Adelaide went quiet after that. I knew she had to be alone with her thoughts, just as I had to be alone with mine. The ramifications… I didn’t want to think about them. I had suspected that she was more than she seemed for a while now but to have it confirmed, to hear her speak like a person rather than a machine, was another thing entirely. That was something that we had to figure out together, later. I couldn’t deal with it now.
I knew that I would be paying penance for those lives as long as I lived. I had killed them as surely as if I had pulled the trigger myself. I was not an innocent bystander, I was not an incapable person unable to help, I held those lives in my hands and I did nothing about them. I did not know them but they were human just like me, they were scared and alone and they needed my help, and I turned away from them.
I pushed myself up from the commander’s chair, stumbling a bit as my legs locked underneath me. I growled and kept moving, slowly walking out of the room, into the hallway, following that plain concrete pathway until it stopped in front of an elevator door.
I was no hero. I don’t want to be hurt. I don’t want to fight. But I will be goddamned if I let myself lose my humanity like this, alone and afraid of the pain and the dark.
The metal doors slid open for me, and I stepped into it. With a lurch, it started to move sideways, taking me to the other base. As it moved I repeated my new mantra in my head, and when it shuddered to a halt and opened for me, I stepped out, glaring down the hallway.
I stomped my way to those slick metal doors, my anger giving my steps wings, my resolve preventing my legs from shaking the way they wanted to. I didn’t even stop in front of them, because if I did I knew that I might not go through with it, even now. I could not hesitate as I walked up to that metal ring looming lonely in the empty room, the words Simulator 001 emblazoned along in an arc along the top.
Never again would I hesitate.
“Lower the Simulator,” I barked at it, and it did so, the exo-suit descending to my level as the machine followed my command. I stepped into it and I felt the restraints spring up, and I shouted down my panic as the metal closed around me and my vision was doused in black.
The world went white and a bastard stepped out from the clouds and smiled at me, but it just looked pathetic in my eyes.
Allen opened his mouth to speak, “Welcome back Sam, I see you ha-“
“Shut the fuck up,” I snarled at him, “I don’t want to hear your bullshit. Start the test and get the fuck out of my way.”
He smiled his sad little smile at me.
“If you insist,” he said.
As the world faded to black, my heart started pounding but I was not about to quit now. I was going to show this program that I was already as broken as I could be, that I couldn’t fall apart any more, that those shattered fragments of me couldn’t be reduced to powder. I would prove, here and now, that I could piece myself back together.
I watched as the light appeared again, blooming out of the dark. I saw the lance as it rushed at me, silver wisps falling off it. I felt the impact, right into my gut, and I screamed and I screamed as it hurt me, worse than I remembered, the worst pain that I had ever felt.
But I did not break. I did not break on the first one. I did not break on the second, or the third. I did not break when they came rapidly, two or three at a time, so that the pain didn’t have the chance to die down fully before the next one hit. I felt my mind bending to the point where it was about to snap, but every time I would wrench it back again, those ten little white dots appearing in front of my eyes.
Never again would I let the pain control me.
When the simulator released me, I did not stumble as I left it. When the bindings on my limbs retracted, I stepped from them, slowly and deliberately. I stood tall, and walked through the doors into the hallway. It was when they closed behind me that I fell to the floor on my hands and knees, heaving great breaths, shaken but unbroken.
“Are you okay, Sam?” Adelaide’s voice sounded concerned.
At the end of the program, the devil had not shown his face. After the pain from the last lance faded, the world simply ended, and the simulator opened itself.
“Not yet, but I will be.” I said it with a smile, for her sake. I knew she could see it through the cameras.
I pushed myself up, and started walking back to the main facility. As I walked my hands were still shaking, and I balled them into fists to stop it. I went back on the elevator, and I rode it in silence. For the first time in weeks, I knew what I had to do from here on out. I walked past the engineers’ quarters to my room. Upon reaching the commander’s quarters, I opened the door and went inside. I sat on the large bed, sinking into its comfort. Exhausted from the lack of sleep, the tension, and the pain, I lay down without removing my clothes, waiting for sleep to take me. The guilt lingered in my mind, but I was able to push it back for now. I was not okay, not yet anyway. But when I was, I could start to make amends.