For the first time in a long time, Lyan was out of his gyrochair.
He squatted behind it, his back against the wall of his cell, panting in the dark. The back of his gyrochair blocked his view of the screen, but he could see it when he closed his eyes–the unceasing glow of the Firewall Zero logo drifting around the box of the screen, bouncing whenever it hit the edge.
He’d checked the chat room fifty-seven times in the last half-hour. The last update was from Chan, seven hours ago. The feed lay stagnant on the screen. Silent.
Lyan chewed his knuckles and prayed for there to be something, anything, for Aubree or somebody to start blathering on about some movie they’d just watched. Even if they weren’t real. Even if Aubree was just an algorithm, a hastily-coded artificial intelligence, he wanted there to be some semblance of humanity there with him in the dark. Something other than the thought of Weedly watching him, peering from the Grid, grinning under those black sunglasses.
He gulped and wiped sweat from his neck. That was stupid, Weedly wasn’t watching him. The virus couldn’t even see him here, right? Weedly had only seen into his cell from his memories. Forcing his mind open in the virtual reality of the Grid. He winced at the thought.
But if Weedly was telling the truth, then he only had a short period of time before something really bad happened up there in the Firewall, and that elevator came for him on the virus’s terms.
Even if that never happened, it would be Falconer coming for him, and after the events of the last day or two, that wasn’t a fun option either.
He had to get out, somehow. Beat Weedly to the punch.
Lyan closed his eyes and extended his cerebrals, feeling around the corners of his room. It wasn’t like the Grid, where the world came alive and brilliant at his touch, stacks of code that could be prodded and shifted at his command. Reality was dark and unresponsive, except for small pockets of energy that glowed in his monitor, or pooled in the entrance to the Grid.
He scrabbled at the corners of his cell, the wall that opened up into the once-a-year-elevator. Maybe there was a crack, or a chink, or some trace of a wireless signal he could get enough of a hold on to call the elevator. But nope. Nothing.
He pushed harder, growling in his throat. In the Grid, he could force that door open, pull the elevator down, and queue some victorious music as he rode it to the top. But this was real, built of atoms and molecules instead of code. He was helpless.
Lyan pounded his head back against the wall in frustration. And then the light from his monitor went out.
Total darkness crashed in on him, and he froze, his palms clammy on the floor. His heart whacked against his ribs.
Floating and distant, somewhere far above the ceiling of his cell, the high wail of a siren began. Adrenaline burst through his abdomen and burned in his legs.
Mouth dry, he staggered to his feet and fumbled forward. His hands found the smooth leather back of his gyrochair. Forcing deep breaths, he stood there, gripping the chair and trying to collect his thoughts.
The thought gripped him that it might not come back on. That he might be trapped here forever, unseeing and encased in inky blackness.
That was stupid. He wouldn’t be trapped forever. He’d die before then. The thought didn’t do much to shoo away the panic racing through his veins, but at least it was sensible.
Minutes passed, uncountable in the dark, and then the monitor came back on.
It was an odd greenish color he’d never seen on the screen before. It stared at him for a couple of moments, and then white words faded onto the screen.
Happy birthday, it said.
The words lingered, disappeared, and were replaced by a new line of text.
Run Forrest, Run.
A new sound joined the distant siren, one he usually only heard once a year. The hum of the descending elevator, growing louder as it drew near.
The sound traveled downward, vibrated through the walls of his cell, and then stopped. Lyan stared at the motionless words on his screen, chills skittering down his neck.
Then the wall behind him slid open, and his cell flooded with white light.
Lyan slowly turned, squinting against the glare. Where the back wall had been, the inside of the elevator waited for him, sterile and empty.
His lungs strained, as if the elevator had sucked all the oxygen from his cell. Here it was, his two options. Stay in this cell, smothered in dark, or ride the elevator to the top and run from something that wanted to kill him.
Both were impossible. He wanted to wake up, to realize that this was all some kind of weird new simulation that Falconer was testing, to screw with his mind. But there was the elevator in front of him, and Weedly’s words behind him.
He ripped from his paralysis and half-tumbled through the door.
It shut behind him. The walls hummed, and the elevator rose, and somehow the shadowless light was worse than the dark.
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