It almost tingled. It felt like the nerve endings were dancing in celebration at the end of agony. The absence a tender reminder of the torment endured. The tickling sensation spread over Tane's leg, the other nerve clusters picking up on the joy of nothingness. From with semi-stasis, Tane could feel what was going on within and without. His consciousness was in the hands of another.
Even in the midst of the relief and soothing emptiness, Tane Bridges felt the Counsel's gentle probing of his mind. The Counsel was searching threads of memories. Tane had no idea what ones it was looking for. That no longer mattered. He felt the edges of reality begin to fade into opaque shadows. Colours merged and oozed into coagulated smudges. Around the edges of the blobs, light began to poke through. White dispersed into myriad shades and hues. He threw up on the floor, thankful that the Counsel's metallic hands propped him up so it all went onto the floor.
Counsel lay him back down and removed all of the jacks from Tane's implants. Tane instinctively pulled back from Counsel's proffered hand offering to help him up from the bench. Tane sat up and swung his legs over the side, feet on the floor.
“How long, Counsel?”, Tane murmured.
“Four days.”, Counsel replied, its featureless face incapable of real interaction.
“And the verdict?”, Tane needed to know.
“The Judges concur. Not guilty.”, Counsel replied.
“I could have told you that.”, Tane rubbed his forehead as he slumped over his legs a little.
“Human testimony is so reliable.“, sarcasm from the bot made Tane look up.
“You are released to go.”, the Counsel declared.
Tane Bridges stood up and walked through the station, officers and other staff paying him no attention at all. They had all been informed of the verdict before he was. Tane had not agreed with the seditious comments made on UrthNet. Thoughts were monitored and policed but there were still errors. Tane's latest four-day lock up was one of them. Tane let out a slow sigh as the station got smaller behind him. He only hoped that his cactus was alright.
Tane lived a klick or so from the station. His apartment was typical of the level in Tāmaki Makaurau. Cramped but comfortable. As he walked in he made a quick call to Uli, the owner of Grape Pizza Bar. Uli would have known what had happened to Tane. The Counsels always kept employers informed. It was family members who were not a priority for the law. Tane wanted to call Uli anyway. He was a good boss who deserved at least a call.
That done, a four-day stint with no solid food needed fixing. Tane re-hydrated a roast meal and wolfed it down. The tea rounded out the best meal Tane could remember in a long while.
After a night's sleep, Tane felt ready for the day and work. Starting late in the morning had its benefits. Uli, a large man, was just as expansive in his greeting when Tane walked through the rear door into the kitchen. Chefs were already prepping their stations and getting on with the first orders of the day.
“If you need time off, you can just ask me, huh?”, Uli shouted at Tane from across the kitchen.
“I'll remember that next time I need a break.”, Tane replied, a smile breaking through.
Uli moved with surprising speed for his size. He grabbed Tane in a bear hug.
“It's good you're back.”, Uli said, looking deep into Tane's eyes.
“It is.”, Tane nodded. “Work will do me good.”
“Help you watch those thoughts, hey, bro?”, Uli's eyebrow arched.
“You're right. Thinking is dangerous.”
“Only some thinking.”, Uli laughed as he returned to where he was working on something.
Tane got his own station ready with knives and boards. His role was cutter. He was responsible for keeping the chefs supplied with properly cut toppings for their creations. One of the things that made Grape Pizza Bar unique was that everything was hand-prepped or even handmade. That meant exorbitant prices on the menu. It also meant fairly decent wages for everyone. Tane would be earning three times what a usual kitchen hand might make out there.
A magnetic bar held all Tane's knives up on the wall before him as he started cutting the first requests from the chefs. His hand flew in a blur as he cut vegetables and cured meats, swapping knives and boards between each. Uli was fanatical about cross-contamination. Tane learnt fast – have more knives than you realistically need and you might have enough.
A few days of work reset Tane's routine and sense of balance. The work might not be the most mentally stimulating, but that was something Tane appreciated about it. Society as he knew it was not the place for excessive mental stimulation. He had become adept at switching his mind to his cactus if he started to free-wheel too much.
Tane had invested in some thought suppression implants against Uli's sage opinion. Nothing good came of mucking about with the biological, Uli always said. Tane did not see too many options. He had been struggling with ill-advised thought patterns for a few weeks and still felt no freer from the risk of the fuzz. The more he thought about not thinking about things, the more those very thoughts and ideas came to plague him. Implants seemed a logical option and these came from a legit source.
It was also when the dreams began. At first, they were just memories resurfacing, or so Tane thought. They took on more radical ideas, none that Tane remembered experiencing. After a third night running, he reached out to the vendor and asked them what was going on. He got nothing back from them. He left a few messages, not caring who was listening in to the company's message system.
Early on a Friday morning, they reached back. Tane was sleeping when someone made entirely of shadow materialised in his room. They wore flowing clothing that he had never seen before. There were two of them standing on the opposite side of his room, just watching him. He tried to move, but he was pinned down by a force that was unseen. Something held him fast. He should have panicked, but he his heard rate was normal and he was not sweating like he normally would have been.
“Go with it.”, one of the figures said.
As soon as Tane heard them, he felt his body merge into the substance that had been his bed. The walls of his room started folding in. Light began diffuse from within a centre, eventually breaking free from the material that no longer had any form. He submerged into the substrate of the reality that he had known and felt nothing of the fear that he knew he should have. The two figures were gone, but he could feel them there. Their presence was seeping into the blob and mist of the world that had once been.
The mist thinned. The concrete sense of being became a vapour. Tane was no longer a subject-for-itself. He could feel the eyes of the Subject on him. He was Other-in-Himself. He felt the disjointed remains of his selfness ripped from the anchors that had so long shored up his sense of being.
Then the Subject spoke. The echo of the voices rumbled through him. Each eddy of sound erupted in colour that washed through his mind. The boundaries of mind and soul dissolved. Other and Subject sank into each other. The two figures coallesced into a congealed sculpture of what the world was and what Tane interpreted it to be. Edges and lines lost their form as they permeated Tane's space, his Self.
As he struggled for the surface that emerged in an instant, Tane felt the hold fall away from his mind. A disruption carved a ravine between him and the presence that he had always felt. The presence that had always been there was now no more. His Other, now Self, emerged and swam for the shore that was a few hundred metres away.
Each grain of sand that Tane now lay upon vibrated with energy and life. As he peered closer, he perceived each as a thought. Each thought was free from all others and, most importantly, free from anything outside of him, the Other.
The beach receded as the light of dawn cracked over the horizon. As the light progressed, more and more of Tane's room was revealed. It was as he had remembered it. The two shadowy figures were gone. Tane looked about before arising. His mind was clear and there was no more sludge to his thoughts.
Tane almost smiled.