The Strange Chamber

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I brought a friend with me.  I wasn’t going into the abandoned factory alone.

Back in the day, people called it the “organ factory.”  The irony is that we have actual organ factories now.  Fabrication technology has spread farther than preservation technology ever did.  But there was a time when all we had was organ preservation.  A time when anyone who could extend the life of a donated organ by even just a bit could save lives that would otherwise have been lost.

And it was during that time that Alectrona Fabron invented the technology that made it possible to store almost any organ indefinitely.

Organs operated for years and years within a living and healthy organism.  But once they were removed from the body, they had a far, far shorter expiration date.  They had to be transplanted within a certain period of time, otherwise, they would begin to die.  Necrosis—cell death—would start to set in.  If they had to be transported—which was usually the case—then they had to be stored properly, otherwise…they would begin to die.

There was no such thing as storing an organ for later transplanation, not until Alec Fabron came along.  She started her company so they could do research into organ preservation, function, and fabrication.  When Fabron hit upon a breakthrough, their research shifted, sharpened, its focus solely on preservation.

Fabronical, the company, became Fabronical, the factory, in the course of a year.  And that factory was building chambers of all sizes to hold organs of all types, and hold them still, alive but sleeping, until they could be brought to a person in need.

The chambers were even built with their own viability tests for overall organ function, for cellular and molecular integrity, host compatibility, donor medical history, and a slew of other information.

Lives were saved.  Illegal markets for salvaged organs collapsed.  Legal money was made, and not just by the inventors.  Alec Fabron released patents, designs, and research to the public so that others could build preservation chambers.  Others did, with varying degrees of success.  Fabronical’s strict code of ethics and quality assurance procedures produced chambers that were just about foolproof.  The reliability of their chambers was a necessity.  The chambers were expensive to build, too expensive for most, so Fabronical remained the only factory of its kind in the world, a perpetual prototype.  And so they still profited well from their invention, because of their reputation for trustworthiness and quality.  And all was well for Alec Fabron and her thriving company.

Then, someone managed to invent something even more extraordinary, artificial organs.

***

It’s been over twenty years, and the Fabronical Factory still stands…in ruins.

It is the setting of modern ghost stories now.  A home for those without homes.  Feral dogs.  Wayward souls.

It is a thing of urban legend now.  The signage was removed.  Most people don’t even know what it really was.  They don’t have the time or the interest to search beyond the rumors.

The rumors are the end of the story for most people.  For me, they were the beginning.  I started my investigation by asking about the rumors.  I started by interviewing the people who lived in the community where the fallow factory still stood.

It’s a broke down factory.  It used to be some kind of storage facility…for body parts, one person said.  

They say some of the storage units are still functional, and the organs inside are still alive, and because they were never transplanted and connected to another human life, the ghosts of the original organ-owners wander the grounds, searching for their lost organs, trying to become whole again, some not even knowing what it was that still bound them to the mortal world, and kept them from passing on into the afterlife. 

Before…when the synthetics were still new, and expensive, people used to break in to scavenge and see if there were any organs left.

That wasn’t just rumor.  It was complete untruth.  There was nothing left to scavenge.

Not after the federal investigators swooped in and gutted the place.

***

The factory was already failing.  While she was still there, Alec Fabron tried to save positions and shift focus again, trying to convert the storage facility into a research facility.  But talent was fleeing, drawn by the allure of the new technology, larger paychecks, more stability.  This was especially true after Fabron announced that she was leaving to spend more time with family.  She had thrown herself into her work after her grown daughter, herself a remarkable researcher, had died from a rare illness.  (A systemic illness that no organ transplant could have helped.)

But she had spent all her rage and despair, and she was ready to retire, glad that her technology could serve as the much-needed stopgap on the way to organ fabrication.

Many believed that once she was gone, the one who took her place as the head of the company would be far less concerned with saving positions, and far more concerned with saving the company.  So people began to leave on their own.

And then there was some kind of accident.  Accounts are unclear about what it was.  I thought an explosion maybe.  Or chemical spill.

They wouldn’t let anyone in, citing “unsafe conditions” and “clean-up in progress.”  And people began to wonder if they had unregistered nuclear material or something in there.

The investigators arrived.  They came bearing search warrants.  They shut down the factory while the investigation was pending.

But that was the final straw.  Everyone knew the factory wouldn’t be opening its doors again, even if the federal investigators found nothing illegal or even untoward within its doors.

They confiscated all the chambers, the research, the machines.  They questioned every employee they could find.  Alec Fabron was out of the country by then.  She hadn’t been present during the accident.  But she was still the owner of the company and the facility.  She flew in to give her statement.

The investigation faded from the news when nothing of interest was found—or at least reported.  It was an industrial accident, the official report stated.  No lives were lost. A few people were treated onsite for minor injuries.  But some employees were concerned enough to alert the authorities.

They did the right thing, Alec Fabron said.

And those were the last words she ever spoke in public, at least as far as I could find.

***

I was a kid when all of that happened. I remembered that investigation being in the news, because it was spring break, and I was irritated that the breaking news kept interrupting all the entertainment feeds, even the cartoon streams.  I had to get my mom to enter her override codes to enjoy a solid two hours of hijinks in the unreal world.

But when I got older, specifically in my teen years, I became fascinated with the story, specifically the conspiracy theory stuff.  Even more specifically, the rumors of a secret underground lab, not found by the federal investigators.  That lab was supposedly the real source of the mysterious “industrial accident” that spooked the workers and scientists, people who were used to being surrounded by disembodied human organs all day.  That lab was the real reason all those people went running.

What were they doing in that lab?

Horror story stuff, according to some.

Fabron never gave up on organ fabrication, these horror stories claimed.  They were creating new organs.  But they weren’t creating individual organs.  That tech proved too difficult, so they had to clone all the supporting tissues.  They figured out how to clone just the torso without a head, and without limbs, so it wouldn’t be a person, technically, legally.  Maybe they succeeded, but they thought the optics wouldn’t be great.  People would be uneasy at best.  No limbs, no head.  Creepy.  But then they needed parts from the head (eyes, et cetera).  So they had to figure out how to grow a head without a brain.

In more fantastical versions of the story, the images of heads in jars, torsos suspended by a system of tubes and cables, and detached limbs flopping around on operating tables became replaced with the more gruesome concept of hybrid organs—compound insect eyes stuffed into the sockets of a human head, and that kind of thing.

Fun for Halloween, but not satisfying for a girl who was curious about the truth.  Not enough for a girl who was wondering if the truth could be even worse than the made-up stories growing from the questionable soil of urban legend.

***

I was the first to get my license, and I drove by the organ factory in a car packed with peering, giggling friends.  I was scared, but not of the abandoned factory.  I’d never had that many people in the car before.  I felt the unexpected burden of being responsible for their lives, for bringing them safely back home to their families.  So I went back later, by myself.  I parked and got out of the car and walked up to the chained and barb-wired fence.  I read the fine print on all the warning signs.  I heard the distant bark of a dog.  And I wondered if it was one of those feral dogs that were rumored to keep their nests deep in the damaged heart of the broken factory.

I peered at the boarded up windows, looking for signs of activity.  The flickering of a light.  The droning hum of a portable power source.  I pressed my hand to the ground, feeling for vibrations from the secret underground laboratory.

The facility had back-up power, of course, back in its heyday.  It had to ensure that the chambers containing the precious organs would not lose power.  But even its primary power source was independent of the general grid.  That’s why some people thought the industrial accident might have been caused by nuclear material from a reactor hidden underground.  It didn’t make sense.  A facility like that would not have had problems getting a license for a legal reactor.  Then again, maybe they thought people would be nervous about having nuclear materials so close to the organs.  But…then again, the viability tests included at least three or four assays that could detect radioactivity.

Private citizens, academic researchers, and rival companies searched for signs of any harmful emissions or energies from the factory as best they could from outside both before and after it shut down. They found none, so that was another reason the building was left alone.  As far as anyone could tell, it was not a danger.

***

Before I even graduated, I’d already discovered the basic and perhaps boring truth.  The investigators did indeed take everything.  Nothing was left, none of the research, no paper records, no digital records, no organs, no chambers.   The company itself removed all the empty file cabinets and furniture.  All any scavenger would have found, even in the early days of the facility’s closure was empty rooms.  Only, there were no scavengers, because the place was indeed guarded for a while after the investigators left and after all the furniture and stuff was removed.  Even after it was boarded up, guards patrolled the grounds.  They didn’t want people going in and vandalizing the place.  The property was still owned by Fabron.  There was still a sense that she might return and resume the  research.  After a while, no one saw guard patrols anymore, but there were sightings—or rumors of sightings—of a person or small groups of people going into the facility.  It was probably just property managers checking on the place.

But it was around that time that the rumors of an underground lab, and the conversion of patrolling guards to invisible guards, really took off.

The abandoned building was the perfect front for a secret lab.  People started sneaking in, and no one would stop them.  Kids dared each other to go into the haunted organ factory.  Older kids went inside to drink and maybe tag the walls, but there really were dogs roaming the grounds too.  And they weren’t scared of people.  The dogs kept out anyone who might be inclined to spend longer than an hour or so inside the place.  So it never turned into a drug den or a haven for the homeless.  And some people wondered if those dogs were really strays.  They were a little too vigilant.

If it wasn’t the dogs, it was something else that kept people from lingering.  It was easy to spook people at night with eerie sounds—like the whispering or crying that some reported hearing.  During the day, there were more innocuous deterrents, like the skunk spray that a few kids recalled smelling.  One of them said it smelled more like a skunk bomb than a real skunk.  He insisted that I trust him, that he had expert knowledge of both.  (Keeping the calm and measured expression of a serious journalist is a challenge at times.)

But no one was ever chased off by private guards.  So…if there were guards watching over the place, they seemed to have been told to maintain the abandoned building illusion by letting people enter the grounds, and even enter the factory, but only up to a point.  And that point at which the guards acted, releasing the dogs, releasing a skunk bomb, playing audio of ghostly whispering, whatever it took to chase away the intruders, that was the point at which the intruder had gone too far, had gotten too close.

But too close to what?

The entrance to the secret underground lab?  The exact location of the industrial accident?

Maybe I could do the same.  Instead of trying to break in and evade trained guards who would probably see me and find some way to chase me off long before I got close to whatever they were guarding, I could just walk in, like someone who only knew the rumors, someone who was skeptical, someone who didn’t really want to be there.  And I could see how far in I could get before they stopped me.

I don’t know why this story continues to tug at my thoughts.  I would forget about it for a time, and then one day, something would happen.  I’d read an entry from an old high school journal about the factory.  I’d see a flyer for a Halloween party that used an old photo of the factory as its logo.  I seemed to actually be haunted by this factory.  And I didn’t know why.  I had no connection to it.  No one I knew ever worked there, or benefited from the preservation technology, or was obsessed with it.  I think it might be because it was the first truly unsolved mystery that I came across in life.  And the first time I had an inkling of what I might want to do for a living.  I researched as much as I could and wrote an article for our school paper when I was a freshman in high school.  But then biology class became my favorite, and I didn’t think about journalism again until college.

I had to resolve this mystery—at least in my head, if not in actuality—so I could close the book on the organ factory and move on.  I had a ridiculous plan.  And a careless one.

~***~

I brought a friend with me.  I wasn’t going into the abandoned factory alone.

It was still light and would be for another hour or so.

“Okay,” Mikki, my friend, my one scientist friend, said.  “Now that we’re actually here, you can admit it.”

I admitted nothing, but acknowledged her question with a loud and obvious sigh.

“You believe in the conspiracy theories about this place,” Mikki continued.

I tried to act natural.  But I imagined us being watched.

Getting onto the grounds had been no issue.  There were lots of places where the fencing had been cut, and even rolled away to make gaps.

“It’s determination,” I said.

“What?”

“It’s determination, not belief.”  I stopped and swiveled as we approached the doors to the factory.  “I was obsessed with this place when I was in high school.  Do you remember the constant news reports when we were kids?”

Mikki had gone to a different school, but in the same district.  She’d grown up in the shadow of the factory, so to speak, just as I had.

She remembered.  We chatted, casually but quietly, as we entered the factory.  We’d brought lanterns and flashlights both.  We had also brought dog treats (though I’d heard those didn’t work on the dogs that wandered there).  And if we encountered any fellow intruders who were not inclined to live and let life, I’d studied enough of the building’s blueprints to know how to get out of there in a hurry.

I got more and more nervous as we walked deeper into the factory.  I’d been in similar facilities before.  The large factory floor, the smaller rooms to the sides for offices, meetings.  We passed a break room and there was a fridge inside.  So, they hadn’t taken everything.

“I wonder what’s inside,” Mikki said, startling me.

“Desiccated sandwiches and cans of flat soda.”

“Should we look?”

I turned my lantern toward Mikki.  Our lanterns actually gave off enough light to illuminate several yards in every direction.  I didn’t think anyone would really be running out to attack us from some dark corner.  But I found myself wondering what I was doing there, and it suddenly occurred to me that we might get murdered inside an abandoned factory by a hidden serial killer.  And I felt that fear again, for myself, and for the poor, innocent friend, who had unwittingly followed me.  Followed me into the last moments of our lives.

A sudden giggle made me gasp.  I fumbled with the lantern.

We heard the clicking of heeled shoes, and more giggling.  A couple walked into the light of our lanterns.  They had their arms around each other and they were both grinning, their postures as relaxed as if they were walking down a busy avenue enjoying the night life.

“You guys should check out the graffiti on the second floor above the big offices,” the young woman said.  “It’s gorgeous.”

“I seriously hope the person who did it isn’t wasting away in some cubicle,” her partner added as they walked past us and back toward the exit.

I exhaled and Mikki noticed that I wasn’t just on edge.  I was scared.

She sighed, and I could tell she was faking nonchalance for my sake.  “Do you want to just go back?  I mean, we can look at the graffiti first.  I’m kind of hungry.”

“It’s not dangerous in that way,” I said.

Mikki didn’t respond.  But her eyes widened a bit.

“It’s not abandoned.  It’s just empty most of the time.”  It was probably safer inside than it was on the grounds, and it was probably safer on the grounds of the property than it was on the streets surrounding it.  I felt certain of that now.  I mean, little kids snuck in and bounced their balls off the factory walls.  No one had ever disappeared into the factory.  No one had died there, even after it closed.  That wouldn’t have been possible, unless someone really was looking after the place, and after anyone who entered.

It’s a strange feeling to stop being scared of one thing, and immediately start fearing something else.

It hadn’t really hit me when I was just talking to all the other people who had gone in and come out of the abandoned factory, when I’d stood outside the fence peering in, and driven by at night looking for signs of life.

It was true.

The factory was not abandoned.  It was guarded by guards who were trained to remain invisible.  It was patrolled by collarless dogs with tousled hair, posing as strays, but watching for danger.

That couple wasn’t dangerous.  Kids “breaking in” to paint the walls weren’t dangerous.  The occasional vagrant taking shelter on a cold night wasn’t dangerous.

But I was.  Because I wasn’t there on a lark or a dare.  I wasn’t there for a cheap thrill.  I was there because I wanted to see under the hood of the rusted machine, past the rotted wires, to the secret heart that still beat in the center of the sleeping factory.

I was what all those safeguards were guarding against.

***

I hesitated.

I turned to Mikki.  “You’re right.  Let’s head out.  I’m just going to collect myself here for moment.  Do you want to scout ahead and make sure it’s safe to go see that graffiti?”

Mikki frowned at my awkward attempt to send her to relative safety.  “No.  I want to go see it together.”  She leaned toward me, until her mouth was beside my ears.  “I chose to come.  I want to know too.  I’m scared too.  Let’s get this over with.”

We didn’t head to the second floor, even though I was actually curious about the graffiti art.  We walked deeper into the first floor, and at a certain point, despite the fact that we still had light, the quiet seemed to change quality.  From regular quiet to…purposeful quiet.  Mikki and I locked arms as we strode forward.

We turned a corner and I gasped again as we saw a man standing there.  He raised his flashlight above his head, directing it toward us.

“You two don’t look like you’re authorized to be in here,” he said.

In our own lantern light, I could see the glint of a badge on his chest.  His clothing was dark.  His belt was hung with pouches, and something else glinted there.  A pair of handcuffs.

“Officer, we were just going to see some graffiti art that was recommended to us by friends,” I said.

The officer shook his head.  “Guys, it’s not safe in here.”

“The building is abandoned,” I said, “not condemned.”

The officer tipped his head and sighed.  “You’re trespassing.  I’m escorting you out with a warning.  Or…”  He gave a friendly pat to the cuffs that were hung at his hip.

He waved us back toward the way we’d come and walked us all the way to the entrance.  We didn’t encounter anyone else.  Maybe any other trespassers spotted him and scattered.  He walked us all the way to the fence, to an opening, different from the one we’d used to get in.

“It’s not that spectacular,” he said.  “The graffiti art.”

We nodded, smiled politely, and began to walk away.  He was probably going to watch us, or even follow, to make sure we actually left.

“Hang on,” he said.

We stopped and turned around.  He was holding a flashlight out toward us.

“Don’t leave this behind,” he said.

Mikki and I exchanged a quick glance.  It wasn’t our flashlight.  It must have belonged to one of the other trespassers.  I almost said so, but then, I bit my tongue.  Mikki too said nothing and reached for the flashlight.  The guard pulled it away from her.  He smiled and looked at me.  I took the flashlight, pressing my lips in a polite smile of thanks.

***

Mikki drove us back to my place, occasionally filling the silence with unnecessary comments, like how she knew that guy wasn’t a real cop.  My knee jittered and my hands itched to open up that flashlight, but I waited until we were sitting at my kitchen table.

“I don’t know why my heart is pounding,” I said.  “It’s just a flashlight.”

“Open it!”

I unscrewed the end, and as we expected, there were no batteries inside.  There was a wad of cloth.  I removed and unrolled it, and in the middle, was a key.

I held up the key.  “I’m pretty sure this is to a safe deposit box.”  I nodded as I examined the key.  “I know the bank.  We’ll go see what’s in the box, first thing in the morning.”

Mikki nodded.  And we were too wired to turn in.  Mikki decided to stay over and head home to freshen up in the morning.

She met me at the designated bank.

I panicked for a split second when the manager asked for my name.  But when I told her, she didn’t point and call me thief.  She checked her list of approved names, nodded, asked to see my identification, then smiled when all checked out, and waved us into the vault area.

When she left us alone, I cleared my throat and shook my head.  “This is not what I expected to be doing this morning.”

“Exciting?” Mikki asked, smiling down at the box.

“Nerve-wracking.”

I held my breath and opened the box.

Mikki furrowed her brow as she saw what was inside.  “Another key.  What do you think this one opens?”

I took the key out and set it down on the table, then lifted out a second object.  A black, multi-layered disc that looked like some machine part.  I held it up and raised my brows as I looked at Mikki.  She shrugged and shook her head.  We would figure out what it was later.  For now, I lifted out what was lying underneath the key and disc.  A folded piece of paper.  I unfolded it.  It was a legal-sized sheet on which was printed a section of what appeared to be a larger blueprint.  My eyes widened.

“What is it?” Mikki asked.

“An invitation.”

There was an inset containing a floorplan that I recognized.  The first floor of the Fabronical Factory.  The blueprint was of a series of rooms located one story underneath that first floor.

Mikki gaped at the blueprint.  “Are you serious?”  She looked up at me.  “A secret…underground…lab.”

There was a spot marked with an asterisk.

I lifted the key that we’d found in the safe deposit box.  “I have a feeling we’ll find the lock that matches this key where ‘x’ marks the spot.”

***

This time when we walked into the factory, we didn’t run into other trespassers.  We didn’t run into fake cops.  We didn’t run into vigilant dogs.  We still tread carefully.  We still looked around every corner.  We made our way to the entrance of the secret underground laboratory, and when we came upon it, I gave a silent and humorless laugh.

It was behind that fridge in the breakroom.  There was a truly foul odor coming from the fridge as soon as we opened the door to the room.  The first deterrent to intruders.  The second was the fridge itself.  It wasn’t heavy, but it took both of us to shuffle it out of the space.  And once we did, we encountered the third deterrent, a blank wall.  There was no knob, no seam, no apparent doorway.  We felt along the exposed surface and found nothing.  I consulted the blueprint and saw something I hadn’t noticed before.  There was a symbol for an outlet.  I found the outlet, near the floor, hidden behind the cabinet, just out of view.  It was a false outlet, the cover hiding an old-fashioned keypad.  I typed in the code written on the blueprint, and without a sound, the wall before us slid open to the left.

The door closed automatically after we stepped through.  There was another panel on the other side of the door.  This one was at chest level and it wasn’t covered by any fake covers.  We left one of our lanterns beside the door.

We followed the blueprint map down the hallway, which turned at a right angle.  Dim light surrounded us, brightening as we walked to the end of that hallway to an elevator and a stairwell.  We opted for the stairwell, even though we could see that the elevator had power.

There was a light layer or dust and a cobweb here or there, but for the most part, the area was clean, and the air, while still, was also clean.

We exited into a hallway where there were rooms with windows.  We glanced in as we passed.  They appeared empty, but the lights within weren’t on, so I couldn’t see all the way in.  They felt empty though.

We finally reached the area that was marked by the asterisk on the map.  We looked inside the window.  It was a larger suite.  There was a panel outside the door.  I touched it and it activated the lights within.  The double doors folded inward.

We stepped in, glancing around.  There were a few lab benches on the opposite side of the room.  Empty shelves lined the walls.  In the center of the room was a large chamber, like one of those hyperbaric chambers for people with decompression sickness.  There were cables and pipes leading away from the chamber to what looked like a control console a few feet away.

Mikki and I walked side by side toward the chamber.  There was someone inside.  We could see that before we got halfway to it.

I swept my gaze over the chamber and the associated control console.  There were some lights blinking, something whirred from underneath the chamber, but the screen on the console was dark.

We both stood beside the chamber and peered down at the figure that lay within.  She was human.  Not a hybrid.  Not a disembodied torso.  A whole human.  And we both recognized her.

Mikki put a hand to her forehead.  “Holy….now we know where she’s been all these years.  This is why no one has heard from her.”  Mikki took a bracing breath.  “This was the next step.  They never gave up on their research.  Whole-body preservation.  Suspended animation.  Is it cryonics?  Or something else?  She looks so young.”

“There,” I pointed to a shelf full of bound volumes.  There was also a computer station.

“We should report this, right?  We should tell someone.”

I shook my head, not in negation, but in disbelief and uncertainty.

While Mikki checked the shelves, I checked the console.  I pulled out the key that we’d found in the safe deposit box, looking for any slot into which it might fit.  It was a simple key, and antique-looking.  I frowned.  I didn’t think I’d find the slot for that key in the machines.

“If they could preserve organs,” Mikki said, “why not a whole human being?  Oh wait a minute, I found some kind of summary…it says ‘executive summary.’  Okay, animal studies…there wasn’t enough data to show that the technology was safe for whole-body preservation.  What worked for an organ wouldn’t necessarily work for an organism.  They did simulations.  The “retrieval” rates—meaning the percentage of times that a person was taken out of suspension with minimal to no issues—were too low…”

Mikki went silent for a while as she continued reading whatever she’d found.  I did a quick once-over of the suspension chamber and the console machine that seemed to control it.  Then I shifted my gaze around the room.

A desk.  There was a desk in the far corner.

“Listen to this,” Mikki said.  “’The whole is greater than the sum of its parts.  And we were not able to preserve the whole.’  The scientists who were involved in the project shut it down, saying that more research needed to be done before they could proceed with the suspension tech for whole-body preservation.  But…it did do wonders for organ preservation, and that’s what they made their business, until manufactured organs became a thing.”

I glanced over to her as I strode toward the desk.  “They started with whole-body?  And went to single organs after?”

“Looks like it.”

There.  The top drawer of the desk.  It had a lock.  I exhaled through my lips and slipped the key in the lock.  It fit.  Behind me, I heard Mikki pulling out a chair.  I heard her set the heavy volume she’d been holding down on one of the lab benches.

I twisted the key and opened the drawer.

A few scattered papers lay inside, yellowing papers with faded ink.  And there was a small box, about the size of my palm.  I read the message scratched on the lid of the wooden box.

I am alive.  I am dead.

I glanced back at the suspension chamber and glanced down again at the box.

“I’m going to need more time with this,” Mikki said.

I flipped open the lid of the box.  There were two items inside.  A slip of cardstock with a message.  And a photograph.  I stared at both.

I closed the drawer and walked back to where Mikki was sitting, flipping through the volume she’d found.  She glanced up at me before returning her gaze to the volume.  “Found something?”

“I know what she wants now,” I said. I held up the card. “I’ve just been recruited.”

Mikki looked up at me.  “Into what?”

I turned to the suspension chamber.  “To be her new guardian.”

I showed Mikki the message on the card.

Wake me, it said.  When the time comes.

“How the heck are you supposed to know when to wake her?”

“When they find a cure.”

“What?”

I handed Mikki the second item from the box.  The photograph.

“This isn’t Alectrona.” I said.

It made sense now.  According to all the biographies I’d found of Alectrona Fabron, she’d lost her daughter to a rare illness, five years before a treatment was found for the illness, a treatement that led to 99% survival rates.  But the woman lying in that chamber was most definitely Alectrona’s daughter.  Her arms were bare and she had a distinctive birthmark in the crook of her left elbow.  Both women’s arms were bare in the photograph too.  And they looked very much alike, but if one looked just a bit closer, one could tell the difference.

“I don’t get it,” Mikki said.  “If she succeeded in putting her daughter in suspension, to save her from dying until a cure could be found, why didn’t she wake her when that cure was found?”

“It would have been when the factory was in decline,” I said.  “That industrial accident.  How much do you want to bet it had something to do with putting her in suspension?”

“Okay, but that would mean the cure came out after…oh…they found the cure after Alec Fabron disappeared.”

I felt something churning in my gut now.  And it wasn’t fear.

“Whatever happened to Alec Fabron, she either suspected it was going to happen, or she created this back-up plan to keep her daughter safe, a plan for someone else to wake her daughter up.”

“You,” Mikki said.  “That fake cop didn’t want to hand the flashlight to me.  He was told by someone to hand it to you.”

“But why me, I wonder.”  But even as I wondered, I knew it didn’t matter.  I was committed.

“She must have set up some system, some algorithm or something to search for the right person.  Or if she’s still alive, maybe she had to flee the country, and has been watching the place, and chose you herself.  She’d be in her eighties, right?”

I peered at the woman in the chamber.  “She’s putting her child’s life in my hands.”

“Must be one hell of an algorithm.”

“If we wake her up, and she survives the revival process,” I said, “we’ll have to decide what to do about this.”  I gestured to the strange chamber.

“Wait, you’re actually thinking of doing this yourself?  We don’t know the first thing about this technology.  We would have to gather experts—“

“Flip over the card.”

Mikki flipped the card over.

With a kiss.  That was the message on the card.  And I had seen something on the side of the suspension chamber when I was searching for a slot for the key.  A rounded recessed slot right in the center with an acronym printed over it.  K. I. S. S.  Keep it simple, silly.  (Or ‘stupid,’ if one is being harsh.)

Mikki studied the recess.  It seemed to lead to a tube running around the inside of the chamber that led straight to back of the woman’s neck.  “It’s a delivery device.”

I pulled the cartridge from my breast pocket.  The one we’d found in the safety deposit box.  “I’m pretty sure I know what’s in here now.”

“The cure.”  Mikki breathed out the words.

“Mikki…you should—“

“Don’t say ‘you should go.’  You know I’m not going anywhere.”  She sighed.  “Except…probably to jail.  When the real cops find us, after this all goes wrong.  It might have been less horrific if we had found body parts down here instead.”

“Here goes everything,” I said.  I placed the cartridge in the slot, and before I could wonder if I needed to turn anything, I heard a click, and the cartridge began to turn and sink into the recess.

“How will we know if the cure worked?  Or the revival?” Mikki asked.  And as she spoke, the dark screen on the control console lit up.  Several “viability factor” readings appeared on the screen.

“I hope she doesn’t go crazy and kill us,” Mikki said.

We both stepped back.

But then we saw another readout on the console.  The revival countdown.

“Seven hours?” Mikki said.  “Well, that gives us time to find something to defend ourselves with.”

I gazed at the woman lying in the chamber, helpless and at our mercy.   I exhaled.  “Okay, but maybe we should also find a wheelchair, and some clothes or blankets.”

“I’m glad I grabbed some granola bars on our way out, but we should check in with someone.  Do you think we can risk leaving her to go upstairs?”

I pulled my phone out.  “I don’t think we’ll need to.”  Somehow, we had reception down there.  “We’ll need an ambulance in seven hours.”

“And then?”

“And then we’ll tell everyone we solved the mystery of the haunted factory.”

“Did we?”

My phone began to ring.  Mikki and I exchanged a glance.  It was becoming a familiar gesture.  The number was listed as “private.”

But as I glanced between the suspension chamber, the little wooden box, and the photograph of the family who had built the factory under which I stood, I had a pretty good guess as to who it might be.

 

Copyright © 2018  Nila L. Patel.

One thought on “The Strange Chamber

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