We were going to get ourselves killed.
It was too dark for a rescue attempt. It was too cold. But then again, I'd never heard of a rescue attempt performed under favorable circumstances. Unpleasant conditions seemed to be the staple attribute of the things. My teeth chattered as we crept down the side of the building.
"Is this the place?" Marcy whispered.
"This is where her signal disappeared."
We were standing in front of one of the many large, monotonous metal buildings that were like ugly weeds in this end of town.
"How're we getting in?" she asked.
I looked around for an easy entrance, but there was none to be found. Instead, I located a ledge cut into the side of the building. It was about six feet from the ground and looked like it was just as wide and deep. It was like a cube cut out of the edifice. I gestured to it eagerly and Marcy trailed behind.
"Give me a boost," Marcy demanded after we'd stared up the side of the building for awhile.
I cupped my hands in front of me and Marcy placed one of her thin boots into it. She grabbed the edge easily and pulled herself up. After settling at the top, she turned around and offered me a hand. I had to jump in order to reach, but when I caught it she pulled me to her.
Marcy then turned to face the inner wall and crouched down. I quickly grew impatient from having to look at her back.
"Marcy!" I whispered, "Not everyone's agenda is scheduled around your leisurely pace. Move, I want to see too."
"Sor-ry," she said, not sounding sincere in the slightest. "There isn't much to see anyways," she said, moving out of the way. "It's too dark."
I shuffled up to the part of the wall that had been revealed. Pressing my face against it, I strained my eyes to see through the thin slits in the vent.
I sighed after scanning the room blindly, "You're right. I can't see a thing."
"Of course I'm right."
I rolled my eyes, and backed away from the vent in the wall.
We both turned around and crawled to the very extremity of the area, letting our legs dangle over the edge before jumping. Marcy jumped off first, landing about six feet below in one lithe movement. I followed down after her and managed to jam my ankle in the process. I cursed under my breath as I limped over to Marcy, who wasn't trying very hard at all to conceal her laughter. I narrowed my eyes at her, but she continued to snicker into her hand.
I pushed past her and began hobbling around the perimeter of the building, sending out signals to open any nearby entrances. Marcy turned on her foot and trailed after me. Eventually, we found a door hidden away in the wall. It probably would have remained hidden too, had it not opened when I walked by it. I probably should have been more wary, but I convinced myself that it was just good luck.
The first thing I noticed before I stepped inside was how absolutely dark it was. I craned my neck, looking for the slits from the numerous vents lining the outside, but saw nothing. I wondered if it was just too dark outside to cast any light through, or if we were making our way through the very bowels of the building — devoid of any walls touching the outside.
I shivered and crossed my arms over my chest, trying to keep out the cold that was seeping through my clothing. I'd already lost my bearings. I had no idea if we were headed in even remotely the right direction, but I wasn't going to voice this inconvenience out loud.
"Could you turn on the lights?" Marcy asked after we'd wandered aimlessly for a bit.
"Are you serious?" I asked, glancing back at her dark figure.
She sounded paranoid, "Well, no, we'd be caught, I guess."
"We'd be caught," I whispered, "without a doubt." We were lucky we hadn't been caught already.
"Okay, fine," she said. "Do you have any other ideas?"
"Uh, find a door?"
She scoffed, but I could just imagine the doubtful expression sliding off of her face and being replaced with a hopeful one. "Do you really think we could manage that?"
"Why not?" I shrugged.
"It just seems too easy is all."
"Who needs to dig a tunnel when there's a door you can just pick a lock to?"
"Thanks," I said, smiling into the dark.
I ran my fingers down the slimy walls, searching for any inconsistencies in the metal. Every few steps I could feel a line cutting vertically through the wall, and I stopped more than once, clawing at the slit. I could never get a good grip on it, though, and forced myself onward.
"Lejla," she whined behind me, "your idea sucks."
"Just a tad further," I urged.
I could hear her groan loudly behind me. I braced myself, closing my eyes, waiting, just waiting for something or someone to pop out at us.
But luckily, nothing came, and we continued on our merry way.
I fingered the thin, metal band that ran across my eyebrows. It was tempting to send out the correct signal to light the hallway. I was surprised Marcy hadn't done it already. I moved my fingers over the 'band again nervously, warming the cold metal with my fingers.
The metal band was a teleband. It gave me substantial control over my environment by converting my brain-waves into usable, electronic signals. Ones that most doors and lights and just about anything else was programmed to respond to.
With my other hand, my fingers ran across another one of the vertical lines in the wall. Abruptly I stopped, and Marcy, unable to see in the pitch dark, bumped into me. I had finally decided to stop at one of the seams in the metal. After Marcy had recovered herself, she turned to me with interest.
"What'd you find?" Marcy whispered into my ear.
"Oh, nothing," I said, her enthusiasm made me grin.
Nearly knocking me on the head, she extended her hand over my shoulder to feel what I'd discovered. To my relief, she seemed impressed.
"We just have to find a way to open it," I said.
"Can we try our 'bands now, Lejla?"
"I suppose we can try now…" I said, trying to calculate out all the potential risks of opening the door.
One, whoever's in this place could track down the signals from our 'bands and we'd get into a massive amount of trouble. But then again, if they had anything that could track us it would have registered our 'band signals before we'd even entered. This potential failed to comfort me.
Two, the possible presence of people in the room on the other side. We'd be caught immediately. And again, we'd be in major trouble. Never fun.
Three, the opening of the door could set off a bomb and we'd be seared off the face of the Earth, but that theory was pushing it, I'll admit.
I dug my fingernails into the thin seam and tried to pry the wall apart.
"That's not working," she said unnecessarily.
"Obviously," I admitted, letting my hands fall slack at my sides.
"Can I try now?"
"Sure, sure," I said, and I braced myself for the worst.
I heard her breathing grow slow and consistent. It wasn't going to work, I could tell. It never took this long to simply open doors — it was usually an instantaneous result.
"Damn it," she mumbled, taking a step back.
"Try running your key across it. The older doors require contact," I suggested.
She complied, running the small metal object across the door's surface. She grumbled, "Nothing."
"Hmm," I said, thinking.
I stepped forward, and then I stood there, preparing myself to project all the commands I knew at the uncooperative door.
I nearly screamed when it unsealed with one try. The dilapidated door opened lightning-fast, cutting through the air like a knife.
"Holy shit," Marcy said behind me.
I swallowed hard.
We both stood there for a very long time.
"I'm going in," I stated.
"It's kinda eerie," Marcy whispered.
"Isn't it great?" I said, oddly excited.
"So we go in?"
I answered her question by taking a step inside.
The room was completely dark, so we weren't entirely sure what we were discovering. All I knew was that a highly acrid, metallic smell filled my nose and mouth. I had to stop walking in order to focus all of my attention on not lapsing into a coughing fit.
"It stinks in here," I wheezed, my eyes watering.
"Don't be a wimp," Marcy chided. "Let's look around."
I tried the best I could at swallowing my coughs. I yearned to lie on the ground and focus on breathing. Everything else suddenly seemed superfluous.
"It really doesn't smell that bad," Marcy said, looking back at me after I made a few more gagging sounds.
"It's burning my insides," I said pathetically. I ignored the urge to collapse onto the floor and followed Marcy deeper into the room.
"You'll get used to it. Your brain will stop recognizing the smell after a few minutes," she said, and then repeated "You'll get used to it."
Well, she was right on one account, my brain stopped recognizing the scent, but I didn't get used to it. The air alone bit viciously into my tongue, lips, eyes, nose, and every bit of exposed skin. Which was basically every part of my face coated in a fluid.
"How big is this room?" Marcy asked, frustrated.
"Turn on the lights," I managed to choke out.
"Ha," she snorted, "believe me when I say that I've tried." Then she turned to me, "You try."
I nodded weakly into the dark and then cast out, projecting the proper impulse to light the room. The result was instant. Dim balls of light in impossibly far off corners began to brighten.
"Jeez Lejla, you'll have to teach me how you do that."
I shrugged, "It's not any different than turning on normal lights."
"Then why can't I turn them on?"
I shrugged again.
As the lights warmed up, they grew consistently brighter, lighting more and more of the room as time progressed.
"Well…" Marcy exhaled, looking around the room with wide eyes.
I gaped at the expansive room around me. There was no furniture, nothing to fill the empty floor-space. I lifted my chin toward the ceiling. The walls extended up at least two stories before the ceiling cut it off. From floor to ceiling there were wide, faceless drawers embedded in the walls.
Our footfalls reverberated through the room. I winced at every one of Marcy's heavy footsteps. I walked to the far wall, stepping as quietly as I could without having to tip-toe. I leaned forward and examined a drawer. In the upper-right hand corner three characters were etched into the surface of the drawer. I ran my fingers over the numbers. This drawer read 15-C.
"Why would someone take Donna here?"
"I'm not sure," I coughed, leaning away from the drawer.
"Well, the drawers do look big enough to fit a person," she said nervously, eyeing the walls.
"You think…?" I whispered.
"It's a possibility."
"How are we going to find her?" I asked. "If she's even in here."
"You're the one that followed her signal here. We're here because of your technological hunch."
"I know, I know. Okay look, memorize a few of the labels engraved into the drawer, and we can look for consistencies between them when we get back to my house." My voice sounded raspy.
"We can do that later. You should try and open one."
"I could…" I considered. "But you have to take down the labels."
"I will!" she said, waving a hand through the air. "Come on, just see if you can open one drawer."
"Fine, I'll try," I said, and then the great mystery of what was contained inside of the drawer came into mind. "Do you really think that there are people in them?" I asked tensely.
"I think so," she answered, "but I really hope not."
"I really, really hope not," I whispered.
I blinked a few times, clearing my vision somewhat. The air was making my eyes burn. "All right," I said quietly, "you can pick one."
Marcy glanced over at me, clenched her jaw, and nodded once. She walked over to one side of the room and ran her fingers across the smooth faces of the drawers. What was this place? And what could Donna possibly be here for?
Marcy eventually stopped walking and picked a drawer three up from the floor.
"This one," she declared.
I looked over at her saw that her hands were shaking. She was expecting the worst. Just like me.
Her thin shoulders rattled as I stepped closer to the selected drawer.
"This one?" I asked.
She nodded without a word.
We stood there for a moment in relative silence. My wheezing broke up the quiet sufficiently. When I finally decided to open it, no second attempt was required as I projected. The drawer opened normally.
Marcy drew a shaky breath beside me. She walked around to the other side and leaned over to look at the contents. She went rigid and I watched as she struggled to swallow something lodged in her throat.
I finally stepped forward and looked over the side opposite Marcy. My eyes widened as I saw the contents of the drawer. "Marcy?" I asked in a low, worried voice.
She didn't reply.
I took a step backwards, nearly falling to the ground. "There's someone in there," I whispered, pointing a shaky finger at the drawer.
"Lejla," I heard Marcy say faintly.
I took a few shuffling steps towards her. "Yeah?"
"What if there's someone in every one of these?"
I stopped dead in my tracks. The mere thought of a person being kept in every one of these drawers was unfathomable. There had to be hundreds drawers.
"What if they're being kept here against their will?" she asked, her voice cracking.
I eventually made it back to the drawer and I looked over the side again.
The person contained was a girl, with weak features and far-spaced eyes. She was pretty in a subtle way. Her hair was brown and fanned out around her head. A thin, light blue blanket was pulled up to her chin.
I leaned in closer and I could see that there were thin wires burgeoning out of her hairline and thrown back in with her hair. I ripped my eyes away from her face when I heard uneven breathing from elsewhere. My eyes fell on Marcy, who had taken a step back. She was leaning against the wall, staring over at the girl with wide eyes.
"Marcy?" I said softly.
Her eyes snapped back to me and she took a step forward.
"Have you seen this?" I asked, making a sweeping gesture with my hand in the direction of the wires.
Some of the anguish in her eyes was replaced with curiosity and she bent forward, investigating. "No," she whispered, "I didn't see those." Then she looked up at me, "What could they be for?"
I tried to blink passed the burning tears that were gathering in my eyes. "I'm not completely sure…" I trailed off.
"That's probably how they're keeping her asleep," she said, misery creeping back into her face.
Curious, I extended my hand toward the wires, brushing her forehead with my fingers in the process. I began fiddling with the wires intently, bending in closer to get a better look.
"Holy shit," Marcy said.
I turned my head to look at her, but when my eyes swept from the girl to Marcy I realized that I was being watched by more than one person. In my peripheral vision I could see a set of large, green eyes staring straight at me.
I held her gaze, horrified, but unable to look away.
The girl in the drawer opened her mouth to speak but only a grating gurgling sound emerged. I covered my ears reflexively.
The noise continued to increase in volume, as did the pressure in my skull. I looked around frantically, afraid everyone would flock to the source of the noise. Then I turned my eyes to Marcy and saw that she had her hands clamped over her ears as well.
"Stop!" I managed to choke out, but my request was ignored. I repeated it over and over without success. "Shut up!" I screamed desperately, but again, my request went unheeded.
Marcy's eyes caught mine and she gestured for me with a quick wave to come to her. I winced at the prospect of closing the distance between myself and the source of the dissonant noise, but I forced myself forward. The sound was unbearable this close. The pressure in my head was steadily increasing. I had to make the girl stop before I went deaf or my brain exploded or something worse.
When I arrived at the side of the drawer I reluctantly dropped my hands to my sides and Marcy said something to me, but I couldn't hear her. My clueless expression caused her to frown and repeat what she'd just said. But all to no avail, the only thing that I could gather was that her lips were moving. I couldn't tell what she was saying.
I can't hear you! I messaged her using my 'band, pointing to the girl with her mouth wide open.
Marcy rolled her eyes and then brushed her fingertips across the girl's forehead. Then she nodded at me to do the same. Tentatively, I lifted a hand from my side and imitated Marcy by running my fingers over the girl's forehead.
The girl in the drawer stopped screaming immediately and her eyes closed. I gaped at her for a moment and then lowered my hand in relief.
"What the hell was that?" I asked, my voice cracking.
"It sounded like she was sick," she said.
"It sounded like she was being torched alive," I mumbled to myself, massaging my ears.
"Maybe that's what those wires are doing to her," she whimpered. "Burning her alive. From the inside-out."
I nodded as I sagged against the wall and sank to the floor. The urge to rest was even more overwhelming. My face was pulsing painfully, even my palms were beginning to burn.
And then I clenched my jaw in renewed determination, focusing on what we came here to do — find Donna.
Donna had disappeared less than 24 hours ago. She was acting strangely when she did, screaming at her shadow, not moving for hours on end, mumbling incoherent nonsense, and so on. But both Marcy and I had promised that we'd watch out for her. And what did we accomplish? We let some guys come into her house and carry her off to this place. We didn't see any additional signals with Donna when she came here — so we assumed that her kidnappers had some sort of signal-cloaking device. In her condition, there was no conceivable way Donna could have driven herself anywhere.
But one thing I did manage to do was track the signal from her 'band to this location. When the signal from her teleband vanished, Marcy and I set out to find and rescue her. When a signal disappeared, there were no nice guesses as to why. Either Donna's 'band was ripped off, or her head was ripped off. Both possibilities had the potential to be extremely unpleasant.
I stood slowly, and looked back down at the girl in the drawer, my ears still ringing from before. I extended my hand and closed my fingers around the thin blanket that covered her from the chin down. I was exceptionally conscientious as to not touch the girl for fear of triggering the noise again.
"Careful," Marcy whispered.
Slowly, I pulled it down, revealing the girl's body. I heard Marcy gasp across from me.
I blinked rapidly, hoping the image would change after each flicker of darkness. But it remained the same. What I could discern: the girl's throat was ripped open to expose a tangled mass of wires. As I moved my eyes down her body, I saw that her chest was ripped open as well.
My brain couldn't quite compute what my eyes were telling it. The girl's ribs were made of a pliable-looking metal, and her lungs appeared to be non-existent. Instead, there were two strange, transparent balloons that vaguely resembled jellyfish. As opposed to veins and arteries, a bulk of wires ran through her chest.
"How…?" Marcy fumbled for words.
I continued to sweep my eyes across the figure in the drawer. I resisted the temptation to reach out and touch it again to see how the insides functioned while it was operating.
"I think it's a robot," I stated decisively.
"There're such things?" Marcy asked, "I thought they were only theories, things we'd make eventually, but not now. Not yet."
I thought about this for a moment. "Well, we do have artificial limbs that are completely controlled by the brain," I said. "And they've almost completely mapped the brain. It's really not surprising that they put the two together."
Marcy stared despondently down into the drawer. "I guess not."
"So, obviously someone created a sort of robot-building assembly line." I waved at the expanse of the room around us. "Just without the public knowing," I looked around again at the immense amount of drawers, each of which was potentially containing a robot.
"But Lejla?" she said softly, "Why would Donna be here?"
I scowled, trying to think of an explanation.
Marcy froze, her eyes wide.
"What if they're making these to replace people?" she whispered.
"Why would they do that?"
"Well, Donna was acting oddly anyways," she elaborated. "Maybe they decided to take her out and replace her because of how she was behaving."
"Still…" I hesitated, "Why, though?"
"So they could plug in 'someone' who would contribute more?"
Then the enormity of this dawned on me. If someone was plugging robots into the general population that could be programmed to do whatever the creator wanted…
The possibilities were endless. I clenched my fists in frustration. They could be swaying an election. Hell, they could get a robot be a candidate for an election. They could be manipulating us in ways I couldn't even begin to think of.
"Marcy, we have to get out of here," I said frantically.
She was watching me with wide eyes.
"If they find us here they could replace us too."
My breathing became shallow then and it seared my already damaged throat.
"Close the drawer, Lejla!" Marcy cried, panicked.
I obeyed, and the drawer slid noiselessly back into the wall. Then she pulled me along behind her. As we ran, the air hit my eyes consistently and the scalding sensation more than doubled in intensity. I tried to ignore the pain, but my thoughts were too scrambled for that kind of concentration. I had to bite my burning lips in order to keep from crying out.
"Almost there," I heard Marcy say in front of me, "the exit."
I nearly tripped over my feet at the pace we were going.
"Okay, Lejla, turn out the lights and open the door!"
I did without question, and we were thrown into total darkness. But only seconds later I was breathing in the musty scent of the hallway as opposed to the burning air of the room. I inhaled greedily.
"Now close the door," Marcy commanded.
I complied, happy to have as much separation as possible between me and the room. We ran down the narrow hallway for a bit and then as we neared the exit I projected, and the exterior door flew open. The cool, night air was a welcome relief even though it bit harshly at my ravaged throat.
"We can walk for a bit and then I'll call for a cab," Marcy said, still supporting my weight.
I nodded wordlessly.
We walked down the dark street, the hov-cars moving silently over our heads. There were strips on the road that gave off a blue, pulsing light. I tipped my chin skyward and I could see the strips, the lateral lines, on the bottoms of the cars — mirroring the lines on the ground.
My breaths came raggedly. I doubled over and began coughing, hacking up blood.
Marcy glanced over at me and finally decided that I was in no condition to walk any farther. "I'll project for a cab now," she said.
"Sounds good," I choked.
A moment after I finished my response, a vehicle plummeted from the sky, catching itself a few feet from the ground. The door flew open and Marcy and I climbed inside. The driver was already strapped in, with thick belts across his forehead, chest, and abdomen, as was customary for anyone operating a hov-car.
"Where to?" the driver grunted from the front.
"I don't want to go back to my house," Marcy whispered to me. "That's too far away."
"We can go to Maude's," I suggested after a slight pause. "I'll bet she won't mind."
I smiled, and the skin on my lips split. "Barley's mom… not biological, but still his mom. You know Barley from school. They'll take us in."
Marcy took her key out from under her shirt to use it to pay. She popped it off the string it was attached to so that she could swipe it across the payment slide between the two front seats. She leaned forward and aligned the rectangular groove on the end of the key with the protruding strip on the payment slide. They interlocked seamlessly and Marcy slid it across with a flourish.
I reclined in my seat, gently moving my fingers around the split in my bottom lip. I watched as Marcy reattached her key back to its string and dropped it back under her shirt.
"Whose house're we takin' you to now?" the driver asked.
"To Maude Coghlan's," I answered.
I could feel the lateral lines vibrate beneath my feet as we lifted off the ground. I could see the blue, pulsing light from the lines through every window. I had hailed one of the cheaper cabs because the light was dimmer. The standard width of a line was about a hand's length, but people could pay more money to get thicker ones that provide more protection, more repulsion. The more expensive the car, the higher it flew. The higher it went, the less traffic there was. We were swimming with the school, far from the surface.
I looked over at Marcy out of the corner of my eye. She was twitchy, watching the landscape flashing by with intense concentration. She was probably searching for any type of authoritative-looking car following us.
"We'll be fine," I said.
"I hope so," she replied, slamming her head on the headrest. "I really hope so," she repeated to herself.
"When we get to Maude's we can look at the numbers from the labels," I whispered. "And then we can look to see if Donna has a replacement and then shut it down."
The idea struck her like electricity and she sat forward, "I forgot to look at the labels."
I stared at her for a moment. "You didn't," I said in disbelief.
"I did," she sighed. "Dammit, but it's not all my fault. We both rushed out of there."
"How are we supposed to find the replacement now?"
She groaned, dropping her head into her hands.
"We'll have to go back."
"You can't go back," she said, looking up at me. "Your lungs will fill with blood, or you'll go blind, or something. We can't risk it." Then she squared her shoulders. "I'll go by myself."
"Well, that's very bold of you," I said in a low voice, "but how are you going to even get in without me?"
Marcy bit her lip. "Well, you can stand out in the hallway while I take a good look at the labels on the drawers."
"I suppose that could work," I said, staring out the window behind her, seriously doubting that it would work. I didn't like being left behind.
"Of course it would work!" she whispered excitedly, pounding a fist into her open palm. "We can go back tomorrow!"
"Should we risk going back so soon?"
"Sure, why not?" she shrugged, "If they're going to find us, they'll find us tonight."
"So, if we wake up and discover that we aren't replaced by a mad, screeching robot then we're going to where they're stored?"
"Exactly," Marcy beamed.
"Sounds like a plan."
This is a revision of my other posted chapter -- Breach of Faith. Hopefully it's better. Took out the infodumps, some of the annoyingness, and hopefully clarified some. Basically what revisions are supposed to do... Still needs work, though. The story itself is more realized too, though. As I've written... more. IT'S STILL CRAP, THOUGH. I KEEL IT. Heh. Please review? :)