NINETY-FIVE, 2.0

Dara set aside the drill and put the towel to her head. She looked at the flakes of white bone and gray residue now scattered across the mirror. A warm feeling and the taste of vomit, crept into the back of her mouth, but she managed to hold it down. Now would not be a good time to lose her lunch, not with this hole in her head.

She lowered the towel, now only lightly stained with blood and…residue. Risking another look in the mirror, Dara nodded at her handy work: the quarter-inch hole just below her hairline — or, where her hairline used to be before shaving her head — glared at her, a third eye that would show the world her brain. And allow her brain to see the world.

Her hand was moist, so Dara wiped it on the towel that was wrapped around her body and picked the rod out of the oil in the sink. She leaned close to the mirror and slowly, gently, fucking carefully, placed the rod into the hole. It was almost all the way in when she watched her eye spasm, and her right leg suddenly flexed, weakly, like bending rubber.

Next, she pulled the nut from the oil. Screwing it onto the end of the rod was painstakingly slow, but she had to be careful. The video was insistent on this part of the process, hammering it home, so to speak, being that this was the critical moment. It would hurt, that’s what the video said.

Dara plucked up the mallet. She hesitated, but knew that when she woke up she’d be able to see There, and go There, and that’s what counted. Dara leaned back, per the instructions. The air mattress bumped the backs of her knees. She swallowed hard, and raised the mallet. And pulled it towards her head, shutting her eyes as she leaned back, allowing the mallet to hit the end of the rod.

Dara swam in darkness and dreamed of colorful angels carrying her above the seas. She was flying between them, soon, and waved as the angels floated away. Then, suddenly, she fell to the earth, hard and fast, and when she hit the ground she bounced up and opened her eyes. The air mattress squirmed and squeaked beneath her.

Had she just landed? Or did she knock herself out for too long?

Her head ached, so she remained on her bag, the stinging sensation bringing back memories of college dorms. A hundred students lived in her building, but she could only see seven of them.

She’d excelled in college, especially in the Trans-dimensional Observation class. But her biology was too immature, they said. She was not advanced enough, her genes not sturdy enough, to allow her to actually travel. To see. So she was relegated to theory only.

She’d studied hard, and finished college with honors. She had memorized the descriptions of the outer planes, the weights and measurements of 4th and 5th dimensional units.  Describing how gravity moved was quite poetic, but to Dara it remained only words on a page, or spoken with passion and purpose. Her heart left the theory, the work, as soon as she accepted that she’d never be able to travel. That was the one piece she’d missed, the one factor that would never change.

Only certain people, “advanced” people, could traverse the planes. Sure, their minds and spirits would remain on earth, beside her, and they would flow in and out of existence constantly. But Dara wanted to experience it, wanted to be able to see it, with her own eyes.

Years passed, and Dara continued her studies. The more she read, the more she would venture into deeper and darker regions of the city. She’d record first-person recollections, stories from those who were willing to talk about their visits to the Fourth and the Fifth as though returning from a weekend getaway.

For a time Dara printed these accounts in forums and in magazines, becoming a reliable source with a growing readership of older people. People who, like her, didn’t have strong enough genes, couldn’t make the jumps themselves. Then, she’d met Harrison.

Their affair was brief, but during one of their trysts he took her with him. Harrison was one of the oldest Traversers, claiming to have had the talents now for over thirty years. Near seventy, he had the build of a 30-year-old swimmer on the brink of retirement. His eyes held Dara’s intently during every conversation, and every night of making love.

He claimed he could no longer traverse, but she found he was lying when he gave her a glimpse of the Fourth.  It had been wonderful, glorious, and she insisted her words could not begin to describe what she’d seen. In fact, the sights given her by Harrison, she claimed, “Makes me question everything I’ve heard before, every interview I’ve ever listened to and wrote down for you. Those people may not be quite the journeymen we’d been led to believe.”

Her readership fell, but she dealt fine with it as she no longer held inspiration to write. But then, Harrison disappeared when Dara tried to coerce him, even bribe him, to give her another glimpse.

When she ran into him on the street a week later, stumbling out of a pub, he quickly ducked away. She tried following, but lost him in an alley — he’d probably slipped into the Fourth and wouldn’t be back again. So she traced his steps, and went into the pub he’d stumbled out of.

No one inside looked straight at her, and she could see that they all had skin that looked milky smooth and sticky, like they were all sweating. The emaciated clientele had unique bumps and protrusions on their bodies. A thin teenager was staring at lights blinking beneath his wrist. A girl no older than twelve blinked rapidly, her pupils dilating and pixelating, fragmenting to nothingness when Dara tried to step close.

She’d asked around about Harrison, but nobody answered whether they knew him or not, giving no indication they even knew she was there. On her way out the door, a man appeared to her right. Stenz, he called himself.  He said nothing else to her, but blankly placed his hand on the wall, and the video played.

The film was a tutorial, instructions on a method of “gaining sight, to traverse the unknown so it can be known.” Then Stenz held out his hand, and she knew right away what to pay him. It was almost all the money she had. He handed her the rod, the nut, the mallet, the video, and the plastic wrap.  All in one bag.

On the air mattress, head still spinning, Dara sat up and touched the rod in her forehead. It felt moist, but stable. She tried jiggling it, worried what it might do to her motor functions. But nothing.

So far, so good.

Her face in the mirror was pale, her eyes squinting as she focused on the tiny piece of the rod still sticking out of her forehead. Less than half-an-inch was protruding, easy enough to cover with bangs in a pinch. The video had warned her of that much, that this modification, and all modifications she might make in the future, were highly illegal and irregular. Enough to lock a person away in a sanitarium, though those places were rare enough to believe they didn’t exist.

She slipped out of the towel and pulled the plastic wrap out of her bag.  It was foggy, not quite as transparent as she thought it might be. But that was necessary, the video had told her, to see things as they should properly be seen.

She lay on the air mattress again, feeling comfortable and not even noticing the rod any more. She wrapped her legs in the plastic wrap and worked up her own body. When the plastic was around her neck, she smiled, closed her eyes. An hour, that’s what they told her. An hour under the wrap, and your vision will become clear forever. Then you could Traverse, or learn along the way, and never hunger for the Fourth or Fifth again.

She smiled, shaking, and pulled the wrap tighter over her face.

Two weeks later, Harrison could swear he saw Dara in the pub, a giant antennae sticking out of her head, eyes glazed, skin sweaty. He might try to find her in the Fourth or the Fifth, but from the looks over her, she’d never want to come back.

He thought it too bad, since he was quite fond of Dara, and of Earth, ever since he’d arrived in this dimension.

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