PART ONE: THE FLOATING CRADLE
“The time is out of joint; O cursed spite,
That ever I was born to set it right!”
–Shakespeare, Hamlet, I, v.
Konrad Selivanov didn’t stop screaming until he hit the asphalt, four floors below his laboratory window. Pain unlike any he could have imagined filled every inch of his flesh, surged with each heartbeat. Selivanov tried to scream again, but found that he had been denied even that outlet.
Rain pelted his skin, freezing cold but not numbing him; each droplet felt like a hammer blow to his shattered body, bringing more agony. It soaked through his clothing–his lab coat, his shirt and slacks, the tie still drawn tight as a noose around his neck–cold rain mingling with the hot blood leaking out onto the pavement.
How in God’s name can I still be alive?!
Despite the suffering worthy of a thousand hells, Selivanov knew that he still lived. No sweet oblivion embraced him, no blessed cessation of life. He’d tried and failed to escape. And the horror had followed him down.
Selivanov could hear the sounds of traffic from the highway, across the lawn and through the well-manicured hedges of the laboratories. He could hear the rain spattering the parking lot. He could even hear the shrill buzzing of the alarm up in his office. Selivanov could hear it all, but he saw nothing. He’d gouged his own eyes from the sockets with his bare hands.
The sound of footsteps, splashing across the pavement. Someone running, panting for breath. A form above him, blocking some of the rain.
Selivanov recognized the voice. Ben Delbert, the security guard. Selivanov could still imagine the man’s nametag, the pudgy face smiling over a steaming mug of coffee. The words of their last conversation came back to Selivanov now, conjured from a previous lifetime.
“Hell of a night for you to be working late, Professor,” Delbert had offered. “You ought to be home in bed.”
“I can’t afford to sleep tonight, Ben.” Selivanov’s own voice. “I’m too close. Far too close.”
A clap of thunder shook all the windows of the office, drawing Selivanov back to the present. He could feel the vibrations from it through the concrete, bringing with it a new experience in suffering.
“Don’t try to move, Professor!” Delbert was speaking again. He sounded on the verge of tears. “Help’s on the way! Hang in there!”
Warn him! Must warn him!
Selivanov forced himself to take a breath. His lungs were filled with razor blades. He tasted blood. “S-saw…it!” he managed.
“Don’t try to talk,” Delbert said, leaning over him. Selivanov smelled the coffee on the guard’s breath. It felt warm on Selivanov’s face.
“B-burn the lab!” Selivanov wheezed. “M-my notes!”
“I s-saw it!” Selivanov wanted to grab the man, shake him, make him understand. But he couldn’t. His left hand flopped, useless, against the asphalt. Nothing else would move.
“What are you trying to say?” Delbert leaned in, his breath in Selivanov’s ear. “What’d you see?”
“Darkness!” Selivanov cried. His voice became a whimper, yet he knew he must speak. “And it…it…saw me!”
“Okay, Professor, I hear ya. Now just take it easy.”
He won’t listen! He won’t listen!
Selivanov could hear the wail of a siren now, growing louder. An ambulance coming for him. Paramedics to scrape him off the pavement.
And then Konrad Selivanov understood.
He fought the pain, tried to move, his hand clawing at the blacktop.
It won’t let me die! It wants me alive!
“K-kill me!” Selivanov said.
“Easy, Professor, the ambulance is here.”
“Kill me!” Somehow, he managed to scream. “For the love of God…kill me!”
But Konrad Selivanov knew all too well. He would not die. Because if he died, then the knowledge would die with him. And that would not please it at all. Not at all. The Darkness would not be denied.
I will live, Selivanov knew. No matter what. I won’t die until I’ve given it what it wants. Then I will die, only then.
And the world will die with me.