“You've been in a crash, Cobalt,” spoke an unknown voice, shattering the darkness.

Cobalt blinked to discovered his gaze was directed out over what seemed to be a well kept front lawn; belonging to someone’s house. He found himself standing in the ajar doorway of the house, which lead out onto a perfectly maintained wooden porch. It was a bright, sunny day, but not hot and uncomfortable. It felt almost room temperature outside and there was an optimal distribution of clouds up in the big, blue sky overlooking the subdivision he found himself in. Very perplexed, the soldier looked around frantically, and then down at himself. For whatever reason, he was still wearing his uniform, and equipment! He was no longer at the Foundation? What was happening? Mind racing, he felt for his sidearm. His tactile anticipation was broken by the empty space which occupied his side holster, in place of a loaded pistol. His knife was gone too.

Cobalt patted at his head and face to realize his helmet and respirator were also missing.

“Where am I?” he gasped aloud. Just then, he heard rustling paper, just off to the left. The sudden interjection of sound broke the faint breeze, alerting Cobalt. Aware of a presence beside him, Cobalt lurched in place; turning about his heels to see a man sitting on a bench beside the front door. The man was well dressed; however, in odd apparel for such a nice day, but was spiffily dressed nonetheless. He was wearing a well tailored, dark blue suit and tie. Beside him, laid gingerly upon the vacant seat slats, rested a white fedora, powdered white like an angel's feathers, with deep crimson lace right round it. Even more peculiar, he was reading a newspaper. Nobody read newspapers on their porch anymore.

“What the hell’s going on?” demanded Cobalt. “Is this you’re doing?” he asked accusedly, of the man before him.

The man simply turned to the next page of his reading material. Sitting with one leg over the other, he jiggled his foot ever so slightly, the newborn sun playing with the shine of his well polished dress shoe. There was a pause. A small tuft of the man's hair that wasn’t slicked back played with the passing wind. Cobalt didn’t know what to do. Was this some sort of anomaly? Was it a hallucination of some sort he’d gotten trapped in…

“It’s not a hallucination, sonny’,” broke the well dressed reader. “Quite frankly, you’re not actually conscious right now.” The man kept looking at the newspaper, so light in his hand, as the words he spoke slammed into Cobalt. The soldier staggered a bit, shuffling to rest on the nearest banister.

“What, you’ve never had even a vivid dream before?” said the man. This time he quickly looked away from his reading, just to give an incredulous look which Cobalt didn't notice. The stranger swiftly return to his routine. Cobalt worked for his words, “So… so this is just a dream?”

“Well, not exactly. You could call it that, but not really.” replied the stranger.

More air seemed to rush from Cobalt’s lungs. It was so surreal. How could it possibly be a dream? Life isn’t even this real! He slumped down onto the porch floor, legs sprawled out without care as to where they slid to. The soldier just kept looking around aimlessly, till it finally started coming to him - the crash. All the previously terrifying moments leading up to passing out, and everything going black, right after the pin prick in his arm. It all played back like a broken record that was out for revenge. Vision of the same bad part of the movie that was his life just repeated again, and again for what seemed like an hour, or two.

Cobalt snapped out of his stupor. “Hey, uhh sonny’. Are you ok? You look a little sick, or something. You sure you feeling alright?”

Cobalt didn’t hear the man’s concern. He only managed to blurt out, “Am, am I dead?”

The suit chuckled a bit, and replied, “Not right now, you aren't.” The man folded his newspaper, and set it across his lap. If Cobalt wasn’t so preoccupied, he’d have noticed the newsprint was entirely blank; with no text, or images whatsoever. In fact, it was just now that Cobalt realized, the man had no eyes. Despite the gold framed, circular rimmed glasses adorning his face, the stranger had no evidence of ocular cavities, nor eyeballs. The eyeless man had but only slightly concave depressions of skin where his eyes should rightfully have been.

“Seeing your face, I think I wish I was.” blurted Cobalt. The crass comment seemed to humor the suit, as he laughed, and said, “Right back at you, slick. Like that play hasn’t been called before.”

“So I’m not dead?” asked Cobalt.

“Nope,” asserted the stranger. “Thanks to a bit of quick thinking, that infernal beeping noise in your head, and a handy auto-injection - you’ve managed to escape death…” The stranger settled into the bench a bit more, finishing, “…for now, that is.”

Cobalt wanted to ask the man… thing, it, whatever… how he knew about the implant. However, it seems to know about the auto-injector. “Wait, I thought the auto-injector kills people?”

“So that’s what they told you?” asked the suited man. “The crap the Foundation feeds its employees these days is astounding… to believe there was a time when they actually trusted personnel with information,” he spoke aloud, more to himself than anyone else.

Cobalt’s face was still twisted with confusion, and composed with despair. “But the injection… you said I injected myself… it’s cyanide. I have to be dead right now.”

“No, it’s not cyanide. Much worse than that, kid,” stressed the man, “Those last resort cop-outs they give you Head Cases, they’re really filled with Class E Amnestic. It’s not a way out, it’s a way in.”

“What? Into where?” Cobalt's mouth gaped open a bit as he gestured around, still out of breath.

The man pick his paper back up and flipped it open. The stranger said, “It’s a beautiful day in here. You’re not going anywhere soon. And if you do die, you might as well spend the last moments enjoying this wonderful comatose.”

Cobalt waved his arms in futility to regain the stranger’s attention. Cobalt yelled, “I’m in a coma?!”

The stranger flipped to another blank page, and spoke, “Sorta’, sorta’ not, sonny’.”

“So I’m not in a coma? This has to be a dream then,” said Cobalt.

“Some members of your race might call it a dream, others might call…”

“What the hell is it then?” interjected Cobalt.

The stranger sighted. If he had eyes they’d look mildly amused. “I’m looking for an example,” said the stranger, as he paused, and then continued, “Do you know what tardigrades are, sonny’? They inhabit your would… they’re damn near everywhere.”

“No, and I’ve never noticed anything called that. Whatever you just said.”

“I wouldn’t expect you to. They are water-dwelling, segmented microorganisms. Small buggers you mostly can’t see unless under a lense. Their bodies are special like. They can do this little trick called cryptobiosis,” elaborated the stranger. He adjusted his glasses, and continued, “Those spiffy superdrugs you shot up in your arm, are mutaginetic like, right out caused your nervous system to enter a state of hibernation, not unlike our little sea monkey friends. Class E Amnestic made the metabolic rates for your thinking parts drop way low, sonny’. You’re taking a serious nap right now.”

Cobalt pondered what the stranger just said. His look was still a bit confused, he returned, “So I’m hibernating, and this is a supercrack dream?”

“Close, but no cigar,” said the man, as he put the paper again to his lap. He shifted legs, and cleared his throat. “Hope you don’t mind if I smoke, by the way. It’s not often I get an Earth assignments like this.” The man pulled out a well made oak smoking pipe, and without even needing to pack or light it, started smoking. He let out a few circular rings, and then tapped the pipe off on the bench wood. “Unlike our water-dwelling buddies, this cryptobiosis also brings with it an altered reality state…”

“And what I see here is a product of that?” said the soldier, finished the strangers statement.

“Bingo! Right on the money, sonny’,” replied the stranger, a small grin gracing his pale visage.

“Guess I’m alive after all,” murmured Cobalt aloud, relief swelling to retake his own expression.

“Dang it, slick!” exclaimed the stranger, “It’s always two steps forward, ten steps back with you.” He chuckled, laughing right into Cobalt's expression of hope, which was again being confiscated by loss of will. Reality nailed him right in the gut.

The stranger explained, putting to words what had just occurred to Cobalt, “That little injection saved your wet circuitry, but only that. Just your think-parts are in a save state right now… the rest of you, not so much.”

“So I’m still technically dead…” sighed the fallen soldier.

”Some people might call it a death, others might call this an out-of-body experience, and still others… ego death. An scientist would just claim it’s a state of hibernation. Some might even call it something fancy like The Eternal Dream, or Purgatory. But right now, what’s happening out there, doesn’t matter.”

Cobalt, head whirling and at loss for words, abruptly asked, “Are you some kind of spirit animal?”

A fit of anger seized the strangers form, as he chucked his pipe at Cobalt. Tearing the newspaper, he stood and pointed at the soldier briefly, before erupting the spatty phrase, ”Dammit, what the hell is this? Twenty questions? Can’t you just accept you’re on a porch, god knows where, with some guy dressed real snazzy like?”

“With no eyes?” Cobalt fired back.

“With! No! Eyes!” huffed the eyeless stranger.

By now, Cobalt had ceased to wear any particular expression on his visage. ”Do you atleast have a name?”

The stranger sighed again, this time deeper than before, he said, “Sincere apologies for not introducing myself earlier. The name’s B.W. Duran, but most people simply call me by my middle name, Will.”

“Nice to meet you Will. My name is Cobalt, but that’s just a code name. My actual designation is Asset D-two-seven thousand, six hundred twenty. I’m acting Platoon Marshal for Zeta-nine-two, First Platoon. Most folks call us Baker’s Dozen. We’re part of the Head Case Crew, specially trained D Classifications for demanding mission roles and restrictive portfolios.” When Cobalt finished his monotone spiel, seemingly recited from a virtual ledger ingrained in his subconscious, the soldier hid his astonishment. He wasn't supposed to be able to recite that information to anyone, but Foundation superiors! Somehow in this new reality, he was free from his implant….

“Fancy recall,” huffed Will. He looked up into the sky as if he saw something in the distance, and spoke in a tone as if pondering a question, Will said, “However, it appears to me that’s not your real name, Cobalt.” Will now faced back to Cobalt, “Your given name is Jacob Wisuth.”

Will, face deadpanned, had imbued authority in the statement. A bewildered Cobalt, turned Jacob Wisuth, just kept looking at Will for something else he couldn't find. Will, the eyeless blue stranger, suggested, “Come to think of it, why don’t I call you JW? Yeah! JW sounds real catchy like. Flows off the tongue smooth and such.”

“How, why, when?” sputtered Jacob, tears beginning to well up in his eyes. The mentioning of that name. Somewhere deep within he began to recover this prized possession. An artifact long before his indoctrination into Zeta-nine-two. Long before he’d come to the Foundation. Long before his life as a soldier. Long before any of that.

“Your race is always so brutal,” lamented Will, “They left but only a few fragments of your former life in here. Saddening to see such splendid datums wiped out, sonny’ boy,” said Will, as he gestured to the unbenounced occupants who’d materialized on the front lawn. Jacob looked to see where will was pointing. Turning, Jacob saw a woman, sitting there beside whom he assumed was her daughter. The two were both sat on a quilt, and seemed to be enjoying a picnic in the lovely weather.

“My, my…” stuttered Jacob, words conflicting to escape his lips.

“Family, sonny’,” said Will

“Why? Why were they taken?” asked Jacob.

“The Foundation didn’t take them from you. In fact, you’d rather not know.” said Will, now finding Jacob’s gaze. Will said, “Think carefully now, slick. If you choose to climb a ladder to enlightenment, you will only discover benightment at the top.”

“I need to know,” utterd Jacob. The look on his face was filled with desperation. He was still slouched against the banister like a beaten dog, recoiled from the searing iron brand of the moment.

“Fine,” heaved Will. “The Foundation acquired you from death row. You’d been rightly convicted for killing…” Will stopped mid sentence. He didn’t need to finish.

Jacob, now caught in flashes of tacit revelation, was washed with a storming sea. Its waves breaking onto the stoney shores of his mind. A final bastion island of order shattered, rolling downwards into certain entropy; shattered rock face swallowed by the raging storm surrounding it.

“I warned you,” said Will, unforgivably. “Some fools just don’t listen.”

Will now turned back to the figments on the front lawn. He tried desperately to reach out and touch the sunbathed forms of his former wife and child. His attempted to summon all his remaining willpower, were stopped by a hand on his shoulder.

“I’m going to have to stop you this time,” said Will, in a more direct tone. “You might actually lose the will to exist if you continue down this path, and I’m not allowed to let that occur,” informed Will.

The figments evaporated, drifting like smoke away into the breeze. “Besides, the amount of memory scooping the Foundation did to you, well, let’s just say there’s not enough of those memories to even pass as more than a motion picture,” Will said. Jacob couldn’t bring myself to do anything, but keep looking out across the lawn, with eyes occasionally darting in hopes of any life signs. Looking down the street, there was a figure walking towards the current address nestled among the cookie-cutter neighborhood. It was yet another man in a suit, but this time he thankfully had eyes. He was dressed in a similar, albeit light-brown, Cold War era business suit; in his grasp was a black, plush leather briefcase.

The poarch occupants quietly watched as the man turned onto the lawn walkway, and approached the front stoop, with polishes black leather shoes tapping at the marbled pavement.

“Hello, Richie,” said Will, addressing the newcomer. Richie stopped right before the front steps and tabbed at the brim of his hat in greetings.

“Yes, hello Will," addressed Richie, "Nightmare duty again?”

“Back at you, slick. What brings you round here? I happen to be in the middle of monitoring. It would seem our mutual Class D friend here was compelled to take some powerful drugs to postpone horrific mortality.”

“How unfortunate,” said Richie. “Hmm, that is really a serious arrestment mechanisms he’s got there,” Richie said, as he knelt to look closer at Jacob. Standing back up, Richie looked back to Will, and asked, “Well, I suppose it’s none of my business, but do you indented to book him?”

“No,” replied Will, “Quite frankly he’s been through enough. Besides, he was compelled against his will to smack up.”

“But, you just said he was doing so to avert horribly painful death… wouldn’t any rational human submit to that, especially this one?” questioned Richie.

“Technically… no,” said Will.

“Your damned organization and all its regulations. Buncha’ stiffs,” said Richie.

“Yeah, we’re the stiffest outfit there is. As for this one, I might give him the option to return.”

“Well, good luck with that,” said Richie as he tuned, giving a slight parting wave.

“Likewise,” returned Will. Will watched Richie walk off into the distance, before Jacob spoke again, “How do I get out of this hell?” He looked back to Will.

“Do you want to?” asked Will. “You might be waking up to a horrific reality. The crash could have mulated your body beyond all recognition. You might wake to intense, unending pain…”

“I want to get out. I need to get back, any cost, please. Anything, but this,” Jacob almost cried, gesturing to the lawn.

Will demanded, “Well, how should I know? This is all your doing.”

“Dammit! Why always so cryptic, you ass hole? Just show me the exit!” yelled Jacob.

Will scoffed at the verbal assailment, and fired back, “Why so cryptic? Why are you so cryptic? You should know these things, feel them. This is your mind’s own reality, pete's sake. I should be the one asking you all the questions, sonny’!”

“You’re no help!” accused the soldier in exasperation. A seed of frustration began to sprout on his face.

Will threw his arms and motioned to the surroundings in an emphasized, swinging gesture. He retorted, “You cannot simply see the truth that is so abundant! Why are you such a pinhead, slick? It would seem you need all the answers given, and not left to be found own your own accord. Saddening to say the least,” said Will, with a sympathetic tone verging on pitty.

“Truth, what truth? There is no truth in this fucked up reality I’ve been dragged into! Quit the bullshit and get straight with me, slick!” demanded Jacob, anger flushing his cheeks.

Without missing a beat, Will responded, “That you really want to stay here!” Jacob was at a boiling point, unfinished words sputtering out of his mouth. He desperately wanted to tell Will off, but didn’t get the chance.

“You’re broken, JW. Face. It,” said Will, brow folding in astonishment. “Seems you still need it spelled out! Does it ring a bell? Suddenly you find yourself somewhere unfamiliar and look to escape, like bad tick.” Jacob didn’t reply. He just sloughed, fuming at the incredulous statements.

Will kept going, “It’s in your eyes! I can see it tucked up in there,” Will said, pointing to Jacob’s forehead. “Oh sure, you’d flee the Foundation, given the opportunity; without that implat of yours. Or at least that’s what you tell yourself,” mocked Will. He didn’t let up, and said, “Despite being a slave to it, you just keep going along, never putting in any effort to explore the realm of freedom, and it’s not because of the mechanism! It’s because of you.”

Jacob stayed silent, but his eyes betrayed disbelief, and hinted dangerous intent.

“You still doubt me? It’s that feeling which keeps you here,” informed Will, as he gestured about again. Jacobs face contorted into a grimace. He looked to be working hard not to scream.

Will bantered on, speech tearing into Jacob’s mind and soul, goading more, “Here’s a straight answer for you, slick. Perhaps I’m really just a reflection of what’s been know to you all along. You put it real deep down, and despite all the effort of even heaven itself, it still finds a way back. You don’t need to look around to see it Jacob! Look within, know it as a true feeling, and turn that inner voice into the weapon you’ve always desired.”

The beeping deep inside the recesses of Jacob’s mind ceased. He stood to his feet with a renewed strength like nothing he’d felt prior. Without even thinking, he reached for his sidearm, which was now there. He pulled the gun with absolute intent and discharged a round into Will’s forehead.

Will’s lifeless form stumbled backwards, crumpling onto the bench behind, crushing the white fedora rested there. A crimson stain splattered against the pristine poach, blood trickling between the seat slats of the bench to pool on the boards below, before again dripping down beneath. Jacob swiftly moved to the dispatched body; pressing his pistol muzzle into one of Will’s eyeless orbitals, he fired another round. Blood heaved out of the resultant point blank gunshot, coating Jacob this time, in addition to everything else. Heart racing, the sound of Jacob’s laborious panting was broken by a familiar voice, emanating all around.

“Answers are always within grasp, but low hanging knowledge is a bitter fruit, isn’t it, slick?” whispered a voice of Will, seeming to be just about Jacob’s shoulder. He spun to see nothing. Letting out a primal yell of anguish, he fired of a salvo of shots. He clicked the trigger until the pistol was empty and tossed it angrily into the street.

Will’s voice came again, “That’s how you did it, slick. These rungs you climb, are cruel, aren't they Jacob?”

Jacob began to feel heavy again, stumbling to his knees. The last thing he remembered about the dream was a whisper in the darkness, but it wasn't Will's voice. Someone else, a woman, spoke to him, “Wake up now, sweetie. It’s a wonderful day outside today.”


When his eyes finally opened, Jacob attempted to rise, but something held him back. Surrounding him, figures he could just barely make out through his haze, masked figures. They looked to be surgeons, or scientists, he couldn’t tell.

Strapped to the operating table, the medical staff surrounding him looked on, wide eyed; with disposable face masks concealing their gaping expressions.

A electronically modified voice spoke over the emergency room intercom, “Initiate pacification procedure, now. The subject cannot be allowed to remember waking.”

Another voice spoke now, this time it was distinctly feminine, “Belay that last order.” There was muffled speaking in the background, and then yet another voice spoke over the intercom, this time it was clearly male, “Cobalt, this is Agent Baker.” Jacob turned his head the best he could to look around. He tried to pick out who’d called his codename, unknowingly not being aware the speaker was not actually physically present.

“Cobalt, if you can hear me… initiate script element, sudden jubilee, one-four-nine.”

Everything went black. When Cobalt awoke in the unit barracks the next day, he’d remember nothing. However, he’d later discover, the beeping was gone.