Destroy the Study

A Short Thriller

Photo by @kellymlacy

Ok, here’s the deal with this piece. It’s an excerpt from a short thriller story I’m working on that will be a part of my anthology I’ll put out once I’ve written enough. I’m not going to be very active for the next month or two because of all the exams I have to give, so I’m leaving this here as an until-I-return sort of thing. It’s unedited and the title’s definitely a work in progress, so just go with it for now and look over minor mistakes, thanks.

Oh, and also, subscribe if you want to receive the entire story once I’ve written it - email subscribers will be getting it :).

Ok, that’s it. Enjoy reading!

Liam stepped gingerly into the study, feeling a strange sense of detachment despite his many years of serving this house. He had been with Master Device for over fifty years and had enacted each command to the T for every one of them. He was on amicable terms with the entire Device family and there wasn’t a place on the grounds he couldn’t go into, nor a facility he couldn’t use. Except the study. The one thing Master Device had absolutely insisted on was Liam never entering the study.

But that changed last night. Last night Master Device had died. He chose to pass on these grounds, in the comfort of his own home, rather than in an impersonal hospital bed, even if his name was on the golden plaque on the ward label. He lay surrounded by his children and grandchildren, muttering words of encouragement and solace to them with his final breathes. In the end he dismissed everyone but Liam and beckoned him closer.

 “Go into the study. Destroy it.”

“Destroy it?” Liam felt bad for making him repeat his words when they came so difficultly to him, but he could not believe what his master was telling him to do.

“Destroy it.” Master Device took Liam’s hand into his own. “Promise me you’ll destroy it.”

“I promise.”

Content, Master Device nodded, rolled back his head, and shut his eyes, a calm feeling of serenity washing over his face that one seldom saw when the face still breathed life. He was never a flashy person in life, often forgoing large parties and frivolous displays unless absolutely necessary. The funeral was small and quite but personal. Liam was quite content with it; it was just as Master Device would have wanted it to be.

But now he stood on the brink of doing the one thing he hadn’t wanted Liam to do for most of his life. He wasn’t sure why he felt afraid. He was doing as he had been commanded. Perhaps it was the unfamiliarity of the situation or perhaps it was the uncertainty surrounding just what exactly it was that he needed to destroy. Liam didn’t have to destroy the entire study, that’s for sure. Master Device spent most of his life cooped up in there, so it was bound to be flushed with valuables. No, it wasn’t the study. It was something in the study.

Liam felt around in the dark for a light switch and marvelled at the sight before him when he finally found it. Row after row of leather-bound books ran along the walls, covering almost every bit of the faun wall behind them. There must have been easily a thousand there, maybe two. The spine of each one had meticulously written titles in a script Liam recognised as his master’s and he marvelled at the sheer tenacity he had to be able to have written so many. The floor of the room was comparatively bare. To one side, there was a fireplace and in front of it sat a solitary chair. A little way away there was a large mahogany table and that was it. Liam ventured over and saw a letter written out addressed to him.

Dear Liam,

If you’re reading this, I find myself in yet another place of thanks: you’ve enacted another one of my commands and have come to the study. Now it’s time for you to destroy what is perhaps the most valuable item here – the cipher. You see, Liam, my life’s work has the ability to change the world. To fundamentally restructure the way we interact with the very constituents of matter. It opens the possibility of not only being able to observe matter at previously unimaginable scales, but also unlocks the ability to manipulate properties that only truly become evident at these scales.

In my youth, I came across a paper of philosophy by Niria Michellyn. Although mostly unknown during her life and sadly even after, Michellyn described a concept that would go on to form the basis of my life’s work. She argued that in every person their lay distinct “sub-beings” where each was an embodiment of the three defining qualities of a person: their intelligence, their morality, and their bravery. A human being only truly exists when these sub-beings work together, operating at varying levels and types of influences at different stages, a wonderful orchestra working together to produce the even more beautiful symphony of individual identity. This idea gripped me wholly, and I became obsessed with not only proving Michellyn right, but with developing a method of extracting these sub-beings and of being able to exaggerate the control one of them holds.

Of course, I recognise that over the passage of time, the relative importance of these sub-beings changed, with Bravery, for example, no longer being valued as much as morality, but it was my (ultimately correct) belief that all three would still exist in an individual. Imagine if you will, Liam, being able to selectively and directly nurture Intelligence, essentially creating a mind the likes of which the world has never seen before. Or perhaps focusing on Morality, being able to bring out and keep at the forefront, the benevolent aspect to an individual that most keep so buried. If Bravery were instead fostered, imagine creating a race devoid of almost all fear.

And I succeeded. I succeeded in creating such a procedure and such a machine. With one unanticipated caveat though. You see, the total influence the sub-beings can exert is absolute, it cannot be altered. So, allowing Bravery to prosper, for example, would come at the cost of Intelligence and thereby the ability of making a choice and the very concept of free will, in essence allowing a race of obedient super soldiers (forgive my candour) to be birthed. It was this implication and the likes of it that revealed a yet concealed fact to me. I was so blinded by the possibility of doing good for the world that I remained oblivious to the ill-intentioned that yet dot this planet. If they were to learn of this information, their goals would not be as well-founded as mine are.

The thousands of books you see around you (two thousand, three hundred, and sixty-eight, as I’m sure you were wondering) detail these findings and each one is written in the cipher described in one of these books. You needn’t destroy every one of my books – in fact I would appreciate it if you could take it upon yourself to preserve them for as long as you can – but the cipher, Liam. The cipher must go. And the machine. That is essential.

The machine will be behind the fireplace. Yes, behind. Make sure it’s safe and then reach into the roof of the fireplace and look for a lever. Pull it, and you’ll find the machine.

Thank you, Liam, for all your numerous years of service. This family wouldn’t be what it is today if it weren’t for you. I do hope my will allows you to comfortably live out the rest of your days.

Aiden Device

Liam put down the letter and took a moment to just breathe and process all this information. He turned to the walls of books and marvelled at the sheer amount of knowledge they possessed. Liam always knew of Master Device’s genius and had always regarded him with the utmost respect, as had the rest of the world: firms and figures scrambled after the opportunity to finance his projects, all the girls – and boys – fawned all over him, he naturally commanded the respect of whatever room he walked into.

Liam stayed transfixed for a moment, but then shook off his awe, remembering the job he was tasked with. First, he set about finding the cipher. Master Device had helpfully organised the books sequentially, so finding the cipher wasn’t much of a problem. Liam figured the cipher would be amongst the first few, so he wondered over to that section. Once there, he simply located the book with “Cipher” calligraphed on the spine, pulled it off the shelf, and set it aside, deciding to burn it after having taken care of the machine.

He stalked nervously towards the fireplace, as if something – a protector of sorts for the machine – would leap out from the fireplace. Liam knew that Master Device would have warned him of something of the sort had that been the case, but he couldn’t help but be a tad weary as he approached.