Sarah had said traveling back through the portal would be ‘real uncomfortable’.
That turned out to be an incredible understatement.
An ear-splitting sound tore the room in half, and Naomi’s body shuddered so violently she felt it in each molecule. The vibration intensified, and she began to lose her fixed shape, feeling as though if she moved even a little, she would liquefy into a pool on the floor.
The sound grew more powerful, and she was pulled inward, siphoned into a single point in her body and spit out backwards in the wrong order.
As the shuddering died down, she began to feel her body again. A stinging cheek pressed against cold metal, impending bruises on wrists, hipbones digging into a hard floor.
She tested her fingers first, folding them to make sure they still moved as they were supposed to.
She tried to roll over onto her back, and found herself weighed down. Sarah was lying on top of her.
“Hey! Get off! What’s your problem?”
She shoved Sarah off her and stood up. She steadied herself against the chamber wall as a wave of dizziness washed over her.
“Hey, no need to shove. We’ve gotta be touching or the portal won’t take both of us.”
Jen was standing next to the chamber, one hand pressed to the glass, the other holding Naomi’s phone to her ear. She was speaking, but Naomi couldn’t make out what she was saying.
Sarah pulled herself to her feet and opened the door.
“After you,” she said.
Naomi left the chamber and Sarah followed.
“Yeah, they’re back!” Jen was saying. “They look like they got a little hurt… no, no, not seriously hurt, but they’ve got some cuts and scrapes. Here, I’ll give you to Naomi.”
Jen handed Naomi’s phone back to her, and Melanie’s worried voice carried over the line before Naomi had a chance to speak.
“Naomi, oh, my God, what happened to you? Jen said you disappeared, and you were gone for five minutes at least. We were so fucking scared. Are you alright? Jen said you were hurt.”
“I’m fine,” said Naomi, feeling far from fine. “I think I have a couple bruises, but nothing serious.”
“After Jen activated the machine, we ended up in this weird place,” said Naomi. “Sarah said it was the Pit she was talking about.”
“Are you alright? What happened?”
“We were attacked,” said Naomi.
“Attacked? What? Fuck. Oh, my God. By who?”
“I don’t know,” said Naomi. “There were three women who looked just like Sarah, and they attacked us almost as soon as we got there. I don’t know who they were or what they wanted, but I’m assuming Sarah does.”
She pressed the speakerphone button.
“I do. Those were my sisters,” said Sarah. “I don’t know how much Fab st59 has told you.”
Melanie’s voice became steely.
“Don’t call him that. His name is Falcon.”
“It is not,” said Sarah. “That’s a stupid name. I’m not gonna go around calling myself Ostrich or Chickadee. If I call him anything like a real name, it’s gonna be Stanley.”
“Chickadee’s kind of a cute name, actually,” said Jen.
“Stanley’s not his name either,” said Melanie.
“I mean, no,” said Sarah. “It’s not, no more than Sarah is my name. But it makes more sense than Falcon.”
Melanie’s tone lost some of its sharp edge.
“Haven’t you ever thought about choosing a real name for yourself?”
“Why is that funny?”
“You’re cute,” said Sarah. “You’re… what’s the word? Anthro-something. Anthropomorphic?”
“I’m anthropomorphic? What?”
“No, not that. I’m not thinking of the right word,” said Sarah. “It’s like when CPSI used to have these big machines that would roll around and clean the floors in the evening. People used to give them names, tell them they were doing a good job, stuff like that. That’s what you’re doing, but with me and st59. What’s the word for that?”
“Anthropomorphizing?” offered Naomi.
“Yeah! That’s it,” said Sarah. “Imaging we have human qualities just ’cause we look like people.”
“I’m not anthropomorphizing,” said Melanie. “I knew Falcon for over a year. He is a person. And so are you, Sarah.”
“I’m not,” said Sarah. “You were born, I was designed. You probably have hopes and dreams or whatever. My only purpose is to serve CPSI.”
“You must have hopes and dreams too,” said Melanie. “Isn’t there something you want? Something that doesn’t involve serving that utter shit show of a company?”
“I guess,” said Sarah. “Technically. But it doesn’t count.”
“What is it, then? What do you want?”
“Power, I guess,” said Sarah. “Fortune, power, someone beneath me I can exploit.”
Naomi turned to stare at her. Based on her experience with Sarah so far, she wasn’t exactly surprised, but it was still alarming to hear her say that so bluntly and casually.
“Fuck. Jesus. Alright, then,” said Melanie.
“It’s probably why Mr. Clyde and I get along so well. He’s kinda the same way and I think he sees some of himself in me or something,” said Sarah. “He anthropomorphizes me too sometimes, I think.”
Naomi thought there was a wistful note in Sarah’s voice as she continued.
“With him, it’s real though. With me, it was just a design flaw in the Sarah models. It’s why the rest of my sisters were disposed of.”
“I’m sorry,” said Melanie.
“Don’t be,” said Sarah. “They were tools that were discarded when they were no longer needed. I’m not st59. I never felt any false sense of loyalty to them.”
“I don’t believe that.”
“The so-called bond between the Stanley model fabs was just another design flaw,” said Sarah. “What you’ve gotta understand is we don’t feel friendship or loyalty. Not the way you do.”
“That’s not true,” came Dominic’s voice from the phone. “He is our friend.”
“You must feel loyalty,” said Melanie. “You’re loyal to the people you work for, right? Loyal to the Clydes?“
“I guess. The Clydes, and there was someone else once, too. None of it was real, though. I can feel something like loyalty, but it’s not genuine,” said Sarah. “Us fabs, we’re like… hollowed out people, made for specific purposes. Our emotions are hollowed out too.”
Melanie paused again.
“Do you have any other wishes? Something other than power? Something that doesn’t involve hurting anyone else?”
“Nothing at all?”
“I guess…” She paused. “I guess I’d like to be a real person.”
“Are you sure it came from this direction?” said Sam.
“Yeah,” said Lachlan. “It definitely came from this way.”
“Based on how loud the sound was, we should be getting close,” said Sam. “Assuming you’re right, of course.”
“I’m always right,” said Lachlan.
Lachlan started to reach for the door in front of them.
“Wait,” said Sam.
“What is it?”
“There are voices coming from behind that door,” said Sam. “We don’t know what could be in there.”
Lachlan pressed his ear to the door. He did hear soft voices on the other side.
“Maybe it’s that girl you were looking for,” said Lachlan. “Or maybe the sound we heard was someone else getting transported here.”
“Maybe,” said Sam. “Or it could be more creatures. The one we ran into before could talk.”
Lachlan held his ear to the door. He couldn’t hear what the voices were saying, but they sounded normal enough.
“They sound human to me,” said Lachlan.
He knocked on the door.
“Knock knock! Hello, potential murder rectangles. We humbly request entry into what is almost certainly another crummy room identical to the one in which we are currently standing.”
“Stop it!” said Sam. “Anything could be in there–“
The door opened, and a woman peeked through.
She looked to be in her mid or late twenties, with tan skin and dark brown hair. She didn’t look like she’d just been pulled into this place; if her tattered, stained jumpsuit and matted hair were anything to go by, she’d been stranded for a long time.
Something about her face was very familiar, but Lachlan couldn’t place it.
“By all means,” she said. “Please come in.”
She turned back, addressing someone else in the room they couldn’t see.
“Sisters, come look at what I found.”
“What is it?” responded someone in the room.
The woman’s face spread into a grin as she turned back to Lachlan and Sam.
“A consolation prize.”