Inhuman (6)

To read from the beginning: Parts one, two, three, four and five.

Self consciously Amanda brought a hand to her cheek, gently touching the tender area beneath the orbit of her right eye. These injuries had sent her down this murky path. One that would surely not end well, not as far her overwhelmed mind could conceive at this point anyway. The shock of it all had prevented her from even grieving the loss of her husband. Feeling the sensitive skin brought all that anguish to the surface, swamping her with loss, loneliness and heartbreak. As she began to cry softly, Nathan put an arm around her and led her to a chair. He said gently, “I know how hard this must be for you. I’m very sorry. Can I get you anything?”

Information, Amanda thought. So far all the answers she’d been given had only raised new and more dreadful questions she was afraid to ask. Would they ever let her leave? With the knowledge she now possessed, would they even allow her to live? An arcane government organization would certainly be able to arrange things to look like she had died in an accident. Perhaps even her and Brian together. Brian. How could she even go on without him? Pull yourself together, girl. There must be a way out of this…

She wiped her tears away and nodded. “Water. And maybe the bathroom.”

“Of course. Lydia will show you.”

The foursome exited through the secure foyer out into the hallway. The men waited while Lydia escorted Amanda to an unmarked door just a few yards away. If Amanda had hoped for privacy, however, she wasn’t going to get it. The other woman followed her into the two-stall bathroom and waited while Amanda used the toilet and washed her hands and face. When she was finished they rejoined the men where Nathan handed her a bottle of water. “Shall we go meet the doctor, then?”

Maybe meeting with her husband’s —she couldn’t stop thinking of Brian that way— creator, she would have a clue as to what to do next. Then again, with the task completed, would her usefulness be over as well? Nevertheless, did she really have any other options? She cleared her throat. “I will talk to him.” 

Alexander said, “Nathan, we’ll leave you to it. Report back to me when you’ve finished.”

“Of course,” Nathan replied and he and Amanda were left alone. He gestured for her to follow. “Right this way, then.”

They walked down the corridor toward the bank of elevators in silence. Once the doors closed behind them, Amanda took a deep breath. “How long was I out?”

“Just a couple of hours.”

So they hadn’t traveled too far from home, she thought. If Nathan could be trusted, that is… Yet, there was something about him that reassured her. She asked, “And where are we exactly?”

He glanced at her from the corner of his eye. “Centralia, Pennsylvania. Ever heard of it?”

“No. Should I?”

He shrugged. “It was big news thirty years ago. At least in Pennsylvania. It’s a small town in coal country. A seam of coal caught fire in an abandoned mine and it’s been burning ever since. The town had to be evacuated and all the residents relocated. Since the government had to buy out all the homeowners anyway and it would never be able to be developed for either residential or commercial use, it was a perfect place to locate a highly secure research facility.” 

Amanda paled. “Are we in danger?”

“No, not at all. The mine fire was actually extinguished long ago, we only keep up the appearance of smoke leeching from the ground in the unlikely event that someone would come looking. The old roads have been diverted around the area and the town is clearly marked as hazardous to keep the curious away.” He paused as the elevator doors slid open. “The old mine tunnels provided a ready-made infrastructure. This facility is entirely underground.”

 Amanda tried to digest the ramifications of this revelation. Finding her way out of here would be difficult enough, but to try and get back to civilization from an abandoned coal town would be nearly impossible. Which way would she even run? No, her only hope was to enlist the doctor’s help, if he was willing. And able. After all, it sounded like he was just as much a prisoner as she. One thing at a time.

“Here we are,” Nathan said, stopping before yet another anonymous door. After opening it, he gestured for Amanda to enter first. The room within contained a single bed, a small table with two chairs, and a shelf with about a dozen books. The figure of Dr. Leo Knight was reclined on the bed reading. He jumped up when Amanda and Nathan entered. “What is this?” he asked, surprised.

Nathan said, “This is Amanda. She was Brian’s wife.”

“Wife? Was? You mean…”

“Yes, Leo. He’s been retrieved and purged.”

The doctor sat down hard on the bed. “Oh no.”

“They want you to talk to Amanda, listen to her story, everything she’s been through. Brian was violent with her, Leo.”

The doctor looked sharply at Amanda, noting the bruises beneath her eyes. “Brian did this?”

Amanda nodded. “It wasn’t his fault. He had these horrible nightmares and would thrash around while he was asleep.”

“It’s the glitch we told you about, Leo. We observed the same behavior in Christopher before he was purged.” He pulled out one of the chairs from the table and signaled for Amanda and the doctor to sit. After they were positioned opposite one another, Nathan stepped close behind Amanda, keeping his back to the entryway and whispered, “Just play along, Leo. And maybe between the three of us we can find a way to save the others.”


Just a quick note about Centralia: this is a real town, with a real mine fire, not far from the region where I grew up. Centralia is a borough and near-ghost town in Columbia County, Pennsylvania, United States. Its population has dwindled from more than 1,000 residents in 1980 to 63 by 1990, to only seven in 2013—a result of the coal mine fire which has been burning beneath the borough since 1962. (Wikipedia)

44 thoughts on “Inhuman (6)

    1. Thanks, Rob! This is a fun story to write and yet now that I’m into it, it does raise some intriguing questions about the nature of life. A complex subject… Glad you’re enjoying it!


    1. It is! I can’t believe anyone would still want to live there. It was on the news all the time when I was a kid and lived nearby. The smoke comes out through cracks in the roads and sidewalks!

      Liked by 1 person

      1. How bizarre. I can’t believe anyone still lives there either. And I’m actually surprised that the scenario you described in the story isn’t true. Perfect cover for some covert government business. 😃

        Liked by 1 person

      2. Yes! That’s what popped into my head, when I was trying to find an out of the way place for the location! It would be the perfect cover. H also suggested Love Canal but Centralia was more familiar to me.

        Liked by 1 person

      3. He’s right. I’d forgotten about that place too. I’ve been on a tour of the bunker under The Greenbriar before, briefly. It’s unreal what this government can build to protect themselves…yet leave citizens out to dry. 😏

        Liked by 1 person

      4. It would definitely blow our minds. I remember a trip to Pawleys Island and J and I were in the hammock on the porch one night. All of the sudden, this odd grouping of lights appeared over the water. They didn’t seem to move at all, very bright, and just hovered there for half an hour. Just as quickly as they showed up, poof, they were gone. There’s an Air Force base nearby, so our guess was some sort of new plane or whatnot. There’s an awful lot they don’t let us be privy to, I guarantee it.

        Liked by 1 person

  1. Brian is really gone. Purged. I was hoping to get some dialogue between him and Amanda. Seems Nathan is getting mysterious, adding to the plot. Centralia is a real place? I think this is what they mean by writing what you know.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. I have a little twist regarding Brian…. 😉 But yes, Centralia is in Northeastern PA about 45 minutres from where I grew up. I thought it would be the perfect spot for a secret governemnt lab (provided it was totally abandoned)!

      Liked by 1 person

    1. Thank you. I think it was only really well known locally. Anyone outside Pennsylvania probably wouldn’t have heard about it. Plus in today’s news cycle it’s ancient history!

      Liked by 1 person

  2. I look forward to the next installment with Leo. I’ve known about Centralia since reading another short story set there. I didn’t believe the line about the fire being out, though.😉 Just the scientist in me. Not very credulous!

    Liked by 1 person

  3. I’m catching up on these. This is where I left off. It occurs to me the issues the other scientists bring up such as these AI models acting, in many respects, as “humans” being the problem. Obviously, to the readers, I think we see there is something more than mere science or being a robot, about Amanda’s husband. It reminds me of a 1990’s early movie (I think), my brothers loved as kids called “Short Circuit.” Who gets to define what’s human and isn’t I think will become central to the story.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. That is the central question: what does it mean to be human or at least equal to human (as in possible alien life being on the same/higher level of intelligence and self awareness as humans) But the story will have (hopefully) other aspects which will keep the reader interested! Thanks for reading along and giving feedback. All of that helps make a story better!

      Liked by 1 person

  4. This story is definitely a ‘page turner’, I’ll look forward to reading more again soon. Thought-provoking too. I liked the surprise of Nathan’s comment at the end of tthis segment and can’t wait to find out what happens!

    Liked by 1 person

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