They entered a long, seemingly endless corridor - silent, completely silent, shut off entirely from the hive and buzz of activity in the balcony behind them. Their footsteps echoed on the freshly scrubbed, highly polished, linoleum tiles. The Prime Minister watched in awe as the fluid figure of Professor Frost glided, effortlessly, down the corridor, passing doorway and doorway - who knew what wonders, what tantalising wonders, lay within the darkened rooms beyond?
“Your men will not accompany on us in our visit to the vicinity.”
“You mean - but I - I need them!” The security personnel who had followed them into the corridor mumbled their agreements - though even they seemed diminished and embarrassed in front of the Professor.
“I assure you, Prime Minister, no harm will come to you if you enter with me. Leave us.” The professor swatted the air as if swatting an irritating fly, and the security officials - casting one last wavering glance in the Prime Minister’s direction - hurried from sight. “This door, Mr Prime Minister.”
“Yes, yes. Alright.”
Bustling forward, the Prime Minister passed through the door. They had entered a stair well - the smell of cleaning detergent made his eyes water, catching in his throat. Letting the door swing shut behind him, the Professor took the steps two at a time, clearly wanting to the get this tour over and done with as quickly as possible. The Prime Minister couldn’t help feeling the same way - his previous feelings of excitement, worry, and fear, and cascaded into an abyss, leaving a mere cold desire to leave this underground, cavernous Unit 13, and return to the world where his security personnel showed no sign of cowardice; where time stopped, elections didn’t matter, and he was forced to bow down to a God, a physical, living God. A God with electric blue eyes and the manner of someone with a whole world at his fingers; of someone on the brink of discovering the greatest wonder of the world…
“Life.” Professor Frost’s voice had changed now. Far from the crisp, mocking tones of upstairs, on the balcony, they where now filled with pride in his greatest accomplishment. Like a father boasting his son’s greatest achievement. “It is imperative, Prime Minister, that you understand that that is what we are working towards, here in Unit 13. Nothing more, nothing less, than life. Many think we have reached life’s limits - that life’s limits, perhaps, are unable to widened, broadened, as everything else has. That life cannot be improved. That life is merely life - an endless cycle, of reproduction, of birth, of trials and tribulations, of pain - both physical and emotional - met only by the inevitable end.
“I, for one, disagree. I believe that life can be improved; and could have been improved, at a time much earlier than this, if it had not been for fear. A simple, yet undeniable human feeling that keeps us from pushing forward, pushing onward, to our goals. Tell me, Mr Prime Minister, why can man not run forever?”
“I - um - pardon?”
“Fatigue, dear sir. He would grow tired. His muscles, his tendons, would seize up. He’d crave sleep, rest. Food in his belly, water to quench his dry pallet. I ask you this, Prime Minister, why can man not lift mountains?”
“I - well - because they’re heavy,” The Prime Minister said rather lamely.
The Professor nodded. “Because man is too weak. It cannot sustain such weights. Correct.”
The Prime Minister felt a faint glow of pride - which he quickly dampened. This was not some class, the Professor was not his teacher, whom he wished to impress. He cringed as he realized how he followed the man: lapping up his words, bouncing on his heels, like an excited, shamefully loyal puppy.
“And, lastly, Mr Prime Minister-” The Professor said, as they finally reached the bottom of the stairs and a single pair of double doors - not frosted, like the ones upstairs, but steel-blast metal, with a complex looking mechanical locking system. There was a hum of noise, a flash of purple light that made the Prime Minister start, and the whites of his eyes burn. There was a clatter as bolts pushed back, as the computer recalled his retinas from that they had scanned earlier - and from the Professor’s, which it had seen countless times before. “-why can man not live forever?”
The doors slid open. The Prime Minister was too in awe, to shocked and stunned and simply terrified, to reply. So the Professor answered his own question for himself.
“-because man is weak, Mr Prime Minister. Mankind has it’s flaws. Flaws, which, this project, my project, seek to iron out -” He took another great, impressive pause, “I give you, Mr Prime Minister, the next generation of mankind…The next stage of human evolution… The twenty-first-century super-beings.”
The Prime Minister’s jaw hung open at the Professor’s words. Did this man mean to say…Surely he couldn’t be insinuating that…
The Professor led the way, the Prime Minister stumbling and mumbling incomplete sentences after him. The atrium seemed even larger than it had, up in the balcony. It was impossible to see the glass fronted lab room from down here, on the creamy atrium floor. Only now did the Prime Minister notice the stairs that twisted around the room, slanting up, high into the distant ceiling. And lining these walkways, he saw, where metal-barred doors. He was reminded of one of the prisons he’d visited, a few months previous, with the Minister of Defence.
“They - they are in there? In those rooms?”
“They go into their private rooms only at night. Of course, it is not necessary for them to sleep. They are awake and alert twenty-four-seven, after all. However, it is good to give them peace, quiet, time to reflect on the day.”
“So where are they now?”
“Training. Would you care to see them? I think you will be mightily impressed.”
“Eh, well - I don’t want to waste your time - obviously you are very, very busy here -”
“Not at all. We promised you a tour, did we not?” The Professor said lightly, eyes glinting fiercely. “Come along.”
They passed through the deserted atrium and through a pair of huge elaborate doors. Made from tiny panels of glass - mere shards, really - as the light shone on them, it was as if they had been carved from quartz - the light shining and reflecting on every tiny piece. As if sensing the presence of the Professor, they moved open easily, into the room beyond. There certainly wasn’t any doors in the House of Commons that opened merely at the Prime Minister’s glance…
This room, the room they entered, couldn’t have been more different from the atrium. The abrupt change left the Prime Minister breathless - as if all the air had just been knocked out of him, replaced by a searing stitch. It was much less a room, much more a cave. The dark, jagged rock from the lift shaft replacing the smooth, marble walls of the atrium, stalactites hanging like great fangs over their heads. Security lights sent great pools of yellow light rippling across the cavernous, harsh walls. A metal walkway ran the length of the ceiling, for observation, it seemed. The Professor gazed lovingly down over the cave floor, and the Prime Minister - white-knuckled fists clutching at the freezing cold railings - peering into the dark abyss, suddenly saw why.
It was unlike anything he had ever seen. His eyes almost leapt from his sockets, as they desperately tried to eat it all up at once. With leathery, looping vines; the heavy, fragranced scent; and huge, exotic flowers bursting from the dense foliage that poured in on either side of the walkway… It would seem that they had entered an underground rainforest. And yet -
“How is this possible?” The Minister said - a strange, hollow feeling expanding in his stomach, as he finally made sense of what he was seeing.
For this was no ordinary rainforest - far stranger, than just a rainforest hidden beneath the ground. For unlike the rainforests that span the banks of the Amazon - the heaving lungs of the earth, the burning fire in life’s very belly - this, with it’s cold stillness, was the epitome of science’s sinister heart. Whilst any other hub of Mother Nature’s would be bursting with colour - fiery reds, glorious pinks, luscious greens; the forest filled with the cries of birds, the hurrying of the mammals, and the pitter patter of the tiny, bejewelled insects, scurrying across the forest floor. Here, a deathly, artificial silence filled the air. Even the scent - which the Minister had, at first, taken as purely natural, now had the clinical sting of human interference, that reminded him of cleaning detergent and long, endless hospital corridors.
The leaves were moulded from copper - freakishly beautiful: spidery veins lit in the harsh yellow light. The tree trunks, their bulky frames and towering forms, were replicated with steel, covered in ragged bronze bark. The vines, he noted, where actually links of tightly knotted silver loops. And the flowers - the ornate, beautiful flowers - where formed with folds of brittle gold, of freezing silver, the stamen tipped not by mellow pollen, but with lifeless diamonds and cruelly cut emeralds.
They might have stood there for hours, drinking up the scene. Time stood still in this soulless, empty place. The Minister wanted to say something - anything - to break the silence, but he couldn’t think of anything to say. The Professor, lost in thought, it seemed, was scanning the forest with a small, playful smile on his lips, watching like a proud parent over a park playground.
“S-so where, where are they?”
“Oh but Minister, tell me you have seen them? They are there, in the forest, over there - look!”
The Minister concentrated, forced his eyes to see past the maddening, the unreal, landscape and to sought out any human forms within. But nothing - nothing at all. He frowned, leaning forward, so his nose brushed against one of the drooping, heavy leaves. Once or twice, he thought he saw a fleeting shadow, but otherwise, the rainforest remained empty to his untrained eyes.
“Right there,” Professor Frost whispered, “Right in front of you.”
And then he saw the human. Crouched on a low hanging branch. Freakishly still, inhumanely well balanced. It would be insanity not to note the boy’s beauty, but more insane still not to notice the devilish gleam in his eye, the dangerous animal that stirred within him. His waxen skin had never seen sunlight - deathly pale and ghostly, hanging like an immortal spectre, suspended in the air. Thick coiling muscles - emotionless, empty stare. And the eyes - oh the eyes where the worst of all - two pale silvery orbs, without colour, without feeling, staring back at the Minister, examining him. The human was completely bald, dressed in a black jumpsuit - he was, once more, reminded instantly of the prisons he’d visited, Up Above.
A question suddenly bubbled up within him. “And do they get breaks? Do they get free-time?”
The Professor shot him a somewhat disgusted glance. “They do not need it.”
“But do they get it?”
“As I told you, at night they get time to relax, to go over the day’s events.”
“Locked in cells.”
“Private quarters,” The Professor snapped. He turned to the beast, eyes narrowing. “This one appears to be slacking - you have caught him off guard, Minister. You are not seeing them at their best, I am afraid.”
With a sharp, brittle snap, the air seemed to stiffen, and the creature fell from
his perch, twisting in agony through the air, a strange, sickening yowl bursting from his throat; before gracefully looping himself around a hanging vein, and swinging off, into the distance.
“What the -?”
The Minister turned to the Professor, searching for an explanation, and finding it in the hand of his tour guide.
“You tazered him? For standing still?”
“He does not need to stay still, Prime Minister.”
“But that doesn’t mean he -”
Frost’s eyes zoned in on the Prime Minister’s pupils, his features suddenly distorted by the fury that seemed to be rippling through his body. “This is a highly complex experiment, Minister. Please do not embarrass yourself by trying to enforce your authority and little intellect upon me. Come - I have more to show you.”