Chapter 10: Running Rogue

The Sinister Secrets of GlobeX’s Underground Lair

Ethan, Lara and Kai were roughly escorted by Drake’s armed soldiers into a cavernous laboratory space deep beneath the mountain facility. The room thrummed with an ominous energy that raised the hairs on Ethan’s neck. Banks of computers lined the walls, their display screens flowing with complex data and diagrams. Interspersed among them were glass-fronted chambers housing strange experimental machinery – coils of wire crackling with arcane energies, and tanks of viscous fluid bubbling with a life of their own. At the room’s center loomed a massive cylindrical device that pulsed with a dim violet light, its purpose inscrutable but radiating palpable danger.

Lara’s voice echoed oddly through the space, warped by the acoustics of metal and glass. Her footsteps rang on the steel floor plates as she paced the observation deck agitatedly. Ethan’s skin prickled as he studied the unsettling laboratory; this was a realm of reality not meant to be glimpsed by outsiders. Whatever clandestine research GlobeX pursued here seemed drawn from the fabric of science fiction, and yet malignly real. Whatever GlobeX had hidden down here, he sensed they were not meant to leave alive once exposed to it.

Ethan exchanged an uneasy glance with Lara, through the jostling soldiers surrounding them, noticing she had regained some clarity of mind.

Drake strode ahead confidently, clearly in his element in this domain of clandestine research and experimentation. He led them through security doors to a sprawling room that resembled an advanced medical suite. At its center was a high-tech apparatus like a combination brain scanner and augmented reality interface. As she recognized cutting-edge neurological tech similar to her own designs, Lara’s fingers twitched reflexively, an instinct to reach for her design notes that weren’t there. Her breath caught in her throat as memories of late nights spent perfecting the interface schematics flashed through her mind. She had pored endlessly over the elegant intricacies of the system, never imagining her work could be so perverted. Her greatest creation, turned to such sinister ends without her knowledge.

“Impressive, isn’t it? This would have been considered science fiction only few years ago without your excellent work, Dr. Monroe!” Drake remarked with a cold smile, noting her reaction. “Once interfaced, this system provides direct access to a patient’s cognition – thoughts, memories, emotions, even sensory perception can be manipulated. Quite useful for recalibrating those who have strayed down an undesirable path.”

His veiled threat hung in the air. Ethan strained against his restraints as Drake turned to face them. “However, I’m afraid you won’t have the chance to experience its capabilities firsthand. You’ve been granted a special audience.”

On his cue, two soldiers stepped forward and jabbed injectors against Ethan, Lara and Kai’s necks. 

As the injectors depressed with a hiss, Ethan braced himself for the spreading numbness of some powerful sedative. But instead, his heart began racing wildly, pounding against his ribs. His vision seemed to zoom and sway, colors becoming painfully bright. For a horrifying moment he thought he was dying, the drug wreaking havoc through his system.

But then the initial shockwave passed, leaving his mind feeling oddly crystalline, sensory input razor sharp. Nearby, Lara drew a shuddering breath as the drug took hold, her eyes darting with preternatural focus to analyze their surroundings. Ethan blinked hard against the juddering visuals, willing his thoughts into order. Drake nodded approvingly as understanding dawned on their faces – this was no paralytic, but a powerful cognitive enhancer.

“A proprietary cognitive enhancer. Can’t have your faculties dulled for this encounter.” He glanced at a timepiece. “Right on schedule. Shall we proceed?”

He led them through more security to an observation deck overlooking a sunken chamber. As Ethan peered down through floor-to-ceiling windows, his breath caught in his throat. Below stood a woman with her back to them, raven hair flowing over a white laboratory coat. Natalie Blackwood – somehow they had found her, or she had been moved here.

“You wanted access to Dr. Blackwood?” Drake remarked. “Well, now you have it. Though I assure you, she has nothing further to reveal.”

At the sound of his voice, Natalie turned slowly to face the observation window. As her piercing green eyes met theirs, Ethan shuddered involuntarily. Her expression was totally blank, her gaze empty. She showed no spark of recognition or emotion at the sight of the new arrivals.

“What have you done to her?” Lara burst out in dismay.

“We’ve simply stabilized the doctor’s precarious mental state with the latest conditioning techniques,” Drake replied casually. “She grows more… compliant daily.”

“You mean you broke her mind and erased her personality,” Ethan shot back.

Drake shrugged. “Her unique skills remained intact. Only problematic thought patterns have been treated.”

Ethan felt sick at his callous words. But Natalie showed no visible reaction, her disturbing lifeless stare never wavering. 

Lara shook her head in disgust. “You’re a monster, Drake. How many lives have you twisted and destroyed?”.

For the first time, Ethan saw a flicker of anger cross their captor’s stony expression. “You know, my previous guest had a similar reaction when he saw her like this. But I expected better from you, Dr. Monroe, especially given your scientific background. Surely you can appreciate the advancements we’ve made… With Natalie’s research, we are unlocking the next phase of human evolution!”

Drake’s voice rose with fervor. “The future lies in mastering the untapped potential of the mind. A new humanity lies just within reach, if we can transcend the limits of our flawed biology.”

He glanced back at Natalie’s vacant stare with a distant yearning. “An individual consciousness means nothing compared to the dawn of a new species. Natalie will understand, once her retrograde thoughts have been fully aligned.”

Ethan shuddered at Drake’s zealous ranting. The man was clearly a delusional megalomaniac, drunk on dreams of omnipotence and twisted evolution. But his madness made him no less dangerous…

Drake’s response was cut off when a soldier hurried up bearing a tablet with an urgent update. He scanned the screen sharply, then tapped a command. He turned back to them with eyes glinting.

“My team has completed the Silas operation ahead of schedule. He should be arriving any minute.” A cruel anticipation tinged Drake’s voice. “I’ll leave you to observe in peace. We’ll finish your debrief soon enough.”

With that ominous threat, Drake swept from the observation deck, locking down the room before departing. Ethan clenched his jaw, mind churning over this new complication regarding Silas. As he peered down into the sunken chamber, the antiseptic sting of cleaning agents mixed with the cloying scent of machine oil and ozone from the banks of humming computers. He ran a hand over his neck where the injection site still tingled, the stimulant Drake had given them buzzing through his veins.

“This drug Drake gave us… it seems to amplify mental processing,” he said slowly. 

Lara turned to him with desperation. “Is there any way to reach Natalie? She designed Ascendance’s core systems – we need her help!”

She shook her head, fighting back tears of frustration. “There must be some way to get through to her! But we’re completely trapped…”

She slammed a palm against the unyielding observation window in anguish. Ethan racked his hyper-stimulated brain for any possibility, but came up empty. Below them, Natalie stared vacantly ahead, lost in the void Drake’s conditioning had left her in.

Kai studied the seamless walls in despair. “This room is meant to keep anything getting in or out. We’ll never reach her in time.”

Ethan refused to give in to hopelessness. There had to be a way. As he gazed fiercely around the locked observation deck, his eyes snagged on the two-way audio panel. Its microphone seemed painfully inadequate… And yet.

“The audio feed,” he burst out. “We may not be able to reach Natalie physically. But if we could communicate directly with her mind…” Rushing to the control panel, Ethan was able to awkwardly toggle the booth’s microphone with his cuffed hands. A crackle resounded through the chamber below as the audio feed went live. But Natalie showed no reaction to the sudden noise.

Ethan’s fingers hovered over the audio panel, heart racing. He took a steadying breath, leaning into the microphone. The chamber below echoed back the sharp feedback of a live feed, the slight buzz a testament to their only line of connection.

Lara and Kai waited with bated breath, their gazes fixed on the figure below. This was their one shot, a fleeting chance. As Ethan began to speak, the intensity in his voice matched only by the urgency of their predicament, Natalie remained still, her silhouette haunting against the sterile light.

The last word left Ethan’s lips, a plea, a code, a memory meant to pierce through the fog that had consumed Natalie’s mind. The seconds felt like hours, every heartbeat echoing loudly in their ears.

And then, a subtle shift. Was it the lights? The atmosphere? Or something more profound? A small flicker in Natalie’s eyes, almost imperceptible, but it was there. The briefest hint that somewhere, deep within, a part of her recognized them.

Lara’s eyes widened, hope and fear mingling in their depths. Was it enough to break through Drake’s conditioning? Only time would tell. But for now, in that infinite moment, possibility hung in the air, a delicate thread that could either snap or lead them out of the darkness.

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