Trench Wars by WantedHero | World Anvil Manuscripts | World Anvil

CHAPTER 4 - No Choice

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We always have a choice.

Regardless of the circumstances or situation, we always have a choice—even if it’s nothing more than controlling how we will act under such conditions.

Granted, the choice may completely suck. But in reality, it’s still a choice,…so choose wisely.

 

  

“So, you control the citizens of Clockworks?”

“No, Dax,” Motherboard explained, “I do not control, nor do I have any desire to control anyone. What I do desire is to have peace and truth among our race. So my purpose is to expose the lies of the leadership and present the truth to the people, letting them decide for themselves.”

“But that could lead ta even bigger problems, don’tcha think? I’m curious why ya don’t just create yer own force and throw the bad apples out?”

The face on the screen smiled patiently. “There is always a possibility of things not turning out as we hope, but how is that eliminated in any scenario? Part of what makes a society strong is allowing people to choose for themselves. That also comes with the freedom to make mistakes…even to fail. Only when you look at that very process as a benefit, not something to fear, do you realize that people will rise to any challenge over time, if you allow them the freedom to choose and act.”

Dax shook his head and lit a match to his cigar. “I think you’re a notch higher on the looney scale than the old man over there, but you do make some sense.”

“I heard that,” called Chuck from the med lab doorway.

Motherboard grinned, “I simply have confidence in my people. We have flaws and much to overcome—but the only things of lasting value are when we do them of our own free will and choice, not by compulsion.” The image looked in the direction of the medical unit, where everyone else had gathered, “And with the appearance of the Gnolaum, that belief is more precious to me than ever.”

For two hours Nat and Deloris, with the help of Morty, ran tests on Wendell. Alhannah and Lili stood on the other side of the glass, watching every monitor, listening to every bleep and blip, hanging on every word that was uttered.

“You don’t seem as bothered,” Alhannah whispered.

Lili pulled her hands from the glass wall and straightened her fur tunic, “Well, this,” she waved her hands at the glass and monitors around her.

“Technology.”

“Yes, technology…it isn’t what I thought it was. At least not what I’ve experienced so far.” The lights and wonders around her pulled at her attention. Once she knew that certain sounds were nothing more than making one aware or sharing specific information with its masters, the fear had greatly subsided. She smiled to herself, feeling pleased at this new understanding. “Much of this is to help others. Yet, I was taught all that came from gnomes was evil. To avoid it at all costs.”

“Ouch.”

A soft hand rested on the gnomes armored shoulder, “Not the people, my friend, just your creations.”

“Ah. Well, ok then.”

Lili nudged Alhannah lightly with her hip. “You, my warrior friend, are amazing, admired and respected.”

A beeping sound rang through the med lab, drawing their attention back to Wendell. Deloris was pulling a long scroll from a metal box, reading what looked like scratch marks down its center. The gnome finally looked up with a smile, adding a thumbs up motion.

Lili breathed a sigh of relief, “As are these good people—who are willing to risk so much for the welfare of strangers.”

Alhannah grinned, but said nothing.

On the other side of the glass, Deloris handed the report to Nat.

“I’ll share these findings with Motherboard,” he said and wheeled from the room. When he was out of ear shot, Deloris rapped her fingernails on the clipboard, staring at the wizard.

“You never answered my question.”

Chuck patted Wendell on the forehead affectionately and walked out as well.

“Hello? I’m talking to you, Mr. Wizard,” she called, rushing after him. Morty followed in her wake.

“My name, dear woman,” replied the wizard, “is Morphiophelius. You may, however, call me Chuck.”

“I’m going to call you a cab if you don’t answer my question,” she snapped. “You may not think this significant, but I don’t find it comforting to know someone out there is sharing our secrets. You’re not even a native, which means you could be a spy, or a plant, or I don’t know—but it makes the leak that much more dangerous.” She sighed, rubbing her temple, “So I’ll ask you one last time…”

“Is that a promise?”

Morty laughed.

She turned abruptly and jabbed a finger in his chest. “You think that’s funny? You bring these people here, risking our best chance at freedom in this city and you think it’s funny?!” Pushing Morty aside, Deloris tried to march past Chuck, but the large staff lowered to block her path.

“I was given your name and told to find Morty Teedlebaum—that he would know how to find you. I was also told that you and your organization would take good care of us and hide us from the authorities. He made me swear that I would never reveal his name, for your protection…but said I could reveal that he is, indeed, part of your organization.” Deloris stopped fidgeting, but the scowl remained on her face. Chuck lifted the staff out of her way. “I’m sorry if it was not what you were hoping, but I have felt quite desperate, trying to save this boy…and my friend told me you were the only one I could trust.” He paused, waiting for eye contact, then added, “You, Deloris…by name.”

Emotions fought for control of her outward expressions. “Oh, alright. But I’m watching you!”

The wizard nodded, “As you should.”

She glared at him defiantly, then marched off.

Morty slid up next to Chuck, watching her huff and puff, shoving things out of her way. “You know old man, she means it. She’ll watch you and analyze you until she can decipher exactly what you’re here for and why.” He nudged the wizard in the leg with his forearm, “I wouldn’t want to be you for all the credits in Clockworks.”

 

****

 

All through the night they labored in the med lab. Wendell was perfectly stable, breathing on his own, strong heart beat and brain activity—yet no matter what the gnomes tried—from mild drug injections to electrical stimulation, he simply would not wake up. Chuck hovered over his prone body, watching ever-so-carefully for any sign of revival, each attempt dashing his hopes.

“I don’t understand,” said Nat, setting the syringe onto the tray, “his body seems to be completely immune to any drug we inject into his system. We could have woken up a cumber beast by now.”

“Can’t you turn up the…thingy-thing you used before, that shocks him?” asked Dax.

“Sure, if you want to kill him.” Nat scratched his head, bewildered, “I just don’t get it—how he can take all this and lie there in perfect slumber?”

“It’s the Ithari,” replied Lili.

Everyone stopped mid-conversation. Not once, during the whole of the tests had the young human girl truly interacted with anyone but Alhannah. Yet now she stood there, in the med lab, staring at Wendell’s prone body, side by side with everyone else. Her arms were folded tightly against her fur tunic, long braided hair hanging down one shoulder and over her arm. She looked up to find everyone staring at her.

“You know that I am right,” she added.

“Yes, we do,” confirmed the wizard, who then turned to focus his attention on Deloris. She was lost in thought, standing near Wendell’s body, tapping a pen against her lower lip.

“What are you going to do about this, Deloris?” he said softly.

“Wha..? Huh? What are you looking at me for?” she stammered, stepping back from the bed. “I’ve performed every test we use to bring people out of comas. Done everything I know of and I can’t wake him up.” She walked around the bed, pulling the wires from Wendell’s skin.

The wizard moved with her, the clunk of the staff being felt through the floor. “I was given your name, Deloris. I was told to ask for you. Not Motherboard, not Nat, not the G.R.R.. I was told to find you!” He leaned heavily on the staff with both hands, “So don’t tell me you’ve done everything you know of. There’s something you must not be telling us.”

At first her mouth dropped open and she looked close to spitting out a rebuttal. But she looked from the wizard, to the profile of Wendell’s face. She thought for a moment, her brows rolling forward. Something just didn’t make sense and it was itching the back of her mind. She glanced around the room briefly, then looked up at a monitor.

“Motherboard, may I speak with you and Chuck in private?”

The image nodded and all three left the room, the monitor in the med lab went black.

Alhannah frowned, “What do you think’s going on?”

“Oh I wouldn’t worry much,” said Morty, “she has a habit of asking council before spitting out her inner most thoughts. She doesn’t like to jump to conclusions in her work.” He grinned, “One of her more admirable qualities, if you ask me.”

“Well I think Lili’s right,” added Dax, moving around to get a closer look at Wendell’s face. “The gem’s gonna protect and sustain him. Whatever’s wrong, ain’t physical.”

Nat watched Deloris through the glass. She was showing Chuck something on a monitor.

“Then I believe I know what they’re talking about.”

 

****

 

“I’m sorry,” Dax choked, “You wanna…what?”

“Go in and bring him out,” Motherboard said, his face on several smaller monitors around the main table. A light blue image of Wendell’s body floated over the surface. “It’s the only way.”

Dax turned to Chuck, who was staring back at the med lab.

“You ain’t cuttin that kid up, Chuck, I won’t let ya. So…”

“No one is suggesting that we harm a single hair on the boys head, monkey.”

Scratching his head, “Ok, am I the only one lost here, then?”

Deloris clicked away on the side panel keyboard of the table and the image changed, “The process is called computational submersion.” Machines formed around the blue figure of Wendell floating between them—wires reaching out, connecting to his arms, chest and face. “This is something I’ve been studying for years—a passion of mine, really. I wondered if there was a way to repair the damaged areas of the brain so those injured or born with handicaps could be healed to live a full and happy life.”

“When did you start doing this?” Morty chimed in. “For the last twenty years we’ve worked on projects together, when did you ever have time for this?”

She looked at him and rolled her eyes. “Please. I’m a woman, Morty—it’s called multi-tasking. Now hush—you’re interrupting, dear,” and she patted his hand affectionately. “As I was saying, this is a new field that has a foot in cognitive neuroscience, which addresses the psychological/cognitive functions produced by the brain. I’ve been working with others in the fields of neurobiology, bioengineering, neurology, physics, psychiatry, linguistics, philosophy, mathematics and of course Nat here, who is one of the top minds in computer science and microfabrication.”

Morty winked at Chuck, “That’s my girl. The smart one. Right there.”

Deloris smiled, “Through our tests, we’ve been developing a unique form of nanotechnology, combined with functional neuroimaging and artificial intelligence to, for the lack of a better term, ‘get into the mind’ of a patient. We actually had success in merging psychophysics and electrophysiology with our computational submersion, to bring patients out of the deepest of comas,” she paused, “though at great risk.”

Dax nodded, “Of course there would be risk with an advanced process like this,” then shouting, “Fairie farts and fruit baskets woman—what are you talking about?! Can ANYONE around here speak common!?”

“It means, Dax,” Nat replied calmly, “that we can actually go into Wendell’s mind, find his perceived self and walk him out, hand in hand.”

Now it was Lili and Alhannah that frowned.

“Hand in hand?” Alhannah repeated, “Like…”

“Like connecting your brain to his brain and allowing you to go inside his mind and talk to him,” said Motherboard, “exactly as we are talking to one another, right now.”

“That just ain’t natural,” Dax muttered to himself, though everyone could hear him.

“It’s risky however, so we need volunteers,” Motherboard added. “Those who are willing to be exposed to Wendell’s inner thoughts, emotions…even his fears.”

“Risky…how?” asked Alhannah. “Like dangerous-risky?”

Nat nodded. “Your minds will be connected, and as we all know, the mind navigates and controls the body. If your experience is too intense while connected, we believe it could adversely affect your body as well.”

“Well I have to go in,” said Deloris, “I’m the only one who has experience in signal detection theory. We have to be able to navigate through what’s real and what’s simply a distraction. Wendell will have defenses to get through if we’re to find his true self.”

“What?” stammered Morty, “He just said it was dangerous!”

“Oh hun…”

“Well,” he complained, “can’t you send Nat, or get someone else? Like a mind-guy-standby?”

She smiled and patted his hand, “No dear, Nat’s place is critical and that’s out here, at the computers. As for danger, we have counter measures and a go-between navigator to keep us connected with this reality, through the nanotechnology.” She looked around the table, “So who’s going with me? We have two spots left. It’s smart to have the two most influential people in Wendell’s life. The more we understand about him, the better.”

“Then Chuck should be one of them,” Alhannah suggested, “Wendell listens to him.”

“No,” Chuck said flatly, “It can’t be me.”

“Afraid old man?” Dax smirked teasingly, “Not willing to be out of your mind in the literal sense, huh?”

Chuck ignored the taunt. “If I enter his mind, it will harm him. Maybe even kill him.”

The room fell silent.

“Right,” coughed Alhannah, “I’ll go. He’s kind of like a little brother and we get along fine. I’m up for a new adventure, anyway.” She grinned at Deloris.

“No, my dear,” Chuck cut in. “Dax needs to go, not you.”

“Me?” hacked Dax, “Are you nuts?!?” He glared at the wizard, then rolled his eyes, “What am I saying…of course yer nuts! I ain’t gonna be shoved under his skin and into his head!”

“Technically, that’s not what will happen,” Nat started in, but Dax held up a hand to stop him.

“I don’t need yer clarification, metal-butt.”

Chuck leaned over Dax and flipped up the rim of his hat. His white, bushy eyebrows raised back—his clear, steel blue eyes piercing the elf to the core. “You are the boys guardian, not me. You are responsible for his welfare. I got us here and got us the help. Now it’s your turn to rescue him.”

“I hate you. You know that.”

The wizard smiled. “You’ll get over it.”

“Then there is enough room for Alhannah to assist after all,” Motherboard added. “If you will all get prepared for the…”

“The gnome is not going,” the wizard said firmly.

“But Uncle Chuck, if I don’t go then…”

“He means for me to go,” came the soft voice from behind. Everyone turned to Lili, who had slowly withdrawn while everyone was talking, thinking no one would notice her. “Don’t you?”

Chuck said nothing.

She looked up at Motherboard, “I don’t know about being influential. I don’t know him…but he died to save my life. It’s my fault that we’re here. At least that’s what the mägo is implying,” she looked over at the wizard, “isn’t it?”

He held her gaze with a barren expression. “It is.” His reply felt as cold as it sounded.

Lili nodded. “Alright then,” she whispered, her voice trembling. “I’ll go.”

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