This is chapter 10 of my novel, Foreign. I publish a new chapter each Friday at noon. If you’ve missed previous chapters, you can check out the archives here. Enjoy and spread the word!
Things are finally starting to look up for Mark and Justin!
So it wasn’t robots after all! It was people, and little people at that! No wonder they needed big tough suits.
Justin took one suit out of the closet. Hanging on a hook, it was fully enclosed on the front while the back split open. The suit looked easily big enough to fit him and was pleasantly lightweight.
“These are our ticket out of here. Hold this up while I step into mine. I think they’re both about the same size.” Justin handed the suit to Mark to hold so he could get in it.
As Justin stepped in, the suit felt too big to be useful. He didn’t let that deter him; he inserted his arms into the sleeves. As his hands made contact with the gloves, the lenses on the helmet lit up on the inside like a Heads Up Display. He slid his head up into the helmet. With his head inside, he felt the back side of the suit automatically pull in toward him, sealing the slit. There was a small sigh as the suit sealed and pressurized. The baggy feeling in various parts of the suit shrunk to create a perfectly snug fit around all parts of Justin’s body. It felt like the suit had been made just for him.
An alluring female voice sounded within the helmet, “Welcome. User not identified. Please calibrate. Initializing calibration programs.”
“Dang, dude! This is sweet! We gotta get you in your suit-“
“‘Dang dude.’ Is this how you wish to be identified?” the voice interrupted.
“Oh, no. Call me Justin.”
“As you wish, Justin. Now take a deep breath and hold it.”
He obeyed. The suit felt tight around the chest, but then expanded slightly. The suit asked him to take three more breaths, and with each one it calibrated how much it expanded more precisely so that by the end, breathing felt completely natural.
“Thank you. Now, if-“
“Wait. Hold on. Pause. What’s your name?”
“You can call me Corti.”
“Thanks, Corti. Can you always hear me, even after this calibration?”
“Yes. I’m always listening.”
“Ok, then hold on a minute while I get my friend into his suit.”
Justin reached in the closet and took out the other suit for Mark. Getting into the suit would be painful, but once in, the suit would end up doing most of the walking for him. Maybe he would be able to walk on his own and they’d actually have a chance to get free.
Mark stepped in the suit with his right foot. He looked down at the left leg of the suit, hesitant.
“You’ve gotta do it, man. Just do it all at once.” Justin urged with a nasally voice through the speaker on his helmet.
Mark braced himself against the door of the closet and shut his eyes. Before he thought about it any longer, he stepped into suit. It felt as if he just broke it again.
“I don’t know how we’re gonna do this. I’m just going to slow us down,” he said as he slipped his arms into the sleeves.
“And what’s our alternative? You think I’d leave you to fight against these weird little men and their giant insects? Just shut up and finish putting your suit on,” Justin encouraged.
Placing his head fully in the helmet engaged the locking mechanism on the back of the suit. Mark was sealed inside. The HUD glowed green in his visor as he was greeted by a female voice. She asked him the same gamut of questions that Justin answered. His suit introduced herself as Corti as well.
With the suit fully calibrated, the boot fit securely around his ankle, and clamped it in place. The constant pressure felt like his ankle was constantly being crushed. The suit wasn’t going to make moving any easier. In fact, so far he was feeling worse.
Justin left the closets and headed toward the door on the opposite side from where they had entered, “Ok. Ready to go?”
“As ready as I’ll ever be,” Mark grumbled as he took a step. A red light flashed on the bottom left portion of his visor. “Corti, what’s that light?”
“I’ve detected that your left leg is not functioning at peak capacity. Would you like me to initiate the medical sequence?” she suggested.
“Of course! Don’t wait for me to ask. Any time I’m injured, do whatever you can,” Mark eagerly explained.
“Very well, Mark,” she complied.
Mark felt a tiny needle prick in two places on his leg, near the ankle. Immediately, the pain washed away. He could feel the anesthetic flowing through his blood, doing it’s work as it traveled. The ankle joint in the suit stiffened, effectively turning it into a cast.
“Justin! This thing is amazing! It detected I was injured, and gave me some morphine or something. I feel great!” Mark almost effortlessly walked right up to Justin who was across the room, staring at the screen on the wall.
“You think that’s cool?” Justin retorted. “Look at the screen and tell me what you notice.”
Mark looked at the wall screen that looked similar to the last one he had seem, only there were two differences. This screen menu only had six buttons, but they were all in english. The buttons read, “Open. Lock. Map. Help, Call Int. Call Ext.”
Mark walked back to the screen card sitting on the table. It was still flashing red, but the character on its screen read, “Locked.”
“I don’t believe it! These things actually translate text into english in real time as we look at them!” he exclaimed. “Corti, do you always actively translate words?”
She answered, “ Of course. That is a standard feature.”
Justin examined the map on the screen, “Ok, according to this, we’re on the first level of something called the ‘ECF.’ The exit is on the floor above us. It doesn’t look that close. We have to go through like four more rooms until we get to an elevator. Once we are on the second floor, we’ll be near a bunch of larger rooms. I think they are the rooms with all the antlions. If we go past those rooms and near some control rooms I think there’s an exit.”
“Dang. That’s a lot of space to cover. I’m sure we’ll run into people. Do you think they’ll know who we are? Especially if I walk like a gimp?” Even with these new suits, escape seemed impossible to Mark.
“We’ll have to hope they won’t. Either way, let’s go. We’ve been here way too long.” Justin opened the door and left.
The next room didn’t feel like much more than a glorified closet. It was a bare room with a door on each side. The wall screen had a “purge” command among some of the other more expected options. They opened the door and entered a larger room.
“Uh, did you read that map right?” Mark said as the door closed behind him and Justin in the large room. Everywhere he looked he saw tons of antlions – the small ones, many of the horse-sized ones, and even a few giant ones. All of them were shrieking in a frenzy when Justin and Mark entered the room, but none would even come close to them. Rather, they went the opposite direction. They were avoiding Mark and Justin.
“Ya, this is the right way to go. It’s the only way to go,” Justin reasoned as he advanced further into the room. “Maybe these suits scare the things. It’s gotta be safe to walk through here. How else do you think those other guys got to that back room?”
Like magnets with the same polarity, the antlions naturally drew away as Justin and Mark approached. They never stopped screaming, though, bone-chilling screams. The insects were obviously upset by their presence, but for some reason, they weren’t doing anything about it. What do those creeps do to keep these creatures in line like this?
About mid way into the room the pitch of the screeching suddenly dropped to a lower howl. Mark and Justin dropped to the ground and froze. With the change in mood, the crowd of antlions still came nowhere near them, but there was a mass exodus from one side of the room. Every single one of the little ones ran from one side of the room to the other while managing to completely avoid Mark and Justin. The two of them stood in the middle of the room like two rocks in a stream, forcing the current to gush around them.
They both looked to their left, in the direction all the antlions were running from. Near the back wall it looked like the whole wall was moving. Then they saw it. There had been a cage resting in that part of the room and it had begun to move, trapping antlions that had been in it.
“This must be how they get all these things into those rainforest rooms. They farm them all in here and just trap them for transport. I was kinda hoping it would have been something more high tech than that.” Justin whispered to Mark.
Mark pointed out, “Ya, but think about how screwed we would have been if our cage had been taken right back in here?”
“I’d rather not.” Justin replied dryly.
By the time most of the antlions had ended up on their right, the cage had been moved out of the room. The wall behind it looked just the same as the exterior of the cage. Neither one of them saw anybody else in room. Fairly confident that they hadn’t been seen, the got back up and continued walking.
They crossed through the room with much less effort than Mark had though it’d take, and came into another small room. It seemed identical to the previous closet-room. As he saw the “Purge” button on the screen by the door, it all came together. These must have been a type of decontamination room. If for some reason an antlion followed somebody in the room, this is where they would exterminate it so they could safely go on. So it was something about the suits they were wearing that had caused the bugs to be afraid of them.
“This should be the last room before we find the elevator. So we’re making progress.” Justin informed, opening the door.
“Good. I hope that was the last time I’ll have to see those bugs.” Mark followed him through the door.
For chapter 11, click here.