Popsioak Vent

Tap. Tap.

Your steps reverberate against the halls, one after another as you continue towards the steel monolith that is the door set into the wall in front of you. Uninviting and cold, it did little to reassure you, instead giving off that aura of wrongness that most doors in the Site seemed to emanate. As if they declared, 'No, what is in here ought not to exist. As if it were created because God decided to abandon all hope, when they had entered here. You sigh. Another day on the job, with no time for such regular but unnecessary pessimism. You try to swallow it in. At least the coffee this morning was good.

Your eyes flickered to the black, sprayed-on paint lining the top of the door. Testing Chamber, it mercilessly declared. A sharp contrast to the fabric of your suit. Once ivory white, it's stained the color of bloodshed and grime, as age-old stains line your lapel, your coattails, and practically every square inch. Up and down, and up and down. You can recall the origin of each. The brown stain under your third button was the long-forgotten, dried blood from D-19871. The small red mark under your lapel was the nosebleed of D-98716 after his return from that mountain. You wonder where Cyrus went after his ascent. You haven't seen him in quite awhile.

Tap. Tap.

You feel a gentle, but firm prodding on the back of your spine. It seems that during your dreaming, you drifted a tad off course. The guard urges you ahead with no more than a raised eyebrow. Or at least, that's what you think they'd do. The helmets don't provide much room for 'interpretation of emotion.' The guard's rifle stays jabbed into that awkward spot till your hand is on the entrance of the observation wing. As you grasp the doorknob, the pressure relieves itself. Sighing once more, you begin your ascent up the stairs.

As you finish your Everest of stair flights, you notice the test has already begun. Oh, who were you kidding? No one would wait for a Junior Researcher, much less a newly assigned one. They probably figured it'd be easier to just fill you in on the way. The Head's already started. As you adjust your clip bearing your name that hangs from your coat pocket, the Head gives you a worried look.

"D'you need a laundromat? You know on the fourth floor that-" they begin, lines creasing their face in an expression of worry and distaste. It was a face that seemed to follow you everywhere you went. It never fit on each person's face you saw it on. Your parents. Your teacher. Your bosses. It always seemed to be too big. Too small. Or just plain wrong, as if the angry yet disappointed expression had to find its perfect host. 'Oh, oh no. What a foolish idiot you are. Don't you notice you're wallowing in your own incompetence?' it seemed to taunt. No. No, the Head could not have been, must not have been coming from anywhere except genuine concern. You dismiss this as nothing but paranoia.

"Yes. I know. I see my coat." You curtly reply.

"Oh. That's good. Clipboard's over there, check out the file."

You do so. This one's a spatial anomaly. Ooh, a new type! You typically dealt in humanoid ones before, though you were swiftly removed from those. "Overexpression of sympathy," they said. It was a phrase you understood. Quickly poring over its effects, you see that it's nothing more than a simple, Safe-class spatial anomaly. Those which look at it cannot look away.

Hmph. Why do they need a four person observation team then? Just install some security came-

Oh. You eventually notice the bit that's unredacted. It appears that for each second that they do look at it, the more that the mass of the observer increases, eventually creating a sort of bearable-singularity at the observer's center of mass. You're amazed that the current testing subject hasn't sunken loads of meters into the ground, with what the weight of that would do to you.

The Head seems to detect your question. "You see, though by all means, you'd think a type of black hole or other singularity would devour that person from the inside out. And they have, before we shoved SRAs in that thing. Though, this is only the third test, yet despite looking at it for an absolutely absurd amount of time, zilch has happened. Zero, zip, nada."

Huh. How peculiar. You browse over the rest of the testing logs - well, the two of them - and see that what the Head's saying matches up with those. Minor singularities were created at the subject's upper left ventricle, but they were quickly dealt with. 'Man, science is amazing,' you think. It appears both subjects needed an open heart surgery afterwards, but that's nothing compared to the possible end of the world as you know it.

You sit in one of the nearby rolling chairs, and after a spin or two (with the odd glare from the Head), you settle on watching the test. The Head assures you that the space is perfectly alright to watch from here. "Protective glass," they say. Though you don't know how much an extra centimeter of glass or so'd do to protect you from a possibly world-ending anomaly. But you decide to take them at their word: they are Head for a reason, after all.

As you look at the anomaly, your eyes widen. It's not much larger than a hand mirror, barely bigger than your palm. This is the deadly anomaly? This little thing? Though, the current subject did appear to be staring at it intently. It wasn't much more than a small black sphere. Perfectly reflective, and hovering at eye level. As if someone used Vantablack on the fabric of reality itself.

You look towards the subject. Gaunt and looking like someone that should really have crawled into a grave ten years prior, it appears that the subject had somehow subsisted off of eating literally nothing at all, other than the odd fly that would crawl into his mouth. Piles upon piles of food lay stacked in a corner, perfectly fine and ready to eat.

"You- does he- does anything happen here?" You find yourself saying. 'Ugh,' you think. 'You could be a tad more professional.' "No, not much," the Head replies. "Just stares. And stares. Though, occasionally, we do get the odd blink or two. Absolutely riveting," they say with an eyeroll.

You're surprised. Insulted, even, at the fact that they demoted you to this? Perhaps they really do truly hate you. That you're not quite certain who to trust. Perhaps you'd be booted out of the site soon. This was a form of final farewell, as if the world was saying "Sorry, but looks like this's all you'll accomplish. Inadequacy, buddy." You dread that fate.

Your eyes return to the man staring at the sphere. "Hey, Head Researcher?" You pipe up. Maybe kissing up to this one's ass would serve you well. Perhaps not. "What?" they reply. "Is there- is it possible to get a closer view?" Their eyes fixate on you, dumbfounded for a moment. "You're telling me you want to get a closer look at quite possibly, the thinnest man to surpass Flat Stanley, when all he does is stare?"

"Yes," you utter timidly.

"Alright, go ahead." A view on a nearby TV that was blaring some mindless news earlier now shows a close up view of the man's face, dead on, as if the camera was poking out of the space itself. Perhaps it was. It's impossible to tell with the Foundation, you remind yourself. Yikes, does this guy look dead. Perhaps he is. No, wait, no he isn't. That was most definitely a blink you saw there. Your eyes study his cheeks, receded inwards due to the lack of food, then to his eyes, sullen and gray. His ribs peek through his faded orange jumpsuit, as you notice the numbers on that are embroidered upon them. "9-8-7-1-6." Wait.


That's Cyrus.

Immediately, you can feel your stomach drop further towards… your stomach. Your hands begin to shake, almost violently, as you grab the mic. You attempt to say something, anything, but what comes out is nothing more than an "Uhm…" D-98716, no, Cyrus, makes no response. You recall the first time you'd met him. A surprisingly adventurous and lively fellow for someone who'd been on Death Row not too long before. He simply explained it away as a form of coping mechanism, as humor. As if there was something funny to be found in this soulless place, this cabinet of life taken away.

"Cyrus? Cyrus, can you hear me?" You ask over the mic.

"Hey! Wh- What are you doing?" the Head requests. "Do you realize the amount of paperwork we're gonna have to fill about this?"

"Eh," you reply. "Paperwork, schmaperwork."

You see Cyrus blink once, almost as a response.

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