Cerebral Function – A Short Story by Rachel Deeming

This story was first published on Reedsy Prompts on reedsy.com and was inspired by the writing prompt ” Write a story where a character runs into someone they’ve seen in their dreams, or enters a building they’ve dreamt about before.

Advisory: Violence

“I’ve been here before,” Sophie said, gazing around at the building she was currently standing in.

“Have you?” Her friend Maisie was shaking the raindrops out of her hair onto the shiny marble floor of the foyer. “Do you bank here?”

Maisie did and this is the reason why they were now seeking refuge from the downpour outside. Maisie was a young lady of convenience; she liked to have places in the same area and so, the bank was situated on the way to her kickboxing class and her knitting group. If she ever had to deal with the mundanities of banking, then she could do it on the way to something more interesting and fulfilling. The bank was on the ground floor and close to the revolving doors, again chosen for convenience: for the quickest in-and-out.

Sophie was continuing to take in her surroundings, from the tall glass panels that channelled the light, to the palm-like plants that brushed the windows and hinted at an inner atrium. Other people were around them in a state of dishevelment having also rushed inside to escape the rain and the pattering of the drops on the glass gave the entrance hall to the Rinascita building an insular feel; a mixture of shelter and austerity.

“No,” Sophie replied, her tone distant and as it sounded most unlike her friend’s normal voice, Maisie stopped shaking herself like a shaggy dog and looked more pointedly at Sophie as she added,

“It must have been in a dream.”

Sophie looked almost ethereal as she stood, head back, her eyes travelling slowly over the ceiling above. She turned in a slow circle, arms at her sides, palms up and Maisie was struck by her appearance, which could only be described as religious by the shape of her pose. And whilst she appeared to be almost floating in the foyer, Maisie was conscious of a palpable air of tension as her friend continued to turn, almost like the tightening of a screw, with each visible motion.

“Well, I bank here, just over the way,” Maisie gestured to the opening of her preferred branch. “I don’t have a clue what else is in this building,” she continued, moving closer to stand next to Sophie as she removed her coat and lay it on top of her handbag.

Sophie had stopped her slow spin and was just standing, her head facing the lift doors, watching as the people who worked there headed up to the offices or down to the parking lot. The people made an indistinguishable flow, faceless and fast and she was conscious of their motion only as a peripheral blur.

She didn’t notice the furtive glance made by a member of the flow towards her and her friend as he scurried to get into the opening doors of Lift One. If Sophie had, she would have seen a flash of fear cross his face and an urgency to his steps shortly after.

***

The bald man in the clear-framed glasses gesticulated at the board behind him, pleased by the way that the meeting was going, his colleagues seemingly enraptured by his plans for expansion. His hours of practice and the meticulous construction of his argument had paid off. 

Roberto Fergusson was an ambitious man and was prepared to work hard for what he wanted. Now, to move on to his concluding arguments, which would hopefully ensure his place as the head of Cerebral Function, a company devoted to research into and exploration of the capabilities of the humble human brain.

“So, I think that we can all see that this model will provide the scope and necessary…”

Outside in the corridor, there was shouting and the sound of a kerfuffle. The high tech glass that they had installed was on “Opaque” so whatever was causing the noise was not visible. He disliked interruptions but was never one to let his composure slip and so, with calmness at the forefront, he turned to Christian, his trusted colleague and said,

“Christian. If you wouldn’t mind seeing what is going on, I would appreciate it.”

“Of course, Roberto,” and in one smooth gesture, Christian stood, buttoned his jacket and headed towards the door. However, as he got there, the meeting room door was suddenly flung open with a flustered office boy and Roberto’s secretary wrangling over the handle with voices raised.

“Let go, Colin!” Melanie shouted, just before she realised she was in the room.

“But she’s here! Subject 1307 is here! In the building! He needs to know!” Colin was shouting and his fear was palpable.

At the words “Subject 1307”, Roberto visibly whitened and he felt his skin go cold. He tapped the left arm of his glasses, a nervous affectation that only his closest family and colleagues recognised at times of stress.

Christian sent a wary glance at his boss, caught and registered the movement and moved towards Colin.

“Thank you, Colin. Perhaps you’ll come with me to the Security Office and you’ll be able to point out where you saw her enter the building on the cameras?” Christian kept his voice level and calm as he gently placed a hand on Colin’s arm to usher him out of the room.

“Melanie, can you call Security and tell them that we are heading straight up there? Thank you,” Christian instructed and nodded at Roberto, whose glistening sheen made him look ill and accentuated his pallor. My God, Christian thought. I’ve never seen him so rattled.

Roberto barely nodded and sank into his chair but then, as if he had sat on a spring, he stood again, forced a smile to his face which was more like a grimace and said,

“I think in the advent of this interruption we should probably adjourn and perhaps pick this up at a later time? Melanie will contact you with the particulars but let’s not leave it too long. I appreciate your time today and can only apologise.”

Delivered without stammer but with none of the usual confidence that marked his speech, Roberto then proceeded to shake the hand of every board member warmly before shepherding them from the room. He was damned if all of his hard work was going to go to waste when he was so close to what he wanted. No, he would keep it together no matter what.

Christian glanced back at Roberto as he escorted Colin to the security room. Colin was visibly shaking as the delivery of his message had released the adrenaline that had driven him into the lift and the meeting room, and left him a wreck.

***

On the ground floor, Sophie and Maisie were unaware of what was taking place floors above them.

The rain was still being emptied like sloshing buckets onto the street outside. Sophie had remained immobile but was starting to look a little more with it. Nevertheless, Maisie was keeping a wary eye on her. Her reaction to this place had been weird – not a lively “Oh, I think I’ve been here before!” said like it was a jokey déjà-vu but in a “I can’t quite put my finger on it but this place means something to me” thoughtful sort of way. Maisie mulled this over and wondered what else could be contained in this building that would have caused such a reaction in her friend.

Maisie and Sophie had not been friends for long – a matter of months at most- but they were two single girls at an age where all of their other friends were married and baby-making or career-focused and as neither of them were really concerned with the seriousness of life just yet, they had struck up a friendship at the bar where they both worked which then had extended beyond work hours. They didn’t really have a lot in common other than circumstances but Maisie found Sophie funny and Sophie was always asking her to do stuff with her so they had formed an easy relationship.

Maisie looked at her watch and thought that there was no way she was going to get to her “Stitch and Bitch” on time now.

“Sophie?”

Sophie had remained immobile but turned towards Maisie immediately on hearing her voice.

Maisie continued. “I’m just going to sit here and do a bit of knitting while we wait for this to ease a bit.”

Sophie nodded and said, “Good idea. I think I’m going to find a bathroom somewhere. What is it about rain that always makes you want to pee?” Sophie smiled and Maisie was relieved to see that she was looking more like her old self.

She started to cast on some stitches for the sweater she was knitting and looked up to see where Sophie had gone, only to see her entering a lift and its doors closing.

Strange, Maisie thought. I’m sure that there are bathrooms on this floor. She was just about to shout out to her when the doors shut. What to do? Should she wait here or should she follow her friend? Maisie was a great one for trusting her instincts and something about this just wasn’t right. First, the strange dreamy reaction; now, the lift journey. No, Maisie was going to have to see where Sophie’d gone and make sure that she was okay.

Maisie took the stitches that she had counted off her needle and slipped the wool back into her bag. She placed the knitting needles into the leg pocket of her cargo pants, stuffed her still wet coat into her bag and slung it over her shoulder. She too headed for the lifts.

***

The Security Office was a wall of screens that showed footage of all of the floors of the building. Colin was holding a cup of hot sweet tea and was silent as his eyes furtively scanned the screen which showed the foyer. Christian stood there calmly also examining the screen of the building’s entrance. Roberto had yet to arrive but the security guards had been briefed that a dangerous person had entered the building, intent on harm and should be stopped at all costs. With Cerebral Function’s links to covert government practices, they were expected to keep their discoveries a secret – on pain of death. It had never come to that luckily and Cerebral Function had an exemplary security record to date.

So who was this Subject 1307?

It was not something with which Christian was familiar and he thought that Roberto shared most things with him, if not all. He didn’t know of any breaches in security. He was curious about this person and the threat that they posed to this organisation and if Roberto’s reaction was an indication, to Roberto himself.

“There!” Colin shouted and pointed with enthusiasm at the screen.

On it, two women were standing in the foyer and having a conversation of some sort. One of them broke it off and headed towards the lift whilst the other a few moments later did the same.

“There are two of them,” Christian said, thoughtfully. He scrutinised the screen leaning in as if examining an ant.

“Are there?” Colin said. “Yes, maybe. I think that 1307 was with someone in the lobby.”

Christian turned to the security guards. “We must deal with them both. Both are a danger to this facility and its security.” He nodded at the guards, who nodded in return and left to head towards the lifts.

***

Sophie was in the lift heading to the eighth floor. She hadn’t yet worked out why but something about that number had spoken to her and so that was the button that she pressed. However, immediately after pressing “8”, on a compulsion she also pressed “7”. Lucky seven, maybe? Who knows? Whatever the reason for her sudden impulse, it was one that would save her life.

***

Maisie was in the lift with no idea where she was headed. She had to plump for a number. She went for “8” too. The eighth floor was the home of Cerebral Function.

***

Roberto was heading to Security but first he had stopped by his office. In the second drawer of his desk was a gun. He had never fired it other than at the range but again, as was his way, to be prepared for everything, he had practiced and now had master aim. However, that was when he was aiming at an immobile target. Up against 1307, who knew how it would end?

You had to question this hiding in plain sight plan that the government had taken for this initiative. He understood their thinking but he felt like they had been naïve to think that there would never come a time of threat or discovery. Even with the efficiency of their mind-wiping hardware, there were always chinks, weren’t there? Today was proving that, wasn’t it? When 1307 had her mind altered, he had hoped that that would be it. That he could release her into the world and never have to encounter his mistake again. He could never admit to it – he never made mistakes – so it had to be hidden. But she was here! She must have had some recollection of her former life and returned to wreak revenge. He would if he was her.

And now he was faced with the fact that he would have to finish it and have the blemish of having taken a life on his mortal soul. Roberto was not a pious man but he took no chances in this life or the next. Until now.

Taking the gun and securing it at the back of his trousers, he patted it reassuringly with his clammy hand and headed in the direction of Security, towards the lifts.

***

Something strange was happening to Maisie in the lift. Her head was pounding mercilessly with pressure and she was suddenly feeling very queasy. Her first thought was that she must have caught a cold, although if that was the case, it was coming on quickly.

She leant against the corner of the lift as she tried to quell the growing impulse to vomit. No. No good. She placed herself to one side of the lift to aim into the corner as the display indicated that it had reached the eighth floor and as she put out her hand to steady herself and the lift doors opened, she had a moment to see that there were two rather sinister looking guards waiting there and she feared for Sophie if this is where she had ended up.

***

Sophie reached the seventh floor. It was nothing familiar to her and she pressed “8” again to continue her journey. She briefly wondered if Maisie was curious about where she had gone when she heard a very loud bang coming from somewhere above and outside of her lift.

***

Maisie saw the gun pointed and in a feat of agility propelled herself out of the lift towards the guards, knitting needle in hand. The element of surprise is a wonderful thing and the guards were no match for Subject 1307. Roberto saw the doors open and his biggest mistake faced him: a destructive killing machine who he had created; who he had subsequently thought he had rendered harmless through his revolutionary brain adulterating technology; who he thought he had wiped so completely and efficiently that he could release her into civilian life and be safe.

In that moment, he realised his hubris and reached for his concealed gun a fraction too late as a knitting needle thrown with incredible force, cleanly penetrated the lens of his glasses and pierced his eye. His last thought was of failure.

***

Sophie was desperately pressing other buttons to prevent the lift from moving up to floor 8 but to no avail.

***

Christian heard a loud fight and then nervous quiet and hesitantly, he opened the door of the Security Office. The corridor outside was still. He headed a short way towards the lift, the slight curve in the wall preventing him from seeing what lay ahead of him.

He heard the ping! of a lift arriving and the swish of the doors opening. He froze. Gradually seeping around the corner of the corridor wall was a red pool, easing its way into the fibres of the carpet tiles. He heard a sharp gasp and then a voice he didn’t recognise.

“Oh, thank goodness you’re safe!”

Christian remained immobile on the spot. He felt like any move would make him a target as he saw the blood-spattered woman run towards where the lift doors had opened. Luckily, she was focused on the person in the lift.

“I thought that you’d been hurt. I had no idea where you’d gone! When the lift stopped here, there were these two guards waiting and they opened fire on me and…”

Taking advantage of the distraction, Christian edged backwards, his heart pounding as he tried desperately to be catlike in his steps. Unfortunately, he had not reckoned on his reflection in the glass of a meeting room window.

With lightning reaction, a knitting needle like a mini spear skewered him to the wall, through his heart.

He heard a scream and as he slumped as far as the metal needle would permit, he caught sight of the infamous Subject 1307 and behind her, Sophie looking directly at him.

He had recognised her on the screen: Sophie, his former lover. She had wanted to tell his wife about their affair. He had had to stop her. Wipe her mind. He assumed that it had been effective and that he would never see her again. He remembered thinking Every job has its perks as he’d used Roberto’s equipment to erase any trace of him, them.

“We need to go, Sophie. Now!”

As Maisie dragged Sophie towards the stairwell, Christian’s last thought was God, I wished I’d killed her instead.

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