Title: The Illumination Query (The Speed of Darkness Part 1)
Author: Sarah Baethge
Genre: Sci-fi / Fantasy
About the Book:
What makes someone a monster?
The zookeeper Ronald Carpenter needs help recovering his escaped charges and is grateful when the secretive Eclipse company steps in to help. Little does Ronald know just how nefarious a company they really are and why they have such expertise in taking unwilling subjects captive. Can their offer of a higher salary make him leave a job he loves and help them do what he feels is just wrong?
Nigel Hunter’s experiment in an Eclipse lab looks like it could enable incredible movement powers. Intrigued with the prospect, he voluntarily gets the company’s help to try the procedure upon himself. The Eclipse now decide to take him prisoner with their other test subjects so that they can test the unbelievable speed it has given him more fully.
When the Eclipse pits Ronald and Nigel against one another in this way, can either one of them manage to get away?
Nigel seems a little amused to have me gathering this story of his adventure, but he doesn’t seem to object. In all truth I think that the idea makes him somewhat proud, though he’d never admit it.
I, Joel Shine, don’t even enter into the story myself until after events recorded here. I’ve been making something of a record to nail down everyone else’s explanation. If nothing else, why such strange events occurred should make a good story.
Because it fits, I’ve been calling these files ‘The Speed of Darkness’. If you can get far enough through my writing, I won’t need to tell you why.
Let me warn you, I never trained to be a writer. My most advanced English class was in a public high-school. The course was such a joke that I think my teacher might have slept through it.
These first two parts of what I think you’d need to know are close to how I received them. I tried to correct obvious errors, yet I don’t claim to have caught everything.
The Story of Ronald Carpenter is what I copied to paper one evening while listening to my recording. I made the recording while Ronald was giving his excuse for why the others first saw him as so evil.
Ronald wanted the recording made when he saw that I could do so. I suppose he wanted to the reasons for his actions to be common knowledge. That way, Nigel’s little notebook recount wouldn’t be our only way to think of Ronald’s past. It might have been meant as proof of apology, but that tape worked well to encourage my writing.
I’m not sure Dr. Hunter forgives Ronald, but the doctor seems to at least believe that he is telling the truth here.
Chapter 1 – Why I Joined the Hunt
To regard bats as evil is silly, or so I’d always thought. However, when I came upon that dark shrieking, flapping cloud of shadows, the parts of my life that I’m most ashamed of started.
Before I ever got into business with The Eclipse, most people who saw me at work would say I was a zookeeper. I worked at The Central Park Zoo, in New York City. I might not have ever studied as a vet, but I probably do know some less ordinary bits of animal care that are slightly beyond what is needed for your everyday pets.
I suppose some would have no qualms with calling me a trainer, but I didn’t really train anything. That sounds to me more like what you would call someone who is putting together circus or theme-park shows.
I have actually heard some people say that using animals in such a way is cruel, but those performance animals are generally more loved and better cared for than many a child’s small pet in a cage (you know, that fish or hamster who can get left alone to starve if, perhaps, it’s owner might become a little distracted by something unrelated…)
Because I can usually get along well with animals myself, I was more than happy to spend my time working to provide the feeding and cleaning up that their comfort and display requires. Sure, I dealt with escapes a time or two, on a need-be basis- if and when it happened, but dealing with escapes could hardly even be listed as the description of what my job was.
And while you could say that my successful escapee- recovery efforts ultimately led to the change there was in my career, you might also argue that the resourcefulness I used in my problem-solving chained me inescapably into serving as a zookeeper wherever it was that I finally ended up.
My name is Ronald Carpenter. Back at that time, I’d lived in New York for all of my life. I happened to be working, like I said, at The Central Park Zoo, at the time when I first noticed that something had changed in my working environment. On that day, I had one of those automatic split-second thoughts that I felt slightly reluctant to try explaining to someone else.
Don’t make me ask you to get your mind out of the gutter- my thought can hardly be construed as anything other than innocent. The idea that whizzed through my head as I heard the short motor run for the bat-enclosure food-dispenser was: ‘That sounds too green.’
Yes, I realize that the majority of people don’t hear in color, but that feeling doesn’t mean I’m crazy, I don’t believe. There is even a word that someone else came up with to describe the phenomenon- synesthesia, so I know it’s not just me.
Might as well be though; I’ve never come across another synesthetic(?) person, those few times I’ve tried to explain the experience to whoever I’m around. In fact, I usually don’t bother with trying to have someone else understand because more than once I’ve had them react like I’m trying to describe being caught in a tie-dyed world of hallucinations.
I know that the colors with slight shapes are only in my mind. You can think of how someone you know looks without suddenly believing they have appeared in the same room next to you, right? The colors, how a sound looks, I ‘see’ it that way.
High and sharp sounds are the most obvious in white or pink; they come almost like sharp flashes and then they fade out into soft mist. Electrical buzzing sounds are usually green and yellow vibrations; natural ones come in a thick fog, electrical or mechanical noise is more of a substance almost pulled tight like wires. High, toneless clicks are colorless flashes like a camera makes while low clicks or thumps are dark red to black fluid looking ripples. And mammalian voices, human or animal, are are generally colored near brown, without any set solid shape.
It’s just that trying to say all of that to someone else, some person who is most likely a little skeptical about the concept to begin with, can start to make me feel a little bit self-conscious and probably uncomfortable. The only description of the odd squeaking sound that I could bring to mind was an attempt to describe a particular shade of bright green. Rather than tempt fate with the type of embarrassment that often comes from watching someone else’s face as they decide to think you could be loony-tunes, I decided that I still had plenty of other work to do; I figured that I would be safe to wait and look into what might be wrong with the bat cage later.
Had I actually gotten someone else to look at it right then, there might not be the rest of my story to tell here.
Handling, feeding, and cleaning wild animals was my job. I also kept track of how they were acting so we could alert a vet when something was possibly sick. I’ve just always had a certain knack when dealing with thinking, non-human creatures. I usually like them, and I often kind of hope to think that they also like me.
No, I can’t speak some secret language, or magically understand their yips and growls as words. I can just usually get them to accept me without too much effort.
How I do that? As I wasn’t taught myself, my method is a little hard to lay out in words… It’s mostly making eye contact and exhibiting a calm trust. I’m not sure I can really explain it as more than just that. If I do what feels like the right thing to do, generally the animals that we’ve kept for a time will just trustingly react accordingly.
I am not a vegetarian, and I usually tire of over-pampered companion creatures that seem to lack enough brain-power to take care of their own selves. Part of what I enjoy about zoo- creatures is how many of them are not tame and so seem to be something more than just a pet.
That with the zoo is exactly where I belonged, I can’t deny, but am I the only person to have thrown out what is right and good when I discovered a way to have a little ego-boosting power-trip?
For now, let’s not worry about why some might call me a little bit too proud, because that definitely wasn’t the case when I saw what I did on my way out of the zoo that night.
The little nagging worry that had been planted in my mind with the strange noise had gotten me to swing back by the bat cave/cage on my way out for the day just to be sure that I couldn’t see anything that might have been visibly wrong with the enclosure.
When I walked over to where we put the food that those bats are getting, I came upon a gigantic-billowing, black cloud of bats who right then had found a route of working their way out through the food dispenser and escaping free from the machine’s back end. I might have had a chance at catching one or two, had I a butterfly net or something similar on hand, but I was really too stunned to do much more than just watch.
As I stood there looking helplessly upon the swarm of fleeing beasts with a growing contingent of dismayed animal caretakers, I couldn’t stop myself from noticing how the bat- screeches almost look/sounded like bright-green/yellow cloud made from bolts of lightning.
I don’t think I have to point out to you about the massive size of New York City. When considering how similar bats are to your common pigeons (the so-called ‘rats with wings’), their ability to survive until an instinct to move on to somewhere less populated kicked in wasn’t all that much of a worry, in my thinking. We really just needed a way to narrow down exactly where our 64 escapees had gotten to before that urge to leave the big city gripped them.
Change that- as I began wondering how long it might be before sightings of our escaped swarm were reported; I discovered that only 63 had escaped because one of the bats was in a cage in the veterinary office.
It seemed to me that there had to be a way for us to use this remaining winged mammal in some sort of plot to recapture its brethren.
I don’t know what this bat (who I started calling ‘Fred’) was with the vet for. (I’ve named many an animal ‘Fred’ when I need to care for it yet want to distance myself, so I don’t become too attached.) It was perfectly healthy again before I ever came to it. (I’m sure that this bit of naming roots out of trying to turn whichever lucky animal I name into something almost as make believe as say, The Flintstones.) If my plan worked right, this little chiropteran(bat) would happily seek out and rejoin the others were we to set him loose, and we could simply follow where he went.
I ran the idea by those who now made up the recapture crew and in no time they asked me to join them because my plan was good; before long we were looking up the best small-sized tracking equipment that could be harmlessly yet securely affixed to a bat.
Now, this escape/hunt is important in my history because without it, I’m not sure that I’d ever have come into contact with The Eclipse. I say that because of how my somewhat odd method of tracking our escaped bats was soon discovered and then highlighted by the local media. I hadn’t yet even located our runaways, but I already had optimists who were hailing me as some sort of city-wide hero.
Emails poured in to the zoo servers. Our computer kid then separated these out by their titles and the letters that seemed to be aimed directly at me were passed along for me to do with as I would. You might say Emilio was lazily trying to pass his work off onto me, but you can also argue that my silly idea had unexpectedly just about tripled his work-load.
I can’t say that I really minded, it kind of gave me a kick to see how many of the ‘uncaring public’ gave a minute’s import to what I was doing. And while there was a fair load of it that seemed to be no more than criticism and name-calling, a refreshingly healthy amount of the letters were compliments of ‘good idea’ and even a few offers of outside, unasked-for help.
That life-changing letter was one of the last among these, and though it just seemed almost perfectly innocent at the time, the email was odd enough to stick out in my mind. It came from the personal account of a man named Perry Striker who claimed connections with some sort of vaguely undescribed defense firm with offices in Chicago, called The Eclipse.
Apparently, they had an animal testing facility or two, and were having their own problems with the containment of batlike-creatures. He was inviting me to come ‘join’ him and others on a company newsgroup. Perhaps our different ideas for solving our supposedly similar problems would help out everyone.
Of course, I didn’t realize it at the time, but now I’m pretty sure he was looking more to get a feel of me through my response than he was actually trying to offer any type of real help.
Chapter 2 – Allies From The Darkness
By this time, I realize that you’re probably beginning to wonder why I spent so much time going into that whole imaginary color spiel. It does have some relevance, I swear.
And though setting a cloud of bats loose on New York City might evoke images of the winged mammals against a backdrop of skyscrapers, we just weren’t having anyone report a real sighting of them, even near the area where my little tracker-bat was reported to have gotten to. We were more or less down to looking by eye where my equipment said he and possibly the other little flying-critters should be (somewhere close to the south of Times Square, it was).
I think it was the morning of the second or third day that my Fred-bat had stayed in just about the same place (some were beginning to worry about the likelihood of his death) when I climbed down into the oversized subway terminal there to catch a ride home to my apartment that I ‘saw’ the growing cloud of green/yellow lightning flashes from the high-pitched squealing that a mass of bats’ echolocation makes.
Now the space inside the tunnels where the trains go down past the area that you’d usually want to walk in, is dark enough to prevent seeing bats flying within them easily, and with the random unusual noise caused by subway wheels/brakes/engines (not to mention the ever-present crowd babble) generally any additional sound would just be ignored; it was my notice of this yellow lightning against the backdrop of grey machinery racket and the pink/brown bubbly noise of human conversation that got me to realize how the skies where we had been looking was the right location, it was just the wrong elevation.
My ears were picking out the bat-voice sound underground where we hadn’t been expecting it.
And sure, when thinking about it later, subway tunnels did make a more bat-like environment than the city’s brightly lit skyline ever would. I guess that manmade, underworld labyrinth just didn’t quickly occur to the minds of us who were on the lookout for wild, airborne innocent creatures.
It was a little frustrating to locate those bats where we had, you see; there was no reasonable way that we could hope to clear the area of trains and people until we had recovered all of them. How the hell could we ask people for a ‘time-out’ in a city that never stops?
Were I a little less realistic, I would say that the bats had purposely gotten just out of our reach while staying within our sight, almost so they could taunt us with their freedom because we had caged them in the first place.
Even if we could get a team of tranquilizing shooters and bat baggers out to where the swarm was, it was a little unreasonable to think that any of those people would just willingly jump into the path of oncoming trains to try and fetch the animals as they fell upon the tracks.
Other than have a couple people stand ever-ready to take down the bats one by one as they flew away from the dark tracks, if the creatures never just happened to foolishly wander far enough away from their growing loft in the tunnel over to where we could bring them down safely, there wasn’t all that much we could really expect to do.
This irritatingly slow recovery process left me ready for just about any other workable recovery method that might present itself.
It was at this point that I finally gave in and checked to see how those animal-testing bozos were doing with their own bat hunt. There was seemingly no end of talk on their message board about two subjects;
- How Stanley Cooper, a guy that happened to be known and reviled throughout the company (apparently some animal rights nut or something) was now suspected to be involved in the act of releasing more bat ‘test-subjects’.
- The ‘professionals’ in the newsgroup all seemed to use it for playing some sort of elaborate fantasy game where they tried to claim honest-to-god supernatural involvement in real events.
In fact, I wasn’t even sure that I’d gone to the right place except that people kept signing their bizarre stories with both their name and their position title within The Eclipse.
When I left a note to try and question if I was in the right place, I did get that Striker guy (or at least someone who signed his name but was now claiming the title of American-CEO) to answer me. He grumpily commented how they had ‘already recovered most of our zoo’ and so were no longer interested in my input.
I was a little ticked off at how quickly he was now pulling back his offer of help and might have snidely commented back about how he probably couldn’t pull bats out of a busy subway anyway.
Bless that email with every reply to your own comment option, I’m sure I’d have have never gone back to check it after the first 2 or 3 answers I got that were just unexplained remarks (it sounded almost like an inside joke I wasn’t getting, or something) about how their quote-‘security morons’ could probably use the practice even if the bats were just animals.
Striker’s whole letter- style/punctuation now used in his comments towards me however, became much more clear and proper as if he’d been reprimanded after he read mine and his colleague’s replies.
Just before I shutdown my desktop computer to focus back on my own problems, I saw one more note from Striker that I had to consider answering:
“Mr. Carpenter, you mean you know right where they are and so only need help bringing them in?”
Now, I had to stop and look at this reply for a moment. It almost sounded like an offer of assistance, yet it was worded so that I still needed to ask for his help.
Might he just have been trying to give me an easy way out? I didn’t worry about it much at the time, instead I was still trying to think of how to go about rounding my bats back up. Wasn’t my invite to this newsgroup so we could help each other out?
Finally, I just started asking questions; “Did you net your animals or tranquilize them? Where were they hiding when you found them? Did you have to deal with anything similar at all to an environment full of spectators and trains?”
Striker answered far too quickly; “Were I to lend you my expert marksman and his assistant with a supply of sleep-darts for a week or two, would you be willing to owe me the favor of traveling out and helping to beef up security if we need it at one of our labs at least once, after your animals are recovered?”
Asking what his company was testing or the type of creatures they might need help with, I guess, never really occurred to me.
Truly, that deal of my help in return for his, seemed to be a more than fair offer.
Owing a favor would simply be my payment for his service. That was all.
I quickly agreed, and in two days the hunting team of Roscoe Sandford and Bucky Owens were flown out to meet me in New York, having come from somewhere out in Arizona. The thought that it must be a goodly-sized company if Striker had already claimed offices in Chicago and yet was calling workers from out of the southwest desert might have tickled my mind, but I had other matters to worry about right then.
Roscoe Sandford was a quiet man who seemed to be very dedicated to his job, looking out on the world with grim and strangely humble eyes. The way he held and moved with the dart gun made the weapon almost seem like it was a part of him. His quick movements that came without any hesitation as he deftly picked the bats out of the air when they ventured into sight near where the tunnel opened up into the station, and made my blood run cold with the idea of his using real bullets. Guns were as natural to him as animal behaviour was to me.
Bucky Owens, on the other hand, was just a happy-go-lucky, carefree helper to this Roscoe. I didn’t quite think it right to ask why if they didn’t feel like just explaining, but Bucky seemed to hold some sort of almost hero-worship for his supervisor. This young man would happily jump down onto the tracks to retrieve the fallen bats when Roscoe asked him to, before we had to worry about them getting hit by trains.
As Roscoe treated Bucky’s carelessness with calm leniency like an older sibling might when the younger’s antics were harmless, I’m sure that the sharp-shooter had to be aware of it. I won’t call it love between the two of them, because there was nothing there in the romantic sense; it was more what you could describe as unquestioning trust and friendship.
One night/morning when the subways were least active was all the time that it took the two of them, everything was done under a light legal guard to keep curious bystanders out of the way. Sandford picked the animals out of the sky when the subway trains weren’t roaring by, and Owens ran out down on the tracks and picked the creatures up; simple as that. The entire recovery was more quickly and easily accomplished than we from the zoo had ever believed could happen.
About the Author:
Sarah Baethge was born in Houston in 1982, and grew up in Texas and Louisiana. She was an intern for Lockheed-Martin directly out of high school where she graduated with a national merit scholarship in 2000. She worked loading the software onto computers at NASA in Houston in the summer before college at The University of Texas at Dallas. In November of 2000 when driving to school, she was in a car wreck that left her in a coma for 6 months. After waking, she began writing and self-publishing short fantasy and science- fiction stories, starting with the original The Speed of Darkness book. Soon after it was out she had greatly expanded the story in her notes. She decided to take the book down from Amazon and Smashwords because it began a bit abruptly, having plans to improve it with a prequel or two. She currently has other writings on Amazon including a short story piece of the Speed of Darkness series as an ebook. She also has a vampire poem called ‘And I Was Hungry’ that was published in an online magazine called What the Dickens in March of 2014.
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