Author: Olivia Black, Staff Writer
>> Breathe in.
>> Breathe out.
>> Open your eyes. The streets are on fire. Glass shatters. The dull roar of flames echoes as they consume twisted, hulking wrecks of buildings and vehicles. This has been going on for a while. Days, maybe? Sirens wail in the distance, but otherwise it’s deserted. All the people are gone — or maybe they were never here at all. Is that right?
>> Keep Going. Heading toward the sound of emergency vehicles, the destruction is worse. Like a great horde pulled everything apart with bloody, scrabbling fingers. Fire light flickers in ominous pools of liquid dotting the pavement. Could be blood, could be gasoline. It hasn’t rained in weeks. Should I know that?
The first sign of life is a group of pubsec drones patrolling a barricade. They don’t react to my presence except to pause long enough to let me pass through. Why? Who am I that they would do that?
>> Breathe in.
>> Breathe out.
>> Keep going. There’s a building up ahead. Some kind of theatre — no, what’s left of a sign reads “university”. People gathered here once, but now the building is half torn down and riddled with bullet holes. More drones are milling around. Still don’t see any flesh and blood people.
Whatever fires raging outside haven’t reached here, and it’s eerily silent despite the drones standing sentry. What am I doing here? The hallways all funnel toward a massive stairwell in the centre of the building — a feature that would be grand and welcoming in better circumstances. Taking the stairs up to flights lands me at the entrance to a massive auditorium. Various doors have been blown in, leaving dark voids that gape at me in a familiar way.
The auditorium is — no.
>> Breathe. You need to keep going.
Okay. The auditorium looks like a tornado passed through on its way to a temper tantrum. Lights and wiring spark and judder, casting the scene in horrific chiaroscuro. Bodies. There are bodies everywhere I can see. The smell is… The viscera is old, having seeped into the carpet and crusted over. There are — were a lot of people present when whatever caused this happened, but there’s no way for me to get an accurate headcount.
“Who killed the students?”
I don’t know. There’s just dead bodies. Maybe they were always like this.
“Was it the Resurgence or the Humanist Collective?”
The… There isn’t any way to tell. If someone did this, they’re gone. How is it even supposed to matter?
“Was it us or them? Answer the question.”
Us or — What? Oh god. Where am I? Why am I here? What is this?
>> Stop. Breathe. You’re okay.
“Answer the question. This isn’t hard. Either their side killed the students, or they were enemy holdouts we had to eliminate.”
>> Stop. You can’t push him like this. The simulation is fragmenting. You’re risking permanent personality fracture.
“When he answers the question, I’ll stop.”
>> I’m ending this. You’re going to damage the already fragile memory. You lose the memory, you lose your answers, and another viable asset.
“Don’t you dare.”
>>Heart rate’s spiking. I’m calling it.
“Fine. Re-spool the memory. I want him back under as soon as he’s back to baseline. This time, front load sensory cues into the simulation and make sure he’s situated earlier on the timeline.”
>> Yes, sir.