The machine screams.
I close my eyes and clench my jaw, waiting for the sound to be over.
Those in shackles do the same. The guards don’t flinch.
I catch sight of one of them tightening their grip on their weapon, but avert my gaze when he returns the look. I stare down at my restrained hands, playing over memories that can’t do anything for me now. I knew one of them, once. But that was a long time ago. Now, without his protection, I’m on the other side of the fence.
I lean into a cold concrete pillar and watch the empty hallway beyond.
Every so often, flashes of headlights from the streets high above catch in the raindrops pooling on the floor. They seem so bright when the city is this dark.
I perk up. Down the hall, no, down another hall, there are footsteps. They’re loud, echoing, their origin hard to pinpoint. I search the hallway with my eyes, jumping from one dark spot to the next, trying to make shapes in the lights bouncing off the puddles. And then—
It is loud, rolling, a wave of sound that splits my ears and sets my heart on fire. I tremble as the guards yell. I hear their guns cocking and fingers hitting the trigger. As the first shackled one falls dead beside me, I slip to the floor, hugging the pillar with my back.
Adrenaline lets me free my hands from my binds.
And then gunfire. So much gunfire.
It’s quiet, if that’s possible. Distant. I don’t hear the shots, just the shells hitting the floor.
Everyone else is gone. On my hands and knees, I clamber towards a fallen guard and swipe his gun. Shaking, I lean around another pillar. No one is there to meet my gaze—just the still bodies on the floor, and the soupy mixture at the center of the machine, still churning and screaming.
My heart thrums out an uneven rhythm as I move forward. No one hides in the shadowed corners of the room.
But then there is a voice. It’s quick, close. Somewhere close. My…name?
I spin, looking for it, anywhere. This man, this man I know, I used to know, I…
“Do you love me?”
“I love you,” I whisper.
“Do you trust me?”
“...I trust you.”
He speaks. Right in front of me…in the shadow of the machine. I stop at its base and look up, towards the mixture as the machine slows its rhythmic churning.
My breathing halts.
My heart speeds up.
The world shrinks into a single pinpoint of light as I realize what I’m looking at.
Everything slows…slows…s l o w s….s l o w s…
I sit up gasping. Clutching my throat as my heartbeat vibrates my entire body.
The machine. I’m in the machine. I clasp my fists and beat against the glass and scream. They stand below me, the woman in black, her heels untouched by the water. She stands with her arms crossed behind her back, watching with cold curiosity.
The world, the world. Steam. Steam pours into the container. I gulp it down, starving for air as everything breathable becomes saturated with water.
And then water. It fills the bottom of the machine. First my feet, then my legs. I try to stand, but it’s too small, too slippery. Shit.
Uh…uh…energy. Got to do something, got to move. A humming, loud repetitive, soaring and oppressive. The next wave is starting, shit. I push away from the glass and run my fingers along every surface, looking for something to grab onto.
It’s getting faster. It’s coming online.
I’ve got to do something.
“Do you trust me?” he whispers one more time.
My arms go limp as the message reaches my ears. I look up, towards the dark city overhead, and realize my purpose.