Gramps stalked into the room, and abruptly stopped. He lifted a hand to shield his eyes from the blinding white glare of sun on alabaster.
“Why the fuck is the roof shade open?” he inquired grumpily. Nobody replied. Gramps fumbled for the pulley that would shut the blinds, and heaved furiously until he heard something crunch overhead. He sighed deeply, and pinched the bridge of his nose. “Have to get that fixed again,” he muttered to a nonexistent maintenance staff.
At the center of the room was a sunken circle, about half the size of the chamber and waist deep. Eyes barely adjusted to the light, Gramps staggered towards the circle, tripped over the edge of a protruding console, and bit off the end of his tongue as his lower jaw met with a particularly uncomfortable-looking chair. The hunk of severed muscle landed on a rather colourful pile of iridescent hair roughly at the center of the room.
Gramps was preoccupied with a bout of cursing for several minutes before he decided it would be best to staunch the flow of blood from his mouth; it took a few minutes more for him to realize the room was entirely bare excepting the computers, his tongue, and a bunch of follicles. He began to panic slightly, raising his hands to his mouth to bite his grimy nails. He touched the false beard surrounding his mouth.
His panic slowly dissipated as he came slowly to a much graver realization.
“That isn’t my beard,” he intoned darkly, referring specifically to the one not resting on his face. He glanced towards the side of the room opposite from where he’d entered, the walls curving gently back outward and into a narrow hall, about half again the height of a man. The old man swallowed a mouthful of blood, and began tucking his beard into his mouth in a mockery of practical medical knowledge.
Piercing chirps echoed distantly from the hall, and Gramps staggered out of the recess, moving painfully towards the source. “As clichéd as this sounds, I’m getting too fucking old for this.” He mumbled angrily through a mouthful of hair.
The smooth, stone hallway was lit by a single, continuous tube mounted on the ceiling, which shone with an intensity that seemed relatively pleasing compared to the glare of the terminal room. As Gramps crossed the hall’s threshold, an inconsistent series of loud, petulant noises exploded from wherever the chirps had come from; the lights dimmed varyingly with each one. The old man thought about stopping, but decided there was little he could do in the way of investigating this strange occurrence without pressing forward.
“Tinnitus?” he called, spitting out his now-bloody goniochromic beard in the process. Nervousness leaked through in his tone, but there didn’t seem to be anyone else to hear it. His shuffling steps slowed; he lost one of his tattered slippers, but thought little of it. The chirps resumed, louder and closer than before, and Gramps noticed a low drone slowly rising in amplitude. For the first time in recent memory, he was genuinely a little worried.
Suddenly, a two-foot grey and black cube shot urgently out of a ventilation shaft above, the grating flying off at an odd angle as the object raced towards the floor, deflected, and finally came to rest roughly at eye level. “Where in the fuck have you been? There’s nobody manning the terminals!” Gramps shouted at the cube. It hovered obnoxiously for several moments, slowly rotating clockwise, before releasing a complex stream of incomprehensible noises.
“What do you mean I was just in Control? I’ve just arrived-” Gramps touched his beard again, and widened his eyes.
“Oh.” He said. “Shit. Fuck.”
The cube bleeped urgently. “Yeah, I know,” Gramps replied, “but the reactors have made that sound before. Engineering will take care of it.”
The cube made some very unhappy noises.
“Engineering is dead? What the fuck is going on here?” As an afterthought, he added, “And how long do we have before something terrible happens?” The cube chided him. “I don’t have a fucking clue how the reactors work! How the fuck would I know?”
Something hit the door at the end of the hall, and hard. This startled Gramps from his building frustration, and he put his confusion behind him as a more immediate curiosity presented itself. “Is that what I think it is?” He inquired gingerly. Gramps, not being particularly good at mathematics, spent a few moments deciphering the cube’s presentation of a dangerous-sounding percentage.
“Probably would have sufficed, Tin. Why isn’t he in Containment?” The cube regretfully informed him that Containment was also dead.
The lights flickered again. Gramps glanced around almost fearfully. “Can you get me to the conservatory before he gets through?” Tinnitus made a scraping noise that usually represented careful thought, and then replied with an affirmation followed immediately by a warning blip. The cube lowered itself, and a panel unfolded silently to form a seatback. Gramps sat obligingly, though quite stiffly.
Two more panels opened on the cube, small diagonal slits on either side of the makeshift chair. A row of thick metal cables sprung out, and tied themselves around the old man’s waist. Before Gramps could take a breath, his conveyance rocketed back down the hall the way he’d come.
He tried to take a deep breath, but the rush of air kept the old man from filling his lungs. The far-off squeal of twisting metal, followed by the dull thud of heavy footsteps, was not particularly helpful in calming the old man’s nerves. Suddenly, none of that mattered particularly as the duo smashed through the glass ceiling of the terminal room.
“I suppose it’s a good thing I didn’t close the blinds,” Gramps observed grudgingly.
His new companion did not validate this statement with a response.