. So interesting.” It made no sense that these people had killed Tammi, Max thought, but he had only his surmise that she had been darted with something harmless. Even less probable was finding himself here, with these women talking about things that meant nothing, yet telling his story, his and Trudie's. He could not imagine what they wanted. If they meant him harm, had killed Tammi, why did he seem to have been cared for? None of it made any sense. “I must go and do the rounds, or I'll be accused of neglect.” The white clad one turned towards the door, then paused, smiling. “I can't see you agreeing to move even if I order you out of here. I'll come back as soon as I've got a moment.” The other returned her smile, turning back towards Max as the door closed. As the footsteps receded, the silence congealed once again. After a few minutes she got to her feet. She walked slowly over to the foot of Trudie's bed, stood looking gravely at her for a long time. She was smaller and slimmer than he had thought, he saw; she could be little taller than he was himself. Then she sighed, and turned towards his own bed. He saw her looking at something above and behind his head, and her eyes widened. “You're awake.” Adrenalin flooded him, and unaccustomed indecision. He was fairly certain that he could overpower her, but there was no certainty of escape from the building, he had no idea where he was, and he knew that he could not take Trudie with him. He could ignore her and feign sleep, but something had told her he was awake. Or he could speak to her, and play for time. He opened his eyes, and his gaze met hers. “You're awake,” she repeated. “Yes.” He watched her. “You've been unconscious for a week. Do you understand me?” He wondered how much to give away, how much to trust her. “Sometimes. Many of your words have no meaning.” She nodded slowly. He tried to sit up, grimacing as he did so. Though the headache was easing, it would be with him for hours yet. She watched him from concerned eyes. “How do you feel?” “My head aches.” She came nearer, rearranged the pillows behind him, and he leaned back gratefully. He caught her scent as she straightened up. She smelled of flowers. “Where's Tammi?” he asked. “Tammi.” She sighed. “Was that her name?” “Yes.” “What's your name?” “Max. And yours is Jo.” She looked at him in surprise. “How long have you been awake?” “Maybe an hour.” She nodded slowly, her eyes on him. At length he said: “Were you in the machine that crashed?” “No. I arrived soon after.” “What were your people doing by the lake?” She half smiled, as if remembering, but it did not touch her eyes. “We were taking a holiday.” “What's a holiday?” “Playing, I suppose. Going away somewhere new, and having fun.” “Only children play.” “Perhaps you're right.” After a moment she went and got the chair, and placed it by the bed an arm's length from him. She sat down, looking at him, and he met her gaze. Her eyes were dark, warm, full of curiosity. At length he asked: “What do you do here?” “Science.” “What's science?” “Trying to understand how things come to be.” “What sorts of things?” “All sorts of things. I'm a psychologist. I study the mind.” “Is that all you do?” She smiled. “I'm what's called a research student. I'm still learning.” He paused, assimilating the mass of information, arranging it in his mind. “But you must be older than me. You must know so much.” She looked at him, then at length she said: “I want to understand you and your friend. She and her sister are special.” “Where is her sister?” The girl did not answer, but he saw the hesitancy, the drawing back, in her eyes. “Why did you kill her?” he asked. He could see, now, that she felt she had given too much away. Doubt and regret mingled on her face. “Why?” he persisted. “She meant you no harm.” She sighed, closing her eyes. At last she looked at him, and said: “We didn't kill her, but she is dead. She died in the crash, along with eight of our people. We don't understand what went wrong. It was too late for all of them, by the time the second aircraft arrived.” He saw it all now, hearing Trudie scream again, feeling the searing, white-hot pain in his head, remembering his conviction that these people had taken Tammi, but that she was not dead. Knowing the source of the pain, and seeing its consequences. He shook his head, staring down at the bedding that covered his legs, suddenly overcome by a crushing sense of loss. “I'll miss her so much,” he said, very softly. “She was like a sister to me too.” He looked up at the girl, blinking, oblivious of his tears. “I remember her laughing on the lake shore, the morning before we met your people. She was delicate, beautiful, even with her hair cropped short. I'll remember her like that. Against the water, in the morning.” “I'm so sorry.” “I remember holding her hand,” he said. “We were caught in a thunderstorm in the mountains, and she was afraid.” He gazed sightlessly across the room. “She was going to have a baby.” “I know.” “How do you know that?” “They brought her body back with the others. People's bodies are always checked, after an accident. We have to find out how they died.” She hesitated. “Was her baby yours?” He laughed quietly, with a bitterness which took her aback. “Look at me,” he said. “Do you think it's likely?” She lowered her eyes. “I'm sorry.” “She was little more than a child,” he said, half to himself, “but she'd endured so much. She always thought of other people before herself. And now she's gone.” The girl did not answer, and when he looked up, wiping his eyes with his free hand, he saw tears in hers. Gently, hesitantly, he reached out and touched one as it ran down her cheek. “You're just like me,” he said in wonder. She nodded, watching him. “I saw the three of you there, when we landed.” Silence fell between them. After a long time, she looked across at Trudie, and asked: “Are you and she together?” “She's called Trudie.” The faintest of smiles touched his face. “And it depends on what you mean by together.” When she did not answer, he asked, “What have you done to her?” “They've just sedated her, because of her grief. She was in total withdrawal when we arrived. She'd got her sister's body out of the wreck. They think that's where she cut her arms and legs. She was sitting cradling your head in her lap. She didn't react at all until we tried to take you from her, and then she fought us like a tiger. They don't want to risk damaging her, so she's still asleep. There's too much about her that we don't understand.” “What's sedated?” “We can make people sleep, if the pain's too much. The tube feeds her, the equipment watches her heart, her breathing, the activity of her brain.” She pointed behind him. “You're being watched over in the same way. That's how I knew you were awake.” She smiled. “Though I see you've removed the drip.” He smiled back, sheepishly, then looked over his shoulder at the equipment, felt the fine wires stuck to his head and body. “You know so much.” He hesitated, then he said guardedly: “Her brain?” “Unusual output.” She was watching him intently now. “And mine?” “Normal. At least, outwardly the same as mine.” He fell silent, thinking about knowledge and power, wondering how much they had already given away to these people while they slept. At last he said: “Tammi was all she had.” “She still has you.” “I may not be quite enough.” He paused for a moment, watching her. “You asked if we were together. If you really want to understand her, you need to know about the things that happened to her. In that sense, at least, we are together.” Slowly, the girl shook her head. “You're so different to how I imagined.” Outside, in the corridor, footsteps sounded again, drawing nearer. The door opened, and the girl in white stood there, surprise and apprehension competing with each other on her face. “He's awake,” she said. “And you've been talking to him.” “Yes.” Jo looked apprehensive now. “I'm sorry. It just seemed so natural -” “Why didn't you ring for me? You, of all people, should know the rules.” She was angry now. “The contact has to be so carefully managed, for his sake. Heavens, Jo, we were just talking about what a mess this is already, then you have to go and drop me in it!” “I'm sorry. I guess I got carried away.” She looked at Max. “I hadn't expected it to be like this.” “Well, it's done now, and it's all on video. The GeneSys people know he's regained consciousness. All the doctors are coming down, and Byrne's on his way over here now.” “To manage it in his own way, no doubt,” Jo replied bitterly. “Do one last thing for me, Karen. Let me stay in the observation room and watch what happens.” “You know I can't.” The other looked down at the floor. Jo turned back to Max, looking at him with sudden intensity. “Don't tell them too much about yourselves,” she said impulsively. “Don't make it too easy for them.” Max frowned, feigning confusion, yet understanding perfectly well. “Make what too easy?” “I'll see you again, I hope, Max,” she said, getting to her feet. “I've enjoyed talking to you.” With a backward glance at him from the door, she was gone.
Books by Rob Turner
by Rob Turner
When Max and Trudie encounter each other in a ruined, half flooded city, each knows that something inescapable has drawn them together. As they struggle to come to terms with Trudie's demons, and the strange, haunting power which Max senses growing in her, he must ultimately decide whether there are limits to what one person can accept for the sake of another.