A Case Study in Ascension
The old machine clicks and whirs as the cassette tape is slotted into the VCR. It’s a miracle they were able to find one of these any more. Digitizing, tagging, and sorting through all these old records was a long, laborious process. You were already on your fifth cup of coffee and it wasn’t even halfway to lunch.
As the display flickers to life, a young girl appears on screen. Her exact age is difficult to make out, given the graininess of the recording, but you’d peg her as approaching her teens. She bounces slightly in the over-large, plush office chair she’s sitting in, her smile beaming brightly.
The much older woman sitting across from her behind a large, oaken desk is quite the opposite. She sits stock still, hardly moving an inch except to make more scratches in the notepad she’s carrying. She barely even looks at the girl before asking atonally, “Now Sarah, you understand why you’re here, right?”
“Yes, miss. Mom and Dad said this was some kind of study,” the girl replies.
“That’s right. You and I are going to get together every couple of months just to talk about how things are going for you. School. Friends. Family. Whatever things you have going on in life. And please, call me Dr. █████. Understand?”
“Yes, Dr. █████.”
“Good. Now, let’s start with how things are at home. Mom and Dad get along?”
“Oh, gosh yes. They’re really happy togeth—”
The girl’s tale is interrupted as the recording cuts to snow and static typical of these older machines. After a moment, a cohesive picture appears again; the same two women sitting in the same office, though the young girl now has the look of a young teenager. The date in the corner of the video indicates that several years have passed between these recordings. The girl’s bounce is notably gone.
“Hello, Sarah. How are you doing today?” the doctor asks.
“Hey, Dr. █████. It’s… fine, I guess.”
“Not feeling too chatty?” It’s hard to see, but it looks like the doctor’s facial expression actually flashed a hint of emotion there, though what emotion exactly was impossible to say.
“I’ve just got a lot going on.”
“So I’ve heard. Your father tells me you were with him when he was served the divorce papers. How are you handling things?”
“I dunno… Like I said, doc, I guess it’s fine. I’ll just have to give a little to help out around the house, y’know? Dad can pull in enough for all of us, even despite everything, so it’s fi—”
The video cuts out again, but rather oddly, the typical VHS static instead sounds like the sizzling and crackling of a wood fire. When it resumes, an even older Sarah now sits curled up on the plush chair, hugging her knees to her chest. The doctor seemingly doesn’t mind that she’s got her shoes on the furniture. The whole image looks odd, like it’s been passed through an image filter or was overly lit while being shot.
“So I hear your dad lost his job? How are you handling things?”
“Look, I… I really don’t want to do this today…”
The doctor pauses a moment to consider before responding. “Sarah, be that as it may, talking about these kinds of events are critical to our study. You do want to continue participating right? I imagine your family needs the stipend now more than ever. Please, how are you handling things?”
The doctor may have been hard to read, but the glare Sarah shot her was anything but. “Fine,” she spat back, venom dripping from her voice. “You want to know how I’m handling things, Doctor █████? I’m being asked to give up any shot I had at a normal social life during my college years so I can work to support my family. But you know what? Like I said, it’s fine. I’m fine. It’ll be fine. I just have to give a little more for them. Once I graduate, I’ll be able to get a real job and take care of them. It’s fi—”
You expected it this time. The screen whites out to that off-kilter static as the next session begins to play. The doctor now wears a pair of sunglasses, the lighting rig apparently becoming too much for her or the recording equipment to handle. Some tech must have gotten fired for this, for sure.
“So I hear school’s not going so well?”
“Dad… needs me to drop out. His health isn’t doing so well. But it’s fine… What’s a year or two? I just have to give a little more. I’ll go back once his health improves. It’s fi—”
“So I hear your dad’s taken a turn for the worse?”
“I just have to give a little more… At least my sister’s working now. It’s fi—”
“So I hear your sister’s gotten in some trouble with the law?”
“I just have to give a little more… It’s fi—”
“Just give a little more… It’s fi—”
“Just a little more… It’s fi—”
CRACK CRACK POP
SIZZZZZZZZZZ SNAP POP CRACK
The recording starts up clear and crisp once more, but it’s just the unnamed doctor this time, looking directly into the camera from where it now sits opposite her desk. Her expression is lively and jovial. Gone is the sphinx-like unreadability and stone-like body language as well the sunglasses. It appears like the lighting issues have been fixed. She now bounces in her chair excitedly, like a young girl.
“We’re close now. I can feel it. It’s taken years of work, but it’s all about to pay off. We now sit on the cusp of greatness. Peak luminosity readings are off the charts. Purpose is clear. We’re experiencing regular equipment issues during sessions, owing to lens or temperature flares. One more push and we should achieve ignition.
“Replicability is still in question, but who cares about that right now? We only have to manage this once to prove that it’s possible. If the field team can orchestrate this last push, by this time next month, nothing should remain of the person once known as Sarah. There will be nothing left of herself to give.”
The VCR clicks as the recording reaches its end. You hit the eject button and wait as the machine spins up and spits out the video cassette. Forty eight down, one hundred thirty seven to go. There was no way you were going to finish before the end of the week. You grab the next cassette from the box labeled Project Seraphim and pop it in.