12. Who are you?

Is this a trap? What even is this?

My eyes are still adjusting from the sudden transition to brightness. Sal is dazed too.

There’s no-one else around us. It’s just us, the corridor we walked up through, and the wall blocking our path with a pointed message.

Maybe it has always been here. But I have a feeling this isn’t a permanent installation.

“I’m Sal,” Sal says, in a quiet voice.

It’s completely silent. There isn’t any noise from outside; I can hear my own heartbeat, my own breathing, loud and clear. Beyond it, I hear Sal’s, too.

“I’m Var,” I say, following Sal’s lead. I don’t know why, and I immediately feel silly.

There’s no echo when I speak. The walls seem to absorb everything. The lack of ambient noise is somehow frightening in a way I wasn’t prepared for: all my life I’ve been bathed in sound, and now it’s gone.

I look back down the corridor towards the door. Except I don’t see the door anymore; it’s just a white corridor that tapers off into a point.

It is a trap.

“Maybe put your hand on it?” I say. Sal’s hand seems to have activated a few things so far, like their touch has meaning for whoever built all this.

Sal lays their hand flatly against the wall. Nothing happens.

We look at each other. Sal seems wide-eyed, and I’m sure I am too. It was stupid to blindly wander in.

But here we are, and we have to find our way out, and find Let, and figure out what’s going on with the Corporation and everything else. There’s no option but to get out of here.

I’m looking around at the walls, up at the ceiling, back again to the tapered point where a door should be when Sal tugs on my shirtsleeve.

I turn around and follow their finger back to the wall, which has a new message on it, written in the same tall, black letters.

Why are you here?

“It’s an interface,” Sal says, beginning to engage with the puzzle in front of us. “Be careful what you say to it.”

I nod and take a step back. There are no seams; it’s like the entire wall is the interface. I wonder what it’s capable of. Whether it’s watching.

I wonder what I thought I would achieve in here.

“I want to meet the person in charge,” I say to the wall, loudly and clearly. Sal gives me a look like I’ve lost my mind.

You are not authorized, the wall says. I don’t see it change; it simply has changed.

“Who is the person in charge?” I ask the wall.

You are not authorized, the wall says. I don’t know how I know it’s repeated itself, but it has.

“How do we leave?” Sal says to the wall.

You may not, the wall says. Again, the words have changed, but it’s almost as if they have always been this way. There was no visible change; just the knowledge that they have changed.

Something dawns on Sal and they begin to press against the walls, pushing their arms out against them to test their rigidity.

And then it hits me too and I begin to do the same thing.

It’s a defense mechanism. The building lets us see what it wants us to see, using our lenses as an interface, even though they’re switched off. It’s not that any of this exists; it’s projection. A disinformation reality.

Or at least, that’s how it seems. It’s possible, as well, that the corridor only seemed dark because the building didn’t want us to see anything. Perhaps it wasn’t so much really dark as redacted.

We both push against the walls, hoping to break through some illusion into another reality, but it’s clear that there isn’t an invisible doorway that will take us out of the corridor. We really are trapped here.

Yes, the wall says, and seems like it always has said. We both stop and look at it.

“Did it read your mind or mine?” Sal says. “I’m hoping it’s yours. You don’t want to know what I was thinking.”

“I was thinking we’re trapped,” I say.

“I was thinking it’s going to kill us,” Sal says. “I mean, you’re right too. We’re trapped and it’s going to kill us. We’ve been tricked and there’s nothing we can do.”

And then the walls start closing in.