Code of Affliction: Out Of The Darkness [Chapter 02]

by | Mar 5, 2023 | Code of Affliction | 0 comments

02. Out Of The Darkness

The darkness was overwhelming. The LED-lights illuminated no further than two metres ahead; the new ones lit up only when she reached the border of blackness. Her heart beat boomingly, filling in the silence of the place. Goosebumps appeared on her arms; like she was a child scared of the dark. She gathered her courage and tried to pay attention to the details.

The ceiling was quite high and had mesh panels at regular intervals. The walls had a curvature, coning to the top. She placed her palm on the wall and slid it up, checking it was not a trick of light, but the wall did bulge outwards as well as angled to the top. There was also a steady vibration going on in the metal. Generators? She tiptoed onwards, feeling the arching of her foot, the strain in the ankles and calves, the spring in her knees – the balance came easy and her legs were happy with the exercise.

Occasionally a door would appear, handleless and windowless, just like in the room she had left. No plaques or inscriptions, the panels at their sides dead black. She still pressed at a few screens and pushed at a few doors. Of course, if the voice wanted her to enter one of them, they would fling the door open. But she did not trust the person, who had authorisation to do consciousness transfer and did not offer a proper explanation. She wanted to have at least some notion of this place before she agreed to anything. The voice did not comment her attempts, probably sure that everything was secure, but the lights were pulsing faster when she lingered at a particular door for too long.

As she went, she saw not a single window or any sort of opening to allow the natural light in. And it was not like they had been shuttered – the walls were solid and seamless to the touch. Perhaps, she was brought into some sort of an underground bunker. It would only seem natural to keep the worst of the infection sealed off from the rest of Raj-3. However, if they were underground the ventilation was perfect. She kept looking around for any detail to confirm or disprove her guesses. There was not even a single shining green man with an arrow to mark an emergency exit. She swallowed hard and choked on her own saliva. Her cough trailed away into the darkness, chased by its own echo. So, no one was supposed to get out of here. Or maybe they did? If they agreed to the consciousness transfer.

With a renewed vigour, she searched her memories for her name. The consciousness transfer was an operation allowed only in extreme cases from what she could remember. And, of course, it was reserved only for very important people. Because of that, the technology and the details of the procedure weren’t disclosed. She was concerned that they would plant a random name and an alien biography onto her during the procedure as well as alter any memories of this place, for security reasons. But then would it matter if she would be allowed to live and on top of that in a body, which would last her much longer than the biological one?

She paused a mere foot away from the darkness. A needle-pricking sensation coursed through her limbs when she thought of forfeiting her body. It was sick, she tried to argue with herself, and grabbed for the snapshots of memories, depicting patients in the wards with long list of mutations on their monitors. This time the scenes were accompanied by a stronger smell of rot, defecation and disinfectant, the irritating sensation of plastic garment over her body and the straps of a respirator cutting into her cheekbones. But the prickling and tingling would not stop. It was as if her body had an extra significance.

She stared into the blackness. It had just occurred to her that the dark void could be her cover from the prying eyes of the voice. What if she moved very quickly – would she be able to run away and explore in peace? She knew it was stupid to roam around such a facility without light, and yet her body had already pulled itself together for a sprint. She filled her lungs in with hydrogenic air, pulled her arms up and above her head, and cartwheeled into the darkness, adding an additional flip at the end. She landed on both feet in perfect balance, exhilarated by the swiftness and smoothness of the movement. But the excitement of the victory was short-lived, because the next instant the lights went on around her. For a moment she stood there blinking, expecting a scolding from the voice – instead there was more of silence and the LEDs cracked to life till the end of the corridor, where it was lost due to the curvature of the wall.

She walked on, checking herself after the exercising. But she felt fine – if the virus was changing her inner organs or her blood composition, she did not feel it. And that was also wrong. What kind of mutation did she get? Her name still did not return – instead she began to hum another melody. “Hear your heart beat – Beat a frantic pace, And it’s not even seven am. You’re feeling the rush of anguish settling; You cannot help showing them in. Hurry up then, Or you’ll fall behind and They will take control of you. And you need to heal the hurt behind your eyes, Fickle words crowding your mind…”* The words swirled in her head, each was supposed to be accompanied by a move but as she tried to remember the sequence it fell apart and her body went stiff.

The next time she reached the border of the light area, there was a corridor leading to the left. After a moment’s pause, the LED-lights switched on in there, pulsing in even faster rhythm. She wondered what if she continued going straight. Did the voice have a way to restrain her or punish? Or would it simply wait till she had enough of seeing nothing? But then what did she hope to find? More wards? Other patients? Would it even be safe to try to talk to them? No, instead of wandering around, she had to confront the voice and get the answers from them. She stepped boldly into the corridor.

However, it took her no further than perhaps ten-thirteen metres. The LEDs stopped at another door, identical to all the others. Only this time, the panel at the side had a line of text running. Before she could read it, it disappeared, the panel flashed green along the perimeter and the door opened inwards.

This time the lights took even longer to ignite, and they had a different quality about them. Not LEDs anymore, but dimmer, yellower lamps, which barely dispelled the gloom. She took a step forward, and with a hissing sound vapour sprung from the walls. It reached her skin, neither warm nor cold, smelling faintly of menthol and chemicals. It gathered in clouds of fog, which washed all over her, before settling down around her ankles and then disappearing completely.

When she lifted her eyes, she saw many angled glass walls running into the distance, crossing, merging. The dispersion turned reflections into silhouettes ahead. It was impossible to judge how far the room went or what it was. A scanner of sorts? If, by some impossibility, her mutation happened to be in the brain, perhaps, they wanted to test which functions were thwarted by running her through this glass labyrinth. Like a test mouse.

Her right hand balled into a fist, but instead of smashing the glass, she reined in her emotions and placed the left palm against the cool opaque material before walking on. Her reflection was more of a smudged shadow in the non-transparent walls, and a few times she mistook it for another person.

Would there be a contract in small print before they put her in the synth body? Or had she already signed one? As she swerved around another glass section into a dimmer area, she suddenly had a very sharp flashback of a peeling wardrobe with rickety hinges, a narrow bed jammed between it and a porous wall, the room barely a cubicle with no hint of another person’s presence. No one would be looking for her if she disappeared in this glass labyrinth, in these catacombs forever.

She sped up, willing to find an exit, to get to the source of the voice – anything not to be alone. She skidded around another glass partition, sure that the shadow she saw was her own warped reflection, and crashed into another person. She staggered back catching her balance.

“I-I’m so sorry,” she burst with relief to find another living being.

There was no response. She straightened and looked the person from head to foot. The next breath caught in her throat. The living being she ran into was two and a half heads taller than her and wore no clothes. His skin was a violent tinge of orange, nothing like the typical Raj-3 white epidermis, and on top of a standard pair of arms he had additional two springing from his ribs. He had a strangely symmetrical but turned upside-down face. Dark brown eyes glared past her from the bottom part.

She backed away, crossing her arms in front of her. She thought the virus changed you inside, not like this. Or was it the synth body the voice promised her? She felt revulsion at the idea of being turned into something like this – there was no grace of balance about this… “person”, no way they would be able to perform those cartwheels and flips and more. She wanted to go onwards or even backtrack and choose a different path. But this was an opportunity to get some information.

Her tongue stiff in her mouth, she asked, “A-are you a patient here as well? Do you know where we are?”

The person was looking over the top of her head and behaved as if they had not heard her at all.

“I’ve just woken up from the stasis. They told me it’s a… some sort of a hospital? Have you been here long? How are they curing you?”

They were keeping silent, and she was beginning to hyperventilate as the person thrashed all four of his arms around. Forgetting about getting the answers, she ducked under the left side of the creature and hurried into the next section. She bumped into glass at full speed – the searing pain pierced her forehead and a hot trickle ran from her eyebrow down her cheek. She wiped off the blood as she charged onwards, her fingers now left a red trace on the opaque glass.

After a few more sections, she encountered another variety – short, with a standard number of limbs but a sharp, bark-like face. The “person’s” lips were moving expressively, but not a sound issued from the mouth. This time she did not stop to ask questions – she pushed them as she ran past, because the space was too narrow to allow her a wider trajectory. They did not try to grab her, and yet she was scared of this brief contact. It was stupid, but she thought that even a light touch would be enough to pass on the mutation.

The sounds of her own mad pulse and the loud echo of her footsteps filled her ears. She slowed down and tried to see where she was going. The last thing she needed was to be ambushed by the creatures. Perhaps, that was the voice’s plan all along – to bring her here and capture her, to force the consciousness transfer onto her. But to what end? The panic was not helping to figure things out. The blood from her cut eyebrow was getting in her eye. She pulled the sleeve onto the heel of her hand and tried to dab it off. She took another turn and found herself finally at the edge of the labyrinth.

There were about two square metres of empty space and another door, already open. She breathed deeply, dark spots in her vision, blood still obscuring one of her eyes. She had a weird feeling as if she had been running even before she got into this room – before she got into that cryopod, but why and where she could not remember. “… pay the debts…” the words sounded distant, spoken in a male timbre. She looked back, but the glass labyrinth was empty apart from one reflection of hers.

“Why won’t you tell me everything?!” she shouted, not sure whether she was asking the voice or her memory.

“PLEASE, PROCEED INSIDE, INTO THE INFIRMARY.” The voice sounded when the echo of her own words died down. “WE NEED TO PROTECT YOU. I WILL TAKE CARE OF YOUR INJURY.”

She looked inside the room and saw a computerised medical chair and some monitors in the back. She did not feel safe going inside; she could not dispel the picture of the mutants or bionic bodies back in the labyrinth. But the virus was unpredictable – she was feeling okay right now, but there were no guarantees it would last for long, or that she would be able to find other options for survival. The headache was getting worse; the voice was the only person talking to her here. Perhaps, if she complied, she would be able to learn more, to persuade the voice to find other options. Biting the inside of her cheek, she crossed the threshold.

“Please, sit in the chair for the examination,” the voice once again came from everywhere, but now its timbre has changed – it sounded almost male, strengthening her suspicions that it had been computer-generated.

Another bout of panic rose in her. What if there were no humans here? How would she negotiate her way out then? Still, she had to try to get the information while she could. She climbed into the chair and tried to relax her body. There was the whirring and dim flickering as the scans worked their magic. A robotic arm appeared from the armrest, sanitising her cut and applying the stitches before sticking on a plaster. This was a very advanced facility. However, the level of technology did not bring her any joy – there was a reason for them to eliminate any human factor from here – they did not want these mutations to spread.

“There is a concussion but a mild one. It should not affect the transfer procedure.” The voice continued as if the matter was already decided.

She overcame herself and asked, “Who were those … people in the labyrinth? Will I turn into something like them if you don’t treat me? Or was it a synth body waiting for me?” She looked around just in case. There seemed to be no hidden niches, not even panels on the walls and nothing that looked like equipment necessary for the consciousness transfer. But then she did not know exactly what to look for. She had half the mind to tell the voice about her memory loss but waited. What if the voice did not know yet – perhaps, then they would not be able to plant false memories into her.

“Those entities are irrelevant. Your case is special.” The male tones were even more pronounced now and there was a slight accent she could not pin down.

“In what way? What happened to me? Why are you keeping me alone and … in the dark?”

“All we want is to guarantee that your personality survives even if the virus is irreversible.”

“And what… what if I don’t want a synth body?” The already familiar sensation of protectionism rose inside her. She knew beyond reason that acquiring a new shell for her mind would change her utterly and beyond recognition, like she would never be able to do what she was supposed to do.

“I cannot allow you to die,” the voice once again switched to being fully female.

“Do you have the prognosis for me? Show me – show me the positive virus test and the… mutations. I have a right to know what is going on with me before I agree to anything.”

“You don’t have the medical background to be able to estimate it. You have to trust me.” The voice sounded louder.

The hell she would if they weren’t even showing her their face.

“Why did you keep me in the stasis pod? Is it supposed to slow the mutations? Can I stay there longer until you find a cure?”

“It is not going to save you. That’s why I had to wake you up,” the voice replied after a long pause, and its intonations were very soothing. “I am sorry there’s no other way.”

It sounded fatal.

“…you’re our lottery ticket…” another cut-out phrase surfaced in her mind.

“I am not doing anything until I know for sure what is wrong with me and why I cannot survive without a consciousness transfer.”

The lights in the room went dimmer and for an even longer moment the place was submerged into silence. Even the medical chair stopped doing anything. Taking it as a cue, she jumped off and walked around the room. Would somebody be sent to reason with her now? Or did they have a way to knock her out. She preferred to be away from the medical chair, just in case. She came to the computers. The programme running on the monitor did not look like her medical history or the results of her tests. She had no idea what it could be, but at the very top of the screen there was the logo “Cheonsa”. Unfortunately, this did not tell her anything either.

“Fine,” the voice finally sounded again, now a complete mixture of female and male timbre. “Follow the lights.”

* “Sleep” by Poets of the Fall

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