First: The Testers
Written in part to prompts from Wyste and Lilfluff
The elevator doors opened into a white room with only one door out of it. Three people in masks and white suits were waiting to greet her. The air smelled of antiseptic and some floral-like scent Kelly didn’t recognize.
“Come this way.” The voice – from the central of the three people – was muffled but understandable. The figure pointed.
Kelly followed. She had seen people who hadn’t wanted to go. Robots had come down in the elevator and taken them away, jabbing them with needles until they fell unconscious.
She didn’t want them to do that to her. She was going to walk into whatever fate had for her.
If you’re very very lucky, they take you to a good place.
The figure on the left cleared its throat. “When I came through here, they told me ‘childhood is over,’ and I thought, ‘do you remember anything? Childhood ended a long time before that last testing.’ I already had two kids. I’d already saved four lives. So I’m not going to tell you that childhood is over, but I am going to tell you – everything gets strange after this, Kelly. Everything now, it’s going to be as weird as the first time you took responsibility for a baby.”
The voice seemed familiar to her, and yet it wasn’t. “Do I-” Nobody ever sent messages home. Nobody ever sent anything down, except sometimes babies.
“We’ll get to that in a bit.” The hall beyond the door was just as white and boring as the entryway she’d come through. “We’ve just got the airlock to go through and I can show you your room, and then we’ll start the orientation. I’m glad you passed the Testing, by the way, but I always knew you would.”
“Later,” warned the figure to the right.
“Later, yes.” The familiar-sounding figure flapped his hand. “All right. If you start feeling sick, nauseous, strange pain, aches, or feverish, let the nearest badges person know immediately. For the next day, that will be me, but after that, anyone with a badge. Understand?”
“If I have unfortunate side effect to – something – being up here? – then I inform the nearest person with a badge, which I’ll see when you take off those suits, I guess.”
“Exactly. Now, this is the airlock.”
They stepped through a thick, vault-like door into a room just big enough to hold the four of them. “Why three people to escort just me?”
“Because sometimes new people freak out, and sometimes they need to be carried. Sometimes new people just can’t handle being out of the bunker – the Below – and they have to be restrained.”
“So there’s three people so you can take me down if you need to.”
“You,” the figure to the right commented, “have a very interesting way of looking at the world. I will be curious to see how that translates to life up here.”
“Me, too,” Kelly admitted. Just then, the room shot a series of compressed air bursts at them, air that seemed wet but landed dryly on their skin.
“It’s a disinfectant. It’s less necessary in this direction, but they do it anyway. Suits off.” The right-hand figure began peeling off the white suit.
The central figure spoke to her. “After this moment, you do not go to any place that touches the Bunkers without going through Decontamination and wearing a suit. To even attempt to do it is a death sentence. If you discover you are pregnant, you must immediately go into quarantine. It doesn’t happen often – but we do occasionally get a baby born up here.”
Kelly was staring at the left-hand figure. Out of the white suit, the woman had blue-tinged skin and tall pointed ears, green-blue hair and lips the same hue. Her eyes were enormous and iridescent.
That voice! “Reyansh ?” She was afraid to turn around.
“There is a virus,” said the still-masked figure. “It changes everyone, and it often tries new ways of changing people. About one in four simply don’t survive. Childbirth up here is amazingly rare. The genetic changes are too broad.”
“Tell her all of it.”
She hadn’t turned around yet, but that was definitely Reyansh’s voice.
“The main purpose of the virus, as far as we can tell, is to make us susceptible to the Bee’s commands. Your history tells you how the Bees attacked us. What it doesn’t tell you is that, in many ways, they won.”
Slowly, very slowly, Kelly turned around. “The virus wants to -” She shook her head. “What are you saying?”