Metagame

~ a short story

Kerb watched the emergency light in the elevator blare. A red glare cast itself over everyone within its oversized space. The metal box fell down the shaft while a half-dozen frantic eyes searched for answers.

“Wh-what do we do? … What do we do now!?”

“Obviously, we need to find a way out…”

“But everything is locked down!”

The mechanisms unseen beyond the steel grinded and screeched. Noticeably, despite their inability to see anything outside of the elevator’s confines, their trip accelerated. They were descending. Faster and faster, they fell. Everyone braced themselves against the walls, their knees bent under the force of the jangling cage and its drop further into the compound, under the earth. The sirens continued to blare, though Kerb didn’t hear them.

His mind flared with possibilities. Memories? Unselfconscious certainties. He saw everything playing out, contingent yet eventual; he began to see reality as He was seeing it, sowing it, shaping…

“What even tripped the lockdown?”

“Something’s gone wrong…”

“How do we stop it?”

“We-

“We don’t,” Kerb interjected with force, his mind suddenly clear. His words were crisp with confidence. So much so that they could be heard over — or through — all the grinding metal within the elevator shaft and the red siren speaker just above their heads repeating its declaration without a change in volume or tone.

[W A R N I N G. W A R N I N G. Lockdown initiated. Lockdown initiated. W A R N I N G. W A R N I N G…]

The five others all turned to Kerb with intrigue etched across their expressions. Their countenances reflected their concerns as evidently as if they were speaking them aloud: Finally, someone that knows what is going on… His words sliced through all the noise and confusion, and spoke to the heart of their situation. While he spoke, their trembling seized, if only momentarily.

“We are not meant to stop the lockdown. But survive it,” Kerb went on, calmly. All the others turned to one another, rapt confusion in their eyes.

“Survive it?” asked someone, unmistakable fear in her voice.

“That’s right. This isn’t a drill, or an error of any kind. This is real,” Kerb said.

“Why would a lockdown…” one began, trailing away as the others wrestled with the same inner inquiry.

“We’re in danger,” stated another, his eyes reflecting the incessant crimson glow of the siren.

The others let the implications of these words sink in. None had ever been a part of a lockdown, of course; in the facility’s short existence in these months, there’d never been a lockdown. They’d also never been on this elevator, never been on any other floor outside of their designated three.

“We are,” continued Kerb without a hitch. His steely eyes flashed with easy assurances that the others could not fathom. “More than we realize…” He looked to their feet, everyone’s attention returning to the sense that they were falling, floor after floor of stacked earth passing by, in their fast descension.

“We are headed to the base of the complex. Five hundred leagues under.”

His gaze flashed up to inspect his colleagues one by one.

“To the experimental chambers. Exactly where we were always going to end up… Where He wants us…”

Kerb’s voice trailed away.

“What?!” someone said with raised voice after several more moments of silence.

“Experimental chambers. We aren’t even allow down there, though. Anything four and below is class one clearance…”

“Why would the lift send us down?”

“We’re just the night shift. Techs and digi-custodians! We can’t be down there! We’ll be fired for sure!!”

“Shut up! Clearance doesn’t matter anymore. Or… it can’t! We just need to be concerned about getting out. Whatever we see, whatever kind of secrets they have cooking down there, that’s fine… We explain ourselves to any Shepherds we come across, promise them… we’d never speak a word of it after we surface. We get through this and we-”

“It’s not the Shepherds we’ll need to worry about,” Kerb cut in again. Attention returned to him, now more in annoyance.

“The beasts are loose. The ones they’ve been tampering with down there. That is why all this happening. They’ve evolved. Smarter and stronger. And they’ve escaped. Our presence is coincidental. Yet purposeful. Purposefully coincidental…”

“You need to start making sense or stop talking, K.”

“Let him finish…”

Kerb took a deep breath.

“Their experiments went too far. The scientists, the Watchers, even the Shepherds, they’re all… Dead. Devoured. Disintegrated. You name it. They’ve lost control of the entire facility because of what happened down here. I’m… not supposed to know any of this yet. And yet, I do…”

Kerb glanced down at his fingers as if they weren’t his own, as if he was questioning the veracity of each of the words he spoke, just after he spoke them. Flexing his hands open and then closed again, he strained his knuckles into a hardened fist.

“We aren’t cut out for this. None of us. But that is exactly why He chose us. ‘Triumph or die…’”

“What are you saying?”

“From a book I was reading just recently. Fantastical nonsense. Azrael and The Tower of Perdition. Somehow it feels relevant… I’m sorry.” Kerb looked to the others with steely determination.

“I am saying we are in for a rather long, arduous and terrifying adventure. A lab full of supernatural monsters, newly ruined and full of darkness and danger. Six nerds uninitiated into such high stakes perils, but with hidden capabilities, invisible courage yet to call upon. But we have been called upon. By fate and its weaver. The master, manager… er I don’t know what to call him. Or rather, ‘Him.’ But he is the controller, the omniscient viewer and narrator of this game we have been submitted unto. With our lives in the balance…”

Kerb walked slowly to the doors of the elevator. All the others began to feel the descent slow. They were arriving at their destination.

“Make no doubt about it,” Kerb said back to the others settling themselves back from their braced positions along the quadrants of the big steel box.

“We are going to have to work together.”

“This is madness…” someone muttered. Another shook their head. Someone else stepped forward and grabbed Kerb firmly by the shoulder.

“And not all of us will survive,” Kerb finished, his voice choking up.

“How can you possibly know all this?” they asked.

“I don’t know,” Kerb said. He faced forward, not bearing to look back upon his newly, mortally imperative colleagues.

The elevator doors slashed open silently. A long hallway of shadows beckoned. Interspersed along its length far and away, into a larger room of utter darkness, were sparking lights and emergency reds blaring along the same cadence as the one in their home for the last few minutes. Everyone held their breath as they took in the exiting sights of the ‘Ex-Chamber.’ The bottomest most floor of the Cyber-Gen complex, only ever whispered about, with rumors bandied concerning the content of its long, spiraling halls, gleaming with top secret biotechnologies and impossible ambitions. Its freshly de-powered, destabilized state of disarray, which this tenebrous hall before them clearly indicated, beckoned no wonder, no excitement from the cadre of young techs. Mystery and terror were more the flavor of their inner expressions.

A sickly, bestial roar echoed unto the six of them still standing and wobbling in the elevator without a breath of awareness for what awaited them. Its blood-curdling wailing lasted for three seconds but felt like thirty. The hand, now trembling, left Kerb’s shoulder.

“But I know it is true,” Kerb said, looking back at them all with neither hope nor despair. Only determination.

“C’mon, let’s go.”

Kerb led the way, into the darkness, where more roars awaited, louder and closer. The others followed, fright, fight and flight all at the edge of action upon their wiry frames.

They thought of Him, as Kerb had cryptically spoken, and what fresh horrors awaited them in their shared nightmare of His conscious design. ~

~ adapted from a dream ~