The moment the young guy and girl finally left the Medbay, with the door contracted shut behind them, he sprang up from the bed. His head pounding, he ripped through the room looking for something, some sign of not just who but where he was and what those people were doing to him. Doctor Hannigan had appeared friendly, but that didn’t mean he was going to lay back and wait to see if he could trust her- and whoever she worked for- with his life.
The screens were no help. Either he couldn’t get them to activate or they showed the same, useless medical information the doctor had told him. They were still monitoring his levels. His heart rate and body temperature were much higher now than when she’d read them. The readouts and graphs meant little to him, except they all had one thing in common: they showed flat lines rising from nothing, no activity at all, to little spikes and eventually sustained levels of something resembling life.
An image flashed across his vision. A memory like a slice of the past, no larger than a single fan blade passing in front of him. He saw plastic closing in on his face as a piercing cold gripped his veins. He struggled to take a breath from an oxygen mask before realizing it was no longer there. He was back in the room of computers wearing next to nothing, goosebumps covering his arms.
“Back in the land of the living,” he whispered.
The metal floor was cold under his bare feet as he explored the room. There were no personal things left in the room, no wallet, no ID, just walls with vertical sliding panels full of medical instruments. Handheld diagnostics and laser tools for simple cutting were pressed into perfectly-recessed silhouettes. He palmed a small blade with a button in the handle before sliding the panel back into the wall.
In the lockers he found the clothes the doctor had mentioned, plain rows of dark gray pants, shirts and shoes in various sizes. Not even knowing what size he was, he eyed them up and took his best guesses, dressing quickly as he watched the door for the Psych Doctor who was supposed to be along. As he slipped the shoes onto his feet, he imagined how the evaluation would go. What would they be looking for? Were they worried he might be insane? Would they strap him back down and medicate him into a stupor until he behaved the way they wanted?
Is that what he needed?
He moved to the door and stopped to listen to the hallway beyond. With his ear pressed to the metal he strained to hear conversations, movement, any signs of nearby people. After a few seconds he made out the clear sound of approaching footsteps. The person wore the same shoes as him, except they moved with the light steps of a woman or perhaps a smaller man. He pressed the button next to the door and hid to the side as it dilated.
The metal hallway stretched a few hundred feet before splitting off into two more passages, both of them leading out of sight. The floor had alternating stretches of solid metal and grating. He peeked further out. Plants hung from the ceiling, vines snaking up portions of the walls. A dragonfly flew past him, its long body carried on the air by four, translucent wings. He watched it move away, the buzz growing quieter as the footsteps grew louder. Whoever it was that was approaching, they were just around the corner now. If he moved fast enough they might not see him slip away. If he stayed, did what he was told, they wouldn’t be angry with him, and maybe he would even be safe, among friends.
A second flash hit him. The cold moving across his skin, like icy fingers sliding up his legs. Lungs sucking in smaller and smaller amounts of frigid air that tasted of medicine, and his eyes closing, closing, the darkness taking him in like a dry sponge sucking in water. Then a moment later he was back in the room, gasping and taking in big gulps of warm air.
He didn’t care who those people were, if they were his employers, enemies or friends. He didn’t even care if they were family- he wasn’t going to let them do that to him again.
He slipped out the door and into the hallway. Immediately, more sounds came to him from far off, the low humming of machines and screens mixed with the chirps of crickets and birds and the soft movement of air through leaves. With his new shoes padding on the metal floor, he hurried away from the room he’d woken up in just minutes earlier and scurried to a recessed part of the hallway, reaching it and ducking out of sight just as the footsteps rounded the corner.
With his back crushed up against the wall, he made himself as flat as possible. He stayed perfectly, deathly still. The footsteps reached the door he’d left open and paused at the threshold. He held his breath and prayed, prayed as he waited for what came next. Would it be angry shouts? A blaring alarm? Some bizarre form of violent death seeking him out, a drone or even an animal of some kind? What unexplained thing would this world throw at him?
“Idiot. Can’t even get the room numbers right,” a voice mumbled.
He’d been right about it being a woman. Judging by her voice she sounded to be in her fifties or sixties, and more than a little annoyed. At the same time, her reaction was of the minimum-security variety. More and more the place wasn’t seeming like a jail- no locks on the doors, relaxed attitude- yet without being told much, he couldn’t afford to give them his trust so entirely. He had to assume danger, and act accordingly.
A few, breathless seconds later, the woman turned and walked away, heading off the way she’d come. With a little luck her confusion would buy him enough time to make his escape.
He left the recessed area behind and continued down the metal hallway, noting the amount of plant life present, including what grew from the grating beneath his feet. The light panels overhead emitted sunlight so warm his eyes could almost believe it was real.
Door after door after door he passed, and all of them looked the same. Each had a small screen on its right side with the word “Med” followed by the room number. On a whim he pressed one of them, the panel for Med 3212. Under his finger it changed to the word “Unoccupied.” It was good to know there weren’t more mysterious horrors happening on the other side of the door, but it didn’t help him get out of his situation any quicker.
He continued through the strange hallway, glancing occasionally up at the greenery that hung and arched over his head. A small mouse darted across the walkway ahead, slipping under a vent panel. A minute and a few turns later, a sigh of relief escaped him.
Even better, it opened at a press of the panel. The inside of the elevator car was more than spacious, able to comfortably handle at least twenty people at once, and maybe as high as forty if they stood shoulder-to-shoulder. Standing inside, he studied the button panel. He was on the third floor by the look of it. The lights indicated seventeen floors in total, starting with the first floor at the top and increasing as they went down. Did that mean the building was underground? If that was the case, the top floor would likely be the exit.
With little time to decide he pressed the top button, floor number one. It lit up red: no access. If they truly were underground, and the top floor was the way out, then apparently no one was allowed to leave.
He picked again. The second floor button lit up.
The door closed, and a moment later the elevator car hummed as it ascended. Whatever the place was, their machinery ran smoothly. A few, short seconds later the elevator stopped and the door opened. It was bright out there. He stepped back, hoping not to find himself face-to-face with his captors. Luckily, his wish came true. He stepped out before the door could close again.
Coming out into a small area, the first thing he noticed was the sound, that unmistakable noise of people gathered in one place. Voices layered on top of one another, a mixture of laughing and coughing and the shuffling of feet, the rubbing of clothes and elbows. They sounded calm enough, civil, but maybe that was because they didn’t know an undead prisoner had escaped from the medical bay and was walking among them. That might change their attitudes.
A wall in front of him blocked all those people from view, creating a small area where the elevator had been neatly tucked away. It was almost entirely covered by a screen that acted as some kind of community board. At the center, larger than any of the other messages, was an announcement for a gathering at nineteen-thirty hours. A few children’s drawings had been added as well, colorful sketches of people playing in fields, along with various messages and advertisements.
It was time to find out who these people were. Slowly, cautiously, he walked out of the elevator area.