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Screams echoed down the hall.
Blank walls, bathed in static white light, reached up around William. A single metal door awaited him at the end of the hall. He stepped out of the mag-lift service elevator and out onto floor M—
The level below the basement.
The terrible yelling stopped.
William moved down the hall, looking up at the metal door that stood in his path. Colorful signs plastered its surface, with little pictures in each of them. The biggest one was bright red, big block letters contrasting with black.
“Ree-str-ic-ted?” William tried sounding out in his eight-year-old voice. He wasn’t sure he’d heard that word before. A deep hum vibrated throughout his bones the closer he got to the door.
William pressed the button at the doors’ side and it whooshed open, revealing a ramp. Sound assaulted his ears immediately, the hum shaking his chest now. Strange squishes and wet squelches came from ahead. William noticed the big M-Level sign on the wall next to him.
I’m really far down, William thought. He wondered if his babysitter would be able to find him this time! Lately, he’d been trying to run away from all the sitters his dad gave him. His dad didn’t seem to care, though– as long as William stayed out of his hair.
William thought about his mom and felt a twinge of uncertainty in coming down here. He was pretty sure he wasn’t supposed to be sneaking around the service shafts… They were only meant for his father’s employees and QOL droids. Mom, unlike Dad, would care if she found out. Should he turn around now?
His curiosity got the better of him.
The humming became rumbling– so powerful William could feel it in his teeth.
What was that squishing noise?
A blue light flashed ahead and a loud zapping noise hurt William’s ears. Then there was some kind of gurgling, almost… voice-like sound coming from ahead. Was it an animal? Who had been yelling so loud, earlier?
He finally got to the top of the ramp and came out onto the floor of a huge room, big enough to fit an entire star transport inside.
At its center was something that made William’s stomach twist.
A massive sphere, suspended above the ground by what William assumed were grav-lifts, floated in the center of the room. It was made out of… well, William wasn’t sure. The ball was formed from some kind of mix of everything.
Tree bark shifted along some edges, with leaves poking out at wacky angles. It constantly changed, swirling back into itself over and over again, revealing strange new surfaces. In some places, plants peeked out of the ball of mass. In others, it looked like animal hide was being shifted around inside the sphere. It all blended together in a gross, fleshy swirl.
A baby started wailing desperately, somewhere.
That was… strange. Why was there a baby down this far in his dad’s business tower? William couldn’t tear his eyes from the sphere of unnatural life, but he began to walk around it, pressing his back to the wall so as to keep as far from the thing as possible.
William felt sick, for some reason. His little eight-year-old hands shook.
Huge rods of steel pointed at the sphere from every corner of the cavern. William watched as a tree branch stretched far out from the sphere, and the room hummed with energy. In a blue flash, electricity arced out from one of the rods and zapped the tree branch, like a scolding hand. William’s ears rang. The singed tree branch shrank back into the mass of life and was swallowed up by a boar’s… side-leg-face?
William wanted to go. But he couldn’t force himself to leave. He was mesmerized.
William proceeded in his path around the twisted ball. It reminded William of the model-planets he sometimes played with at school– except this was nearly the size of a small house.
The tree bark surface shifted, cracked, and swirled away, revealing another section of the mass William had not seen yet. It looked like a quilt with skin-tone patchwork coloring its outer shell.
The hairs on the back of William’s neck raised.
A limb stuck out of the flesh-ball, a human elbow twisted oddly out of shape. As William stared, he saw more body parts shifting and swirling out from under a red, blood-colored deeper layer.
A hand protruded outwards, clawing at the flesh surrounding it, and then was swallowed up into the mass of life.
William’s ears finally stopped ringing from the zap earlier. There was still a baby crying, somewhere. Its wails were only getting worse. The squelching noise he’d heard earlier was coming from all of the different bodies trying to resurface, only to be swirled back into this unnatural ball-form. Panic began to set in to William’s skin. Were there… people in this thing? Somebody had to stop this!
Finally, he saw the source of the crying. A tiny baby’s head was half-submerged into the fleshy mass of the sphere, but it could still yell for help. It cried and cried, and William thought he could see its little chubby hand opening and closing over and over again. William tried not to cry. He had to get somebody!
“Hey! Hey! Somebody, help!” William yelled as loud as he could, faltering as he saw a glint out of the corner of his eye.
On the other side of the awful sphere was some kind of viewing station. There was a long glass window set into the side of the chamber, with what looked like a staff of QOL droids. Buttons and signs flashed in the viewing room.
Then, William noticed a door next to the viewing window. It wooshed open, and two QOL droids rolled around the unnatural mass that trapped the baby. They looked like they were coming for William. Maybe they could help!
Wait… why is this strange thing in Dad’s business tower, anyways?
And why was his QOL droid staff down here… monitoring it?
Before William could piece any of it together, the mass of life floating above him swirled and shifted. The baby was sucked inside of its core.
Faces of men, women, children–twisted and misshapen and melded together stared at William as they surfaced. Eyes blinked and twisted to focus on him.
Then they screamed.
Arms, legs, and everything else reached out from the sphere in a vain attempt at escape. William cried, falling backwards– traumatized. The QOL droids finally arrived, but the baby was gone already. The twisted forms in the sphere still needed help– but the droids just picked William up by his arms and rolled him away. They weren’t coming to help. They were coming to take William away.
William squeezed his eyes shut, but to no avail.
All he saw were the faces screaming at him…
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