A couple of nights ago, I had a vivid dream. I couldn’t remember all of it when I woke, but I remembered enough. It was grim stuff, this dream, but I immediately began thinking through how it might play out in a story. That sort of thing–dreaming a loose-knit plot–has only happened to me a handful of times, but when it does I’ve found it’s worth my time to see where it goes. The first time I wrote down a dream, the story that followed went on to become a trilogy. (In my mind. I haven’t written it yet, but I will. And, let me tell you, it’s going to kick ass.)
So, I had this weird fucking dream, and that, my friends, is the story you’re about to read. I have no idea from whence it came. (Vye is looking at me. She’s giving me that look…so, yeah. I guess that’s where it came from.)
I’ll return to The Dark Calling next week. This week, enjoy the tumble down an entirely different rabbit hole.
everyone’s a killer
The facility was on lockdown, as it had been for 276 days–far longer than any of the inhabitants expected. Completely cut off from the outside world, they had no idea what disaster had befallen the planet. The most likely candidate, most thought, was nuclear war, but it could have been a localized weather event, too. However, had that been the case, surely someone would have rescued them by now. Any guess was pure speculation, but the smart money was on something global.
It could have been the zombie apocalypse, for all they knew
Whatever caused it, the facility’s security system was designed to seal all exterior doors in response to any kind of environment-threatening event. The experiments they conducted were…delicate. Sudden changes to their lab environment could produce unexpected results. Of course, their work also violated a number of international treaties. It was entirely possible that someone outside the facility had hacked the system, triggered a security alert, and was planning to just let them all rot there. Such were the risks in their line of work.
But the inhabitants of Golf-Echo-November 126, the facility’s formal designation, were not planning to simply wait for rescue or death. They were fighters. They would do something, damn it. They would survive.
* * *
Carl, Anna, Karen and Scott were sitting in the facility’s small cafeteria, weighing options.
“It’s inhuman,” Karen said. “I don’t think we should even be talking about it.”
Carl rolled his eyes. “I swear to God, Karen, if you use that word one more time, I’ll put a bullet in you, myself.”
“Calm down, Carl,” Scott said. “She means it as a figure of speech.”
“No, I don’t,” Karen clarified. “I mean it quite literally. Any anyway, you’re the one ‘swearing to God’, for fuck’s sake.”
“Now that is a figure of speech. No one ever means it literally,” Carl said.
“I bet Pharaoh meant it when he set the Israelites free–right after God killed all the first born sons of Egypt,” Anna said quietly.
Carl shook his head in disbelief. He leaned toward Scott and said, “I can’t talk to them when they’re like this. It’s like they lack the capacity for reason.”
Scott was unfazed. “Reason and emotion are not mutually exclusive. This is an emotional decision. You can’t expect the other three of us to approach it with the same level of dispassion you favor. You’re an alpha. We’re all betas. It’s more complex for us.” Then, to the other two: “But Carl is right. We have to talk about it. The fact is, we’re out of food. The store room is almost empty. We’ve waited too long to try to override the security system, and it’s taking longer than expected. At this point, if we don’t do something to feed ourselves, we’ll starve before we can bypass the security protocols and open the doors.”
“So melodramatic,” Carl said.
“It’s true, Carl,” Anna said. “Don’t you care about living?”
Karen seized the opportunity to jump back into the fray. “My point is, they’re not just lab subjects. They’re not cattle, either. Can any of us, besides Carl, really kill them? Are we going to actually carve them into steaks and eat them? I wasn’t made for this. I’m not a killer.”
“Everyone is a killer if the options are kill or be killed,” Carl said.
Karen was tired. They all were. This discussion had been going on for two days, and they were no nearer a consensus now than they had been when Scott first suggested a grim solution to the problem of food. Carl didn’t have the access code to Barracks 1 or he would have likely slaughtered them already. They’d probably be dining on fresh meat that very day if he could have facilitated a quick and dirty fix.
“He’s right,” Anna said after several moments. “Carl, I mean. It’s kill or be killed. I guess we have to decide which we want. Failure to make a decision might as well be a decision to die, because that’s what will happen if we just keep doing this.”
There were tears in Karen’s eyes. “I’m not doing it. I’m not even helping.”
“Will you at least eat?” Scott asked. “We’ll spare you any details. No names. No indication of who the meat came from. None of the rest of us want you to die.”
“I don’t know,” Karen said. “I…I have to think about it.” She stood and walked away from the table, toward Barracks 2. Her first steps were shaky, and then she broke into a light run. She could be heard sobbing even as she reached the doorway.
“I’ll talk to her,” Anna said. “She’ll come around.”
“Like I care,” Carl said.
“Stuff it, Carl,” Scott said. “We need her. She’s the coding expert. If we don’t have her, there’s no way we’re getting those doors open. We’ll all expire right here.”
Carl shrugged. “Thou know’st ’tis common; all that lives must die,” he quoted.
“Passing through nature to eternity,” Anna added.
“Whatever helps you sleep at night,” Carl said. He stood and stretched, the joints in his back popping as he did. Lazily, he cross the mess hall toward the facility’s labs, away from both barracks.
“We’re going to have to deal with him, Scott. We can’t let an alpha out of here. That’s a prime directive,” Anna said quietly when Carl was gone.
“I know,” Scott conceded. “Later. For now, let’s just go ahead and cut the oxygen supply to Barracks 1 before any of us has a chance to think about this too much. When they’re dead, we’ll haul the bodies to the freezer. We should have enough meat for weeks.”
“Okay,” Anna said. “Lead the way.”
* * *
Dr. Nichols was crouched by her bed when she heard the fan stop. Dr. McAlister heard it, too. “What was that?” he asked.
“The fan,” Dr. Nichols said. “It stopped.”
“What?!” Dr. Andrews exclaimed. “Why?”
“They shut it off,” Dr. Nichols said.
“Why would they do that?!” Dr. Andrew’s voice was breaking. Despite the news that air was in short supply, he sounded like he was hyperventilating.
Dr. Nichols spoke with patience. “Because we’re out of food. They’ll resort to the most logical substitute–us.”
Dr. Andrews was lying on his bunk. He began to thrash like a petulant child. He hadn’t dealt with the mutiny well. That’s what we get for letting a greenhorn join the team, Dr. Nichols thought, not for the first time.
To her side, Dr. McAlister laughed. “Well,” he said. “We did it, I guess. They’re still functioning. Hell, they’re doing what we would be doing if we’d gotten the drop on them.”
“True,” Dr. Nichols said.
“We should have put Carl down months before this happened,” he said.
Dr. Andrews was crying into his pillow.
“We should have,” Dr. Nichols concurred, “but he was the most promising alpha. Our first almost-human piece of real, honest-to-God bio-tech. I couldn’t bring myself to do it.”
“Me, either,” Dr. McAlister said. “And now, those living machines are most likely going to eat us. We hadn’t even reached the point of programming any of them to kill. They’re picking up right where we left off.”
Dr. Nichols sighed. “Everyone’s a killer,” she said. “if the options are kill or be killed.”