Ch. I, p.3

The room became twisted and dark; suffocating. Muscles in his chest tightened, constricting the flow of air as his eyes scrambled in a panicked search for a way out.

Breathe… He spun around, trying to stay in control of himself, breathe... The only exit, a sliding metal door, was jammed shut, held in place by gnarled tree roots and growth. Next to it sat framed a large observation window; a circular web of cracks radiated out from the center promisingly.

He dragged himself out of the tangled strands of plant life and headed for the damaged window, struggling to make any progress over the rough terrain. A cold draft sifted down from above to mingle with the moist, warm air of the large room; glancing upwards, he found he could see the floor above through a large hole in the ceiling, barely lit by the glowing white wall panels scattered at his feet.

An amber coloration permeated the cracked glass. It looks fragile... he thought, approaching it. Slowly, he knelt and retrieved a heavy stone from the ground. Cupping it in his hands, he swung the stone back and forth, letting loose with a stiff grunt. His eardrums rang with the sound of shattering glass, tinkling as it scattered in all directions.

Oh... shit.

Sharp fragments glistened in the soil ahead. He sat down and pulled his pants off in an awkard motion; he was otherwise bare, but natural instinct favored nudity over bleeding to death. Lucky me, they're already ripped. He tore the light green trousers down the center and wrapped his feet.

Raising himself, he stepped gingerly towards the window frame, now a deathly maw lined with glassy teeth. Taking a deep breath, he laid his hands on either side of the knifelike shards and pressed his full weight downward, testing his strength. His arms shook violently and he had to take a step back, heart racing with adrenaline. Damn it.

Lifting up his head he peered around the room, trying to process his situation. Breathe deeply…A sickly unease pawed at his throat, fully... He held his breath for a moment, waiting for the fog in his head to clear. His internal rhythm slowed and his muscles relaxed, calming his jittery mind. I need to try again.

Carefully, he pressed the heels of his hands onto the window frame and raised a quivering leg over the low barrier. As he straddled the wall with difficulty, a grim awareness of what would happen if he fell sat at the back of his mind, taunting him.

He quickly swept at the floor beyond with his toes, pushing aside the glassy remnants until he had a place to stand. Clear. Pressing the ball of his foot into the grimy tile, he pulled himself upright, muscles still shaking with nervous tension.

Computer monitors in various states of disrepair lined the walls of the cramped space. Only real scientists would use such dated equipment, he thought, in an effort to keep his mind occupied with things mundane. His eyes continued around the corridor-like area; metal rungs, stained in some unidentifiable liquid, lead up to an open ventilation grate. Had someone used it to get out?

A clacking noise ticked and tacked about in the vents overhead. Heart racing, muscles twitching with adrenaline, he ducked below an overhanging statue; but he knew better than to assume it was anything more than a rat scavenging for food. The oppressiveness of the room bore down upon him.

Office chairs and overturned decorations, toppled by growth, littered his path to the door. A hefty statue had slammed into the doorway opposite, almost barricading him from the exit. He knelt down. Glass shards peppered the small tunnel. This is the only way... he confirmed with a quick look around. Lowering himself, he crawled under the metallic effigy, arm over arm, muscles tensed to keep his torso off the ground. He moved slowly, displacing bits of glass with cautious swipes as he went. A blue halo of light beckoned to him from the other side.

His hands jammed into the uneven tile, raising him up to the luminous console. A priority message blinked steadily, waiting for the next available staff member. He laid a hand on it gently.

Message from Genesys systems admin Evelyn, class 003 artificial intelligence :
Reaction sequence. Systems lock down. Full element inoperability. External malfunction code a703.

a703… he thought, running a finger over the word. a703… external threat to A.I. core operating system and memory banks; last resort operations shutdown necessary in order to protect sensitive data.

A green glowing square sat by his hand. He placed his palm on it and looked forward into a small lens.

“Welcome, [user].”

“Reactivate Evelyn,” his voice cracked.

“I’m sorry. Evelyn went completely offline, ceasing all forms of communication.”

He cleared his throat. “How can I reach her?”

“Currently, there is no way to do that,” the diminutive, genderless voice replied, “She has deemed it necessary to completely isolate herself and her processes from the rest of the facility.”

“What about the backup admin? I need her help to get out of here.”

“And why would you want to ‘get out of here’?” A third voice boomed loudly from the surrounding walls. He dropped to the ground, throwing his hands over his head to shield himself from the noise.

It was Calix. A saccharine sweetness dripped from her deafening words. “I thought you liked it here?”

His eyes watered. The sound was so loud.

“Yes, I think you do like it here. I think you like it here because I put so much of my time… no, my self… into keeping you alive in that chamber.” Her tremoring voice threatened to shake apart the very fibers that held him together. “I think you like it here because you know you owe me for saving your life. I think you’ll stay.”

Darkness washed over the room.

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