The week everything fell apart had started out like every other week. Drills, tests, physical examinations, training… and then. Something changed.
B-28 moved towards the table where A-40 and A-13 were seated for dinner, settling his tray down as he made his usual rounds. He seemed… restless.
“Something happened last night in our barracks,” he said softly, flicking his eyes up briefly to survey for labcoats.
A-13 looked up from arranging her cubes. “The rumor mill seems to be more active than usual,” she said. “Mostly the same old nonsense.”
B-28 shrugged. “You know I have a good ear for these things. It’s not just rubbish. Something is happening. There’s new guards in place. C-42 said that they’ve changed the rotation order.”
That gave both Odd-Eyes pause.
“I did overhear something during my last physical,” said A-13. “One of the labcoats was talking to one of the guards and I caught the phrase ‘potential breach’ and something about… mmm… tightening the exits. I don’t know why. Nobody’s tried to break out since E-37.”
A-40 and B-28 both shuddered. Nobody liked to talk about what happened to E-37.
“If C-42 is in on the gossip train, I’m more inclined to believe it. I know it’s stupid to get all worked up about it but…”
B-28 trailed off. He seemed to swim for a moment, before resettling back in reality. “But I felt it was worth sharing.”
A-40 nodded. C-42 was one of the more well put-together of their numbers. When she talked, people tended to listen. “Thank you, B-28,” he said.
He nodded, and then his eyes opened wider as one of the labcoats came to their table. “B-28, please come with me for your physical,” she said simply settling a hand on his shoulder. He winced, but acquiesced, getting to his feet and giving A-40 and A-13 a nod.
A-40 looked over to A-13.
“I’m worried,” he said.
“You’re always worried,” replied A-13.
She wasn’t wrong. But that night… that was when it happened.
A-40 was sleeping deeply. He usually did. The mild sedatives they had him on helped. But he was jolted awake by a loud noise.
His eyes snapped open and he jumped to a start, as did most of the other light sleepers in the room. There was a hiss and a crackle as the typical low-level lighting cut off. Then, the red emergency lights from the generator switched on with a whine.
There was a low level buzz as people dressed and slipped shoes on–this was not the first time something like this had occurred. Once a year they had drills, and one time they’d had a full live guerilla warfare exercise. But instead of their being labcoats everywhere and a host of guards at the door, there was no one there.
A-40 looked around, waiting for somebody to tell him what was going on. When this didn’t happen, he started to look around. Everyone else was in a similar boat, wandering the room in a daze.
A few of the more adventurous Odd-Eyes stepped tentatively out into the hallway. When they weren’t immediately pushed back in by guards, A-40 became more concerned. “W-what’s happening?” he whispered to A-13 who was sitting calmly on her bed.
She sat up, slowly. “You hear that?” she said. A-40 shook his head.
“Alarms going off,” she said. “But… far below us. Very far.”
A-40 swallowed down his nerves, and then turned to look at the front door again, where a number of the B group had begun to filter into the room. “A-are all the doors open? B group is here!”
B-22 pushed through the crowd. He looked less self-satisfied than usual.
“Something’s going on,” he said. “All the labcoats are gone!”
“What do you mean gone?” One of the other Odd-Eyes spoke up, a scrawnier member that was always bouncing around. “How do we know it’s not just a test?! We’re probably supposed to stay in our bunks.”
“This isn’t a test.” Stepping through the door next was a tall, stocky girl with a complexion the color of twilight. C-42 was not one to mince words, and many of the Odd-Eyes respected her. “If it was we would’ve been given instructions. We wouldn’t be allowed to run rampant. Something has happened… and we need to take advantage of it.”
“Advantage?” said A-40, blinking. “What do you mean, advantage?”
“I mean, get out of here,” said C-42.
That got a reaction.
“You’re crazier than all of us put together,” said A-13, who still hadn’t gotten out of bed. “You know what happens when we–“
“What happens when we try to escape?” C-42 spread her arms out. “Try to get out of our bunks? The guards stop us. The labcoats sedate us. I remember E-37 too. But no one is here. And the doors are all open.”
The murmurs began to die out, except for a few random people who were currently panicking or catatonic.
“S-she’s right,” said another boy. It took a moment for Zane to recognize him as
C-03. He was stockily-built and tended not to say much unless he was prompted. “D-do we just want to s-stay here until they… they get what they want from us and then… d-d-dispose of us so they can m-make new ones?”
A-40 couldn’t hear himself think in the vacuum of noise that followed C-03’s statement. C-42 was the first one to speak. Her voice sounded more unsure than A-40 had ever remembered. “It’s… now or never, right? When else if not now?”
There wasn’t anything so crass as a cheer. But there were a lot of uncertain nods.
“Alright,” said C-42. “First thing we do is check up on the Ds and Es. Anyone not freaking out, help the ones who are along.”
She looked around. “B-22. You know where the guards keep their armory, correct?” she asked as the room lurched into action.
B-22 simply smirked a bit. “I’ve been waiting for this day for a long time,” he said.
“Rein it in a bit,” said B-28. “We don’t want a bloodbath here.”
“Speak for yourself,” snarled B-22 in reply.
B-28 snapped back, looming up to his full height. “Do you wanna get out of here? Or get caught to shoot an extra person or two?” B-28 said, and then turned to C-42. “I’ll go check on the D unit, I know a few of them pretty well,” he said, sauntering out.
“We don’t know how long our window is going to stay open,” said C-42. “Let’s load up and get moving.”
We didn’t know what had happened at first. Everyone was just gone. And we had no idea where we were going. Had no idea where the facility was located, or if there was even anywhere to escape to. So we went. All of us. We used the training they gave us. It was quickly discovered that, wherever this place was, we were on the highest level, and so, we went down.
And then… well.
As the door to the next level opened up, the small group that was scouting the way –consisting of A-40, B-22, C-42 and C-03– was hit by a wave of heat and a flash of light. Something was burning.
C-03 covered his face with one of his spare shirts, and pushed ahead of the rest of them into the plume of smoke. He came out a few moments later with masks. “It’s bad down there,” he said, shaking his head. “Something must have exploded and wiped out all the labcoats. Lots of bodies.”
A-40 was stunned. The labcoats were all dead, some by gunfire, some by… cruder methods. Every last bit of lab equipment was smashed, some of it giving off heat and sparks. The odor of melting plastic and burnt blood filled the room like a fog, and A-40 heaved noisily as it filled his sinuses.
C-42 pulled him to the side in-between wretches. “Hey, listen to me, A-40. We gotta find the way out of here so all of us can get to safety. We don’t have time to waste if this place is really coming down around us. I know this will be hard for you, but, you’re the best marksman among us and I need you just in case there’s some guards that we have to put down. Can you do that?”
A-40 looked up into her eyes. There was reassurance in them. He wasn’t sure how reassured he felt, but it was a good effort.
“…get me a weapon,” he said. “I can do it.”
She nodded, whistling to B-22. He ran up, handing Zane a weapon. “These aren’t rubber,” B-22 said. His normal surefire attitude was gone. “I know you won’t miss,” he said with a nod.
A-40 swallowed heavily. “I know I won’t either,” he said, as he checked the weapon, making sure it was loaded and flipping the safety off.
B-22 held up a similar weapon, and gave a poor facsimile of his normal smirk. “I’ve got your back.”
C-42 came back a moment later with C-03. “Okay, I think I have this place figured out. The floor plan is similar… I remember overhearing the guards say that they were ‘never gonna get used to the pod bay being in the middle.’ I think we have to go down to the 10th floor and the shuttles to get out of here will be there.”
A-40 nodded. “Do… do you think there’ll be enough for everyone?” he asked. “We’re not leaving anyone behind, are we?”
“No one that wants to leave is getting left behind,” C-42 stated. “There were a new batch of guards dropped off yesterday–the shuttles are probably still there to get refueled.”
She seemed to do some quick calculations in her head. “Even if the ride is uncomfortable there aren’t that many of us left. A year ago it may have been an issue, but now…” She trailed off for a moment, and a mix of fury and regret crossed her features. “We’ll all fit.”
“I’ll start stuffing the little ones into the luggage rack if I have to,” said B-22. “Maybe we can even–“
There was a distant explosion, and the whole floor shook.
C-42 pulled B-22 back from the hallway as the ceiling came down around them.
She sighed deeply. “New Plan. Go upstairs. Get everyone. Move as fast as you can to the 10th floor. This whole place is about to come apart.”
“I… what?” panted A-40.
“Move it!” snapped C-42, and A-40 darted off immediately.
He met B-28 with a large group of the Odd-eyes on around the 12th floor. “The foam extinguishers have started up top. If we try to go back now, we’re going to suffocate before we get trapped in here,” he said. “I’ve got everyone we can think of. Even the ones who wouldn’t move,” B-28 said panting.
The ground rumbled under their feet again.
“I don’t think we’d even have anywhere to go back to if we wanted to,” said A-40. “We’d better hurry.”
B-28 nodded, and turned to the back, and with a genuine smile began directing people down the two flights of stairs leading towards the 10th floor.