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Fiction Science Fiction Thriller

Transcription of archived video footage seized from the Cerberus Research Institute:


My name’s Joseph Walsh, but most people call me Joe.


Are you sure this thing is recording? I’ll try my best to explain everything that’s happened. Not sure I’m going to last much longer though.


I suppose it started when I saw the advertisement for paid volunteers. Don’t get me wrong, I’ve done a few clinical trials before, but not with Cerberus. The other trials were for drugs like pain killers and cold medicines, and it’s easy money. Sort of like going on holiday, if you don’t mind it being on a hospital ward. You get a proper check-up first, then two weeks of free food and loads of films to watch. And they pay you a nice bit of dosh to say thanks for your time and trouble.


Money’s been tight after some bad calls at the bookies. I shouldn’t have let things spiral like they did, but it is what it is. The opportunity with Cerberus looked like a lifeline, or so I thought. I emailed to say I’m available, filled out some online questionnaires and two days later I was invited to their recruitment clinic.


First, they explained that I wasn’t going to be given a new medicine like before, instead it was more like an enhancing treatment. I asked the doctor exactly what bit of me is it going to enhance, you know? But she just raised an eyebrow and made more notes. That struck me as strange. In the other trials they were full of smiles and jokes and treated you like VIP, but the staff here have all been ice cold. All except you, of course. You’ve always looked kind, even though you’ve not been allowed to speak to me- before today, that is. I can’t thank you enough for helping me now. I just hope you can get this recording out of here safely.


They started off with the usual tests- the cuff on your arm, some wee in a pot, and they filled a few small tubes with blood. I was a bit embarrassed when they weighed me. I mean, I do like a beer, and it’s not like I play much footie anymore, so there’s a bit of an overhang going on around the belt. Seems I wasn’t exactly in great shape to run on the treadmill, and I was sweating like a bastard in no time. By the time they were measuring how high I could jump I was proper knackered.


Can you still see me? It’s just that I feel really faint. Like I’ve almost gone. Keep holding the camera for me, will you?


They told me they’d be testing out a new technology that uses energy waves to develop the human body’s potential, whatever that means. Nothing that you wouldn’t find in sunlight apparently, but a bit more refined. I stripped off, put on one of those flimsy gowns that doesn’t fully cover your backside and laid down on a trolley for them to get on with it. They rolled me through miles of corridors. This place must be massive what with all those underground floors- you’d never believe it from the street entrance. Finally, we went through that airlock door with the all the radiation signs on the walls.


I’m not going to lie; I got a bit nervous then. I mean, when I’ve done other trials there’s a bunch of lads signed up with you and the nurses explain everything a million times. It’s all friendly and relaxed, and a bit of a laugh. But when I saw those radiation signs I sat right up on that trolley and told them I’d like to think about it a bit more. At least I think that’s what I said, but my arm went all cold and achy- something to help me relax, apparently. After that I couldn’t get my words out properly.


I don’t know what they did to me in there. They wheeled my trolley into a room and all filed out, leaving me next to a machine that was humming loudly, like the engine of a boat. There were some bleeping noises and then the heat just came out from nowhere. My skin was tingling all over- prickling from the inside, and I could see all these stars floating about in front of my eyes. I can’t remember much else about it, other than I was starting to feel sick. Then the humming stopped, and I just lay back and drifted off.


Here’s the thing though, when I woke up again I felt fantastic. Not much of an appetite mind you, but it felt like my body was floating, and full of energy too. There were a couple of nurses fretting over me as I stirred, looking at the readings on the monitor I was hooked up to, and one rushed off straight away to call the medical team. The doctors were at my bedside in seconds, shining lights in my eyes, jabbing more needles in my arm, rattling off some weird instructions to touch my nose and remember sequences of words. Now I’ve never had much luck multitasking or using my memory like that, but everything they were asking of me felt like a walk in the park on a sunny day.


It was the physical exercise tests that blew us all away. They put me back on the treadmill, and it felt like the weight had dropped off me and I was flying- I mean I was literally airborne as I legged it over that moving belt. They measured how high I could jump, like before, and I swear this time I was clearing a metre, effortlessly. The group of whitecoats with their clipboards were muttering away and I could tell they were impressed too. One even patted me on the back.


I don’t know much about science, but I think I’ve grasped some of what’s going on here. The procedure- the enhancing treatment- it’s taken something out of my body, hasn’t it? The machine removed some of my body’s matter. There I was running and jumping, exactly the same shape and size as before, but less dense somehow. I wasn’t affected by gravity as much anymore; I was faster and stronger. If only it had stopped there.


I need you to promise me something. If I don’t pull through, I want my mum to be given the money they owe me, ok? I never even told her where I was going. We fell out when I stole some cash she left lying around, so give her what I'm owed and tell her I’m sorry.


I’ve been a right guinea pig in here this last few days, haven’t I? All the brain function tests and bone density imaging, all that strength and endurance testing; they’ve measured me inside out. I knew the effects of the procedure were wearing off even without being told, because I started to feel proper knackered again as time went by. That and their grim faces told me all I needed to know.


I think everyone was surprised by what happened this morning though. Makes me wonder if anyone’s ever made it this far along before. I was eating my breakfast, about to dip a spoon into my yoghurt, when the spoon just slipped through my fingers. I tried to pick it up- it was right there sitting on the tray, looking as solid as anything. But try as I might I couldn’t close my fingers around it. It was as if it were an illusion. I couldn’t work out if I was seeing things that weren’t actually there- the spoon, the food, the cup of tea. Or was it that I wasn’t there myself- you know, I wasn’t real anymore? That’s when I yelled out and they all came running in, all the nurses and the doctors. You were there too, and from the look in your eyes I knew something really bad was happening.


My extremities were affected first, as the matter in my body continued to disappear. When I held my hands up to the light I could see right through them. Not just the bones and the red glow of blood like you get with a powerful torch. No, I could see the outline of objects right though the flesh. The very substance I’m made up of was disintegrating. I was fading away.


It didn’t take long for my whole body to catch up, turning me into a translucent ghost. The doctors were relentless with their tests and measurements, taking biopsies from every tissue in my body, shining beams through me, making me swallow liquid dyes. After a while it just all got too much, and that’s when I went to slam my fist on the wall. My hand passed right through like the bricks were made of light. I realised that the wall hadn’t changed but my hand had- it just wasn't solid anymore. And if I could walk through that wall like I had just punched it, well, I could stroll right out of here.


The first time was the hardest. Moving through the wall was uncomfortable but not painful; a bit like the shock of plunging into a cold swimming pool. I did it though- I emerged the other side. Stark naked mind you, as all my clothes were still behind the wall in a pile on the floor. You see, only my body had changed its density. My clothes were every bit as solid as they’d always been and couldn’t pass through the wall with me.


I’d put them all in a right panic and the sirens started wailing away. In no time the security guards were approaching me from either end of the hallway I’d entered. They talked nervously into the receivers fastened to their uniforms, holding their arms up protectively as if I were a mad dog about to bite. I suppose they’ve never seen a transparent naked man before so I can’t blame them for being alarmed.


I stepped through another wall. This time it was quicker, less resistance, and I was all set to keep going. I was done with this place.


It was you who caught up with me first. You must have been racing ahead to find me. You told me that with each time I’d moved through a wall I’d lost more matter and I was accelerating my disappearance. I could see it for myself when I looked down at my body and it was like seeing a reflection of myself in a window. I let you guide me back to my room because what else could I do? Here I am now, held captive by my condition and still slowly fading away. Even the bed sheets fall right through my body as if I’m already gone.


I’ve begged the doctors to reverse the process, to save me from becoming nothing, but they haven’t got a clue about how to make that happen. I’ve threatened them with a massive lawsuit. They say I won’t be around to see it through- no joke intended- and apparently I acknowledged the risk of adverse outcomes in the small print I signed. I never had a chance, did I? Not since the moment I saw that advertisement and they reeled me in.


All I’m asking is please don’t let them do this to anyone else. You’ve got to tell the world what Cerberus is doing. They can’t get away with it.


I’ve always been a nobody, and now I’m slipping away into thin air.


And I can’t even hold your hand.


*


Extract of correspondence from Cerberus’s Medical Director to the Governing Board, recovered from deleted files:


My Dear Sirs,


I can confirm that the latest clinical trial subject, a Mr Joseph Walsh, passed away between midnight and 2am this morning. The precise moment of his passing was indeterminate as an area of raised temperature indicated a possible ongoing presence after visibility was lost. I have congratulated the team on maintaining signs of life for significantly longer than achieved in earlier rounds. We have made admirable progress since the rather unpleasant Rhesus Monkey phase of the trials.


May I take this opportunity to remind my esteemed colleagues that our research brings immense benefits to national security. In this era of pending new world order we must prepare for the emergence of novel and catastrophic global threats. Our bold work at Cerberus equips us to meet such challenges face on. We are mere months away from enabling super-human assets to enter enemy territories unseen, passing without trace through physical barriers. Gentlemen, a new era of espionage and assassination is upon us.


Whilst the level of work undertaken at Cerberus is exempt from conventional ethical approval, there has of course been some human cost, not least to Mr Walsh and the team directly involved in his care. Although instructions were issued for professionals to remain impartial, I have been advised that he was a somewhat affable subject and certain staff developed an affection towards him, causing some distress towards the end. I can assure you this matter is being dealt with assertively. 


Let me be clear that the selection process has consistently proved proficient in identifying individuals with little to offer society, all of whom have been successfully extracted from their communities with minimal disruption to civilian life. It is truly moving to consider how lives of such negligible value have bolstered our noble endeavours.


We must salute Mr Walsh, whose unwitting sacrifice has so greatly advanced Cerberus’s goals.

June 11, 2022 16:33

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48 comments

Michał Przywara
02:06 Jun 13, 2022

Great story! I'm fond of the old "science gone wrong", and this one presents an interesting scenario. I'm left with a number of questions, which is a good place to be with sci-fi. Chief among them, is Walsh really dead? His physical matter was fading. It sounds like it was either removed, or he was shedding it, or both. But, his mind also seemed to remain intact. So this opens up some interesting implications about consciousness. Is it not tied to the physical brain? Or, was his matter not vanishing so much as moving somewhere, or in some ...

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17:57 Jun 13, 2022

Hi Michal, An excellent question, it’s entirely possible Walsh was still hanging around but completely undetectable. I sort of hope not, because that would be a bit like locked-in syndrome although without a body. But then again, just maybe the process could be reversed. Thanks so much for more brilliant feedback.

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Katy Borobia
23:12 Jun 14, 2022

I am so impressed by the build-up to realizing that he's disappearing/ becoming transparent - "hold the camera" is repeated a lot, but doesn't really register until the revelation. It's quite funny as well, which makes the ending even more devastating. The letter from the director is chilling, perhaps more realistic than we want to acknowledge. Well done.

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11:10 Jun 19, 2022

Thanks so much Katy! And congrats on your excellent win last week- a very clever, entertaining read.

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Suma Jayachandar
09:36 Jun 18, 2022

This is such a smart, dark and thought provoking story. Like with all your pieces the voice is unique and the writing sharp. Serve me a platter of sci-fi, strong characterisation and ethical questions sprinkled with humour any time of the day( or night) and I'll devour it with glee. Thanks for the treat.

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09:34 Jun 19, 2022

Hi Suma, Many thanks for reading and for your lovely feedback.

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Cindy Strube
21:07 Jun 17, 2022

Riveting! Poor Joe- he seems kind of naïve and trusting, maybe a little lazy (“easy money”), but he’s had the realization that something is off and he’s conscientious enough to want it documented so it isn’t perpetuated. Really a fascinating read!

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09:35 Jun 19, 2022

Thanks Cindy! Yes, Joe hasn't made great choices for sure. Thanks for reading and for your feedback.

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Wendy M
21:08 Jun 15, 2022

This is fabulous. I really identified with Joseph, I've had those hospital gowns! I love well-thought-out science fiction, there is bound to be an underground bunker somewhere working on this very project. Thank you for a thoroughly entertaining, if slightly worrying read.

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09:36 Jun 19, 2022

Hi Wendy, Glad you found the story enjoyable if a little unsettling! Thanks so much for reading.

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Samantha Cullen
12:42 Jun 15, 2022

I LOVE IT!! Thank you so much for sharing! I love the voice of the narrator, the concept, and the letter at the end! So clever!!

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09:37 Jun 19, 2022

Hey Samantha, Really glad you enjoyed it! Thanks for your feedback :)

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L.C. Schäfer
08:22 Jun 15, 2022

I love it. The last part reminded me of the scene at the end of Old (spoiler incoming)where they pay their respects to the people on the island. People are so resilient to the most horrific things. That's the real horror isn't it!

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09:39 Jun 19, 2022

Hi L.C. Hmm, don't know Old but will search it out. Yes, I absolutely agree, the real horror is how people can be complicit with atrocities. Thanks so much for reading, glad you enjoyed it.

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L.C. Schäfer
09:43 Jun 19, 2022

It's an M. Shammylammywotsit movie. The chap who did Sixth Sense. Lots of disturbing moments, but the one that took the cake for me was how the other people rationalised it.

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10:56 Jun 13, 2022

Well, this was dark. The progression as Walsh realises what is going on is unnerving to follow. You have to tell us how that machine works! Another unsettling entry in the L. Maddison portfolio. Great read, thank you for sharing!

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18:11 Jun 13, 2022

Hello Shuvayon, I’m afraid the machine is top secret, if I told you they’d come for me, and then maybe you too 😂 Thanks so much for reading and I’m glad you enjoyed it :)

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Aesha Amin
22:32 Jun 12, 2022

hii I’m a Biology major and yet it never occurred to me that matter could be vacuumed out of a body like that. Your imagination is… everything. I love how unique your characters are in thought and behaviour. Mercy was evil while Joseph is clueless and self-destructive. Also, I think this was a typo: through instead of though “Here's the thing through, when I woke up again I felt fantastic.” Anyways, congrats on your recent win and this incredible sci-fi <3

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17:53 Jun 13, 2022

Hey Aesha, I hope as a biology major you are inspired by the complexity and tenacity of life, and are not scheming up ways to manipulate it 😂 Thanks so much for your lovely feedback. Appreciate the spelling heads up- typos are clearly an early submission hazard for me.

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Andi Hyland
09:50 Jun 25, 2022

That was disturbing in the sense that it seems like a real possibility. You made it really believable. I enjoyed reading that. Thank you.

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16:10 Jun 27, 2022

Hello Andi, many thanks for your feedback :)

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Tiffany Andrew
13:22 Jun 24, 2022

Ooo! I love the twist ending with the evil researcher. That was a really fun surprise. I also really liked your form. It was very interesting to read first a video transcript and then a letter. I really enjoyed this! Great job!

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16:12 Jun 27, 2022

Hi Tiffany, great to hear you enjoyed it. Thanks so much!

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Tony Coppo
09:20 Jun 22, 2022

Excellent creative take on the new tech. The format of your story works really well and is a 'show' on itself. Loved how you mix details, but don't go to specific and describing. Great work! Loved reading this!

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16:14 Jun 27, 2022

Hello Tony, I’m delighted you enjoyed it! Thanks so much for reading.

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Andrea Doig
16:35 Jun 20, 2022

Oh dear poor Mr Walsh! What a great concept and clever idea. I am sure this is happening in some lab right now haha! Well written with a nice easy flow… and I always enjoy your writing style. (I hope this comment doesn’t save twice… I commented and then it seemed to disappear so I’m doing it again :) Thanks for sharing! X

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16:16 Jun 27, 2022

Hello Andrea, Thank you for your lovely feedback. I’m really glad you enjoyed the story!

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Andrea Doig
16:32 Jun 20, 2022

Oh dear… poor Mr Walsh! I enjoyed your story… lovely easy flow and I enjoy your style as usual. Great concept. Most likely happening as we speak right now! Haha. Thanks for sharing x

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22:37 Jun 19, 2022

So, that's how ghosts were made!

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16:17 Jun 27, 2022

Hi Jincy, Yes, maybe it is… who knows what other ways there could also be though! :)

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02:22 Jun 19, 2022

Especially with the CIA's dark actions into scientific research, this story definitely seems more real than most people would want to admit, especially with the CIA's research into the human mind, time-travel, and spiritual consciousness. Your story is a refreshing take on the "science gone wrong" trope; it's original and fresh, and I especially love the eerie letter from the director. Really well-done!

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09:42 Jun 19, 2022

Hello Futurama, I also wonder what goes on in powerful organisations away from the public eye. Thanks so much for reading and sharing your thoughts.

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Beth Jackson
01:09 Jun 19, 2022

Wow! What a story! I loved this so much. I loved the voice of Joe, it came through so clearly. What a fascinating concept and the question of lives having ‘negligible value’ is a great point to ponder. Thank you for sharing, this was a great read! :-)

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09:43 Jun 19, 2022

Hello Beth, Really glad you enjoyed it. Thanks for reading and for your thoughts.

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Ash Cr
00:35 Jun 19, 2022

I loved how unique and funny this characters voice was, it really balanced out the dark subject matter well. Im a big fan of sci fi and especially subverting superhero stories, which i could see this concept growing into. loved reading it :)

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09:44 Jun 19, 2022

Hi Ash This is the first time I've written sci-fi, so glad a sci-fi fan enjoyed it! Thanks so much for your comment.

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16:11 Jun 18, 2022

L., I had to read your story twice to make sure I got everything right. Well, I am not surprised you chose the most "difficult" prompt. I am not into science fiction and didn't give it a second thought, but I saw your name listed and I knew you'd concoct something wonderfully chilling, so I've read it. Twice. Poor Mr. Joseph Walsh, the invisible man. As a kid, I bet Joe wanted to be invisible, for fun, but now as an adult, being invisible is not fun anymore. "I've always been a nobody, but now I'm slipping away into thin air." There i...

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09:45 Jun 19, 2022

Hi Gabriella, I love how you leave no corner unexplored when you read a story! I'm also glad you found Joe likable- I'm still feeling quite sorry for him! Thanks so much for reading and for your well thought out appraisal of it.

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Elias Leventhal
13:47 Jun 18, 2022

Very fun story. I appreciate the way that you overlap Joe's monologue with the central thread of the piece.

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09:46 Jun 19, 2022

Hello Elias, So glad you enjoyed reading it and thanks so much for your feedback.

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