Young, bold, and ambitious were all words that were used to describe Ceradine Anathemia as she applied for the chance to work on the floating islands of Hollow. For the last three years, she had been competing in the annual science fair, hoping for a chance to work among the greatest scientists. All the greatest scientists resided in large laboratories on the floating islands that were scattered across the landscape of Nyil-Vispyr. This year was different; this year, she had done more, and she had progressed further than she ever had; this was to be her year. Waiting patiently, she stood in a closed-off room with a cage covered with a cloth; occasionally, it would shake as what was beneath would snarl. Her name got called, and she moved through to the next room, where she was greeted by four Holites sitting behind a desk.
“Please state your name and your science.”
“I am Ceradine Anathemia, Biology, specializing in animals.”
The four men behind the desk all looked over at the small cage on the floor, then back to Ceradine.
“You have exactly five minutes, do not waste your time.”
Ceradine smiled; she knew this year was to be hers.
“I had a speech prepared for this year, my third attempt, by the way. But as I waited in the back room, I realized my work speaks for itself. Without further ado, I am pleased to present to you my work.”
She pulled the cover off her cage to reveal a Frankenstein of animals.
“You can clearly see that I have successfully created my own animal using the parts of others; not only this, but I made this nearly six months ago, making it the first created life to be stable longer than a week.”
The examiners no longer sat behind their desks; they were standing at the cage examining the creature for the quality of work. A small piece of paper was handed over to Ceradine.
“Congratulations Ceradine; you may hand this over to the next transport to gain access to the islands above; you have a bright future Dr. Anathemia.”
Ceradine awoke with a cold sweat, her hands shaking. She stared at a ceiling that had become familiar to her over the past months; rubbing her hands together, she hoped for warmth. She lay on her floor, covered in a thin set of blankets that barely covered her shivering body, waiting for something to go right in her life. She needed to get up, she wanted to get up, yet she stayed on the floor, entranced as she stared at her cracked ceiling, watching small chips of gray paint fall and land on her blanket. Suddenly there was a loud mechanical thump, and her whole ceiling shed a layer of paint chips that started to fall like snow.
“Dr Ceradine Anathemia, I believe I speak for the whole council when I say we are very excited to see your work. We were shown images of the creature you created to reach doctor status. A truly amazing result with such limited resources; we know you will be able to achieve great things with the resources you will have available to you here.”
Ceradine gave a deep-winded bow before speaking.
“I am truly grateful; I never thought I would meet the head of Biology on my first day here. I hope I will not let anyone up here down.”
“You can only let yourself down because if you do fail to achieve greatness, you will be cast back down to Nyil-Vispyr. Get to work; science demands to be worked, day and night.”
Dr. Anathemia was ushered away by guards towards the outside of the building; walking out, she got her first view of the extensive expanse of the floating islands. Her breath was taken away as the clouds rolled between the islands like canals, airships passing through them, allowing access between islands. All over, there were people along with contraptions that helped with inter-island travel. Overwhelmed with excitement, she screamed.
“I did it.”
Ceradine stared out her window, watching as the muck outside her shack stirred around under the pressure of the rain. Her eyes darkened, her skin whitened, and she struggled to stand as she continued waiting, hoping for a positive result. Looking down, she stared into her mug; taking a deep breath, she pinched her nose and sculled the viscous liquid. Gagging, she dropped her mug on the floor.
“What was that? I heard a smashing noise.”
Dr Anathemia was thrown through a door in front of two fellow scientists, slamming her into the opposing wall. Their jaws dropped as she returned to her laboratory, just to be thrown out a second time.
“Alright, I did not want to do this but get ready, you fluffy fucker.”
She pulled a small rod out of her pocket, pressing a button it sparked with electricity.
“Let’s go, you overgrown carpet.”
She sprinted back into her lab, the two other scientists continued to watch as she fearlessly attacked a creature twice her size, beating it into submission. One of them pulled out a camera and started to film the events; once the commotion dissipated, they continued walking past.
Out of breath Dr Anathemia slumped to the floor, her stomach growling. Looking across at the clock, she realized she had gone another day without food; reluctantly, she stood up to leave and get food. After ensuring that her beast was incapable of breaking free, she headed out to the food court of her building, where she was greeted by complete strangers.
“How did you manage to successfully bind foreign body parts and keep it alive?
“Does the choice of the brain affect your result or even limit you to what parts you can use?”
Dr Anathemia stood back, shocked at the barrage of questions; she stuttered out a nonsensical answer, then just turned away from all her new adoring fans to get her food. Occasionally glancing back, she was confused as to why such a large group of people not only knew about her work but were impressed by it. As she made her way to an empty table, her mind was already back on her experiment; upon sitting down, a binder was pulled out where she started to write her results from her last test.
In mere minutes her table was filled with people trying to get information from her. It was explained to her that she was recorded wrestling her creation into submission.
“How did you manage to make a stitch beast that actually has strength? I only dabble in stitch biology, but all my creation’s strength is reduced to that of a child. Yours threw you multiple times and broke your equipment. It is amazing.”
Panicking, she looked down into her mug, the coffee rippling as she shook. Letting out a deep sigh, she took a mouthful of her drink, then started explaining.
The rain relentlessly beat down on the small wooden shack as Ceradine cleaned up the remnants of her mug. Another mechanical thud sounded; again, Ceradine cleaned paint chips from her hair. Looking at her watch, she frowned before something outside the shack caught her eye; she looked from her stained windows for another sign of something. As she moved, she noticed her shadow cast out into the marsh. Quickly she killed the lights and pulled the curtains; grabbing a scalpel, she sat in a corner staring through the blackness at her door.
The door handle started to turn, and in burst the head of biology.
“News has spread fast; I saw the video that was made. You have been here but a few months, and already, your work has progressed faster than any of us could have hoped for. I am here to offer you an upgrade; we are moving you from this A1 lab to an A2. This facility is no longer good enough for someone of your stature; we expect great things, Dr Anathemia.”
With that, he left, and a group of robots entered the room and started packing everything up. Dr Anathemia desperately collected a few papers and followed out the head of biology.
“Excuse me, sir, but where am I being moved to? I do not know where the A2 labs are.”
“Follow me, and I will show you.”
“I do not want to inconvenience you, sir; I am sure I can find my own way.”
“Nonsense, oh, by the way, call me Allele. As you climb the ranks, you will find everyone will be much more casual with you. Usually, I would not talk so freely with someone so unproven, but I believe you will be in an A5 lab before no time. Perhaps higher.”
Laughing, she replied. “yea, I am sure you are right. I will definitely get a lab higher than our top lab. Can you just make an A6, especially for me?”
“You laugh now, but the higher you get here, the higher the ceiling gets.”
Allele gestured to a door. “Your new lab; I hope it meets your standards.”
Allele started to walk away as Dr Anathemia burst through into her new lab, where all her things had already been brought over. The new lab was twice the size of her last and had many more tools that were communal for an A1 lab. Before her was a table with a single piece of paper on it; curious, she looked it over.
This letter has been written to congratulate you on your progress; we hope this lab will be sufficient for you. We have been going over the work that you have been sending us, and we are very impressed. Below you will find the specifics of your work we are interested in most; please take this list as a representation of our interests and areas where you may see yourself progressing faster.
- Bone density advancements
- Brain limitations
- Instinct manipulation
- Instinct impregnation
- Beast training
- Limb transfer limits
Another mechanical thud sounded, and the intervals between each thud started to decrease. Again, Ceradine looked at her watch, waiting. A loud crash sounded in her bedroom, and slowly, she stood walking over. Peeking in, she could see her window had been smashed by a rock that now lay at her feet. Calmly she walked to the back of her shack, where she descended into her basement, making sure to lock the door behind her.
Dr Anathemia looked up from her papers, sure of herself that she had done well.
“Your yearly performance test has now concluded; for all of those who pass, we shall see you next year; to those who failed, we will be seeing you soon.”
Dr Anathemia waited in the hallway outside of the testing room, where she was greeted by a familiar face.
“Think you passed Biennial?”
“Yea, Biennial. It is what we call people here until they have passed their second-year performance test.”
“Oh really, and what is it you call people like yourself who have passed this milestone?”
“I am usually referred to as Dr Otosyne, but I guess a Perennial. Pet names only usually last till the second test; no one bothers after that.”
They both walked down the hall towards the food court.
“One year down and already an A5 lab, that is pretty fast. Must have followed those lists they gave you to the letter.”
Dr Anathemia gave off a laugh. “Yea, it was an obvious reward-based scheme, where I feel special because I get more resources, but ultimately they get what they want. It is a win-win.”
Dr. Otosyne stopped in his tracks to turn to Anathemia.
“You know a lot of people are pretty suspicious of the higher-ups, yet you don’t seem to care as long as you get to play with your little creatures. How can you be so relaxed?”
“well…” Anathemia started walking again. “Let’s say they are some crazy counsel of evil scientists with access to literally every scrap of knowledge on the planet. I can’t stop them; even if we all revolted, I am sure we would still lose. Might as well have some fun and join the winning side.”
“Even if they are crazy?”
“Especially if they are crazy. Shit, I just remembered I have not submitted my most recent results. Don’t wait up. I will catch you later.”
Anathemia ran off down the hall out of sight as Dr. Otosyne continued towards the food court.
Anathemia ran back into her lab, where she ran straight to her computer. Her lab is now larger than the original complex she used to work in, with tools that she did not know existed until she got her hands on them. Through her lab, she had a diverse range of animals that were all housed in cages, most of which were normal, and a small section were stitch beasts of her own creation.
She had notes littering the walls, floors, and every other surface she could find. Those that were not covered in the paper had body parts or contraptions. At her computer, she prepared her email with her latest research for the heads of departments.
With each step down into her basement, Ceradine could hear another rock smash through a window. As she stepped down onto the floor, she heard the front door come crashing down, but quickly the noises from above were drowned out by the repetitive thumping from the large machine that sat before her. She moved calmly to the control panel that sat near the machine; she stood watching as the machine powered through its task. Slowly she reached and grasped onto a lever just as the door at the top of the stairs burst open.
“Dr Allele? What are you doing here?”
“Come, Dr Anathemia, we have much to discuss.”
The two of them walked in silence during the early hours of the morning, calm, with very little sound coming from any of the surrounding labs. Anathemia was nervous; it had been a few weeks since she had sent in her most recent findings. Since then, she had not heard a word from the council, whereas every other time, she had been given a response of some kind within a week. They both made their way into an elevator. Allele put a key into the bottom of the control panel, which allowed him to open it. Inside this new compartment was a whole new set of buttons with strange symbols on each of them.
“Have I done something wrong? Am I being punished?”
Allele turned his head slightly towards Anathemia, speaking from the corner of his mouth, he whispered.
“Far from it, my dear.”
With that, the doors closed, and the elevator began to shift; they both stood in silence. Even the elevator made no noise as they made their way to the next floor.
Once it reached its destination, Allele gestured for Anathemia to leave the Elevator.
“You have left behind an island of lies; what stands before you now is a world of truths.”
Anathemia slowly made her way down the featureless hallway toward the only door in sight. She could feel the warmth radiating off the handle as she reached for it; it only stopped her for a moment before she grasped the handle and moved through the door.
The light coming from the next room was blinding; she had to raise her hand to help her see past the blinding white. As her eyes adjusted, she could see she was in a plain room with nothing but a man sitting in the middle behind a desk.
“Shall we begin?”