In the Dark
The clang of the trapdoor seemed to echo around me for hours as I sat in the darkness trying to ignore the throbbing of where I'd hit my head and the stickiness of the blood on my hands. I had killed her. I had killed Dr. Cisron. It had been self defense, right? But what if her sudden aggression was somehow contagious? I dropped the scalpel still clutched in my hand and desperately tried to wipe the stickiness onto the legs of my jumpsuit, but the coat of dust on it from my recent journey to the planet's surface just made my hands feel grimier. I fell forward onto all fours, vomiting onto the dusty cement floor, the weight of what I had done and the pain in my skull crashing over me. I had enough sense to roll away from the smell of sickness as I collapsed, but then I closed my eyes and wished for the nothingness that accompanies sleep.
It never came. The silence in the tunnel was disturbingly complete and much as I tried to escape from reality, I couldn't. After some time. I sat up and turned to see what lay beyond, hoping to distract myself from the waves of guilt and panic that washed through me, but the darkness stretched on and on like a thick, suffocating velvet blanket.
I'd never known pure, unadulterated darkness before; the burning light from the trio of stars that scarred our planet was nearly inescapable even with the shields surrounding the planet diffusing it and the walls of the compound blocking it. In our windowless quarters where the suns couldn't reach, the lights of the Memo Board never ceased to glow. This darkness was absolutely terrifying. I waved my hand mere inches from my face and could see nothing. Gingerly, I inched to my right with my hand outstretched and felt a ripple of relief when my hand came in contact with a smooth cement wall, but I could feel my knees shaking as I sat in the black..
I stood and began walking slowly through the darkness; I had no other options. I couldn't continue to lay on the cold cement waiting for this nightmare to end because I knew it wouldn't. The world in the compound above was teetering on the edge of chaos, I'd had to kill someone, it was possible that we were the subjects of some cruel experiment, and amid all this, my 79 year old Granddad was attempting to keep the peace as the only Council member that hadn't vanished or been killed. This nightmare was my reality now and I needed answers.
The darkness seemed to go on without end; the walls slid along smoothly under my fingers and I walked with steadily growing confidence in spite of the pitch blackness. The floor was smooth and sloped downward so gradually that I almost didn't notice as I moved deeper into the planet. The tunnel seemed to have no branches; it simply stretched on and on, the lack of light making my ability to judge the progress I'd made nearly impossible. I couldn't help but think of the children that had succumbed to the epidemic that had passed through the compound a few years before. It had struck so suddenly, causing them to go completely blind before their tiny organs failed. Maybe my fall into the tunnel had caused me to go blind.
The thought had scarcely entered my mind when my heart leaped as I saw what seemed to be a small red light glowing through the darkness in front of me. A smile began to spread across my face as I reached out to touch the small gleaming diode, but as I did, a bright blue light suddenly whirred into existence, forcing me to shield my eyes. I peeked through my fingers at the light and my smile quickly faded as I saw its source- it seemed to be some sort of biometric scanner attached to a huge metal door that blocked the entire end of the tunnel. Now what?
I crouched down to examine the scanner more closely and with a swift buzz and flash of light, it scanned my face. After a moment, there was a beep, the red light turned green, and the door began to swing open silently.
My mouth gaped open slightly as I took a few steps back and watched the door swing past me. I could think of no logical reason that that door should've admitted me. My body trembled as I stood looking through the doorway. Something was very wrong here, but even as my body screamed for me to turn back, I knew I couldn't. I was here for answers. I was here to save Granddad.
Whatever was beyond the thick door lay in shadows, but I was relieved to see that it was nothing like the stark black that had surrounded me for so long. I stepped inside carefully and felt along the wall inside the doorway for a light switch. My hand brushed over a raised panel and the room glowed into view.
I was in what appeared to be a laundry room. A large all-in-one clothes care machine covered one wall, humming quietly as it began washing a load of laundry that slid from a chute in the wall into the side of the machine. As I watched, perfectly folded laundry emerged from a door on the opposite end of its gleaming surface and disappeared into one of the cupboards that lined the other wall.
This machine was definitely not washing the gray jumpsuits that almost everyone wore above. I walked to one of the cupboards and pulled it open. Endless stacks of white hospital gowns sat neatly on the shelves along with bins of slippers. Was the journal Granddad had found telling the truth when it said that our planet was nothing more than a research facility? That the three suns blazing in the sky and the barren surface were a mere fabrication to lend credence to the supposed false memories planted in our compound's populous? That this secret lower level was full of researchers watching our every move? It seemed far fetched, and yet as I looked back at the shelves bursting with backless hospital gowns, I shuddered involuntarily.
I shut the cupboard and peered out the door into the hallway beyond. It was empty. Quietly, I began to walk down the hall that looked eerily similar to the corridors I had grown up in. Each door had a small plaque in its center with a number on it, but this seemed to be each room's only form of identification. I pushed one open at random and found a storage room full of what appeared to be some sort of medical imaging equipment similar to what could be found in the medical office that I had entered the trap door through.
Every door I happened to glance into held rooms along these lines. There were numerous storage rooms, a medical tool sterilization lab, yet another laundry room washing what appeared to be turquoise surgical scrubs- everything to indicate that this was some sort of medical facility, nothing to indicate that unethical experiments were being preformed on the unwitting inhabitants of the compound above. And yet, I hadn't found any people, and that, more than being in a secret facility, more than just having slashed the throat of someone, more than the thought of my grandfather trying to keep the peace in a community on the verge of panic-induced anarchy, is what made me nervous. It was obvious that whatever this place was, it was very much in use. But where were the people?
I turned a corner to find that the doors had changed. These were all nearly identical to the heavy metal door through which I had entered this facility, complete with the biometric scanner in the center. I approached the closest door, the palms of my hands sweaty, which further emphasized the fact that they were still covered in dried blood. Would this scanner recognize me, too? I bent forward slightly and gazed into the blue light. To my surprise, I yet again heard the beep and the door swung slowly outward. I took a few steps backward and let it swing past revealing a sight that filled my veins with ice.
All I could see were bodies. Large cylindrical tanks filled with bodies. I entered the room slowly, horror swelling in my chest and constricting my airway. Who were these people? I glanced at one of the tanks nearest me and felt a jolt of shock as I realized that I recognized the girl floating within the blue liquid inside. She had worked in the fields during the same shift as me until a week ago when she announced that her family was being transferred to a different sector so her brother could start a new job. I remembered thinking how stupid she had been to be excited about a different sector when it was undoubtedly nearly identical to the one she was leaving, but now I couldn't help but wish that she really had gone to a new sector. I wondered if the young man in the tank next to her was her brother.
I tore my eyes from her expressionless face and examined the tanks more closely. Each had a small black panel on the front and was attached to some sort of computer in the middle of the floor with long hoses and wires. I touched the panel which lit up, revealing the girls' vitals- somehow she was alive in that liquid, though I couldn't see a breathing apparatus or any monitors on her.
“Miranda! You're finally back!”
I jumped at the sound of the woman's voice and twirled around, my heart racing. Standing in the doorway was a dark-haired, pleasant looking young woman wearing a lab coat over a pale blue dress and lipstick that reminded me of the blood on my hands.
“Who are you?” I asked, my voice trembling.
“Oh, of course, your memory chip is still active. I'm Jane and I'm here to help you get reacquainted with all of this. Come on,” she said, smirking before disappearing into the hallway.
I stood frozen among the suspension tanks, staring at where the woman had been. She had acted as though I'd been here before, but I never had been, right? The turbulence of my thoughts made the dull ache in my skull return as I remembered how Granddad had found the journal entry about memory manipulation.
“Are you coming?” she asked, having reappeared in the doorway.
“No,” I replied, frowning at her. I had strong, emotion-filled, detailed memories. Surely those couldn't be faked. My life was not a lie.
“Come now, Miranda, you've always been suspicious, but this is ridiculous.”
“I don't know who you are, and I've never been here before.”
She laughed, the sound tumbling from her bloody lips and bouncing off the suspension tanks. “You've spent more time here than I have! You just don't remember because of the chip. Let's get it deactivated and everything will start making sense.”
“No,” I replied, my certainty growing. “I can't have been down here before. There's no way I would have let these people continue to be experimented on. You're not touching me.”
The woman walked back toward me slowly with her eyebrows furrowed. “Wow, that chip did a number on you alright, Miranda. Don't you remember? You're the reason they're down here. All these experiments were designed by you.”