The sentience that kills
Maybe we want to be alone in this universe.
The windows shook soundly. Dr. Hardy looked up from his tablet, eyes squinted, to the large wall-front window of his office. There had been no reports of inclement weather for the day. Only small puffs of harmless clouds crossed the bright blue sky. He stood up and, crossing the small office in three long strides, stuck his head out into the hallway. A young red headed intern was stooped, picking up scattered papers and files.
"Did you feel that?" The intern looked up, then over his shoulder at the doctor.
"Oh, yes sir, Startled me, too. It happens sometimes. I'll be on my way in a moment."
"Take your time." Dr. Hardy picked a lone green file that had landed in front of his doorway and passed it to the intern. The intern smiled, tucked the file into his arm and continued down the hall. The doctor slunk back into his office. He picked up the old, wired phone and dialed the information desk.
"Dr. Hardy, 4th floor. Did we just have an earthquake?"
"No, sir. Equipment failure in the southeast elevator shaft. Power was cut due to maintenance, and the backup generator did not immediately kick in. All is well, doctor."
"Thank you." He hung up. The southeast elevators had been running this morning when he had arrived a few hours ago, so while maintenance wasn't out of the question, it seemed unlikely. He left his office, locking it, and headed off down the hall in the opposite direction if the intern. He rounded a corner, and, sure enough, no equipment or workers to be seen. He waited a moment, then pushed the call button. The elevator dinged and one of the doors slid open. It was empty. Dr. Hardy sighed and walked quickly back to his office. The receptionist had lied, and he was pretty sure he knew why. He picked up the phone and dialed his assistant.
"Hold my calls. I'm stepping out of the office."
"Yes sir." The gruff, cigarette laden voice responded. Dr. Hardy hung up, shoved his pager into his pocket, and hurried off down the hall again. He dashed down the hall at a quick walk, his head low as he moved by the elevators. He pushed his body against the stairwell door. It didn't budge. He huffed and tried again. The third time he braced his feet and put his full force behind it. The lock clicked and the door opened slowly. He pushed it open just enough for him to squeeze through, then he was on the stairs. He was down three flights before he realized he had no plan.
He slowed his steps, going over in his head how he was going to approach this. His credentials weren't enough to get him in outside of work hours, but he could probably persuade his way in. He had worked with this group enough to know they would likely be panicking. He swiped his badge through three doors, then reflexively through the fourth. It opened. He stood a moment, staring at his badge, then at the door. Hurried footsteps broke his stupor.
"Hardy! Hardy, stop! Don't-!" The man, Dr. Richard Glence, waved his hands at him, excitedly, as he hurried towards Hardy.
"Glence, what in God's name-"
"Hardy, it's loose! It got loose and we don't know where it is!" Glence grabbed his shirt and pulled him forward. The door snapped shut behind him.
"What do you mean it got loose? It's a mineral."
"I don't know! It just...it moved…The whole set up was destroyed. The other doctors reported....It's gone, Hardy."
"How the hell is it gone? It's not even sentient!"
"It is! At least enough to move. Everything has been destroyed and something...its in here. But I don't know where. Mack has disappeared."
"What do you-"
"His bracelet isn't responding. No vitals, no signals, nothing! He's just gone!" Hardy stared at his colleague for a long moment.
"All right. Start at the beginning.”
“We don’t have time! We were introducing various elements to a sample of…whatever it is, when all the bits of it started, just, buzzing and humming and moving. All the glass containers shattered, and then…it was just gone. Everything was chaos, no one knew what to do. We were trying to figure out what happened, when Mack started screaming. Then…this.”
He gestured around him. Hardy looked around the large room, becoming more aware of the chaos that Glence had talked about. There was glass shards littering the floor. The screens were blue or black, some were shattered, and the cameras had been torn to shreds. But, oddly, Hardy saw no one else. He opened his mouth to question Glence further, when he noticed another odd thing. The main operating table, the large spotlight above it, and several other nearby surfaces were splashed heavily with blood. More than should have been from one man.
“Glence, how many men were in here?”
“Besides Mack, four. Deshaun, Merkle, MkCai-“
“Where are they?”
“They’re…” Glence looked around, panicked. “I don’t know, Hardy! They were in here with me!” Glence let go of his colleague and dashed across the room. “The emergency exit has been unsealed. They must have escaped!”
Hardy followed Glence, stepping carefully around the blood pools. Glence was prying open the emergency doors, yelling out for his coworkers. Hardy helped him, wordlessly, and the two managed to open the doors just far enough for a single person to pass through. Before Glence could step forward, Hardy touched his shoulder. “What’s beyond this, Glence? I’ve never been through here, and I need to know what to expect.”
“Oh…it’s a contamination room. You have to badge in and pass through some sensors that determine if you’ve been contaminated by something. I doubt its working though…”
Hardy nodded, then gently pushed Glence through the door. He stepped in after him, bumping his shoulders on the doors. “So, how does this…” He stopped as he noticed Glence had crossed the room, hammering on a control board. “What are you doing?”
“There’s still someone in there, but…I can’t get it open!”
“What? In where?”
“In the containment room!” He mashed a few more buttons. The window in front of him slid open, revealing a grizzly scene. Three bodies, torn apart, lay on the floor of the small room. A forth was pressed against the window, mouth agape.
“Help! Glence, please! Get me out!”
“I’m trying Merkle! I’m trying!” Glence continued his rampage on the control desk, blindly pressing buttons. Merkle repeated his request, his voice hoarse and gritty. Hardy stood over Glance, his eyes on the window. Something seemed off. Glance hammered away at the keys, unfazed. The computer hummed and buzzed, but otherwise, nothing happened. Hardy put his hand on Glance’s shoulder.
“What?! Why?! He needs-“
“That isn’t Merkle. Not anymore.”
Glance glared up at Hardy, his eyes streaming. “What the hell do you mean?!”
“Watch him. Listen.”
Glance stopped his assault on the computer, wiped his eyes, and listened.
“Help, Glance, please! Get me out!” Merkle repeated this twice more, beating on the window with a rhythmic thump, thump, thump. Glance slammed a fist on the monitor, grunting in frustration as the monitor smashed, cutting his hand a little. Hardy squeezed his colleagues’ shoulder. Glance backed away from the desk, rubbing his hands over his face.
“What’s going on, Hardy? Why is Merkle…What’s wrong with him?”
“I don’t know. I really don’t, and honestly, I’m terrified. But I don’t think we can help him, Glance.” Hardy shook his head sadly. “Are there any de-containment sequences?” Glance looked at him sharply, anger and pain flooding his face.
“De- containment?! No! Im not going to give up on-“
Hardy let go of Glance’s sleeve, drew back, and slapped his colleague across the face. Glance stared blankly at Hardy.
“We need to get through there, and out of here, now! Merkle is gone! Now, are there any de-containment sequences?”
Glance nodded, numbly. He stumbled to the computer and jabbed some buttons. The computer hummed while a warning light flashed around the room. He pulled in a deep breath, jabbed a few more buttons, then dropped as his knees gave under him. Hardy could hear sobs racking his colleague’s large frame. The sirens stopped, and the window before him went dark. Gas poured into the small room and the shape of Merkle flailed. Within minutes it dropped, dead, as the room slowly filtered the gas back out.
Hardy grabbed Glance’s arm and hauled him up, then pulled the still sobbing man through the de-containment chamber. The second door shuddered and stop. He sighed angrily. The door did not move quickly, even as he placed his shoulder against it and shoved. It finally gave way, slamming home with a loud clang. Hardy barely caught himself, his shoes sliding on the slick surface. He swallowed a scream as he forced the idea of what he was stepping into aside. He had to stay together, for Glance as well as himself. He gripped the man’s arm again, and pulled him through.
The room was dark, but Hardy could detect a few small movements just in front of him. He fumbled for the light, blinking rapidly in the sudden blaze. He gasped. Before them stood several of the scientists and doctors that they had both worked with many times before, their eyes milky with death. Even Merkle was there, somehow, hunched behind a petite, blond intern. Each person’s head titled at a sickly angle, as if their necks had all been broken. A fake, sinister smile was plastered across their faces.
“What do we do now?” Glance demanded in a whisper, fear cracking his voice like thunder. Hardy’s breath was ragged and heavy as he stared, wide eyed, at the scene before him. Everything in him told him to run, but he couldn’t force himself to move. His voice was thick with defeat as he whispered,