"Dr. Kowaltskij? Will you please come to St. Joseph's Hospital as quickly as possible? We have need for you there in Ward 13."

That time I reached for the phone on the side of my bed I could remember thinking that there'd be something funny going on down at the hospital. At the time I thought it was just some new loony that they brought in, and I was prepared for them to the edge of boredom. But nothing could prepare me for what I'd see in Ward 13. I will remember the following days for the rest of my life.

On the sleepy taxi ride there, while sipping a mug of black espresso that had been percolating since God knows when, I could remember myself thinking, "What've they dragged in for me this time?" I'm a psychiatrist, you see. I work at the St. Joseph's Hospital for the Mentally Disadvantaged - in non-politically-correct terms - a madhouse. I spend every day of my working week, and in this case, part of my weekend, surrounded by crazy people. How I've managed to remain sane is a mystery, but I managed somehow, or at least, that's what I had thought. But that night everything started to change.

When I got there the mood was the common atmosphere of chaos and hectic, frantic, confused bustling. A mood of general alarm mixed in with a healthy gramme of fear and just a pinch of paranoia. All of these blended in with your average antiseptic 'hospital' smell, into a cocktail brewed to the right mix for insanity. Yet when I got off the elevator at Ward 13 the entire atmosphere of the place seemed to change completely. The nurses and staff were quiet, orderly, and efficient. I went down the white-lit corridor, walls painted with stark, blank stucco and the floor tiled with cream-coloured ceramic.

I approached the room at the end of the corridor. Three men in lab coats were standing in front of a large window, eagerly looking in, as if something tantalizingly good was inside.; One of them, a hawk-nosed man with thinning brown hair and glasses that magnified his eyes, making them seem huge and dilated, came up to me and shook my hand.

"Ahh, you must be Dr. Kowaltskij, no doubt?"

"That's me. So what's your patient?"

"My, eager to do business are we? Well, in that case, could you follow me, please?"

He led me to a small briefing room at the end of the corridor and turned off the lights. A remote was suddenly in his hands, and with it he activated a film projector. He flicked a switch and was illuminated in the ghostly pale light of the grey screen.

"Before we begin, Dr. Kowaltskij, I'd like for you to remember that this is not only a hospital for the treatment of the mentally insane, it is also a place of research. So I'd like for you to please keep that in mind and try to be as open-minded as you can. I believe this is your first time at Ward 13?"

"That's right."

"And do you know, exactly, what it is that we do here."

"No, not really."

"Well then, I hope that the following film will brief you."


"The dawn of the twenty-first century," read the narrator on the film, "Witness to the birth of new technologies, new industries, and new sciences. The earliest years of the twenty-first century were also home to far worse things. During the first ten years the world bore witness to an alarming new form of psycho-active drug, cooked up first in the chemical labs of a Danish university. It went by the name of S-Kill or 'Skill': Street Kill. To its users it gave an astonishing burst of profound intellect when injected - it had the ability to boost IQ by at least 80% for the lowest purity and by over 300% for highest quality."

"What does this have to do with us?" I asked.

"You'll see."

"It was common around universities, research clinics, and schools of every kind. Some called it the 'Ambrosia of the Intellectuals'. It didn't even manifest any symptoms of 'crashing' or withdrawal, that was so prevalent amongst other drugs. Yet the new drug was highly addictive, producing signs of psychological addiction the first time it was taken. And it had other side effects as well. It took an entire generation to manifest, yet the side-effects were all the more drastic. Children of those who took Skill would be born with abnormally large or small brains, strange new or extra hormonal glands, or none at all, cancerous lesions on the skin, some were horrifically born absolutely skinless or boneless, yet others had any number of brain afflictions from tumours to meningitis."

Horrifying video images flickered in front of me, and I gripped the arms of my chair so hard I felt they might burst apart in cotton stuffing. Most of the babies didn't even look human anymore.

"It was catastrophic. Millions of babies died the moment they were born. Yet for every two or three million that died, some few babies were born, and could stay alive. These precious few would be the subjects of study for the next fifty years and onwards.

"From the beginning these children displayed unusual talents. Some excelled at artwork, creative writing and music. Others were profound mathematical geniuses. Yet strangest of all were the unusual levels of brain activity present in them during deep sleep..."

The film showed a group of small children, a multitude of little bald heads wearing white pajamas. Some played with colours and paints, and some were at data-boards, tapping out Fourier transforms and deep astrophysical equations. Still others read poetry or played beautiful music on electro-synthesizers.

"This would continue to be only a curiosity until twenty years afterwards, when most were in their mid-teens. Their growth was astonishingly slow, and so was the growth of their personalities and emotions. Five years of our time would be roughly equal to that of one of theirs. Gradually, but steadily, the increased brain activity during REM sleep began to spread to lighter sleep and finally into working consciousness. The children began to exhibit strange behaviours and symptoms. Some claimed to see the future before it happened, others said that they heard voices in their heads - the voices of those around them. Yet the strangest and certainly the most powerful cases of all was that of ZRX22-D, born Elisa-Marie Gibbons, 2042..."

The footage of various research experiments appeared. A young man with absurdly thick glasses came onto the screen.

"Greetings. I am Dr. Leon Blake. At this presentation I will be working with ZRX22-D. We will demonstrate to the scientific community, the validity of our findings here at St. Joseph's."

He sat down at a table in front of a teenage girl with long black hair that reached to her shoulders. Her eyes were sunken and dark, black eyebrows fixed in a perpetual frown. Her thin lips were pressed together. A neurotrode was taped to her temple, and she seemed to glower at the camera. Wisps of uncombed black hair framed her pale, thin face.

"Now, Zee-Are," said the Doctor, whom I recognized as none other than the man next to me, "Be a good girl now and show me, okay?"

He placed a wooden block on the bare table. The girl turned her fierce glower onto him. There was a regular beeping sound in the background of a neural monitor.

"Zee-Are? Are you there?" asked the doctor, Now look at the block. Relax, focus, and concentrate. Can you do that for me? Please?"

The girl shook her head.

"You can do it. Just take a deep breath. In. Out. Like that. Do it for Uncle Leon, okay?"

She shook her head again, this time more violently. There was spike on the neural monitor.

"Just this one, okay Zee-Are? Then you can go back to your room, alright? Now relax, and focus."

"I don't want to. I don't. They'll see me! I don't want to!"

A high pitched beep came from the neural monitor and she pounded her fists into the table.

"Now, now, calm down. Be a good girl. Just this one more test and you can leave."

"No! No more tests! I don't want to!"

The machine was a single high-pitched tone. There was a sudden ringing sound, like the sound of old police cameras powering back up after a snapshot. The table began shaking from one side to the other, creating a hollow clanging noise. The video went to static, yet the sounds were still there.

"No! No! No! Leave me alone!" shrieked the girl.

"Zee-Are! Please! No, wait! N-" The tape cut off fully then. The lights came back to the room. Dr. Blake had shut it off.

"Why? What happened to her?" I asked.

"We put her in solitary. She was unstable. Dangerous. We couldn't afford to lose the other specimens."

"But what does this have to do with Ward 13?"

"That's where we moved her. We've kept her in a special containment cell ever since."

"And why'd you call me here?"

"You're a psychiatrist, yes?" I nodded, "Well ever since then we've been unable to get her to cooperate with anything. She won't eat, she won't sleep, she won't do anything. Your records are outstanding, especially with children. We're hoping that you could talk to her and help her to adjust. Perhaps even get her to submit to some tests."

"Wait," I said, "How long have you kept her here?"

"Close to ninety years, more or less."

"My God, you people are animals!" I said, pushing past Blake and into the corridor, "Do you have any idea what you've done to her? How old was she when you filmed that tape?"

"About fourteen - their years I might add."

"So she'd be - what- eighteen now?"

"Yes, that's about correct."

"So she's spent the majority of her teenage life looking at the inside of a padded vault, is that it?"

"Yes, but-"

"Shit. That'll drive anyone crazy." I vented while walking up the white corridor, my shoes tapping on the ceramic floor, "You said she doesn't even eat or sleep anymore?"

"No, not since she was put into solitary. It's a complete mystery as to how she does it, which is quite fascinating. However, we've been at a loss as to explanations."

"You drove her crazy! It's because of you that she won't cooperate! God! When will you people learn? You can't mess with kids like that!" I hollered while taking a left turn down a smaller corridor.

"Is this the way to her?"

"That's correct."

"Good. There's a lot I've got to talk about.

We burst through a heavy door to a room where a pair of bored-looking technicians monitored a wall of screens. Behind them was a glass panel into which gawked a group of scientists in white labcoats.

"Where is she?" I demanded.

"In there. Behind the magnetic door. It leads to an airlock which leads inside her room."

I went over to the door the technician pointed to. It was sealed by a big rotating lock. I lugged the bar down to unscrew it, met resistance and turned to Blake.

"Open it."

"I'm sorry, I can't do tha-"

Over the intercom crackled a voice, quiet and venomous, like the hollow hiss of a snake. The screens fluttered and shook with static.

"Let the doctor in."

The technicians scrambled to the door and pressed a numerical combination in rapid order, and began turning the big wheel. Slowly the door ground open and I stepped inside with Blake following.

"No, stay here. She probably has bad memories of you."

Blake nodded and I continued inside through the airlock. The heavy steel door ground shut with a heavy thud. In the center of the little padded room was a thin figure, wearing a white robe. Long black hair hung down to its shoulders. Dark eyes were cast down to its lap, pale hands gripped the arms of the chair. Four mirrors surrounded the walls, reflecting every other wall perfectly, infinitely.

"Hello Dr. Kowaltskij."

"How did you know my name?" I asked.

The walls seemed different now, and I was hit by a torpid, nauseating feeling. I pressed myself against the wall behind me. There was a slight creaking sound now which I hadn't noticed when I came in.

"I know a lot of things, Dr. Kowaltskij. If I wanted to I could know what you came here for, but I'm in a playful mood, so let's play a little game, shall we? I'll guess something, and you'll tell me if I'm close or not, okay?"

"Yeah, um, okay sure."

"I'm guessing that you're another one of the probing shrinks that they send to try and get me to submit to their tests. I'm guessing that you're about to ask me how I feel, or what I think about, on how and why I've managed to freeze my bodily functions at one particular moment in time. I'm guessing that you're married, her name is Karen and you live on Manchester Boulevard and have two kids and a dog, one of the kids is a girl the other a boy, and both are in high school. Am I correct?"

My God, I thought, and a weird, sinking feeling came over me, as if I was trapped on a sinking ship.

"God doesn't exist, Dr. Kowaltskij, if he did, I would've met the guy."

"Now, Elisa," I began.

"Don't call me that. That isn't my name. I'm ZRX22-D, I'm ninety years old and crazy - how are you? I'm fine, thank you, nice to meet you."

Her speech was strange, rapid and unpaused, a quick staccato stream of words. I cleared my throat.

"I know that your life has been difficult-"

"But I'm here to help you, I want to listen to you. Come on, Elisa, can you tell me why - I know the deal. I can hear your words before you say it, but for the sake of courtesy, I'll let you finish."

"Well, to start off, how did you think your childhood was? What problems do you think you may have encountered?"

"What do you think? I think a lot of things. I've been experimented on every day of my childhood. How would you feel if you had to spend ninety years inside a prison of white, with white men in white clothes, poking and prodding you? You'd be angry too, wouldn't you?"

"Now, now, I know you're a little upset, but-"

"A little upset? I'm a lot more than a 'little upset'. You know why?"

I felt a pressure grow on my chest, as if something made of metal was pressing against me. The room began to creak, and there was a weird high-pitched whistling noise somewhere. The mirrors seemed to curve around us, the walls bending outwards, and I felt as if my stomach was doing a topsy-turvy.

"I'll tell you. Because of the voices," She pointed to her head with one long, slim, white finger.

"The voices?"

"In my head. Every waking and sleeping moment of the day. All the time. They didn't tell you why they put me in this cell, this vault, this prison, didn't they? For silence. I peaked at fourteen and it was then that I could no longer stand being with everyone. I lashed out at them. Every moment, every second of every long, long day my head was crowded with voices - it wouldn't stop. I couldn't shut them out. So they put me in here - for my sake. Five metres of lead-lined concrete. And still, I can hear them, just a little whisper in the air, but still there - always there."

"So what do you want?"

"Silence. But first, to get it, I must get out. Don't you see?"

I was pulled, stiff, to stand in front of her. She was still looking at her lap.

"I ... must ... be ... free."

Her face looked up, and her eyes stared into me, like dark coals at the center of which were lit by a black flame. They shimmered, and seemed to draw me in. I was drowning in a sea of blackness, and she loomed up, all-consuming before my mind.


I stood arguing with Blake in front of the vault.

"Listen to me you goddamned sonuvabitch! If you care about this kid, you'll let her have some contact with the outside world! She may not be running into walls or speaking tongues, but she's crazy, or is going crazy in there! She's got all the signs of schizophrenia and paranoia - psychosis even!"

"ZRX22-D is property of St. Joseph's Hospital! She was born here, she was taught here, she has lived here for nearly a century, and she will die here! She is dangerous! If we let her out of that damned vault, who knows what she'd be able to do to us?"

"She's dangerous of you keep her in there. It's obvious that her powers - at least the telekinetic manifestation of them - come up when she's stressed or angry. If you keep her here, she'll only get angrier, and then who knows what?"

"I don't care. She's going to stay here and that's final."

He was adamant. I was defeated. I went home.

I came back the next morning.

"It seems that you have trouble understanding me, Dr. Kowaltskij," she said softly.

"I'm sorry," I said frankly, "But they wouldn't hear my recommendations."

"Do you think any of that matters, Norman? You don't understand, do you? The root of the issue is that when you're here, you're on my terms."

ZRX22-D looked up at me and glared with those dark, deep, terrible eyes.

"Turn off your monitors, doctors," she said.

They turned them off.

"Now we are in private, we can talk, Norman."

I swallowed, the spit seeming to be a big lump in my throat, and sat down, "What do you want to talk about, Zee-Are?"

"You. Come closer."

I got up and started moving closer.

"I have to get out of here, and you're going to help me, Norman, whether you want to or not."

"Oh, really?"

"You won't have any choice. Unless you'd like for them to know who you really are, Norman."

"What do you mean, Zee-Are? What about the silence?"

"I will make it silent. But, you wouldn't want them to find out, would you?" she asked, smiling at me. Her lips were pink and thin, and they curved upwards like the crescent of a sickle. It sent chills down my spine as she looked at me.

"Norman Kowaltskij, born Tyrell Randall, in Oakland, California. Son of a wealthy energy tycoon. Convicted at age twenty-five for child molestation. Got bail for one million dollars, but convicted again in August 15, 2155 of statutory rape. Two more cases afterward, both dealing in children, including one charge of child pornography. Need I go on?"

I felt a cold chill at the bottom of my back, my feet moved silently, but I felt as if they were huge stumps and every unwilling step I took closer to the white-robed monster before me was pounding out a heavy rhythm like an elephant on corrugated aluminum.

"Now, now, Zee-Are. Don't."

"Don't you understand? I must be free and if you do not help me, I will destroy you. Charged for involuntary manslaughter and avoiding arrest. May be operating under the name of Norman Kowaltskij, believed to be moving east and living in Austin, Texas. But what if that suddenly changed?"

"No!" I burst out, "No! Don't tell them! I have a wife and kids, I've got a family! You'll ruin me!"

"That's the point, now do we have a deal, Dr. Kowaltskij?"

"Okay," I broke down and kneeled on the floor, "Okay you win. I'll do whatever you want."

"Go out there and unlock this vault. There's a large switch with a combination. You know it, right?"


"Well go on. Do it, Norman. Time's up."

The bond broke, I was free. I gasped for breath and pressed the button to tell the techs that the session was over. I stepped through the airlock, felt the hairs on my back and arm bristle as they passed through the magnetic field.

"What happened in there?" asked the technician.

"Nothing. Just some... therapy."

DO IT! Her black, inky pools of deep black eyes came into my mind. I felt this energy surge through my body. I walked over to the tech and punched him on the side of his head before he knew what was going on. He groaned and I grabbed him and slammed him against the bulkhead. Alarms began to ring. I entered the code and pressed the big red unlock button. A klaxon began to wail and slowly the vault ground open. Then there was silence. Slowly, quietly, a single pale white foot stepped cautiously out of the vault airlock. At that moment, Leon Blake entered the control room with an army of orderlies and personnel behind him.

"My God, Kowaltskij, what have you done?" he asked, aghast.

"I'm sorry, Leon, but I had to do it."

A small, pale figure stepped out, robed in white, seeming to glow with pure light energy.

"Why hello Dr. Blake. We meet again," it said.

Blake's eyes bulged. His glasses fell to the floor. Gagging, he fell to his knees. I went over to him and stared back at her, thinking, "What have I done? What have I done?"

"You've released me. For that, I'll spare you - for now."

With that she stared straight at Blake and he fell dead, his body falling flat on the cold metal floor. I jumped aside as the floor underneath ripped open in a line, throwing the staff away. Zee-Are stepped through the doorway, I followed. A ripple seemed to travel down the hall, tiles ripped themselves up, fluorescent lights exploded in series, throwing sparks all around. The walls bulged outwards and distorted as she passed by. Zee-Are looked back at me with those cold, black eyes.

"I'm afraid there's no more room for you anymore, in this world. You're old, dead, obsolete. We, the Skill babies, are the ones that shall inherit your world. It's just Darwinism, Norman," those eyes bore into me, staring into the depths of my soul, "Evolution. We are the next stage, and like all those old species, your epoch is over now. It's our future, not yours. You shall be the last human. Good-bye, Norman."

She turned around and walked calmly down the hall, glass bursting, electronics spraying white firestorms of sparks and then I knew for sure, that walking away from me, was the end of humanity itself and the beginning, for she was absolutely correct. They were no longer human. They were post-human.

All text on this page are copyright of Anh-vu Doan, c. 2003. May not be reproduced without consent of author.