“That’s the problem, you see,” someone said, and Joseph rose with a start. He glanced around, and it was nothing behind his eyes.
And then, there was.
His lips smacked; eyes appeared glassy and out of focus. He scratched his head and pushed the blanket off himself. In the back of his mind, moving faster than any computer could calculate, images slotted in and linked and sparked with ignited connection.
“I’m… yeah…Joseph” he mumbled and went to the bathroom.
And walked right past the man standing there. Joseph stumbled out into the cold hallway, his feet dragging. The man—though he was only partially that—followed him and smirked to himself.
“That’s the issue,” the not-man repeated. And, on his lapel, a tiny speaker picked up his voice.
“What is?” came a sharp female voice from the mic.
“He’s not himself. It’s a new him every time. That’s the problem.” A vein on the not-man’s forehead slithered and glowed silver. “I’m not sure what we can do about it, either.”
“Nothing in the study confirmed that yet. It’s still just a theory.”
“A theory. I bet they love that. It makes them able to keep sucking in money for this. But, no—he’s a new person each time. The electrical signals are too much like birth. Too much like a new neuron being formed across the entire skull.”
Joseph relieved himself as the not-man watched, and then, still unaware of his guest, he stumbled back to his room and stared at his bed. Joseph touched the flat, soft surface of the mattress with his palm.
“And this one is only seconds old. Not even a full ten minutes,” the not-man commented, breaking the silence.
“Stop that. It’s sick if that is right. Not something funny.”
Joseph slid back under the covers, turned off the alarm he had set, and closed his eyes. The not-man watched his sleeping form intensely. His irises narrowed like camera apertures.
“See through me,” he instructed—and, a moment later, felt the electrical spark that meant she had complied.
“Yes, I know. I’ve stared at literally this, a thousand times. Is it simply a removal of their consciousness temporarily? It could be stored somewhere. Somewhere we’ve not yet found.”
The not-man weighed this idea on his palms. It was an old argument—but they had it endlessly. “I think it’s more like a reset. Only the memories carry over. Imperfectly, too. A hazy passing of the torch, every single day.”
Joseph let out a soft snore, then snuggled deeper into his pillow. In the eyes of the not-man, he could see Joseph’s steady pulse of electrical organ systems. Then, like it always did, it would stop. Fade. Black void.
Start up with a vivid flash of sparks.
“That looks like rebirth to me.”
The woman harrumphed. “Oh, I get it. But, do your damn job. We just need a sample for the day. Get a few bits, nothing damaging.”
“Hey, I’m not the one who said that during that meeting. It’s your own fault they are watching you on this one. Hurt him, and you are not getting into a single of the thousand sleep-house chambers.”
The man’s finger stretched out into the air, ending in a thin needle.
“I would not dream of hurting him.”
“You can’t dream,” she commented.
He took a step toward the human and smiled. “You’re right. Not anymore.”