“Wait wait wait wait!”
Retvik’s voice echoed down the hallway as a small, red and white robot drifted by, hovering the ground and sucking up dirt.
“What?” Kuta asked, holding a broom.
“You have cleaning robots?”
“Yeah. The whole facility is automized or automaticed or autowhatever it’s called… Automated. It’s all automated.”
Retvik stopped what he was doing and eyed Kuta, who was still holding that broom, somewhat unaware how pointless it was. “Just how far does this automation go?”
Kuta shrugged then walked off, taking the broom with him. He and Retvik were supposed to be sweeping and doing general cleaning tasks, but as soon as Retvik spotted that little robot, he found himself to be very confused.
“You do not know?”
“We were sent down here to clean things. Yet a robot just… went by, doing what we are supposed to be doing.”
Kuta shrugged some more and picked up his pace, forcing Retvik to swiftly chase after him. Occasionally he would seemingly disappear, fading into a shadow then abruptly reappearing, as if he’d forgotten something.
“This whole facility is automated?”
Kuta finally came to a stop. The two Rethans had gone up at least five flights of stairs and were now on a very small balcony, what was supposed to be a fire exit. Everything was murky and foggy, to the point that not much else could be seen aside from the rest of the facility and blankets of white clouds and mist.
“This place is so… so damn confusing… As if none of it makes any sense…” Retvik muttered, slightly out of breath. Kuta had essentially floated up the stairs, but Retvik’s heavy frame was not meant for quickly traversing narrow, steep steps.
“It is. General Litvir designed it so everything could be run by one person. Keep the place clean and tidy. Keep the mutants fed, exercised and sedated. Most of the vok here are irredeemable. Utterly broken. I nearly was.”
“He runs the facility himself. All automated. He gives us jobs to keep us busy. We are the successful ones but we are not successful enough. Most of us have killed or maimed, by accident or on purpose. We cannot be integrated back into society.”
Kuta seemed suddenly rather upset. He glanced over the thin, metal railing, down at the ground.
“I believe you could be.”
“Nah. I feed off light and can travel through shadows and make other vok soft. I am not someone who is fit to be with normal Rethans.” Kuta’s eyes remained focused on the edge, almost ignoring Retvik’s presence. “I have basically always been here. I got all excited when I thought we were going to go on an adventure then, after some research, realised I would probably die without really knowing what real life is.”
Retvik looked at Kuta, realising how small and… fragile he was. “What do you mean by that?”
“I do not remember what it is like out there. As far as I am concerned, I have always been here. Always will be.”
Kuta sighed loudly, then leaned on the railing. He continued leaning forward until he was almost hanging off the edge. Realising what Kuta was trying to do, Retvik reached out and grabbed Kuta by the shoulder, pulling him away.
“What are you doing?”
Tears started to form in Kuta’s eyes. “You would not understand. None of you understand. You never will because we cannot leave this place… The only way out is perpetual darkness!”
Retvik pulled Kuta close, holding him tightly. Kuta tried to squirm free at first, but Retvik’s unnaturally warm hug helped sooth him and calm him down.
“We will get out of here. I promise you, Kuta. There has to be a way out.”
“I tried… Only in the dark… Only with no power… We’re trapped…” Kuta’s words turned into garbled, tear-filled stutters.
“Shush now…” Retvik whispered as he scooped Kuta up in his arms and carried him back down the narrow staircase. “There is always a little hope…”