My eyes are heavy. I try to open them but they snap shut immediately, pushed back to sleep by an invisible hand; a powerful force that keeps them closed, that makes them see nothing but darkness. My head hurts. I can tell that there is pain somewhere else in my body, but I’m not conscious enough to know where it is. Is this sleep paralysis? Is this a dream? A nightmare? I groan, a plea to whatever is pinning my eyelids downward and making my head feel like an iron stove. It works because my eyes begin to open, pushing against the invisible weight. Slowly. Painfully.
My vision is blurry, but the first thing I see is bright fluorescent light, a bulb hanging from the ceiling. I blink and quickly shut my eyes. Reflex action. When they open up again, my vision is better. The first thing I want to do is look at my surroundings. I realize that I’ve been lying flat on some sort of hospital bed. I attempt to move my head to get a better look but the pain in my head increases, intensifying on my temple. I force myself to look to the left, and I stare in horror at my hand, hanging on the edge of the bed, an IV—connected to a bag filled with yellow fluid—pinned to it. Where am I?
I look around. There is a table with more bags of yellow fluid in them, another table with some books, and papers, a couch and a shut door. No window. There was no way this was a hospital. It looked like a basement.
Once I attempt to sit, I become aware of all the parts of my body clothed in pain. The most obvious, a sharp sequence of unrelenting pain shooting upwards from the sole of my foot to the knee, like a bullet train speeding fast on its tracks. I groan again, louder this time. At the same time, I force my free right hand to propel my body upward; I want to look at the source of the pain.
I let out a quiet scream because what I see makes the pain ten times worse. Staring back at me is a gaping hole, right in the middle of my leg. I can see my tissues and muscles, disgusting and grotesque. But there is something strange about the wound. I struggle and lean forward—ignoring the terrible pain—to get a better look. The tissues are moving, small almost undiscernible movements, joining together. I could not believe my eyes. It is like watching a sewing machine as the tiny bits of thread came together, with the goal of mending a tear. But in this case, there is no tailor or seamstress. There is no surgeon. My leg is healing, all by itself and I am watching it happen.
At that moment, an immeasurable amount of fear grips me. How did I get here? What happened to me?
I close my eyes and try to remember how I got here. Nothing. I close them even tighter, my lashes pinching hard against my face. Nothing.
The pain in my head has dissipated. Now, I just feel light-headed, like I might faint. What is this? Why can’t I remember anything?
I close my eyes again. I want to dig deeper. I try to evoke emotions; I try to conjure memories of my childhood, parents, school, church, mosque, shrine, parties, lovers, house addresses. Nothing appears. I just sit there, heart beating fast, eyes closed, seeing nothing but darkness. I don’t remember anything. I don’t remember anyone. I don’t remember who I am. How is this possible?
My thoughts are interrupted by a loud creak. The door swings open and a small man emerges from it. He’s wearing a lab coat too big for him, one that—considering the dirtiness of the room—is unusually white. He’s drops a file on the table containing books and papers, raises his left hand—which make the sleeve of his oversized lab coat drop to his elbow—and checks his watch. He looks at me, nodding reassuringly. He lets the hand fall to his side, the left sleeve drops to this hairy wrist and swallows it and his watch. He watches me with keen eyes and smiles. When he speaks, his voice sounds sing-song, fitting for a man of his stature
“Hello! I’m Dr. Ishai Ishak. A doctor with the army. I’m sure you have lots of questions. I’d say nothing till you ask them, so I don’t overwhelm you. I just want you to know that you are safe and you have nothing to worry about.” He smiles at me again.
My mouth feels dry when I try to speak and the headache has returned.
“Waterrr…pleeease….”, I say, with a croaky voice.
“Okay, just a second” Dr. Ishak goes to one of the tables and bends over. He brings out a pack of bottled water, takes one bottle out, and rushes to what I assume is a sink behind me. I can hear clattering. He finally returns with a cup and pours some water into it. I gulp it down quickly. Now, I can speak.
“Where is this place? What happened to me? And how did I get here?”
Dr. Ishak grabs the only chair in the room and sits close to my arm dangling from the bed and drinking the yellow fluid.
“This is the basement of one of the Army’s secret hideouts that masquerades as a family home. Most of our proper treatment centers were destroyed. We’re safe here because this is one place the enemy wouldn’t think to look for us “, Dr. Ishak says. “You’re one of our own; a soldier who was shot in combat, and you’re here to get better”
My free hand clasps the cup tighter. This answer isn’t enough for me.
“What…what army?”, I stutter.
“The Noble Sambisan Front, the protectors of former Nigeria’s north and its border with Niger. From 2029 to this year 2041, we have fought to reclaim our country and extinguish evil outsiders who have defiled our land. We seek to bring an end to this terrible war that has gone on for decades and instill peace in the entire region”, Dr. Ishak replies, a little bit animated.
I’m a soldier? We’re in 2041? What is going on?
I can’t know for sure that this man is telling the truth, but his kind eyes and smile command me to trust him. I look at my leg again, the pain has reduced significantly. I turn to Dr.Ishak “How is my leg able to heal so quickly? And why can’t I remember anything at all about myself?” The questions roll out of my mouth quickly, portraying the urgency with which I needed them to be answered.
“Regarding your memory loss, it’s probably the result of a head injury you sustained while on the field. Your leg…now, that’s interesting”, Dr. Ishak smiles broadly, revealing some dirty teeth. “We were able to create some doses of enhanced AXOL, a drug named after the axolotl; the mexican salamander with impressive regenerative abilities” Dr. Ishak gestures to the bag of yellow liquid that’s seeping into my veins. “AXOL is a drug that speeds up human regeneration. Think cells, tissues, muscles, bones, even entire limbs. Healing that could take years and months now takes just days and hours, sometimes, minutes. It’s really helped our soldiers in the war effort. So many would’ve died, including you”
I gulp. I’m still very confused.
“Dr. Ishak, you seem like a brilliant man but you still haven’t helped me much here. Who am I?”
He sighs, impatiently.
“Your name is Jamal. Jamal Ardo. That’s the little I can tell you right now. You have been through enough already. Get some rest.
The days after that are hell for me. I don’t know exactly how many days go by but I know the pain worsens with each one. I also notice that the movement of the tissues and muscles; the ‘rapid regeneration’ has stopped. Dr. Ishak assures me that it’s normal. Yet, everyday, he goes out and returns with different bags of AXOL.
On one of those days, the healing process recommences. And in a few hours, my leg is completely healed. Dr. Ishak takes the bag of AXOL to his table and jots something in one of those files he usually keeps locked in his desk. I stare at my leg. The wound is completely gone now and there isn’t a single scar where it was. Like magic. I attempt to stand, but immediately, I wobble and fall.
“Damn!” I yell. “It hurts when I move”
“Oh. Sorry, I didn’t tell you” Dr. Ishak says, rushing to my side. “In no time that too would go away”
He apologizes that there is no pain reliever for me. He says that the war outside has made it difficult to get certain drugs. I don’t complain. I sleep in my hospital bed and eat lots of fruits and different cuisines that I don’t know. Dr. Ishak brings them all to me. I never leave the room.
Something is off.
Every time I ask why I’m not allowed to leave, Dr. Ishak says it’s for my safety, that I’m not totally healed. He conducts my physiotherapy sessions in the room too and in no time, I begin to walk fine. But for some reason, he’s unimpressed. All he does is look at the bags of AXOL, shake his head and jot in a file. The one he locks away.
” I’m starting to feel cranked up in here” , I say. “My leg’s all good. Why can’t I go outside ?”
“I expected you to ask. You look okay so far. So tomorrow”, He replies.
The next day, after breakfast, I fall sick. I feel so weak that I can’t stand or move at all.
“What’s…happening..” the words come out of my mouth in a slur.
Dr. Ishak smiles “You’d be fine. You just need some AXOL”
I’m too weak to object. He injects me with some of the yellow liquid.
That evening, I start to feel better. I can finally sit up to gobble up supper that Dr. Ishak brought in. He wouldn’t let me speak, urging me to eat so I regained strength. I have lots of questions. Something sinister is happening to me and I can’t explain it. However, he is right, I’m so weak and I’ve developed an appetite. I need to eat.
As soon as I’m done eating, I feel a weakness and sharp pain come over me. I can’t speak and my vision is blurry.
I can feel him struggle to lift me up and he finally puts me on the bed.
“Sorry, you’ll be fine”, he says, right before I feel a prick on my arm. I assume it’s some AXOL.
It’s a new day, and I feel better. But there’s no way I’m letting that Dr. Ishak know. I feign a sickness. I act like I can’t move, I drool, I pee on myself, anything at all that makes him think that I’m still sick.
He comes in, looks at me and frowns.
“You’re supposed to be doing better. What happened”. He then walks over to his desk, unlocks the drawer and brings out the file. He scribbles something and drops the file on the table where the AXOL bags are. He picks one of them and approaches my bed.
“Ugh” He covers his nose as the stench of my urine hits him. “You’d need new sheets”
As he turns towards the door. I yell and jump on his back. We fall to the ground. I’m still on top him, grabbing his neck from the back and hitting his head continuously on the floor.
“What…are… you…doing…to me!?” I keep yelling.
He struggles and tries to scratch my hands but I’m too strong for him. I turn his face towards me and throw two punches at his nose. Then I let him fall to the ground, bleeding.
I scramble to the table where that file is seated. PROJECT PHANES: SUBJECT 1577 is written boldly in it’s cover page. I open it.
The first thing I see is a picture of me with a name written under it–Capt. Jamal Ardo. I scan through the first page. It reads:
Captain Ardo is the leader of the Aryan Brigade of the New Nigerian Army. A high-ranking enemy of the Noble Sambisan Front and a dangerous opponent of the global AlHayaa movement.
Mission was to bring him in—and any valuable member of his brigade—dead or alive. Mission fulffiled. Capt. Ardo has been brought in alive and will undergo Project Phanes.
My heart beats faster as I continue reading. I flip to the next page.
Day 1- 13th April, 2041
Subject begins AXOL procedure.
Appropriate amount of AXOL 25 to begin subject’s regeneration process.
There are some other details on the page but I keep flipping.
Day 7 – 19th April, 2041
Subject undergoes the NEP.T procedure. Appropriate amount of Nepenthene to erase subject’s core memories but not make him senile.
*Subject must retain valuable combat skills which would be valuable to the Front.
I continue reading the file, even more confused.
Day 15 – 4th May, 2041
Project stalled temporarily. Subject moved to secure hideout location as a result of Incessant attacks on The Front’s research facilities.
I notice Dr Ishak groaning on the floor. I tear some pages from the file and put them in the pockets of my urine-stained pants. I scatter his table, his desk, everywhere, searching for something. Anything. I open one drawer and see a gun. I pick it up and fix it on my waist.
I walk over to Dr. Ishak and kick him on the chest.
“Talk to me! What’s Project Phanes?”
Dr. Ishak smiles, blood on his mouth.
“Phanes…Greek god of new life, survivor of death” He laughs and continues talking menacingly.
“You can’t stop us. You have the technological weapons. We have chemistry. We have your men. We brainwash them Experiment on them. Convince them they’re on our side and send them to war. If they are shot or injured…” He cackles loudly and coughs.
“…we bring them in, they undergo Project Phanes again and they are regenerated, reborn! You have the weapons. We have an endless army!”
I didn’t anticipate the punch he throws at my face. It is weak, but he succeeds in getting me off him.
He quickly brings out a device from his pocket and yells in a language I don’t understand. I know I don’t have much time.
I head for the door. I see stairs and I climb them as fast as I could. They lead to another door. I open it. I hear voices. Footsteps. People are running towards me. I find myself in the middle of a large living room. The voices are getting louder. The footsteps are getting closer. I see a door, I assume it is the entrance to the living room from the outside, and people would come running in at any minute.
I dash into another room close to me. I lock the door and scan the room. Empty. What do I do? Think. Think. There’s a window. Yes!
I run to it and fling it open without wasting time. I look outside and see a garden. I jump, without a care in the world, straight into weeds and thorns. My eyes are immediately stung by the sun. I shield them with my hands and keep running into a forest nearby. I don’t stop. I don’t look back.
About the Writer