Dr. Mueller flicked the syringe twice with a steady and professional finger. “This,” he said, “is the latest batch. It worked on the mice, so it should work on a human. It’ll work on you. Probably.”
The doctor’s uncertain tone did not escape Martin’s attention, but he chose to not comment on it. This had to work. They were out of options. The enclave was dying, beset on all sides by the Others.
Global communications had been out for over a year, ever since an incursion of the Others had simultaneously targeted every satellite in orbit and every fiber cable on the ocean floor. That was when we knew they were not just monsters, but intelligent ones at that. It was horrifyingly obvious, even before the communications blackout, that humanity was in a desperate and likely unwinnable battle.
The loss of satellites left only shortwave radio communications available. Each enclave became a node in a worldwide daisy-chain of message brokers – bouncing messages through each other to reach people around the globe. Every week, there were fewer nodes – fewer enclaves – able to send and receive. Humanity was losing the war against the Others. Leaders estimated that humanity’s population was now between ten and one hundred million now, dropping by a percent each week.
Martin blew a loud, anxiety-releasing, raspberry from between pursed lips and tossed a grin in Dr. Mueller’s direction. “I get it, doc. It has some risk. But hey,” he said, “at least I’ll get some sleep!”
A siren’s wail cut off further conversation. It only went off when there was an active attack by the Others on the enclave. In the last seventy-two hours, the siren had sounded three times.
Martin ran to the door, grabbing his rifle and his sabre as he went. “We’ll have to do this when I get back, doc. There’s no way I can sleep with these sirens screaming throughout the enclave.”
Dr. Mueller nodded, “Good luck out there. Don’t die, son.” He set the syringe onto a metal holding tray. “This cocktail was prepared specifically for your metabolism and will work only for you. It’ll either kill someone else or have no effect – and it’ll take me a few days to create a new dose for someone else. We’re not ready yet to create a generally-available treatment yet.”
“We don’t have that much time, doc. I’ll be back. Promise.” With a final, determined and thin-lipped smile, he was out of the clinic and rushing towards the latest incursion.
Martin looked down in disgust at the dead monster at his feet. It couldn’t rightly be said that the creature was dead, since it was technically not alive. No amount of science could describe the mechanisms by which the Others existed. Before mankind had been decimated, when the threat from the Others hadn’t been fully understood, the world was abuzz with curious and hopeful fantasies about these . . . things. It was sad, in a nostalgic loss of innocence kind of way, how naive humankind had been.
Science was confounded by the Others. When dissected, there was no circulatory system. No nervous system. No organs. There was no life that we could understand. There were no elements on the period table that matched the composition of the monster.
Religion was equally confused. No religious texts or histories described anything remotely similar to the Others. No myths, no legends; nothing described these creatures. Sure, with enough imagination it might be said these were Judaic Golems – but they were not unformed. On the contrary, each specimen of the Others was unique, fully formed, and definitely not made from clay. They were literal nightmares made live.
Both Science and Religion, however, agreed that there was nothing but malevolent intent driving the Others. They didn’t speak. They didn’t eat. They didn’t growl – not having vocal chords. But they did have teeth. Very large, very sharp, teeth.
Their intent could only be determined by their actions. They had no goal, no purpose, other than killing humans. And they were very, very good at it.
Martin poked the creature with his saber, making quite sure that it was “dead.” Enough blunt force trauma, or the loss of enough mass, was enough to “kill” them. Cutting off only the head was not enough mass loss – they still came after you and would rend a human apart in seconds, not needing eyes or a face to find you and do so.
And so the enclave perimeter was a combination of munitions, traps, and pitfalls that only worked in cartoons. Yes, they actually dropped anvils on the Others and used three dimensional chalk art “tunnels” to lure the creatures to smash against the wall. It worked. While the Others weren’t stupid, as evidenced by the deliberate destruction of humanity’s global communication network, they often had trouble understanding the difference between reality and unsubtle subterfuge.
This one was dead, Martin confirmed, and signaled the work crew to re-raise the anvil and place another human-looking mannequin directly under it.
Looking around the carnage, Martin saw fewer dead humans than he expected. Less then ten dead humans to about four thousand Others. Still, there were only ten thousand humans in this enclave, and easily a million or more Others outside the perimeter. Humanity was losing. It was only a matter of time, and not much at that, before they were all dead.
“Ok doc,” Martin said, “talk me through this.” His voice was weary and he was exhausted. Hopefully this would help him sleep. He looked around the surgery and saw a pristine bed – a sight he had literally not seen in over half a decade.
Dr. Mueller held the syringe in his hands again. Outside, through the observation pane, sat the enclave leaders, other scientists, and a news crew filming the event.
So much for privacy while he slept. But then again, it was newsworthy. No human had slept in five years.
“Just wait a moment,” said the doctor. “This is historic. We’ll give a brief overview to the cameras in a second.” He indicated the bed, “Please go stand next to the bed and we can get started.”
“I didn’t agree to this,” Martin frowned.
“No, but I did,” said a voice over the intercom. Martin looked over to the observation pane. Regent Jeffries was at the window, standing coincidentally at a perfect angle for the cameras as she spoke. “If this works, what we say and do here today will be forever known as Waking Freedom Day and we must preserve this for history.”
Martin sighed. He didn’t walk in the same circles as the Regent, but everyone knew to get out of her way or get steamrolled when she had an agenda. With a reluctant nod, he waved at the doctor to continue.
“Thank you, everyone, for coming today.” He addressed the cameras directly, leaving Martin to stand awkwardly behind him by the bed, unsure of exactly what he was supposed to do at this point.
“As you all know, seven years ago, SatoMed in Tokyo was the victim of corporate terrorism. The genetically altered virus they were working on, with the intent of curing those who were narcoleptic, was stolen and released into the world.
“Unexpectedly, the virus propagated in the wild and within a year had spread across the world, leaving virtually none uninfected. Also unexpectedly, only humans and mice were affected and there has been no cross-species infection beyond that.
“Symptoms were mild. A slight cold, gone after a day or two. But it was very quickly learned that everyone infected had lost the ability to go to sleep. And there were no ill side effects. No human alive today has slept since being born or since the release of the SatoMed virus. We have called it the ‘Wake’ since we have all been awake with no sleep since that time.”
Dr. Mueller paused here, for obvious dramatic effect, because everyone knew where this was going.
“But there was a side effect. A terrible side effect. One that took us far too long to connect the dots to to understand what was happening.
“Yes, I’m speaking of the Others. We now know that when over 95% of the human population went without sleep for over a month, the Others started appearing.
“At first, it was small and isolated, but before we knew it there were billions of them and only millions of us left. I won’t get into the horror we all live every day.
“While we don’t know exactly where the Others come from, we now believe that the only thing holding them back throughout all of human history was . . . sleep.
“And so, enclaves and scientists around the world have been scrambling to cure the SatoMed virus and give humanity back its precious sleep. In the hopes that we can push back the Others to wherever it is they come from.
“In the next room, we have captured ten of the Others and have them trapped – there’s a secondary video feed for you to watch. If this procedure works as we hope, we expect a reaction of some kind from the trapped creatures.
“On that note, with us today, is Martin Neumann, who will become the first recipient of the first batch that actually worked on mice.” He smiled at the camera, “Yes, we now have mice sleeping peacefully through the night in the lab.”
He turned to Martin, “Martin, care to say a few words before we begin?”
“Uh, sure.” Martin squared his shoulders to the camera. “Hi world. I’m not a scientist or a leader. Before the Wake, I was a college student studying music theory and business management. I wanted to be a music producer. Today, I’m a soldier. My job is to kill the Others, or die trying. Today, I am just doing that again. I am told this treatment might kill me. We either learn it does not work and go back to the drawing board, while others continue to kill the Others the old fashioned way, or we learn we have hope, salvation maybe, from the Wake and the Others.” He looked at Dr. Mueller, “Let’s do this.”
Dr. Mueller nodded, and the observation pane turned opaque. The audience could see in, but Martin wasn’t forced to see them. The surgery lights dimmed. Martin quickly removed his shirt and lay down in the bed, calming his rapidly beating heart as best as he could.
“Ready?” asked Dr. Mueller.
He nodded, not trusting himself to speak.
“OK,” said the doctor, “here goes.”
Martin felt the needle slip into his skin and a cool sensation run up his arm a moment later. Followed by a sudden burning in his chest.
Panicked, Martin tried to call out, but could not form the words. For the first time in five years, the world faded and Martin had only a moment to wonder if this was sleep, or death, claiming him.
The sensation of waking was novel. Martin was confused. His mouth was dry. And he had to pee.
It took a moment for him to come to his senses, but when he did, he sat up quickly to the sight of Dr. Mueller standing over him.
“Did it work?” Martin asked through parched lips.
Dr. Mueller paused before replying, “You have no evidence of the virus in your system, Martin. You should be sleeping every night from this point forward.”
Martin hand waved the response away, “That’s not what I mean and you know it. What about the Others in the next room?”
“Well,” said the doctor, “that’s another story.”
“So?” said Martin, punctuating with raised eyebrows. “What’s the story?”
“The Others in the next room stopped raging against the enclosure as soon as you fell asleep,” said the doctor. “And there was a sudden, new, incursion outside the perimeter that started within three minutes of you falling asleep. The largest we’ve seen to date. Large enough to overwhelm all of our defenses. When you hit REM sleep, however, it just stopped.”
Martin sat in the bed, stunned. “They didn’t just disappear like we hoped, but they stopped attacking.” He looked at the doctor and smiled, “So not a complete failure?”
“That’s not all they did, Martin,” said the doctor. “There’s more.”
“What else happened, doctor?” asked Martin. His short-lived euphoria was fading as twinges of anxiety set in.
“They started talking,” said the doctor. “All of them. The ones we captured and the billions outside. Every one of the Others across the entire world, stopped attacking and started speaking once you hit REM sleep. All saying the exact same thing.”
“For the love of God, doctor,” cried Martin, “Just tell me. What did they say?”
Dr. Mueller took a deep breath, “They all asked for you, Martin. By name.”