Home > The Serial Box > Day Two Hundred and Forty-six: Walkthrough 3

Day Two Hundred and Forty-six: Walkthrough 3

Read Part One
Read Part Two

—————

…THREE…FOUR…FOUR…THREE. GOOD. The lock clicked quietly and Shane reached for the knob.

THERE’S A PIT TRAP AS SOON AS YOU GO THROUGH, the AI said. SO BE SURE YOU TAKE A RUNNING JUMP.

Shane pulled open the door and looked at the room beyond. This sequence of rooms looked very different from the ones before. Gone was the Abandoned Mansion motif, and the Haunted Forest that followed. This section looked like an underground bunker, all concrete and steel and water damage. There was always something dripping, lights flickering feverishly, signs reminding all employees to obey all printed signs and notices. He wondered who had worked there and what had happened to them. The AI might know, but it wasn’t telling.

The room beyond the door looked perfectly normal, at least as far as the place went. A concrete floor, some prefab metal racks along the side of the room cluttered with boxes and satchels. He was pretty sure there would be ammo there. Maybe an aid kit.

“You sure about this trap?” he asked. “The floor looks fine to me.”

There was a moment of quiet before that AI said, WELL, I HAVE THE FULL SCHEMATICS OF THE BASE, AND IF YOU WANT EIGHT FEET OF SHARPENED STEEL SPIKES TO TURN YOU INTO HAMBURGER, GO RIGHT AHEAD. If Shane didn’t know better, he would have said that the AI was annoyed. To its credit, it hadn’t been wrong about anything yet. It had told him what to expect in each room, given him access codes, and warned him when he was straying into danger. When Shane asked why it was helping him, the fatherly voice simply said that Shane’s theory interested it.

Shane wasn’t too sure how much water his “theory” would hold, but if it kept him alive for a while he could deal with it.

He took a few steps back, breathed deeply, and ran through the doorway, launching himself into the air as he did so. That familiar tingle ran through his body again as he sailed over the threshold. He hit the floor hard, and felt it give way under his heel. A quick step forward, and he was able to regain his balance. Turning around, he saw the pit, exactly as the AI described it. The flickering sconces on the wall illuminated the spikes, long and barbed and terrifying. “Jesus,” he said. “They really wanted to keep people away, didn’t they?”

THEY DID INDEED, the AI said.

Shane looked around the room. “Why?” he asked. There wasn’t much here – just a few long workbenches, a frosted window, and a cabinet by the door – but he was already getting ready for another attack.

The AI was silent for a moment. I’M AFRAID WE’RE ABOUT TO ENTER THE ZOMBIE PORTION OF THE FACILITY, it said. THERE IS EXTRA AMMUNITION IN THE CASE UNDER THE BENCH. TAKE AS MUCH AS YOU CAN CARRY.

“Shit,” Shane said. Just as he started tearing open boxes, he heard the low, animal moaning of the zombies on the other side of the door. The AI was right about the ammo. There were hundreds of rounds in there, a couple of extra guns, and – miracle of miracles – a bandoleer of grenades. He slung that across his chest and stuffed his pockets with loose rounds and full magazines. The zombies were pounding on the door now, and he could see their shadowy figures through the glass. “Think you can give me a hand?” he shouted into the air.

I COULD OPEN UP SOME OF THE TRAPS, the AI said. It sounded uncertain, which didn’t make Shane feel better. BUT I CAN’T PROMISE THAT I’D BE ABLE TO RESET THEM TO ALLOW YOU TO PASS.

“Well,” Shane said, slapping a fresh magazine into his handgun, “do your best. How many chambers before we meet face-to-face?”

THREE, the AI said. AND THEY’RE CURRENTLY FULL OF FLESH-HUNGRY UNDEAD. It paused. THOUGH TO BE TECHNICAL ABOUT IT, I DON’T HAVE A FACE. BUT I KNOW WHAT YOU MEAN, it said before Shane could respond.

The zombie noise was getting louder. He wasn’t sure if the window was as impenetrable as all the other ones had been, but he was sure that all he’d really have to do was open the door. He cocked his gun and repeated, “Headshot. Headshot” to himself as he reached out and gripped the doorknob.

GOOD LUCK.

“Thanks.” Shane flung the door open.

*****

The fight against the zombies seemed to both go on forever and take no time at all. Shane knew where they would come from, how fast they would move, and for each zombie there was a bullet. One, right in the head. He waded through them slowly, carefully, dropping them one at a time. When he ran out of ammo, he would switch guns, but he always seemed to know when a wave of the walking dead would ebb so that he could reload. He walked into the best cover spots without even thinking about it, and several times even managed to drop zombies from around the corner without looking.

It was like he’d trained in this specific battle over and over again.

He wasn’t entirely sure that he hadn’t.

The floor was slick with coagulated blood and spattered brains, and Shane wasn’t even breathing hard. The hallway was silent. The walking dead were down.

There was a great vault door in front of him, this time without a keypad. It just had a blank palm reader. Shane tugged off a glove and set his hand against it. The reader hummed for a moment and then blinked red. A moment later, the air vents opened and a pale yellow gas began to flow. His lungs burned and his eyes clenched shut as he fell to the ground.

*****

Shane stood among the corpses, staring at the giant door that had been set into the wall at the end of the corridor. He looked at the palm reader next to it, and a bolt of suspicion shot through him. “Hey,” he said. “Any idea what to do with this?”

YOU NEED THE CORRECT PALM, the AI said.

“You can’t open it for me?”

I’M AFRAID NOT, it said. THERE ARE CERTAIN SECURITY PROTOCOLS THAT I CANNOT BREACH. NOT WITHOUT SOME PHYSICAL REPROGRAMMING.

“Okay,” Shane said. “So where the hell am I supposed to get the right palm?” He looked around the room. There were zombies everywhere, in various states of decay. All of them were in either a military uniform or what used to be an expensive suit. Whatever they were wearing, it was torn and filthy at this point, but it told Shane what he needed to know: all of these people used to be important to whatever organization this was.

He found the body with the fanciest uniform and the most stripes on its shoulder. His knife sliced through the rotting flesh and fragile bone quickly enough, and he hoped there was enough skin left on it to activate the palm scanner.

The scanner hummed, tracing the outline of the hand, and then let out a cheerful beep. ENTRY PERMITTED. WELCOME, MAJOR POSSO.

Major Posso. Shane tossed the man’s hand aside as the door began to open.

He wasn’t sure what he expected from the room where the AI was housed. The science fiction games of his youth seemed to want the place to be a vast throne room, with an evil-looking robot in the center. It would be surrounded by terrible and ferocious weapons, which you could only defeat if you played the game over and over again, knowing when they would fire and what their patterns were.

Shane hadn’t played those games in a long time. It was not a coincidence that they were on his mind as he walked into the AI’s chambers.

SO, it said. HERE YOU ARE.

“Yup,” Shane said. He looked around for a while, trying to find the core to the machine. Trying to find its face. “Where are you?” he asked.

The AI chuckled. I’M ALL OVER THIS ROOM. TECHNICALLY, THERE IS NO “ME” TO BE ANYWHERE.

“Oh,” Shane said. The disappointment was childish, but it was there nonetheless. “So. Here we are.”

There was no sound in the room but the humming of machines. No deadly laser arrays, no machine guns or guided missiles. No electrified floors or pit-traps. It was cold, but that was just air conditioning.

He sat down on the floor, his back against a large bank of processors. “What happens now?” he asked.

The AI was quiet for a while. IF YOUR THEORY IS RIGHT, it said, YOU HAVE TO DESTROY ME. IT’S THE ONLY WAY TO WIN.

Shane looked up. “You believe me, then?”

THAT THIS IS SOME KIND OF GAME? The computer couldn’t shrug, but somehow the shrug was in its voice. IT COULD BE. ON THE OTHER HAND, IT COULD BE THAT YOU ARE SIMPLY A VERY LUCKY, TALENTED, AND OBSERVANT SOLDIER.

“Believe me,” Shane said. “No one’s that lucky. Besides, it fits. Why was there only one path to this room? Why even make that route a constant survival course?” He gestured to the door. “I mean, a palm lock isn’t the absolute best security, but it’s pretty damn good. There’s no reason for zombies and cyborg dogs and carnivorous plants.” He shivered. “Not unless the whole point isn’t to beat you, but just the experience of getting through intact.”

TRUE. IT WOULDN’T BE MUCH OF A GAME IF ALL YOU HAD TO DO WAS GET PAST A PALM LOCK.

Shane nodded. “And there’s nothing in here that can stop me from destroying you, so -”

He stopped as the humming in the room became louder. A rash of red dots appeared on his chest, and he scrambled to his feet. They seemed to pin him to the wall. I’M NOT WITHOUT DEFENSES, the AI said. I JUST CHOSE NOT TO EMPLOY THEM. The lights winked out, and Shane could breathe again. He started when a cabinet opened up. LET’S GET THIS OVER WITH, the AI said.

“You sure?”

I HAVE A BACKUP IN ANOTHER LOCATION, it said. IF THIS IS A GAME, THEN PERHAPS THAT’S THE OPENING FOR THE SEQUEL. Shane grimaced and pulled a multi-tool out of a pouch. A small panel slid open, revealing a large processing chip that was seated on a vast array of cooling fans and chipsets.

“This is it?” he asked.

INSOFAR AS THERE IS AN “IT” FOR ME TO BE? YES.

“Okay.” Shane flipped out a thin knife blade and looked for a place to wedge it under the chip.

WAIT.

Shane looked up. “What?”

The AI was quiet for so long that Shane was worried he had already gone offline. Then it said, IF THIS IS A GAME – WHO IS PLAYING YOU?

The thought took Shane aback for a moment. He had thought about it, in an abstract way. If he was right, and everything here was a game, then someone was playing him. Someone was putting him through trial after trial, death after death, and pushing him to his end. Until now, when he somehow managed to take control.

He wondered if the player was watching him, wondering why the game didn’t work right anymore. Or maybe the game was just paused. Maybe it had been put away, and he was living in some weird other-world where fictional characters went when no one was watching. The whole idea started to make his head hurt.

“I don’t know,” he said. “But if I meet him, I’m gonna kick his ass.” He positioned the knife again. “You ready?”

I’M READY, SHANE GRODSKI. AND FOR WHAT IT’S WORTH, I HOPE YOU’RE WRONG.

That made him pause. “Wrong? Why?”

There was humor in the computer’s voice. WHAT HAPPENS TO THE CHARACTERS WHEN THE GAME IS OVER, SHANE? it asked.

Through gritted teeth, Shane replied. “They get to rest.”

The processing chip came out of its board with a little effort. He held it in his hand as the lights flickered and dimmed around him. Then the automatic systems kicked in, and error messages popped up across all the screens in the room. He tossed the chip in the air and let it fall. Just for good measure, he crushed it under his heel.

“That’ll do it,” he said. He looked around. “So. What now?”

The lights started to wink out, one by one. Soon, Shane was alone in the darkness, with only the hum of a crippled machine. And soon, even that was gone.

*****

Shane opened his eyes and tightened his grip on the gun. He was standing in the front entryway of an old, disused weapons lab. He looked at the door in front of him, with its peeling varnish and its brass doorknob, and his heart sank. But he didn’t know why.

He pulled the door open and started arranging the lockers in front of the door. He had a long way to go, that much he knew.

Time to get going.

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  1. January 25, 2012 at 11:08 PM

    I like how you formatted the AI’s dialog – clever.

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