Storage room #207 was jam-packed with items from top to bottom. Unless you’d worked there the past 4 years, you wouldn’t notice item #42194 had been taken from the second highest shelf of the second to the last row of shelves and placed into the pocket of Dr. Xia.
Dr. Xia was a stern older man who always wore his white lab coat buttoned up and always wore his identification card in clear sight around his neck. He always expected people to pay attention to what he had to say and had no time to say it twice. He absolutely did not repeat himself. The other scientists and researchers kept out of his way, not only because of seniority. They couldn’t keep up with his high standards of cleanliness and efficiency. He expected everyone around him to adhere to the same code of conduct.
“Your identification card is not in sight, Dr. Lee!” He shouted at a passing coworker as he made his way to his lab.
Before opening his lab door, he pulled out a tissue from his side pocket, coughed into it, then removed the gloved with the tissue inside. He placed the entire tissue-filled glove into an unoccupied pocket then opened the door with his still-gloved left hand. After he retrieved a new glove from the glove dispenser on the wall, he spoke to his assistant. “Mrs. Wright, those shoes are not acceptable footwear to be worn inside the workplace. I can’t imagine what possessed you to come into work wearing such impractical shoes. I’m going to have to factor this in on your performance review.”
Mrs. Wright lowered her papers. Her gaze sunk to her high heels. She had an important engagement to attend after work and thought she had left her flat footwear in her locker to change into when she arrived. Unfortunately, she had left her flat footwear at home beside her door with the rest of her shoes. She had continued with her day hoping Dr. Xia would be too preoccupied with their successful test results for item #42294. Unfortunately, Dr. Xia would never miss such a detail.
“Your blatant disregard for the rules on what clothing and footwear are acceptable is highly offensive. This is not only for your own safety but for my safety and the integrity of the work we do here. If my results are altered after you trip, fall, and disrupt this environment, therefore changing the parameters of the experiment, what do you expect us all to do? It is beyond selfish of you to expect us all to waste our time for you to change into better footwear before each important step is taken. I expect better from you, Mrs. Wright. You know better than anyone how important this work is. We don’t have time for disruptions like this.”
Dr. Xia placed item #42194 on the nearest table and continued ranting. Mrs. Wright quickly placed her notes onto the desk behind her and muttered soft apologies to Dr. Xia.
Seeing her retreat from the room, he loudly exclaimed, “I have already retrieved item #42294, so make haste. We mustn’t waste any more time with this tomfoolery. I shall wait ten minutes, and if you don’t return, you won’t be included in the rest of this project.”
Mrs. Wright shook her head, grimaced at his loud tone, and made her way to the female staff locker room. Someone must have flats in their locker. She pulled her cell phone from her pants pocket and began calling her friendly coworker, Claire. She was of a similar size as herself. Claire may have left her work flats during her shift last night. Mrs. Wright couldn’t wait until they had the same shift again; she couldn’t handle Dr. Xia alone. Lunch was especially stressful without a companion to vent to.
“Hello, Claire. Sorry to bother you-” Mrs. Wright rushed by storage room #207 and within it on the second highest shelf of the second to the last row of shelves, sat an empty box, and beside the box sat item #42294. It was exactly where it had always sat for four years.
Dr. Xia did not have any time to wait for Mrs. Wright. Indignantly, he snatched her notes off the table and flipped to the needed page. He didn’t need to look up to navigate the tables and find the correct cage. He read the notes thoroughly before he looked up at a clipboard hanging off the bars of their current experiment. His grey eyes skimmed the updated results. His wrinkled hands tightly gripped Mrs. Wright’s notes as shock overcame his face. He slackened his grip on the pages and tossed them at the nearest flat surface before he pulled the clipboard off the cage and flipped through the other recorded figures.
A few minutes earlier, Mrs. Wright had read the same notes. Surprised, she’d stepped back into the other table and spilled several flasks containing transparent chemical fluids. Now, reacting similarly to the most recent test results, Dr. Xia didn’t notice he’d thrown the notes onto the mess. After retrieving the haphazardly placed notes, his left gloved hand tingled from the tips of his fingers to his wrist. Excitement made him tremble with delight.
“Stupendous!” he turned away from the lizard cage.
“I have to notify Dr. Franklin about this! What a change!” he said to the empty room.
His numb hand waved through the air as he muttered calculations to himself. Latex, skin, and blood trailed along the floor behind Dr. Xia on his way to his office. His quick steps took him longer than it would someone like Mrs. Wright to cross the distance to his office, even while excited. Before he entered his office, he swayed and grabbed the windowsill beside him. His left-hand went limp and slimy stapled pages fell to the floor. He didn’t reach for them.
“I’m getting a bit too excited.” He decided to sit down and chuckled as he lowered himself to the floor. “I might need those cardio workouts after all.” His lab coat protected his bottom from the unsanitary floor. He eyed it with a squint and noticed a dark substance marred the white tiled floors a couple meters in front of him.
I’ll have to write a complaint about this to the janitorial supervisor. No one takes pride in a dirty workspace. He wiped at the sweat on his face. He felt something tickle his brows. His eyes gaped open as he saw the mess the chemicals had made of his hand. Most of the latex glove had disintegrated. The tips of his last two fingers and around his wrist were the only areas you could still see latex material. His thumb, index, and middle fingers were disintegrated. The bloody stubs were brown and gave off a foul smell.
He opened his mouth and bellowed a loud hellish cry. His hand was thrown away from his face. His head whipped back to the dark substance he had been criticizing beforehand. That’s my flesh and blood!
The realization shocked him to his core. He screamed out for help. He could barely get himself standing before he shambled to his office and grabbed the smartphone off his desk. One-handed, he went to his contacts and called the emergency medical wing of the facility. His voice was pathetic as he pled for help within room #212.
Sia slowly pushed her cart to room #212 and stopped beside the grey biohazard container positioned beside the metal doorway. She pulled her black hazmat gloves from her jumpsuit pocket and checked to make sure her respirator was snuggly fixed to her face.
“Clothing securely zipped and tucked? Check,” her muffled voice declared. She swiped away the caution tape, opened the door, and took some time to drag all her supplies and containers inside the room. The heavy door slid closed behind her.
“Ugh, did they slaughter an animal in here? What the-” Sia groaned in frustration and blew her breath. The tiled floors were a mess with blood. The blood started off in small trickles between the long laboratory research tables, but chunks of flesh and blood led to the back room. Bloody shoe marks, hand prints, and a weird clear substance could be seen towards the back end of the room.
Sia lifted her mop from the bucket and rung water out of it before dropping it to the ground. Did someone lose their grip on a dying test animal?
The walls and floor were stained with more blood, and chunks of dried up vomit. The tables were cleared of material but the desk with the placard reading Mrs. Wright still held paperwork and a clunky silver device tagged #42194. This wasn’t the first time she had landed the job of cleaning filthy substances off laboratory floors. She shuddered at the memory of her third cleaning assignment in the biology sector. The smell of excrement had clung to her shoes for several days.
“Rooooooon. This is…oh my god. This is so disgusting,” Sia whined. She nudged a detached finger to the side for later. She made quick work of all the disgusting solids first. “Money is money. Money is money.” She muttered under her breath over and over.
Eventually, she was calmed by the repetitive mopping motions and could ignore how the room previously looked and what it probably smelled of. She leaned on a cleared table and glanced over at Mrs. Wright’s desk. Setting the mop into its bucket, she strolled over to the desk to get a better look at the silver device. “It kinda looks like a video game piece. I wonder what it-“
The room filled with red light and a loud computerized voice played. “Evacuation procedures must be taken immediately. Evacuation procedures must be taken immediately. Seek shelter within the basement levels of building R. Stop all activity and proceed to all exits in a timely fashion. Evacuation procedures must be taken immediately.”
Before the message could repeat a second time, the earth quaked beneath Sia’s feet, and she felt weightless for a moment before being slammed into the ground. Breathing quickly, she scrambled off the floor as the walls shook, and the glass windows along the back of the room shattered simultaneously. She fell back against the desk and jumped away from the silver device as if it had stung her. It felt sharp and cold. The ceiling lights collapsed out of their holders and swung around on their wires.
She stood up once more and readied herself to charge at the metal frame of the door. Then she would hold on tight. Just as she got in front of it, she heard a high-pitched whistling noise, and intense pressure was felt all around her. Everything went dark. A sharp pain radiated inside of her head. Right before everything went up in flames, she vanished.
ExplorerTech Industries had been wiped off the face of the earth. New Cinalia was the first casualty at the beginning of World War III.