The cold unforgiving tiled floor impacted my jaw as my body suddenly went limp. I opened my eyes and my vision swam. As my world finally came back into focus, I lifted my head and groaned. I turned and glanced at the tank mounted on the wall which I had fallen out of and sighed. DOM had killed me again.
Gripping my throbbing head, I curled up on my side and squeezed my eyes shut tight. Maybe if I squeezed hard enough I could will my soul out of this cursed existence. I heard his standard-issued boots clacking against the tiles as he walked across the room toward me.
"Get up." He said flatly.
"Go away Alan. Just let me die alone." I mumbled around my arms holding my head. The next thing I felt was his boot's steel toe kicking me in the side. I felt my rib crack and flinched but didn't get up. He could kick me until oblivion, until all that was left under his heel was a pile of pink mush. I didn't care, I had dealt with worse. I used to think that I was alone in this chamber and that Alan and the others were just figments of my broken and molested mind until the first time Alan hit me. I mean, figments couldn't break bones, bruise flesh, or choke the very life from me could they?
Kneeling down so that he was right next to my head he whispered: "You're gonna have to get up eventually. You know it; I know it, so why not stop this pointless 'I give up' charade and get back to work?"
"It can't be done. We've tried everything. He might as well just stay there on the floor," another voice murmured from the doorway.
Alan rose and moved back across the room. I opened my eyes to see him punching Scott to the floor. Poor pitiful Scott, he gave into DOM's rule before all of us. His now defeatist outlook has only given Alan a reason to target him. Alan knows he's weak, and Alan wants to push him to the brink and then over it. I think he just wants to see if he can get Scott to take his own life.
"Why don't you just go die in a corner you piece of shit." Alan spat in disgust and bloodied Scott's face with the heel of his boot. Hank, who had been leaning against the far wall, sprang up smiling widely and took over for Alan in the beating of Scott into the floor. Hank. The physical embodiment of every battle-crazed warrior and bloodlusting barbarian all wrapped up in one muscled silent package. It was his silence that scared me more than anything, the way his eyes could tell you all the vile and twisted things he wanted to do to you while his mouth didn't even move, but only smiled.
Then I felt Julia's hand caressing the side of my head. I turned my view away from the carnal violence of the next room and looked again into the most beautiful face I have ever seen. She smiled at me and then began helping me to my feet with a simple: "Come on. You need to eat something."
Julia carried me past the rows of chrome chambers each containing another identical copy of me suspended in the familiar green liquid I always find myself waking up to. No matter how many times I've looked, there were never anyone else's faces in those tanks. I always just found myself staring into a murky green mirror. I shuddered and moved with her into the next room. The stark white walls made of the same cold tile as the floor burned into my retinas. Every room I have ever been in here had had the same walls, the same fluorescent lights and the same black orbs in the room corners. DOM. The facility's supercomputer. Always watching me. Always making notes on my progress. Always silent.
Julia and I shuffled across the room over to where a white vinyl couch and a white end table sat bolted into the floor. These two items were the only things in this room which we had come to call Home. Those and the Door, a silenk dark obelisk which stood in the center of the far wall; it wasn't just black, it was nightmare incarnate. A black so deep light seemed to sink into it and disappear. I tapped the end table, which was really more of a cube, and like always a small circle opened and a plastic glass containing a thick grey liquid rose up out of it. My only source of nutrition, I quickly drank the bitter vitamin shake and placed the glass back on the circle so that it could again disappear into the table.
I looked up at the Door and saw the light in the wall above it declaring this to be a Blue day. Blue meant I could be tested at random at any point during today. I thought this was unfair of DOM seeing as I had just died again, but I had learned long ago never to fight His choices for fear of Him changing it to a Red day. The last time we had instilled a Red day was the first time Eric's mind had abandoned him and all coherent thought buried itself into his subconscious. I looked over at Eric who was again in his corner scratching another of his cryptic diagrams into the wall. I walked over to him and asked:
"How are you doing, Eric?"
Not stopping he muttered: "Baby in the cauldron fell, see the grief on Mother's brow; Mother loved her darling well, Darling's quite hard-boiled now." He then stopped as if to consider what he had just said and giggled maniacally to himself before going back to his work. I slowly walked away and sighed:
"Alright then I'll see you later."
"Father heard his Children scream, so he threw them in the stream, saying, as he drowned the third, Children should be seen, not heard!" Eric called over his shoulder and continued his mindless scratching. Scritch, Scritch, Scritch. I can still hear that sound when I'm alone, like Eric is there inside my mind, carving his runic diagrams and symbols into my dreams.
The deep echoing base tone cut through everything. It froze Hank in mid swing at Scott; it caused Julia to shudder uncontrollably; it pushed it's way through every surface into the very fibers of my being and echoed inside my head long after the noise itself had ceased. The only one the noise had not frozen in place was Eric who continued his work in the corner. Alan then moved slowly away from the bleeding Scott over to me. We all finally shook off the paralyzing effect of the sound and moved in front of the Door. The sound always signalled a change. In fear we all stared at the light and willed it to turn green. In columns of fiery red the word AUDIT appeared on the Door. I looked at the others in dread and they stared back each with their own wordless emotion. I stepped up to the threshold and the Door swung open to once again admit me into hell.
An audit is used by the manufacturing industry as a universal "stress test". The product being audited is pushed to all its limits until either the testing is over, or the product breaks down completely. In this case I was DOM's product; in fact I was no longer sure I ever existed outside DOM's domain of white-washed facility walls. Perhaps DOM had created me here to amuse him while he waited out the eons in this place until his power supply finally shut down.
Walking into the room DOM had reconfigured for the audit, I saw the familiar starting layout of the labyrinth of interconnecting hallways that would make up my test. The objective was simple and it was always the same: make it to the other end of the maze alive and push the red button to end the audit. I couldn't remember the first time I had ever been audited, but I imagine I must have been cocky. I had learned since that nothing in DOM's world is as simple as it appears and in this case the halls and dead ends of this maze were riddled with a menagerie of gruesome traps. Pitfalls of spikes, razor thin walls of blades you couldn't see until they sheared your nose from your face, and even surges of fire that would shoot down the halls, scorching everything in their path to a cinder. I cautiously stepped forward and the floor gave way beneath me. I soon found myself suspended in midair by some sort of invisible barrier over sets of giant rollers methodically gnashing below me. I took a moment to catch my breath and swallowed. DOM had some new tricks in store for me this time.