Song: “Pathetique 2nd movement” by Beethoven
I felt nothing when I came to. And when I opened my eyes, I saw nothing. I sat up, or at least did what I thought was sitting up, and had no sensation that I had moved. I couldn’t hear anything either. Not even the sound of my own breathing or heartbeat. I was sitting–or laying–in endless blackness, void of touch, sight, and sound.
I stayed put for maybe a minute or so, though it seemed like half an hour, and the blackness and sensory deprivation became disorienting. It’s hard to describe what it’s like to be in a place where you literally feel nothing and none of your senses are functioning. I didn’t know if I was falling or floating, if my eyes were open or shut, if this was silence or a deafening boom, and it was slowly pushing me to the brink of insanity.
So I resorted to my default whenever I felt overwhelmed–I retreated into my mind and recounted the prior events that had led me here. But I couldn’t remember much. All the memories–searching the files in my office, landing on Seven, running through the forest–were flickering through my head like a distorted VHS cassette. Nothing was clear and the more I thought, the fuzzier my mind became and the more the mental disarray intensified this physical disorientation I was in.
Stop thinking, a voice said.
But I didn’t hear it, so it was less than a voice. But it was more than a thought. It was more of a…feeling.
Stop thinking, the feeling came again.
But how could I do that? Trying to stop thinking was the surest way to start thinking. Should I imagine a white bear? ¹
As I was thinking all this, I felt a slight buzzing on my lower back, like my phone was vibrating. But it couldn’t be my phone since that was in my pocket.
The buzzing came again and I decided to stop thinking about not thinking and focus on whatever this buzzing was. It buzzed for a few seconds then stopped. Then it buzzed again for two seconds. Then five seconds. Then three seconds. As I focused on the buzzing, an unexpected calm came over me, like I was being put to rest with a blanket of peace.
How do you feel?
I feel...I responded, but not with my voice or a thought. …good.
I felt a gentle nudge in my heart as a reply, as if my communicator was emotionally nodding.
Who are you? I asked him.
Who I am is unimportant. But what I am is. I’m the Gunsmith.
If I could feel my body, I would have nodded in understanding. I’d read a lot about him. He was the person who was not only responsible for designing our guns and the bullets they could shoot, but had actually created our guns and distributed them to each of us at birth. There were legends that he wasn’t even human.
Why are you here? the Gunsmith asked me.
I didn’t respond at first. Instead, my mind scrolled through the memories, now suddenly available to me, and I was being pricked with a sense of something I didn’t immediately recognize. It was piercing my skin like I was swimming in a pool of needles. Then, somehow a word splashed into my mind: regret.
What do you regret? the Gunsmith asked me.
I sighed, feeling exposed and incapable of escaping. But it wasn’t hard to answer the question. There was not solving the riddle for one. Along those same lines, not fully reading that article on Lewis Carrol’s answer. But one memory came bobbing to the surface above them all.
Not taking the shot.
I’d had the man in the hood in my sights and hadn’t taken the shot because I hadn’t been sure it’d been the right time. I’d overthought it as usual.
You do tend to overthink these sort of things.
I didn’t appreciate the sardonicism.
Why didn’t you take the shot?
I felt the buzzing in my back again. I don’t know.
Yes you do.
The buzzing came again. I guess…I didn’t think I would make it.
But you’re an expert sniper. You’ve taken shots like that before.
Not when someone’s life was on the line. There were too many variables.
The Gunsmith let the silence sink in and I felt my body gently sinking accordingly, as if I was dropping deeper into an invisible pool of breathable liquid. But in contrast to the needles of regret, this liquid was a pool of shame that reminded me with every wave that I hadn’t been adequate enough. That I hadn’t known enough. That I hadn’t hadn’t been informed enough. That ultimately, I hadn’t been enough.
I have something for you.
Let me guess, a rebuke?
I sighed inwardly, already thinking ahead to what I could do to keep this from happening in the future. I was already flipping through the Lewis Carrol biographies in my mind and watching videos on paradoxical riddles.
You’ll have your chance to restore what you lost. But you’ll have to shoot your way out of here first.
I moved my head to look around, but to no avail. There was nothing but blackness and I couldn’t even feel myself move.
That seems a little difficult, I replied. Do you at least have a gun for me?
You have all you need, came the answer.
I felt the buzzing on my back again. This time, when I moved, I felt my body move. I reached around and felt my backpack and slipped it off my shoulders. I brought it around in the darkness, unzipped it, reached inside, and pulled out the magazine that I always left buried in it. I couldn’t read it in the darkness, but I knew what was engraved on it: FEELINGS. It buzzed for a few seconds in my hand as I gripped it.
I reached inside the bag again then around it and my hands bumped against a long object floating near me. My fingers wrapped around it and instantly recognized it as my rifle. A spark of excitement flashed to life inside of me and I instinctively loaded the feelings magazine into the rifle in the dark.
There’s a light switch somewhere in this room. Shoot it and you’re free.
How do I know where it is? I asked.
You’ll figure it out.
With that, I felt a presence slip away, like an emotion had slid out of my heart. Was he gone?
I shook my head, still unable to see anything in the darkness, and decided, against all logic, to aim ahead. I held the rifle in front of me, imagining myself looking through the scope, and gripped the trigger.
But what if the switch wasn’t in front of me? What if it was behind me? Was I overthinking this again?
I swung the rifle a few inches to the left and felt a slight buzz in my hands as if the barrel was vibrating. I continuing to the left and the buzz intensified. I kept moving until the buzzing reached a crescendo and felt like my rifle was about to burst. Was this by design? Or was this a coincidence?
I sighed at myself. I couldn’t see or hear anything. All I could feel was this buzzing in my gun. This was all I had to go off of.
So I held the buzzing rifle steady, ran the bolt, then pulled the trigger.
There was a bang and a second later, the room was flooded with white light.
My body floated to the surface of a pool of water and a pair of hands grabbed me by my shoulders and pulled me out. A scuba mask was taken off my face and when I was done catching my breath and blinking through the brightness, I saw an African-American man in white clothes and white hair standing over me.
“Well done,” he grinned down at me. “Saved by the one thing you forgot you had.” He held one hand out and pulled me to my feet. “But there’s more for you where that came from.” He waved another magazine in front of me with another label: COMPETENCE. Then, with the dexterity of someone who lived and breathed guns, he grabbed my rifle, switched out the magazines, aimed at my chest, and winked at me.
I chuckled and put my hands up in surrender.
¹Ironic process theory, first studied in a lab by Daniel Wegner in 1987, is the idea that suppressing a thought only increases the power of said thought. Oftentimes the task used to demonstrate it is to not think of a white bear.