“Hello?” My voice echoed in the plain white room as I sat up and my feet touched the floor. I was in a room that was nearly empty, barring the bed I was sitting on, a button with a sign, and a drawn window. Next to the button, the small sign read ‘do not push.’ Considering the strange nature of where I had woken up moments ago, I decided to follow the instructions of the sign. No one had answered my call yet.
“Anyone? I’m Jessie, and I don’t know how I got here.” Fear started to flutter through my stomach and I swallowed nervously. There were no doors to the room, so the only other chance of gaining some information was the window, currently drawn with thick white blinds. I walked at a measured pace to the window, fighting to keep my nerves in line.
Taking another deep breath to prepare myself as I reached the window, I threw back the curtains quickly. The deep breath caught in my throat as I stared out at an ocean of alien red sand. In the distance, the sun was sitting in a crook in the mountains. It was impossible to tell if it was rising or falling at this time, but shadows stretched far across the surface of the planet.
“Mars?” My mind tried to grasp what was happening in front of me, but was just coming up with disbelief. “Impossible, we don’t have the technology yet.” I turned from the untouched vista outside the window to the button.
Large and red, it sat upon a white column, the sign beside it perfectly clear and concise in the tumult of emotions I was swimming through to come to some form of a logical reason. The silence permeating the room began to saw on my rapidly fraying nerves, and I called out once more.
“Seriously, if anyone is listening I need to talk to you. Please tell me what’s happening.” Holding my breath as I waited for an answer, I tensed my body as tight as I could, straining for any sound possible. No response came, but anger leapt to defend my terror of the moment. “Fuck this.”
“Ok, I have no idea where I am, but it looks like Mars. There’s no door to get out, only a button that’s clearly meant to tempt me to push it.” My voice rambled out of me, desperately trying to fill the silence with my thoughts. “Do I push it? End whatever test this is? Is this a dream? It’s the only possible option right? Nothing else makes sense. People pinch themselves to wake up from dreams right?” I knew the answer, but if I pinched myself and didn’t wake up, I didn’t know what would happen next.
Blood trickled from my forearm as I dug my nails in as deeply as I could, not caring how much it hurt. I pinched desperately, even as I didn’t wake up. After nearly a full minute of pinching, I pulled my now red fingernails from my forearm. Another expletive escaped my mouth. This wasn’t a dream.
I gave up the pretence of calm as I went back to the bed, my rapid footfalls screaming in the quiet. Throwing the mattress from the frame, I searched for any clue of what put me into this moment. No drawers adorned the bed, and the mattress was one solid piece. Not able to tear it, I threw it across the room angrily. Bouncing off the window, it landed with a dull pathetic thud. Following soon after were the blankets, falling gracefully into a heap more or less on the upturned mattress. The rest of the room received my desperate eye, but all there was in the room was the bed, button and window.
“Answer me!” My hoarse bark echoed, and blood pounded in my temples. My arm also pulsed, still bleeding lightly from my nail’s attack. “I will push this button. I swear I will!” A manic laugh bubbled from my throat, and I had to forcibly stop myself from immediately following through with the threat. The button called to me softly, only gritting my teeth and starting a countdown stopped my swift forcible response to it.
Retreating to the empty bed frame, I sat down on the hard surface to think. The button was the answer to this, whether the answer was good or bad. I would give ‘them’ another 120 seconds to decide to respond to me or I would push their button. There had to be a ‘them’, without any opposition, this was all random and meaningless. There had to be meaning.
Reaching sixty seconds, I ran out of patience. The button let out a soft whoosh as my palm pounded it into submission. A large, nearly insane smile spread across my face as I stepped back from the depressed button. I caught my reflection in the window, the sun now below the mountains. My eyes caught me off-guard. The reminded me of an animal caught in a trap, triumphant at it’s desperate fight. What had I done?
Beeping brought me back to the button. It slowly rose to it’s starting position, the beeping coming from some indiscernible location in the room. As soon as it clicked into place, the sound of wind began to whistle through the room. The window had begun to slide open.
Within seconds, my lungs began to burn. I felt as if I was drowning, no breath deep enough to satisfy my needs. Desperately I pounded on the button, hoping for the window to close once more. The window continued it’s deadly ascent, sliding into the top of the frame. I felt a blood vessel pop in one eye, and the right half of my vision disappeared into darkness.
“Help me…” I tried to call out, but my words were barely a whisper as I collapsed onto the floor, dying in the near vacuum.
* * * * * * * * * * * * *
“Pod twenty-four is now complete. That leaves us with only four remaining. Less than fifteen percent remaining after a measly thirty minutes? Looks like you won the bet, Scaarlax. I think the standard of fifty percent after two hours is too much for such primitive beings.” The large, tentacled creature pulled a lever, watching on a monitor as the room’s contents, including the body of the earthling, were pushed into a hole that had appeared on the wall opposite the window. Once the room was empty, the being pushed the lever back to it’s starting position.
“I’m honestly not happy to win the bet, Tarrin. I had hoped they would succeed. Fresh blood in the Intergalactic Council is always good. How long do the primary creatures on the planet have to wait until they can be tested again?” The second creature, standing on four swarthy legs, reached with two slender talons for a device sitting on a table. It slid it’s talons along the surface of the device, skimming data flashing across the screen. “One thousand of it’s own cycles. Ah well. Shall we void the unfinished rooms, carry on as soon as possible to the next system?”
“Agreed, my partner is making Pnarthaxian stew for supper, I want to get home to help slaughter the newborn egglets.” Something akin to a smile twisted across Tarrin’s face, and it’s tentacles rapidly began pulling levers, emptying the remaining rooms.