Joan Knight crawled across the labyrinthine ventilation shafts of the underground facility, trying to find the fastest escape route from the nightmare she had found herself suddenly a part of.
It had all started with an attack at the lab where she conducted seminal research on nanotechnology. In a matter of seconds, the once sterile and controlled environments had become contaminated by a pathogenic agent that caused everyone to collapse on the spot. Well, everyone but her, who was lucky enough to be working on a closed chamber with an added air filtration system, which had given her enough time to pick up a gas mask and resist the vaporous assault.
Unfortunately, that had only proven to be the first stage of something far more dreadful than anything she could ever have imagined. The gas wasn’t just a means to render everyone in the premises inert, but rather the foundations of a new type of atmosphere, the only one where it could thrive.
Her first impression of the thing she saw slither under the yellowish clouds of gas was that it was some kind of mutated animal, probably a snake. The problem was that it dripped as it moved, and its shape was always changing, one moment thin and elongated, and in the next, large and rather menacing. It was a freakish combination of residues, something that shouldn’t possess the gift of consciousness and yet, it did. The ooze was alive and had a purpose to fulfill.
She didn’t stay around long enough to find out what it was though, and that’s how she came to enter the world of narrow metallic corridors above her head. For safety measures, the attack had triggered the lockdown procedure of the installations and, if she wanted to stay alive, the claustrophobic passageways were her only option.
After several minutes wandering around in circles, Joan stopped to catch her breath, hoping for a little bit of focus. Such was quite a luxury as her brain refused to stop conjuring all kinds of conspiracy theories, and the distance between overthinking things and sheer panic is quite small. Still, she somehow managed to visualize the schematics of the facilities in her mind and transpose the configuration of the rooms below to her new surrounding reality. If she was right and, considering the turns she had taken recently, then that meant she was close to the administrative offices, and that there was a corridor near one them that led to the outside world.
The ray of hope illuminated her path, giving her the necessary strength to overcome her fears. Joan headed left, turned right at the next intersection and then went straight ahead down a tube that was tighter than the rest, but still large enough for her to squeeze through. Before she knew it, she was already back at ground level and...
... a pool of the clinging, grayish and protuberant aberration was waiting for her! What was worse was the fact that it wasn’t alone.
Seeing it so close and testifying the undulating pulse that kept it whole was already a shock in itself but being face to face with a dozen of men and women covered in it from head to toe was even worse.
They just stood there, exuding a raw hopelessness that could drive a grown woman insane in a blink of an eye, the mass that enveloped them glistening from inside out like they were being drained and controlled at the same time. Yes, that was surely it! The once proud and free spirits of her colleagues were now reduced to the capacity of mindless drones and it, the horror that now grew towards her, was the insidious puppet master.
Joan knew she was trapped and yet that only fueled her urge to fight back. Dashing swiftly to the right, she picked up a lighter from the nearest desk and lit it, hoping that the flame would react to the gas in an explosive way.
It didn’t. Raising the intensity of the flame, she then hurled it towards the moving outgrowth that wanted her soul and watched it begin to burn with great satisfaction. As this happened, the drones remained motionless, but always observant, their unreadable expressions hiding even deeper terrors.
The thing contorted, swiveled, and at a certain point, it even appeared to shriek as the fire spread. Yet the victory was short-lived for its half-solid, half-liquid nature allowed it to divide itself into two distinct masses and the one that was free of the scorching heat spread out wide like the wings of a giant butterfly, and cocooned her so rapidly it took her breath away.
Pressing its new prey against the wall, the sentient viscosity grew more and more powerful. Joan felt its cold touch turn into a conflagration of unheard sexual delights and discovered that the enemy was something to be yearned, feared and worshiped at the same time, something that called out to a collective need of belonging, and that under its lustful guidance, all of her desires would come true.
It grew and grew and came all over her like splashes of perpetual body paint that only asked for the simplest of things in return: her total capitulation. When her mask came off and the ooze insinuated itself in her salivating tongue, she moaned and accepted the surrender, gladly. As she did so, the already converted smiled in unison.
A couple of hours later, two figures wearing Hazmat suits entered the facilities and looked around. While they had a female-like appearance, it was impossible to discern if they were human. Their voices were cold, enigmatic, completely detached from all emotional stresses. They saw the palpitating mass and its army of sexually charged servants, committed the images to memory and then began to retrace their steps, back to the surface world.
Once close to the exit, one of them finally said:
“It seems Experiment F32 worked.”
“Indeed,” the other replied. “We are now ready to begin the preparations for the process of worldwide dissemination.”
“What are we to do with this first batch of processed merchandise?”
“The drones will be ours to use as a means to—what’s the word?—celebrate the occasion.”
“Celebrate... what a strange concept that is... celebrate, celebrate...”
They walked into the sunlight as the world everyone else knew was about ready to be plunged into darkness.