Flashcards in 009 Deck (30)
Belowdecks on the luxury vessel The Mendacium, facilitator Laurence Knowlton sat in his sealed glass cubicle and stared in disbelief at his computer monitor, having just previewed the video their client had left behind.
I'm supposed to upload this to the media tomorrow morning?
In his ten years with the Consortium, Knowlton had performed all kinds of strange tasks that he knew fell somewhere between dishonest and illegal. Working within a moral gray area was commonplace at the Consortium—an organization whose lone ethical high ground was that they would do whatever it took to keep a promise to a client.
We follow through. No questions asked. No matter what.
The prospect of uploading this video, however, had left Knowlton unsettled. In the past, no matter what bizarre tasks he had performed, he always understood the rationale ... grasped the motives ... comprehended the desired outcome.
And yet this video was baffling. Something about it felt different. Much different.
Sitting back down at his computer, Knowlton restarted the video file, hoping a second viewing might shed more light. He turned up the volume and settled in for the nine-minute show.
As before, the video began with the soft lapping of water in the eerie water-filled cavern where everything was bathed in a numinous red light. Again the camera plunged down through the surface of the illuminated water to view the silt-covered floor of the cavern. And again, Knowlton read the text on the submerged plaque: IN THIS PLACE, ON THIS DATE, THE WORLD WAS CHANGED, FOREVER.
That the polished plaque was signed by the Consortium's client was disquieting. That the date was tomorrow ... left Knowlton increasingly concerned. It was what followed, however, that had truly set Knowlton on edge.
The camera now panned to the left to reveal a startling object hovering underwater just beside the plaque.
Here, tethered to the floor by a short filament, was an undulating sphere of thin plastic. Delicate and wobbling like an oversize soap bubble, the transparent shape floated like an underwater balloon ... inflated not with helium, but with some kind of gelatinous, yellow-brown liquid.
The amorphous bag was distended and appeared to be about a foot in diameter, and within its transparent walls, the murky cloud of liquid seemed to swirl slowly, like the eye of a silently growing storm.
Jesus, Knowlton thought, feeling clammy. The suspended bag looked even more ominous the second time around.
Slowly, the image faded to black.
A new image appeared—the cavern's damp wall, dancing with the rippling reflections of the illuminated lagoon. On the wall, a shadow appeared ... the shadow of a man ... standing in the cavern.
But the man's head was misshapen ... badly.
Instead of a nose, the man had a long beak ... as if he were half bird.
When he spoke, his voice was muffled ... and he spoke with an eerie eloquence ... a measured cadence ... as if he were the narrator in some kind of classical chorus.
Knowlton sat motionless, barely breathing, as the beaked shadow spoke.
I am the Shade.
If you are watching this, then it means my soul is finally at rest.
Driven underground, I must speak to the world from deep within the earth, exiled to this gloomy cavern where the bloodred waters collect in the lagoon that reflects no stars.
But this is my paradise ... the perfect womb for my fragile child.
Soon you will know what I have left behind.
And yet, even here, I sense the footfalls of the ignorant souls who pursue me ... willing to stop at nothing to thwart my actions.
Forgive them, you might say, for they know not what they do. But there comes a moment in history when ignorance is no longer a forgivable offense ... a moment when only wisdom has the power to absolve.
With purity of conscience, I have bequeathed to you all the gift of Hope, of salvation, of tomorrow.
And yet still there are those who hunt me like a dog, fueled by the self-righteous belief that I am a madman. There is the silver-haired beauty who dares call me monster! Like the blind clerics who lobbied for the death of Copernicus, she scorns me as a demon, terrified that I have glimpsed the Truth.