Chapter ten- Mask
I opened my eyes, and found myself no longer surrounded by the crowd. At my feet were over a dozen dead bodies, whose uniforms were bloody and riddled with holes. I gasped at the sight
of the slaughtered men and women, and stumbled, nearly tripping over one who had fallen at my heels. I noticed that there were no duplicates standing, in fact there were no duplicates at all. I
gritted my teeth and checked the reactor in desperation.
It no longer pulsated, simply glowing healthily and consistently in the back of the room. Its work was done. Mostly.
I knew then that this wasn't an illusion. It was real, and the subject had played us.
Below the reactor and just a few feet from me were but just a few left standing. Jacobs, the large guard, subject number one, and around ten staff and officials. Some of them were wounded,
including the large guard, who was bleeding from the shoulder.
The first subject was white in the face. It was highly unlikely that she had ever seen so many people killed in such a way. I also hadn't up until that point, but she was actually in shock from
The others were all aiming their weapons at something behind me, prepared to unload at any second. But for some reason they were hesitant.
As the ringing in my ears began to subside, I awkwardly rotated in place. I placed my feet carefully, trying not to step on one of the bodies in disrespect. When sound returned to my ears, a single
official came into view.
He stood just feet from the outer perimeter of the collection of bodies, with a G36 in his trembling hands. His finger was frozen, tightly squeezing the trigger against the grip. He had clearly
just emptied his magazine. The rifle was pointed at nothing in particular, but regardless of that, the shooter held it in an aggressive stance. I looked at his pale face and recognized him as the
young official who spoke up earlier. He was stuttering, and seemed to be confused.
He panned back and forth between the dead bodies and us. As if to reassure that his action was correct, he proclaimed victory.
"I...I got them! They won't kill me! They thought it would be so easy, but they were wrong!"
No one responded. We all just looked on awestruck.
"G...Good thing they were going to do me last, n-no one else caught on. And, they...uh...they couldn't be saved. B-but you're all fine now, like me. Th-th-thanks to me."
I glanced back at the others, who seemed wary of the unstable young man. Jacobs, who had his hands behind his back nodded his head to me to give the explanation.
The official noticed this and tried once again to convince himself that everything was okay.
"What? W-why aren't you happy? I got it to stop."
"Yes. Yes, you did make it stop," I said in a calm tone. But it was almost condescending.
The official looked on. He had a faint glimmer of hope in his eyes.
"But...that doesn't mean you fixed anything."
Those words echoed for a long time. Their ominous message silenced everyone.
"It means...well, it means that the trick worked. And the subject's illusion can no longer be implemented on us. The key reason it stopped is because you are out of ammunition."
The official lowered his rifle. "A trick?"
I then started goose stepping over the corpses and began explaining the scheme.
"Well, you see this whole situation was meant to extinguish as many lives as possible in one foul swoop. The subject, from what I understand, saw us as a threat in large numbers. And he needed to
thin us out. He couldn't take us out on his own so he turned us against ourselves."
I had reached the official and stood mere feet from him. He stared at the bodies of his colleagues. He was still confused, but the signs of guilt could be seen on his face.
"The first two killings were meant to establish that there were murderers among us. There weren't. The bodies and the blood were all manifested when the room rebuilt itself. The reason you were
never "killed" is because then you wouldn't be cornered into...this."
The official was appearing more desperate and looked at each of us one by one.
"Wh..why me? How did this happen?"
"I would assume this all started with you actually. When you spoke up to Jacobs in fear of your life you showed that you out of everyone could be manipulated with fear the most easily. You showed
that you were the weak link."
He looked down in shame and self loathing. I could hear the others moving behind me. I presumed that they were engaging in private conversation.
The official looked up at me. "Wait. Then why weren't you and Jacobs set up? Wouldn't he want you dead here and now?"
I turned to an apathetic Jacobs, who merely shrugged in response to the official. It was a legitimately good question.
"I don't know. But I bet that it would have been better to be killed now. I don't know what he has planned next."
He looked at the bodies again, he had a tears forming in his eyes.
"I'm sorry. I should be dead too."
"Look, don't give up on yourself. Please. Understand that we still need you to help us get through this, because we need people more than ever now. This was a bad move, but you can retain some
honor if you help us survive."
Before the man could finish his sentence, an ear splitting bang was emitted, and pink mist sprayed from the side of his head. He stood for a brief moment, before his legs buckled and he fell. His
body made a wet thud on the bloody floor as he collapsed with his cheek in his own brain matter.
I jumped back, and stood in utter shock at the new corpse on the floor. But when I saw the placement of the bullet hole, I quickly turned to the origin of the shot.
To my left, the first thing I had noticed was that the large official guard was staring at me. He bore no expression on his face. His eyes were glazed and disinterested, but they were focused on me
as if he expected me to do something. In his hands he held a smoking assault rifle. I felt a surge of furious anger come over me.
"WHAT...THE FUCK..WAS THAT???!!!"
The guard laughed softly. But he returned no answer.
"DID YOU HEAR ME??!!" I screamed.
"WHY DID YOU KILL HIM??!!!"
When the echoes of my screams in the colossal room finally subsided, the much larger man looked down at me and smiled as he talked in a quiet tone.
"Why don't you ask him?"
He pointed his finger from his good arm at Jacobs, who stood stone faced next to him.
My eyes went wide.
I yelled, exasperated. My heart rate peaked, as a result of the new wave of rage and confusion.
"Yes, Allen, I felt it would be the more humane thing to do."
Is this really happening?
"What are you out of your mind?!"
Jacobs walked up to me with his hands behind his back. He looked at his feet every step of the way before raising his head to talk to me.
"We aren't going to survive. I need you to understand that, okay?"
He pointed at the young man's body. The cuff of his neatly pressed shirt was the most orderly thing visible in the grisly scene he presented.
"HE wasn't going to survive. He was damaged too much anyway, as even if we did have a chance to make it out alive, he didn't. You're a scientist, can't you work out some simple probability
"Are you really going to talk probability statistics of our survival?! Now we're down another able bodied man!"
"Able bodied being the key term in that sentence. Able minded is something that we would need, and he wasn't. He was weak minded to start with, and then degenerated further. Even still, it wouldn't
matter. We won't survive."
I couldn't believe that the person I was talking to was my age-old friend. Who was now discussing the disposal of human life as if it were a simple math problem. And on top of that, he was
comfortable accepting that we would all die by the hand of the subject.
"Why are you so quick to assume that? You don't know what will happen."
Jacobs smirked, and small wrinkles formed around his eyes. It was disturbing that this was the happiest I had ever seen him. It brought a sickness to my stomach that only the loss of a friend could
create. The Jacobs I knew was dead, but at the same time I found that he never actually existed in the first place.
"I don't see a way out of here. This is the subject's realm. He is in complete control of it, yes? And he has already used the dimmest minds in our group to kill most of us. The only way to get out
would be to kill the subject."
My friend shrugged casually, as he put his hands in his pockets.
"At least that's the only logical solution I can think of."
"And why are you able to just smile and accept death like this? You seemed so nervous weeks ago, and that was over keeping the dangers of the experiment a secret. I don't get it. It's like the
experiment was worth more than your life. All of our lives for that matter."
Jacobs smile faded.
"That's because it is. I thought I explained that well enough. "UNIVERSAL IMPORTANCE", remember? Our lives mean nothing in the grand scale of this operation. The world is counting on us whether
they know it or not. And the reason I was afraid before, was because the experiment was in danger of being terminated by you. If you spoke out about your dissent and suspicions, which were quite
rational, the others might have woken up to the dangers of the operation. Fortunately, those who were involved were not what we'd call intuitive. At least, not by our standards. We fired all the
weak links before the experiment began as a precaution to prevent a leak. I saw you as a potential chink in the armor, but I couldn't confirm your suspicions and let you go off and tell the world.
I can't blame you for wanting to though. You saw what was really going on. Not them. You could have convinced everyone to abandon their position. Then the operation would have failed. But that
won't happen now. You and I did our jobs, and because of that, many people will continue to live happy lives. The infected will be contained, the feds will quarantine the area, and everything will
continue as it should. That is why I will die happy, and you should too."
I squinted at Jacobs.
"Stop telling me how I should feel and how I should think. Well, you know what I think? I think that you're a sociopath, Adam. Anyone who can decide when to sacrifice human life as easily as you
must have a substantial moral deficit. Whether it's for a good cause or not."
My "friend" returned the look.
"People often confuse rational thinking with mental conditions." He paused. "I am not a sociopath. That would entail that I act without feeling empathy for others who are affected by my decisions.
That I'm a narcissist. Not true. Just because my decision to have Roger shoot that man was calculated quickly doesn't mean it's painless to see it happen."
The freshly slaughtered official laid completely still on the floor. The puddle of blood from his head had spread much further since I last saw it. Despite the cluster of bodies next to him, his
story disturbed me on a much more personal level. I saw him die mere feet from me, and I saw his last miserable emotions.
"I think you'd understand Allen, if you were put in the same position as me. If you knew of the stakes beforehand, you would have let this continue."
I shook my head while still staring at the corpse.
"I don't know what I would do. Maybe you're right. But I will never understand how I could do it myself."
Jacobs put his hand on my shoulder and looked in my eyes. But I couldn't look back at him due to the lingering uncomfortability I had found with his true personality.
"You would need proper motivation. Something you have never shown since you started working here. Not to say your work over the years wasn't brilliant. It's just that this wasn't your calling. I'm
sorry that you of all people were involved with this. You are a brilliant man and you could have been better put to work for a different cause."
He then patted my shoulder, "It's a shame."
Feeling satisfied with the delivery of his message, Jacobs began the stroll back to his resting spot. The spot where he would sit calmly again and await the coming slaughter. But I wasn't done with
"You never answered my question Adam."
I could hear Jacobs stop in place. We were back to back, and no one in the power room dared to let out even a small breath in fear of insulting the gravity of our confrontation. He talked over his
"He had no will to live. And we're dead anyway. I spared him from the rest of our fates, and I think it was the better way to go."
"I didn't want to do it. I had Roger shoot him because I couldn't. And he made it quick. We did him a favor."
"The amount of detachment..."
Jacobs showed frustration towards that statement and cut me off.
"...It takes to do the right thing? It's a lot. But I do things that are correct, not things that are pretty. I've labored over agonizing decisions my whole life, and I've learned through it all
that emotions are a hindrance, and not a blessing. People refuse to let go of them when the time comes to act. It's idiocy."
He's right you know.
"I saw you earlier, I could see it on your face. It disgusts you too. The fact that they are so helpless without people like us."
I felt intimidated, yet empowered. I didn't want to think of myself as being above anyone else, but it was true, and while I considered it the frightened eyes of the others looked on. They knew I
silently agreed as they defiantly endured the criticism in my eyes.
The world will need a mind like yours to make sure everything goes as it should.
I zoned out for a moment and muttered inaudibly,
Somewhere in that blurry moment the reactor began to whine again.
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