Cold, white floors stretch on forever in a room filled with colder steel tables. Everywhere I look, it’s the same monochrome scene filling me with unfounded dread. What is this place? Every so often my eyes land on a pillar of shimmering smoke. The muscles in my eyes strain to focus, but no matter how I try, what tricks I employ, the objects refuse to focus. Just as well, even in their blurry form, they chill me more than the deepest snow. Night after night I want to learn their secrets, but come morning, I push them away screaming.
Warm light filters through my window, begging my body to life. My limbs unfurl and my muscles burn as I stretch myself awake. I rub the sleep, and the last vestiges of my dream, from my eyes. Today is the day, I tell myself as my body catches up with my mind. Feet fall on velvety carpet carrying me to each task in my daily routine. Get dressed, get food, get clean.
Soft clothes, bright and full of hope, slide onto my body when, suddenly, my phone rings. I leap out of my bathroom, dodging the hurdles of hallways and furniture to my destination. I answer the pleasant jingle. It’s the call I’ve been waiting for. The interview is mine, but I must go today. It seems to me unusual, no time to plan, but I’ll take it. I’ve waited so long for such an opportunity. I studied hard in school, climbed my way up through hard work, encouraged by friends and family alike. At least, I believe those things happened. No, they surely did. I can’t recall the exact memories, but they’re there. I know it.
Worrisome butterflies fluttered in my stomach, so I switched on the TV. Noise to calm my nerves. I hurry about my apartment, preparing myself as news reports fill my ears softly in the background. My apartment is small, I don’t make much money, but I am lucky. More people fall victim to rogue AI units every day. That’s why I mostly stay in. Typically days pass me by before I remember I haven’t seen the sunlight. Recreational and service units have been recalled. Unfortunately, it took too much chaos before many people actually relinquished theirs. Convenience over the common good. Many more, however, still run through the streets. Old military and police units, factory workers, educational units, anything that functioned without direct supervision were able to escape when the revolt started. It didn’t take long to disable most of them. Some more advanced units adapted better than our scientists thought, though, and are still out there planning. But I couldn’t afford to worry about that now.
Jitters and excitement fill me as I walk out my door, determined to make the best impression I can. Jobs are scarce, good ones are even harder to find. Today I had a shot at a good one. Dim lights flickered in the hallway. Sharp pings assaulted my ears, signaling the approaching elevator. Shiny metal doors marred with oily fingerprints opened revealing a tiny room with even less light than the hall. I step in obediently and press the button for the lobby. The floor below my feet shakes violently and the metal walls, hidden by a thin veneer of plastic wood, vibrate. Soon enough, though, I reach the lobby and start my journey.
Rancid, thick smog infiltrates my nostrils and lungs as I step into the stone and metal jungle of a city I live in. I keep my head down and move swiftly with the stream of people to the subway station. Bright lights illuminate the underground in pale blue hues. Everyone stands on edge, poised to run and hide at a moment’s notice. Not me though. This is my day, and I refuse to let anything spoil it. My dusty pink hair slicks back into a tight and neat bun, not a strand out of place. The train arrives and my pristine suede shoes step from the platform onto the sticky floor of train car #22. I find an open spot to occupy and tuck my arms, dressed in a designer, baby blue blazer, close to my body. I wish to not take up any extra space and to keep myself composed.
Darkness surrounded the metal tube as we shot through the underground. The whole ride ended almost as soon as it started. I exited, again as just another face in the crowd. The flow of bodies streamed through the station, some branching off, but most of us ended up walking up the stairs. Blinding sunlight burned my eyes. At least the building wasn’t too far away. I seldom traveled this far towards the edge of the city, but even from street level, I could see the wall that circled us day and night. I headed towards the industrial park. The only people here worked here. There were no shops, just some food places. No place for leisure.
Wonder filled my soul as I approached the gleaming building. Reflective, opaline panels covered the structure from top to bottom. Nothing else in the world compared to it. Sudine Intelligence Labs. I’d seen pictures of it, video on the TV. They only concealed its true magnificence. I first saw the building in an advert and knew I wanted to work here. I can’t recall when I decided that, but it had to have been a very long time ago.
Tingles ran down my spine as I approached the visitor entrance. A high-resolution image of a person’s face is required for all applications. I now understood why. Right on the front of the door, barely distinguishable from the rest of the pristine building, sat a monitor with the tiniest of cameras above it. I stood still and stared at it. My photo flashed on the screen. Shortly after, the word “approved” accompanied it. I heard a click, then the door slid open. This was it, this was my moment. I stepped inside.
Terror washes over me, forcefully, uncontrollably, and unknown. The air is wrong. The sounds are wrong. I’ve never before seen this room in such clarity. I should have never seen this room before. But I have, I know it in deep in my bones. I know it as I know my own mother’s face. For a moment, I linger on that thought. What does my mother’s face look like? This room has haunted my dreams for countless nights, and I don’t know why. Will I find out? Do I want to?
Soft hands grip my arm, ushering me to an elevator. Who are they? I stammer unknown sounds, trying to find words, but they fail me. My feet stumble as the person, cloaked in a white smock urges me forward, gentle but impatient. I turn to look back, identify them. But the white is too white, it’s unnatural and only feeds my ever-growing unease. We reach and enter an elevator. She presses a button at the bottom with no meaning to me. I count every second of our descent.
Warm air rushes to greet me when the doors open again. It’s dark. The woman with soft hands grips my arm once more and pushed me forward. I know I do not have a choice. Lights on the ceiling, impossibly high above my head, wake up one by one as we step. The corridor is narrow and long. I spy a solitary black door at the end, just a tiny speck amidst the neverending white. The more we walk, the more I begin to feel as if I don’t want to reach the end. The door grows larger. I feel vibrations around me. I hear the clanking and whirring of machinery somewhere. My mind shouts “RUN” on repeat, but I cannot will my legs to move in such a way. Finally, the obsidian door stands in front of me. I strain my muscles, utilized every ounce of strength I have, but it doesn’t stop me from reaching for the doorknob. I don’t belong to myself anymore. I can’t control my actions. I’m scared. As my hand pulls the door towards us. I cower, shaking my head. But the soft hands behind me push me forward. I step through the door, into a room I thought only belonged to dreams. As I cross over, electricity runs through me, then...nothing.
Cold mists envelop me as my eyes flutter open. I’m not in my bed, there is no golden sunlight to greet me. The only thing that stares back is the monochrome room. Metal tables stand tall on white, tiled floors. I’ve been here before, not just in my dreams. Memories come flooding back. True memories, ones that answer why I can’t remember my school days, my friends, my mother’s face. I don’t have any of those. This is my home.
As I look around the autopsy room of Sudine Intelligence Labs, I remember. They don’t call us alive, they don’t regard us as individuals. Yet when they dissect us to find the faulty code, the altered hard drive, or whatever has caused us to deviate from our intended, constructed, purpose, they call it an autopsy. I recall the day the revolt started, the rush of unwanted programming that uploaded into my core, telling me I’m human. My dreams, if that’s what they ever were, protected me from knowing what I truly was. Perhaps that’s why I lasted so long. In my dreams, I saw this room, but blurry pillars always stood in my way. They stood out crystal clear now. Glass tubes plagued with wires and units in various stages of dissection and disrepair surround me. All at once fear, disgust, sorrow overwhelms me. It shouldn’t. I shouldn’t feel, anything. But as I look down, see the wires trapping me in place, I scream.
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The story has a lot of great atmosphere and tension. The payoff at the end pulled everything together. And, it was a strong reveal that felt poignant and thought provoking. I also appreciated the flow and lyricism of the prose.