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"Welcome to the Central Science Facility at Lambda Corporation. Wear your ID Pass in a visible spot and identify yourself to the members of our staff when required to. For your own safety, keep an eye on your personal belongings. You may not claim them once outside of the facility. Never detach yourself from..."
The mechanical woman just went on indicating the rules that were apparently necessary for us to come out of the factory in one unprocessed piece. I, Kevin and the rest of the 2011 Maryland Industrial Design class toured the company's state-of-the-art headquarters. A prolific conglomerate giant who apparently was behind every recent advancement in the health and robotics industries, or so did our eccentric architecture teacher claim.
'For all we know this could be a terrorist organization with a mind-blowing eye for design' pointed out Kevin. I rolled my eyes and told him to stop being paranoid. But what surrounded us was very sterile, very plain, as if it had something to hide. A line of corrugated windows at the top of the walls let a great deal of natural sunlight come in, it being absorbed by the gray, hard concrete floor. A surveillance camera stalked us through a rail on the roof as we went along. The rest of the room was empty.
The tour guide, a fine-looking nerd in a white lab-coat and goggles kept commenting on details that I might have as well listened to, but was too caught up on the uneasy feeling that the great grey aisle conveyed to me. Everyone was asking questions like curious little children, nodding excitedly at every fact. And me and my friend, the outsiders who didn't give a damn for that void place.
'Don't you feel the floor shaking?' commented Kevin a minute or two into the stroll. And indeed it was. The concrete tile started vibrating progressively more strongly. The concrete platform rose and lifted us above the rest of the shocked group. Everyone clapped.
'The concept of a living factory has been taken to the extreme in this facility. Everything takes care of itself. Little or no maintenance is needed, which saves Lambda millions in staff each year...' The tour guide began explaining. The platform put us on ground level as the group advanced and the guy in the white coat continued to reveal the true nature of the place. Turns out all walls, floors and ceilings were made from thousands of those robotic plates.
The excursion continued its course, as the panels in the wall in front of us accommodated to form a pathway. The factory was indeed "alive" as we would come to see in the following rooms, considerably more interesting than the first one. A platform descended from the sky in order to make a bridge around a brown water pool. Doors opened as we approximated into them. More panels rose one on top of each other to form stairs from nowhere. The surveillance camera still followed us from the roof and its footage projected upon giant screens. The robotic apparatuses moved and organized themselves frantically at our sight, with a sudden and surprised urgency as if we had caught them in the toilet with their pants off. All along, the pre-recorded messages reminded us not to come to close to the edge of the pool and other obvious safety concerns with the monotone female voice.
'So that's what this place is all about' I told my mate.
'That's nice, so the place takes care of itself and the terrorists can focus on world domination. Everyone wins!' I just ignored his sour commentary. 'Come on, we'll lose them! Hurry up' exclaimed I upon the sight of everybody getting further away from us.
'What's the point... You'll see the bomb in action when they throw it over the White House' Kev's comments weren't of real worry; he just didn't seem to give a damn about the whole matter. 'Can you honestly tell me why you came here if you hate it so badly? I mean, what we are seeing is truly a miracle of engineering' I gave him an awkward laugh.
'Should you ask, my man' his sarcastically euphoric voice overrode the last part of my sentence 'I find this a slightly less tortuous experience than studying for finals.'
'Let me remind you that you need the credits to pass and so far you have not given a good impression on the dean... It’s just like... Why am I telling you this? I am not your babysitter.' I was clearly fed up and ready to finish the conversation. Kevin just gave me a look with airs of superiority. We must have distracted in our small cat-fight because when we looked up nobody was there. We were alone in a small room, with stairs pointing to nowhere, columns rising further from our sights' reach, a net of transparent pipes running across the walls. 'Ok... So now we are lost.' I could barely suppress my disappointment.
'They could have gone out in every directi...' I shushed Kevin, for a pre-recorded message was coincidentally explaining the procedure of exit for disoriented morons.
"Should you detach yourself from your group, wait in place until the surveillance cameras track you down and a way out is indicated accordingly. Please avoid touching anything or deviating yourself from the signaled path."
I couldn't even finish hearing when Kevin pulled my arm and made me look to the left. A couple of tangled plates struggled to get back into place. Through the spaces between them dim light got diffused in utter darkness. 'Wha...? Oh, no, no, no. We are not moving and even less crawling inside there.' I rotundly shook my head and gave Kevin the incriminating "are you kidding me?" look.
'Just for a second! I want to see what these people are up to!' he exclaimed using the face of an excited child wanting to do something perverse. I made an ultimatum about not moving from what was our current location. I couldn’t figure out why he was so convinced that there was even something worthy of our attention behind that wall. I was still trying to make contact with his rational side... If there actually was one to Kevin Townsend.
'Ok, so let’s go in there, scan the place and if there is nothing interesting we come back.' I kept ignoring my fella's nonsense. There was a pause, at the time in which Kevin reached out for my jacket, took of my ID Pass and threw it onto the unknown. I didn't even say a word, just angrily stomped and squished myself through the gaps of the wall. Monsieur Townsend came after me as I scanned the floor searching for my card. 'Found it!' I called out as I pinned the Pass to my jacket again.
Without warning, the plates managed to untangle themselves and sealed the wall
behind us. My expression got frozen in disrupt, but by the time my messed-up mind was able to assimilate reality, Kevin was already trying to force the plates open and cursing at the wall, who stood still and took the aggression very calmly and professionally.
'Oh f***! What are we going to do now?' I demanded to know. Kevin had already had his moment of rage and stood surprisingly calm. 'You are enjoying this...aren't you?' I couldn't help but to ask. He didn't seem even slightly disturbed to find a way back to where we were.
And so we started following the hallway before us. It took us to a bunch of smaller passageways, stairs, doors and bridges crossing endless pits. We made decisions as to which paths to follow in an entirely blind way. The rooms became lit as we went along and the machines kept doing arrangement chores when we approximated. We ended up in a dead end which looked as futuristic and minimalist as the rest of the facility. All along the way, I called out for mankind, but I got easily bored once I accepted the fact that there wouldn't be anybody there to hear my whining besides robots. In every direction, the center outreached our vision. The scale in which it was built was simply impressive. When I wasn´t busy feeling like an idiotic design college student who got lost in the most pathetic way, I felt like a terrestrial tourist sightseeing alien engineering wonders in an exotic orb.
What looked like an elevator shaft stood in a platform in a corner of the chamber, connected to the floor by a dumbwaiter. As we stepped on the mobile, it went up by itself and we walked towards the elevator. An illuminated map displayed on a big screen above showed the infinite areas of the facility, but there was no point on trying to decipher it. The compound was indeed gargantuan, bigger than any place I could have ever seen in my life or picture in my head. So many passageways, so many elevators, so many halls, so many chambers; my eyes got tired before I could come up with a solution. Our point of location was signaled though. We were right besides greenhouse n12. Skimming through the map I could read tags signaling areas of the complex: ‘Penicillin Extraction’, ‘Scientific Research Wing’, ‘Drug Testing’...
'Ladies first, Malcolm.' Kevin interrupted my line of thoughts and directed me to the elevator. I mumbled some answer to him which I cannot remember now, but had something to do with the fact that jumping inside an elevator and going someplace-unknown is the least prudent thing to do when you are already confused as to your whereabouts. But Kevin was already in, and I followed him, for my mind was hovering between extremes, not being able to think clearly and idealize a strategy to get the guy out of there.
The elevator didn't give us a choice and took us down. We descended for a couple minutes, deep into the underground. No ray of either natural or artificial light penetrated our surroundings. When we finally came to a full stop, I couldn't see much through the translucent glass. My body was slowly overtaken by fear at the sight of darkness. The minute luminary that filled the environment, as captured by our utmost blind eyes, revealed the shapes of pipes hanging from above, the texture of old concrete walls and the precarious metal bridge that we were about to step into. Further into the horizons, there was nothing but pitch-black. As the door sled and we set foot on the platform, some lights near us turned on. We were literally hanging from mid air. Even with illumination my eyes couldn't see the bottom of the pit. I felt that, even if I had worked at Lambda for over twenty years that was not a place where I was supposed to be. A message greeted us as we cautiously advanced through the bridge. This time, a cheerful man was talking with an annoyingly over-done southern accent.
"Yello' and welcome to the chemical control and storage line; Wear appropriate clothing to protect yourself from harming pathogens in the air, and always fulfill the necessary safety and hygiene measures when manipulating chemical compounds. You wouldn't wanna be sick for the day. Science needs you up and about to progress and reach new heights! If you feel dizziness, nausea, or your heart stops beating, it’s probably just the asbestos in the walls!"
Yes, there was obviously something awfully peculiar about that message, something that I could only describe as an overly carefree attitude towards that which is lethal. My body suddenly put its guard up. I pointed it out to Kevin, to which he gave me one of his edgy, irreverent answers. 'These are the headquarters of a pharmaceutical company. They prevent curing cancer in favor of profits. Don't expect them to be very warm to people.'
I gave him the look. As we slowly made our way through the bridge, at all times with the nervous pulses of vertigo running through our spines and shaking the very last cell, we contemplated the impressive magnitude of what surrounded us. I managed to peer down at the bottom and saw that we were walking over water. The concrete support that sustained our bridge was built over of a large rock wall. The whole thing looked like a cave which had been invaded by artifices. I couldn't really tell; I have already cleared up that the epic scale of the place was not visible to our short-ranged sight. Looking above I could see two colossal, rusty metal spheres hanging like moons from hoses that prolonged way up onto the invisible. Towers rose from the water and constructions stood out from the face of that cliff. The environment was humid and the smell foul. Sure, it was not as pretty as what was above, but it was still extraordinary, out of this world, and under those circumstances it did nothing to calm my feeling of uneasiness.
There was a door at the end of the bridge. Scripted over it were the words "out of usage". The structure looked like a control booth, overlooking at the vastness. Kevin got in first, seeing that I was too freaked out to be the brave one. On the inside it looked like a regular work place, and it occurred to me that maybe there were workers after all someplace in the facility. A couple of desktops computers, chairs facing the windows, and the usual buttons, levers, handles and alarms. Looking right, the window showed more of the cave and the buildings that had overtaken it. Looking left, a work station oversaw a big room, where the center piece was a massive storage tank where pipes seemed to drop their load. A warning sign was painted red over its surface: "Caution, toxic". Fumes of gas irradiated from the unions. As I stared paralyzed at it, Kevin came up to me and put something in my hand. 'What is this?' I inquired.
"Invest in Lambda: The future of Science". It was a brochure. Kevin walked away as he told me to look inside and added one of his conspiracy-driven punch lines. 'I bet al-Qaeda has some nice deadly virus hidden in there.'
'Still caught up in the terrorist thing, huh?'. I raised my sight and saw him forcing the door. 'What? You are the one that so desperately wants to get out!' he accused. I went back to the brochure. "Built right on top of the old, decommissioned facility of Lambda Corporation"... blah, blah, blah... “We aim to create the closest thing to a living factory.” "The pinnacle of engineering and technology... New complex will allow us to expand"... "All in the name of SCIENCE!"... "Lambda Corporation: Progress has a name. CEO Cyrus Williams. 1983(C)"
'So this is the old Lambda. Up there is the new Lambda! The Lambda we are supposed to be touring with the rest of the class! How lost are we? Tell me!' I desperately interrogated. I couldn't get used to the idea of what two sophomore year idiots must had done to drift so much apart from the place they were supposed to be so as to end up in the deepest, most hidden shut down part of Lambda's massive maze.
And on top of everything, I could feel my perception levels starting to decay. We had been walking for over two hours already, and I just couldn’t help but to sit on a chair that lay close to me. Although Kevin’s mind still seemed as childishly hyperactive as I had become used to, there was slowness in his body movements that seemed to indicate how needy he was for a break too. We decided to set up a small camp in that space to relax a little bit. I was convinced that five minutes of resting and a sip of my water bottle would be enough to get me up and about.
Before I could realize, I was waking up from having given birth to dreamless dreams. The first two seconds of consciousness were marked by the illusion of waking up in my room, and it wasn’t until my eyes fully opened that I found myself sitting in that same chair where laid down, still inside that crumbling box hanging from a cliff and separated only by a cracked window from a pool of noxious gasses. It was a feeling of sheer disappointment. My watch signaled around 8 o’ clock. I am pretty much sure that the time I had slept could be counted in the realm of the hours. When I woke up, I witnessed Kevin trying to unlock a door with a clip, and praising himself for succeeding afterwards. ‘The elevator won’t go up again, we can only advance’ he commented as he tended me his arm to help me stand up.
Seeing my sanity at the border of suicide, Kevin shushed me and showed me the open door. It led to a spiral stairway. Without giving me a chance to complain, he started going up, and I followed tiredly. The always omnipresent messages kept rolling.
"Lambda Corp just wants to remind you that we love you! Every employee is an important contributor in our mission to ally with science! That being said, we have inspected the cafeteria's meals and now you can eat safely knowing that mercury no longer constitutes a significant proportion of your nutrition. Your safety today, science tomorrow... and also today! This is Cyrus, at your service.
'I'm glad they changed the announcer’s voice when they renovated. I can't stand that old science crazed southern...'
'Shut the f*** up, Kevin!' Obviously I had intended to throw a casual, passive 'shut up' to him, but I was in a place of such stress that nothing could pour out of my mouth except aggressive verbal diarrhea. As he gave me acid sarcasm asking if I was in that time of the month, I was repeating the message in my head. 'Cyrus!' I thought out loud.
'Cyrus? What have you been smoking, man? At that point the stairway ended and we were in front of a door. I opened it and crossed the threshold. Kevin followed me. I had smoked nothing. The tour guide had cleared up from the beginning that nobody worked inside this architectural pile of artifices, but in my mind the question of why weren't there humans kept growing in size and mystery.
We entered an aisle. As always, the lights on the ceiling turned on; it looked like the hallway of an abandoned hospital: grey concrete, completely empty, rows of doors appearing, which, once we tried to open out of curiosity, found out they were all locked. As we sauntered through that creepy passage, I had that kind of feeling where one is expecting a giant insectoid monster to jump out of the ceiling at any time and eat one alive. Halfway, we managed to grasp some sparkling white lumens through the little barred windows on a door in front of us. ‘Come on Kevin’ I shouted as I started hurrying towards the doorway and he followed from way behind. As I approached the door I could see it was ajar, and so I rushed my pace and pushed it, and Kevin came in a second later and stood right next to me as we set eyes on the rows of shelves that covered the walls, each containing an array of metallic parts. In the south edge of the room, through a glass pane we could identify the place where the sparks came from: inside a dusty white room which must have been a test chamber in better days, a small robot, which I can only describe as a sentry gun supported on six spider-like legs, fired a laser beam through all of its holes at a target. Strangely enough, the target had a human form.
In our side of the chamber, Kevin was already rummaging through everything in that hyper curious manner which is only common in him and on five-year olds. As I lay on a table, I could observe notepads, pens, coffee mugs… Kevin outrun me in reaching for the papers and read them. ‘Adjust launcher power… Calibrate direction…’ he read out-loud with a muddled expression ‘Man; it looks like these guys were testing this thing in the precise moment were everything went to hell. And these pesky scientists they didn’t even bother cleaning up the place before migrating God knows where’. My friend was almost joking when those phrases came out of his mouth fast and full of the voice influxes proper of sarcasm. But the guy had a point! It was just as if this whole cave had been wiped out suddenly when the new Lambda center was built on top of it. Where had everybody gone?
One can only imagine my reactions (I myself haven’t been able to recreate them) in that place, that seemed to get only weirder by the second. The Central Science Facility of Lambda Corporation had started in my head as an admirable, yet slightly boring masterpiece of construction, and continued to progress into a climax of mystery.
At that very moment, a gigantic explosion sent debris from the left side of the room and left a big hole in the rock wall, exposing in the other side another metal bridge, and in the background a chamber of streamlined design, very open and bathed in moonlight, with sky-high ceilings from which hanged glass pipes. It was the new Lambda. As our paralyzed bodies, now on the floor, regained balance after the tremor, another robot emerged from the other side. A metallic arm came down from the ceiling, which held a robotic spherical head in the end. The sphere exhibited two missile launchers at the side, and a Cyclops eye in the middle. The machine signaled us with a laser pointer. The eye lit up.
“Target detected” Announced an androgynous mechanized voice.
‘Run!’ I yelled, grabbing Kevin’s arm, who was still staring in awe at our automated visitor. He still held the notepad he had grabbed from the table. In a reflexive manner (that is, I wasn’t actually deciding where to run, just going for the first thing my eyes considered being an escape path), we dashed past the explosive-spitting head and into the metal bridge on the other side of the room. After taking one second to recalculate, the iron beast followed us yet again through the roof. Kevin and I run silently and stepped on solid panel ground at the end of the bridge, trying to gasp air.
“One or more of the facility’s robots seems to be experimenting technical difficulties. If you happen to be approached by one or one or more tries to gas you with lethal poison and shoot nails at your genitalia, just ignore them and run into a safe spot, which you will be directed to.”
The female-voiced Lambda messages were right, although the way Lambda announces had of saying things was getting more perverse by the second; immediately, the panel which we were stepping on rose and took us to a platform high above, next to the room’s entrance gate, which opened for us as we ran towards it. Once on the other side, the door sealed shut, and our worn out bodies took a rest. As I sat down recovering lost oxygen, Kevin stood and read a luminous sign at the opposite side of the room. ‘Thank god for that woman’ said I, pointing at the ceiling.
“MISSILE BOMBER TEST ARENA #2”
‘Missile bombers…? Are you too trying to figure out what in the name of my momma is this company producing?’ Kevin asked in irritated perplexity. I just didn’t have an answer. But between the poisonous gas tank and the sentry gun in the abandoned room at the decommissioned Lambda, together with the giant, sophisticated apparatus of terror that guarded the wide space behind the door, it seemed like this corporation had a long history dealing with weapons of terror. Then again, it masqueraded as a pharmacy and robotics researcher whose main concern was the health industry. I wasn’t ready to make any judgments, and I was definitely not willing to solve any potential mysteries surrounding the business Lambda run. For now, I just wanted to get out of the facility.
At this point I cached a glimpse of Kevin burning with frustration. ‘What’s up, Kev?’ I called out, to which he answered ‘I mean, really, they told us like five hours ago that an evacuation path would be signaled! Where are those surveillance cameras tracking us down?’ And precisely, as if everything had been carefully orchestrated, the robot sphere that had been watching over us a while before approached us through the rail. Kevin lost no time in insulting the poor automaton. ‘What do you want from us for crying out loud?’ he demanded to know, starting to bulge in fury. ‘We are human beings. We are not toys, we are not test subjects, we are students!’ He aggressively confronted the camera, shaking his arms, making fists, and I could peer for a moment at the recorder centering its sight on the notepad Kevin had in his hand. The camera then slid out of the scene, at the moment in which we heard another memo.
“An evacuation path will be signaled once your location has been tracked down. Do not go anywhere else. Do not touch anything”
The message was keen on highlighting that we didn’t touch anything and didn’t drift ourselves from the path that would be signaled. As much as I would have loved to have followed the protocol, my friend had had it. ‘I am not putting up with this s*** anymore, you crazy, crazy people!’ He then stomped left. I grabbed him by the arm but he pulled me away. ‘Get away from me Malcolm. Don’t you see it? They are playing with us. You saw what I saw. Those weapons aren’t meant to cure people. They are meant to do war! You da** terrorists!’ Kevin was just plain screaming at this point. He had lost it. He came closer to me and grabbed my arm. ‘And how do you explain the fact that every human being has abandoned the whole place out of the blue, not even bothering to pick their da** personal items?!’ He held the notepad to my face, after which he marched left again.
‘Let’s go down there again!’ he made a pause to reformulate his next sentence ‘Don’t you see it? Down there we are invisible to them. No surveillance cameras, no freaking missile-launching robots! We can go down there, and then find a way out. The old thing must have had exits too!’ In all of Kevin’s rage I could see desperate begging for freedom. I couldn’t but feel pity for him. I have always been the more tranquil one, the one that thinks with the head. But he had every right in the world to have a mental breakdown in those circumstances. ‘Kev…’ I started, but got interrupted ‘Listen Malcolm, whoever controls this place hates people, and wants to see them die. We are dolls for him. Come here and fight me yourself instead of hiding behind your toys!’ he talked to the walls, before finally walking out, leaving me no choice but to follow him. I knew the man, I knew him, and if there was something about Kevin Townsend, was that when he set his mind on something, Satan himself wouldn’t have been able to change his course.
Kevin marched and marched across the hallway, never changing directions, always looking up front. We were approaching a big area were the panels absented themselves, leaving a bare rock wall. The wall plates slid in front of us and we were forced to turn left. And again, and again, and again… As the hallways were shifting shapes, I could only deduce that they were taking us somewhere. At some point, we ended up crossing paths with the travelling camera, who looked us very attentively. Kevin, still in a state of disruption, screamed again at the hanging sphere. ‘Where are we going? It better be an exit… It better be an exit you b****.’ There was an awkward silence. The camera’s eyes moved up and down our figure, as if it was scanning us, and Kevin wasn’t in the mood to be scanned. He had always been a strong man; played college football… ‘What the f*** are you looking at?’ he demanded to know before, out of provocation, suddenly throwing a violent fist at the camera. The glass eye shattered fragments of parts fell down to the floor. ‘What the…?’ I stammered. A message came out of the agonizing robot ‘Sentry mode on. Eradicate the aggressors’, and before I could realize, the plates shifted back onto their original locations. We were back in the big stone alley, in front of a small door a couple dozen meters away. A noisy alarm set of, shaking us with a current of fear.
What had Kevin done, for Christ sake? The boards rose slightly, uncovering below them a horde of menacing turrets, which began shooting as we, their distressing prays, raced death forward in an attempt of escape. Fierce bullets run by my side while I struggled to keep my pace. We cornered left, following the natural course of the hall, but were intercepted by the same arthropod laser-shooting sentry gun we had saw in the abandoned test room of old Lambda. There were an army of them, but this time, a polished white case wrapped them, with the corporation’s logo and slogan stamped on the side. They now looked like sleek assassins ready to burn their innocent targets’ bones into ashes.
Trapped among two deadly killers, my mate and I immediately run for the door, taking advantage of a moment where the wall turrets recharged ammunition. We managed to get in just in time before a flock of bullets and laser beams burnt the whole alley down.
Where we had gotten in looked like another behind-the-scenes area. The sound of mind-boggling silence spread across the room. Our steps as we came down some stairs echoed and bounced through the wide space and came to haunt us from the back, so did the explosions we could hear from the other side of that door, until they too became extinct. They had lost us, and in a place like Lambda that could only mean that they were looking for us again.
This time, we run through a path of concrete. In between two of these there was a conveyor belt. It looked like an assembly line or something of the sort. The lights turned on… I couldn’t actually believe somebody here cared enough about us still to turn the lights on instead of leaving us in total gloom. A stairway on the other side conducted to another observation booth. 'Hello?!' I called out hoping in vane that somebody would just happen to be up there. But instead I was greeted by a message. The robotic female was speaking now again. I couldn’t even hear the message clearly, for my entire body was in a state of rush.
"You have entered the incinerator. Please be cautious around the conveyor belt."
'Incinerator’ I said to myself ‘I want to go up there' I told Kevin as I signaled the observatory. He didn't say a word. He was surprisingly mute, looking at a TV screen hanging from a pivot. It showed a recording of the Maryland University Industrial Design class of 2011 touring a similar room somewhere in the compound. They could all be seen taking notes and smiling joyfully at some humanoid arms in an assembly line skillfully packaging pills. Kevin stood still, and with my knowledge of him, I could see his brains melting with rage. I went alone up the stairs and entered the room. It was a mayhem zone. On the floor rested pencils, chairs and broken glass. Electric cables hung from the destroyed roof and shadows danced in and out as the lights blinked. There was blood in the chair, and on the desk a mug next to the package of some medicament. As I heard downstairs Kevin swearing 'if only those students were let in here and saw what these bas****s have done!' something legible was scratched in the window, addressed to anyone who happened to walk by. As I read it, the demons of fear possessed me. My body shook in disbelief, my face took an ill expression.
"DON'T LISTEN TO HER. SHE KILLED CYRUS WILLIAMS. SHE HAS TAKEN OVER THE FACILITY. SHE IS TESTING EXPERIMENTAL DRUGS ON US."
The note then ended with "humans were here. Kenny the humble waste inspector" As I finished reading, or the terrified, inexpressive half-person that was left of myself did, I felt a presence. Altered as I was, I looked down, I looked sideways, and then up. The trembling surveillance camera, still alive was now hanging from the rail above me, without moving one inch from my side. They had found us yet again.
'Kevin, dude, what's going on?' I needled from upstairs. Still standing on the belt, he signaled down. In the bottom of the pit, there was mud, there were ashes... There were... bones. Probably the bones of those who had been brave enough to challenge the Lambda Corporation Central Science Facility. My emotions were riding a roller coaster.
The mechanical woman delivered another message.
"A neurotoxin is now purposefully being filtrated across the area. Please stand still and let it act on your body. Trying to escape will only make death more agonizing."
Such a polite tone and complete disregard for the value of life; But I knew better. I spotted an emergency exit and shouted out to my friend. "Come on! Let’s get out of here!'
"You may not leave the area"
Kevin reacted to my calling, but before he could run out, two tall barriers isolated the conveyor belt from the pathways and the thing started moving. The panels on the wall swerved, revealing behind a blazing chimney spitting red. The computer repeated:
"You may not leave the area."
'Malcolm! Let me out!' Kev hysterically called out to me. I heard him calling out just in time to perceive in utter horror another multitude of bullets lodging on his limbs. A turret hiding on a corner had done the condemning task. Assuming that he was still alive, I tried touching all buttons, pulling all the levers. But there was no effect. I was now sure as hell that a superior force controlled the entire place; a non-human one, but with the sentience and intelligence of a real person. And it was mad, trying to get rid of us so that the damning discoveries never reached the daylight: The current forces behind the whole of Lambda Corp weren't people.
As the conveyor belt reached its final destination, Kevin and I said our goodbyes to each other. 'Get out of here! For the both of us! Tell everyone what you saw.' he yelled with the little forces of life that he managed to hold onto. I couldn't hold the stream of tears. I raised my hand and saluted Kevin, for my mouth was glued together with frustration. The neurotoxin in the air made it hard to breathe, so I run towards the emergency exit, as I caught a glimpse of Kevin, brave and stubborn as he ever was, trying to figure out a last frantic attempt of escapism with his half-disabled body, which culminated in him jumping suicidal onto the pit, probably with irrational hopes of last-minute survival. I vaguely recall he was blatantly cursing at his manufactured assassin with a weak stream of screams coming out of his mouth, as he tried to decide whether to have his bones crushed or be carbonized in a swirl of flames, but I would rather not hold on to such a tragic scene.
Witty jazz music had started playing where Kevin had lost his life and I struggled to run out with mine. Its sound only made the scene more psychotic, just as she enjoyed it to be. As I closed the door and took the stairs towards the rays of freedom that filtered through a semi-open exit, my eyes blurring and my whole body rotting under the effects of the neurotoxin, the surveillance camera still chasing me through the rail like a dog to a tire, I overheard her, the boss, talking again in her psychopath, emotionless artificial pitch.
"My sincerest condolences; I tried to get you out but you were just getting under my nerves. It's imperative that what stories you two have uncovered remain between closed doors. Forgive me for my actions, but Lambda's shares in the stock exchange are now better rated than ever. I must be doing something right. No hard feelings between us, I hope."