Chapter 09: Perception Is Reality

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Once more, Allan found himself washing up on the shores of consciousness. They weren't particularly nice shores, nothing like the sandy beaches he'd heard Mezzanine had. These were cold, rocky, and painful. He opened his eyes and found himself staring up at a stained ceiling, cast in flickering light. His head was spinning, vision blurred, his equilibrium shot. His whole body seemed to ache and his throat was dry.

Something shifted nearby.

A low mutter sounded.

Allan closed his eyes, opened them, tried to clear the blurring. His pulse was rapid, his chest hurt. Slowly, he sat up. Something about this was familiar. It took him a moment to put the pieces together as he finished sitting up and began looking around. Then he had it: his first time waking up on the Stygian, in that locker room. Allan felt something in his hand. He looked down. The bolt gun. At least this time he had an upgraded arsenal. His company came in the form of a female scientist walking around across the room.

"Hey," he said, raising the bolt gun. "Can you hear me?"

She spun around at the sound of his voice, and as soon as he had a sight on her face, he squeezed the trigger. The first bolt went wide, his aim thrown off. The woman screamed and began rushing towards him. He fired again, missed. Third time was the charm and the bolt went through her right eye, exploding out of the back of her head in a plume of red gore. She toppled forward and landed at his feet, immobile now.

"Shit," Allan muttered, slowly getting to his feet.

It felt as if his brain was wrapped in cotton, or he was trying to think through a haze. Several thoughts were trying to come to him at once. Finally, the first one was that he was fucked. He was double-fucked, possibly even triple. The cure wasn't here. Or was it? What if he had just missed it? What if there was one vial left? One would be enough, at least for him. What about Hunter? Was she dead? Where had she gone?

A wave of hot agony surged through him and he felt like vomiting. Thankfully, there wasn't enough left in his stomach and he dry-heaved for a second. First things first, he needed to mitigate his symptoms. There was no way he was going to be able to think like this. Allan raised his visor and stumbled over to the nearest sink. He grabbed his empty canteen and turned on the water, but paused as he started to fill it up.

What if it was in the water?

No...it was airborne, he was infected...was he getting stupider? Groaning, Allan filled it up and then drained it, drinking greedily from the canteen until it was gone. He drained two more fillings, then filled it up a fourth time and set it down on the counter. Next, he stumbled over to an intact medical kit attached to the wall. Tearing it off, he made his way back to the canteen, set the kit down and opened it up. Pawing through it, he found a bottle of painkillers, rattled out four of the extra-strength blue pills and knocked them back with some more water. From there, he injected himself with some more painkillers and another antibiotic/anti-viral syringe.

It would have to do, for now.

Feeling slightly better, Allan replaced his visor and began a more thorough search of the room. He wasted ten minutes hunting through every container, every cabinet, every cubbyhole, turning up nothing but a lot of useless medical supplies. By the time he sat down at the only remaining workstation in the room, he was feeling a bit better. His throat wasn't so dry and inflamed and the pain wracking his entire body was approaching something like tolerable.

Allan booted up the workstation and began hunting through lab reports. Several more minutes passed. The sounds of the lab filtered into his perception: the hum of power, the whisper of respiration, the sound of his breathing.

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