2. Welcome To (D2)

The massive center flooded with rich, colorful light. Music playing all around them. Thousands of people laughing and having the time of their lives. Restaurants, bars, clubs, businesses of all kinds, anything that anyone could want was all around, plus more. Lumis had taken what they had built at the other two cities and turned it into something even more magnificent. A place you would never even dream of being. It was supposed to have it all.

But it had nothing.

There was none of it. No light, no music, no people.

Backup lights illuminated small sections with a deep blue hue that may as well have not even tried. The center intended to promise life and a bustling future only promised emptiness and unwanted isolation. This had not been Jimmy’s idea of sweet seclusions. This was walking through the well known in the darkness of night with only the mind left to fill in the shadows.

“This doesn’t seem right,” said Roberts.

Way to state the obvious. “Not at all,” whispered Jimmy. He scanned the areas that he could see and swallowed down his fear. He would not be letting Roberts think him a coward, and this was not the time to freeze up. He needed to act like he wasn’t shitting his pants or risk both of them sitting with their thumbs in their ass. It was obvious the fat ass wouldn’t take charge.

He cautiously stepped through the doorway, straining his eyes to take in as much as they possibly could while trying to keep his heart from beating out of his throat. His ears became more acute to his surroundings as they tried to overcompensate for what his eyes could not pick up. Every crack of electricity from the welcome door behind them, the humming of the ventilation systems, the faint buzzing of the backup lights, Roberts’ heavy footsteps, but most of all, his beating heart.

He wanted to believe this was all just a joke. That someone would turn on all the lights and land the punch line. Zoe would get up and laugh at him, along with Roberts and the newbie and he would let them say they got one up on him.

But that wouldn’t happen.

Zoe and the newbie were dead and the fat man would never be able to act like that if it meant his life.

“Hello?” said Roberts behind Jimmy, sending a grand echo all around them and causing Jimmy to jump and drop to the ground.

Jimmy turned around and hissed at the fat man. “What the fuck are you doing?”

Roberts stood there, as if there was nothing to worry over. “What?”

Jimmy couldn’t believe him. “Keep your voice down,” he said as he looked around uselessly. “Look around, that’s what. We don’t know what we’re walking into.”

Roberts tried to object but Jimmy cut him off, “This whole place is supposed to be filled, no matter the time. Don’t you think a little caution would be wise?” Jimmy got up and faced Roberts.

“Well yeah, but-”

Jimmy snatched the man by his collar and felt the man tense up. “Shut your goddamn mouth or I swear I’ll shut it for you.” He pushed the man back, “This could be a terrorist attack of some sort and you’re over here trying to lead them straight to us.” He stared the man down until he was convinced Roberts would stay quiet. He turned and kept walking, normally now, his anger overpowering his fear.

He approached the closest store front illuminated by the dark blue emergency lights. The plate that was supposed to display the store’s information was left in its original transparent state, allowing Jimmy to put his hand on it and see inside. It was some kind of apparel store. By the look of the clothes he could see it was nothing he would ever wear. They were racked up nicely though, the counter top in the front clean, nothing on the floor. Nothing looked out of the ordinary.

He turned and looked around at the other stores the lights cast their hue over. All of the plates were transparent but otherwise undisturbed. It would make sense for a terrorist organization to hold a city hostage without the need to break everything apart. It would also explain why their AI units had been unable to connect with the surface. They could be jamming their signals somehow.

He moved on from that store toward the next one ahead and peeked through. A salon, and by the looks of it, a very pristine one. Places like this always stood out when placed among lower end stores. It gave the ones who could afford it an air of superiority while giving those that couldn’t something to strive toward. Even if they’d never make it.

Again, no sign of disturbance. 

“They would have heard it,” whispered Roberts.

“What?” said Jimmy.

“The door. If there were terrorists in here, they would have heard the door and watched us walk in.”

Jimmy stared at Roberts until the fat slob felt uncomfortable enough that he looked away. He considered giving Roberts a piece of his mind, but in truth, he was more frightened than he cared to admit, and he didn’t believe chewing out Roberts would help in any way. He had only stared at the man for as long as he did because of the distorted shadows that danced over the man’s face. It made the man look like a demon straight out of a hallucinogenic nightmare. Mischievous and hiding its’ intentions until the right moment.

Jimmy hated not having his full senses.

He cursed the emergency lights for doing more harm than good and then the men who installed them. He knew anyone who had worked to build the city had been paid handsomely. The least these bastards could have done is double check their work.

Jimmy scrutinized the grand room. The layout appeared similar enough to the other two cities from what he remembered. The oval room narrowed down into a large hallway that should lead to the shuttles that transport the residents to other parts of the city. However, engineering was reached a different way, and the terrorists would never expect him to know that.

“There should be a small alley-like corridor in between two of these shops. We’ll have to hug them in order to find it.” whispered Jimmy.

“Why don’t we just go through there?” whispered Roberts loudly as he pointed to the large hallway.

“That’s were they would expect us to go through.”

“Who?” said Roberts.

“No one,” said Jimmy, frustrated but also embarrassed to admit his thoughts of terrorists again. “Take that edge and I’ll cover this one.”

Roberts stood around for a second as Jimmy started back to the beginning in as fast a pace as keeping his movements silent would allow him.

“Are you sure about this?” called out the fat man.

No. “Yes,” whispered Jimmy back, loud enough to be heard.

In truth, as long as Lumis had kept the layout fairly close to the other cities he would be. A trip through engineering on his first visit had laid out the floor plan for him. Tina. She had worked in engineering and had made sure that he would learn all about her floor plans in any section of her station that he could. He wasn’t one to turn down a learning opportunity, but her superiors were not as kind. They hadn’t taken too kindly to discovering them at her work station while on duty and had made sure to end her teaching career early.

Roberts’ heavy footsteps thumped all across to the opposite edge. Jimmy couldn’t help but feel that the fat man would be the death of him.

He didn’t want to end up like Zoe.

He took a few steps back from the store fronts and made his way back toward the salon. Even all the way across the expansive oval room Jimmy could hear the clear presence of Roberts. There was nothing graceful about the man. His heavy breathing, loud, dragged out footsteps, his inability to keep his voice down. He was the worst person to be stuck with in something like this, yet here they were.

There was no way Jimmy would let this man drag him down.

He caught movement inside the store he passed by and heard a faint noise that drew his attention. He stood in front of the transparent screen, contemplating whether he should allow his curiosity to win. He looked back at Roberts who continued to walk past each pitch black store.

Had Jimmy imagined it?

He slowly inched forward toward the screen. He knew he would beat himself up over this later but his mind went wild in the darkness. He had never been prone to nightmares but as a kid he had seen monsters within the shadows that had never ceased as he’d grown older. They had simply, adapted.

It had grown into a feeling of being watched in the darkness. Followed. Hunted. He had always hated himself for it, being that he had difficulty sleeping as it was, but every night, a night light would come on. It would only ever go away if he made sure his eyes saw that his mind was only playing tricks.

It’s not real. He tried to convince himself as he cupped his hands over the transparent plate and looked through them. There’s nothing there. It’s all in your head. 

He scanned what he could manage to see inside the store. It looked to be some type of restaurant. A long bright light blinked near the back of the room illuminating the area every couple of seconds with a sinister coat of red.

He had never admitted to anyone that he was afraid of the dark. He barely even admitted it to himself. He was sure his parents knew, as they likely knew everything else in his life. They were no longer close and had no right to say anything any more. In truth, they had never been close. It’s not like they had been bad parents. They had been there for him throughout his life. Jimmy had never wanted for anything. They hadn’t been rich, not the way Jimmy was now, but at the time he had not known the difference. They had both been supportive of Jimmy’s decisions. The problem had never been what they did that had created the distance, it’s what they saw.

They saw Jimmy.

The red coat revealed a knocked over chair in the rear of the room. He squinted, waiting for the light to return.

Another flash. Next to the dropped chair appeared a long set of thick ropes, like a sea anemone. He fixed his eyes to the same spot.

Another red flash and his heart began to dance along with it. One of the ropes, longer and more similar to a group of vertebrae, extended all the way to the chair and was wrapped around it.

Another flash. Could it be some kind of decoration? It had to be. It was the only thing that would make sense.

Another. His heart skipped a beat. The vertebrae rope twitched right as the light dimmed.

He waited for the next flash, his stomach tight and breath clogged in his throat.

“I found it!” echoed Roberts voice throughout the large oval room. Jimmy tensed and cursed the fat slob under his breath. He looked back toward the opposite end and barely saw the man waving him over. He cursed him again and turned his attention back into the restaurant.

The red light glowed again but this time only the toppled chair saluted him. He pressed his fist over his head and gritted his teeth. He knew he had seen something. There was no way this was all in his head. Not again.

He turned and made his way to Roberts who stayed planted in the same spot. Jimmy didn’t know how, but the man could make more noise stationary than Jimmy could make as he rushed over to him. As he neared Roberts, he could see a grin on the fat man’s face like he was mocking Jimmy. As if he had just found something out.

“I hope silence isn’t what’ll keep us alive,” Jimmy grumbled as he passed Roberts.

“What do you mean?” said Roberts.

I mean you’re a loud fat fuck and I wish you’d have died instead. “Nothing.”

It was pitch black through the tunnel-like entrance. Jimmy swallowed and stepped on. They went a few minutes with only the wall to guide them.

“Light on,” came Roberts’ loud voice behind him. As annoyed as he was with the man, he felt a sense of relief. He hadn’t wanted to be the one to call for the light and was glad they had one now.

“What the fuck are you doing?” hissed Jimmy.

Roberts’ face with riddled with surprise. “I can’t see anything,” he stammered.

“Fine, but dim it down,” said Jimmy.

Roberts nodded and ordered his unit to lower the intensity while Jimmy did the same.

The tunnel felt like it took ages to get through. Once in engineering, the dim blue emergency lights appeared once again. Jimmy had agreed with Roberts that it was best they keep their lights on anyway.

At the entrance there was a circular reception desk. Behind it were four different forks to the other departments of engineering.

Jimmy scanned over the desk. The only things out of place were a stack of papers and some pens. Most of everyone complained about Lumis’ insistence on having physical reports, but Jimmy had always found it refreshing. There was something reassuring about holding things in your hands. It made it even more real, like it couldn’t suddenly disappear. Unlike love.

“Where to?” said Roberts.

Jimmy lifted his unit to illuminate the letters over the four forks. They read ‘Communications/Operations’, ‘Sector A’, ‘Sector B’, and ‘Engineering Quarters’. “Comms,” said Jimmy, nodding toward it.

Sector A and B would take them to the guts of the city. His old fling had taken him through it once with permission. All of the mass machinery, cables, generators, pumps, everything that made the city run was kept out of sight and out of mind to keep the image of the polished and gorgeous city in the eyes of the residents. She had tried to explain how everything worked but Jimmy hadn’t been interested in that. His interest had gone as far as what rested between her legs.

The Quarters were temporary rooms for those of them that would like to nap or exercise during their shifts. Lumis had always encouraged their well being.

Comm/Op should take them to the deskers of engineering. If they were going to find any answers, it would be there.

Jimmy raised the intensity of his unit lamp and allowed himself a little more confidence as he moved through the corridor leading to Comm/Op. The corridor eventually turned into a stairway where the escalators were not functional. The walls around them were transparent, intended to show the sea life around them, but without the usual bright lights of the city, there was nothing to see.

The sensor at the top of the stairs picked them up and slid the door open. Roberts stepped through first and waited for Jimmy to join him. The room was not what Jimmy had expected. In his previous visit with Tina, the room she had shown him had been littered with private cubicles next to each other like those of multi-story buildings. Now, he faced a tunnel that held individual offices, still no larger that the grouped cubicles, one after another following a loop.

Jimmy raised his light and pushed forward. He made it a point to illuminate each office they passed. Most had pictures on their desks of kids or what Jimmy figured were their families. Others had ornaments or inspirational quotes decorating their office. He knew it brought comfort for many, reminding themselves of what they worked for, but they probably needed it in order to survive a desk job. He was glad he wasn’t a desk man.

There was no way he could stay in one place for long. No way he could live around the same people, deal with them prying into his life, demanding to know more, telling him he needed other people or having loved ones was healthy. That he needed to open up and accept others. There was nothing healthy about giving people your weaknesses so they could exploit them over you when they saw fit. Nothing healthy about them wasting your precious time pretending they gave a shit. It was all bullshit. It never lasted and he didn’t want it to last.

“Oh my god,” whispered Roberts. Jimmy realized he had been focused on checking each office so much he had forgotten to look ahead.

A man lay face down straight ahead, a trail of blood curved along with the tunnel. It looked like he had desperately tried to crawl away from whomever, or whatever, had been after him.

“Sir?” said Roberts, causing Jimmy to jam his hand over the fat man’s tits to shut him up.

Jimmy signaled for them to shut off their lights. He inched forward toward the man, scanning everything in his path. He stepped past the man, making sure that nothing waited for them further in. The smears of blood were thick. They trailed on for longer than Jimmy cared to let his eyes see. Once he was sure nothing would be surprising them, he walked back to Roberts.

“Is he dead?” asked Jimmy as he bent down. He had never been squeamish about the dead. To him they were just lifeless bodies that carried no more weight in the world. He had been thirteen when he had experienced his first memorable death, which just so happened to be the first year he had been with Alice. His grandfather had died right in front of him of what he later came to find out was a heart attack. He had been close to the old man, as close as he had been with Alice, and yet when the old man had died, he had stared down into its’ open eyes and felt nothing. He had seen only a sack of flesh that took up space. It wasn’t until a few days later that the pain had hit him, but even after, when he saw the old man’s corpse again, he had once again felt nothing that associated his only real friend with that thing inside the coffin.

That thing that had followed him home and stood in the corners of his eyes when the lights were dim.

Roberts seemed to be the opposite. “I think so,” he said. The man had been uneasy around Zoe’s corpse. He had looked scared to even get close to it, let alone touch it. And now this one.

Jimmy reached out and placed his hand in front of the man’s nose. When he felt no breath against his skin he began to visualize the oxygen escaping his own body. His engineering guide had explained to him how the oxygen was harvested here. Some type of system that would extract it from the water in a similar fashion to the way fish breathed. The process ended with a sweet smelling air that Jimmy never noticed until she had pointed it out to him. It was like a very distant smell of flavored creamer that made him want to puke for the next few days after noticing it. Eventually he had learned to crave the smell.

He didn’t like the thought of death stealing his sweet breath from him. He didn’t like the thought of dying at all. There was still too much to do.

He put his fingers on the man’s neck to check for a pulse. He wasn’t sure why, it was clearly dead. The streaks of blood he had left behind as he had crawled here were more like puddles that had dried thick. He didn’t know much about the medicinal field but even he could guess that it had been dead for some time already.

He gripped the corpse’s shoulder and flipped the dead weight over. As the body landed, he snatched his hands back and covered the disgust in his face. Jimmy had been expecting bullet wounds or maybe knife cuts, but this was something else. Something barbaric.

There was no smell. The flesh didn’t even look like it had started to rot. It was ghost pale and devoid of any of its usual glow. The skin over the left side of the face, neck, and chest was torn down diagonally, leaving a huge gash that displayed the bare meat and bone. Jimmy could see directly into the mouth as the teeth had been ripped out along with the blow. Off to the side of what remained of its face dangled the orb missing from the left eye socket, barely by a thin, meaty thread.

Roberts tried to turn around completely but ended up vomiting all over the transparent screen. Jimmy didn’t know what he found more disgusting, the mutilated remains of the dead man or the live, grown-ass fat man who was unable to pull himself together.

“Who would do that to someone?” said Roberts after finally taking a breath and wiping his mouth.

Not who, what. “I don’t know,” said Jimmy as he turned on his light. He ran it over the wounds to get a better look. He knew he was being irrational for even letting those thoughts into his head. “What does that look like to you?”

“I don’t want to look at him again,” said Roberts.

It. It, you fucking coward. There had to be an explanation. Some kind of machine or object they hit it with, he just wasn’t thinking right. Something that was shaped like some kind of claw.

He stared down the curved office corridor and wondered if he had chosen the right path. He turned off his light and stood. A few steps in and he heard Roberts say “Jimmy wait. What if they’re still there?”

Then you should walk in front so they can kill you instead of me. “He’s been dead a while,” said Jimmy.

He had stopped scanning all of the offices, instead focusing only on the path ahead. He realized that if there was someone around, someone who would cause that type of harm to them, he had nothing to protect himself with.

They followed the trail of blood along the spiraling corridor for what seemed like ages. The streaks got thicker the further they walked. He was surprised that the dead man had survived as long as it had considering the amount of blood it had left behind. The further he went, the more he wished he had protection. 

The bloody trail ended, leading into an open office up ahead. Jimmy slowed his pace once again as they neared it, trying to be as quiet as possible. He motioned for Roberts to stop as he put his back against the wall screen of the previous office. There was a stairway access across from the office where the blood led and even more offices further in. It seemed like they would never end.

Everything was unnervingly quiet that it allowed for a faint buzzing that Jimmy was unable to pinpoint. He had figured it could be a buildup of pressure that was causing it, but if that were the case he knew he would be feeling a number of other sensations as well.

He creeped his head to the side and peered inside the office. A man sat at the chair with what seemed like a bulky rifle across his lap. The man’s head was tilted to the side, watching him.

Jimmy snapped his head back and held his breath. He looked at the fat man and put his index finger to his lips. He stood motionless, unable to think of what to do. If he tried to creep away or run, the man would hear him but then again, chances were that the man had already heard them and was just waiting to see how they would react. Jimmy could signal to Roberts to run past while Jimmy ran in the other direction. He had been the only one to see the man, after all.

He squeezed his eyes shut and pushed the thought out. As repulsed as he felt about Roberts, the fat man was not a bad person. He didn’t deserve to die, but he would need to rethink his entire life if they made it out of here.

Jimmy waited patiently for the man inside to do something, but as patient as a man can be, curiosity eventually wins. Jimmy should have heard something, anything, but there was no movement, no breathing, no fidgeting. Nothing. He glanced at Roberts once again, his eyes growing more accustomed to the deep blue light, and he saw fear sketched so fine over the fat slob’s face that he began feeling it himself. He clenched his jaw to swallow it down and let the disgust over Roberts’ inability give him courage. He didn’t want to be anything like that waste of life.

He peered over the edge again, this time letting his eyes focus more over the seated man. There was something curious about how the man was seated that didn’t seem right. He let his head enter the opening more and looked at him head on.

Less seated, more thrown across. Its’ neck was visibly broken, leaving the head hanging grotesquely to the side. The object Jimmy had believed to be a rifle was in fact the leftovers of a human foot and calf. A woman’s if Jimmy had to guess. A single long bone jutted from it like a barrel of a gun in the dark. There was a hole straight through the corpse’s sternum and several gashes around the stomach, similar to those they had seen on the first corpse.

“Jesus,” he whispered.

“What is it?” said Roberts as Jimmy heard him take a step.

Jimmy raised his hand back and stopped him short. “Don’t,” he said as he turned to look Roberts in the eye. “You won’t want to see this.”

Roberts hesitated at first, but seeing that Jimmy would not let up eventually got the man to nod. Jimmy wasn’t trying to save the man from the horrors of the scene, he just didn’t want to hear the man puking his guts out again. At least the bodies didn’t smell.

He stepped inside the office. Behind the chair were two more bodies. One was propped against the wall and slumped over its’ knees. Its’ tongue hung out slack from where there should have been a jaw to hold it in place. The other was laid out, face down, across the desk. Its’ figure was distinctly a woman’s, and by the looks of it, the old owner of the torn leg held by the corpse on the chair. Other than the missing leg, the woman’s body seemed to be untouched. The face was whole with no sign of disturbance whatsoever. It looked so peaceful. Beautiful.

If it would have been alive Jimmy knew he would have conquered it in seconds.

He looked at the other two corpses again. He wanted to believe it had been terrorists that did this so badly, but these wounds. He couldn’t imagine even the sickest of humans could group together and do something so vile, or maybe he simply didn’t want to imagine. He had always viewed himself as a rational man. He liked facts, and right now he had none. His mind was forcing him to create answers it did not know. No matter how wild his fear of darkness could run, he knew it wasn’t real. People, however, were. People had a long history of doing twisted acts to each other for no good reason. People were sick.

How many women had he emotionally tortured throughout the years simply because his ego demanded it? Proving his own worth to himself by destroying their own. Was he any different?

He shuddered at the thought.

He stepped out of the office. “We need to find some answers,” he said to Roberts who nodded back. There was lettering on the wall that read ‘Communications’ next to the stairwell. He nudged Roberts toward it. “Go on. I doubt we’ll find much else through the offices.”

Roberts tried to peek into the office where the three dead lay but Jimmy stood his ground in front of them. He gave Roberts a light shove toward the stairwell.

The fat man looked down the escalators. Jimmy saw his big body rise as he took a deep breath to psych himself out until he finally took a step down the unpowered stairs. Jimmy turned on his flashlight and worked down after him. At the bottom of the stairs was another transparent door where a body lay against it. Roberts stopped.

“What do we do?” he whispered.

“Ignore it,” said Jimmy as he pushed the fat man forward. Roberts took small, cautious steps toward it until the door sensor was triggered. The body got stuck on the edge of the door and slid with it for a moment until it topped over, revealing its’ legs and part of the pelvis missing. Roberts jumped back and hit Jimmy causing Jimmy to shove the fat man forward. Jimmy wasn’t sure how much longer he would be able to tolerate the fat man.

“It’s fucking dead Roberts,” hissed Jimmy as he kept stiff-arming the man on. “Just go.”

Roberts hugged the side opposite to the body, his eyes glued to it as he tiptoed past it. He muttered something as he looked directly at it and quickly made off once past it where he began to gag. Jimmy took the time to flash his light around and get a scope of the room. 

It wasn’t big. Enough to hold six cubicle desks at the center as well as three more on opposite sides of the room. At the far end was a large office that had its’ screen walls blacked out. It meant there was enough power to keep them semi-active and it was where Jimmy figured they would want to go. It meant someone had locked it down to keep others out.

The entire space looked a mess. If a Lumis inspection had been run, all of these people would have been fired on the spot. There were wires hanging from fixtures above and office equipment littered all over the area. One of the emergency lights flickered on and off, making a noise like vapor being released each time it came on.

And then, there were the bodies. He didn’t have to look at them long to know they had all died the same way as the previous ones they had come across. Brutally ripped apart or gashed up by some object. Some claw-like weapon.

Humans are the true monsters.

He hoped Roberts could stomach all of this or his teeth would not be lasting him much longer.

“Try not to look around,” he said to the fat man. He wasn’t sure why. He realized how stupid it had been the moment it left his lips. The first thing the fat man did was raise his head to look around the room.

“Oh god,” he gagged repeatedly, “oh god!”

Fucking idiot. “You can stay here if you want,” said Jimmy. He was hoping the fat man would, he didn’t feel like babysitting him anymore. He had his own problems to deal with. “I’ll see what’s in there.” He pointed at the blacked out office.

“No, don’t leave me here,” said Roberts as he pushed his fist against his lips as if somehow that would stop his stomach from emptying its contents further. 

“Then stop puking everywhere!” said Jimmy. He had always had a strong stomach. He could likely count in his hands all the times he had vomited in his life. Four years back, he had been seeing a girl who was addicted to pain meds. He had puked then, after she had given him too much. He wouldn’t be surprised if she were dead now too.

Couldn’t really say he would care.

“I’m sorry. I’m just…” said Roberts. “I’m not used to this.”

“And I am?”

“I’ve only ever seen a dead body as a kid. I didn’t handle it too well then either,” said Roberts. Jimmy could sense that the man was about to start spewing his entire story out and Jimmy would not be wasting his time listening.

“Well, handle it better,” he said, hoping it would shut the man up.

“Right,” said Roberts, letting his head sink a little into his fist. They began walking toward the room. “I remember it stank something bad. Like feces and su-”

“Does anything smell like shit to you here?” snapped Jimmy as he stopped to look at the man. He knew what it smelled like, he didn’t need this fat fuck forcing him to relive it. “They’re bodies now, that’s it.”

“They’re people. They had lives,” said Roberts, horrified.

“Had,” said Jimmy. He used his foot to nudge the nearest corpse, toppling it over from its rested position against an office wall. “Dead. See?”

“Don’t,” protested Roberts. “They deserve better.”

“No, we deserve better,” Jimmy jammed a finger into his own chest and then pointed at the body. “That thing is dead. We’re not. If you want to join Zoe because you feel so fucking bad about what you did then go for it, but I sure as fuck won’t.”

Sorrow came over Roberts face, as if he were disappointed in himself but also in Jimmy. Jimmy could feel a sense of guilt and vulnerability washing over him. He could feel Roberts silently judging him.

“Fuck you Roberts,” he spat. He turned around and walked through the dead without hesitation. He didn’t deserve this fat fuck’s judgement. He had done nothing wrong. Roberts should adore him, he was helping him get through this whole mess. It should be Jimmy judging that useless bastard.

Everyone loved him. He didn’t need Roberts, or anyone! He never had and never would.

Jimmy reached the blacked out office and stood in front of the sensors. He hadn’t expected the door to open automatically. Blacked out offices had a knock first policy after all. He pulled Nee to his lips. “Nee, can you request permission to enter please?”

A few seconds passed until she responded, “No response James.” Again, not surprising. A second knock would force the door open. Standard Lumis procedure.

“Try again please,” another few seconds passed. He could hear Roberts approaching.

“No response. Opening now,” said Nee. Jimmy took a step forward and heard the faint woosh of the lock being switched off.

As the door slid open, something jumped out at him, its’ claw reaching for his leg and making contact. His reflexes shot him back before it could dig in and he raised his arms, prepared to fight whatever it was with his fists if needed.

But there was nothing to fight.

He took a huge breath to try and slow his racing heartbeat from the surge of adrenaline it had pumped him with. He focused on what had jumped out at him and saw another body. It had been trying to exit the room it had locked itself into.

He flashed the light into the pitch black office. An even worse mess than what they had just come through. It was as if an abstract artist had taken crimson and brown paint and spread them over every corner, without any clear pattern, and then positioned the limbs of the same donors of their paint randomly throughout the large office. Any moment now, the artist would come back in and finish his work. Make something beautiful out of something so horrifying. 

The desk in the rear had been shattered, which was surprising since Jimmy knew the material it was made from was a first generation translucent metal, similar to the fourth generation used for the walls and doors now. They were nearly unbreakable. Pieces of paper were stuck to the walls by the crusty blood and decorations were broken and littered all over the floor. Nothing stood out more, though, than the position of most of the bodies.

The office was big and had refuged over twenty people from whatever they had tried to keep safe from, but like the body that had clawed at him, it all looked as if they had been desperate to get out. Most were grouped by the door, some even reaching out as if touching the door or those by it would somehow save them.

He heard Roberts releasing his guts behind him and felt his lip involuntarily curl up. He couldn’t help but wish it had been Zoe that had survived over this mess of a human being. At least then he could have stared at something beautiful that he knew would also have been an asset throughout this mess. He knew he wouldn’t have had to carry her weight around like this useless fuck. Hell, she probably would have helped relieve tension with him. They would both feel the need eventually and she had never been one to back down. Her sex drive had always been insatiable.

Instead, he was stuck with Roberts who insisted on breaking his back.

Jimmy stepped carefully over the corpses bunched near the door. He saw a large communication system at the opposite end of the room. On the chair in front of it was a corpse slumped over with one hand over the system. Next to it, on a still intact section of the desk, was a body of a man in a much different uniform that stood out among the rest. Its face was hard and clean, aside from the smears of blood and long gash from his face to his groin. Its cropped hair and highly decorated uniform let Jimmy know that it had not belonged here in engineering, but elsewhere. A more important elsewhere.

In the body’s hand was a small rifle. Jimmy approached the body that now appeared to be looking directly at him, the way Zoe’s dead eyes had. It sent a chill down his spine. Only Jimmy would judge himself, and so far, Jimmy had been the best at everything he had ever done.

Besides, only one of them was alive.

He pushed the head to the side, letting it topple over and stare at the desk it sat over. He smiled.

Much better.

He tried to pull the small rifle from it but the corpse gripped it tight, so he was forced to use his other hand to pry the fingers open. It proved to be more difficult than expected but after putting more force into it, the bones broke with a satisfying crack and the rifle came loose. He looked at the useless fingers and wondered how badly it would have hurt if the man had still been alive. Any bone really. Jimmy had never broken anything in his life, through a miracle or just luck, but he preferred to believe it was because he was made perfect.

He had played contact sports through high school and college. Dominated everything he touched. He had taken massive hits that had left most others injured and broken but he had got up and kept on being the best. When he had grown tired of the competition, he had picked up self defense and had taken hits that would have broken anyone’s body, but not his. In the race tracks with the old user operated vehicles he had crashed bad enough to leave him dead, yet he had walked out with only scratches. His body was unbreakable. He was perfect.

Only his heart had ever been broken.

He shuddered as he pushed the thought out and refocused on the task at hand. He lifted the rifle to where he could see it properly and realized why it had looked so small. It was missing a part of it. It had been ripped apart without effort by what Jimmy assumed had ripped apart the rest of these corpses. He had been hoping he had found something to defend himself with, even if it hadn’t helped this group much.

A crunching sound behind Jimmy caused him to whip around. Roberts carefully tiptoed over the bodies with his fist at his lips once again. 

Jimmy clenched his jaw. It should have been you instead.

Jimmy turned to the body on the seat and grabbed it under the armpits. He was glad it had been a woman, it proved to be much easier to remove it from its position. He noticed the similar uniform to the one with the broken fingers. They had grouped together just so they could die together. How romantic.

He let the body drop to the floor. A loud crackling scream pierced his ears as the body hit the ground and began to convulse, causing Jimmy to jump back. He watched it twitch at a distance, scared to touch it with how badly it shook. It didn’t help that the noise seemed to get louder.

“Her leg,” said Roberts over the noise.

Jimmy looked down and saw the blue-white branches of electricity as they danced around her calf. 

He took hold of the chair and pushed it against her legs, not wanting to touch the body in case the shock from the stun baton would transfer. It got the body to stop spasming but did nothing to stop the loud whipping sounds. The long rod was gripped by the hand stuck under it. Jimmy crouched and pulled the hand out, pushing the baton just enough to pull it free from the other end causing the sound to stop.

He felt disappointed. As little as he would have wanted to be forced to take care of someone who would likely have died anyway, he would have liked to have some answers. He pressed the handle down and caused the blue-white branches to spark to life. It wasn’t much, but he had his way of defending himself now. 

He pushed the legs out of the way and sat down on the seat, noticing how comfortable it was. He could imagine why these deskers were so glued to their stations. He reached out to the blocky comm unit and pressed the signal to power on.

Nothing.

“Is it just me, or does it look like these people were trying to get out?” said Roberts.

Great fucking observation, you should consider becoming a detective so you could suck at that too. “Nee, is there a way we can power this thing?”

He kept pressing the signal as he waited for a response. “The city is running on emergency power. It is prohibiting me from turning on any auxiliary systems,” she responded.

“We need this on. We might be able to connect with Lumis from here.” said Jimmy.

“You could try linking me directly.”

“Is that safe?” he asked.

“No need to worry James, I’m a professional,” she said, causing Jimmy to smile. 

Jimmy removed the nail-sized chip from his unit and scanned the terminal until he found the slot that would hold Nee’s power core. Moments later the system came to life and a small sphere began to spin around.

He had always envisioned Nee crawling around endless tunnels in search of tiny terminals with wires that they would have to splice together and rearrange until getting their desired outcome. After a job well done, she would get to return to her beautiful home within his unit and enjoy some leisure.

He was sure it was nothing like that but he preferred not knowing. He liked thinking that’s how things were for her.

“Anything?” he said into the unit.

“Yes,” responded Nee. She had a habit of leaving long pauses between words that drove Jimmy nuts sometimes. It was cute. “I have accessed the main system. Do you want me to download all the information that seems relevant to the situation?”

“Is there anything that can tell us what happened to these people?” said Jimmy.

“No, but you may be able to piece something together from any relevant data,” she said.

“What kind of data?” said Roberts.

Jimmy authorized Nee’s prompt. “Holo logs, reports, system logs, records of malfunctions, employee errors, arrest reco-”

“Alright, yes. Download anything you deem important,” said Jimmy.

The sphere disappeared for a few moments and reappeared larger. It began to break apart into small cubes as it spread out over the desk, eventually covering it and allowing a crystal clear three dimensional image to appear in front of them.

A man sat facing Jimmy, looking directly into his eyes. He sat relaxed over the cushioned sofa as if there was not a care in the world, but upon close inspection, Jimmy could see there was something off with him. He was trying hard to mask his agitation. He had thick bags under his eyes that were turning a dark shade as if he had not slept in days. The fingers on his right hand betrayed him as they involuntarily scratched the armrest repeatedly.

“Dr. Lagos,” said a woman’s voice. A dark grin spread over the man’s face. “You know why we are speaking today?”

“Because you all like to waste my time,” said Lagos.

“We’re concerned about your well being.”

“When you should be more concerned about theirs,” said Lagos.

There was a brief pause before the woman said, “Whose?”

Lagos smirked, “I see what you’re doing. It’s not going to work.”

“What won’t work?”

“If you all saw it you’d know,” said Lagos as his composure taunted to leave him. “You won’t paint me out like Chavez.”

“No one is trying to do anything except care for your health,” said the woman. Jimmy felt his stomach turning. He had heard similar words before. He couldn’t help but feel sad for the man. “There were dozens of men with you. No one else saw anything.”

“They’re drones,” said Lagos, looking away. He fell silent and the woman waited to see if he would continue.

“What do you mean by that?”

Lagos stared at something off to the side for a long and awkward moment. Right as the woman was about to repeat the question he spoke up. “Have you ever been out there Dr. Watts?” Lagos grinned. “It’s the most beautiful thing I’ve ever experienced in my life,” a chuckle escaped him, “My son and wife wouldn’t like hearing this but it trumps my wedding and the birth of my boy in a heartbeat.”

The man looked off as if staring out of a window. “It’s exhilarating to a point you could never imagine until you have experienced it,” he began scratching at the sofa again. “I always wanted to walk in space. Now, I wonder if I’m luckier than those who have.”

Jimmy had never walked it, but he knew he would feel the same as the man. If the relaxation spheres had left him as mesmerized as they had, a free walk through the depths would likely leave him like Dr. Lagos.

“You’ve been out there over fifty times,” said Watts. His eyes snapped to Jimmy’s. True hatred stared back. “Some can’t handle even one trip out there. It’s truly impressive.” The man’s eyes warmed. She was strategically stroking the man’s ego. Jimmy smiled. No matter how obvious it was, people always accepted it. “Have you spoken to your family?”

“I gave up a while back,” said Lagos.

“The systems have been working for some time now,” said Watts.

“And they won’t be tomorrow,” he laughed. “I don’t like waiting around for things that are not here, now. My wife knows that.”

The more he listened to the man, the more Jimmy related to him.

“Does she also know about what you saw out there?”

His eyes narrowed as he scrutinized Jimmy. “No,” he watched Jimmy carefully, as if trying to catch any hint of deception.

“Dr. Lagos, have you thought about the damage increased pressure could do to a human mind?” said Watts.

Rage flashed over Lagos’ face but was covered up quickly by a friendly laugh. “And there it is.”

“I need to make sure you’re okay. I’m sure you understand why this is a concern to us,” said Watts calmly. Lagos stared directly at Jimmy. “You do understand, don’t you?”

“Have you ever wondered why we all don’t go crazy down here?” said Lagos. “Deeper than deep, and yet, no pressure,” he was baiting her.

“It’s quite obvious,” said Watts.

Lagos smiled playfully, “Isn’t it? There’s systems that keep the pressure at the same levels as the surface, right? Well, even though you haven’t had the privilege to explore the depths, I’m sure you know that the suits are made with the same thought in mind. Hell, even better. Even if they were punctured, they reseal,” he snapped his fingers. “I’ve yet to experience it myself but I would trust that the corporation we work for would take care of their own,” his grin disappeared, taking on the dark and menacing expression of a mad man. “So how do you expect to say I have pressure psychosis?”

“Dr. Lagos-” said Watts, a hint of worry in her voice.

“I’ve been the lead on this project since you expelled Chavez. You made me believe there was something wrong with her, but she wasn’t crazy. Now you’re trying to expel me. I’m not crazy,” Lagos’ tone was increasingly more hostile. “Is it politics?” He was scratching the sofa so hard now that the fabric had broken and he was digging through the insides. “Who are they trying to take credit for it all? You? Is it you, Dr. Watts? Will they put you as lead so you can take all my credit?” he moved to the edge of his seat, his eyes never leaving Jimmy’s. “Is it you?”

“I’m a psychologist Dr. Lagos,” her voice was full of nerves, full of fear. “I just want to figure out if what you saw out there is a concern for us. That’s all.” There was a subtle beep at the end of her words.

“Why did you press that?” said Lagos.

“Press what?” she said, her voice trembling.

“So not only will you paint me to be insane but stupid as well?”

“I don’t think you’re either-”

“Of course you don’t, you just need me to look it!” he said, eyes wide and glued to Jimmy’s.

“Dr. Lagos, I-”

“I’ll show you insane!” spat the crazed man before springing toward Jimmy with his hands ready to wrap around his neck. Jimmy flinched back as the transmission ended.

“Jesus fucking christ!” said Jimmy before quickly composing himself. The sphere returned. “Nee, what was the point of this?”

“Dr. Lagos’ mental state was a very important factor for the Galapagos cities. It is the second person of high status to be discharged from their duties due to pressure psychosis.”

“Are you saying these people went crazy? Like they did all this to themselves?” said Jimmy.

“No.” said Nee. “I believe there is some truth to what Dr. Lagos claimed. There are restricted files from the labs I am unable to access. They may help verify my suspicion.”

“The man was clearly unstable,” said Roberts. “Why would you believe him?”

Jimmy accepted Nee’s prompt. “Dr. Lagos was unstable, yes. However, there is an unauthorized transcript that was sent to this terminal as well as a recent log.”

“How recent?” said Jimmy.

“Six days.” said Nee.

“Summarize the transcript and play the log.” said Jimmy.

“Explorer reports that during an expedition they found the remains of an unknown species. The remains were brought into the city for further study.”

“Why is this considered unauthorized?” asked Roberts.

“All footage and reports from any unannounced projects is considered to be confidential Lumis property.” said Nee.

“Was there any footage?” said Jimmy.

“The records show that the original footage was attached to this report, however, it was not sent along with it to this terminal.”

“Play the log,” said Jimmy.

The sphere broke apart into the cubes once more until it took the form of a group of people stuffed into a room. He recognized two of the people, the woman sitting directly in front of Jimmy and the man in the decorated uniform standing behind her seat. There was a subtle panic in their faces as well as the people behind them. Jimmy glanced at the uniformed corpse to the right of him.

“Lumis control we have attempted all forms of communication. The systems have been down for twenty-three days now,” said the woman in a trained military tone.

“This fucking city has gone to shit!” yelled one of the men in the back.

The man and woman in uniform turned around. “Stay quiet. Let us handle this,” said the man.

“Fuck you, this is your fault,” said the same man.

“He’s right, you got them all killed!” said another.

“We’re trying to help. We’re in this as much as you are,” said the uniformed man.

“This wouldn’t be happening if it weren’t for you,” said the first man.

“Eric, stop! You’re not helping,” said a woman.

The woman in uniform turned back toward Jimmy and continued while they bickered in the background. “We are unclear about what exactly has been happening within the station but there is something that has been sabotaging us.”

“Sabotaging?” yelled the man named Eric. “We’re fucking dying ‘cause of that thing!”

“You’re wasting time, son,” said the uniformed man. “Let her handle this.”

“Sections A through G have been flooded. Sections H and I read active, although we cannot confirm from here, as well as labs and engineering, where we are,” continued the uniformed woman.

“All those people are on you,” said Eric as he jammed his finger into the uniformed man’s chest. “You killed them by letting that thing in.”

The uniformed man grabbed his finger and crushed it in his hand causing the man named Eric to cry out. “You touch me again and-”

A loud clanging echoed within the room. Everyone looked up above, making Jimmy want to do the same, but his eyes were glued to the log. The clanging came again, like hard footsteps over loose metal. The uniformed man let go of Eric’s hand and withdrew his rifle. He aimed it above while some of the people began to inch toward the door.

Everything went dead quiet. They all watched the ceiling, their hearts in their throats. The woman on the seat seemed to be praying. The uniformed man took a step back as quietly as possible, then another and another until his back was against the desk. Each of the people in the room shook with a level of terror only someone on the brink of unwanted death could understand.

Something white dropped down from the ceiling behind the woman’s seat, on top of one of the heckling men who stood there. The man let out a scream that was followed by a yelling frenzy of all the others.

The uniformed man fired a round that hit Eric and threw both him and the man behind him against the wall. It was a stun rifle. Jimmy watched intently, wishing the woman in uniform would move her seat so he could see what was happening. He wanted to see the thing behind her. 

A long whip-like object flashed and severed the rifle in half. A second whip whipped up, slicing the uniformed man in half and throwing him against the system. The holo flickered and the transmission ended. The cubes came together and, once again, the sphere returned.

Jimmy turned around and looked up toward the ceiling. He turned on his light and flashed it up.

Air vents.

It was the only opening above them where something could have come through. Whatever it was, it had access to more areas than even they did. Not that it mattered much anyway, they still didn’t know what it was, or if there was more than one. All he knew was that it, or they, had wiped out an entire city in less than a month.

He began to wish it had been terrorists. At least then he knew the rules.

“Keep your eyes up there,” Jimmy said to Roberts.

“I think we should get out of here,” whispered back Roberts.

Jimmy swirled back around toward the sphere. “Nee, is there anything else we should see?” he said into his unit.

“There are more logs like this,” she said.

“Do they show that, thing?” he said.

“Not clearly, no. There are restricted files in the labs that may have more answers,” she said.

“Where are the labs?” asked Roberts.

Jimmy accepted Nee’s prompt to respond. “Two are sending flood warnings. The other is within Section H,” she said. A map pulled up around the sphere.

“Where are we?” asked Jimmy. A green dot appeared. He knew this city was big, but it wasn’t until then that he realized how grand a project Lumis had actually achieved. 

“Wow,” said Roberts behind him. Jimmy pointed at the ceiling without turning around.

“Can you show us the areas reading a flood warning?” asked Jimmy. One by one, nearly all of the sections on the map began to turn red. Only a very small part of this entire project was left to boast of their achievement. Even huge areas within Section H were showing red.

“Are they all dead?” said Roberts.

“I don’t see over a million people fitting here,” said Jimmy, pointing at an area in Section H. His own words didn’t process until a moment later. Over one million human beings. Dead.

“Nee, is there any way you can scan for life signs? Or signals?” said Jimmy.

“The main system reads no life signs on any active sector,” said Nee, reshifting the sphere into different shapes as she worked. “There are no signals of any kind being cast other than Timothy Roberts’ distress signal to Lumis Command.”

Jimmy shot the fat man an annoyed look.

“Sorry,” said the fat man as he toyed with his own comm unit.

“Nee, how long ago was the last log when the system read anyone?” said Jimmy.

“Thirteen days and six hours,” said Nee.

“Thirteen?” said Roberts, “but the log was stamped six days ago.”

“It must be malfunctioning,” Jimmy felt stupid after he said it. It was obvious. Before Roberts or Nee could say anything he spoke up. “Are there any possibilities for error on this map?”

“None,” said Nee.

“None,” mumbled Jimmy under his breath. He turned to face the fat man and stared at him for a long moment. “At least we can eliminate terrorists.”

The fat man nodded. “What do you think we should do?” he said.

“We still don’t have any real answers,” said Jimmy.

“Maybe we should go back to Zoe,” said the slob. “Wait until Lumis sends a team to help.”

“Go for it. I’m not waiting around to be rescued,” Jimmy swirled around to face the map. “I’m getting out of this fucking place.”

“Don’t you think the locals would have done that by now if they could?”

“Do I look like a fucking local?” said Jimmy, twisting his neck just enough to see Roberts from his peripheral. “They’re not me, and neither are you.”

Roberts stammered over his words but Jimmy raised his finger at him, keeping him quiet.

“Nee, is there any way out of here?” asked Jimmy.

“Yes,” responded Nee, taking a long pause before saying, “The exploration pods read active.”

“Great!” said Jimmy bringing his fist down on the desk. “Can you map out the route?” A yellow line appeared on the map that led directly through areas reading flood warnings.

“There are no routes through the station,” said Nee.

“Then how the fuck…” he started, only to calm himself quickly. “Then how are we expected to get there?”

“There are air locks that may allow you to access the pods through the exterior,” said Nee. Jimmy loved how non-reactive she was with him but hated it as well. It reminded him she wasn’t real.

“What are our chances of being able to make it?” said Jimmy.

“EIghty-eight percent,” said Nee.

“That’s reassuring,” Jimmy tapped the desk, “So I should go out there blind with all the fucking fish that could kill me just to find out I can’t do shit and have to come back?”

“Eighty-eight percent isn’t bad,” said Roberts, “At least it’s over half. Over three quarters!”

Then you do it fat ass, because if I do, I’m not coming back for you. “Is there anything else we could do?” said Jimmy.

“Nothing,” said Nee. 

“That’s impossible. What about the other elevators?”

“They’re incomplete. The Lumis Corporation wanted to allow-”

“Yes, yes. I know,” Jimmy said. Lumis gave time for the initial settlers to become comfortable before allowing tourists through. “What’s the closest air lock?”

“Are you really considering it?” asked Roberts. “I mean, the chances are good and all but people train for months before ever stepping foot out there.”

“We have no other option,” said Jimmy.

“Here,” said Nee. A blinking light lit up on the map very close to their location. “It is the only air lock that is uncompromised.”

Jimmy stared at the map and cursed under his breath. The direct route through the station was long. It would take him close to a day without transports being operational. This route would take him all the way around and at an even slower pace. It could take him almost two days, maybe more if he was lugging the fat ass with him.

“Eighty-eight percent,” mumbled Jimmy. “If I make it, what are the chances I’ll be able to access the pods?”

“I’m unsure,” said Nee.

Jimmy chuckled. “Give me an idea.”

“Below fifty,” she said.

He laughed as he turned to Roberts. “Well, if it’s our only shot I might as well try it,” he knew the fat man wouldn’t have the courage to go with him. At least it would give him some time without him.

“I can’t allow you to go out there,” said Nee, “You would be unable to return if you were incapable of accessing the pods.”

“What happened to eighty-eight percent?” said Jimmy. He didn’t like the idea of being forced to be stuck with the fat man again.

“Yes,” she said, “to make it there. Your suit would not make the trip back.”

“It wouldn’t make the trip back,” mumbled Jimmy, his jaw tight. “It wouldn’t make the fucking trip back!” he slammed both fists onto the desk. He stood and sweeped the desk, sending whatever remained on it flying across the room.

“Take it easy,” said Roberts.

“Do you not realize what the fuck is happening?” spat Jimmy, getting right into the fat man’s face.

“I’m sure we can figure something else out,” said Roberts timidly.

“What other way? Sit around in front of a fucking dead girl and tell each other sob stories until they decide to send down another group of retards like you?”

“There might be other people alive who know this place better than we do. They might have a plan,” said Roberts, ignoring the blow.

“Don’t you think they would have acted already?” said Jimmy, holding the fat man’s gaze with crazed intent. “They’re either dead,” he picked up the closest severed limb and dangled it in front of Roberts. The fat man looked at away and Jimmy let it drop to the floor hissing, “or they’re fucking cowards, who we don’t need more of.”

As expected, Roberts said nothing. He was a punching bag that had no swing to challenge. “Nee, I’m pulling you,” said Jimmy.

“Would you like for me to download the sche-”

“I don’t give two shits what you download. You have five seconds,” said Jimmy.

The map disappeared and the sphere returned only to begin crumbling into small cubes, forming a tower. He gave Nee all the time she needed, waiting until he saw the tower fully formed and pulled her power core. He shouldered past Roberts as he made his way toward the door.

Before he reached the door Roberts called out, “Where are we gonna go then?”

We? Who said you were welcome? “One step at a time,” said Jimmy, shrugging.

“Jimmy,” said Roberts. Jimmy looked at him and saw the fat man pointing at the air vent above, a worried frown on him.

“As I said,” Jimmy said, “One step.” He tried to make it seem as if he had no care in the world but before he turned back around his eyes found themselves straying toward the massacre around them. He didn’t want to die down here like them. He didn’t want to become another statistic.

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