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Sequel: Storms in Utopia

Martyr's Run

The Control Room


A screaming symphony of sirens blared from every corner of the building. Every time we hurried through a door I prayed that it was the end; that the shutting of the door would muffle the unbearable sound. But every time there was yet another siren shrieking on the other side, almost seeming louder than the previous one. I had to shout every time I wanted to speak, and there was no way we’d be able to hear footsteps coming round a corner until it was too late. And not to mention the fact that I was beginning to feel as if there would be a permanent ringing in my ears for the rest of my life.

And yet, the building seemed deserted. Evidently, soldiers had run off in the direction of the escapees, which, thankfully, was in the opposite direction to us. Although, with the amount of different turnings we’d taken since leaving Medical Testing, there was a chance we may have just walked in one great big circle.

We stepped through one door into a stairwell and, for the first time in what felt like hours, the sirens were muffled. Evidently, this staircase wasn’t important enough to contain an alarm of its own, though I could still hear the one outside pretty clearly.

Rina rubbed her ears, laughing slightly, glad of the relief. When she spoke, it sounded a little muffled, and there was an ever-present ringing in the back of my head, like thousands of tiny bells coming to haunt me.

‘Where to?’ she asked. In front of us, there was a staircase up and a staircase down. A painted number on the wall indicated that we were on Floor Two.

‘I’d guess up,’ I said. We’d spent most of the day on the lower levels; the ground floor, plus floor one and, more recently, floor two. We had scoured the entire place enough times to know that there didn’t seem to be any great big flashy control rooms on either of these floors.

Although, a small, secretive control room was a different matter altogether.

That was something I hadn’t thought of.

I stuck to my initial decision. ‘Up,’ I repeated, leading the way up the bland, concrete stairwell. Now that the sirens had been muffled, the world felt almost eerily silent as though, in this stairwell, we were isolated from the rest of mankind.

I didn’t mind that, in a way. Being isolated from people at least meant that we were less likely to be caught.

And then I heard voices. They were coming from far below; at least one storey down, if not two, but they were loud, and there were lots of them, and all too soon, they were accompanied by hurried footsteps.

Rina and I exchanged a wide-eyed glance.

‘Run,’ I said.

We began charging and, below, the countless heavy boots seemed to break into a run, charging up the steps like we did, currently out of sight beyond the twists and turns of the staircase, but not for long. My feet pounded frantically on the stairs, charging upwards, swinging round a corner, Rina beside me. We reached the sign indicating level four and threw ourselves out of the double doors into the corridor, whatever it may bring, emerging back into the world of screaming sirens.

They felt even louder than before. Staggering out into a wide but currently deserted corridor, I instinctively locked my hands over my ears, trying to block out as much of the hideous noise as I could. Running straight on, we charged down a corridor and then through some more double doors. I heard the previous set burst open as the soldiers broke onto this floor, and I could only pray that we had been through the second lot of doors before they’d seen us.

We staggered out onto the widest corridor we’d been on yet. On the left hand side was a great, glass window that stretched from floor to ceiling, right the way round the wall. Running over and looking out of it, I could see that this walkway was like a gallery encircling the entire floor, and from here, I could look down into the levels below, and I could see right down into the complex workings of, well, the compound.

Was that the control room down there; that great, white room full of machines and computers and images being projected onto every flat surface? That room, full of people marching around and doing their jobs, all wearing identical white suits?

Was that where we had to get to?

‘Tim!’ Rina cried. ‘We’ve got to go.’ Noticing how I stood, mesmerised as I stared down through the centre of the building to this bustling hub, three floors below, she came towards me apprehensively.

I practically watched as her entire heart dropped like a rock.

‘We’ve got to get in there?’

‘I hope not,’ was all I could say. And yet, in reality, I knew it was true.

As we followed the great walkway round the circumference, I could see a different angle of the large room below. And when I saw the giant screen that filled the entire far wall; the screen that was currently showing Simeon and Jake, clutching onto each other, bruised and bloody, staggering down a pathway, I knew that that had to be the Run’s control room.

‘It’s them!’ Rina cried, running towards the large window and pressing her hands against it, looking down into the room below. The screen was nearly a storey high and twice as wide, filling the far wall of the control room. There was a row of benches immediately in front of it, and a handful of people were sitting on those benches, watching the screen intently, but most were going about their various jobs at computers and various control panels around the room. No doubt, these were the people who were constantly deciding which traps to activate when. They were deciding when to block off walls, when to make the lights go out, when to make the booby traps spring into action, when to activate the countless psychological horrors that were the greatest dangers of Martyr’s Run.

In my imagination, the control room had been small, with computers and machines lining the wall, perhaps with three, or four, or even five people sitting in there, controlling what was going on in the Maze. What I hadn’t counted on was this vast, white, laboratory-like room, with at least thirty, if not forty people working in there, going about their individual jobs. Which one was in charge? I scanned the room for someone who looked like the head controller, but it wasn’t obvious if there was one. They all seemed to have their own jobs; perhaps each person was in charge of a trap, or maybe there were small teams who had each been allocated one of the floors to work on.

When I looked at Rina, I realised her eyes were glued to what was happening on the screen. Realising that I, too, felt the need to know how our friends were faring, I allowed myself to be drawn into Martyr’s Run, currently being broadcast live on every television set across the US.

Simeon and Jake were walking down a path. Well, ‘walking’ was a bit of an optimistic word. ‘Staggering’ was, perhaps, more appropriate. The first time the camera showed their faces, as if they were walking towards the camera, I saw, to my horror, that Jake seemed to be covered in blood. There was a huge black stain right down his left trouser leg, which spilled out as crimson onto his white shoe. More blood was smeared across his hands, and there was even more of it on his face. I assumed he had cut his leg, but it must have been awful to produce that much blood. He was limping a little too, and I also noticed large, bruise-like shadows under his eyes.

Simeon looked just as bad. Initially, when they were further away from the cameras, I couldn’t see the full extent of his injuries—his face looked a little pink and blotchy, and I could see a few rips in his clothes, but as they walked closer, the true horrific nature of his wounds became obvious. As a camera showed a close-up of his face and neck, I heard Rina gasp aloud beside me, and my heart did an uncomfortable lurch as I realised how his skin was badly burnt; flaky in so many places, red and raw and tender. There was no knowing what had happened to him, but it looked like some kind of hideous burn, and it had gotten right through to his blood in some places. I could see that he was in pain every time he moved—it was not obvious, but he had a wince that I had become accustomed to which meant he was hurting badly, and he seemed to use it every time he took a step.

‘What happened?’ Rina asked, her voice wavering.

‘I dread to think,’ I said. I didn’t dare to even guess too much at what had ravaged Simeon’s flesh in that way.

We watched as they reached a staircase, and seemed to hesitate for a moment in front of it. The camera zoomed in on Jake’s face, but through the glass window and over the unending blare of the sirens, I couldn’t hear what he was saying. Nevertheless, there were a few words I could read on his lips. One bit looked like he was saying ‘level five’—presumably that meant they were either on level five, or, more likely, that they were about to go up to level five. His eyebrows lowered and I could see true fear in his eyes; fear a thousand times greater than I had ever seen in him before. The next few words were lost on his lips, but the next one that I could make out was ‘nightmare.’

It was pretty obvious what he was saying: If levels one, two, three and four had given them injuries like that, then level five was going to be a nightmare.

And then, as Jake placed his foot on the bottom step, my eyes caught sight of the digital clock in the corner of the screen. It had presumably started at three hours, and was now counting down to zero.

It now said that they had one hour, six minutes and twenty-two seconds left.

‘We have to hurry,’ I said to Rina urgently. I wanted to watch the fates of my two friends played out on screen. But only at that moment did it fully dawn on me that I had to be responsible for creating those fates.
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I apologise for my recent absence, especially after posting in the previous chapter that I would try to update more often. My internet's been playing up over the last week - it's still not perfect, but at least it's working now, albeit very very slowly.

Oh, and comments, as always, are very much appreciated. :D