A Question of Compatibility

I don’t know where I was five seconds ago, but it sure as hell wasn’t here.

That was the thought that pounded, and pounded very painfully, through my skull as I stared down at the small porcelain cup sitting only inches from my shaking hand.

My entire body hurt. It was a sharp pulsing pain that started at the base of my skull and coursed all the way down my body before the next wave would start. That didn’t change the fundamental truth of my situation, though. My hand wasn’t shaking because of the fire that was racing across my nerves. My hand was shaking because I sure as hell wasn’t here five seconds ago.

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From http://www.theglobeandmail.com/globe-investor/investment-ideas/the-dark-side-of-low-interest-rates/article4541136/

Five seconds ago, I, Craig Mason, was not sitting at this small round table with a steaming cup of … whatever the hell was in that cup, sitting inches from me. Wherever I had been, it had felt much less alien than this. This wasn’t where I belonged and everything that my senses brought in only shouted that fact at me even louder.

There was terror here. Terror curled up from the cup. Terror was just behind the floral pattern on the walls. Terror was behind me …

Behind me. I had been so scared by this sudden change in my understanding of the world, that I hadn’t even turned around to look at the rest of my surroundings.

Taking a deep breath, I did the first thing that my mind could think to do to test this reality: I slowly grabbed the cup. It was hot, but not too hot to hold. I picked it up, shaking so badly, I was worried I would spill its contents. The ridiculousness of that thought struck me as well. I was afraid of spilling the contents, as if it would somehow turn my world upside down.

As if my world wasn’t already upside down.

Bringing the small cup to my nose, I sniffed it. The aroma of tea greeted me. I’m no tea drinker, so that aroma only confused me further. If I had been here for any length of time that my … blackout? … had been keeping hidden from me, it didn’t change my tastes.

I wouldn’t have ordered tea.

So, who did?

My curiosity finally outpaced my fear, and I turned around to take in the rest of wherever I was.

It was some sort of cafe or small restaurant. There were small and round tables like the one I was sitting alone at. Some people were eating, and some were just enjoying beverages in similar small cups to the one that I had.

It seemed just your average cafe, but something was off, and it took me a minute that everyone in the place was wearing period dress. It was some sort of odd cosplay event based on some sort of specific time period.

I tried to look closer, but I caught the eye of the nearest gentleman, and immediately turned back to my cup of tea. He’d been holding a newspaper and had taken notice when I began staring just past him and at the woman and little girl sitting at the table on the other side of him. They were the most obvious in the way they were dressed. I’d almost call it Prohibition Era, but that didn’t make any sense.

Odder still was the way that I was dressed. When I had turned around, I had also glanced down at my own clothes, and they were the same clothes that I expected to be wearing. I was wearing my usual “Welcome to the Dork Side” t-shirt, complete with a Jedi with buck-teeth and broken, thick-rimmed glasses, and my usual denim jeans.

I’m a classy dresser, but I was definitely not part of this scene.

What made it odd was how my obviously different clothing wasn’t causing anyone to give me strange looks. The strange look I’d earned from the elderly man had been borne of my staring.

This all had to be some sort of joke.

Immediately, I started trying my damnedest to remember where I had been minutes before.

As I continued to draw in absolutely no data from the recesses of my mind, I was startled by the sudden approach of someone on my left. My reaction was less than graceful, and I feel out of my chair with a shriek.

“Excuse me, I’m so sorry,” the waitress said as she tried to help me back up and into my chair. I flailed, and batted away her hands, inexplicably terrified of her touch. I dropped back into my chair and turned toward her, very aware of how insane my reaction must have looked.

She coughed, as if completely dismissing the last four seconds, and continued. “Might I refresh your tea for you, sir?”

Her outfit was more of the period dress. Whatever cosplay event I had stumbled into was thorough. She was dressed in all black, except for an apron that covered the area between her waist and knees, her collar, and her odd hat, that looked like some kind of bonnet. These were all white.

“What?” was all that I could bark back.

Her patience was obviously wearing thin as she sighed and repeated the question. “May I get you more tea, sir?”

Panic seized me and I grabbed her wrist. “Where the hell am I?” I demanded.

Tugging at her arm, the waitress, who wasn’t much older than myself at 27, stated firmly, “If you don’t let go, sir, I will scream for help.”

Her words cut through the static that was disrupting my calm demeanor and I released her and muttered an apology before adding, “Is … is this some sort of flashmob?”

“I’m going to have to ask you to leave,” she flinched away at my outstretched hand, and I couldn’t blame her. Whatever was going on, my panic wasn’t serving me at all.

“No, please,” I gulped down the tea and held the cup out to the still unsure waitress. “I could use more tea. Just one more cup.” I was begging her. “Please.”

She stared at me and then the cup for what seemed like forever. Finally, she reached forward and snatched the cup from my hand without actually getting any closer to me.

“One more, but then you must leave.” Her face softened, but was still filled with concern. The fear had vanished, but she understood that I was desperate, even if she could grasp why.

I nodded quickly at her. “Yes, I’ll leave after I’ve finished that cup. I promise.”

She returned my nod and turned to get my refill. In the back of my mind, a very common concern crept forward, and I found myself hoping that I had paid her when she had brought the first cup.

As I turned back toward sitting forward, I noticed the older gentleman who has been staring at me stand to leave, tucking his newspaper under his arm.

“Mister! Wait, please!” I leapt up and approached him, slowing myself as I realized that I was still coming across as completely insane.

He glared at me, but stopped.

“Would you mind if I took that newspaper off of your hands?” I asked, before hastily adding, “If you’re fine with it, of course.”

He snorted and waved his hand in the direction of the door.

“Only a block away, you can get your own for a nickel.”

I nodded, as if I knew this already, which I didn’t, because I still has no idea where I was. “Yes, sir, but the waitress is bringing me another cup of tea. I wouldn’t want it to get cold.”

The older man glared at me for a while. If he handy hadn’t been standing, I would have thought that he’d died.

Finally, he pulled the paper out from under the crook of his arm and opened it, flipping through three or four pages before finding what he was looking for and pulling out several of the central pages.

Without folding it back together, he shoved the remainder into my open have and stormed out the door without a word.

I went back to my table and began smoothing out the mess of newspaper. Finally, when I had enough of it ironed out to make sense of it, I hunted for the information.

The paper in question was a copy of the New York Herald. I had never heard of newspaper, but that didn’t mean much. I wasn’t exactly a newspaper aficionado. What caught my attention, and only verified my fears was just under the newspaper brand.

The date.

It read May 4th, 1923.

I hadn’t realized that in my hurry to smooth out the newspaper I hadn’t sat down yet. That is until I actually did when the realization of the date weighed in on me.

I couldn’t figure out why, but I was struggling to remember anything that might have been a part of my life before this cafe, but the one thing that I was sure of was that the date wasn’t 1923.

As a matter of fact, I was fairly certain that the date was closer to 2014, or 2015.

I closed my eyes and started rubbing my temples. If this was some sort of prank, it was taking an eery turn. I was suffering from some sort of amnesia. What kind of friends did I have that would go to this level of detail and traumatize me in such a way that I couldn’t remember anything?

The alternative was that I was somehow in 1923 and had suffered some sort of event to cause me to block out my entire life. Maybe transplanting to the past had caused me to forget most of the future.

You know … to stop a paradox … or something.

I felt like Sam in Quantum Leap.

Except that I remembered Quantum Leap! So, it wasn’t some sort of paradox block, or I could go and start writing the Quantum Leap stories down and ruin an entire decade of darn good television.

I went on like this in my head for an indefinite amount of time (which I assumed I had plenty of), before the door to the cafe opened and a woman walked in.

She was dressed for the time as well, but there was something about her that was so much more alive than the rest of the players in this madhouse play. Her hair was a beautiful blonde, and her eyes were a demanding hazel. She came in and didn’t even look at me, which was no surprise, and took a seat across from the table where the little girl sat with her mother.

I continued to watch without any shame as the waitress brought me my new cup of tea. She kept her distance from me as she set it down and scurried away.

Watching the woman with the hazel eyes was something that I couldn’t stop doing. She would have held the room’s entire attention if the room seemed to care about giving anything any sort of attention.

Unbidden, the waitress set a cup down beside Hazel-eyes. The mysterious woman picked it up without a word or sign of acknowledgement and sipped it while watching the interaction between mother and daughter. There was nothing at all special about their conversation. The girl was talking about school and some boy who had done something that wasn’t even mildly interesting, and the mother was paying rapt attention as if the story was being broadcast on the evening news.

The only person paying any more attention to the pair was Hazel-eyes.

Through my entire confusion and mistrust of everything that I was seeing, the only thing that I was sure of was that Hazel-eyed woman. Without any really solid memories or ideas of what was going on, she had become my calm in this maelstrom of the mind.

I stood and walked over to her slowly, trying not to let the waitress see me as the threat she obviously thought I was.

“Miss?” I asked when I was standing just on the other side of the table she sat at.

She started and stared at me with … fear? Fear was on her face.

Great.

I had once again convinced a woman in this 1923 dream that I was a freak.

Suddenly, a look of malice was on every head in the cafe as they all turned to face me. The waitress, the daughter, and the mother were all staring at me intently. With rage in her eyes, the waitress took three fast steps in my direction before Hazel-eyes put her hand up. The gesture was miniscule and almost escaped my notice, but the waitress stopped where she was as if controlled by a spell.

Slowly, the little girl and the mother turned back toward facing each other, but they kept their expressions of anger and said nothing. They only stared at each other.

“W … who … ” She was stuttering through her words. “Who are you?”

“My name is Craig Mason.” I looked around the cafe. “I seem to be lost. I honestly have no idea how I ended up here and was wondering if maybe you could help me.”

Hazel-eyes cast her gaze around the room before returning her gaze to me. “What are you wearing?” She eyed my shirt. “Is that supposed to be some sort of rude drawing?”

I looked down at my shirt, obviously referencing objects from the 70’s and 80’s, and formulated the quickest response that I could. “No, it’s … art.”

“How are you talking to me?” Hazel-eyes pressed.

“With my lips,” I answered, knowing that she wasn’t asking the mechanics of how I was talking to her, but not knowing what it was that she was actually asking for. “What do you mean?”

Hazel-eyes eyed me closely, as if looking for the puppeteer behind me. “You really are new, aren’t you?”

“To here, yes.” I rubbed my temple and ignored the twinge of pain that ran through my body. “Actually, I have no memory of anything before I arrived here, but I must have been … well … here before I became aware of it.” I let out an exasperated sigh. “None of this makes any sense.” I waved my hand back at the table. “I don’t even like tea!”

She smiled at that, and the waitress, mother, and daughter all returned to what they were doing as if nothing had ever happened.

“Mr. Mason, I can assure you that some of this makes sense, if not all of it, to me.” She indicated the chair that I stood behind. “Please, have a seat.”

I slid the chair out and joined her at the small table.

“Let’s keep this as simple as we can,” Hazel-eyes continued. “My name is Elisa Trehun.” Elisa put out her hand and I shook it. “What’s the first question that I can try to answer for you?”

I frowned simply because I had way too many questions to ask, but focused on the simplest. “Where am I?”

“Where is a difficult question that I have yet to fully answer for myself. As far as I can tell, right now we’re in May 4th, 1923.”

“What do you mean by ‘right now’?” I asked.

Elisa pressed her cup to the edge of her lips and sipped. I couldn’t help but notice how intoxicatingly red they were. I did my best not to stare as she answered.

“Well, that’s the mysterious part of it all. I have been ‘here’ a very long time, but as far as I can tell, ‘here’ has been the recess of my own memories.” She paused and took another sip. “Right now we’re in May 4th, 1923,” Elisa pointed at the little girl. “That’s me and my mother, before she died. After this memory, I was going to visit the Irish country-side, June 1933. My uncle was still tending my grandfather’s land there. We visited a few times, but in 1933 I met a farmer boy. It’s a fond memory of mine.” Elisa blushed, but only slightly.

“So, I’m not in 1923?” I ventured, still not grasping the depth of my situation.

Elisa shook her head. “Not in the real sense.” She waved her hands at the people around her. “That’s why I am completely confused by your arrival. Each of these memory-people is influenced by my own thoughts. I see them as I remember them. If I’m interrupted by something that either catches my attention or that I would like to focus on, everything simply stops, and allows me to focus on it without missing the rest of the memory.”

She pointed at me. “You’re not from any memory that I can recall, and judging by the reaction of my memory-people, you aren’t from around here,” she pointed at her temple, “either.”

“How could I be in your memories?” My confusion was leading to panic. “Does that mean that I’m not real?”

Elisa shook her head slowly. “I don’t think that’s the case. I’m usually very aware of when something is from my imagination.” Her face took on a sad smile. “I am hoping that you are real. You can only be locked inside your own head for so long, before even your own thoughts seem as jailers.”

“No offense, but I’m hoping this us just a dream it sound sick joke,” I added. “Alright,” I conceded, “let’s imagine that I believe you. How am I here? How are you here? Why can’t I remember anything?”

Elisa shook her head, “I honestly don’t know.” She sighed heavily. “When I first arrived here, I was incredibly confused. After a very long time, of which I have no idea how long, I finally accepted that this was my world now. I was locked within my own memories. I was trapped in a world that I could change and manipulate as I saw fit, but none of it was real. Conversations were something I did out of habit.” Elisa produced a very sad smile. “I have been a very lonely person for a very long time.”

I could only nod in agreement. Depending on what year she had entered into this impossible confinement, Elisa had been in there for almost a century.

“What do I do now?” I was hoping that Elisa would have some brilliant idea for pushing me from her mental prison.

Instead, she shrugged. “I could show you around, I suppose.” She pushed her chair back slowly, and stood. “I was 26 years old when I discovered myself here. That is a lot of memories to share with someone such as yourself, Craig.”

To my complete surprise, her answer did not leave me filled with disappointment.
Instead, I was excited.

Something about Elisa drew me to her. Aside from my terrifying situation, I was looking forward to spending more time with her and I could see that she was starving for someone to pay attention to her as well.

Elisa was right. She did have a lot of memories to share, but the experience was so much more than just the playing back of her memories.

The first place that she took me was a green field, devoid of anyone or anything. In the distance there were mountains. The sun was high in the sky with clouds occasionally crossing in front of it.
Elisa carried with her a picnic basket. We sat on the grass and she began to tell me more about herself.

Elisa had been born and raised in New York City to Irish immigrants. They had raised her to be a very headstrong and self-sufficient woman. I couldn’t remember how I had learned it, but of the few things that I could remember one was that immigrants in the earlier part of the 20th century didn’t have the easiest life.

I couldn’t see any of that hardness and pain in Elisa’s face, but her eyes, and her story told me that I was right. Life hadn’t been easy for her.

As she continued, Elisa explained that she had earned her money as a laundry clerk, but was trying to break into journalism. After five years cleaning other people’s clothes, she finally was accepted as a typist at the New York Herald. She spent what she thinks had to have been a year there before she ended up inside her own head.

Everything that Elisa told me about the time of her life closest to the capturing of her mind was broken and guess work. She didn’t know when exactly she was taken, and the very nature of the world that she had been dragged into meant that she could have been living in a perpetual dream for months without being aware of it.

The story, as far as she knew it, was that she had been traveling with a journalist named Robert Boone. They had been traveling to the Adirondack Mountains in upstate New York to investigate mysterious disappearances that had occurred near Lake George. A tip had been sent to their office by Samuel Dusharm. He was an elderly gentleman who preferred to speak in person instead of telegram. Elisa had tagged along as Robert’s assistant.

Once they had arrived at Samuel’s cabin, about ten miles to the east of Lake George, they were only given a brief opportunity to meet with Samuel. He seemed more frail than their conversations prior had indicated.

All of this, brought on by the power of this magical place that Craig and Elisa now relaxed, became a more-than-visual representation to me. Suddenly, he was in a dark and damp cabin room as Elisa and a man, apparently Mr. Boone, allowed themselves in. I jumped as a voice from deep in the shadows behind me spoke up.

“Please, come no closer.” The voice was raspy and seemed to have an echo to it, even though I couldn’t tell where it was coming from.

There was also a scent in the air that I couldn’t place. It was sharp and made me want to gag.

Elisa and Robert stopped only a few feet into the cabin, obviously just as startled as I had been by the voice.

“Mr. Dusharm?” Elisa ventured. “I’m Elisa Trehun, and this is Ro-”

Samuel Dusharm interrupted her. “Robert Boone. Yes, yes, I know.” Robert moved to shake the elderly man’s hand, but Samuel raised his voice. “Stop! I said come no further!”

“I’m sorry, Mr. Dusharm.” Robert said. His voice was deeper than I would have expected based on his tall and thin frame.

“No, Mr. Boone,” Samuel continued much calmer than before. “It is I who am sorry.” He coughed, and I couldn’t help but think of how fake it sounded. “You came on a day in which my health is not at it’s best. If you wouldn’t mind coming back tomorrow, perhaps then we could start on the discussions of those that have disappeared?”

Elisa was frowning, and from her look I could tell that she hadn’t believed Samuel’s cough either.

“Of course, Mr. Dusharm,” answered Robert. “We can get settled in lodging closer to Lake George and pick this up maybe first thing in the morning?”

“That sounds wonderful. I am sure that I will have found my strength by tomorrow.” There was a slight pause. “If that is alright with you, Ms. Trehun?”

Elisa hesitated before smiling. “Of course, Mr. Dusharm. Before we go, might I ask about the red-headed stranger that you mentioned in the telegram?”

There was another fake cough from the shadows. “I’m sorry, Ms. Trehun, but that nefarious man and his story must wait until tomorrow. I am in much need of bedrest.”

Elisa’s mouth tightened, but she nodded and stepped out of the cabin, followed closely by Robert.

Once they were outside, my perception shifted and I was outside with them. It was a natural thing that didn’t startle me at all. What did startle me however was the second Elisa standing at my side.

“Watch this,” she whispered in my ear.

Robert stepped forward and in the direct path of the remembered Elisa. She stopped to avoid crashing into him.

“What was that about?” Robert barked in a hushed voice. “There was no mention of a ‘red-headed stranger’ in any of Mr. Dusharm’s telegrams.”

“Exactly!” Elisa countered. “Why didn’t he say that when I mentioned it? Why did he promise to tell us all about this previously non-existent ‘red-headed stranger?’ He’s lying to us.”

I elbowed the real Elisa at my side and added, “Nice work.”

She nodded thanks, but her face was anything but happy.

Suddenly, the door to the cabin crashed open and out walked an elderly man that I assumed had to be Samuel Dusharm.

“You are a very clever woman, Elisa Trehun.” Samuel stepped forward only two steps. He obviously was feeling incredibly well compared to only moments ago.

Then I was back in the field, eating from the seemingly bottomless picnic basket that Elisa had brought with her.

“Wait! What happened?” I demanded.

Elisa shrugged. “If that memory was a real one, it’s the last real one that I have before arriving here.” She took a sip of a drink I hadn’t seen her grab. “After that, I quickly discovered the memory-world I was in.”

I stared at Elisa and ran the scenario through my mind a few more times before saying, “I think that whatever happened after the memory ended is how you’re here.”

“Then why are you here?” Elisa pressed.

I smiled and held up my own glass, still not knowing where the glasses came from or what was in them. “Maybe I’m a dream to keep a pretty girl company.”

Elisa returned my smile. “Are all men so forward in your time?”

I choked on the wine, realizing it was wine, and laughed. “My time is very different from yours, but not entirely. Everyone is a little more forward.” I shrugged, grasping at memories that were only just out of my reach.

“When would that be: your time?” Elisa asked. She was smiling, but the curiosity behind her eyes said something more than her lips were.

“I can’t remember … well, anything, but data about myself seems to still be accessible.” I tapped my temple. “For instance, I don’t know the year. I can’t remember it, but I can remember the year I was born.”

Anticipation spread from her eyes and took control of Elisa’s entire face. “What year?”

“1988,” I answered.

Elisa gasped.

“That’s not all.” I added quickly, not sure what her gasp signified. “I know how old I am. I can do quick math and guess the year.”

She shook her head quickly and then stopped herself. “I don’t know if I want to hear it.”

“Why?” I asked.

“I was born in 1913,” Elisa’s voice shook. “I might be trapped in my mind, but I can’t imagine that my body is still alive in 1988.” She gasped again, covering her mouth before adding, “Or if it is, then what state could it be in?”

Remembering my “Dork Side” shirt and hating the tears I saw about to fall, I quickly added, “Unless this is some time-travel experiment?”

She smiled and wiped her eyes even though she hadn’t actually spilled tears. “Wouldn’t that be wonderful?”

“We can’t assume the worst when we don’t know anything,” I smiled. “If that was the case, I’d be broken down and destroyed just because of the little thing of not remembering anything about my life.”

Her smile finally reached her eyes. “How old are you?”

“Twenty-seven.”

Elisa’s smile wavered just a bit, but came back in full force. “You’re from the year 2015?”

I nodded.

“Craig Mason, I am going to lean across and kiss you. While my time is not very forward, I would think that being 102 years old would allow me some leniency.” She closed her eyes as she said it, either to give herself courage or to ‘power through it.’

My smile felt silly, but I couldn’t help it. Ever since she came into the cafe, Elisa had been the only thing that had managed to calm me down. I hadn’t said it, but I was breaking down over the loss of my memory, and I was only keeping together because of her.

Elisa made me want to be stronger. My problems didn’t matter anymore, not when Elisa was around.

Before I knew it, Elisa had leaned in and pressed her lips to mine. Her smell hit me then, and I hadn’t noticed it before . She smelled sweet with a touch of mint. Her smell mixed well with the press of her soft lips, and I couldn’t help but get lost in the brief touch.

“Brief” not because Elisa pulled away, or because I ruined it in some random boy-moment, but “brief” because we were very suddenly not alone.

“Ahem,” a light cough interrupted our moment.

We broke apart and looked up at the silhouette that was blocking the remembered sun. I could feel the blood fill my cheeks in a rush of embarrassment.

“How are you here?” Elisa demanded of the figure.

I covered my eyes and squinted to take in whoever had interrupted our moment.

Samuel Dusharm stood over us, exactly as he was in that last memory of Elisa’s.

“I am here,” his voice was stronger than it had been in Elisa’s memory, “to facilitate the merger and eliminate the chances of rejection.”

Samuel’s voice was flat, like he was some emotionless robot from the future.

“Merger?” I asked.

Before Samuel could answer, Elisa added, “Rejection? If what?”

Samuel nodded in my direction, “Of the foreign element.”

We were on our feet and suddenly in an office space. It was from some serious point in Elisa’s memories. A dark place that made the room feel less like an office and more like an interrogation room.

“I demand that you start explaining what is going on!” Elisa was shouting.

I touched Elisa’s arm. “Why is he here?”

Fear showed through her anger when Elisa’s eyes fell on me.

“I didn’t bring him here.” She waved at me, ” He’s like you!” Her voice was rising. “He’s from outside!” Elisa briefly touched her head and then spun back on Samuel.

“What are you?” It was a deeper question than it sounded. She wasn’t only asking the nature of this intrusion into her mind, she was demanding the nature of the last man she’d seen before being shoved into her prison.

“I am a construct inserted into your mind to protect you from a potentially fatal rejection.” The old man said in his sterile voice.

I could see that she was getting frustrated, so I interrupted. “I think he’s not real, but someone put him here to help you.”

Elisa grimaced at me. “How can you know that?”

I shrugged. “He sounds like a machine or something. In my time we have similar things. They’re called computers.”

She turned back to the thing posing as the old man. “What rejection would be ‘potentially fatal’?”

He nodded at me again. “If your mind rejects the insertion of this other personality, the potential of your death increases from 0.3 to 92.3 percent.”

“But aren’t I already dead?” Elisa was beginning to shout again.

Samuel took on a confused look. Probably programmed into him by whoever had inserted him into Elisa’s memories.

“I do not understand the question. Please rephrase.”

I touched Elisa’s arm as her ire began to rise, and took over the conversation. “Where are we right now?”

Samuel’s confused look was replaced by a blank one and he answered, “Physically, you are located above the atmosphere of the planet Earth.”

I wasn’t expecting that answer, and neither was Elisa. Her face contorted into something that I couldn’t recognize, and I decided to fill the silence that her confusing was making with more questions.

“How are we above the atmosphere of the Earth? We’re currently in an office.” I knew this wasn’t actually an office, but I thought that maybe if I played slightly dumber than I was, the result would be more explanation.

I wasn’t disappointed.

“You are not within an office.” He looked directly at me. “You are in Elisa Trehun’s brain.” His head turned, very stiffly, to look at Elisa. “Your brain is in a communication and sustainability jar aboard a vehicle traveling between planets. You are gathering data.” He raised his hands to shoulder height, with his palms up. “The office that you are seeing is a construct, created by the host brain, in order to better manipulate her communication and sustainability jar. It is an interface.”

Elisa went to the chair behind the desk and sat down.

Old-man Samuel suddenly said, “Percentage of rejection has increased by 10 percent.”

Quietly, Elisa asked, “How did I end up inside this … jar?”

Samuel turned away from me to face Elisa. “In the year of 1934, you were accosted by a being foreign to your planet. He was disguised as Samuel Dusharm. This being extracted your brain and added inserted it into a communication and sustainability jar. The alien being, known as a Mi-Go, had determined your mind to be of exceptional quality. You will make a great collector of data for the Mi-Go. Unfortunately, there were complications during your extraction.”

“Complications?” I asked. “What complications?”

Samuel turned around to face me. “Her brain was damaged. We needed to conduct repairs.”

“Damaged?” Elisa asked. “How am I damaged?” It was a ludicrous question for her to jump in on, but it was only thing she could really grasp onto.

“You began to reject the communication and sustainability jar. Repairs were conducted. You are in the process of adapting to or rejecting those repairs.”

“What repairs?” I pressed.

“You,” Samuel answered.

I pointed at myself. ” ‘Me,’ what?”

“You are the repairs.”

I paused for a minute, and in my own confused hesitancy, Elisa took over my role as interrogator.

“Explain.”

The mock old man turned again to face her. “Craig Mason, aged 27 Solar Years, died on March 5th, 2015 in a vehicular accident while traveling for work. His brain was damaged beyond repair. His parts were compatible.”

“I’m dead?” It was my turn to shout.

“Your body was irreparable. Your brain was similarly destroyed. Fortunately, pieces remained that were compatible for our repairs.” Samuel said it all in that cold, monotone voice.

It was my turn to fall, and I went down to my knees. Suddenly, Elisa was beside me, cradling me while I sobbed into her. I hadn’t even realized that I had started crying.

Over my sobs, I heard Elisa clarifying our situation. “Allow me to see if I get this straight. You extracted my brain from my body, put it into a jar, and sent it into outer-space. Due to damage I sustained when you ripped my brain from my body, you had take someone else’s brain,” she squeezed me, ” and merge it with mine? This was all to save my life? Am I understanding this correctly?”

Samuel started to nod, but stopped. “Everything we accomplished was with the sole purpose of correcting our data probe.”

I dried my eyes and stood. Thunder cracked outside of the office. The sound shook the the floor.

Samuel suddenly barked, “Percentage of rejection has increased by 20 percent.”

“What does that mean?” Elisa demanded.

As far-fetched as all of this was, I was finally catching on to everything. If this Samuel-construct was on the level, than this explained why I had no memories, why Elisa was living within her memories, and what the percentage was that Samuel kept announcing.

“It’s a transplant,” I answered for Samuel. He tilted his head to the side, interpreting my point, and then nodded for me to continue.

“When limbs are transplanted from one body to another, there’s a chance that the host will reject the transplant.”

Elisa’s beautiful hazel eyes were swimming in tears and confusion. “What’s there to reject?”

“Me.” I didn’t like spelling it out for her. It made the entire thing feel more real. As soon as I said it, I knew that it was true. I could feel it. I wasn’t all of me, and when I explored the edges of the sliver of identity that I had, I found her.

Elisa.

Whatever the alien bastards had found in us that made us compatible had more to it than just parts and repairs. I could feel her and, while I couldn’t remember anything, I knew that she was everything that I had ever wanted in life.

I only had to die to find it.

“I’m not rejecting you, though,” Elisa countered. “I just kissed you.”

I shrugged. “You might not be rejecting me so much as the entirety of your situation. It was simple before, even if it wasn’t perfect. I showed you that there was a world outside of your loneliness. A world you can’t touch.”

Thunder rocked again. “Percentage of rejection has increased by 30 percent”

I turned to Samuel. “What does that make the percentage of rejection?”

“Fifty percent,” Samuel answered.

I pointed at Samuel and looked Elisa directly into her beautiful hazel eyes. “Nothing he’s said has helped your case. It’s become a twisted horror inside our own minds.” I shook my head, “Inside your mind.”

“Percentage of rejection has increased by 40 percent.”

Elisa started crying. “What happens when we reach 100 percent?”

I looked at Samuel for the answer.

He didn’t disappoint me. “The data probe will cease to function. Organics will be flushed, and the communications and sustainability jar will be retrieved for a new host.”

“We die,” I translated, “and they find someone else to crack open and do this to.”

Elisa leaned in closer to me. I held her shoulders while she sobbed and asked, “What do we do?”

I smiled. “I think you kiss me again.”

“What?” She almost laughed.

I shrugged. “What’s the only alternative to living outside of the jar? Death. What’s the only alternative to not living with me? Loneliness.”

“Percentage of rejection has increased by 50 percent.”

“You’re not helping,” Elisa said to me.

“What if, instead of being alone or dead, you lived with me in here? The two of us traveling all of space in a ship made of your memories.”

She wiped her eyes. “We would still be a brain in a jar.”

I shook my head, grabbed her hand and brought it to my cheek. “Does that feel like a brain? Our reality is what we want it to be.” I sighed heavily. “Tell me that I’m not the only one who feels as though that alien asshole wasn’t wrong when he said that we were compatible. He calls it compatible, but we can feel it. Can’t you feel it?” I was pleading with her. Every hope that she felt what I felt and that what I felt wasn’t the remnant of my survival skill lying to me to preserve what was left. That I was right and we were …

” … Soul-mates,” Elisa supplied. She smiled, “I can feel it. It’s not that you fit me,” she touched her temple. “It’s that you were made for me.”

Elisa fell into me then, hugging me close to her. She was no longer crying.

I couldn’t help myself. “Can I stay?”

Still clutching onto me, she smacked my arm. “Craig,” Elisa pulled away just enough to kiss me deeply. When she broke away she finished, “I think you’re here to stay.”

“Percentage of rejection is now zero percent,” Samuel felt the need to add.

“Compatibility reached.”

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