Jason restored—and went immediately alert. For the first time in his life, he could feel nothing about his surroundings. His incoming environmental image made no sense. It wasn’t simply one or two informational oddities, or even a lack of existing data to interpret. The data itself defied interpretation.
Which was impossible.
A retrograde analysis of his passive sensory log indicated no hostile presence nearby—in fact, it indicated no presence of any kind whatsoever, anywhere in range—so Jason opened his eyes.
The addition of visual input provided him little more than he had known already. He was in a … place, he decided to call it. He could see no identifying features through his entire field of vision. It was lit, at least, but there was no discernable light source. Nor were there any shadows, he noted, glancing down the length of his body. He tried to determine the kind of light he was seeing, but that, too defied analysis. The most he could conclude was that it seemed to be somewhere between off-white and a soft yellow, but the exact hue remained elusive.
It wasn’t gaseous, he decided, as there were no detectable particulates in the atmosphere. If there even was an atmosphere at all. There was something, he knew, since he was still breathing normally, and all the appropriate chemical reactions were still occurring, but beyond the boundary of his body, any sense of air motion in the Place simply stopped.
Annoyed, he abandoned the exercise. Maybe exploration would provide him with something useful. He sat up
The groan escaped him unbidden. An empty cough followed, threatening to become a gag, and he froze, forcibly controlling his breathing until his stomach stopped attempting somersaults. This was a new sensation. It had overwhelmed him in a fraction of a second, and it was unbearably unpleasant. He examined it for a long moment and realised with surprise that it was nausea. Motion-induced nausea. He was the first Nephilim to experience vertigo.
In keeping with the Place’s ubiquitous lack of everything else, he could detect no gravitational trends at all. He wasn’t weightless; or rather, he still felt heavy. But he couldn’t feel any direction to his weight, and combined with the absence of a fixed point of reference, he had no idea if he was standing, reclining, lying, suspended, inverted, sideways, tipped, twisting, rotating, spinning
He turned off his gyro synapse. No more of that. Deciding for the moment to assume he initially had been vertical, Jason straightened and, pacing forwards, attempted an exploration of his surroundings. Almost at once, however, he was tempted to abandon the idea as futile, for the frustratingly ambiguous landscape lay unmarred and uniform in every direction. Only his ability to precisely track his footsteps lent Jason any sense of direction; otherwise he might have wandered the Place aimlessly for hours.
This thought led Jason to the discovery of yet another oddity: his internal clock was faulted. It was still running, and a quick battery of diagnostic checksums returned true, but its outputs made even less sense than the Place in which he now found himself. Or, more accurately, it wasn’t outputting anything. It was executing exactly as scripted, but when it incremented, it simply … didn’t. It even registered the increment as successful, but the flagged data target wasn’t there.
Jason checked the timestamps on his previous observations and found himself baffled even further. All of the markers passed checksum, but every single one decoded to garbage data. Which was impossible; data couldn’t be junk and still verified true. It was as if reality no longer supported the concept of time.
Exasperated, Jason sighed again and tossed his arms. His hands flopped up and back down to smack against his legs, the clap echoing faintly behind him.
He stopped. An echo? There had been no echoes before. There had been nothing for the sound to bounce off; he wasn’t even sure there had been an atmosphere to transmit the wave.
Quirking his head, he snapped his fingers once. Sure enough, the snap returned: the faintest whisper of a click, barely even a few decibels, but loud against the prevailing silence. And with the time delay, he even had a precise distance. Intrigued, he turned to face it, and was met with….
A boulder, judging by size and distance. Jason’s eyebrows scrunched together. That hadn’t been there. He was certain. He had surveyed every direction. Thoroughness was second nature to the Nephilim; even his blinks had been corrected by precisely localised muscle seizures. He had seen everything, everywhere, and his entire sphere of awareness had been uniform in its bewildering blandness. There wasn’t a way possible for him to have overlooked the rock; and yet there it was, defying what little reason this Place had left to it, and at a location that matched his aural calculations.
He took a careful step towards it.
It appeared to be a careful step closer.
He took another step.
A step closer again.
Jason chewed on his tongue. The rock seemed to be an ordinary rock, and the fact that its adherence to normalcy conflicted so strongly with the inherent abnormality of the Place bothered him tremendously. He refused to let the staggering amount of nonsense get to him and, leaving the unresolved processes to hang in the background, set out for his newfound bastion of sanity.
He covered the dozen and a half meters easily—although precisely what ground he was covering remained inscrutable—and, after rapping his knuckles against it, was pleased to find that it was, in fact, a real rock. A little over a meter tall and with a blocky, tri-leveled top, it appeared to have broken off from some larger face and fallen, partially burying itself in the nonexistent ground. A pass of his fingers and a quick data analysis determined the stone to be marble, and suggested it had lain here for a few years, judging by the weathering and assuming wherever it had come from possessed recognisable weather. (Jason decided the best approach was to assume anything real came from somewhere Not Here. The idea was still nonsense, but the degree of nonsense was welcomingly less.) And now that he was standing over it, he could see a second, smaller rock a couple of meters past it, also buried in the … whatever, and similarly weathered.
Satisfied and relieved at his discovery, and having nothing better to do, Jason decided to experiment. The boulder had appeared when he wasn’t looking at it, and it had remained relative while his attention was fixed on it. What would happen if he stopped observing it? Ignoring the noise-solutions attempting to submit themselves, he strode around the marble block and past it, walking steadily and directly away from it and snapping his fingers sharply in precise one-second intervals. With each click, he listened for the corresponding report and matched the distance to his distance traveled, marking the rock’s location as he left it behind.
He was almost two kilometers away, and the echoes so faint even his ears strained to hear them, when the data failed to sequence properly. His next snap didn’t echo. He turned around. Sure enough, the rock seemed to be gone. He magnified his vision so that it should have been clearly visible, but the result was the same: there was no longer anything in the Place but him. Jason nodded, shoving aside his disappointment at once more being the sole connection to reality. At least it had behaved somewhat reasonably. It was a start. He merely had to take things as they came, and more bits would fall into place. His spirit somewhat bolstered, he turned back to continue on.
There was the rock. Not a different rock. The same rock, exactly the same distance away as when he had first seen it, but on the exact opposite side.
Jason sucked his teeth.