"Sir, we've secured a test subject."

The intern leaned into the room, putting their hand around the edge of the doorway, looking expectantly at their interlocutor. In the room, between sheets of paper, scattered wires and electronic parts, and several empty paper coffee cups, stood one Jonathan Mantell, age 27, scratching at an itch on his forearm that hadn't stopped bothering him since he'd got there this morning, 6 hours ago. He stared deeply at a computer monitor, eyes mere inches from the screen as he absentmindedly raked his skin raw and bleeding.


"Huhwhat?" Jonathan's eyes darted to the door and just as quickly back at the screen. "Scale? What's their score, on the scale? The score?" he said, in what may have been a normal speed to him, but was certainly a blur to his intern. Regardless, the intern knew what he wanted. Dr. Mantell asked for 2 things anymore: the Heimwehmut score of a new test subject, and his coffee, a peppermint mocha, which much to the chagrin of his "squire", as the doctor liked to call him, was a year-round request. It was starting to dawn on the intern that driving 15 miles to the only place in town that served it may not have been worth the college credits.

"She has a score of 8. Highest so far."

Jonathan took off the set of over ear headphones that were haphazardly hung off of his head, and flung them as he stood up.

"Coffee?" The intern begrudgingly stopped leaning into the doorway and entered, holding a new batch of them out as if offering a steak to a tiger. Dr. Jonathan Mantell took one, and started drinking what was still nearly boiling coffee as if he was drinking out of a well in a desert. One gulp, two gulps, three. Soon, the whole thing was done, and he crushed the thing in his hand and threw it behind him into an ever growing pile that his assistant would have to throw away at the end of the day. He then reached out, placing a hand on either side of his coffee runner, and looked them dead in the eyes.

"Hoffman, I'd be nothing without you." He planted a long, drawn out, and certainly unreciprocated kiss on his interns cheek, and then proceeded to ignore and push past them into the hallway, breaking into a dead sprint as he ran to meet his new subject. Hoffman zhuzhed up their sleeve and wiped the spittle off their face, and pulled out an empty garbage bag, shaking it to fill it with air, ready to clean up all the empty cups from the day.

"Alrighty, ladies and gentlemen. Welcome to Heimwehmut's Center for Artificial Sensory Testing and Lobal Encephalography. If you'd take a seat, and put on your neural interfaces, we can get started."

Jonathan Mantell walked to a nearby console in the pristine room, and flipped a switch. Cords descended from the ceiling, dangling with them a series of helmets, not unlike respiratory masks descending from the roof of an airplane. A bevy of patients were arranged in front of him, and they each fitted the device to their heads and waited patiently. Once the face of every patient was covered, he discarded the benevolent demeanor and knocked an array of coffee cups off of his workspace and onto the floor.

"Is everything okay? I heard something fall," one of the patients said.

"Oh no, everything is perfectly fine. Don't worry about it. Just focus on calming your mind, and listen to the instructions in your ears." He pressed a button on the console, and the faint sound of a soothing female voice lulling the patients to sleep could be heard emanating from the helmets. He watched the graph on the viewscreen, and his suspicions were confirmed. This level patient, the level 8 subject, was performing much better than expected. Assembled before him was two 4's, three 5's, a 6, a 7, and for the first time ever, an 8. The file reported that she'd guessed every card exactly when held facing away from her and towards her instructor. When the instructor kept the card face down, it had stopped. There was no mirrors in the room, no cheeky way to see the back of the card in the reflection of glasses or in the pupils of the instructor, this had to be what Heimwehmut Industries was looking for.

Psychic behavior.

"3, 2, 1, and… drop." The hypnotic induction worked, and the scans detected abnormal delta wave patterns in subject 8's temporal lobes. Ensuring that they were recording, Jonathan readied and then pressed the playback recording from the Incubated. Each patient was exposed to the new pattern, and several of them shifted uncomfortably in their seat. Patient 8, however was different. She seized, and Mantell walked over to secure her restraints. Upon returning to the screen, he saw she'd developed a new delta wave pattern, a pulse offsetting that of the Incubators by exactly a phase, one of the many possible "success" patterns predicted by his studies.

He watched as she shook left, then right, and finally… her body started slowly, but surely, coming apart. Atom by atom, dust particle by dust particle. The hands and legs were the first to go, falling out of the restraints into nothingness. Next, her torso, ominously floating as the lower half faded away first. Her screams, muffled by the helmet, were cut short due to the sudden lack of vocal cords as her neck faded away, and then her head, the helmet falling to the chair below.

Mantell turned off the playback, and then the recording, and woke the other unsuccessful test subjects with a small electric shock.

Each of them removed their helmets one by one. One licked his lips, as if tasting something sweet. Another wiped tears from their eyes. They stood and stretched, looked around, and were puzzled. "You're free to go. You can collect your checks from the front desk, or they'll be mailed to you within 5-7 business days. Thanks for coming by!" Jonathan waved to them as they left.

"Excuse me, doctor. The lady who was sitting next to me, where did she go? I didn't hear her get up."

He looked up at the elderly lady and smiled. "She went home a little early. The system made her a bit nauseous. Be careful on your way out, the stairs are awfully slippery with a cane!" He hesitated for a moment, and then took his keycard out of his back pocket. "Here. You can use this for the private elevator. Make sure to drop it off at the front desk, okay?"

The woman smiled. "You're such a nice young man, thank you."

The moment the door shut, any pretense of kindness dropped to a scowl as he sat in one of the subject chairs and put on the helmet that had once been worn by the woman who vanished into thin air. He could work much faster within a H.E.L.M. than he could on a keyboard and mouse, after all. After placing the device on, the system booted and his mind dropped into the machine. He faced a login screen, which he accessed in a microsecond, simply thinking about his credentials to input them.

An array of recordings floated in front of him, and he cleared the digital space, taking with him the recording of J. Everheart's data. He moved the virtual panel it was on over the top of the Incubator recordings, and ran a merge cipher. After layering, an almost precise pattern formed, an imperfect pattern, but a pattern nonetheless. He traced a certain portion that looked nearly perfect, sharpened the waveform, and then repeated it so that it matched the original. He saved the file, and began to type a dossier on the new findings. He started thinking out the memo, and the words appeared in front of him. If his WPM was good on a keyboard, it was spectacular on this system.

Sam Hoffman entered the room, coffee tray in hand, and saw their boss sitting in the subject seat with the H.E.L.M. on. "Hey, Dr. Mantell! I've got your-!" they began, but didn't finish. They'd slipped on the previously discarded cups, and this flung the new tray through the air. Several of the containers landed on and the ruptured over the console, sending electrical arcs and smoke billowing from it.

Because of this, Sam Hoffman watched their boss, barely a Heimwehmut score 3, fade completely out of reality.

Buzzing. Familiar to you or I. That eerie buzzing noise that penetrated deep into the brain the longer you stayed in Level 0. It was, conversely, unfamiliar to Dr. Mantell. He opened his eyes to see the bright fluorescents. His first instinct was to assume he'd passed out on the job, not an unfamiliar occurrence. He closed his eyes and tried to go back to sleep.

The ceiling wasn't right.

He rolled over to… oh, man, the carpet was damp. He had that sneaking suspicion that only babies and people who drink large amounts of coffee could have, but when he reached down to check, his pants weren't damp. This was the first thing to snap him back to reality was this fact. The second was the fact that he was currently surrounded by ten very naked versions of himself.

He blinked.

They blinked.

"This… may be a problem."

From: gro.tumhewmieh|lletnamj#gro.tumhewmieh|lletnamj

To: gro.tumhewmieh|namffohs#gro.tumhewmieh|namffohs

Subject: Help?

What the fuck is going on? I'm lost in like, the East wing or something, but it keeps going on forever, and there's… naked people here. Did someone release a hallucinogen without telling me?

sent 12:35 PM EST Feb 11 2018

From: gro.tumhewmieh|namffohs#gro.tumhewmieh|namffohs

To: gro.tumhewmieh|lletnamj#gro.tumhewmieh|lletnamj

Subject: Re: Help?

Whoever is using this account, log out of your terminal. False use of others employees accounts is grounds for termination.

sent 1:15 AM EST Feb 11 2018

From: gro.tumhewmieh|lletnamj#gro.tumhewmieh|lletnamj

To: gro.tumhewmieh|namffohs#gro.tumhewmieh|namffohs

Subject: Re: Re: Help?

Hoffman, this is me, dipshit. Where the hell am I? Why is the wifi so shit? My GPS isn't working and nothing is changing. Whatever I'm dosed with isn't wearing off.

sent 1:17 PM EST Feb 11 2018

From: gro.tumhewmieh|namffohs#gro.tumhewmieh|namffohs

To: gro.tumhewmieh|lletnamj#gro.tumhewmieh|lletnamj

Subject: Re: Re: Re: Help?

Dr. Mantell, you've been missing for 3 days. Do you recall anything about the test on Friday?

sent 1:20 AM EST Feb 11 2018

Recall… remember… it felt like he was losing his mind. He could barely think with these… whatever they were, staring at him!

"Could you maybe look anywhere else?" he said. Their eyes diverted, some looking up, some down, some to the sides. "Oh, uh… thank you? I really didn't expect that to work." He rubbed his temples.

The test. The level 8 subject. The proper frequency. The H.E.L.M. It all came back.

From: gro.tumhewmieh|lletnamj#gro.tumhewmieh|lletnamj

To: gro.tumhewmieh|namffohs#gro.tumhewmieh|namffohs

Subject: Re: Re: Re: Re: Help?

The optimum induction frequency, I broke it down with the last test. Had it all worked out, but I was doing the work in my H.E.L.M., and it must have tripped the engagement. I was induced, Hoffman. I'd be celebrating if I wasn't… I suppose I'm in the Headspace. These people here, the naked ones, they look like me. The Incubators were using my DNA as a base, and they look way too old but it's gotta be them. This is where we lost them. See if you can get anyone together to discuss this, on the downlow. Don’t want to be associated with the incubators, but I also don't want to stay here any longer than I have to. I'll start sending over pictures, video, voice memos. This is the best breakthrough we've had since the H.E.L.M.

Until we're ready to come forward with everything,

sent 1:30 PM EST Feb 11 2018

To any who would find this message, here in this place:

You may ask yourself, "Why am I here?"
You may also ask yourself. "Where is here?"
You may also ask yourself. "How do I get out of here?"
You may also ask yourself. "Who am I?"
This is because you have found yourself in the Headspace.

It's a liminal frontier. When I sat down to start this project, I tried to picture clusters of memetic information as they moved through the collective human psyche. What form would they take? Faces, bodies, people? How do you move about the network, hallways? There was a vision of a traversable world laid deep in our minds. It took some ingenuity, but one day, it clicked. We were in.

You can call me Sehnsucht, and these tapes will document my progress, or lack thereof, in getting out of here.

rating: +16+x
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