Jon's escape from ALTO Corp is a little too easy
|Once free of his room and in the hallway, Jon found himself paralyzed. He had only thought far enough ahead to know he had to escape from his room and eventually from the ALTO building itself, but he had no plan for how to make that second part happen. Even though he begged his feet to carry him, they were planted on the maroon carpet as firmly as a centuries-old oak.
Dammit Jon! Get moving! You don’t want those freaky Mar women to find you standing here like an idiot! Move! His thoughts nagged at him, but the fear of the unknown was palpable in the base of his neck. He had only seen a tiny portion of the ALTO Corp building on the walk from the room he first woke up in to the room behind him now, and he had been nearly delirious then. He had gathered though, from everything he had seen so far, that “Returners” like him weren’t meant to simply walk free in the halls. He had not seen any other person besides the Mars, and he wasn’t even sure they counted. Looking to his left, he could see the end of the hallway with a floor to ceiling window to the outside. Looking the other way, the way the Mar had escorted him to her station, he saw a gently curving hall with identical doors lining either side.
Go right. The Mars are busy, they won’t see you. Go now.
Damn, this was not going to get any easier, was it? “Ok, but for the love of God, can you turn your volume down or something?” I’m really talking to a sentient TV. This is happening. Despite the ridiculousness of the situation, he followed her instructions and turned right out of his room, taking big steps to cover ground more quickly.
With the elevator likely to be the main artery of this place, Jon hunted for the stairs instead. He had to get outside, and then he could figure out what the heck to do next. The building was more or less a single, curving hallway, but as he continued following the curve of the building, he began to notice side corridors that were too narrow to be normal hallways jutting off from the main one. They were about the width of his shoulders but were difficult to spot at first, especially if one was not looking for them. They were ominously hidden behind protruding sections of the wall, appearing at first to merely be added dimension on the wall itself. One would have to sidestep to fit behind the protruding wall section before being able to enter the corridor.
“Do you know what’s down those hallways?”
Not the stairs. Keep going.
Afraid at what may lie in those darkened passages, Jon continued along the hallway at the direction of his new companion. He watched the numbers of the rooms on his left descending in value: 3143, 3141, 3139, 3137. Damn, this place was HUGE! There seemed to be about 200 rooms per level with at least 30 stories, though presumably many more judging from the outrageous height of the buildings outside. Everything was some shade of red or yellow – mustard walls, dark red carpeting, brownish trim. The whole place felt very much like a motel back home, and perhaps that was the point. Keep the Returners feeling comfortable, and less likely to escape. Jon walked faster.
He had just passed room #3101 when he came to the elevator doors the size of a freight elevator. Above the wide expanse of metal the floor was indicated in ornate metal wall fixtures, exactly like a seedy motel. “ALTO 31.” Thankfully, the doors remained quiet as he hurried past.
Here. On your left.
The door on his left was exactly like every other door he had passed, but upon closer inspection, Jon found it lacked the card reader the other doors had. He would never have noticed such a small detail if the vocal metal stick in his hand hadn’t said something. How did she know so much about this place? And why the hell was she helping me anyway? There was little time to ponder such questions, because at that moment, the elevator behind him dinged softly. Before he had time to think or talk himself out of what he was about to do, Jon opened the door and stepped inside.
The air was cooler here. The concrete structure of the building revealed itself in the stairwell, which was not unlike a fire escape staircase from his time. In fact, if he shut his brain off for a second, it was almost as if he could forget he wasn’t in the 2018 he remembered. The sensation of familiarity was shocking. So shocking in fact, the cold and concrete and flaking paint on the metal handrail bore into his memory and jostled something free. Through the fog rose a memory of his son, Collin. They had lived together in an apartment with a fire escape staircase just like this one. Still a child in Jon’s mind, Collin’s pockmarked teenage face had stared blankly at the underside of the stairs above as the EMTs had injected him with Narcan. Jon shook his head violently to rid himself of the cruel memory.
You have to hurry. Go down to level 7.
“Shit! Didn’t I say to turn your volume down? Are you trying to get us caught?”
Of course not.
Her volume was quieter, but Jon didn’t address her again so she would stay quiet. Taking the steps two at a time, Jon proceeded down the stairs, grabbing the handrail as he whipped around the corners. His young legs carried him at lightning speed down the levels and he wasn’t so much as breathing heavy by the time he reached the landing with the label “7” painted above the door in white. “Why here? This isn’t the ground floor.”
Easier this way – trust me.
Trust her? Despite the nagging feeling nipping at the back of his mind, Jon had little other choice. This sentient machine had helped him escape from his room, was now helping his escape the ALTO building itself, and was his only link to Val. Jon shoved the rod down the leg of his pants in case it was some kind of contraband that would be taken from him if he was caught with it, and opened the door.
Directly in front of him, one of the Mars stood looking at him, her back to an inconspicuous glass door. Shit. Of course they were already after him. Of course they had seen him take the tape and leave his room. Of course they had seen him enter the stairs. Of course they knew he had stolen the TV from his room. Of course, of course, of course. How could I be so stupid?! Jon scolded himself, and resigned to his fate of being escorted politely back to his room, but the Mar simply smiled at him.
“Hello. You are a new Returner, it seems. Is there something I can help you find?”
What the hell? Did she not know me? “Um, no, I’m fine.” After only a second pause, Jon needed to pry further. “What number are you?”
“I’m Mar-078. I’m sure you should be resting off the effects of your procedure. May I escort you back to your room?”
“No, no. I’m just fine. I’m … uh, being discharged today.” Jon fibbed and added a hearty smile for good measure.
“Oh, my! Well, that’s fantastic for you! I trust your Experience Trip went well then? Can I interest you in a ‘Juniperia Sights’ brochure?”
She was much too happy for Jon’s liking. He took the thick brochure from her outstretched hand and nodded thanks. “Yes, I … had a lovely stay.” So the Mars must not share thoughts despite being seemingly more robot than human. Curious.
“You are most welcome! Enjoy the city!”
Shit, was it really going to be this easy? Jon smiled wide, and cautiously approached the glass door expecting at any moment for more Mars to swarm him or for this Mar to come to her senses. But she did not, and Jon didn’t stick around to find out when she would.
This door was not locked either, and Jon stepped through and into a sky bridge with windows on all sides, including the top. Picking up his pace, he walked briskly across the bridge, only slowing once to look over his shoulder. Above the door, big letters spelling “ALTO Corp.” shined a sickly green, but no one followed him. It really was that easy.