After the first time Phineas and Darian had spoken, Phineas took the opportunity to regularly meet with him. He did not extend the same pleasantries to Devin, who had become increasingly withdrawn of recent. Darian wasn’t sure why Devin acted the way he did exactly, but it seemed to be a mixture of prejudice and jealousy towards Phineas. Whenever Darian spoke of Phineas, or what he and Phineas discussed, Devin would get angry and irate.
This did not discourage Darian from continuing his discussions with Phineas though, which were often very enlightening and engaging. Phineas could leave the laboratory whenever he wanted and was thus able to provide Darian with a peak of the world outside his cell, which was something he had not experienced as long as he could remember.
Phineas was a Taerren, which for Devin was enough to warrant hate. However, despite his situation, Darian began to suspect that most Taerren’s were not that much different he himself. The government was said to be violent and corrupt, but the people were just people.
Phineas would often go into tirades about the corrupted politics, and the noble system. He often cited the Ertlanders and their open parliament as a gold standard from which the Taerren reformed to. He felt that change needed to occur, but that it was unlikely as long as the Lord Regent remained in charge.
Despite his anger, he was surprisingly proud of his heritage, knowing a great deal of the histories of his people. Darian would often ask him questions about his origins, and Phineas would be happy to lecture about it for an hour or two.
The origins of the Taerren Empire were a long and arduous one. The original colony claimed to have had the longest distance to travel of all of the colony ships. This made the colony one of the youngest. It was difficult to prove this fact since none of the colonies agreed on when and where the starting point of the Great Exodus, their name for the period when modern humans left their origin planet. However, no one argued that Taerren’s had been the latest colony to settle a planet.
There were, of course, several other factors involved as well. In 1892 on the galactic calendar, a calendar system designed starting at the creation of the first galactic alliance, an overlord named Jeluit the Cruel took control of the colony ship and put a stop to its movements, trying to create a permanent colony on the ship in the middle of space.
His colony was said to have lasted four generations, ending with Jeluit the forgotten, who was brought down by a revolt. It was rumored that Jeluit had escaped the ship with several of his followers and started a new colony elsewhere, although this colony was never found.
Being the youngest colony often caused a great deal of ridicule from other colonies, which saw them as uncultured and undeveloped. It was also a source of their personal pride, feeling that less time being exposed to external sources, interbreeding, and environmental stress made them more like their ancestors than any of the other colonies.
When the Taerren’s finally reached Taerra in 3305, they seemed to explode population-wise, as if to make up for the lost time they had. The colonies started out originally as a democracy and remained as such for a large part of their history.
However, in 3600s, they finally encountered the other colonies and joined the Colonial Union. They had conflicts with each other and even wars, but it wasn’t until 4010 and the start of the Iridian War that the Union began to collapse. After ten years of brutal fighting, every colony became self-serving, and then Taerrens became very introverted.
It was the Taerrens who were the primary combative force, their colonies being at the greatest risk during the war. When the Iridians vanished, or fled, depending on who you ask, the Taerrens felt that they had a right to be a governing party, and superior to the other colonies.
During an event known as the Wraith Skurge, the Taerren society was taken over. The ruling parliament was disbanded and military leaders, financial backers, and other men of importance were given noble houses. A house was often assigned to each planet in the Taerren Empire. As a result, there were eighty-seven noble families that ruled all of the Taerren planets.
Of the eighty-seven noble families, there were ten that were considered major houses. These were families that had dominion over more than one planet, gained during the expansion period of the Tarraen Empire. Those ten major houses competed for close to eight hundred years over dominance of the Empire and the throne of Lord Regent. About two hundred years prior, the Boramont house had secured dominance and had maintained it since.
The history was fascinating to Darian, a bit like learning his own personal history. He had to be Taerren after all. He couldn’t remember anything from his past, just hidden shadows and the hint of faces, but he looked Taerren, and Taerren’s were the prominent defensive force during the Iridian War. He grew to accept that he must have been a prisoner of Iridians, possibly left behind when they left the planet.
Darian’s emotions felt mottled when it came to his place with the Taerren people. Despite everything that had happened to him, Darian felt a connection to them, one he didn’t quite understand himself. He hated the Lord Regent; he suspected that Phineas did as well based on the scorn in the scientist’s voice when he spoke about him. He did not know the man, but the Lord Regent had personally put him into this living hell. True, Darian had killed the man’s son, but his son had been a monster who lacked concern for human life.
How good could a man be who openly experimented on prisoners, ruled with an iron fist, attacked and conquered other systems on a whim, and birthed a son such as Demetry? This was not to say that the opposition, primarily a group of rebels known as the Lancers were any better. According to Phineas, the group frequently consisted of terrorist attacks. Marideen, their leader, was known as a ruthless monster herself, prone to attacking civilian targets as often as military ones.
In the two years since she had taken charge, she has kidnapped several nobles and ransomed them back to their families, destroyed production lines which had led to starvation on several of the Class C planets, and even bombed civilian targets, branding her the name of the Butcher of Braun.
Finding out these things about Marideen, the young girl whose sister had saved his life was very shocking. It was like finding out a loved one was a serial killer. It was difficult to believe. But then again, his mind always went back to her eyes. How those eyes turned to ice when they saw the death of her sister. Perhaps with those eyes, she could have grown into the Butcher of Braun after all.
The scientist also loved to talk about the science he was working on.
“Tell me about your research…” Darian asked a few months after Darian’s torture sessions had somehow turned into stimulating conversation.
Phineas pondered his question briefly. He liked to think about everything he was asked very deliberately before coming to an answer. When he spoke, his answer was often concise and posed.
“The Lord Regent, his primary goal seems to be to develop weapons. Weapons on par or better than those the Iridians used before their disappearance,” He responded, his hand on his chin and his eyes looking at Darian carefully.
“Yes, that is what you’re paid to research, but you have to have your own plans and theories,” Darian pressed.
“You are right about that,” Phineas nodded,” My actual occupation is a theoretical physicist, and my line of research is time and space, or more specifically, how they correlate with each other.”
Phineas paused, but when Darian said nothing, he leaned back in his chair, putting his hands up over his head.
“Do you know anything about gravity, time, or space?” Phineas asked after a moment, “It really is a lot easier if you know some of the source material.”
“I’ve got nothing but time,” Darian responded.
Phineas impulsively looked at his watch before nodding, “That you do. Well, let’s see, where should I start. Mass… that’s the size and weight of an object apart from gravity… Mass has an effect on time and space. You see, space is like a sheet on a bed. While time is the movement across that sheet. A kind of derivative of space.”
Darian nodded. He was not sure he understood completely, but he wanted Phineas to continue to see if he could follow.
“Now, let’s say you put something with mass on a bedsheet,” He continued, “Based on how heavy that item is, it leaves an imprint on the sheet. Now let’s put something smaller near that massive object. What happens? The object falls into the indent caused by the massive object.”
“This is basically the principal of how gravity works. The more massive something is, the faster it falls. But more than that, the faster it moves, the slower time affects it. This suggests an inverse relationship between mass and time. The speed of light is essentially the point in which time stops moving forward. Of course, nothing can reach the speed of light, other than light.”
“So what does that have to do with the bedsheet?” Darian asked.
“The bedsheet?” Phineas looked up from his thoughts confused, “Oh right, well, the bedsheet is time and space. It’s both. It’s mass over time, specifically, an inverse relationship where the greater the mass, the less the time. “
“But what about an object that is massive but does not move? I mean, sure, a small object would roll into a large object, but once they hit each other, then they both just sit there. In that case, they aren’t effecting time at all.”
Phineas blinked, “That was very observant. I, I am honestly a little surprised you’re still following me at all. My ex-wife used to be unconscious by the time I got this far. Never could quite explain to her what I believed.”
“Well, I’ve had nothing but time to think,” Darian responded.
“I suppose you’re right,” Phineas nodded before continuing, “Well, to answer your question, that is why many people theorize that it is velocity, not mass, that correlates with time. They’d be wrong. What they forget or don’t bother to mention, is that even though that object, let’s say you and me aren’t falling, and stand on this planet seemingly motionless, we still are falling. Or rather, being blown away.
“You see, we may not seem like we are moving, but our planet is. It’s orbiting a star, that star is orbiting a galaxy, that galaxy is orbiting the universe, being pushed out from the original great expansion. Everything’s falling, all the time, pushing time forward. When everything truly stops falling, when we finally all compress back into the massive orb from wince we came, well, that is when time itself will stop.”
“But if time is inversely proportional to the amount of mass in the universe, wouldn’t that mean that time is constant? How can it be constant if we already know it changes?” Darian continued to question.
“You are a smart one. You’ve impressed me if everything you’ve said and done up until now could be called unimpressive, which would be a lie. You deserve better than this place,” Phineas waved his hand across the room,” You have a great mind I think, and you are being wasted as a guinea pig.”
Darian blushed and after a moment, the scientist sighed and continued.
“Universally, yes, time is constant,” Phineas answered,” If it was not constant then the universe would tear itself apart. However, locally, time can be affected in certain ways, through the use of mass or the expelling of energy.
“But I really have lost myself, haven’t I? What was your original question? What about my personal research? I believe that light has an effect on time too. There are two things that affect velocity, which in turn, effects time. The first is mass, the second is energy. In most cases, the release of energy includes the release of light. Light, or radiation, I suppose you could call it, I believe is a driving force of time. “
“I’m confused,” Darian responded,” You just spent the last five minutes telling me that mass was the driving force of time, now you’re saying it’s light?”
“Would you believe,” Phineas responded, “That light and mass are the same things?”
Darian blinked, a look of confusion in his eyes. Phineas chuckled before patting Darian on the shoulder as he stood up.
“If it was easy to understand, it wouldn’t be theoretical and you wouldn’t need physicists,” he responded with a chuckle, “It’s time for me to get going, your guards should be back soon. I look forward to seeing you again.”
Darian nodded as Phineas Faraday stood and left the room. Darian realized that he had forgotten to strap Darian back in. Darian, however, had become used to the doctor’s forgetfulness and managed to pull all of his straps back into place. The one on his right hand was loose since he could not manage to tighten it with the rest of his extremities tied down, but he did the best he could manage. The guards never suspected anything.
Darian was back in his room within a few minutes. Devin sat at the bench, although he didn’t seem to be eating very much lately. After a few moments, he looked up at Darian.
“I hate it here, when are we going back to the prison as you promised?”
“Soon,” Darian responded before catching himself.
Prison? What prison? Darian sat down in the bed, trying to remember. It seemed to come in muddy and shadowy shapes. Guards. There were other people too. It wasn’t this small claustrophobic room that he had spent the last two years in, it was just normal cell bars. There wasn’t much more space than the room they were in now, but in that prison, he’d be let out. He could walk around and enjoy a level of freedom he didn’t even remember ever having.
Just like that, the image was gone, as if in a puff of smoke. Was he remembering something from his past? A distant memory? A part of his life before the Chronos project? For some reason, he didn’t think so. He turned to Devin.
“A while back you mentioned something about me seeing the future, what were you talking about?” Darian asked.
“I don’t remember mentioning it, but then again, maybe I haven’t said it yet,” Devin laughed, “I don’t know… it just seems like, you always could know things, like what’s going to happen next. You talked about conversations that didn’t happen until the next day. But why are you asking me? You called that coin correctly a hundred times in a row that one time with that friend of yours. If that isn’t some kind of premonition or psychic power, I don’t know what is.”
“Do you remember your childhood,” Darian asked after a moment.
Devin thought for a moment and then shook his head, “Not any more than I haven’t already told you. Although, as far as I remember I’ve always been old. Maybe that’s just a symptom of being locked up as long as I’ve been. Although, there was a time I felt older than I do now, isn’t that funny?”
Darian made a noise that sounded like agreement as his mind worked. He was beginning to suspect that the Chronos experiment had done something to him. He was beginning to suspect that it had done something to both of them.
His dreams, his visions, his strange emotions, and his strange sense of confidence, could they all be hints at the future? Meanwhile, his good friend seemed to be regressing, almost like time was going the wrong way for him. Was that what was happening to him. Was Devin’s past Darian’s future?
Darian pondered these thoughts deep into the night. When sleep finally took him, he had dreams of a massive library with glass columns and books as far as the eye could see. In front of him was Phineas.
As Darian watched, a dark shadow slowly passed overhead, blocking out the light. Darian seemed to know that if the shadow touched the scientist, there would be no chance. Chance? Chance of what? The shadow reached Phineas, and he began to scream.
The night was restless for him, leaving him sleeping through most of the day. Nightmares came and went, varying in detail. Twice that night Darian woke drenched in sweat, heading to the bathroom to rinse off his face. The room was never hot or uncomfortable, maintaining a specific temperature without fail, but he seemed to sweat all the same.
He started to actively try to remember his dreams. If these were hints at his own future, as he was starting to suspect, perhaps they held some key for him. Perhaps they held the key to free him from this imprisonment.
Not all of his dreams were nightmares, yet the vividness of some of them seemed to shock him awake all the same. In one dream, he saw himself kissing Marideen, which he quickly wrote off as pressure from being imprisoned. He remembered the concept of sexes and women, but Marideen was the only woman he could remember in any detail, so who else would he fantasize about.
Another dream saw Marideen dead, and Danelle alive instead. In this dream, Danelle tried to kiss him, but rather than welcoming her affections, he turned from her. He felt that being with her was a betrayal in some strange way. He figured this was more because he was fantasizing about someone who was dead more than anything.
Over all of the dreams, whether they were nightmares or fantasies, he felt a sense of foreboding. He felt as if there was something he had to do, and if he didn’t do it, the consequences would be horrible.
When he finally shrugged his sheets and rose, lunch had already been served. Darian was surprised when Devin announced that he was not picked up for routine sessions, which now consisted of Devin sitting in a room for an hour waiting for nothing to happen. Darian suspected that Devin did not remember ever having been subjected to the radiation, or perhaps, he hadn’t experienced it yet.
There had been a few instances in the past when the experiment days had not occurred. Dr. Faraday had told Darian that he worked the laboratory alone and that there were days when he was on conferences or providing other work, and simply did not engage in the experiments that day.
However, when Darian’s next day came, the middle-aged doctor did not show up. There were no guards and no indication of anything. This was the first time that Phineas had ever missed an appointment to talk with Darian since they started their strange little friendship. Darian was starting to worry.
The next day, Darian asked Devin about it. Devin didn’t know what room Darian was talking about.
“So, if Devin hasn’t been to the room, that means we’ll never be returning to the room again?” Darian thought to himself.
It was almost enough to put him into a panic. Leaving the room, as little of a thing as that was, was something that gave Darian something to shoot for. Even when he was being exposed to radiation, the walk down the hallway, a similar room, were things that gave him something, a little touch of freedom outside of his cell.
By the second missed visit, Darian started to break down. All of the pain, all of the segregation, a lifetime of it, seemingly, and this is what would finally break him. Perhaps this was all the experiment was all along. Perhaps Dr. Faraday became friends with him on purpose, to give him something more and take it away.
Yes, that made sense. The scientist always spoke with him, never with Devin. Devin was a control group. It was just another form of experimentation. They wanted to see him break. They wanted to torture him another way. He sat back on his bed, ready to give in to his own panic.
“We need to talk Darian,” Phineas said.
Darian glanced up to see Phineas in front of him. He blinked and took a look around the room. He was no longer in the cell, but another room. It was not the experiment room, it looked like the experiment room, with a similar chair and similar apparatuses on the walls, but it had a slightly less used look to it. Like it had been abandoned.
“What?” Darian responded, confused by how he had gotten there.
“They… They’re shutting the program down. The last few weeks I’ve been fighting my best to keep the program running, but I failed… they’re…”
Darian snapped out of it. He looked around. He was on his bed in the cell again. Devin was nearby with his hand on Darian’s shoulder, a look of concern in his eyes.
“Are you okay? You’re keeping it together aren’t you, I don’t know how I could cope if you suddenly lose it. You did promise me we’d be getting out of this room soon, going back to the prison?” Devin said.
After a moment, Darian nodded, “I think, I think I just had a vision of the future.”
Devin nodded as if he was used to this kind of thing before moving back to his seat. Darian folded his legs on the bed and closed his eyes. He started concentrating intensely. After a few moments, he saw the door in his room open. A strange guard was standing in it. It was not one of the three guards he was used to.
He knew this was a vision. It had kind of a topsy turvy feel to it as if he was tipsy or drunk, although he could not remember having ever been tipsy or drunk. Yes, this information was nice, but when would this happen? It could be a month or a year from now. In the first vision, Phineas had said a few weeks. How long had it been since he stopped coming? Had it been a few weeks yet?
Darian sat like that for a few hours concentrating. A few times other images started to form, but before the sound became audible or the vision became clear, the images dissolved like smoke. He couldn’t place a time though.
He finally stood up and then went to the door and sat down on the floor in front of it. He stared intently at the door. He saw nothing. His eyes started to tear up and he remembered to blink. It felt like the door just wasn’t going to open today. Maybe it would open tomorrow. Well, it could open tomorrow, couldn’t it?
Was he just hoping the door would open tomorrow, or did he know the door would open tomorrow? There was only one way to find out. He jumped back into the bed and waited.
The next day that certainty that the door would open came back. This time he didn’t need to concentrate so hard on it. He knew that the door would open. It had to open. The day waned on and dinner came and left. Was he wrong? Would the door not open?
However, as time progressed, his certainty that the door would open seemed to grow. It was an expectation, one that became clearer and clearer by the second. After a few minutes, he could almost see the door opening, and see the man. He could actually describe the man involved as well.
He kept staring at the door. The door would open soon now. Closer, Closer, Closer….
“Now,” He said out loud, not realizing he was speaking until the words came out of his voice.
Like clockwork, the door slid open. Devin cautiously looked at him on the floor. The guard, the unfamiliar man, was standing there too, also looking at Darian strangely. Darian realized the guard’s reaction was because he was sitting on the floor with his legs crossed, staring at the door.
Darian rose quickly to his feet and walked out the exit. The guard jumped, seeming to come to his senses and shut the door behind him. He turned right instead of left, but Darian seemed to know that was the direction he’d take. He followed behind the guard quietly without question.
There must have been something in his eyes, however, as the guard seemed unusually uneasy. Darian wasn’t exactly sure why. Darian consciously made a decision to speak to the man, even though all of his other guards had always met any attempts at speaking by ignoring him, or in some cases, punishing him.
“You don’t need to be so nervous,” Darian remarked.
He couldn’t exactly understand why those were the words that he chose to speak, but it seemed like the right words to say. The guard jumped at his voice glancing back at him nervously.
“I… I usually don’t do this kind of thing. Bu..but Phineas Faraday is a friend of mine, and he asked. I shouldn’t even be here. I’m a prison guard, not a special guard,” The guard responded.
“What prison?” Darian asked casually.
“The only prison in this system, Basalt Station,” The man answered, and then blinked at his own willingness to answer.
He must have realized he said too much and quickly shut his mouth with a click. Darian sensed that he probably wouldn’t be able to get any more information out of the man today.
They finally approached the appropriate door and the guard opened it for him. He went into a darkened chamber. The door behind him closed before the lights turned on. Darian was surprised to find Phineas already in the room.
The room looked exactly as he remembered it. Where he was in it, what Phineas looked like, what the room looked like, all matched. Phineas turned and looked at Darian.
“We need to talk Darian,” Phineas said.
“What?” Darian asked, recoiling a bit from the sense of Déjà vu.
“They… They’re shutting the program down. The last few weeks I’ve been fighting my best to keep the program running, but I failed… I simply wasn’t producing any results or useable data… the Chronos program is no more.”
“This is good, I won’t need to be experimented on,” before Darian finished Phineas was already shaking his head.
“It’s not that simple, protocol dictates that the end of the experiment, all experimental subjects are to be euthanized.”
“What?” Darian said, his voice rising a bit.
Phineas waved his hands down, shushing Darian, “You and your roommate are set to be killed tomorrow, I am so sorry.”