“Everything you are about to experience is a lie” an old voice whispers to you, “and when you think you have won, they’ll still be lying to you. When the time comes, pick the third door.”
A metallic chattering fills your senses. You feel the edges of your teeth hum and thrum with the sound. You stumble in circles. Reaching out, you realise that you cannot see or feel anything. Your eyes are filled with a cold, milky haze and your heart is striking out in panic. There is no other sensation. Are you even standing on solid ground?
You blink, and then there are shapes. First, a giant solid grey rectangle spreads out beneath you. Concrete. You are standing on concrete. Your feet find the hard surface. Second, a dozen orbs of light hover around you, at the border of the concrete floor. Lights? Lanterns? Lampposts. Third, a large green box stands at one end of the concrete. A big metal house? A warehouse with a grey, corrugated door raised up to reveal the darkness within.
These hazy shapes begin to snap into focus. The texture of the hard surface beneath you fades into existence. Yellow lines flutter into place; this must be the car park for that warehouse ahead of you. The warehouse is also beginning to find its finer details. You can make out the crenelated pattern in the metal walls, and read the number ‘8’ etched tall and white onto the flaked, green paintwork. The floating lights have their poles beneath them now.
Why are your eyes finding it so hard to focus?
More features of this place drop into your perception. The warehouse, lampposts and car park are all surrounded by rows of metal fencing topped with curled wire. You turn about and see several more metal structures of varying sizes. More warehouses, each with its own white number stamped on its side and its own a strip of empty car park. A single-lane road connects the network of buildings, snaking off into the distance. You are in some sort of deserted compound, but where exactly?
The sky is suddenly blue and cloudless. Suddenly blue and cloudless? Did the sky only just become blue? It’s definitely the middle of the day right now, but for a moment there it seemed like…. there wasn’t any sky. You realise how ridiculous that thought sounds. How you got here is the real mystery, not whether or not the sky has always been blue. You resolve to pull yourself together. You should find someone to help you. You are clearly suffering from a serious illness.
You shuffle towards ‘warehouse 8’. After a few steps, you hear a sound. The first sound you’ve been aware of so far. It came from further down the road: a hard, abrupt pop. You turn your head, and the noise repeats. And then again, but this time it happens three times in a row. Three sharp claps. Then another three claps, a little louder and harsher than before. You stop and turn, head titled, listening like a puppy to the strange commotion. New noises join the performance, distinct from the last. Different sounds within the mix. Some claps are much deeper in tone, others raspier and sharper, others…are…well… they are…
…that isn’t clapping. You’re not sure if you’ve ever heard those noises in real life, but you recognise them now. As the cloud of clamours grows closer and clearer, you finally realise what those rapid noises actually are…
You run for Warehouse 8. The sounds follow you like a storm cloud on the horizon. You skid to a stop at the raised entrance, wide enough for a truck to enter, and scan the shadows within.
The steel door is at one end of the warehouse; as you look inside, the vast room spreads out to your left. Six rows of tall, hefty shelves take up most of the space inside. You choose a hiding space between the last two shelves. You run down the length of the warehouse and hunker down. Each row is full of long metal blocks and thick tubes, each one meant for some industrial purpose. They won’t hide you completely, but at least this end of the room is veiled in shadow. You crouch down and strain your eyes to the entrance.
Ten seconds pass, and then twenty. The gunfire is growing louder, but at a slow pace. You wonder just how many people are out there, and hope that they will run out of bullets before they get here. With a clearer mind, you turn to assess your hiding place. The towering rows of shelves around you are two stories tall, jutting into the high, flat roof of the warehouse. Whilst there are only six rows, they are an arms width across and the space between them is enough for a forklift truck to drive down. You can see that little truck parked in the corner opposite the open entrance. In your hurry you’d rushed straight past it, which seems impressive given that it’s bright orange.
You ponder the idea of taking that truck and driving away from whatever is going on outside. You then feel quite silly as you imagine the slow-moving, luminescent buggy rolling past a hundred armed goons with its warning lights flashing. You decide that your flimsy hiding place is still the best option.
Two figures run into the warehouse. You curl yourself against cold steel and peer over the lowest shelf. The first through the door takes a swift sidestep to their right, pressing their back to the doorway. They then turn on their heels and point a weapon out towards the carpark. The gun is as long as the figure’s forearm. It makes a metallic rasping noise and throws a rapid volley of bullets toward an unknown enemy.
The second figure, much shorter and broader than the first, strides backwards into the warehouse. Their weapon is a long, thick device tucked against the user’s midriff. The weapon fires the barking blasts of a shotgun. The figure fires one more thunderous round before stepping right out of harm’s way. The two new arrivals, to your relief, stay pressed against either side of the doorway, the intermittent fire from their guns rattling the metalwork around you.
So long as those two people stay where they are, you are safe. You wonder how long that will last; there seems to be a lot more gunfire outside the building fire in. You can hear bullets pinging off the outside wall of the warehouse… and off the inside wall opposite the entrance. Your two new roommates are standing between you and a persistent stream of death. To make matters worse, the pair don’t seem to be paying much attention.
You peek over a batch of smooth metal poles at the people guarding the entrance. The taller of the two, furthest away from you, is talking directly to his partner, whilst his weapon continues to fire out into the world. Whilst the shorter person is facing away from you, you can see her shoulder length blonde hair flicking from side to side. Her attention is clearly torn between the people outside with guns and the argument she is having with her neighbour.
Amidst the sporadic gunfire – and the occasional grunt or scream from an attacker outside – you catch pieces of their bickering:
“-meant to cover you when you run off like that?!” The man snaps, each word enunciated and clipped.
“When I shout ‘cover me’ it probably means-“, the woman responds, her voice stout and sure.
“You can’t just yell things and run off. I had a plan-“
“Plans don’t work if you can’t shoot properly!”
“I can shoot perfectly well if I’m not running around like a blue-arsed fly!”
So the tiff continues. Despite their absent-minded approach to the violence swelling around them, the pair seem more interested in working out their grievances. Stranger still, they seem to be surviving quite comfortably. If the startled yelps outside are any indication, then the attackers are being slowly picked off, whilst your two ‘defenders’ seem completely unharmed. So for a good minute, the two of them fire off their guns, reload and fire again whilst throwing barbed comments at each other.
They are so fixed on their arguments that they don’t see the third figure enter the room. And neither did you, but you see them now. You freeze, trying to hold yourself still and silent. You had no idea that there was a back entrance – a one-door fire exit – in the corner behind you. You see a wedge of sunlight fade as the door clicks closed again. You curse under your breath; not only had you overlooked a way out this whole time, but you’d allowed yourself to be surrounded!
Mercifully, this new figure hasn’t seen you. They follow the wall of the warehouse, putting the last row of shelving between you, and you thank the shadow that hides you here. You watch the masked figure creep forward, edging closer to the backs of the arguing pair, with a pistol clamped between gloved hands. This one is dressed head-to-toe in black, whilst the man and woman are both wearing blue. They intend to sneak-attack the defenders.
You gaze from the stealthy figure to the defenders and back again. You feel helpless. You could shout out and warn them, but you’d probably get shot by all three. You could run for the newly discovered fire exit, but there might be a dozen more bad guys out there. And you don’t even have a gun. If you had a gun you might have a chance.
If only you had a gun… if you had a gun… you have… you have a gun. You’ve had a gun this whole time. You have thirteen rounds loaded and thirteen rounds spare.
You look down at your own hands as if it’s the first time you’ve ever seen them. Your hands are pale and shaking…and the pistol in your hand is grey and heavy. You turn the thing over slowly, as if doing so will make the thing any less real than it clearly is.
One of the metal tubes next to your heads pops with a bright, white spark. You flinch hard, your body tries to pull your head down between your shoulders and you drop to your knees. You look up, and see that the figure in black has turned on you. You made no sound, but he sees you now. They have their own pistol raised. The gun shudders in their hand and there is a second spark from the metalwork around you. You flinch again, and make a feeble attempt to raise your own gun to fire, but too late. The third shot hits you.
A tremendous pressure smacks into your side like a knuckle being thrust through your ribs. You try to push away from the sensation, falling backwards onto the stone floor, but the knuckle presses harder, between the bones. The pain crawls up your side and your body clenches. You should run or fight back, but the pain takes everything from you. For an eternity, there is only the agony and a single thought in your mind. A single, red number burns into your memory:
Then the pain lifts. It doesn’t just lift, it goes in an instant. That blood-red number vanishes, and the pressure on your side disappears. The sudden absence of pain startles you. You open your eyes with surprise and stare up at the ceiling. You lift your hand to check your side, but find no hole or mark. You are still holding the pistol though. You sit up, and stare back towards where your attacker had stood.
The black-clad figure is down, curled up on the floor on the other side of the shelf. Standing over the body is the slender figure of the man in blue. You watch as he rolls the dead attacker over with the sole of his shoe. He glances over at you, and even in the shadow you can tell that his expression is one of surprise.
“We have a new friend.” his voice is pleasant and lilting as it echoes of the metal walls. You realise now that the bullet storm outside has ebbed. You can hear the man clearly, and you can hear footsteps. You turn to watch the blonde woman strolling down the aisle towards you, her shotgun held in one hand like a roll of newspaper. Whilst she is also smiling, her solid, stocky frame makes her slightly more intimidating.
“I see we do” her voice is a contrast to his, her accent is harsh and her tone more abrupt. She eyes the pistol held awkwardly in your hand. “D’you think they’ll be much good to us though?”
“Three is better than two.” he sighs, “and we need all the help we can get.”
“Speak for yourself” she sneers, then throws out her empty hand to you. You take it, and she lifts you upright with barely any effort. She pats your shoulder, “It’s nearly time to go again.”
Before you can wonder what she means, a crisp, automated voice chimes in from somewhere above you. The voice spooks you, but the man and woman turn and walk back to the entrance without hesitation. The unseen, robotic speaker says just five words:
“Level Two. Primary Objective: Survive.”