Twenty minutes or so, I had to admit that we were thoroughly, hopelessly lost.
When I glanced over at Elena, the language barrier between us didn’t prevent me from seeing that she felt the same way. I could read it in the hunch of her shoulders, the padding of her feet where she’d previously hopped along, excited to be free.
“Pretty dull, isn’t it?” I remarked, more just to fill the silence than because she’d understand.
Glancing back at me, she commented something back, although I couldn’t understand a word.
No, wait – I caught one of the curse words she’d taught me in there. I grinned, and she smiled sympathetically back.
After getting out of the cell, we’d headed down a corridor, but quickly found ourselves at a loss as cross passageways appeared. We tried going straight at first, but that led us to a dead end, and we’d been forced to back-track. Now, after taking far too many side passages, we probably couldn’t even find our way back to our own cell.
I stepped around the next corner – and then froze as I spotted something up ahead in the blank whiteness.
“Elena!” I hissed, crouching down. Naked, I probably looked ridiculous, but the two of us had grown to mostly ignore each other’s bodies during the days trapped together.
She stuck her head around the corner, and her eyes widened. “Probot!” she hissed, which was close enough to “robot” for me to understand.
Sure enough, that was what I’d seen as well. The thing stood about three feet tall, mounted on a pair of treads. It had a “body” of sorts, with at least four arms extending out from a central torso. An apparatus on top of the body, where a head would be, seemed to be composed mostly of a single large camera, which pointed straight forward.
I stealthily crept forward towards the ‘bot, Elena so close behind me that she nearly collided with my bare ass, but the robot didn’t seem to notice us. It kept on trundling forward, and I realized that it held a tray in its hand, similar to the tray that we’d received with our rations.
Stepping up behind the robot, Elena raised the tray in her hands to smash it down on the machine’s head, but I caught her wrist.
“Wait!” I hissed. “We should follow it, see where it goes!”
I didn’t know if the girl understood my meaning at first, but she obligingly held off from striking the machine, and we instead crept along behind it as it continued rumbling down the corridor. We made sure to keep out of its field of view, and it didn’t seem to ever stop and look around.
Ten minutes later, after several turns, the robot came to a stop at the end of one of the corridors. One of its four arms reached up to push a button, and we saw a small door slide open in the wall in front of us.
My heartbeat quickened. Another prisoner must be trapped inside this cell!
We hastily threw ourselves against the wall as the robot, its tray deposited, abruptly turned around and started heading away. Elena turned to keep on following it, but I waved my hand at her to get her attention, and then pointed to the cell door in front of us.
After all, I figured, the robot couldn’t move too quickly. We’d be able to catch back up pretty easily.
Once Elena had turned back around, holding the metal tray at the ready in case whoever was inside this cell decided to attack, I reached out and pushed the button.
The wall opened up in front of us and we stared inside the new cell – first in surprise, and then in dawning horror.
The cell’s occupant lay on the floor, with piles of food trays stacked around him – or maybe her. I couldn’t tell, not from just a look.
After all, I can’t tell the gender from a skeleton.
Not a single scrap of flesh remained on the bones. Then again, I thought about how the excess food and other organic waste sank into the floor, and shuddered. Maybe, as this poor prisoner had died, the floor had absorbed as much as it could, unable to break down the bones, but taking everything else.
I felt a small pair of arms encircle me. I looked down, and found Elena hugging me tightly, sobbing softly as she pushed her head into my armpit.
Feeling awkward, I patted her on the back, murmuring soothing nonsensical words at her. We had almost never touched before this, and I tried to ignore her nakedness pressing up against me. Instead, I just did my best to comfort her as we realized how serious our situation might be.
After a minute, however, I heard the robot beep behind us as it turned a corner, heading away, and I snapped back to the present. I ducked into the chamber and swiped one of the metal trays, figuring that a makeshift weapon would be better than nothing.
And then, gesturing to Elena, we hurried after the robot once again, hoping that it would lead us out of here before we ended up like the poor occupant of that prison cell.