Charades, Truths – Ch. 25

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In near-darkness, Aria panted. Only the neon thread network faintly glowed. The sirens hadn’t stopped wailing after she had closed the wall-door behind her. The yells of Bold and Stravinsky were approaching. Aria had to hurry.

But where to? By now, she had lost all sense of direction. She could suddenly taste the bitterness in her mouth, the kind that you got from exercising too much when instead, you should have been sleeping to get some rest.

With the laptop in one hand, she fumbled for a light switch with the other. There had to be a light switch. The wall on this side was as smooth as the wall in the hallway. These were the same tiles that seemed to cover every single wooden wall in this underground experiment station. People didn’t put tiles in rooms they didn’t plan on using, did they? And if they planned on using a room, they needed light.

So, there had to be a light switch, somewhere. Aria took a brave step forward, arms spread out in front of her—

The lights went on. Squinting, she glanced up. She’d awakened the sensor.

In front of Aria was another space that looked as sterile, barren, and white as the hallways and the lab. Pale ceiling lamps lit this place as well.

One key difference: this space was huge. It was a hall, as large as twelve, sixteen squash courts, at least.

And there were many empty bed frames along the left and right walls. But there were no mattresses, nothing that indicated that the frames had ever been used.

Slowly, Aria walked past the bed frames. They were like skeletons, so that no one could possibly be hiding here, but still, she couldn’t let her hurry drive her into some totally predictable trap.

At the end of the hall, she reached the wall. And this time, she methodically pressed each tile. One of them clicked, just like its counterpart across the hall. A door opened in the wall. Darkness filled the other side. Aria waved at the sensor that should be here, somewhere.

The lights went on.

And for the first time in what felt like forever, Aria faced a room that was neither white nor sterile.

© 2022 Ithaka O.

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