III: Into the Rabbit Hole... (Or, Played Out Alice in Wonderland Reference)

Desolate corridor stretched into empty black on either side of him. Holding up the detached wall panel and shining it in a large arc, he surveyed the devastation that had occurred.

Rows of featureless metal doors ran to the edge of sight, their sagging frames adorned with a filigree of twisting vine. Every few rooms, an elaborate wall hanging or decadent fresco interrupted the monotony; washed out and caked with dirt, the dismal murals offered unique renditions of classic, renaissance-era works.

A sense of awe and electrifying tension mixed in his skin as he walked gingerly along the tile floor, one hand covering his more sensitive bits from the biting cold of the underground.

Those statues… he thought, staring at the eerily lifelike figures hidden away in alcoves. I can’t shake the feeling that they’re watching me. Unconsciously, he began to breathe more quietly.

I hope I’m going the right way. Masked by earthen blemishes and ailing construction, the facility was almost completely alien to him. It seemed as if an ancient temple, forgotten by its people centuries ago.

A pulsing lump caught in his throat, throbbing in time with the beating of his heart. He tried to remember to un-tense his stomach and breathe fully, but the shifting shadows allowed him no peace. Lean into your fear, he remembered, from a book, don’t try and fight it. The concept worked better with public speaking.

He shined his makeshift lamp up and around. Swirls of dirt sifted down from above to dance in the dim glow of its light, upset by something overhead. He remembered Mira’s words, “Just be on your guard…” He tried not to imagine what she might have been talking about.

An intersecting hallway materialized from within the shadows’ grasp. Filled with teeming tendrils of ropey plant, it seemed as if a living entity.

This must have been the nursery, he thought, gazing cautiously beyond a massive glass fa├žade, smashed apart. Labyrinthine tangles of vegetation wrapped around each other, sprung from their earthen beds and twisted into gargantuan coils. I’m in the right place.

With an outward swing of the wrist, he let go of the wall panel. It hurtled, disc-like, until catching on the mass of growth covering the floor. It won’t last long, he thought. His eyes adjusted to the new light and he was grateful to be able to see the better part of the hallway.

Navigating carefully through the plant life, he took care to avoid tripping himself up. The last thing I need is a sprained ankle, he thought, clambering over a particularly big root. Setting his foot down, he was unnerved to notice that the vines writhed subtly, adhering to his every step.

Breathe…

The hair stood up on the back of his neck and his body tightened. He spun around frantically, certain that something was following him. It was too dark to tell.

You are in control, he told himself, his every sense actively denying the notion. He peered into the black. There is nothing there...

He went on. A promising doorway came up on his left. “Avis” he read off a nearby wall plaque. They built the first reconstructors. He placed his hands on the door by his side and pushed. The thin metal sheet budged open at a tilt, clearly broken.

Grateful that the thick emergency doors were disengaged, he jostled the lightweight sliding panel sideways until it provided him with enough space to climb through. Peering into the compact room, his eyes searched the darkness.

It's too dark to... Ah there it is. In the corner, he saw the vendor, an obsidian glass cylinder, lit dimly from the light in the hallway. It’s supposed to run on its own power supply… he thought, edging closer to the lifeless machine, why isn’t it…

Noiselessly, it glowed blue as he approached. He laid his hand on the device, words flashing through his brain, “Neural Interface activated. Wireless power unavailable. Reserve power unavailable. Allow PEF full connect?”

Thank god it works, but... that’s the only way? At least it wasn’t broken. ‘Source power from my energy field,’ he thought deliberately.

A colorful avalanche of menus and options crashed over his sight, creating a dizzying contrast of bright windows and haunting shadow, neither taking precedence over the other, both deserving of focus. He walked to a nearby corner and crouched, hand against the wall to steady himself.

It’s like riding a bicycle… he thought, remembering how to navigate between items with a combination of feeling and color recognition. Bright pictures of smiling people adorned the product windows, ghosts from another era.

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