Interlude pt. I p.2

She stopped walking. The realization terrified her—she had worked so hard to distance herself from her colleagues and their reactions to the failed experiment. But here she was, deep in the throes of her own existential outburst and… ‘Failed experiment?’ she thought, ‘Seven people died.’

It was incomprehensible. Seven people… Seven human beings. Seven. The number didn’t even make sense to her anymore, the same way a word loses its meaning when you repeat it too many times; it was as if her sensory systems had collapsed and needed a reintroduction to the world.

She struggled to raise her eyes from the floor and looked around in a trance—even the oft-traveled building seemed suddenly alien, its long hallways and grand ceilings so far removed from anything she had known growing up; or even ten years ago, for that matter.

And at the end of the hall, an electric tinged night sky revealed itself beyond a curved window, empty, save for the subtle glow of multicolored lights reflecting off the clouds. It was as foreign as this building, but it was all that rest between her and wherever she was going, and so she set off down the hall once more.

Past an earthen colored mural and beyond a set of decorative glass doors, she came into a wide corridor laden with pearl white flooring and metallic runners where a few people were milling about and talking. On one side, a variety of artwork—paintings, mostly, and a curiously phallic looking statue—could be found displayed along the sand colored walls. And to her right, ceiling high panes of glass, aglow with a variety of holographic maps and visitor information, offered a decent view of the cavernous parking garage beyond.

Walking hesitantly into the room, she was careful not to do anything that might attract attention; but a man, mid thirties, dressed in a sports jacket and tie, was coming toward her. Quickly, she stepped up to the glass and pressed a hand upon it, hiding her face from his view.

“Excuse me, miss?”

‘Why, of all the people…’

“Can’t you see I’m busy?” she asked, her voice muffled.

“Ah… I didn’t quite catch that,” he said, his accent vaguely British, “but I was wondering if you could take a photo of me and the kids with this statue?” As he talked, it began to dawn on him that she wasn’t in a right state, but curiosity prodded him along anyways. “We, ah, we have one of those bloody old digital cameras with click buttons and everything, and I love the nostalgia, but—”

She dropped her arm and stared at him pitifully, lips pressed together and quivering.

“Oh, my…” he said, raising his eyebrows. “I’m so sorry to… I didn’t mean to…” he hesitated, as if trying to decide whether or not to make an attempt to console her. Eventually, he pointed over his shoulder and said, “I’ll uh… be going then.” He walked back to his children, clapping his hands and ushering them away from the odd woman who “just needed to be left alone”.

Maria stayed where she was and leaned her head against the window, trying not to cry again. She knew she must look terrible with her mascara streaking everywhere… and she couldn’t help but feel bloated lately… and… and she had become so unattractive all absorbed in her work and she used to be attractive but now she was this dreary bloaty wreck who let innocent people die and entertained her own delusions of separation when really she was just the same as everybody else and even that stupid sculptor knew more than she did and… as if it wasn’t just enough that she was a killer!

She had begun breathing heavily. It was too much to bear.

‘But you are not a killer’, her rational side reminded her, riding into her consciousness like a stalwart knight on huffing steed, ‘Those people were going to die without your help. You had to do something!’

Her tears let up for a moment while she considered the thought. There was a lot to back it up: even the board had agreed, deciding unanimously in her favor after the accident, with the only stipulation of her continued research being that she had to visit with a board-appointed sculptor twice a week for the next six months. So, technically, she had nothing to worry about…

But somehow, that was no consolation. It still hurt. And her irrational side was crying again.

Beyond the window, thirty-three stories of sprawling manmade canyon dropped precipitously into a concrete lot just below ground level, and all along the way, glass covered bridges dotted with steel docking stations ran from one side of the building to the other, connecting the two identical halves of the Paramount Human Arts Center. Maria’s eyes had absorbed themselves in the clouds of traffic streaming through the air, but her mind was losing steam; she had worn herself out.

‘Do I really want to go to Lana’s?’ a small voice asked at the back of her mind. ‘Maybe I should just go home…’

It seemed the sensible thing to do. But another part of her understood that if she went home she might do any number of inexplicable and life threatening things, just like the others had. And so she refrained from making a decision, continuing instead to watch as waves upon waves of taxis hovered and hummed in and out of the building, going everywhere and nowhere. After a minute her eyes glazed over, lost in the busy backdrop of vehicles floating through the air like schools of shining yellow fish, and for a short time, she could forget about her worries.

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