Dr. Jane Diamond adjusted the microscope carefully, seeking the elusive structure that seemed to disappear every time she attempted to look at it straight on. It, she suspected, held the key to her research, if only she could document that it really did exist, and wasn’t just a figment of her imagination. She was tautly focused on the microscope, only dimly aware of the lab around her, when something seemed to change.
Pulling back sharply, she looked around the lab, trying to put her finger on what suddenly seemed different. Lights blazed and machinery ticked and muttered quietly to itself, but the distinctive hum that always throbbed quietly through the First Genus building was silent. Something deep in the heart of the building’s core had gone dark, and she wasn’t quite sure what it was.
Releasing her brake, she wheeled briskly to the door and stuck her head out in the hallway. Silence. On a Saturday night, of course the lab would be silent. Doors to other labs were locked and the rooms behind them were dark except for the occasional bank of lights. The desk by the elevator, usually staffed by a secretary, was empty, inbox overflowing slightly with paperwork deposited over the weekend.
The ventilation system, she realised. The cool air that normally swept past her when she opened the door wasn’t moving. If there was a contaminant in the system, the alarms should have activated, but they didn’t. So, apparently, even multimillion dollar labs installed sub-par air conditioning systems that went bellyup at inconvenient moments. Rolling back to the desk, she picked up her internal phone to call the security staff downstairs to see if anyone knew what was going on, but the signal was busy.
One break is as good as another, she thought, and decided to go downstairs to eat and find out what had gone wrong with the air-con. She shut down the microscope, grabbed her purse from her office, and locked the lab behind her. Her phone chirped once, weakly; for reasons unknown to her, the damn thing never worked in the building, or, rather, it would work just enough to tell her she’d missed calls, but not enough for her to actually use it, unless she went outside. It was probably Sara, and she could return the call from the portico.
Jabbing the elevator button irritably, she waited for it to arrive. The button lit up, but the elevator shaft stayed resolutely silent. Jane frowned. Probably a handful of people were working in the building, ergo, the elevator shouldn’t be tied up. Sometimes the system turned off to save energy, but when you pressed the button, it was supposed to reactivate. She tapped her fingers restlessly on her armrest.
Reaching back to the secretary’s desk, she picked up the phone to call security again. Still busy. The elevator light glowed blankly, but there was total silence. Relishing the opportunity to zip down the hall without busybodies to fuss at her, she zoomed to the other end and the waiting dedicated freight elevator. Less dignified, perhaps, but a perfectly acceptable solution. Digging in her purse, she found the key to activate it, but while she heard the ‘click’ of the key snicking home, the freight elevator didn’t come up either.
This made no sense. The elevator systems weren’t linked. The freight elevator was always supposed to be on. Turn the key, the elevator comes. The flickering fluorescents of the hallways suddenly seemed less familiar and more ominous. Jane shook her head, trying to shake off the sudden sense of unease. A strange skittering, rustling sort of sound erupted from one of the corridors, but when she whipped her head around, she couldn’t see anything.
Stop being ridiculous, Jane, she told herself. It’s late and you’re tired. So, the elevators aren’t working. There’s some kind of glitch in the building, that’s all. State of the art zero impact negative emissions blah blah blah, long story short, the crip can’t go down a floor and rustle up some dubious cafeteria food because the damn elevator isn’t working, maintenance is probably working on it. What else is new.
Unlocking the lab, she picked up the phone for an outside line. Sometimes, mysteriously, the switchboard got tangled, and you couldn’t call via the in-house phone lines, but you could bring up an outside line and dial someone’s number directly. No dial tone. Silence. Not even a crackling. She clicked back to the inside line. Busy. In the corner of the lab, a rustling like falling paper, at the same time all the lights in the hall clicked out, making her flinch.
Right, just the energy savers, she thought. She peered into the corner, where there was indeed a snowdrift of paper on the floor. One of Bethany’s stacks had apparently finally keeled over. Nothing more. She bent to pick it up, but succeeded only in pushing pieces under Bethany’s desk.
‘Oh, bother.’ Her voice echoed in the empty lab. ’Fuck it,’ she said. The skittering noise she’d heard in the hall erupted again, but this time, when she glanced over, she saw a small white rabbit.
‘You!’ Dr. Jones’ rabbits kept escaping and running amuck on the floor. Either Jones had the world’s most incompetent lab assistant, or the guy was an embed from some animal rights group. Earlier in the week, one particularly adventurous rabbit had made its way all the way to the ground floor before anyone noticed, and was brought back up, writhing and screaming, by one of the security guards. Rabbits screamed. She hadn’t known that. A peculiar keening noise.
‘Well,’ she said. ‘Tonight’s your lucky night, bunny, because there is no way I’m chasing after you. Have at it.’
The rabbit stared back at her with a dubious expression while she tapped on a pen on the bench, trying to decide what to do. She was trapped on the seventh floor, which hadn’t been a problem until she realised she was trapped. Going back to work didn’t sound appealing, but neither did repeatedly picking up the phone to see if there was a dial tone yet.
A helicopter swept past outside, and she peered out the windows. The area around First Genus was completely devoid of people and cars. It was like she was the last person on earth, except for whoever was in the hovering helicopter. The helicopter’s spotlight came on and swept the ground, and as she watched, a small caravan of vehicles zoomed down the drive and through the empty parking lot, all lights, no siren.
People poured out, dressed head to toe in moon suits. Respirators. Something about them seemed unusually businesslike, and less ‘this is only a drill.’
This would be the point where Jane started to panic.