Into the Dark
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The eerie lights from the cracks in the concrete walls were gone, and he was alone in the darkness of a dusty vent.
Great, now I have no idea where I'm going! Oh, wait... the mask. How could I forget?
He turned on the mask, and a fuzzy gray image of the vent was projected onto his eyes. It wasn't excellent, but it was enough to give him an idea where he was going. Crawling on his elbows as quickly as he could, he made his way through the vent. He could hear the clank and echo of each step. Now that he was out of the puzzle area, the thing inside kept him calm and led the way. In fact, it almost felt exhilarating to be crawling through vents again. He felt like he was doing something heroic and meaningful again.
When he came to a junction, he was instructed to go right, and he obeyed. It was another minute of crawling before he heard the loud humming of machinery coming from below. He quickly broke off the nearest vent cover and jumped out. He fell farther than he expected. It hurt his legs on landing, but mostly hurt his pride. He had become too confident. Now he turned off the mask.
The room he was in now was poorly lit and dirty, with exposed pipes seen on the blank walls, so he figured this was a maintenance area, an area that was not meant to be visited. It was filled with several giant engines with turbines, gears, and pistons. They were giving a ton of power to something, probably to whatever it was that moved the tiles to rearrange the puzzles. He still had no idea what that was all about. Luckily for him, there were no cameras in here. But he knew he still had to be careful and look out for anything that might catch him.
On his left was what seemed to be the only door to exit the room. There was a small window in it, so he could see that the hallway was clear for him to use. As he swung it open, he cringed at how loudly it squeaked. Luckily, no one was around. He jogged as quietly as he could, using his night vision to navigate the darker areas where there weren't harsh white lights shining from above. He listened to the thing inside of him continuously to know if anything was coming in his direction. This place was enormous, and he was already starting to get lost. There were so many tunnels leading to so many rooms; all of them were full of different kinds of industrial machinery. He tried to use the arrows painted on the cement walls, but most of them were pointing to sectors with long titles that meant nothing to him. The further he went, the more curious he was becoming.
Finally, he arrived at a something familiar, a freight elevator. He was just about to board it when he spotted a camera. Jumping out of the way, he managed to avoid having it see him.
That was close! How am I supposed to get past that thing?
He waited for a few minutes, paying close attention to the movement of the camera. Eventually, he concluded that it followed a predictable path back and forth across the hall. It reminded him of the searchlights in the District Attorney's Office back in Lawbot HQ when the cogs were invading Toontown. But this was no time for nostalgia. Things were different now. His life was seriously in danger, and things would be get ugly if he were caught. When the timing was right, he silently leaped out of hiding and followed the path of the camera as it turned away. Then he flattened himself against the wall below it, hoping that this small spot would be out of its range. When that was over, he sprinted to the elevator and pressed the up button before the camera turned in his direction again.
The elevator rose up the shaft with increasing speed and noise. Evina was keenly aware of every sound now and afraid that one of them might give him away. When it reached the top, he stepped off into a small room and tried to open the door in front of him. It was locked, probably from the other side. So, without any other choice, he climbed into another air vent to find a way out of there.
All his survival instincts told him to go back, but the thing inside him was stronger, and it forced him to move onward. He had little choice but to follow it, although he always second guessed it. At times like this, he wondered if it wasn't just a figment of his imagination.
Only a short distance later, he stopped at a vent cover that overlooked a small, circular room. The only light in the room came from the dozens of monitors that surrounded the perimeter. A myriad of buttons and other tools of many colors, shapes, and sizes were seen all over the place. The text and images shown on the screen made no sense to him, and neither did the room's inhabitants.
There were two robots or people seated motionlessly in front of the monitors, he didn't know which. They were in the shape of humans but covered entirely in shiny, dark gray, ominous-looking suits; and their heads were hidden inside simple blocky helmets. Their real form could not be seen. This sight worried him, but he was confident that they could not see him.
Then a voice spoke, and it sounded somewhat like a person's voice, but it was modified to sound muffled and machine-generated. He didn't know the language, but the thing inside translated it within his head. "Nine-One-Eight, have you seen this?"
"What?" the other said.
"It looks like there's been a slave breach in Sector C."
One of the monitors changed to a camera view with rows of toons, each one different than the others, performing manual labor in a dark pit.
"I know a few of them complained yesterday, but I thought I quelled it. Maybe it wasn't enough. Should I finish these troublemakers for good?"
Evina was suddenly feeling angry. It didn't matter who these slaves were or what they were used for because now he knew that these creatures were evil. The anger was greatly amplified by the thing inside of him, just like it had done before. He now had a motivation to fight and defend himself, to save Kate, and to retrieve what he needed to find.
"No, you fool!" One of them shouted and pointed to a screen. Evina was startled, and because they looked and sounded identical he couldn't tell which one had spoken. "It wasn't from the slaves; it was a high-security breach from the test chambers! Activate the red alert!"
This was the moment to do something, and Evina reacted instantly. He jumped down from the vent and knocked out both the security guards with ease. It didn't look like either of them had a chance to activate an alarm.
Then he turned his attention to the screens. It was hard to read through all the complex information, most of which still made no sense to him, but the notification of him escaping the test chambers was still there. He wanted to clear it somehow but couldn't figure out the controls. And he knew that anything he touched might only make matters worse.
Just as he was about to leave, something else happened. He had a sudden compulsion to press a button, and when he did, there was a detailed map that appeared on the largest monitor. It was the floor plan of this level of the sector, and it was humongous. But a certain spot caught his eye. Whatever he was looking for had to be there.
He went to the door and opened it a tiny bit to peek outside. It was a huge hall stretching left to right with bright lights lining the black walls in each direction. In fact, the hall was more cylindrical, like a tunnel, and it was designed in a futuristic way. It gave the impression of being both clean and dangerous. A few more of those strange creatures marched by in a very unnatural way. Evina suspected there would be more. This place was likely full of them.
I need some more power, he thought.
Then his wish came true. He felt energy flowing to his right hand. It looked like a small laser device had popped up on the back of his glove. This was going to be useful. He breathed deeply, trying to gain his focus and listen to the thing that was guiding him to his destination. The slightest mistake could be the end of him. Then, when he was ready, he sprinted out into the hall. His footsteps were silent as he jogged down the corridor heading right. He listened for any sign of movement.
"Warning: High-security breach in this sector!" a speaker announced. Evina knew there was no point in trying to hide now; he had to run. Yet they didn't have to know which direction he was going. So, when he found another security camera in his path, a light squeeze of his fist triggered the laser and disabled it.
He tried to remain focused but, despite his best efforts, he couldn't ignore the fact that an army of alien guards was now chasing him; he could hear their footsteps clearly.
At an intersection, he darted around a corner and desperately hoped that Gyro had put some kind of wire in the suit. As it turned out, there was a grappling hook launcher under and behind his left elbow. He shot it across the hall from about a foot off the ground, and it hooked onto a doorstop. The timing was perfect. All the guards tripped over it and crashed on the ground. He recoiled it rapidly then darted through the door closest to him. It was a heavy door fitted with all sort of locks. He slammed it shut, and one laser burst shattered the controls. He rested knowing it would take them a while to get through it.
The thing urged him to keep moving, but he had to stop to catch his breath. As exciting as it was to feel like a hero again, there was no shortage of anxiety either. And even though he had escaped death so often before, it didn't mean he had unlimited strength. When he heard the sound of them trying to break down the door, he ran again, this time down a long ramp. An arrow on the wall told him he was heading toward some kind of dock. The thing was leading him this way. He was getting close to where he was supposed to be.
That's kind of odd, he thought. I thought a dock would be closer to the surface instead of...
He stopped dead in his tracks. He was only inches from an edge. It looked like the whole interior of the planet was hollowed out, and he almost fell into a pit that had no bottom. The dock appeared to be an area protruding from a ceiling that stretched on and on in every direction, yet no other walls were visible. There were some lights shining around the dock, but nothing could pierce the infinite gloom that lurked below.
Confusion overwhelmed him for a moment, but it was soon replaced with a twinge of horror. He heard the footsteps of angry guards storming down the ramp toward him. There was no place he could flee from them.
The thing inside commanded him to jump.
"No," he answered aloud. He witnessed the empty darkness below. It held nothing but certain death. Nevertheless, the army was charging toward him at full speed.
Evina was someone who had experienced many miracles. Maybe it was because of the thing living inside him, or maybe he had been chosen for some greater purpose. But whatever the reality of the situation was, he expected a miracle to happen again. He leaped into the abyss and was swallowed by the darkness. He was plummeting deep into the belly of the beast.
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