The Pipes

I'd earned myself an hour of free time away from the workshop, away from the toiling over circuitry and high-grade electronics. I'd reported one of my fellow elite and he was dragged away screaming. Whether he was guilty or not, I didn't care - today was the day I would ascend from this wretched place and I needed the distraction.

Slipping secretly into the shadows I summoned my co-opted drone and told it to meet me at the funeral pyres. Yes, I could have flown inside the drone, but its power is limited and it was only prudent to save as much as possible for the road ahead, especially since I'd already removed some of its batteries to accommodate me inside.

Walking to the pyres, it was hard nor to break into a panicked run, to resist glancing about fearfully. A single mistake now and the hard months of research and careful preparation would be in vain and I'd be up for torture or worse, the living death, my body slaved to a computer while my mind looked on in horror as I mindlessly worked the assembly lines until my body could take no more.

Each step I took was measured, my face carefully composed to mirror the sea of brokeness and defeat around me and before long I had reached the pyres. There was no longer the time to get back to the workshop before my hour was up so punishment was inevitable. It was now or never.

Again, I summoned the drone and for one sickening moment I feared it wouldn't come until I saw it rise over the mound of bodies slowly charring in the fires, its insectile carapace of black metal shimmer in the heat. I gave it one final check to ensure the tools I'd added were still functioning and satisfied I stepped inside. There were no goodbyes as I began to ascend towards the fans, no looking back. That haze of metal and burning flesh would be the last I would ever see of this place.

The huge fan spun lazily above me, a terrible red maw, like an open wound in the world hanging above me through the tinted lenses of the drone. I could not afford to stop its endless spinning, that would bring other droves to investigate. Instead I timed the passing of each blade, spinning around and around and flew forwards through the gap, the sheet of grime-encrusted metal sweeping past behind me with a disappointed sigh as I narrowly avoided becoming its victim.

It was unbearably hot in the venting duct, the heat was slowly cooking me, turning the drone into a flying oven. In mere seconds I was drenched in sweat and knew I didn't have long before heat stroke would claim me. I ventured further into the tunnels, bringing up the ducting blueprints on the drones internal display.

As I progressed the tunnels became smaller and cooler as they siphoned away hot gases to be recycled. On several occasions I had to unscrew the pipes from the inside and move carefully through the confined maintainence area beyond to bypass filters and other fans and grills, making sure to replace each piece behind me as I went so no-one would suspect my passing.

Eventually my goal flashed up upon the monitor the final duct which lead beyond the blueprints and maps and perhaps, just possibly, to the freedom I sought. As I turned the final bend my heart was beating madly in my chest and then what I saw made my heart sink.

It was gone, the exhaust pipe wasn't there. Desperately, I looked for any sign it had been covered up, that maybe if I just searched hard enough it would be hidden behind some panel but there was no such thing. The blueprints had been out of date. I'd been played and now I would die here, alone with only my sense of failure to accompany me. I felt sick, dizzy, the shock of my defeat had knocked the wind out of me.

Suddenly, I became aware of a distant clicking, a tapping of metal on metal as something approached. It had to be another drove, come to investigate, had this been a trap all along? How could I have been so blind?

The clicking got louder and I was soon proven right. It was another drone. It stopped as it saw me and I almost fled, but something stopped me; it was just sat there watching. Perhaps the tyrant liked to watch through its eyes before it played with its food. There was a hiss of static, then a voice.

"If you have made it this far, then you are nearly there. There is still hope. This is a recorded message from another traveller, another seeker of freedom. I made it here to find the blueprints outdated but do not lose hope. There is another way. Follow this drone and good luck my brother or sister. May you see the light above the world."

Another escapee! A successful one! Could it be? I wanted to believe it was true but it could be a trap. After all, why would an escapee help another and risk leading the tyrant to his new home? Better to betray and remain hidden. The drone was old and outdated and I had to hope that perhaps this message was from another time, a time when such vile thoughts were not second nature. What choice did I have? I followed the scuttling drone deeper into the tunnels.

We wandered for hours before we finally reached a grill opening out to a dimly lit hall. The drone played another message in harsh, distorted whispers.

"This is where we leave you traveller. This grill takes you to the tyrant's surveillance and server farms. In the main server room is a coolant duct leading to the outside, you can verify it on your blueprints."

I checked my blueprints and saw that it was so, though given what had brought me here I was not reassured.

"I end this message now as I attempt this escape. I hope I succeeded and that this message will not lead you into his clutches. Good luck traveller. This drone will now return to guide others that seek freedom."

With a final crackle of static it turned around and left. Despite my instincts, I didn't try to stop it, to trash it so it could not give me away. I didn't come from a time where such kindness existed, I couldn't bring myself to destroy the last vestige of it in this world.

The End

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