November 26, 1998:
Lament frowned at the glass, looking at the hovering box beyond it with some odd mixture of reverence and fear. It was… disturbing… to see it for the first time. He wasn’t part of the crew of soldiers who risked their lives for it on a daily basis. He wasn’t even one of the primary researchers assigned to the project. He was just the guy trying to keep them safe. Trying and failing, currently.
“The magnetic fields are working, but the corrosion is still spreading. It's like mold… We thought we had him locked up until he ate Grange last night,” the researcher said. The speakers made an odd whining sound, and Lament winced, losing his thought. Thankfully.
"How'd he manage that?" It was Sandlemyer who spoke. "I thought we had all the same safety protocols still in place on this thing."
The researcher shrugged a little. "We lose one or two people every coupla weeks with this thing. Regardless…"
Lament frowned, a pit forming quickly in his stomach. Failure didn't feel good, no matter how expected or anticipated it was. Especially when dealing with the deaths of fellow agents. He knew 106 was going to be a problem, but he didn't realize how much of one.
The speakers made another loud, mind crippling screech, sounding like painfully loud feedback. "Damn," Lament muttered, covering his ears.
"Eh. They go on the fritz all the time," the researcher continued. "We try to replace them, but it doesn't seem to do any goo— "
The alarms suddenly blaring made Lament glad that he'd covered his ears a moment before. He turned, looking at one of the screens. "The repulsors are going down!" he shouted. "Evacuate!"
But the researcher was already yelling into the microphone. The order went out, just as Sandlemyer reached over and flipped off the alarms in the booth, all three men turning to look out the window as the huge, rotting metal box fell the bottom of the containment chamber, cracking open.
The speakers whined again, loudly for a moment, then cut out. And a low, dark, broken laugh slowly filled the silence.
"He. He. He. He. Hee…"
When he was finally able to look back on the day without some sort of breakdown, Lament was certain the reports were wrong. That the hours and hours he felt couldn't have been minutes. That the door to that containment unit should not have been open. That the entire thing couldn't have been orchestrated just to fuck with him. But the mouse never really understands the true motivations of the cat.
Sometimes it's hungry. Sometimes, it just wants to play.
Lament pivoted quickly, running as fast as he could, Sandlemyer quickly on his heels. He was breathing hard, painfully hard, his chest close to bursting as he looked desperately for any point of escape. The alarms were blaring, guns firing at walls, at nothing, at everything.
An explosion behind him had the floor shaking hard enough that he fell. In a moment, Sandlemyer's arm closed around his arm, dragging Lament back to his feet and sending both of them down a narrow straightaway.
"He. He. He. He. Hee."
It was coming over the speakers everywhere now, echoing against his teeth and shaking his jaw. "Jesus Christ," Sandy muttered, panting and out of breath as he looked over his shoulder. "Fuck. It's coming this way Lament. It's coming this way!"
He didn't bother looking back. Training was kicking in, and he was running. There were no people who survived exposure to 106. At least, none who survived for long. The straightaway ended in a dark doorway, and as Lament stepped into it, he pulled out his revolver and fired two shots down the hall at the advancing 'man,' prompting another of those broken, painful to hear laughs. "He. He. He. He. Hee."
"God damn it," Lament muttered. "Get in, Sandy," he ordered. "Jesus, just get into the damn room!"
Sandlemyer dashed in first, followed by Lament turned, pawing desperately for a light switch for a moment, then feeling cold metal slap under his hand. Cold metal that felt rounded and damp. Pipes. And next to it, another. Sandlemyer's flashlight blazed to life, and Lament immediately recognized where they were at.
The pipes. Gears had mentioned them as a plausible, future containment issue, but he hadn't realized…
They twisted and turned on each other, coining one about the other. It wasn't as he'd imagined it—strict, orderly plumbing—but instead a roving cephalopod nightmare. "Look for the widest opening," he ordered quickly, slapping the door control and backing away from it as the metal started to blacken and rot.
"Go… Go!" he shouted.
He knew there were more entrances and exits within the mass. You just had to find them. Find them and desperately hope. They were both running again, the flashlight jerking along, jumping and shaking as they fled the terrible, old man.
"Hee. He. He. He. Hee."
They ran for hours, panting. And it always sounded closer. Closer and closer to them. At one point, Lament thought he felt something graze the sleeve of his jacket, and the mere possibility of 106 sent adrenaline rushing through his body. Every time it seemed to burn out, there was something else. A laugh. A scent of rot. Eyes in the dark.
Again and again. Pursuing. Chasing.
And then, they finally spotted another source of light. One of the Foundation floodlamps that were always placed near the other exits.
They both ran toward it, lungs burning as Lament hurried to the door panel, typing in his emergency code.
He stared at it. Then entered it again.
"He. He. Hee. He. Hee."
"Lament… Lament, what is the fucking problem?!"
"It's not opening!"
"Hee. Hee. He. Hee. He."
He felt like crying. He entered it again and again, slapping the buttons harder and harder each time. "You son of a bitch. Open you son of a bitch!"
He felt it more than he saw it. It was an oppressive feeling, like someone standing right behind you, breathing down your neck. Someone with a knife, or a gun, or claws, someone who would hurt you, kill you, cut you, and laugh while they did it.
"Hee. He. He. Hee. He."
He turned. He looked at it. Moldy, rotten skin. Sunken, dead eyes. Yellowed, broken teeth. Lank, greasy hair fell around the sides of its head.
It took a step forward.
"God damn you."
Lament turned and emptied the rest of the shells into its head to no effect. "He. Hee. He. Hee. He."
"Jesus… Oh Jesus, we're gonna die…" Sandlemyer panted.
It was in arms reach as Lament, tears running down his face, slammed the keys a final time.
And the door opened.
He was through it in a second, into the exit chamber, looking back. "Sandy!"
106's hand closed on the back of Sandlemyer's neck as he turned and stepped through the door, squeezing for a moment. Sandlemyer's hand shot out to Lament, reaching for him, begging for help, but as Lament dove for it, 106 was pulling him away, pulling him into the recesses of the pipes, into hell and damnation.
Lament raised his gun, took quick aim at Sandlemyer, and did what he hoped any other agent would do for him in a similar situation. He pulled the trigger.
The hammer fell on the empty cartridge with a hollow click. And then they were both gone, and Lament was staggering back against the wall, sliding down it, staring into the mass of pipes.
When they found him, it had been seven minutes since 106 had breached containment.