This routine mission is feeling less “routine” all the time. The complex that was so archaic above ground has given way to state of the art equipment below and the insistence for someone of my expertise is becoming more apparent. If I wasn't such an idealist I'd turn around right now; I can't think of a pay-check high enough to make me want to find out what's behind the metallic doors. For something subterranean the proportions just aren't right. The headroom is pushing twenty feet and the width would take the interstate no problem. The cost of this extra space makes no sense, not when you're this deep in rock. You'd never know it though, if you woke up here this could be some windowless penthouse maze, but it isn't.
Whatever diversion Kiki cooked up has worked, there hasn't been any resistance at all. The silence is so absolute that my breathing is loud to my ears and I notice every step onto the highly polished walkway. There is a retina scan of course, but Kiki takes care of these things. One pickled eyeball and I get the gentle hiss of pneumatic doors.
In this dimly lit laboratory nothing but the machines meets my first gaze. There is no movement and no odour of any kind. There are lights, but like the stars in a night sky they do little to lift the blackness, showing only the activity of the hardware - plasma screens of gigantic proportions with text that's too far away to make sense of. Though I am inside, the feeling is more of being in a high tech cave the size of a stadium, black metallic roof above, black metallic floor below. Every footfall echoes around, not loudly, but enough to give away my position to anyone who happens to be concealed in here. For a moment I consider skirting around the edges, then I stop - stop moving, stop breathing, while my heart speeds up to olympic sprinter rate. What I had thought to be a movie theatre sized screen is nothing of the sort.
In that suspended moment, a fraction of a second drawn out to infinity, my brain offers an explanation and yet rejects it simultaneously. This is the stuff of science fiction, of movies, of horror. The "television" is a tank of murky liquid. What I had perceived to be a poor image is a life sized version of the toy I used to keep on my bedroom window sill as a child - a T-rex. It floats, corpse-like, but it can't be dead. To its mouth runs a shiny metal tube as thick as a car exhaust but gently arced to insert into the beast's mouth. I suck in sharp breath of the dust-less air, suddenly seeming so thick and step forwards for a better look.
Around his prehistoric neck is a metal shackle and the same are fastened around both legs while his tiny arms are free. His skin is more like a fairy-tale dragon than any dinosaur I ever dreamt of, pinkish, purple, scaled. Yet in that mouth must be teeth more than a match the body armour I've always found so adequate. He isn't alone either, casting my eyes upward there are at least thirty tanks, the same iridescent green haze but perhaps half the size. All of them with a less developed occupant. I've never even daydreamed what a fetal dinosaur might look like, now I don't have to.
From this distance I suppose they could be anything, pale and twisting flesh in every orientation; but in my mind there is no doubt at all. The monitor to my right shows a rotating image of the behemoth before me and in my suspended disbelief I almost stumble over a pipe that snakes across the room, black with the girth of a sewer pipe and made of such small sections like some plastic exoskeleton. Before I can formulate any plan, any notion of what to do next, the closed eye snaps open. In those folds of thick skin, it is a tiny yellow orb, but with an intensity that washes me cold.
Three options: flight, fright or freeze. I freeze every time. A front row seat to my own thriller end. He blinks, squirms, backbone flexing, uncomfortable with the tube that is his life support. In this state he is no more threatening than a kitten waking from anaesthesia, but it can't last long. With one sideways flick that car -sized skull breaks the glass showering everything around with glass and saline. I can't tell what happens next, everything jumbles in my head: his nostrils flare, the shackles break and he walks...free... striding forwards...
His clawed foot scrapes over the jagged edge of what was his "amniotic" tank. The violent sound of crushing metal rents the air with a shower of sparks. Whatever is underneath is no longer operational. With lungs full of this sterile air his salty breath creates humid vortexes; while his head moves side to side to assess his “world.” He hasn't the brain for reason, but instead simply a primal sense of rage twined with an indomitable will to survive.
His nascent roar fills this modern pit of microchips, speaking straight to my own primal centre. Despite the ambient temperature my skin is icy, all blood diverted to core organs. That's when the adrenaline hits such a fever pitch that “freeze” isn't going to cut it anymore. Apparently “flight” is the new order of the day, but not slowly like a conscious choice. My legs explode into violent motion. The pneumatic doors with their clinical hiss are five metres, perhaps less; but in the instant I feel my own motion I hear his footfalls and quakes under-boot. All I can do is pray that this “baby” isn't co-ordinated yet...