Chapter 6: Horrifying Revelations

A Descent into the Abyss of Control and Dehumanization

The laboratory’s antiseptic glare seemed to drain the warmth from Natalie’s skin as she entered, flanked by guards. Her raven hair and jade eyes still striking, but the lively intellect Mercer recalled was now clinical and flat.

“Ah, Dr. Blackwood,” Drake said, “perhaps you could explain Project Ascendance’s latest progress to our guest?”

“Of course,” Natalie replied mechanically. “By recalibrating neurological pathways and rerouting emotional responses, we’ve enhanced human potential by minimizing disorderly impulses. This enables complete discipline and focus.”

Her clinical description of her own conditioned psyche chilled Mercer to the core. Natalie continued explaining the project’s grand vision dispassionately, as if narrating another’s suffering. The lively woman Mercer had known was nowhere in this empty vessel.

“Come now, Mercer,” Drake chided, “Surely you appreciate how we’ve stabilized vulnerable minds?” His smile never reached his icy eyes.

Mercer’s response was sharp as shattered glass. “You’ve mutilated her soul. She’s an automaton, not a human being!”

Drake’s smile was ice water down Mercer’s spine. “Come now, no need for hysterics. Natalie will serve GlobeX exceptionally now that her vast potential aligns with our vision.”

“Your ‘vision’ is inhuman,” Mercer spat. “You’ve crushed her spirit!”

“Not at all,” Drake replied smoothly. “We’ve simply aligned her capacities… capacities that will allow to maximize humanity’s future. A mind focused solely on progress, unhindered by fear or doubt, is a beautiful thing.”

Mercer saw no malice in Drake’s crystalline eyes, only the terrifying clarity of true belief. Like an architect gazing upon a newly completed cathedral, he admired Natalie’s conditioned psyche with reverent satisfaction.

“Man’s reach exceeds his grasp when unfettered,” Mercer countered. “We need limits.”

Drake sighed, as if exhausted by a small child’s tantrum. “Limits are prisons. Great strides require decisiveness, not navel-gazing.” 

Taking a slow breath, Mercer cautiously changed his approach. “If she has served her purpose for Project Ascendance, perhaps she could be transferred to an NSA research facility for evaluation. Our psychologists could assess-“

“Out of the question,” Drake interrupted, his pretense gone. “Dr. Blackwood will remain here in my custody. Our work continues apace thanks to her…assistance. And we have only scratched the surface of the human potential these techniques tap into.”

He leaned closer to Mercer, his next words ominous. “But I’m sure your superiors at the NSA have kept you well informed of our progress.”

Mercer clenched his jaw. The veiled implication was clear – either he had been deliberately kept ignorant of the project’s true scale, or he was openly complicit in its violation of human rights. The uncertainty of where he stood in the chain of command gnawed at him.

Before he could respond, Drake was already ushering them from the lab as Natalie was escorted away wordlessly. “I’m afraid I have other matters requiring attention,” he informed Mercer with a tone that was almost regretful. “I trust you found this visit constructive.”

As Drake’s footsteps receded down the stark hallway, Mercer remained frozen outside the now-sealed lab doors, his sense of moral vertigo intensifying. The Natalie Blackwood he had briefly met was gone, erased. In her place, an empty vessel programmed for GlobeX’s hidden agendas, permeated with their merciless calculus of control. If one mind could be so utterly conquered…how many had already suffered the same fate? An unforeseen side effect of his NSA’s complicity in outsourcing any research, however unethical, in the service of “national security.” They had opened the gate to forces rapidly spiraling beyond any containment or conscience.

Alone again, Mercer swayed as if drunk, horror rising in his gut like bile. How far did this monstrous conspiracy spread? A lifeless Natalie was just the surface of the dark iceberg lurking ahead.

Clarke arrived, exhaustion lining her youthful features. Her sharp intake of breath pierced the silence seeing Mercer’s devastated expression. Their eyes locked, a silent exchange passing between mentor and protégé.

“Sir? What’s happened here?” she asked, her voice filled with concern.

Mercer just shook his head, the weight of horrified revelation still settling over him. He had to make his superiors understand, immediately, before any more lives were stripped to empty vessels and repurposed tools. Surely their vision could not be so despicably narrowed and inverted?

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